Oscar Index: So an Artist and a Horse Walk into a Bar...

Good news and bad news this week from Movieline's Institute For the Advanced Study of Kudos Forensics -- the good news being that a handful of critics organizations and awards bodies have helped to draw the year's noteworthiest (i.e. Oscar-baitiest) titles and talent of the season into their sharpest relief yet. The bad news: Sharp relief remains a total mess, with the fields in most major categories wide open heading into December. Which is the way we like it, right? Right? Ugh. To the Index...

[Click the graphs for full-size images.]

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The Leading 10:

1. The Artist

2. War Horse

3. The Descendants

4. The Help

5. Midnight in Paris

6. Hugo

7. Moneyball

8. The Tree of Life

9. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

10. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Outsiders: Margin Call; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2; The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn; My Week With Marilyn; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Shame

First things first: Anyone who tells you the Gotham Awards, Independent Spirit Awards, New York Film Critics Circle Awards and tomorrow's National Board of Review Awards have no impact whatsoever on the Oscar race is either misinformed or deeply in denial. I know: I used to be one of them myself, hewing to the austerity and imperviousness of the Academy Awards, especially by such starfucking hat-passers as IFP and Film Independent. But when FIND executive director Dawn Hudson wound up hopping to the Academy's CEO gig earlier this year, it was roughly my 843rd sign in the last five years of the institutional insularity that binds such awards-culture monoliths. People can inveigh about the NYFCC's own austerity and rectitude, but let's face it: If I knew I could A) jolt a film like Moneyball to awards life after two months in hibernation and B) get Brad Pitt to come to my party, I'd give the movie my Best Actor and Best Screenplay awards, too. These guys didn't even see one of the movies long regarded as the season's biggest wild card (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) just so they could vote first in the derby, and what for? So they could perpetuate the awards narrative that Harvey Weinstein initiated back in May?

It's all connected -- profiles, visibility, timing. Check out Oscar oracle Mark Harris's painstaking analysis this week for his view, or Mike Ryan's narrower breakdown of if/how the NYFCC has recently tended to move the Oscar needle. Look at this week's select honorees at the Gothams (not to mention Scott Feinberg's helpful follow-up). I mean, Charlize Theron? Gary Oldman? I love both -- especially in their new films (hint hint) -- but we are ultimately talking about deploying any and every means available to cling to the neurons of an aging, overstimulated voting elite of 6,000-plus for the next two months. Can your organization do it better than my organization? Give it your best shot. And so on... and so on...

Anyway! As noted, the awards bustle paid off most nicely for The Artist and Moneyball, the latter of which also had Pitt and fellow nomination-hunter Jonah Hill conveniently, simultaneously out and about on the campaign trail. The Tree of Life, for which Pitt split his NYFCC Best actor nod, also benefited from tying Beginners at the Gothams. (I repeat: The Tree of Life tied Beginners -- a distinction that one may think might invalidate the Gothams entirely were it not for the fact that the awards cognoscenti have spent the last 48 hours writing about them.) The Artist, meanwhile, will take its critical approbation and Indie Spirit nods (which are supposed to be for American films, but whatever), but it'll really take its $52,500 opening-weekend per-screen average. Alas, the disturbing news arrives via Nathaniel Rogers:

Everyone predicting a win for The Artist before the nominations are even announced should consider the following list and sobering fact: No movie about movies has ever won Best Picture. [...] You'd think that Hollywood's High Holy Night, which is one big self-congratulatory spectacle, would embrace movies about movies and they do to a point. But perhaps even Hollywood's notoriously fulsome egos feel sheepish about taking it all the way. Do they fear it would be overkill, the back-patting night of nights morphing into something far more orgiastic, a daisy chain of self regard?

Excellent questions! In a semi-related development, movie-love nostalgia showcase Hugo came out strong as well in limited-wide release, portending, in the words of one wag, "early rustlings of a longer-running sleeper success, the kind of success that happens infrequently in Hollywood and even more rarely in the family film realm." Combined with staggeringly strong reviews, that success would almost certainly secure Hugo's spot in the Best Picture coterie.

It's a tandem War Horse doesn't need nearly as desperately, but kudos to Steven Spielberg for not taking any chances on a holiday weekend when his most formidable competition was raking in the accolades and cash. The filmmaker and Disney unveiled his latest for press and industry insiders at a handful of screenings in NYC and L.A., plus a public sneak preview (and a Web Q&A) attended by Spielberg himself. The feedback among the Oscar orthodoxy was incredibly strong, with influencers like Steve Pond, Sasha Stone, David Poland, Kristopher Tapley, Anne Thompson and numerous tweeting others ("Wept through last half of WAR HORSE. Beautiful story of hope and love in the worst of times," wrote Devin Faraci) going to bat for it as the formidable Best Picture contender we always knew it would be. For the prosecution, meanwhile, Jeffrey Wells dismissed Tapley's analysis in particular (which downplayed critics awards, incidentally) as "one of the basest insults to the Academy membership I've ever read." Now that's when you know you have a real contender.

One last thing: How about Patrick Goldstein's idea of a luxury tax for studios lavishly pushing the likes of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2?

By publicly identifying the biggest spenders, a luxury tax could serve as a disincentive for crass studio excess. It might also help level the Oscar playing field. The vast majority of recent Oscar best picture nominees have been films that were either financed by a major studio or one of its specialty film divisions, which, if necessary, can draw on the resources of the parent conglomerate. (The 2007 best picture nominee Babel from Paramount Vantage is a good example.) Given the new formula for picking best picture nominees, if Warners' ad spree earns Hallows 5% of the first-place votes for best picture, it could knock a smaller movie out of the running. Even though indie movies can still earn a best picture win, as Summit's The Hurt Locker did in 2009, most Oscar insiders say that when it comes to vaulting your film into the awards season conversation, money talks.

Love it! Except this whole thing about penalties going to causes like the eventual Academy museum or film scholarships for underprivileged kids is a clear misappropriation of funds that should be going to the Consider Uggie campaign. Thoughts?

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The Leading 5:

1. Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

2. Steven Spielberg, War Horse

3. Alexander Payne, The Descendants

4. Martin Scorsese, Hugo

5. David Fincher, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Outsiders: Stephen Daldry, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris; Bennett Miller, Moneyball; Tate Taylor, The Help; George Clooney, The Ides of March; Tomas Alfredson, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

As usual, their films' rising tides generally lifted the filmmakers' boats -- or the inverse, as evidenced by The Descendants and Alexander Payne. According to NY Post critic and NYFCC member Lou Lumenick, Payne's film never received more than 17 points in any round of Best Picture voting, and the director himself never broke through a top-three cluster of Hazanavicius, Scorsese and, uh, Lars von Trier. Thanks for playing, Lars! Mr. Spielberg will take it from here.

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Comments

  • Shannon says:

    Why Jessica Chastain isn't a shoe-in for any of her three films this year is beyond me. Especially when she could easily replace someone like Shailene Woodley (who has an okay performance in an okay film).

  • AS says:

    Exactly, she was terrific in Take Shelter and should be nominated without question. And yes, The Descendants was good, but wildly overrated. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo also needs to be climbing the list.

  • blizzard bound says:

    Aw, S.T., I know you're right about how things work this way, but still, depressing.
    One point I might differ on, though: I'm not convinced of the impact of the NY-based awards. I've seen friends win those but then get lost in the dust of larger engines -- even while maintaining the same level of events/activities/lunches/etc.

  • Morgan says:

    The Tree of Life didn't direct itself...Some critic group needs to get behind The Tree of Life...

  • Rob says:

    I agree with your assessment of Shailene Woodley. She gave an okay performance that was not and is not worthy of Academy recognition. If anyone from The Descendants deserves a supporting actress nomination, it should be Judy Greer, who gave such an honest and wonderful performance.

  • Nonsense says:

    Brad Pitt said "life is cyclical"? Just like that, without a script - and to a commoner! That´s like The King´s Speech, US edition, right?
    Forget about Oscars, just give the man The Nobel Peace & Literature Prize.

  • Mark says:

    Streep is now the frontrunner. I saw Week with Marilyn and she did nothing for me - where are the curves, the alluring sex appeal and all that made Marilyn the most desirable woman in the world. Have you seen the real Marilyn sing Heat Wave (saw it last night on TCM = WOW) Michelle may win a spirit award but she not going to win Oscar with that performance.

  • Ann says:

    That Alan Rickman's iconic performance, which has moved so many millions and won critical praise from every reviewer, doesn't even get a mention as a possibility here, tells me all I need to know, and have always suspected about the Oscars... they really don't matter where it counts; with the real, everyday, movie-going public who will sit around in years to come lovingly, and sometimes fiercely, debating with friends about the best movie characters of all time and the actors that portrayed them so brilliantly.

  • Charles says:

    I told a co-worker that Brad Pitt probably was going to win the Oscar next year. He asked if the War Horse could get nominated.
    There's just no love for Brad at my workplace.

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