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.

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

  1. I should disagree with you. Having seen all nominated performances, I was a firm JLaw fan for winning the award. Riva, though very good, felt alittle too ACTING at times. And I think she had a couple of supposedly killer Oscar scenes too (the feeding scene after second stroke came to my mind), maybe it just didn’t stick as such.

  2. There is no babe factor. This came down to the fact that they loved the shit out of SLP and this is where they could award the film. It’s quite simple, really. Lawrence won a ton of critic awards, tied with Riva at LAFCA, 2nd at NSFC and NYFCC so if i hear one more time she won because she’s young and hot I might toss something. It’s a pretty simple and uncomplex equation, Lawrence was the most highly regarded aspect of a film they loved.

  3. Uh, who cares that the writer was wrong and he sees the need to detail all the “reasons” for it. Jennifer Lawrence was great in that role, very likable, it was a highly entertaining movie, she deserved the award on the merits. Best? Completely subjective. I thought Life of Pi was easily the best movie, but not many agreed with me. So what? Argo was pretty darn good too.

  4. Greg: When Awards Season is going on people always inflate their opinions on things. Their favs of the year all of a sudden become once in a lifetime masterworks and the things they think are good, just not worthy of awards become terrible, cringe-inducing messes. It makes it hard to have a serious discussion with a lot of people during awards season on various films/performances. The fact is 2012 was a good year for awards type films and I think the nominees and winners largely reflected itself well. I prefer Riva, but Lawrence is wonderful in the film, it’s reminescent of those old time female movie star type performances and she has a lovely personality, how can I be mad? I can’t, unfortunately a lot are. It’s ironic to me that people whine about the Academy never honoring comedy and then they acknowledge SLP, which is a flawed, but really quite wonderfully alive film and it goes through a fairly large backlash. I just think I’m going to avoid talking about film during awards season from now on.

  5. Thanks for giving away the ending of Amour, which I haven’t had a chance to see yet. Ever heard of the phrase SPOILER ALERT

  6. I seriously do not get how riva is that amazing in amour, amour in itself is boring, like going to a nursing home for two hours where nothing happens. Riva has won the bafta, the Cesar.

  7. I just think people are having trouble coming to terms with how talented Lawrence is. Forget the other high profile scenes. The scene that blew me away was that first dinner scene. Her ability to shift and oscillate emotionally while seeming completely natural is extraordinary. Also the way she used her eyes and her hands. Not only did I think Lawrence out acted Riva and Chastain, but imho neither of them have ever shown the same ability to own such a seemingly simple scene in their entire careers.
    When someone that young and talented emerges there is always resistance. She was allegedly too young or too popular. Or pundits spent too much time focusing on the type of film. But as with the SAG awards, when you focused on the actual acting craft Lawrence was impossible to deny.

  8. It is extremely subjective, of course. People are going to see different things in performances. I personally liked Naomi Watts in The Impossible the best. Also, if I had my way, Moonrise Kingdom would have had a lot more nominations and wins than it did. I’m sad more people didn’t share my opinion on that, but that’s the way it goes. People’s emotions about these things are kind of colored by their own life experiences and personalities. Go into any comment board for the show Girls to see this in action, lol.

  9. @Matt-And what made Lawrence doing so well with the critic’s groups so impressive is that she was in the type of film that critics normally do not like to honor. Think about it. Chastain played “the woman who tracked down Bin Laden.” Riva played a woman dealing with old age and strokes. These roles aren’t merely Oscar bait, they are conceptually Oscar layups. But once you got beyond that neither role gave them much to do, and Chastain’s role is one of the most overrated in recent memory.
    No one looking at the matter objectively would argue that Lawrence was an unlikely or undeserved winner. It’s rather that subjectively some people just didn’t want her to win. It was unmistakable that there was an anti-Lawrence sentiment among certain pundits. Chastain emerged as the brief “front-runner” on a wave of euphoria. When that collapsed, Riva was the hopeful. And if that seemed unlikely, it would have been Watts. Something prevented them from admitting what the vast majority of moviegoers and critics were seeing regarding Lawrence. But as with punditry in general, their opinion didn’t matter.

  10. “Many people believe that she should have triumphed over eventual winner Natalie Portman in “Black Swan.” – Um, really? I don’t think so, not that “many people” thought this, anyway. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the babe factor helping Lawrence. Chastain was mostly understated but had some over-the-top moments. It was always Lawrence vs. Riva.

  11. There is one very very important reason: the buzz-manipulators or king-makers so called the film critics and gurus had creamed over and wanted to stage a fantasy babe IT girl called JL to win.

  12. It should have gone to Riva. I will say that until I die. The Academy and I haven’t matched in the Best Actress category since Marion Cotillard won in 2008.

  13. Thank you Tariq Khan for the post-mortem, no pun intended.

    I find it perplexing that the Academy chose to honor a decade ago “The Pianist,” an equally harrowing film about survival (and the concomitant affront to individual dignity and very sense of self) under the most harrowing of circumstances. “The Pianist” won Best Actor for Adrian Brody, a virtual unknown at the time, as well as for Best Director (Roman Polanski) and Screenplay.

    Ms. Riva made a gracious and unsentimental statement on her not winning the Oscar at the French consulate in L.A. the day after.

    So many members of the Academy cannot confront its own fears of aging and dying, which “Amour” did with such unrelenting, uncompromising, but moving courage.

    It’s understandable that Hollywood chose to award the Oscars to both Kathryn Hepburn and Henry Fonda for their roles in “On Golden Pond,” and “Amour” little resembles the former. The red carpet that Hollywood rolls out for the Oscars each year is little more than a cheering stand for a fashion show of youth and glamour, and that is a reflection of the awards themselves.

    Think of Gwyneth Paltrow over Fernanda Montenegro, Halle Berry over Sissy Spacek, Hillary Swank over Annette Bening, Marion Cotillard over Julie Christie, Reese Witherspoon…the “babe” almost always wins.

    In 50 years, I believe that the Academy will look back on 2013 and realize it made a terrible choice.

    Jennifer Lawrence’s comportment and acceptance speech—Hollywood-starlet-with-warts– at the Oscars made me think of Jack Nicholson playing himself in “As Good as It Gets” with a veneer of smarmy lovability, which, likewise, earned him an Oscar. Kooky, outrageous, vibrant Ms. Lawrence most definitely is.

    Would any Hollywood actress, in the first place, to have had the courage and commitment to take on the role?

    It should be noted that the most prestigious organization of film critics in this country, the National Society of Film Critics, named Ms. Riva Best Actress, as did both the British Academy and the French Cesar.

    In any case, one should not mistake popularity with artistic achievement.

  14. @Axel Hildemar Fritzler
    I just simply had note what you wrote is not nice; Mr. Khan is eloquent, courageous, insightful, thoughtful, and extraordinarily intelligent, I admire him greatly.

    1. So true. Why is this Academy worshipped whilst the BAFTAS are hardly known? Since US opinion rules the world, its IGNORance of the Baftas is paramount in the world’s ignorance of these prestigious awards for the highest quality performances in film (not movies, blockbusters, etc).

      The Bafta is about FILM in its greatest implications of talent.

  15. @Ferit, I share your thoughts, Riva was stunning and transcended any ‘award.’ Her performance was so profound and moving, a true work of art that completely inspired me.

  16. People who make a living doing Oscar predictions should thank Good Lawrence won. The awards are not some hipstery abode for film snobs. If it is then no one else will pay attention. Take two performances. Both acclaimed. Both with their share of critic’s awards. But one in a certifiable hit and the other in a film the general audience didn’t see and will never see. To vote for the unknown, far less popular choice is a kiss off to the audience, which is a good way to make these awards irrelevant.
    Lawrence out acted Riva and Chastain imho. The inflated claims regarding Riva are an attempt frankly to maintain the snobbery that has hurt the Oscars. The conceit being that “real” film fans think Riva did better. Well this film fan thinks you are all wet. What was at issue was not wanting Lawrence to win, period.
    My intuition was that the acting guild would always vote for Lawrence and that is exactly what happened.

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