Steven Spielberg’s long gestating “Lincoln” has finally arrived, and by all accounts was well worth the wait. The film opened to strong reviews and respectable box office in limited release on Nov. 9, and looks poised to become a hit amongst mature moviegoers as it expands this weekend.
Third place isn’t a bad spot to be in this early in the race, but are we underestimating the film's chances?
To win Best Picture, a film needs support throughout the categories, and it seems likely that “Lincoln” will receive multiple nominations both above and below the line. The film could lead with the most nominations, depending on how strong support is.
Spielberg is a virtual lock for a Best Director nomination. He’s won twice before – for “Schindler’s List” (1993) and “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) – and has been nominated four more times – for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977), “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), “E.T.” (1982), and “Munich” (2005).
The film has brought the director some of his best reviews in years. Long esteemed as one of Hollywood’s most beloved filmmakers, Spielberg’s comeback story may be too good for voters to resist, and since Best Picture often goes with Best Director, a win for him could result in a win for the film.
If Spielberg wins this year, he’ll be tied with three-time champs Frank Capra (“It Happened One Night,” 1934; “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," 1936; and “You Can’t Take It With You," 1938) and William Wyler (“Mrs. Miniver,” 1942, “The Best Years of Our Lives," 1946; and “Ben-Hur," 1959) for the second most Best Director wins. Both are behind John Ford, who won for “The Informer” (1935), “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940), “How Green Was My Valley” (1941) and “The Quiet Man” (1952).
Standing in Spielberg’s way is Ben Affleck, currently in first place with odds of 9/4 for “Argo.” Since “Argo” is the Best Picture frontrunner, it makes sense that Affleck would be in the lead as well. Yet support for the film could fade, especially if it fails to receive a substantial amount of nominations. “Lincoln” will likely receive nominations in categories for which “Argo” will not, a sign of overall support for Spielberg’s film.
Daniel Day-Lewis is poised to win for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. If he does, he’ll be the first actor to win three Best Actor Oscars (he previously won for “My Left Foot” in 1989 and “There Will Be Blood” in 2007). He’s currently ranked at #1 with odds of 9/5, and it seems unlikely that anyone else can beat him.
In the past two years, the Best Picture winner starred the Best Actor champ (Colin Firth for “The King’s Speech” in 2010 and Jean Dujardin for “The Artist” in 2011). Indeed, 27 of the 84 films that have won Best Picture have also won Best Actor, so a win for Day-Lewis could only help.
And both Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field are sure bets for supporting nominations which they stand a good chance of winning. Jones is currently ranked second behind Philip Seymour Hoffman for “The Master” – Hoffman has odds of 12/5, while Jones has odds of 9/2 – but that could change if “Lincoln” proves more Academy-friendly than “The Master.” Jones previously won in this category for “The Fugitive” (1993), and was also nominated for “JFK” (1991) and as Best Actor for “In the Valley of Elah” (2007).
Field is a two-time winner for Best Actress, for “Norma Rae” (1979) and “Places in the Heart” (1984). She’s ranked fourth with odds of 5/1, but her chances could improve if she starts winning critics prizes. Her stiffest competition is Anne Hathaway for “Les Miserables,” currently ranked #1 with odds of 23/10, but if that film fails to meet expectations, look for Field to start ascending.
A nomination for Tony Kushner’s screenplay is almost guaranteed: he’s ranked #2 with odds of 10/3, just behind David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook” with odds of 27/10. Both are long overdue for Oscar attention, yet Kushner, who has a Pulitzer Prize for “Angels in America” and was nominated once before for “Munich,” could gain the upper hand if voters recognize what a massive undertaking his adaptation of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book was.
The film will contend for several tech awards. Veteran cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, a two-time winner for “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan” and nominee for “Amistad” (1997), “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (2007), and “War Horse” (2011), will once again find himself in that race this year. Kaminski’s painterly compositions are just the thing voters respond to, and the fact that the film was such a massive undertaking doesn’t hurt.
Production designer Rick Carter, who won for “Avatar” (2009) and was nominated for “Forrest Gump” (1994) and “War Horse,” will likewise be in the running, while costume designer Joanna Johnston vies for her first nomination.
Oscar voters love period pictures, and Carter and Johnston nail the look and feel of Civil War-era America. They’ll face competition from the likes of “Les Miserables” and “Anna Karenina,” but don’t count out the possibility of “Lincoln” winning in both categories.
Michael Kahn has won three Oscars for Best Film Editing, all for films directed by Steven Spielberg. He won for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), “Schindler’s List,” and “Saving Private Ryan,” and was nominated for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Empire of the Sun” (1987), “Fatal Attraction” (1987), and “Munich.” Since the last film to win Best Picture without being nominated for Editing was “Ordinary People” (1980), a nomination for Kahn would vastly improve the odds for "Lincoln" taking the top prize.
A large part of Day-Lewis’ performance must be attributed to the makeup, so look for previous Oscar victor Lois Burwell – who won for “Braveheart” (1995) and was nominated for “Saving Private Ryan” – to score in the newly titled Best Makeup and Hairstyling category.
Nominations for Sound Mixing and Sound Editing aren’t as assured given the competition, but don’t count them out completely. Sound designer Ben Burtt is a legend in the field, having won twice – for “E.T.” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989) – and been nominated eight additional times. His intricate work helps strengthen the mood of the film, so voters may be keen to recognize him.
And finally, there’s John Williams, Spielberg’s most frequent collaborator. Williams has been nominated a total of 47 times, winning five of those bids – for “Fiddler on the Roof” (1971), “Jaws” (1975), “Star Wars” (1977), “E.T.” and “Schindler’s List.” Competition in the Best Score category is weak this year, so Williams’ 48th nomination could result in his sixth win.
Taking all of these possibilities into account, “Lincoln” could receive up to fourteen nominations, a feat that has only happened twice before – “All About Eve” (1950) and “Titanic” (1997) – and in both cases, the film won Best Picture. If this happens, it will be hard not to call “Lincoln” the new front-runner.