Oscar Index: War Horse, We Have a Problem
Welcome to week six of Oscar Index, your regular reading of buzz, hype, speculation and crippling myopia in and around the 2011-12 awards beat. This installment brings some rather momentous determinations from the wonks at Movieline's Institute for the Advanced Study of Kudos Forensics -- let's get right to them!
[Click the graphs for full-size images.]
The Leading 10:
1. The Descendants
2. The Artist
3. War Horse
4. The Help
5. Midnight in Paris
7. J. Edgar
8. The Ides of March
9. My Week With Marilyn
10. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Outsiders: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Tree of Life, Hugo, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Gasp! After a month of sight-unseen supremacy, Steven Spielberg's War Horse has officially eased into trot mode behind the muscular fall-festival favorites The Descendants and The Artist. At least that's the sense of the punditocracy everywhere from Gold Derby -- where Alexander Payne's dramedy inched ahead of the equine Spielberggernaut -- to THR and In Contention, where Michel Hazanavicius's silent triumph has either come even with or surpassed War Horse in the Picture race.
It's not all good for the new front-runners; after all, no one wants to peak too soon, and hearing guys like Tom O'Neil and Scott Feinberg debate the mechanics of a Descendants/Artist showdown (and for the likes of longtime Horse-whipper Jeff Wells to spotlight it) suggests War Horse and DreamWorks' happy retreat (for now) into the Oscar shadows while the other heavyweights get all gladiatorial on each other for the awards gods. But when you hear about stuff like the Descendants' dynamite SAG/BAFTA screening last week, or witness its early awards-profile boost with the recent Gotham Awards nominations -- both coming nearly a month before the next wave of acclaim rolls in around its Nov. 18 release date -- Fox Searchlight's strategy looks fairly unassailable at this point. Add to that the advancement of the New York Film Critics Circle's awards announcement to Nov. 28 -- the first in the nation -- and you've got an early tone-setter tailor-made for Payne, George Clooney and Co. to enter December as the film to beat.
The week's other big momentum was seen with The Help (which one Academy member reportedly told Steve Pond would not only be nominated for Best Picture, but would win) and Midnight in Paris (which earned the highest scores -- alongside The Descendants and The Artist, natch -- in David Poland's first Oscar chart of the season). Both remain virtual sure things in the nomination phase, but the continuing chatter about their growing Academy constituencies is enough to make even a horse blush. Finally! Here's to the challengers!
Also, earlier this week I heard from an awards-campaign consultant who seemed fairly certain that Hugo has what it takes to garner the requisite 5 percent of first-place votes for a Best Picture nomination. Its (alleged) secret weapon: The branch stewardship of much-respected Martin Scorsese collaborators like cinematographer Robert Richardson, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, costume designer Sandy Powell and others. "All you really need are 300 votes," this consultant explained. Well, that and what many are predicting to be a blockbuster holiday turnout. Instinct tells me that Dragon Tattoo and Extremely Loud in particular will keep sharper edges in the Academy proper, but as noted previously, this isn't about my instinct. So! For what it's worth, etc., etc.
The Leading 5:
1. Alexander Payne, The Descendants
2. Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
3. Steven Spielberg, War Horse
4. Clint Eastwood, J. Edgar
5. David Fincher, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Outsiders: Stephen Daldry, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; George Clooney, The Ides of March; Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris; Bennett Miller, Moneyball; Tomas Alfredson, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Tate Taylor, The Help
Not much more to add here that doesn't simply reflect what's above, other than -- and here we go back to instinct again -- I can totally see Woody Allen creeping in and taking Eastwood, Fincher or Daldry's spot. And as Ides fades into oblivion, this is likely the last week you'll see Clooney's smiling face on the Index.