And the winner is ...

Hollywood’s starry night will highlight good year for movies

Photo by JEES PINKHAM -- Quvenzhane Wallis as Hushpuppy is shown on the set of Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Photo by JEES PINKHAM -- Quvenzhane Wallis as Hushpuppy is shown on the set of Beasts of the Southern Wild.

On Sunday night, stars will arrive in celebrity style at the 3,400-seat Dolby Theatre off Hollywood Boulevard. The nominees for the 85th Academy Awards will be read one more time and then the winners, culled from ballots cast by the 5,856 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, will be announced.

As nominations in the Academy’s 24 filmmaking categories show, it was a good year for movies.

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, an award-worthy account of Abraham Lincoln’s quest to get the slavery-banning 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution through the House of Representatives, leads with 12 nominations.

Daniel Day-Lewis, the British-born actor who’s already received two Oscars, is this year’s frontrunner for best actor. His Lincoln is one of those transformative performances in which an actor morphs into a role and a famous historical character comes vividly to life.

Lincoln also earned the scene-stealing Tommy Lee Jones a best supporting actor nomination for his role as the wily congressman from Pennsylvania, Thaddeus Stevens. And Sally Field is a best supporting actress nominee for her career-highlight portrayal of the 16th president’s volatile spouse, Mary Todd Lincoln.

Both Jones and Field deserve to win, but the competition in their categories is stronger than in the best actor field. Jones’ work in Lincoln is, most of all, facing terrific performances by fellow screen veterans Alan Arkin (Argo) and Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook).

Field’s greatest threat to not winning her third Oscar may be Anne Hathaway, who sings and acts in the role of the doomed Fantine in the screen adaptation of the seemingly everlasting stage musical, Les Misérables.

Echoing Day-Lewis’ grip on the best actor award, Jessica Chastain’s performance in Zero Dark Thirty as a fierce and focused CIA agent who pursues terrorist No. 1, Osama bin Laden, makes her the actress most likely to win the best actress Oscar.

Best director race

Beyond the Oscars’ acting awards, the race for best director is among the closely watched contests.

Earlier this awards season, Spielberg, one of the three Lincoln principals who’s already won two Academy Awards, seemed an easy choice for best director. But David O. Russell, the writer-director of Silver Linings Playbook — a film that’s received eight Oscar nominations and gained steam at the box office — may give master filmmaker Spielberg a run for the golden statuette.

Best picture prospects

As for best picture, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ recent expansion of the number of nominees in that category means nine movies are up for best picture.

Lincoln, of course, is in that number, but there’s also writer-director Quentin Tarantino’s outrageously entertaining Django Unchained; Kathryn Bigelow’s riveting Zero Dark Thirty; Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook; Ben Affleck’s suspenseful and entertaining hit about Americans hiding in Iran after the Islamic revolution, Argo; and the small, made-in-Louisiana Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Beasts in Hollywood

A story set in a Louisiana coastal community at the edge of extinction, grassroots production Beasts of the Southern Wild is this year’s dark horse in the Oscars race. Considering its low-budget origins, the movie’s four marquee nominations — best director, best actress, best picture and best adapted screenplay — are a mighty achievement. And Quvenzhané Wallis, the 9-year-old actress from Houma who stars as Beasts’ leading lady, is the youngest actress in the history of the academy to receive a best actress nomination.

Another Louisiana-connected talent, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and former Lake Charles resident Tony Kushner, received a nomination for best-adapted screenplay for Lincoln.

More than awards

Seth MacFarlane, the writer, actor and producer behind the animated TV series Family Guy as well as Ted, last year’s ribald big-screen comedy hit, makes his first appearance as the Oscars ceremony host.

MacFarlane also is among this year’s nominees, specifically for a song he co-wrote for Ted, “Everybody Needs a Best Friend.” He’s already predicted he will lose to British singer Adele, the performer and co-writer of the latest James Bond theme song, “Skyfall.”

The Oscars show always being about more than awards, Adele and Norah Jones, for instance, will respectively perform original-song nominees “Skyfall” and “Everybody Needs a Best Friend.”

In other Bond music news, Dame Shirley Bassey, the dynamic British vocalist who sang the theme songs for Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker, will make her belated Oscar show debut.

The presenters

Reunions are in the wings for Sunday’s Oscar ceremony. The cast of The Avengers — Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo — and the cast of Chicago — Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere and Queen Latifah — will present awards.

Other presenters and special guests include Jean Dujardin, Christopher Plummer, Octavia Spencer, Meryl Streep, Mark Wahlberg with his teddy bear co-star in Ted, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Daniel Radcliffe, Channing Tatum, Charlize Theron, Salma Hayek Pinault, Melissa McCarthy, Liam Neeson and John Travolta.

Sounds like a starry night.