The dozen categories offering the greatest suspense
Now that Oscar voting is over, there’s nothing left but the suspense — of which there remains plenty. Here’s a rundown, starting with shorts and counting down to best picture, of the most intriguing faceoffs at this year’s Academy Awards. 12) Animated short: There was truly something for everyone here, from the Big Man on Campus offerings “Paperman” and “Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare’ ” to cleverly aesthetic upstarts “Adam and Dog,” “Fresh Guacamole” and “Head Over Heels.” Will name recognition triumph? 11) Live-action short: This wide-open category has gotten a press boost thanks to the behind-the-scenes stories of “Asad” and “Buzkashi Boys,” which themselves form an interesting showdown even before considering the support for “Curfew,” “Death of a Shadow” and “Henry.” 10) Production design: There’s a strong argument to be made for any of the nominees — “Anna Karenina,” “The Hobbit,” “Les Miserables,” “Life of Pi” and “Lincoln” — and the Art Directors Guild Awards earlier this month didn’t solve the mystery, simultaneously saluting “Pi” for fantasy film and “Anna” for period film. 9) Original screenplay: Last weekend’s WGA honor for Mark Boal tilts the scales in his direction, and it might be the best opportunity for “Zero Dark Thirty” to win a major award. The question is whether any AMPAS voters are still scared off by the controversy that his script (however unexpectedly to Boal) generated. Noteworthy alternatives “Amour,” “Django Unchained,” “Flight” and “Moonrise Kingdom” are poised to strike. 8) Cinematography: Claudio Miranda of “Life of Pi” has numerous accolades this winter, including BAFTA, but can he hold off Roger Deakins (“Skyfall”), who won the American Society of Cinematographers honor and is looking to end an 0-for-9 streak at the Oscars? 7) Costume design: Against the grand designs populating “Anna Karenina,” “Les Miserables,” “Lincoln” and “Snow White and the Huntsman,” hearts will be beating fast to see if a posthumous award will go to the beloved Eiko Ishioka for “Mirror Mirror.” 6) Adapted screenplay: The “Argo” freight train has turned Chris Terrio into a leading candidate for a win, with a WGA honor already in his pocket, but the nominations for “Lincoln” and “Life of Pi” leave Tony Kushner and David Magee as strong possibilities. 5) Animated feature: Disney teammates “Brave” and “Wreck-It Ralph” have been trading blows all winter, with “Brave” winning at BAFTA and the Golden Globes while “Ralph” took the top prize at the Producers Guild Awards and the Annies. 4) Supporting actor: Of the four winners of SAG’s lead and supporting film honors, there seems to be the least assurance that Tommy Lee Jones’ honor for “Lincoln” will translate into an Oscar — if only because of the ongoing strength (onscreen as well as in the campaign) of fellow nominees Robert De Niro, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Christoph Waltz. Alan Arkin could rise here if voters are going full-bore “Argo” or suffer if they are looking to avoid overkill. 3) Lead actress: In the immediate aftermath of the Oscar noms, this evolved into a two-person contest between Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain. But not long after Lawrence won at the SAGs, along came Emmanuelle Riva of “Amour” (pictured above) with her BAFTA win and increasing recognition that this performance might mark the perfect time to salute this French great. 2) Director: The absence of helmers including Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow will cause some to watch this race even more closely than best picture, to see if Ang Lee or Steven Spielberg will add to their Oscar holdings or if Michael Haneke, David O. Russell or Benh Zeitlin can get their first. 1) Best picture: No matter how many awards “Argo” has won over the past six weeks, no one will rest until they see the final outcome of the competition and whether, in a year of diverse greatness in film, there will be one final twist at the Oscars. Jon Weisman blogs about awards season at weblogs.variety.com/thevote.