The "best bad idea" ended up being brilliant, and so was the movie about the ruse that freed six Americans who ran for their lives from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
"Argo" is about a mission impossible, which is only fitting given the movie's path to Oscar night. Released in October, "Argo" enjoyed early buzz but fell victim to critics luxuriating in the land of "Lincoln."
And then, director Ben Affleck inexplicably didn't make the cut for the five best director slots for the 85th Academy Awards. That galvanized support for him and the film, which regained its momentum, something that almost never happens during Oscar season.
It's still a tight race, and, at the end of the night, "Lincoln" could still be named best picture to go with Steven Spielberg's best director Oscar and Daniel Day-Lewis' coronation as best actor.
As always, don't bet your Powerball money, but here are my predictions about who will (not who deserves to) win on Sunday, although sometimes they are the same:
It opens with a quickie history lesson, clocks in at just two hours (Hallelujah!), is based on a real story that casts Hollywood in a satiric but heroic light, is tense and funny thanks to Alan Arkin and John Goodman, and features actors who look remarkably like the real-life people they portray.
The title comes from the fake sci-fi picture a CIA specialist (Mr. Affleck) claims to be making, while trying to spirit six Americans out of Iran after the hostage-taking in 1979. Yes, the movie exaggerates the peril at the end, but Mr. Affleck proved he could direct, produce, star, tirelessly promote his project and make jokes about his Oscar snub.
Steven Spielberg, "Lincoln"
It could be like the 71st Academy Awards all over again when Mr. Spielberg took the directing prize for "Saving Private Ryan" but "Shakespeare in Love" was crowned best picture. An Oscar outrage.
Although a fixture at the Oscars since being nominated for directing 1977's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," he has only three statuettes -- for directing and producing best picture "Schindler's List" and for directing his epic World War II film that celebrates the heroism of everyman soldiers.
A kerfuffle has arisen over how Connecticut's vote is depicted in "Lincoln," but few directors cherish movies the way Mr. Spielberg does, and it's reflected in his work. Honoring him will serve to celebrate the historical drama that, after all, received 12 nominations.
Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln"
If he wins, he will become the only actor in Oscar history to win three best actor honors, and it couldn't happen to a more talented man. Jack Nicholson has won three Academy Awards, but one was for a supporting role, while Walter Brennan's three Oscars were exclusively in the supporting category.
Katharine Hepburn is still the queen of all performers with four Academy Awards.
Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Is it the performance or the performer? Maybe a little of both as Ms. Lawrence developed pneumonia and soldiered on at black-tie galas and talk shows where she charmed with thank-yous or anecdotes about having a chest X-ray.
In David O. Russell's dramedy, she is a young widow who meets a fellow Philadelphian (Bradley Cooper) battling bipolar disorder and the shards of a broken marriage. She helps him find a silver lining, and he does the same for her.
Some pundits predict Emmanuelle Riva, 85, could be the surprise winner for "Amour" as voters realize this might be her final time on the ballot. Academy Awards sometimes serve as unofficial lifetime achievement awards, so it could happen.
Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables"
It's possible that the love for "Silver Linings Playbook" could sweep Jacki Weaver onto the stage or Sally Field will realize they really do like her, enough to honor her turn as Mary Todd Lincoln. But it seems unlikely that Ms. Hathaway would suddenly fall out of favor with voters after she sacrificed her hair and her appetite and proved she could sing, swoon and steal the show.
Robert De Niro, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Tommy Lee Jones won the Screen Actors Guild honor for "Lincoln" but was absent due to the flu, so he didn't get to audition a speech for the Oscars. Everyone in this category previously has won, but Mr. De Niro hasn't been nominated in more than two decades, so it might be time for him to join the three-peat club.
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
If I had a ballot, it would be my fifth choice -- I would vote for the ground-breaking "Brave" or sweet "Frankenweenie" -- but "Wreck-It Ralph" was the big winner at the Annie Awards, devoted to animation, and it has been the favorite all Oscar season.
"Zero Dark Thirty"
"Amour" will be honored as foreign film, "Django Unchained" has that pesky n-word problem, "Moonrise Kingdom" is polarizing (you either love it or think it's overrated), and "Flight" is more notable for Denzel Washington's performance. That leaves onetime journalist turned screenwriter Mark Boal, who won the Writers Guild of America Award a few days ago despite the tumult over torture.
A visibly nervous and shaken Chris Terrio said in his acceptance speech at the WGA Awards that when he began work on "Argo" he was broke, couldn't make his rent and had to default on his student loans. He effortlessly took a little-known chapter in history, tension at home and abroad, a sly look at how Hollywood and the CIA operate, and wove them together in a bright, smart way.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Given the median age of Academy members (many would have no trouble ordering the senior breakfast at IHOP), this movie has to hit them where they live and love. It's impossible not to be moved and disturbed by the story of a long-married cultured Parisian couple whose world shrinks and then collapses when the wife (Ms. Riva) suffers a series of health setbacks.
"Searching for Sugar Man"
"The Invisible War" deals with a weightier, more important issue -- sexual assault in the military -- but this documentary has awards-circuit momentum. It's about Rodriguez, the greatest '70s rock icon who never was. Hailed as the premier recording artist of his generation, he disappeared into oblivion, rising again from the ashes in a completely different context many miles away.
"Life of Pi"
Roger Deakins won the feature film honor from the American Society of Cinematographers for "Skyfall," and he is overdue at the Oscars. But his achievement may pale next to "Life of Pi," with cinematography by Claudio Miranda, about a disaster at sea and journey over three continents, two oceans, many years and one vivid imagination.
Nominee William Goldenberg just won the prize from the American Cinema Editors for the best edited dramatic feature ("Silver Linings" won for comedy/musical). However, the best picture often wins this award, too, so I'm sticking with the front-runner.
"Life of Pi"
I hate to vote against Joe Letteri, the Aliquippa native who has won four Oscars in this category and is nominated with his team from "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." But seeing is believing in "Life of Pi" in which moviegoers watch a boy and a Bengal tiger being tossed around the ocean in a small lifeboat, for starters.
If you're going with a period film, the safe bet is "Anna Karenina" (one of the winners of the Art Directors Guild honors), but "Lincoln" faced a particular challenge in re-creating the most famous home in America in 1865 and not giving historians any reasons to nitpick. Rick Carter, who handled production design, and Jim Erickson, set decoration, did a remarkable job.
"Life of Pi"
Mychael Danna, who also co-wrote the nominated song "Pi's Lullaby," reportedly drew on many chapters of his musical upbringing -- church choirs, piano, Indian music, electronic music -- to write and record the score. He worked with Indian musicians and a full Los Angeles studio orchestra and incorporated accordion and mandolin flourishes, too.
Adele wrote it, with Paul Epworth, and will perform it on the show. Enough said. Besides, watching her give an acceptance speech should be a kick.
I wouldn't discount "Lincoln" or "Les Miserables," each of which brought special large-scale challenges, but costume designer Jacqueline Durran created outfits emphasizing how Anna, a vain creature, was like a beautiful bird in a cage.
The heroine's face was increasingly masked by heavy lace netting; fur collars and bird feathers were used to symbolic, dramatic effect; and Ms. Durran ("Atonement," "Pride & Prejudice") created a sumptuous jet-black taffeta gown, with an aubergine tone underneath, for the ball where Anna steals the spotlight.
MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Conventional wisdom says "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" but without the scene where Anne Hathaway's real hair is sheared off, she might not be on the brink of Oscar glory. Dwarf wigs from yak hair are impressive but so are the ever-changing curls of Hugh Jackman and the bad hair day of Helena Bonham Carter's Madame Thenardier.
Filmmakers Kief Davidson and Cori Shepherd Stern shine a light on the estimated 13 million African children who suffer from rheumatic heart disease, a problem long ago eradicated in America thanks to penicillin dispensed for such ailments as strep throat. If that weren't problem enough, just one hospital on the continent performs free life-saving heart surgery, we learn while watching eight Rwandan children with literally broken hearts.
ANIMATED SHORT FILM
"Head Over Heels"
"Paperman" is an old-fashioned, elegant entry, but "Head Over Heels" presents a manic marriage in stop motion in which the husband lives on the floor and the wife on the ceiling, until their world flips upside down, courtesy of director Timothy Reckart.
LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
"Death of a Shadow"
You could make a case for any of these nominees, but this one stars Matthias Schoenaerts ("Rust and Bone," "Bullhead") as a World War I soldier marooned between life and death. He was shot to death in 1917 but has a chance to live again, if he can collect 10,000 shadows of dying men and women in this dark fantasy.
"Les Miserables," which was honored in this category by the Cinema Audio Society, had almost 160 minutes of sound and songs to mix and meld.
This category is where the blockbusters, such as "The Dark Knight" or "The Bourne Ultimatum" or "King Kong," excel, so I'm going with the big gun, so to speak.mobilehome - moviesvideo - tvradio