Oscar Index: Get Ready For the Upset of the Century!

As we race toward O-Day, Movieline's Institute for the Advanced Study of Kudos Forensics has worked tirelessly to parse the latest input, insight and insanity to arise in the build-up to the 83rd Academy Awards. It hasn't always been pretty, but it's as close to empirically accurate as you're going to get without a peephole at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And this week we've been especially busy. To the Index!

[Click the graphs for larger images]


The Nominees:

1. The King's Speech

2. The Social Network

3. Black Swan

4. True Grit

5. The Fighter

6. Winter's Bone

7. Inception

8. The Kids Are All Right

9. Toy Story 3

10. 127 Hours

Notes: If I'm being honest, the last week in Oscarology didn't really yield that many revelations. The world still thinks The King's Speech is the movie to beat overall, with insiders rolling out everything from statistical analyses to the implied endorsement of no less than Queen Elizabeth II to put further distance between Speech and its perceived closest competitor The Social Network. Marshall Fine, meanwhile, implored his peers to stop whining, already about either film's standing; two full weeks of voting remain, after all, and anyway, he added, "I'd be worried if the Oscars picked The Social Network. To me, that would be the true harbinger that [David] Fincher's film isn't the great leap forward that so many touted it as being."

Fine's piece is also interesting insofar as it illuminates one of the biggest myths of the race to date: That, as another pundit noted this week, The King's Speech over The Social Network signifies some devastating rebuke of critical culture. "[Critics] have been rendered irrelevant once again -- and so we're back to the great divide, which is how it was when I started watching them back in 1999," wrote Sasha Stone. "The film is usually well reviewed, just not the one the critics liked best." In fairness, she's talking about the results of critics' awards vs. industry awards, but even that defies some pretty crucial context. For starters, critics associations are relatively tiny bodies that go through rounds and rounds of voting, often fraught with the kind of real-time politicking and grudges that we awards-beat folks try to impose on the Oscar race itself yet which, because the guilds and Academy vote member-by-member, does not and cannot exist. I mean, good luck finding an Academy member who can even understand his or her Best Picture ballot.

Furthermore -- and not to ascribe some definitive critical faculties to Rotten Tomatoes, but the site seems germane since we're all so obsessed with the Academy's own alleged hive-mind function -- why should critics feel so disenfranchised to see a 95%-approved film (e.g. King's Speech) win Best Picture over a 97%-approved film (Social Network)? If that's the case, why are we not going to war on behalf of Toy Story 3 (99% approved) or True Grit (tied at 95% approved)? Must this really be a two-horse race at this point? And if so, who's ultimately responsible?

Seriously -- I'm asking. Of course we onlookers must assume some blame (particularly those who continue to state the obvious well after it's already been stated), as must usual suspect Harvey Weinstein, who has so exquisitely calibrated his Oscar machine you'd think a slave gang of Scientologists spent thousands of man-hours crafting it to his exacting specifications. A recent profile in Vanity Fair accompanied a kind of hypnotic industry inculcation affecting thousands of guild voters at a time. One can only assume Michael Moore's lawsuit against Harvey is a strategically timed smear (by Moore himself, I should add -- not Sony, which likely has its hands full enough figuring out if/how the ongoing Winklevi brouhaha impacts TSN) and that TSN's "love fest" with Mark Zuckerberg has its own campaign advantages. David Fincher and Scott Rudin, meanwhile, have become increasingly hands-off -- at least publicly. Make of that what you will.

In short, the supposed TKS/TSN death match has resulted in a tired awards orthodoxy with its heads up its asses. Let's shake it up, people! I propose this alternative: Black Swan will sneak in and win Best Picture. You heard it here first. Upset of the century! And why not? I mean, screw the guilds, seriously: SAG's ensemble award has predicted fewer than half of the eventual Best Picture winners, and the PGA hasn't done a whole lot better at two-thirds. The DGA Awards are a formidable predictor of the Academy's Best Director, sure, but even in the case of all three going one way -- as they did in 1995 for Apollo 13, which Braveheart eventually beat at the Academy level -- shockers occur.

And laugh or scoff all you want, but when I see things like the Gold Derby Film Awards reflect a kind of user-generated groundswell for a movie like Black Swan -- whose gross is easily outpacing the also-R-rated King's Speech and will surpass Social Network's own in the days ahead -- I can't help but wonder how that voting body overlaps with all the random others. Who's influencing who? What is Fox Searchlight up to while Harvey hogs the spotlight? If our emotional reaction to King's Speech qualifies it for awards glory, then what does our emotional and visceral reaction to Black Swan worth?

Again, I'm really asking! Well, that and predicting. Call it a hunch. I feel good about it. Last thing: I cannot believe the exposure Winter's Bone received last weekend in Saturday Night Live's most high-profile, even historic spot. Boner jokes or no, this is good for at least a temporary Index spike.

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  • The Winchester says:

    Not for nothing, but 127 Hours is really getting shafted this awards season. What a tremendous film! I came out of that actually feeling something more than "What a nicely crafted movie about people I don't care about", which is what I felt after both the masterpiece theater and the facebook movie.
    The SNL bit about Franco's overexposure was dead on, but he does such an extraordinary job, I'm a little depressed about the lack of exposure he's getting this awards season.
    That being said, I'm all about the Black Swan surprise upset, let's make that happen.
    (Barring a Piranha 3D write-in upset)

  • Matthias Galvin says:

    what do the colors mean?
    some of the ones not connected to a face aren't listed

  • KevyB says:

    This completely underlines the problem with using Rotten Tomatoes for comparisons. It's not an average score, but what percentage of film critics gave the film a positive review. So 95 two-star or B- reviews, and 5 one-star or C reviews could give a film a 95%. Much more accurate is Metacritic's rating system, which gives a number (1-100) for each review, then averages it. On Metacritic, The King's Speech a very good 88. The Social Network, a meteoric 95 (which is higher than even Toy Story 3's 92). There's a much more obvious distinction when you bring better math into the picture (and a single point means a lot more here than it does on Rotten Tomatoes too).
    Frankly, it'd be criminal in the Pulp Fiction vein to give Best Picture to King's Speech over Social Network. Yeah, King's Speech was good, but will it be remembered a decade from now? Of course not. Reward the performance(s) but not the formula, which we've seen a million times. Reward a film that doesn't follow the formula, which is most certainly not Black Swan (79 on Metacritic), which was a fairly conventional plot with a few whack-job additions. Reward Social Network or 127 Hours, two movies that shouldn't have worked, but DID work due to great scripts and great direction. Both of which will be remembered long after The King's Speech has been forgotten.

  • milessilverberg says:

    But...but...Black Swan wasn't even good. Natalie was indeed good, but the movie is a mess.

  • Points taken. Like I said, I don't regard RT or Metacritic or any aggregator as some unassailable barometer of a movie's worth. But they do suggest the inaccuracy (or at least the overreaction) of those who'd suggest that the Academy-critic divide is as wide as it's ever been, or that critics tend not to share a groupthink similar to the one they like to piss on among Academy voters.
    As for the respective long tails of TKS, TSN, BS and 127, I can't disagree with you. Yet while I'm not one to say "The Academy will vote like this because..." (it's not a borg, after all, and anyway, who the fuck really knows?), history shows its bias toward instant gratification.
    Which makes me all the more confident that _Black Swan_ has a shot -- Portman's performance aside, it is ultimately the most empty-caloried treat of the bunch. Of course it's this way by design; Aronofsky's primary achievement rests in compelling a subset of "serious" moviegoers to believe he has made a "serious" postmodern riff on _Swan Lake_. When, of course, he's made little more than an exploitation flick. (Which I loved! But still.)

  • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

    The colors are associated with the different films/talent who've been in the race over the last four months. Short of littering the bottom of the graph with discarded contenders (The Town, Robert Duvall, Sam Rockwell, Chris Nolan, among many others), I'd recommend going back and checking out previous editions for a look at how the race has tracked since September.
    Oscar Index Archives

  • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

    The colors are associated with the different films/talent who've been in the race over the last four months. Short of littering the bottom of the graph with discarded contenders (The Town, Robert Duvall, Sam Rockwell, Chris Nolan, among many others), I'd recommend going back and checking out previous editions for a look at how the race has tracked since September.
    Oscar Index Archives

  • KevyB says:

    Excellent points, and I wouldn't really be surprised if it did win as the Academy is far too overpopulated with members in the Acting branch, and they often vote for movies with a lot of ACTING over movies where the acting doesn't show.
    Still, one has to hold out hope that the new rules and younger members HAVE changed the Academy and that last year wasn't an aberration. Avatar was the one that supposedly had heat during the voting process yet The Hurt Locker still won. But maybe it won because its closest competitors - Avatar and Inglourious Basterds, rumored to be the real second-place finisher - weren't the ACTING showcases the Academy has adored over the years.
    That said, I can't buy into it. I still think there are plenty of voters out there that will say, "I KNOW Clive Owen will get his Oscar, Natalie Portman will get her Oscar, so let me give a little love to The Social Network." And last year's Hurt Locker/Inglourious Basterds voters are more likely to vote for that over the more conventional choices.