The annual Oscar marathon has come to its final mile, and this year's pack will cross the finish line Sunday night at the Academy Awards. Paul Thomas Anderson's mesmerizing The Master more or less kicked off the race, with nomination-worthy performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Argo followed, quickly becoming a fan favorite, and another accolade on director/producer/star Ben Affleck's growing resume. Steve Spielberg's historical epic Lincoln settled in as a conventional favorite, gaining the praise of critics and former presidents alike. Zero Dark Thirty's track to Oscar glory was threatened by controversy over the film's depiction of torture. The dark dramedy Silver Lining's Playbook surprised viewers with stirring performances by Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert de Niro. Quentin Tarantino's edgy Django Unchained offended some audiences but impressed the Academy, making its blood-soaked way into a few of the Oscar categories. The emotional musical Les Miserables picked up its own share of acting, production, and best picture nominations. And lest we forget: Below-the-radar-treasures Beasts of the Southern Wild, Amour, and Life of Pi, each reveled in their own niches of cult critical fandom and each nabbed a best picture nomination to show for it.
This year's Oscar contingency is stronger than any in recent memory, meaning the ceremony itself is ripe for surprises. Greg Otto and I discuss the races to watch, and offer a few predictions of our own.