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Some articles need expiration dates. “This product could be dangerous if consumed after __/__/__ .” The Oscar race, you see, is definitely cooking. Publicists, studios and stars are putting their freshest products on prominent display. This sample platter is available in movie theaters, at private screenings, in pressrooms, and even at holiday parties where the stars come to shake hands with tastemakers (of wildly varying tastes). It’s all an elaborate prepping ritual for the main event, the Oscars. But who is to say which films and performances the Academy voters will eventually nibble on and then toss aside, and which they’ll devour with abandon?
Let’s not belabor the food analogy, but let's just say that in these Oscar-campaign situations, some hopes ripen and some hopes rot right there on the spot. Come next week, with the announcement of the Golden Globe nominations (and to a lesser extent the sudden influx of critics prizes), the Academy appetite could shift dramatically. But so far, this is what we’re predicting they’ll be nibbling on in January.
Best Picture Players
Last year’s major Oscar shift—increasing from 5 to 10 Best Picture nominees—may have radically altered the shape of many film seasons and Hollywood careers to come, but in some ways it’s made the prediction game far less exciting. With only five spots, there would sometimes be intensely exciting battles of uncertain outcome for that 5th spot. And those battles mattered, since you could definitely be one of the big players on Oscar night and still be denied a Best Picture shot.
With ten nominees, there will still be annual skirmishes for the 9th and 10th spots, but they don’t feel as bloody, since anything towards the bottom of the Best Picture pile isn’t fighting for numerous statues. Currently, there are roughly a dozen pictures in play, which means two of them are doomed. Let’s take them in alphabetical order.
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
Those first eight seem highly plausible, even likely, as Best Pictures nominees—whether through multiple category appeal (Inception, 127 Hours), constant presence in the conversation (The Kids Are All Right, Winter’s Bone), general audience popularity (Toy Story 3, The Town), or frontrunner perceptions (The Social Network, The King’s Speech).
From there it gets much trickier, and that’s largely because four more potential heavyweights have just arrived or are about to. They’ve had less time to seep into the Oscar imagination and stick in media conversation. Unless they can dislodge one of the “settled” eight above (The Town, which might have trouble winning the crucial #1 ballots, and The Kids Are All Right, which some would say has been shrinking down to a Best Actress discussion only seem most vulnerable), there’s only two spots to fight over.
Though only 12 pictures seem to have real heat, a concerted effort by numerous critics groups for an underdog or an unexpectedly potent nomination tally at the Golden Globes or the BFCA awards could still energize a less discussed option—like Peter Weir’s WW II drama The Way Back, the Australian crime drama Animal Kingdom, or John Cameron Mitchell’s sensitively mounted grief drama Rabbit Hole, among others. It’s unlikely but you never can be sure.
Whittling the 12+ contenders down to a final ten is entirely up to the Academy voters but numerous groups will offer to help.
The Critics Choice Awards (That’s the BFCA), will name 10 films as Best Picture nominees on Sunday, December 12. Last year, forgotten in the small ruckus of that Bullock/Streep kiss, was their last ditch effort to prop up the lukewarm inspirational sports film Invictus and the flailing musical Nine, both of which had long been assumed to be big deal Oscar contenders. But the Academy rejected those obvious hopefuls and went with the box office smash inspirational sports film The Blind Side and the sci-fi political allegory District 9 instead. Otherwise the lists matched up.
The Golden Globes (That’s the HFPA) will name their nominees on Tuesday, December 14. They’re the trickiest major group to read (and thus the most fun to speculate about), since they divvy the films up into Drama and Comedy/Musical. This division has been very important over the years, since Oscar is typically resistant to comedies, given their love of message films, deep themes and ‘triumph of the human spirit’ narratives. But the high-profile Globe attention that always goes to presumptively lighter fare can—and has—softened that Academy resistance in the past. This year, only one of the 12 assumed Oscar Best Picture threats is a shoo-in for that Comedy Picture nomination at the Globes (Toy Story 3 is only eligible for the Animated Globe). That’s very good news for that one film, the family comedy The Kids Are All Right—unless the Globes snub it, in which case the kids will most definitely not be all right.
Given that the Globe voters will have to shun half of the major Oscar contenders in their Best Motion Picture Drama category, they could radically alter some Oscar fortunes next weekend. I’m half expecting a big surprise like, say, Rabbit Hole interrupting the party, since the Globes rarely do entirely what’s expected of them. And given that they’re going to have to scramble to fill the Comedy slots this year, maybe Made in Dagenham, the amusing, well-acted story of a women’s strike in 1960s England, can find some much needed Oscar traction for its actresses, despite its disappointing box office performance thus far.
But you know what I’m personally hoping for? I’d love to see a wild disconnect between the Globe and the Critics Choice nominees. Confusing and unpredictable Oscar races are much more fun to watch. If everyone disagrees, the conversation stays lively and the attention turns back to the movies themselves, which is where it always should be. It’ll make for better gambling on Oscar night, too.
More in our 2010 Oscars series: