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Oscar Math: “Zero Dark Thirty” vs. “Life of Pi”

December 3, 2012

I caught two of the major Oscar contenders for Best Picture over the weekend: Kathryn Bigelow’s Bin Laden-manhunt movie Zero Dark Thirty and Ang Lee’s 3D adaptation of Life of Pi. While I won’t bore you by adding to the chorus of raves they’ve already received from critics, I will say that after somewhat slow starts, both build to powerfully cathartic climaxes, thanks in large part to the visceral lead performances by Suraj Sharma and Jessica Chastain.  The question is: Does either movie have what it takes to go all the way on Oscar night?

There is some recent precedent for both films: Zero Dark Thirty is all but being sold as a sequel to The Hurt Locker, which won Best Picture as well as Best Director for Bigelow and Best Original Screenplay for Mark Boal, who also returns to active duty here. Given its Indian setting and far-fetched story, Life of Pi might be positioned as this year’s Slumdog Millionaire, which took home Best Picture. But it’s actually got more in common with last year’s Best Picture also-ran Hugo, another 3D adaptation by a former Best Director winner (Martin Scorsese) of a book beloved by readers of all ages (The Invention of Hugo Cabret).

imagesLike Hugo, which won Best Art Direction, Cinematography, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Visual Effects, Pi might clean up in the technical categories but fall short for Picture and Director. And it’s unlikely it’ll get any acting nominations, as Sharma is too little-known to compete with the Best Actor likes of Lincoln‘s Daniel Day-Lewis, Flight‘s Denzel Washington, Hyde Park on Hudson‘s Bill Murray and Silver Linings Playbook‘s Bradley Cooper. If a lesser-known actor makes the cut, it’ll be John Hawkes for The Sessions.

Zero Dark Thirty, on the other hand, has a good shot at bringing Jessica Chastain a Best Actress Oscar along with wins for Picture, Director and Screenplay. She was nominated for Supporting Actress last year for The Help and had a showy role in another Best Picture contender, Tree of Life, so voters may feel like she’s due. The rest of the cast will probably get passed over, with the possible exception of James Gandolfini, who brings a Tony Soprano-esque gravitas to the role of CIA Director Leon Panetta. He’s also great in two other year-end pictures, David Chase’s Not Fade Away and the misunderstood Brad Pitt Mob dramedy Killing Them Softly, but Zero seems like his best shot, although the fact he’s only in a few scenes may hurt him.

Of course, all this could change if Les Miserables sweeps everyone off their feet. It’s got its own precedent—director Tom Hooper’s only previous film, The King’s Speech, dominated in 2011. If the French Revolution musical is as good as the pre-release buzz suggests, Hooper and Co. could be masters of the house come Oscar night.

What’s your early pick for Best Picture? Any Argo supporters? Post a comment!

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