I think there has been some confusion in my State of the Race pieces. As the race has changed over the past few weeks different films seem to take their turn on top. On my Gurus of Gold and at Gold Derby I have not yet wavered from 12 Years a Slave. But my role as someone who writes about the Oscars and tracks the race has to be more objective than my own personal predictions where I am allowed a little more freedom in risk-taking. But here’s a few things you should know heading into what pundits are predicting to be a split year.
Pundits are predicting something to happen that has never happened in the history of the Oscars. That in a split-vote scenario the general audience crowd-pleaser (Gravity) will win director and not picture. This is the kind of scenario where people say they “love” one movie but “respect, not love” another movie. You hear this a lot during Oscar season. Bloggers and journalists scurry around pronouncing this. “They” (The Academy) didn’t “love” that movie. “They” loved THIS movie. It has never happened that the movie they respected but didn’t love won picture. The respected movie has always won director while the “loved” movie has always won picture.
Please note: This is not applicable in a non-split scenario.
This year, if you clear out the smoke from what the pundits are saying and you just look at the facts you’ll see that American Hustle is in the position similar to Crash, Shakespeare in Love and Traffic — it won the SAG ensemble. The actors could push it to a win in a split vote scenario. You could see Cuaron win director and Hustle win Picture. You could see McQueen win director and Hustle win Picture. You could see McQueen win director and Gravity win Best Picture. What you are least likely to see is Cuaron winning director and 12 Years a Slave winning Picture. It just doesn’t happen that way. Pundits could turn out to be right but from where I sit at this moment in time it looks like they are predicting something that is counter-intuitive.
So, I’m betting that voters will put their might behind Steve McQueen and that will give 12 Years enough momentum to win both. I am the only person in my sphere predicting this. I have to also offer up to you, dear readers, and the world at large the much more likely scenario: Gravity and Cuaron to win both. There are good points to be made on either side. But Oscar history backs the Gravity win WAY MORE than the 12 Years win, even without Gravity’s SAG ensemble or screenplay nomination. The proof:
2005 – Crash/Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain
2002 – Chicago/Roman Polanski for The Pianist
2000 – Gladiator/Steven Soderbergh for Traffic
1998 – Shakespeare in Love/Steven Spielberg for Saving Private Ryan
1989 – Driving Miss Daisy/Oliver Stone for Born on the Fourth of July
1981 – Chariots of Fire/Warren Beatty for Reds
1972 – The Godfather/Bob Fosse for Cabaret
1967 – In the Heat of the Night/Mike Nichols for The Graduate
1956 – Around the World in 80 Days/George Stevens for Giant
1952 – The Greatest Show on Earth/John Ford for The Quiet Man
1951 – An American in Paris/George Stevens for A Place in the Sun
1949 – All the King’s Men/Joseph L. Mankiewicz for A Letter To Three Wives
1948 – Hamlet/John Huston, Treasure of the Sierra Madre
In the split years, the films with the most nominations beat the ones with less.
1940 – Rebecca/John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath
1937 – The Life of Emile Zola/Leo McCary, The Awful Truth
1936 – The Great Ziegfeld/Frank Capra, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
1935 – Mutiny on the Bounty/John Ford, The Informer
True, some of these very early split vote scenarios are a coin toss – so even if you argue that the Great Ziegfeld vs. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town might have been a good example of 12 Years winning Picture and Cuaron winning director it really isn’t — one is a “big” movie. 12 Years a Slave is the actual literal scrappy underdog that could. Gravity is the big giant studio movie that got the most nominations. It is also the one more beloved. The heart wants what it wants. I don’t even know if one can look as far back as the 1930s to dictate Oscar behavior now but those were the last time split votes occurred with a preferential ballot.
You could maybe argue that The Godfather and Cabaret represented one movie people loved versus one movie they respected but The Godfather was the highest grossing film of that year and came into the race with the most nominations. It was not only respected and loved but still is, all of these years later. Cabaret was the more artistically and thematically daring — not what you’d call a general audience crowd-pleaser that would work in, say, the flyover states to the same degree. That’s just my opinion but it’s really the only one I can see with wiggle room in this narrative.
But you should continue to predict the most likely outcome on March 2 — that Gravity and Cuaron will win. I myself am old and tired. I am sick of looking out the window and seeing the sun shining and announcing to you all — oh look, the sun is shining that means it’s going to be a beautiful day. To satisfy my own boredom and to make the race interesting to me I try to be the one person who doesn’t follow the groupthink. But don’t you be like me.