We as Oscar pundits invest so much of our time into the Oscar race, nearly a whole year, that the narrative we have planned out tends to want prominence in our minds even when the stats are against it. In the 14 years I’ve been covering this race it always comes to this point in the year where we start to drag out the freak years, the one-offs, the anomalies in hopes of finding evidence that our desired narrative still has a chance to flourish.
The funny part of it is, this is one of the years the exceptions might actually come true. There are so many odd things that have happened for the very first time ever in Academy and guild history that we actually might see some strange things transpire come Oscar night. Or we won’t. There is either one frontrunner to rule them all (none has emerged so far) or it will be split up all over the place. I don’t think there can be a wrong prediction right now.
But first let’s look at the anomalies from the past and then we’ll look at what has changed this year and whether any of it will make a difference.
What are the biggest freak incidents in recent years?
1. Driving Miss Daisy – Best Picture winner without a director
This one gets trotted out every time there is a lack of a director nomination. People keep saying that the Driving Miss Daisy rule is so old that it’s about time for it to get broken. That year, Bruce Beresford was not nominated for a Globe, a DGA or an Oscar, funnily enough. It won many critics awards for Jessica Tandy and many for Morgan Freeman. It also won the WGA and the PGA. Driving Miss Daisy had earned a whopping $106 million at the box office and for 1989 that was HUGE, especially for a movie that was really just about two people talking. Who even remembers what it was about anymore? But the audience ate it up. It was up against Field of Dreams ($64 million), Dead Poet’s Society ($95 million), Born on the Fourth of July ($70 million), and My Left Foot ($14 million)
It was mostly a fluke that Driving Miss Daisy, starring an old woman, led the box office wasn’t it? But it was an extremely popular movie at a time when box office really mattered at the Oscars. Around the year 2000, box office stopped mattering. It always helps, of course — a movie can never LOSE money — but it stopped being a driving force twelve years ago. This year, box office feels like it’s back with a vengeance since this is one of those years when many of the Best Picture contenders have already made $100 million.
So why wasn’t Bruce Bereford nominated? Because there were better, more important directors who were: Woody Allen (Crimes and Misdemeanors), Kenneth Branagh (Henry V) — they replaced Beresford and Phil Alden Robinson. Had 1989 been a year like this one, Henry V and Crimes and Misdemeanors would probably also be Best Picture nominees. And this is your best argument for Argo. To be on Driving Miss Daisy’s level, Argo will have to win the PGA and the WGA (against Kushner and Lincoln) at the very least.
Oscar Best Picture winner: Driving Miss Daisy + Screenplay + Actress + Makeup
Best Director (Oscar and DGA): Oliver Stone, Born on the Fourth of July + Editing
2. Braveheart vs. Apollo 13
Ron Howard is one of the few directors to win the DGA and then not be nominated for the Oscar. Many thought that meant Apollo 13 would then win the Oscar for Best Picture. After all, it had won the PGA and the SAG ensemble too. Braveheart had won the Globe for Director for Mel Gibson, the Eddie and the WGA. Mel Gibson was nominated for both DGA and Oscar, though, so that would mean the Mel Gibson’s of this year’s race would be or could be Spielberg and Ang Lee. Like Braveheart, Life of Pi is notable for having no acting nominations. It is also likely to win similar Oscars if it does win: Cinematography and Visual Effects [Braveheart won for Sound Effects Editing].
Oscar Best Picture and Director winner: Braveheart + Cinematography + Visual Effects + Makeup
DGA winner: Ron Howard, Apollo 13 + Editing
3. Reds vs. Chariots of Fire
Here is another weird one, although both Hugh Hudson and Warren Beatty were nominated for the DGA and the Oscar. It was a surprising win that really only Ang Lee and Life of Pi could manage to replicate this year. Reds ended up winning Best Director at the DGA and the Oscar but the little movie that made more money and cost less than Reds prevailed as Best Picture. It was also the general audience crowdpleaser, by comparison, though it really had only won Best Foreign Film at the Globes and Best Film at the NBR before shocking everyone by winning the Oscar.
Oscar Best Picture winner: Chariots of Fire + Screenplay + Costume + Score
Best Director DGA and Oscar: Warren Beatty, Reds + Supporting Actress + Cinematography
4. Crash vs. Brokeback Mountain
Brokeback Mountain had won virtually all of the critics awards. Paul Haggis had no Globes nomination for Director (though he did have a DGA and an Oscar nod for director). Crash won the SAG ensemble, the Eddie and the WGA before winning Best Picture. This isn’t a Brokeback Mountain vs. Crash year, not yet at least. Crash was helped because it cost practically nothing to make and was far more easily digested than Brokeback Mountain, a masterpiece too many refused to watch.
First, before we begin, we’ll talk about the why — since Ben Affleck’s Argo and Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, arguably Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables were shut out of Oscar’s Best Director list that thrust them into the realm of Oscar freaks. The Academy’s directors honored Steven Spielberg, David O. Russell, Ang Lee, Benh Zeitlin and Michael Haneke. Probably only three out of five of those can win but there is always the chance the other two could as well. It is just that kind of a year.
Best Picture winner: Crash + Screenplay + Editing
Best Director DGA and Oscar: Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain + Screenplay + Score
5. Saving Private Ryan vs. Shakespeare in Love
Although both John Madden and Steven Spielberg were both nominated for Globes director, DGA and Oscar it was assumed that Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg big World War II epic, would win Best Picture. But in the days leading up to the Oscars, just as with Crash, buzz on the street was that Shakespeare in Love, the SAG ensemble + WGA winner, would take it instead. Although Shakespeare in Love is the better written film, probably, this remains among the most contentious years in Oscar history
Best Picture winner: Shakespeare in Love + Actress + Supporting Actress + Screenplay+Art Direction + Costume+Score
Oscar and DGA winner: Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan + Editing + Sound Effects Editing + Cinematography
6. Gladiator vs. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon vs. Traffic
Steven Soderbergh had two movies in the race, Erin Brockovich and Traffic. Voters kept splitting his vote and he didn’t win anything so Academy people sent around messages to each other saying they should align around Traffic. In the end, Ang Lee won the DGA for directing, while Gladiator won Best Picture and Steven Soderbergh, in a shocker, took Best Director.
Best Picture winner: Gladiator + Actor + Costumes + Visual Effects + Sound
Best Director DGA: Ang Lee, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon + Art Direction + Cinematography + Foreign Language Film + Score
Best Director Oscar: Steven Soderbergh, Traffic + Sreenplay + Editing + Supporting Actor
7. Chicago vs. The Pianist
This was a strange year because Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York had come in so powerfully in the beginning. But it would end up going home empty handed. At the same time, The Pianist was coming up strong especially at the BAFTAs. Chicago was the film that made the most money and was the most popular (it is still one of the most popular Best Picture winners in recent history). It was a big Weinstein get at the time and it was the monster that couldn’t be stopped. But its director, Rob Marshall, wasn’t popular or well known enough yet to beat back the lure of Roman Polanski.
Best Picture winner: Chicago + Supporting Actress, Editing, Sound, Art Direction, Costumes
Best Director DGA: Rob Marshall, Chicago
Best Director Oscar: Roman Polanski, The Pianist + Actor + Screenplay
–For Argo to win it would become only the second film in Academy history, 85 years of it, to win Best Picture without a director nomination, but that hasn’t stopped many from predicting it might. This would become more likely if Argo won the PGA and SAG ensemble, and Affleck won the DGA. Even then, it might not have the muscle to seize the Oscar. Scott Feinberg at the Hollywood Reporter lays out how the Affleck supporters can get the write-in vote instituted so that Affleck might also win Director. Grand Hotel is the other film win without a director nomination in 1932 but the difference then was there were only three director nominees — one of a multitude of things that were different 80 years ago.
–For Zero Dark Thirty to win it would become the second film in Academy history to win without a director nomination, the second film in SAG history to win without a SAG ensemble nomination and one of a handful of films by a director to win so close to having won previously.
–For Silver Linings Playbook to win it would have to be the second film in 65 years of DGA/Oscar history to win without a DGA nomination, and the second film to win Best Picture without a Globe nomination for Director from the Musical Comedy category. It would also be only the second time in Globes and Oscar history that a film lost in the comedy and went on to win Best Picture. (Annie Hall in 1977 is the only film that ever did).
–For Les Miserables to win it would have to be the first musical without a Globes nomination for Director to win Best Picture and the second film to win without a director nomination.
–Beasts of the Southern Wild and Amour would make history for not having a DGA nomination, nor any SAG nominations.
Now let’s look at what changed this year.
1. The Oscar nomination ballots were turned in before the PGA/WGA nominees were announced and most notably the DGA as well. No matter what anyone says, there’s a perception shift when five names are put forth by such a large group as the DGA and perception matters. When 14,500 DGA voters say these are the five best it probably has more influence than we’d all like to think. It didn’t really have much of an impact in terms of WGA and PGA and Oscar but the DGA’s disconnect resulted in a huge mismatch. This doesn’t mean Ben Affleck, Tom Hooper and Kathryn Bigelow would have made the Oscar Best Director list but it’s something to consider.
2. The BAFTA voters changed their voting procedure for the first time. They moved their date in the year 2000 so that their awards would take place before the Oscars and ever since then they released a long list that narrowed the field to manageable clusters of top contenders. Voters from all of the branches voted from the long list to create the nominees. The long list would have asterisks which indicated which nominee members of the individual branches favored most — but those names didn’t always make it onto the ballot. Sometimes names without an asterisk got in. This is the first year the BAFTA is voting without the long list as guide. But that doesn’t mean Spielberg would have made it on their ballot. Anyway, it’s just one more thing to consider.
3. For the first time since they originally pushed back their date (2003 or thereabouts) the Academy has reduces the number of days in the nomination phase shorter and extended the time to consider which the winners to choose post-nomination. That is the thing that has thrown the whole race into chaos. Since they originally changed the date, the momentum swing toward one contender was mostly unavoidable. Everyone voted at once so the winners tended to fall neatly into line across the board. Now, final Oscar ballots don’t even go out until February 8 so that gives voters plenty of time to think about things and decide what film really deserves to be named Best Picture of the year. Watching the dynamics of the race change since they pushed the Oscars back to February, we’ve seen the process settle into patterns that made for a very predictable awards season. We might not see that this year.
4. For only the second time in their history, the Oscars have more than five Best Picture nominees but not an even ten. When you have more than five the final votes tend to reward films that have broad appeal rather than those with passionate support. Passion gets you in for nominations but it doesn’t really help you win so much as being broadly liked. This benefits Argo, Silver Linings Playbook and Lincoln more than the others; if they aren’t number 1s they will be 2s or 3s. But passion seems to have benefitted Life of Pi, Amour, and Beasts of the Southern Wild.
5. Voters had the opportunity, amid much fanfare and some controversy, to vote online. According to the Academy, this resulted in a “record turnout.” Some observers online doubted that because many reported some trouble. The worst trouble occurred whenever a voter entered in the wrong password three times because they then had to wait 24 hours to reset it. Some ran into this snag too late and ended up not voting at all. If it were me, I would be much more apt to vote online than mail it in. I am terrible with mailing things now. So I am one person who is not surprised by the Academy’s statements — either way, this confusion might cause some kind of shift in voting in one direction or another.
So, how have the nominees shaken down this year?
2012 PGA | Globes Director | WGA | SAG | ACE| DGA | Oscar Best Director | Best Picture
|PGA||Globes Dir||WGA||SAG||ACE||DGA||Oscar director||Best Picture|
|Life of Pi||Life of Pi||Life of Pi||Life of Pi||Life of Pi||Life of Pi||Life of Pi|
|ZDT||ZDT||ZDT||Actress||ZDT||ZDT||Zero Dark Thirty|
|Les Mis||Not eligible||Les Mis||Les Mis||Les Mis||Les Mis|
|Beasts of the Southern Wild||Not eligible||Not eligible||Beasts of the Southern Wild||Beasts of the Southern Wild|
Pros: Globes nod for Director, PGA/DGA/WGA/SAG ensemble/EDDIE/editing nomination/leading Oscar nominations with 12/strong Best Actor contender/strong adapted screenplay contender/$153 million so far.
Cons: No BAFTA nomination for director.
Pros: Globes nod for Director, PGA/DGA/WGA/SAG ensemble/EDDIE/editing nomination/strong adapted screenplay contender/$110 million so far/happy ending/hardly any negative reviews/multiple critics awards
Cons: No Oscar nomination for Director.
3. Life of Pi
Globes nod for Director, PGA/DGA/WGA/EDDIE/editing nomination/second leading Oscar nominations with 11/strong adapted screenplay contender/happy ending/ginormous worldwide box office at $400 mil.
Cons: No SAG nominations, no acting nominations.
4. Zero Dark Thirty
Globes nod for Director, PGA/DGA/WGA/EDDIE/editing nomination/strong Best Actress contender/strong original screenplay contender/hardly any negative reviews/best reviews of the year/multiple critics awards
Cons: No Oscar nomination for director/No SAG ensemble/recent Oscar win/political controversy
5. Silver Linings Playbook
PGA/DGA/WGA/SAG ensemble/EDDIE/editing nomination/strong Best Actress contender/strong adapted screenplay contender/four acting nominations/happy ending
Cons: No DGA/Globe nomination for director.
6. Les Miserables
PGA/DGA/SAG ensemble/EDDIE/strong Best Supporting Actress contender/beloved musical/hard core emotional content/$119 million and counting.
Cons: No Globe/Oscar nomination for director/more negative reviews than any other contender
7. Django Unchained
Globes nom for Director/PGA/EDDIE/strong Best Supporting Actor/strong original screenplay contender/$126 mil and counting.
Cons: No DGA/Oscar nom for director/no editing nomination/no SAG nominations.
8. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Strong Best Actress contender/Oscar Director/strong adapted screenplay contender/many awards won already/happy ending.
Cons: No DGA/Globe nomination for director/no editing nomination
Oscar Director/strong Best Actress contender/strong original screenplay contender/multiple critics awards.
Cons: No DGA/Globe nomination for director/no editing nomination/no SAG nominations.
Conclusion: Now that you know all of the facts, and can see the extent of the changes this year, you can decide how the cards may fall. I am not one to predict the long shot, never have been. Lincoln has everything going for it right now except buzz. That could all change with one major win, like the PGA, DGA or SAG. We are a few weeks shy of knowing what our true frontrunner is. When all is said and done we might say, wow, we knew it was going to end in a shocker. Or we’ll say, “it was always Lincoln.” Either way, 2012 is one of the record books.