Introducing Movieline's 2011 Oscar Index: Your Weekly, Fool-Proof Awards-Race Breakdown

Believe it: It's awards season. Very early in awards season, to be sure, but time nevertheless for Movieline's Institute For the Advanced Study of Kudos Forensics to reopen its doors and initiate the algorithmic sequences and other complex formulas resulting in the latest edition of our annual Oscar Index.

As noted a year ago in this space, the Oscar Index is a weekly feature dedicated to parsing the latest and most sophisticated punditry about the awards race leading up to Hollywood's biggest night. The goal is an objective read of a landscape littered with spent hype, dirty tricks, aggressive campaigning, and the occasional mink-coated Glamour Shots. The methodology is simply to listen carefully, observe trends and exhaustively read every single thing written about the awards contenders as the season unfolds. And the results? Not bad! Just ask Jacki Weaver.

So! Let's get to it!


The Leading 10:

1. War Horse

2. The Ides of March

3. The Descendants

4. J. Edgar

5. Midnight in Paris

6. The Help

7. The Artist

8. Moneyball

9. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

10. The Tree of Life

Outsiders: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Iron Lady, A Dangerous Method, Contagion

Obviously the rule change in Picture -- five to 10 nominees, with a 5 percent of first-place votes required to make the cut -- means that we have literally no idea who's on the bubble this year. Even in January we'll probably be wondering who, if anyone, qualifies for a sixth spot, seventh spot and/or beyond. So regarding the above, please understand that I'm not necessarily projecting 10 nominees; I'm just projecting the top 10 contenders for a nomination based on that aforementioned survey of the punditocracy.

And did I mention it's early? Where last year at this time we had already seen the clear Best Picture frontrunner by the end of the Toronto Film Festival (indeed, The King's Speech won the fest's audience prize; this year that award went to a Lebanese import), this year we're reduced to remarking how wide open the field remains with such question marks as War Horse, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and J. Edgar (which now at least has a trailer) still months from being seen.

In fact, you could argue at this point, as Kristopher Tapley smartly does, that the surprise hit The Help remains the film to beat perception-wise. Think about the crop of August heavyweights to flex their muscle in the 2009 Oscar derby -- Inglourious Basterds, District 9, Julie and Julia -- and how long a shadow they cast over that year's festival crop. Moreover, look whom The Help is going up against as among the strongest festival contenders to date: George Clooney, whose Ides of March and Descendants have each received Oscar backing from the likes of everyone from Dave Karger ("[I]f you ask me, we now have the first sure-thing Best Picture nominee on our hands," he wrote from Venice about Ides) to Andrew O'Hehir ("More of a muted, bittersweet Hawaiian-themed cocktail than a masterful cinematic experience, Alexander Payne's new family comedy-drama The Descendants clearly emerges from the Toronto International Film Festival as a leading Oscar contender").

Of course, that was the same kind of broad, front-running momentum Clooney and Up in the Air left Toronto with in 2009, and we all know how that went. It's not altogether unlikely for either/or/both of Clooney's 2011 awards-season entries, either: "[Ides s]hould be respected across the board," notes Gregory Ellwood "but Sony is going to have to campaign hard to land the 5% votes they need for a best picture nod." Time critic Richard Corliss, meanwhile, underscored another bottom line for many viewers (and voters) of influence in Toronto: "What The Descendants couldn't quite match were the high expectations on which it floated into town."

Most interesting might be awards wizard Steve Pond calling it early for The Descendants despite a caveat the size of a Chrysler: "I don't see a Best Picture winner in this year's crop of films. Instead, I see reasons why every single film deemed to be a contender will probably fall short." The reality will ultimately vary; this declaration came after films like The Help, Midnight in Paris and The Tree of Life had earned their summer wings and prior to the Oscarrific raves for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the ongoing questions facing ostensible contenders Moneyball and The Artist. It's a skepticism that reflects the general consensus that this probably a quintessential studio year: That the less we know about something today, the more formidably it can tower over the horizon. Think True Grit or There Will Be Blood... or War Horse.

Frankly, until Steven Spielberg's most lip-smacking awards bait since Munich is officially rejected by the Oscar cognoscenti, it's the only probable contender that has yet to be compromised: No fetish-y marketing, no biopic-y hamfistedness, no Jonathan Safran Foer-y self-awareness. Instead it's got a horse, a World War (the first, Holocaust-less one, but still), some kids, beloved source material and tons of ambition. And, well, Spielberg.

So while, on the one hand, every Best Picture winner since 2007 (and five of the last six) has gone through Toronto, on the other we've got everyone looking back at Toronto wondering what the hell just happened. (Unless you're looking at Contagion, I suppose, in which case I just don't know what to tell you.) That suggests to me it's time to look forward. For awards season, anyhow, the best must be yet come.


The Leading 5:

1. Steven Spielberg, War Horse

2. Alexander Payne, The Descendants

3. Clint Eastwood, J. Edgar

4. George Clooney, The Ides of March

5. Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

Outsiders: Stephen Daldry, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; David Fincher, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; Bennett Miller, Moneyball; Tomas Alfredson, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris; Tate Taylor, The Help; David Cronenberg, A Dangerous Method; Roman Polanski, Carnage

With the exception of that refreshing cap at five nominees, most of what's written, noted and/or cited above goes for Director at this point as well. It's a mess -- competitive as usual, larded with prestige. A couple things to keep in mind, however:

· Daldry is a perfect three-for-three in this category in his feature-directing career, and there's no real reason yet to consider he couldn't go four-four.

· ""It seems safe to say that, right now, the only sure bet is Alexander Payne for The Descendants," writes Sasha Stone, and she's right. Fox Searchlight pretty much has its director game down to a science: pick one, and push. It usually works, and this year, as we've seen from Toronto, Payne is that director.

· If Harvey Weinstein really wants an awesome awards-campaign advantage, he should consider developing a keyboard shortcut that allows the awards press to bypass typing "Hazanavicius" over and over again for at least the next four months.

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  • Kendra says:

    Double Clooney all the way across the sky!
    Guys. I'm so excited to spend my wednesdays here for the next 6 months.

  • Thanks, Kendra, and welcome! Please tell me you brought a bottle of wine or a six-pack or something.

  • Strawberry Pain says:

    Seconded! I'll throw in some Effen Cucumber Vodka and Ryan Gosling's six-pack.
    Any chance for "Beginners" to break through other than Best Supporting? I'm willing to sacrifice something, like my dignity, by sleeping with George Clooney. Or Meryl Streep. I draw the line at the Weinsteins. Girl's gotta have some standards.

  • Dan Tralder says:

    Where did Janet McTeer and Carey Mulligan run off to? I got a memo that they were in the race, was I punk'd?

  • Tommy Marx says:

    Very soon I will return to leaving insightful/witty/sarcastic remarks. But right now I feel beat down. ST, I love reading your posts, especially ones that obviously you spent a lot of time writing. This is why I love Movieline so much.
    I'm not predicting anything. But I love reading what you predict. Thank you.

  • Morgan says:

    Hey there ST,
    Back for another season - I'm really glad you kept this going. You may remember it being my favourite article. I thoroughly look forward to it coming out each week.
    A couple of thoughts...(mainly on the Best Picture race)
    - I'm surprised you have The Ides of March so high considering the bad press it seems to have gotten considering it's lack of oscar chances.
    - What are your thoughts on Drive and Shame? Where do they figure in your Oscar Best Picture rankings?
    - Do Carnage or We Bought a Zoo have any sembalance of an Oscar chance?
    - I don't think Contagion, The Iron Lady or A Dangerous Method have much a shot.
    In the Best Actor race...
    I think it will come down to Pitt vs Clooney vs DiCaprio. A race of the best-looking and under-appreciated of Hollywood's leading men. Fantastic. Although nobody can deny the talent of Fassbender or Dujardin - I think it will be touted as a 3-horse race between Hollywood's leading men of the generation.
    Love the article.
    - Morgan

  • davemau says:

    Only thing I'd is Ezra Miller for We Need To Talk About Kevin

  • NP says:

    Aside from Hazanavicius, the "Leading 5" directors list is just depressing to me.

  • Thanks for the note and the kind words! I can answer pretty much all three of your questions at once: The Index, at its best, boils down a ton of different external sources and insights and impressions and instincts into one ranking system. It can never be purely "objective," obviously, but I think it does reflect the broader conversation(s) currently taking place -- discussions backed up through links and citations. Thus if you don't see _Shame_ or _Drive_ or _Carnage_ or _We Bought a Zoo_ in the Best Picture mix, for example, it's because there's no evidence pointing to any movement for them -- presently or eventually -- in the category. Even _Contagion_ -- which is a critical and commercial hit with tons of stars and an A-list director -- has a case made out there for its inclusion. That's why it's here.
    That said, this is _nowhere_ near final. Things _will_ change, and significantly so. And by all means, raise objections! Throw wrenches! Propose alternatives! Unleash underdogs! I'm glad to pay extra-close attention to them in future weeks.

  • Kyle Buchanan says:

    I love the horse's head.

  • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

    Thanks! _Beginners_ will not likely break through elsewhere unless Focus Features really goes to war for it, and soon. There's an outside chance they'll sneak it in via Golden Globes, but getting Plummer out of there with a statuette and a trail of critics awards would certainly be good enough.

  • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

    Not necessarily! See explanation below....

  • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

    Thank you, Tommy! We love reading your comments, too.

  • epochd says:

    What about Marion Cottiliard from Midnight in Paris for supporting actress?
    Also since Warrior bombed so hard i doubt anyone's going to remember nick nolte in it.

  • Nolte is all _anyone_ is going to remember from _Warrior_ at the end of the year. There's too much goodwill and not enough competition to dislodge him at this point, but that could easily change. The opposite is true of Cotillard; see above for in-depth explanation, but until there's some measurable buzz, she won't have any traction.

  • spiek78 says:

    I don't get some of the logic with the supporting actor catergory. When reading the reviews for "Carnage," I got the impression that Chrisoph Waltz had the stronger performance (compared to Reilly) and the best lines. Also, I thought Jodie foster would be a contender. A lot of critics thought she also had a stong performance.

  • spiek78 says:

    Just a side note: Not that I don't respect your predictions.

  • Thanks! All I can say is to just refer you back to original post and the earlier comment: _These are not predictions._ This feature just compiles conventional wisdom around the Oscar race specifically. It is not a reflection of critical approbation or festival reception. It's a read of the broad conversation as it stands today. There will no doubt be elisions, changes, surprises and the rest as films and performances make their entrances this fall.

  • Mark says:

    What do you mean by *category?

  • Annie says:

    I hope you put Shailene Woodley in the running for Best Supporting Actress as a joke!

  • You got me! Totally fucking with you!

  • Melissa says:

    Great article, STV! You didn't mention Malick for Director -- don't you think he's at least on the bubble?
    To answer Morgan above: I'm working on Searchlight's campaigns, and they are not pushing Shame for Best Picture.

  • Thanks! Much obliged. I really don't think Malick's on the bubble, honestly, at least not at this point. In fact, from what I can tell, that one's falling like a rock through the floor of the awards chatter. I presume Searchlight has rerelease plans in December? That's the only way I think Malick or the film stand a chance. Just way too much between now and then, and _Midnight_ and _Help_ are really holding their own as the summer heavyweights.

  • Morgan says:

    That's really cool Melissa. Hope to see you commenting here often - give us all a bit of insight.
    I really hope Drive gets some buzz - Would be a shame to see a great actor such as Ryan Gosling do so much but get so little buzz in anything.

  • Morgan says:

    Also - this best actor race is going to be heartbreaking for whoever misses out....out of
    DiCaprio (J. Edgar)
    Pitt (Moneyball)
    Clooney (Descendants)
    Dujardin (Artist)
    Fassbender (Shame)
    Oldman (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)