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If last year’s Academy Awards represented a contest between competing visions of movie history in “The Artist” and “Hugo,” the 2013 Oscar lineup is about actual history — the topical events of then and now. Whether that history is portrayed (or misportrayed, depending on who’s talking) with epic sentiment (“Lincoln”), audience-pleasing savvy (“Argo”), or nonjudgmental cool (“Zero Dark Thirty”), it’s ultimately all about the craft, and these are three expertly crafted films. And don’t count out “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and especially “Amour” — two dark horses that may spoil a few races. Here are the picks of Globe movie critic Ty Burr.
Will win: “Argo”
Should win: “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
Shouldn’t be here: “Les Misérables”
Was robbed: “Moonrise Kingdom”
For a long stretch of the run-up to Oscar night, it seemed as if best picture would be Abraham Lincoln’s to lose. But momentum has shifted in recent weeks: The perceived snub of Ben Affleck in the directing category and his movie’s strong showing at the Golden Globes and elsewhere means that “Argo” now has the edge. “Beasts” won’t win but it’s still the year’s most startlingly original vision. “Les Miz” is more bizarre Broadway/CGI mutation than a movie.
Will win: Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln”
Should win: Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
Shouldn’t be here: Ang Lee, “Life of Pi”
Was robbed: Kathryn Bigelow, “Zero Dark Thirty”
With Bigelow and Affleck out of the race, Spielberg should easily triumph, and in fact “Lincoln” is exactly the kind of movie the Academy likes to throw Oscars at: important, historical, good, good for you. “Lincoln” may ultimately be Daniel Day-Lewis’s and Tony Kushner’s film more than it is St. Steven’s, but Oscar periodically likes to show this director love, and here’s where it’ll happen. For all of Lee’s marvelous world-building in “Pi,” the film’s message is muddled.
Actor in a Leading Role
Will win: Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
Should win: Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
Shouldn’t be here: Hugh Jackman, “Les Misérables”
Was robbed: John Hawkes, “The Sessions”
The easiest money of the year: Day-Lewis has no serious competition for his uncanny, deeply personable reincarnation of a national icon. If more people had actually seen “The Sessions,” Hawkes might have been nominated for his quietly heartbreaking performance.
Actress in a Leading Role
Will win: Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Should win: Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour”
Shouldn’t be here: Naomi Watts, “The Impossible”
Was robbed: Marion Cotillard, “Rust and Bone”
Lawrence had a stellar year — a great performance in “Playbook” and a blockbuster hit with “The Hunger Games” — and she has the momentum. Still, don’t discount the Academy’s love of aging movie icons, even when they’re French. Quvenzhané Wallis may have been 6 when she made “Beasts,” but it’s a real performance; Watts, by contrast, delivers a triumph of technique that, like much else in “The Impossible,” has trouble touching the heart.
Actor in a Supporting Role
Will win: Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”
Should win: Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained”
Shouldn’t be here: none
Was robbed: none
A gathering of old pros. Every actor in this category has won before, each is beloved to one degree or another, so it’s just a matter of where the sentiment will land. Jones and Alan Arkin are neck and neck: The latter’s seedy Hollywood producer is a great inside joke but the former’s Thaddeus Stevens is a great performance, a great part, and great history, and it channels the actor’s legendary crankiness in delightfully fresh ways.
Actress in a Supporting Role
Will win: Anne Hathaway, “Les Misérables”
Should win: Amy Adams, “The Master”
Shouldn’t be here: Jacki Weaver, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Was robbed: Nicole Kidman, “The Paperboy”
Singing “I Dreamed a Dream” in quivering macro close-up while dying of Generic Tragic Wasting Disease: That’s acting. Not to me, but it is to a lot of people, and I’m guessing it’ll be to Oscar voters. And good for Hathaway, who’s deserving, if not for this. “The Paperboy” may be a modern camp classic, but Kidman does strange and wonderful things in it. Adams delivers the sneakiest, most subtle performance in “Master” — no way she’ll win.
Will win: “Zero Dark Thirty,” Mark Boal
Should win: “Zero Dark Thirty”
A tough category: Will the Academy recognize the precision eccentricity of “Moonrise Kingdom,” the hard truths of “Amour,” or the epic terseness of “Zero Dark Thirty”? If the torture controversy sinks the latter’s chances, look for “Amour” to win; otherwise, this should be the top prize of the night for “Zero Dark.”Continued...