Things aren’t anywhere near as quiet as they should be right about now. There hasn’t been a No Country for Old Men stretching its legs for the long haul; there probably isn’t a Slumdog Millionaire poised to eat up every available award known to man. That might be Up in the Air. Is there a showdown between a scrappy underdog and a Big Hollywood Movie ready to emerge? If so, there are little to no indicators. This is going to be a last-minute scramble.
And yet, there is much ruminating online about the race, such as it is. A recent New York Observer piece lamented the absence of Oscar movies. Erik Childress has launched his seasonal series, the Oscar Eye and has started to look at the movies but refuses to count in those that haven’t yet been seen. Tom O’Neil recently polled a few to find out their take. Childress has a list of films he thinks are the frontrunners right now but he also has ten images at the top of his site, and those ten seem to be close to what the ultimate ten might look like, give or take a film or two. Remember, the votes are being counted in order of preference. The list will still show films that are passionately loved by many in the Academy.
Keep reading to delve into Deep Background of Academy history when there were ten nominees for Best Pic.
To that degree, there are still some wild card slots to fill. That’s because you’ll have to look at favorites more so than reliable standbys. But, as of now, this looks pretty good to start (*marks films that are still blind spots, but if all goes well, they’re in).
The Hurt Locker
The Lovely Bones*
A Serious Man
Up in the Air
I believe Nine will be a strong contender and will bump one of these titles. I still have my doubts about Up, but since so many others are supporting it, it’s hard to leave it off. My problem with Up continues to be this: why would they put an animated film in the Best Picture category when they already have an animated category? Well, they would do it if the film captured their imagination, the way Ratatouille did, or Wall-E, beyond what they would consider adequate for the animated category. I understand that the animated branch votes on their top three movies, and that the whole Academy will be voting for the Best Pic ten. I guess I am not quite convinced yet that enough of them will choose Up as their top three films of the year. I think it’s going to go a slightly different way – but the truth is, I’d trust other people on this before I’d trust myself – so don’t listen to me. But if I turn out to be right, you heard it here first..
I would, however, if predicting a Best Pic ten, change up the above list, even though it appears to be the general consensus right now. Starting with the most likely and working down, this is a wild shot in the dark guess of what the Big Ten might look like according to me (attempting to put my myself into the mindset of voters at the end of December):
Up in the Air
The Hurt Locker
The Lovely Bones
A Serious Man
This is a very tough year to predict because we have no idea what films are going to be the favorite three. Once the National Board of Review announces their top ten, and the Critics Choice, and the Globes — we’ll get a better idea. But it’s spitting in the wind, I’m telling you, to try to pin it down right now. These are blind guesses at best.
What I wanted to do was take a look at the past years, way back when they did nominate ten Best Picture contenders. How did those films match up with Director and Screenplay? Did the director win along with Picture?
I’m going to skip the first year Oscar voted because in my way of thinking, no patterns can be gleaned from a one-off like that. I’m sure it was all over the place and things settled in a bit better the second year.
So, in 1932/33 they started with ten nominees. For my research, I am simply using IMDb. I just know some smarty pants Oscars person will chime in with corrections – and that’s okay, right? We like corrections. We need corrections.
Cavalcade was the winner.
Only three Best Director nominees. Cavalcade’s director, Frank Lloyd took home the prize. The other two were Frank Capra and George Cukor, both for films nominated for Best Pic. It looks like some of the screenplay nominees did not match up but they were honoring “original story” and “screenplay.” Oh, and they gave out Oscars for assistant directors.
1934 – It Happened One Night became the first of only a handful of films to sweep the top categories. The other nominees were:
Cleopatra (1934) – Paramount
Flirtation Walk (1934) – First National
Here Comes the Navy (1934) – Warner Bros.
Imitation of Life (1934) – Universal
One Night of Love (1934) – Columbia
The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934) – M-G-M
The Gay Divorcee (1934) – RKO Radio
The House of Rothschild (1934) – 20th Century Pictures
The Thin Man (1934) – M-G-M
The White Parade (1934) – Jesse L. Lasky
Viva Villa! (1934) – M-G-M
Again, only THREE directing nominees, all three of whom had pics nominated for Best Picture. Capra won for It Happened One Night, of course. In the screenplay categories, “original stories” weren’t necessarily nominated for Best Pic but the “Best Screenplay” nominees were, same as the year before.
Next, it’s 1935, the winner was Mutiny on the Bounty and we get a Picture/Director split for the first time because John Ford wins Best Director for The Informer. The Big Ten were:
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Broadway Melody of 1936
Ruggles of Red Gap
The Lives of a Bengal Lancer
The Personal History, Adventures, Experience, & Observation of David Copperfield the Younger
And again, we get the same pattern of all three directors on films that were also nominated for Best Pic. Same thing in the writing, with original stories not represented, and screenplays were in the running for Best Pic. We still do not have a ten/five ratio of picture to director.
Finally, 1936, we do get a 10/5 ratio – and ANOTHER picture, director split. The
The winner was The Great Ziegfeld. And the winner for Best Director was Mr. Frank Capra for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.
The other nominees were:
A Tale of Two Cities
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
Romeo and Juliet
The Story of Louis Pasteur
Three Smart Girls
The other four nominees in the category all had films in the Best Picture race EXCEPT My Man Godfrey, which now becomes the first director to be nominated without his picture being represented after they shifted to ten nominees. That is a very bizarre situation to me, and slightly worrisome. What film this year is going to be the My Man Godfrey? Moreover, it totally deserved to be nominated a hell of a lot more than some of the titles that got in. Note to self: consult Damien Bona’s Inside Oscar to find out how this happened.
At this point, I’ll stop tracking screenplays since they are kind of all over the map, with no clear pattern emerging – some are in, some are out. However, Louis Pasteur won in both screenplay categories (story and screenplay) and was also nominated for Best Pic.
Next, 1937, we have The Life of Emile Zola for Best Pic. And another split between Pic and director, with The Awful Truth’s Leo McCarey winning director. All five directing nominees had nominated pictures.
A Star Is Born
In Old Chicago
One Hundred Men and a Girl
The Awful Truth
The Good Earth
1938 brings a Capra again, with You Can’t Take it With You winning both Picture and Director.
The other nominees:
Alexander’s Ragtime Band
La grande illusion
The Adventures of Robin Hood
This marks the first year that all five director nominees were not including in the Best Pic lineup because Michael Curtiz’ Angels with Dirty Faces failed to get a Best Pic nod. It is worth noting that The Grand Illusion ended up the timeless classic (and the first foreign film to be nominated for Best Pic?), as did Jezebel (one of my favorite films).
Then comes the famous 1939, when Gone With The Wind took Best Pic, Director, Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actress, Art Direction, Cinematography, and Editing. The same thing would happen today if someone had the money and balls to make that movie.
The other nine nominees were all great films — all of which have withstood the test of time:
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Of Mice and Men
The Wizard of Oz
In typical Academy fashion, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington didn’t stand a chance against Gone with the Wind even though it was Capra’s best film to date (in my opinion) – a hell of a lot better than You Can’t Take it With You. Still, this was a year that should make Oscar proud looking back.
1940 brings another Picture/Director split, with Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca winning Best Pic, but John Ford winning for The Grapes of Wrath. Hitchcock is one of my favorite directors but The Grapes of Wrath should have won that year.
The other nominees were (again, a stellar lineup of films):
All This, and Heaven Too
Kitty Foyle: The Natural History of a Woman
The Grapes of Wrath
The Great Dictator
The Long Voyage Home
The Philadelphia Story
All five Directing nominees had films represented in the Best Pic category.
1942 – the Citizen Kane vs. How Green Was My Valley year. This was no contest, clearly, as John Ford (whose Grapes of Wrath should have won the year before) wins as Best Director for this epic film. Citizen Kane goes on to become the most critically acclaimed film in history. In the screenplay categories, Citizen Kane deservedly wins for Original. However, How Green Was My Valley does not win for “screenplay,” strangely enough, Here Comes Mr. Jordan does.
The five nominees for director all had films represented in the Best Pic category. The other nine were:
Blossoms in the Dust
Here Comes Mr. Jordan
Hold Back the Dawn
One Foot in Heaven
The Little Foxes
The Maltese Falcon
1942 gives Mrs. Miniver Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actress, Screenplay and Cinematography.
The other nominees were:
The Magnificent Ambersons
The Pied Piper
The Pride of the Yankees
The Talk of the Town
Yankee Doodle Dandy
And again, ALL FIVE directors had films in the Best Pic race.
And now we come to the end of the Big Ten, until 2009. The very last year to feature ten nominees was 1943 – Casablanca wins Picture, Director and Screenplay only.
The other nine were:
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Heaven Can Wait
In Which We Serve
The Human Comedy
The More the Merrier
The Ox-Bow Incident
The Song of Bernadette
Watch on the Rhine
And again, all five directing nominees had films in the best pic race.
Here is what I learned from this research. Take it for what it’s worth:
1. It’s more likely that a picture and director would split under a 10/5 scenario than a 5/5 scenario.
2. It’s less likely that a lone director nod would appear for a film not represented in the Best Pic lineup.
3. Robust epics look even stronger up against nine other really good movies.
4. Then, as now, the name of the director and his (or her) reputation so far means a lot.
5. Then, as now, what came before also matters — the beginnings of the “make up Oscar.”
After looking over this decade or so of ten Best Pic nominees, it seems fair to conclude that perhaps popular films (with the general public) might do better on the whole than “smaller” ones. I can’t wait to see how this all plays out.