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Best Picture – of Frontrunners and Potential Upsets

Two big differences this year will ultimately affect the outcome of the race. The first is that there were ten Best Pic nominees.¬† The second is that they moved the Oscars back to March, not quite late March like they used to be – but at least they’re in March.¬† Changing the date changes the pattern of the way the Academy chooses its winners because there is more time to think about the general consensus.¬† The general consensus is set in place over at the Gurus of Gold, which has your usual suspects in first place — the only categories have some disagreement are Best Picture and the two screenplay categories.

One question that keeps nagging at me is the idea of The Hurt Locker, a tiny movie hardly anyone saw, actually winning Best Picture. It has everything going for it except that Avatar is more popular, Inglourious Basterds won the SAG.  What it has in its favor, of course, is that it has won when large voting bodies have come together, most importantly, the DGA. One crucial loss was the SAG ensemble vote.

The other weird part of the equation, is the preferential voting system in place for Best Picture. Because of that, no one should be sure that they know what film will be called when they open the envelope for Best Picture.   The films that have the most going for them are Avatar (which has no acting nor writing nominations), Up in the Air (no editing nomination), Precious (in a great place to upset), The Blind Side (if love for Sandra and general sentiment pushes it through). And of course, the one that won the SAG ensemble award and is sitting pretty with 8 nominations, only one less than the two films that lead.

The films that have the crucial nods to win (Picture, acting, writing, directing, editing) are: The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds and Precious. Only those three. By the rules we know, those are, therefore, the three films with frontrunner Best Picture status.

Avatar has the Golden Globes double win and it has the record-breaking box office. But that’s pretty much it. This film should have had Best Picture in the bag and yet it doesn’t. So what went wrong? Did the publicity team fumble the ball by trying to sell the acting?¬† Or has Jim Cameron decided to tip the vote in Bigelow’s favor, being that he has always been her biggest champion and fan knowing he already has a whole bunch of Oscars waiting at home?¬† We’ll never know why Avatar from went from high to low in the Oscar race, and maybe we still don’t know. Maybe we are we kidding ourselves and the film will still win even without acting and writing nominations. Maybe the publicity team’s non-campaign is staying quiet in order to not appear as the Goliath who is going to stomp on little David.

Inglourious Basterds lost a nomination for Diane Kruger or Melanie Laurent. Kruger was robbed, in my opinion, and I feel that she gave one of the best performances of the year, male or female, lead or supporting. But affection for Crazy Heart and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s general popularity within the industry (Kruger is still a bit of an outsider), Kruger lost that crucial nod. Had she gotten it, Inglourious Basterds would have dominated, along with Avatar and The Hurt Locker – a three-way tie for nine nominations each. That is pretty incredible.

What Inglourious Basterds has going for it, especially in terms of this preferential ballot, is that it was the most popular film with actors, beating The Hurt Locker for ensemble. This might not seem like a big deal, but sometimes the SAG ensemble can really mess with things. Twice, when there was a split between Picture and Director, the SAG ensemble came into play: Shakespeare in Love, Crash.¬† In both cases, one film won all of the critics awards, dominated in the precursors, only to be taken down in the final act by a film the actors preferred. The actors are important in the Best Picture race because they dominate in the Academy. They might make the difference in a preferential ballot. Not saying it’s going to happen, but it’s worth noting at this stage of the game.

Up in the Air, by contrast, did not get a SAG ensemble vote. Like Inglourious Basterds winning the SAG, where one could understand why a film full of actors would win, likewise, Up in the Air is really those three performers, all three of whom WERE nominated for the SAG. It is not that meaningful, therefore, that it is missing that nomination, but it’s worth noting, since we’re taking notes. Also, Up in the Air missed an editing nomination — and that is fairly surprising, considering the editing is quite notable in the film. Again, not a deal-breaker, but worth noting for the record.¬† Can Up in the Air still upset? Of course it can. One thing it has going for it for the Best Pic win is that Ivan Reitman is one of the producers. His friendships alone will pad the votes for that film. George Clooney could also work behind the scenes, calling forth his many friends and contacts to vote for it. And George Clooney is friends with everybody.

Precious is the true dark horse in all ways. For one thing, Precious is the first Academy Award nominated Best Picture that was directed by a black man, an “out” gay black man. That fact has mostly been left in the dust because Kathryn Bigelow is also breaking records. The fact that Daniels is black isn’t enough to push that film through. But what is remarkable about Precious is that it, like its star Gabby Sidibe, has been flying under the radar, quietly collecting all of the crucial nominations a Best Picture upset needs. It had a SAG ensemble nod, it has an Oscar nod for editing.

In the end, The Hurt Locker has everything a Best Picture frontrunner needs except: The SAG ensemble win and the box office. The box office is becoming part of its story of incredible success, making it truly the little movie that could. And the more the right wingers hammer its treatment of the military just serves to make them look bad, just as it did when they attacked Avatar – it made them look bad and it made the films look good.

The Hurt Locker is driven by the potential to shatter the chains of history. It is driven by its flawless directing (Bigelow keeps winning on merit, make no mistake about that) and its story. But mostly, it nails the Holy Triad — writing, directing and acting. Nails it, without exception. There is not a single bad performance in the film.

Still, here’s the thing. Ballots go out on the 8th. There is time for shit to go down. This is the moment where things will turn ugly because there is time to turn some of the categories around. The intense campaigning between nominations and final ballots is what forced the Academy to move their date back in the first place (that, and to attach themselves to the February sweeps). Because we are on the Oscar watch, as always, we will be on the lookout for foul play.

At any rate, this is how it is looking right now:

Most Likely – The Hurt Locker
Could upset – Up in the Air, Inglourious Basterds, Avatar, Precious

Next up, the actors.