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Les Miz Takes Imaginary Lead at Gold Derby

I have never believed you can trust people predicting a movie to WIN that they haven’t seen. It’s sort of like the choice between spitting in the wind and hoping it lands in the cup you can’t see, and just leaning over spitting the cup that’s already sitting there. Hope springs eternal when imaginary movies are winning imaginary Oscars.  It’s like imagining that perfect wedding day with a person you’ve never met. So much could go right. So much could go wrong.

Nonetheless, here is how Best Picture is shaking down over at Gold Derby (and you can add Kris Tapley to the Argo list, though he doesn’t participate in Gold Derby) [UPDATED]:

8 predicting a big win for “Les Miz”: Edward Douglas (Comingsoon),Tariq Khan (Fox News), Sean O’Connell (Hollywood News),Christopher Rosen (Huffington Post), Keith Simanton (IMDB), Alex Suskind (Moviefone), Jeff Wells (Hollywood Elsewhere) and me.

5 “Argo” backers: Pete Hammond (Deadline Hollywood), Scott Feinberg (Hollywood Reporter), Paul Sheehan (Gold Derby), Sasha Stone (Awards Daily) and Susan Wloszczyna (USA Today).

4 still behind “Silver Linings”: Thelma Adams (Yahoo), Steve Pond(The Wrap),  Dave Karger and Chuck Walton (Fandango).

Loyal to “Lincoln”: Matt Atchity (RottenTomatoes), Kevin Polowy(NextMovie) and Glenn Whipp (LA Times).

Anne Thompson (Thompson on Hollywood/ Indiewire) picks “Life of Pi,” Guy Lodge (In Contention/Hitfix) opts for “The Master” andMichael Musto (Village Voice) chooses “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Tom O’Neil doesn’t agree with me on that – he’s of the  mind that you can predict movies without seeing them based on subject matter, pedigree and, if any exists, buzz. A commenter over at his site who calls him Snuggles4 (I can’t get beyond the name – he should be something more formidable?) predicted well in Gold Derby’s Emmy and Oscar contest. But of course, these predictions that were so successful were made right before the Oscars happened. I don’t think anyone tracked last year how early Snuggles4 declared his winners.

It is possible to know very early on – to guess and to be right. The winners of our contest often score way higher than any of the pundits and do so often when you’d think it was too early to know. So these predictions today mean “it’s gonna be this movie unless it isn’t.”

Many of these films have yet to hit the major critics — the only one of them, in fact, is Argo, which passed the test with flying colors.  The rest of them have a few reviews but not the requisite 43 on Metacritic. Not yet.

But let’s go through the ones that are being predicted right now to win shall we?

Honestly, I feel there are two competing films for “frontrunner” status right now. Argo — because, of the combination of audience response and reviews, subject matter and quality ensemble. Silver Linings Playbook because it won the audience award in Toronto, beating Argo. One is a broad, global political story and one is a smaller, honed in, personal story. There aren’t many previous Oscar winning Best Pictures to set the precedent for either of these films — funnily enough, both seem to point to Shakespeare in Love as their best comparison. Silver Linings, though, is more As Good as it Gets and Argo is more … All the President’s Men. Neither of those won Best Picture. You could argue, I guess, that Silver Linings in Rocky and Argo is All the President’s Men.

We go into Argo more on our latest podcast, if you’d care to listen.

These two films head into the race with the most going for them because they’ve been seen by the most people. Argo is the only film that has been seen by all of the critics and is now opening to the public. That is really your best litmus test for Oscar.

Since Guy Lodge is still predicting The Master to win, it’s worth noting that The Master did extremely well with critics, coming in at 85 on Metacritic (as opposed to Argo and Beasts’ 86) and has opened to the public. The response has been divisive.  And divisive ain’t never gonna get you a consensus vote.  Insert comment here about how none of this really matters in the long run.

Silver Linings wowed them in Toronto because it came in with the lowest possible expectations.  That made it an irresistible crowd pleaser.   Does it have enough stuff to take it to the win, beating all the others? There are many open-ended questions still — it hasn’t been reviewed by most of the critics and it hasn’t opened to the public. How it does with the public could really make all of the difference. The Weinstein Co. is a well-oiled machine and if they know they have a winner they know how to sell it.   It isn’t over yet for Silver Linings. In fact, being viewed as the underdog is always the best way to enter the Oscar race.

Lincoln and Life of Pi have been seen now by festival crowds.  Life of Pi is the most moving film I’ve seen this year — well, it’s right up there with Beasts of the Southern Wild in that regard.  It’s the kind of movie that if it hits it will sweep in a big way. That’s the story with Les Miz, too, except one’s been seen and reacted to, and the other still resides in the fantasy realm. Life of Pi is brilliant, audacious, imaginative and extremely well executed. It has the potential to be divisive but it’s still too early to make that call.

Lincoln is trickier.   It has been seen though none of the reviews have come out yet. The responses to it on Twitter were mixed but you really had to read between the lines to suss out which voices are Oscar-corresponding and which voices aren’t. Sure, a Best Picture winner will have to appeal to 20-somethings and 60-somethings alike but with a film like Lincoln, since it’s Spielberg, the critics will ultimately be the ones to shape its Oscar narrative, not the festival-goers.

What Les Miserables appears to have going for it is that, first, it was directed by an Oscar winner, Tom Hooper. Second, it looks as though the performances are all stellar. It is an epic (joining Life of Pi and Cloud Atlas in that regard).  What could be hit or miss is this notion of having no dialogue at all, only live singing. Live singing. It’s a big gamble but one that could pay off enormously.  Still, it’s almost as risky a prediction as saying Django Unchained will win based on the trailer. Complicating matters further is the high expectations raised in predicting a movie to win Best Picture that no one has seen. It almost feels like a curse — since, in all of the years I’ve been watching Oscar I’ve never seen a movie people predicted to win before seeing actually win after being seen. It just never happens — the movies in our heads aren’t usually the movies on the screen.

Still coming: Zero Dark Thirty, The Hobbit,  Django Unchained. You just can’t predict these films to win because no one, not even Snuggles4, has seen it.  O’Neil said he didn’t know whether Snuggles4 had seen it because he wouldn’t say one way or the other. Les Miz has everything going for it sight unseen. But how many movies have we said that about? We seem to never tire of learning this same lesson over and over again.

For my money, right this moment, Argo has the stuff that Oscars are made of. But things could change and change quickly.  We just don’t know anything with so many films left to be seen.

UPDATE: The tally shifted a bit this morning.  SLP lost a supporter who defected to Les Miz.  Tom O’Neill says there was a test screening of Lez Miz at the Arclight Hollywood, Saturday, Oct 6, that went extremely well.  It’s possible his poster “Snuggle4” may have attended that event.  It doesn’t appear any journos have seen the film, but persistent buzz from the Arclight screening could be triggering this new stampede.