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O’Neil, Matthews Declare ‘Basterds will Win’

Oscar race 2010 looks like a cliffhanger right now. At one point it looked like Avatar was going to steamroller the thing. After the Golden Globes it felt like Avatar couldn’t lose. But that awards show often feels like an audition for the Oscars – how does it feel to see that film and that director win? Turns out, it didn’t fell that great. A short while later, The Hurt Locker won the PGA, then the DGA, and now threatens at the WGA this weekend, not to mention BAFTA. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Avatar is out of the running. But many out there in the prognosticating world feel like The Hurt Locker can’t win, probably because of the money. Enter Inglourious Basterds. Tom O’Neil’s has been predicting it would win for quite some time.

Here is Tom on the topic:

One of the most respected Oscarologists on the planet, Jack Mathews — former film critic of the New York Daily News who now writes for Moviefone — believes that “Basterds” has a real shot to win: “A very good case can be made for its ability to pull off a ‘Shakespeare’-size upset. It received just one less nomination than ‘Avatar’ and ‘The Hurt Locker’ and it has received them in all of the pertinent categories — picture, directing, acting, screenplay and film editing. It also did well at the box office, selling $120.5 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada and $193 million overseas. Academy voters don’t always reward the biggest commercial success, which is ‘Avatar;’ nor are they known for throwing gold in the direction of box office bombs, which is ‘The Hurt Locker.’ Compared to those extremes, ‘Basterds’ may have just the right mix of good filmmaking and commercial appeal.”

“Basterds” also has something else in its favor that often decides what wins best picture: a famous person behind it who’s overdue for Oscar glory.

Is Tarantino really overdue?¬†¬† I think he still has a long way to go before he’s “overdue.”

Former Variety editor Peter Bart has a brilliant Oscar theory we should all carve on tablets to be doled out from mountaintops. He says that movies that win best picture almost always have a recognizable person behind them that we wish to give an Oscar. “Million Dollar Baby” (2004) and “Unforgiven” (1992) won, for example, because Hollywood wanted to hug Clint Eastwood. No one — let’s be honest — thought that “The Departed” was the best picture of 2006. It prevailed because Hollywood wanted to give an overdue best picture hug to Marty Scorsese. Even though “A Beautiful Mind” (2001) was under fierce media attack for sugarcoating the oft-sordid story of its real-life protagonist, it still won because Hollywood was determined to catch up with Ron Howard.

Of the key people behind the three current best picture leaders, there’s less urgency to reward James Cameron since his “Titanic” swept in the past, tying “Ben-Hur’s” record (11 wins). But he’s not completely out of the running considering that Eastwood’s films won twice. However, “Avatar” may be cursed because no sci-fi flick has ever claimed the top Oscar.

If so, then best picture is a race between Kathryn Bigelow and Tarantino. Early tea leaves say Bigelow should win because she claimed top honors from two prizes that often mirror Oscar’s outcome: the producers’ and directors’ guilds. In fact, PGA’s voting method mirrored Oscar’s exactly using a preferential ballot with 10 nominees and “The Hurt Locker” won. Doesn’t that guarantee that it’ll win best picture at the Oscars too?

No. This year the main focus is chiefly on Bigelow. She’s a glamorous, even heroic filmmaker — a sexy person to vote for in many ways. At PGA and DGA there was only one category for voters to embrace her. However, at the Oscars, there are two — best picture and director — and that’s the key difference. Voters will certainly give Bigelow the Oscar for best director and, once they’ve checked off that list, they may wish to go elsewhere with their best picture vote. Maybe to that other notable person who’s overdue for Oscar glory: Tarantino.

As I wrote to Tom, I disagree about The Departed’s winning because they “wanted to give it to Scorsese.” It won because it was the best of the nominated five. It’s really as simple as that. But you can read my response to Tom when he posts it to his page if you feel so inclined.