Steven Spielberg during the filming of 'Lincoln' (Photo: DreamWorks, Twentieth Century Fox, David James)
The best director race remains the most unsettled, and there's less than a week of voting remaining for academy members. The elephant in the room is the academy's snub of Ben Affleck for "Argo." What does it mean when the Directors Guild of America winner -- also anointed by the Producers Guild of America and the British Academy of Film and Television, among so many others -- does not have skin in the game?
If past history is a guide, the winner will be chosen from the DGA nominee shortlist. That would leave only Steven Spielberg ("Lincoln") and Ang Lee ("Life of Pi") as Oscar contenders. But if neither Spielberg nor Lee wins, then who will?
There's lots of love for "Silver Linings Playbook," with "The Fighter" as backup. However, director David O. Russell has yet to win a top-tier directing award this season. As for Benh Zeitlin ("Beasts of the Southern Wild"), it's an honor just to be nominated. What about Michael Haneke for "Amour"? He's got best foreign-language film in le sac, and his star Emmanuelle Riva is on the rise for best actress. But director? Not feeling it.
For me, this is the absolutely toughest category to predict. I bumped into Fox News's Tariq Khan on the subway last week, and he assured me that there were surprises in store:
Tariq Khan: It's a very tough category to call. Ben Affleck would have been a lock. But since he's not there, watch for Ang Lee to pull off a surprise win. Voters will look at their ballots and realize that his work really was 2012's best achievement in directing.
Nell Scovell (television writer, producer, and director who created the TV series "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch"): The broader-based academy voters are not as savvy as the more elite DGA. Spielberg will win again for his piece of Americana.
Thelma Adams: What? No Spielberg backlash, Nell?
Nell Scovell: Hollywood loves Spielberg. And the film was good.
Robert Licuria (editor, Goldderby.com, www.goldderby.com): "Lincoln" leads the pack with an impressive 12 nods. It'll be trumped by "Argo" in best picture. This is a consolation prize like never before. It's Spielberg for sure.
Thelma Adams: I think I'm being dragged in that direction kicking and screaming. It seemed like when the DGA gave the director a standing ovation, there was a little bit of a "step aside, please" for the younger folks. I also respect Tariq's opinion about Ang Lee, even if I don't embrace it entirely. When I attended an academy lunch in Lee's honor earlier in the season, I saw how the "Life of Pi" director could work a room and never seem pushy-pushy. But both men seem like such old news.
Trey Speegle (formerly of Us Weekly, now an independent artist http://treyspeegle.com/): Like the best actor category, it comes down to two films for best director: "Lincoln" and "Silver Linings Playbook." Affleck would have had a very good chance with "Argo," but he wasn't nominated. Ang Lee has a lot of goodwill and love for "Life of Pi," but "Lincoln" is more the kind of film the academy likes to reward. However, "SLP," as many have noted, has nominations in every acting category. If there's an upset in this category, Russell may provide it.
Nell Minow (Movie Mom http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/2012/11/lincoln.html):
The only thing I know for sure is that I will be disappointed when the winner is announced. It is an outrage to give this award to anyone but Kathryn Bigelow or Ben Affleck. The nominees are all talented and [JCW1] made excellent films, but it was "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Argo" that were most clearly the result of the directors' visions this year. Given that the two directors I think are most deserving were not nominated, I'm going to wish for an award for Benh Zeitlin. His direction (and co-writing and co-composing!) was extraordinary.
Nell Scovell: I respectfully disagree, other Nell. I am 100% in the tank for Quentin Tarantino. I cannot believe that he didn't receive a nomination. The direction of "Django Unchained" blew me away.
Belinda Luscombe (an editor-at-large at Time): Chiming in a bit late to agree with @NellScovell. Unless Harvey Weinstein can pull off a "Shakespeare in Love" beats "Saving Private Ryan"-type coup for "Silver Linings." I have a feeling, though, that Spielbergians are out to make sure that doesn't happen.
Nathaniel Rogers (The Film Experience): Like Nell Minow, I'd love to see Zeitlin walk away with a prize for the year's most astonishing debut, though I disagree with (apparently) the masses that Bigelow and Affleck were so outrageously snubbed. Both of the famously "snubbed" directors did fine work, but I didn't find them superior to most of the nominees. And if you're talking complete "only ____ could have made this!" then I think your only choices among the nominees are Zeitlin and Haneke ... or even, to a much lesser extent, Russell. I don't personally like "Silver Linings Playbook," but it's definitely a David O. Russell film complete with his unique embrace of cacophonous collectives of actors all bouncing off of one another. I don't think he controls this one nearly as well as he did with "The Fighter," but it's a different year and a different competitive set.
All that said, I still think Spielberg will win as consolation prize for the numerous categories that "Lincoln" will lose, some of them (like best adapted screenplay) more deserving than best director.
Thelma Adams: Well said, Nat. I'm trying to make peace with a Spielberg win and dry up those Bigelow tears. It's not about me or my favorites, but the academy as a whole. Given the five picks, it seems to me that they've painted themselves into a Spielberg corner.
That's a wrap for this week's virtual roundtable in Yahoo! Movies' run-up to the Academy Awards, to be televised on Sunday, Feb. 24. If you'd like to chime in -- and you have the Oscar chops -- DM me @thelmadams on Twitter.