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Right now, Scott Feinberg over at Hollywood Reporter, has Lincoln winning four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay. If it wins those four it shows broad support but it will share the record with the King’s Speech for lowest Oscars won with 12 nominations. But it makes sense in year where there are more than five nominees.

How many Oscars a film wins depends on how much competition it has and where that competition is coming from.  It goes without saying, of course, that history was meant to be broken.  Before the King’s Speech won only four Oscars no film with 12 had ever won that few.

Since there have only been 14 films nominated for Best Picture with 12 nominations, I thought I’d take a look back at those races and how they turned out.

But first, let’s look at the changing landscape of the Best Picture race itself.

–Between 1929 and 1945 the Oscars employed more than five nominees. After 1945 they had only five Best Picture nominees until 2009.

–Only since 2009 has the Academy messed with the number of Best Picture nominees.

–In 2009 and 2010 there were ten.

–Last year, and this year there was an indeterminate number of nominees.

When a film gets 12, 13 or 14 nominations that means broad support which can be had easier when there are fewer Best Picture nominees. This explains why The King’s Speech ended up with only four Oscars against its 12 nominations.  It had more competition.  It also explains why The Artist won 5 of its 10 Oscar nominations even though it appeared it might sweep.  The Hurt Locker did surprisingly well, winning 6 of its 9 nominations.

What was surprising about The Hurt Locker was that it didn’t just beat Avatar in the top categories, it took Oscars from Avatar where it shouldn’t have if Avatar had really been that popular. Conversely, Hugo took many Oscars from The Artist than had been expected because Hugo was more popular than people thought.

Mrs. Miniver and The Song of Bernadette are the only films with 12 nominations during the time when there were more than five and the most Oscars won was only 6.   (Gone With the Wind won 8 competitive Oscars with 13 nominations).  So it’s possible that with more than five Best Picture nominees it’s just not possible to sweep, not with so many other choices for other categories. It is far more likely that they would spread the wealth to reflect so many great movies in the race.

We don’t yet know what film will ultimately be popular with the industry. There seems to be equal support for Silver Linings Playbook and Argo, two films that will be competing in several categories, like Best Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Editing.  Lincoln appears to dominate the techs but it has competition from Life of Pi, and even Skyfall.

Life of Pi, with 11 nominations, could clean up the techs, leaving not that many behind for Lincoln.  It isn’t much in Best Picture where a passionate vote will be reflected because they use the preferential ballot counting.  But in the subsequent categories they still use the weighted ballot and there, passion counts for a lot.  That could give Life of Pi the edge with the techs.

–There have only been two films entering the race with 14 nominations and they both won.  Titanic won 11 Oscars and All About Eve (a high point in Academy history) won 6.

–There have been only 9 films that have entered the race with 13 nominations.  Of those, five won and four didn’t.

–The lowest number of Oscars won for a film with 13 was 3.

–The lowest number of Oscars won by films with 12 nominations was 1.

–Two films with 12 nominations only won a single Oscar.

–Nine films with 12 nominations won Best Picture. Five did not.

–The lowest number of Oscar wins for a film with 12 nominations that won Best Picture is 4.

Here is the chart of films with 12 nominations from the FilmSite.org:

12
 Ben-Hur
1959
11
12
The English Patient
1996
9
12
 On The Waterfront
1954
8
12
My Fair Lady
1964
8
12
Dances With Wolvesscr,cine,score,editing,sound,director
1990
7
12
 Schindler’s List AD,scr,cine,score,editing
1993
7
12
Mrs. Miniver actress,supp,scr.cinema
1942
6
12
Gladiator actor,fx,costume,sound
2000
5
12
The Song of Bernadette *
1943
4
12
 A Streetcar Named Desire *
1951
4
12
The King’s Speech pic,dir.actor,scr
2010
4
12
Reds * cine,dir,supp
1981
3
12
Johnny Belinda * actress (ham sierra mad)
1948
1
12
Becket * screenplay (my fair lady,maryp)
1964
1
12
Lincoln
2012
?

Now let’s take a look at the two that not only didn’t win Best Picture but only won a single Oscar. Some people are predicting that Lincoln might join that dubious distinction by only winning one Oscar for Daniel Day-Lewis.  Both Johnny Belinda and Becket took place after the Academy went back to five Best Picture nominees.  Both of them were in a race with two equally popular films. And both of them won a single Oscar.

Johnny Belinda had to compete against Hamlet (which won) and the equally popular Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  Johnny Belinda had won the Golden Globe for Best Picture, tying with Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  Hamlet had won Best Foreign Film and Best Actor at the Golden Globe. Hamlet had won Best Actor from the New York Film Critics, while Sierra Madre had taken Picture and Director.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre won: Director, Supporting Actor, Screenplay
Hamlet won: Picture, Actor, Art Direction, Costume
Johnny Belinda won: Best Actress

There were three films competing for the top prize and they divided the Academy up at the great cost of Johnny Belinda, which settled on Best Actress and was one of the few in Academy history to have four acting nominations, like Silver Linings Playbook.  Funnily enough, according to Inside Oscar, Johnny Belinda had been made as a showcase for Jane Wyman. They had changed directors half-way through and it was considered to be a good film but a sappy one.  The critics were upset when Hamlet won, with the Hollywood Reporter’s WR Wilkseron writing:

“From anyway you look at it, Hamlet was NOT the Best Picture of the year.  Have we a bunch of goofs among our Academy voters who, like many of the New York critic, kid themselves into believing that Britain is capable of making better pictures than Hollywood?”

The Johnny Belinda year was also marked by being the first year that the “big five” pulled their financial support for the Oscar ceremony, which caused much uproar.

Becket was sandwiched between Mary Poppins (13 nominations) and My Fair Lady, not a great place to be. That was the Julie Andrews vs. Audrey Hepburn war which would split the Academy the same way.

Mary Poppins won: Actress, Visual Effects, Song and Score – also won the Ace Eddie from the editors guild, the WGA.
My Fair Lady won: Picture, Director, Music, Sound, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume, etc. But it also had won the DGA.
Becket won: Screenplay

There was no DGA when Hamlet faced down Johnny Belinda but in all of these cases, for all of these films, the directors were ALL nominated for both the DGA and the Oscar.

That means there really isn’t any comparing this year with Becket at least because if you take Silver Linings Playbook and Argo as the two films competing most closely with Lincoln, one is missing the DGA and the other is missing the Oscar for Director. A more apt competitor would be Life of Pi if you want to find a film that might give Lincoln just the one Oscar win.

Taking a quick look at the films that didn’t win Best Picture but won a decent amount of Oscars anyway – Song of Bernadette was beaten by Casablanca, a Streetcar Named Desire (with 4 acting nods) was beaten by An American in Paris and had the added pressure of A Place in the Sun breathing down its neck, and Reds was beaten by Chariots of Fire.    George Stevens won Best Director for A Place in the Sun and Warren Beatty won Best Director for Reds.

In each of these instances, with the possible exception of Casablanca, the house was greatly divided between many different films.

What we haven’t seen much of lately is this kind of division and a lot of that has to do with the guild awards — SAG, PGA and DGA — which have helped to lay the groundwork for Oscar’s eventual outcome.

My conclusion is that we’ll know better heading into the Oscars whether the other films are as popular among voters as we think they are.  But that’s really all we know. Lincoln could win 1 Oscar for Daniel Day-Lewis, or it could win three and not Best Picture, or it could win four and also Best Picture or it could win as many as six Oscars.

It is still the most likely among the nominees to win Best Picture, whether that turns out to be the case or not.

Chariots-Of-Fire-1