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The State of the Race: Can the Social Network Win the Oscar for Best Picture?

In any ordinary year, I wouldn’t be bringing this up so soon. I wouldn’t bring it up for a couple of reasons. The first is that you never want the film you think is the best film of the year to be called the frontrunner. That kills its chances almost immediately. When people stop referring to it as the best film of the year and instead start calling in “the frontrunner” it deflates, ever so slightly.

Nonetheless, the excitement is palpable. Roger Ebert called it “the film of the year,” adding “so far” in his latest tweet and NPR’s Bob Mondello closed his review this way:

Oh, and it’s one that sends you out of the theater buzzing, breathless and eager to tell all of your friends, and friends of friends, that you’ve just seen what might end up being the best picture of the year.

So why then am I now asking about whether it can win or not? Simply because there is a whole cluster of muggles (people who don’t follow the minutiae of the Oscar race) who keep asking the question. Also, Tom O’Neil addressed something of this sort on Gold Derby, wondering whether or not the Academy members wouldn’t get the film, or wouldn’t respond to it.

The responses to that piece are here.

As always with Oscar, the first question you ask is “can it win?” And the answer is, of course, sure it can. The next question is, will it win? And that question can’t be answered until all of the films have been released – that means, mainly, True Grit and The Fighter.

Can it win? It has everything a Best Picture needs. Everything. It has a well known director who is greatly respected by fans though not quite recognized appropriately by the industry. It has a great script by Aaron Sorkin, one of Hollywood’s best writers who has never been nominated for an Oscar. It has a central performance that drives the film. Most importantly, all three elements work in perfect harmony; there isn’t a weak link. With most films there is at least one.

Then you have to ask yourself if it can’t win, why not? If that answer is that the Academy won’t like it because they’re old fuddy duddies – that isn’t a good enough reason. There isn’t anything about the film an average person wouldn’t get. Facebook is not that alienating or complicated. It’s not like we’re talking about C++ or php or SQL. Facebook is an application so dumbed down anyone can use it. If anyone can use it, anyone can understand how it (maybe) came to be.

The only reason why it couldn’t win would be that they “just didn’t like it.” Given that the film has a 98 percent rating at Metacritic, is a male story, written and directed by men, right now it has about as good a chance as a film can have heading into the race.

So, what can prevent it from winning? It’s fairly simple. If another movie comes out that they like better.

And overhype? Overhype is only a problem if the film can’t live up to it. The Social Network can live up to it. If it couldn’t, you’d start to see more bad to middling reviews popping up.

So how is Best Picture looking overall? Here are the films I think have the best chance at winning — but it should be worth noting that True Grit or The Fighter could come out and completely change the game.

But for now, this is the list for films that have been seen.

The Easy Calls
1) The Social Network
2) Inception
3) The King’s Speech
4) 127 Hours
5) Toy Story 3
6) The Kids Are All Right
7) Another Year

The films that have a very good chance but still depend on a few factors, like if they win any early awards (which can sometimes alter the race entirely), or if they make a lot of money:

1) Hereafter (given the short shrift out of Toronto but easily one of the best films of the year, and one of Eastwood’s best)
2) Secretariat (a crowdplease that has the best chance of taking the Blind Side slot)
3)True Grit (we don’t know yet but assume it’s going to fly)
4) The Fighter (Ditto)
5) Winter’s Bone (one of the most acclaimed films of the year – and directed by a woman)
6) Get Low (if Academy members are charmed by it)
7) Made in Dagenham (ditto)
8) Shutter Island (if anyone cares to honor a film that made over $100 mil and was directed by Scorsese, starring DiCaprio, etc.)
9) The Town (but it could simply fade from memory before it is nominated)
10) Black Swan (this is the film that one could say “it’s too weird for the Academy” and it would ring true, but is so well-respected it might sneak in)

Those are the films I feel are most in play. It is looking to be an all-white, all-male Oscars, something noted by Gregg Kilday for the Hollywood Reporter recently. Also, Women and Hollywood’s Melissa Silverstein wrote up a great review of The Social Network from a feminist’s perspective, and why she feels it’s the perfect film for Hollywood: “The Social Network proves that assholes pretty much run the world. As if we needed a reminder.”

From Best Director, right now it feels like:
1) David Fincher
2) Danny Boyle
3) Tom Hooper
4) Christopher Nolan
5) the wild card slot – either Joel and Ethan Coen, Darren Aronofsky, David O’Russell, Martin Scorsese, or someone else. The women, Lisa Cholodenko or Debra Granik always a potential threat.

Best Actor
1) Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
2) Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
3) James Franco, 127 Hours
4) Robert Duvall, Get Low
5) Probably Jeff Bridges for True Grit but there are other possibilities here, like Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine, Mark Wahlberg for The Fighter.

Best Actress
1) Natalie Portman, Black Swan
2) Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
3) Lesley Manville, Another Year (unless she runs in supporting)
4) Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
5) Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole (or someone else – Michelle Williams! Hilary Swank, Diane Lane, Naomi Watts, Julianne Moore, Sally Hawkins)

Supporting Actor:
1) Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech
2) Jim Broadbent, Another Year
3) Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
4) Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
5) Justin Timberlake, The Social Network (or someone else … Josh Brolin or Matt Damon from True Grit. Frankie McLaren for Hereafter if people are paying attention).

Supporting Actress (the least knowable category right now)
1) Lesley Manville (if they run her in this category she just might win) but if not, number one right now is probably Miranda Richardson for Made in Dagenham
2) Helena Bonham Carter for The King’s Speech
3) Ruth Sheen for Another Year
4) Marion Cotillard for Inception
5) Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom or someone else, like any of the actresses from Winter’s Bone, or Amy Adams from The Fighter, or Melissa Leo from The Fighter.

Original Script
1) The King’s Speech
2) Inception
3) Another Year
4) The Kids Are All Right
5) Hereafter, Blue Valentine or Black Swan, or something else – it’s always a competitive category, this.

Adapted Script
1) The Social Network
2) True Grit (if it’s good)
3) 127 Hours
4) Winter’s Bone
5) Toy Story 3

Adapted Screenplay is usually even more competitive than original. The screenplay categories are usually where the films that aren’t going to get Best Picture love turn up.

These are always subject to change. But this is a preliminary list of how the race appears to be shaping up thus far, which isn’t saying much.