Oscar Index: Your Guess is As Good As Mine

The exhaustion levels are high and the confusion levels are even higher at Movieline's Institute For the Advanced Study of Kudos Forensics, where the white-coated minions responsible for the Oscar Index have struggled to assay the state of the awards race through this week's persistent turbulence. Read on for their results.

[Click the graphs for full-size images.]


The Leading 10:

1. The Artist

2. The Descendants

3. Hugo

4. The Help

5. Midnight in Paris

6. War Horse

7. The Tree of Life

8. Moneyball

9. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

10. Drive

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

Remember the good old days when all the noise we had to parse was the faint, fuzzy signal coming from the National Board of Review and a handful of other awards bodies? Those days are over: Led by the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, something like 400 critics groups selected their annual award-winners this week. The relatively incidental AFI 10-best list overlapped with those, and all were followed this morning by the Screen Actors Guild Award nominations -- which, to be honest, felt like the equivalent of a bracket-busting day of upsets in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

On the one hand, I love that we're facing an Oscar season of utterly unsure things. This is the awards culture we should have: more movies to see, more movies to discuss, and tough choices across the board. On the other hand, the only votes that matter are those cast by the Academy, and beyond a few irretrievably sunk also-rans (cough, J. Edgar, cough), what's to say they aren't just going to default to the historical groupthink that can prevent such wild variations like those in the SAG, BFCA and other critical showcases? Why shouldn't we think that, say, War Horse has the competition right where it wants it?

I can think of a few reasons, actually:

· SAG and the Academy share members. And the actors' branch is the largest in the Academy. Thus the natural inclination of studios, distributors and other awards campaigners to scan right past the individual categories to the Ensemble nominations -- which is to say, in admittedly generalizing terms, the film as a whole. Finding The Artist, The Descendants, The Help, Midnight in Paris and Bridesmaids (!) in that class doesn't necessarily guarantee anything come Oscar-nomination morning, and it certainly doesn't mean that War Horse or Moneyball are in grave danger with a flexible number of Best Picture nominations. But it does illustrate what an very influential voting bloc is thinking in mid-December, and it underscores what specific work campaigners have cut out for themselves in the month ahead.

· Heat rises. The Ides of March and J. Edgar fell off the pace not for lack of trying; in fact, neither Sony nor Warner Bros., respectively, have yet abandoned their sweeping awards campaigns for each. They fell off because neither film has even scratched the zeitgeist compared to films like The Artist, The Help, Midnight in Paris and -- I can't believe I'm about to write this -- Drive. I mean, we knew it had art-house appeal, but what we didn't know was the quality and volubility of its devotees. And I'm not even counting the BFCA's Critics Choice Awards, which bestowed eight nominations on Nicolas Winding Refn's violent, moody thriller; Oscar oracle Mark Harris also foresaw a comeback last week after an informal reader poll cited Drive -- "by a landslide" -- as the movie most deserving of a profile boost. SAG can snub Albert Brooks all it wants (and we'll get to that in a bit), but it only galvanizes the faithful. That said, RuPaul "really loved" The Descendants, so maybe everyone just kind of broke even.

· The variations aren't that wild. Among all the winners and nominees remain the same high-functioning heavy-hitters we've seen populating the Index and every other Oscar barometer known to man. The most that you could say is that for every awards group that warmly embraces Hugo, another ignores it entirely.

· We (still) look forward to the Daldry. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close remains under such an airtight embargo that even Scott Rudin can't talk about it. This one has Academy groupthink in its DNA -- Stephen Daldry has notoriously earned three Best Director nominations in three tries, screenwriter Eric Roth has hardware for Forrest Gump and remains as A-list as it gets, Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock and Scott Rudin are... well, Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock and Scott Rudin -- yet early word from critics and insiders sworn to secrecy is that it will be precisely as polarizing as it looks. Whatever. As far as I'm concerned, if you're still on the sideline this late in the game, you're either coaching or you're a back-up. We'll see which ELAIC is soon enough.

· The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is circling the drain. Steve Pond rounds up the awards-allergic consensus on David Fincher's adaptation of the Swedish blockbuster -- hardly a dismissal of the very, very good film so much as our reality check about a filmmaker who's otherwise a perennial awards-darling. Unless...

· Thursday's Golden Globe nominations will shake things up yet again. I cant believe I spent more than even five minutes breaking all this down just so a roving gang of swag goblins can upend the whole thing tomorrow. Moving on!


The Leading 5:

1. Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

2. Alexander Payne, The Descendants

3. Martin Scorsese, Hugo

4. Steven Spielberg, War Horse

5. Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Outsiders: Stephen Daldry, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; David Fincher, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive; Tate Taylor, The Help; Bennett Miller, Moneyball; Tomas Alfredson, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Did I mention the Golden Globes? Literally any of the directors cited above are fair game for nominations. But as things specifically pertain to the Oscar race... Enh, it's pretty much the same. Scott Feinberg reminded us that despite zero membership overlap, the Best Picture nominations for both the Critics Choice and Academy Awards historically tend to coincide -- which, as Academy history would have us believe, means that the top eight or nine directors here (give or take Fincher) are pretty much the ones we'll see fighting for nominations of their own over the next five weeks. I know -- I'm really going out on a limb here. Kudos forensics will only get us so far! Your guess is as good mine.

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  • The WInchester says:

    Having recently seen The Payne, I would love nothing more for Clooney to take home the gold man, but I fear he's a little too subdued and subtle for most tastes, as he's not drinking anybody's milkshake nor going full retard to attract the attention and acclaim he deserves.
    The same description goes for Payne's direction.

  • Lily says:

    Is this a Girl with the Dragon Tattoo review or an Oscar column? jesus.

  • AS says:

    I'm not as optimistic as many when it comes to Drive's chances. I still think it's a long shot in every other category other than Sup Act.
    I think I'm beginning to revise my disgust when it comes to "overlooked films." It does take away the "cool factor." I'm actually glad Dragon Tattoo & Drive won't be nominated.

  • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

    Or stuttering! But hey, he's Clooney. Pure charm (and having also directed a very well-acted movie this year) can overcome!

  • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

    Definitely an Oscar column. Mara has one of the week's most-discussed films, featuring one of the week's most-discussed performances. Check the links and context; it's all there. If this is the only attention that _Dragon Tattoo_ gets in the major categories, then why wouldn't I cover that at length the same way I've covered _The Artist_, _The Descendants_, _War Horse_ and others?

  • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

    Aw, come on, AS! Where's the heart? The faith? You wanted this, you got it.

  • AS says:

    The death of hope began in 1968 when Oliver won Best Picture over 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's all been downhill since then.

  • The WInchester says:

    But really, you can think of that moment as the birth of all the Oscar bloggers, whose "But THAT movie should have really won" discussion pre Al Gore system of tubes.

  • Skippy says:

    The phrase "roving gang of swag goblins" makes me really happy.

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