Five reasons why I was wrong predicting Emmanuelle Riva (‘Amour’) to win Best Actress at Oscars

1.I (conveniently) ignored the most important Oscar rules.  
We all know that Golden Globe plus SAG Award almost always equals Oscar. Only five people have won the first two and then lost the Academy Award: Lauren Bacall in “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind,” Renee Zellweger in “Chicago,” Eddie Murphy in “Dreamgirls” and Julie Christie in “Away from Her.” That was great news for Globe and SAG champion Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook“).  

More importantly, if you fail to earn both Globe and SAG nominations, your Oscar chances are next to impossible. (The only person to overcome that obstacle was Marcia Gay Harden in “Pollock.”) I honestly thought that Emmanuelle Riva could beat those odds because “Amour” was a foreign language film and the Globe/SAG omissions were easy to explain. Ultimately, the standard Oscar rules proved just too difficult to bend – no matter how strong Riva was.

2.I underestimated Academy support for “Silver Linings Playbook.
With its eight nominations including bids in all four acting categories and key areas like directing, writing and editing, “Silver Linings Playbook” hit Oscar in all the right places. As voters were forced to ignore it in the Picture, Director and Actor races due to the fierce completion, Best Actress was probably the first spot on the ballot for them to go for it. They obviously did, despite any reservations due to Lawrence’s age and the size and nature of her role.

Sure, “Amour” was also a Best Picture nominee – but that’s largely because of the expanded category. Had there only been five nominees, “SLP” would have still contended while “Amour” might have been shut out. As Oscar voting began, “SLP” was also approaching $100 million at the US box office, more than 20 times what “Amour” had grossed. All in all, “Silver Linings” simply had a much better playbook than the tiny (though terrific) “Amour.”

3.I discounted the “killer Oscar scene” theory this time. 
I usually argue that the most dramatic performance wins the acting prize. As brilliant and intense as Riva’s performance was, she lacked that giant scene that was going to put her over the top. Lawrence, however, had several dynamic moments, including the diner incident with Bradley Cooper which played during the telecast’s Best Actress presentation. Personally, I thought that Lawrence was solid but not quite spectacular enough to challenge Riva’s high difficulty performance. Of course, Academy members disagreed. (And yes, those are the opinions that count.) Any pundit who overlooks the “killer Oscar scene” factor will surely kill his or her own Oscar scorecard.

4.I forgot about ‘Winter’s Bone.” 
Over the past fifteen years, a number of actors have received the classic “payback” Oscar – a trophy given largely due to a loss in a recent year. Just think of Russell Crowe winning for “Gladiator” after losing for “The Insider,” Denzel Washington winning for “Training Day” after losing for “The Hurricane,” Nicole Kidman winning for “The Hours” after losing for “Moulin Rouge” and Renee Zellweger winning for “Cold Mountain” after losing for “Chicago.” The list could go on.

Two years ago, Lawrence earned terrific notices and her first shot at Oscar for the indie sensation “Winter’s Bone.” Many people believe that she should have triumphed over eventual winner Natalie Portman in “Black Swan.” Two years later, her work in “Bone” probably helped push her past first-time nominee Riva, despite the latter’s veteran status. Make no bones about it.

5. I miscalculated the vote splitting. Like many of us, I speculated that Lawrence’s fierce battle with fellow Globe winner Jessica Chastain in “Zero Dark Thirty” might split the vote and allow Riva to squeak through. Instead, might Chastain’s intense though understated performance have taken more votes from Riva?

Also, what about wild card Naomi Watts in “The Impossible?” It appeared that she was in fact registering more strongly than most of us expected. Given her incredible work over the past eleven years, including acclaimed turns in “Mulholland Drive” and “21 Grams,” she was perhaps seen as being the only one in the category overdue for the prize. Like Riva, much of her role is suffering in bed. If a good chunk of the anti-Lawrence vote went to Watts, then it’s Riva who suffered as the ballots were counted.

6.BONUS: It doesn’t matter that I was wrong. 
Do I wish that I had been right? Of course. Did I think that Riva might actually win? I really did. (Yes, maybe it was just wishful thinking.) But part of the fun of awards punditry is sometimes looking for the long shot and going for it. Can you imagine how boring this Oscar season would have been without any disagreements? Should we all be so terrified of being wrong that we automatically make the same picks as everyone else? I certainly hope not.

I truly believed that the best achievement by a lead actress in 2012 was from Riva in “Amour.” Based on what I’ve seen, a number of Academy members and Gold Derby readers agreed. I also believe that Lawrence’s best work is probably ahead of her. Years from now, she’ll possibly look back and wish that she might have lost to Riva this time, so that her Academy Award wins could be for the undisputed best performances of her career.

In fact, allow me to make one final prediction for this crazy Oscar derby. I predict that in the year 2077, an 86-year Jennifer Lawrence will earn her record 29th Oscar nomination. I will of course go out on a limb for her to win, while Tom O’Neil calls me crazy for not going with the favored fresh-faced ingénue. Tom will replay our podcast from 2013 in which he vilifies me for picking Emmanuelle Riva over the young Lawrence. Right after that, some fed up Gold Derby reader will enter the asylum and smother both of us with a pillow – not unlike the final scene from “Amour.” Do they have the Oscars in hell? Tom and I just might find out.

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