Over the past few years, Telluride has become the launching pad for Oscar contenders and winners. You’d probably had to have been watching the race evolve over the past 15 years to understand why. Back before they changed the date for Oscar, roughly 2003, the Oscars were held in March. That meant, awards madness really didn’t start until January or so. Funnily enough, I remember the days when December wasn’t the most heated time. As the years wore on, everything was pushed back so that now, September and October are the key months for herding the contenders into the pen.
When the Oscars were held in March we had a situation we don’t have now: the ability to reflect on the films of the year. I can’t say that the films chosen now are better than the ones that came before it. I can’t even say that the Academy’s recent decision to expand the Best Picture nominees from five to ten, then from ten to a random number based on favorites, makes for a better Best Picture lineup. What I do know about then and now is that the Oscars are no longer decided after the public gets a crack at it. They are now decided by the much more insular industry group, with some prodding from the critics and bloggers. Once the PGA announces their winner, it feels like it’s all over but the shouting. That might change — so far, it doesn’t look likely. We now have a monolith club who decide what ought to be Best Picture of the Year.
That’s why the sooner your contender runs the gauntlet the better. Late comers haven’t really won Best Picture since … I can’t even think of the last time. Million Dollar Baby strikes me as one of those because it came in after the two favorites — The Aviator and Sideways — and cleaned their clocks. Of course, history was made to be broken and that is never more true than in the Oscar race.