We’re roughly seven weeks from the announcement of the Oscar nominations and we’re just a couple weeks from having seen all the movies that are eligible with just a few stragglers left like Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (New Line/WB) and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (The Weinstein Company). There are still a lot of big questions open, some of which we hope to address in the coming weeks, but the biggest one that’s on many minds thanks to last year’s change in the Best Picture race is whether this year we’ll get five nominees for Best Picture or ten or some number in between.
Last year, the Academy changed the rules, having only allowed five Best Pictures for decades then upping the amount to ten for a couple of years before deciding that only movies receiving 5% of the votes as their first choice should be eligible. That seems fair enough, but that also means that no one knows how many movies will get into the Best Picture race until they’re announced on January 10. That is, unless you’re good at winnowing down the odds based on the types of movies the Academy has nominated in the past, which is what we’re going to do here.
First we have the definite films, and in this category there are basically four movies that have been receiving almost universal praise. At least three of them have done strong enough business to back up word-of-mouth, so we know just about every member of the Academy will make sure to see them by the time they fill out their ballots.
In no particular order, these four are pretty much guaranteed Best Picture nominations in our book and they should each get anywhere between two and ten more nominations beyond that:
* Ben Affleck’s Argo (Warner Bros.)
* Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (DreamWorks)
* Ang Lee’s Life of Pi (20th Century Fox)
* David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook (The Weinstein Company)
If there were only five Best Picture nominations, this might pose a huge problem for any other movie (although one or two of the above might not get in if that was the case), but fortunately AMPAS have changed the rules to allow more movies, so let’s look at the other options.
Two movies just started screening this past weekend, Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables (Universal) and Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (Sony), both follow-ups to Oscar-winning Best Pictures which received numerous other accolades including for their direction. It’s hard to imagine a world where neither of these two movies get into this year’s race and going by early buzz for Les Mis, that’s definitely receiving a nomination. More on these below.
It’s tougher to determine whether the two yet-to-be-screened movies, “Django” and “The Hobbit,” have a chance since no one has seen them yet and they’re both essentially genre films, so let’s just set them aside for now and look at what we call the Tier 2 movies, movies that have already been released over the course of the year and have gained fans, mainly from the festival circuit.
Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild (Fox Searchlight) was receiving rave reviews both from critics and audiences ever since it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival back in January and Searchlight has been putting all of its marketing weight behind the movie. It only grossed $11 million at the box office, but the screeners went out early enough that curious voters will have checked it out, and we think it should fare best among the younger Academy members.
Likewise, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (The Weinstein Company) has gotten a lot of raves for the performances by Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams, although the film’s esoteric nature has enough people scratching their heads that it’s no longer a definite for Best Picture.
Lastly, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom (Focus Features) debuted at Cannes to similar raves as Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris last year, and the movie just won at the Gotham Awards in the Best Feature category, following previous nominees The Hurt Locker, The Tree of Life and Winter’s Bone. It’s a far quirkier movie than those and one not quite in the same boathouse as some of the other movies up for consideration, but the win could certainly remind some about the movie released earlier in the year. We think that it will get nominated for its original screenplay, but will have a tougher time taking on more traditional and conventional movies that appeals more towards the Academy’s tastes.
That being said, we think only two of the movies above will get in, and it’s more likely to be The Master–thanks to the Academy’s technical and writing chapters–and “Beasts,” although both will be depending on other factors.
One of them is the other movie that’s been playing very well for audiences and doing boffo at the box office, Robert Zemeckis’ Flight (Paramount), starring Denzel Washington. The film has its fans, but do we think 5% of the Academy will consider it their top picture over some of the others? Probably not. We think that the movie may get other nominations, but not make it into the Best Picture race.
Lastly, we have three longshots, movies that have played at some of the fall festivals and as with Tier 2, had their fans, but don’t seem to have the sort of overwhelming buzz that can convince 5% of the Academy to put it at the top of their list.
Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina (Focus Features), a shoe-in for a nomination in the costumes category, Juan Bayonna’s thriller The Impossible (Summit), which will probably get nods for acting and production design and lastly, Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock (Fox Searchlight), which has a good chance at acting nods, make-up, etc. but not necessarily Best Picture. Of these three, we think The Impossible has the best chance at getting in, but it may be overlooked for one of the more high-profile movies and those that have been around longer. (Lionsgate recently sent out a screener right before Thanksgiving, so there will be a better chance of it being watched.)
Now if we go back to the other ones that have just screened or are yet to screen, Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables has the best chance of getting into the Best Picture race being a highly-regarded musical brought to the screen by an Oscar-winning filmmaker with a prestigious cast. Although we can’t forget Rob Marshall’s Nine so soon, early word is that Hooper’s movie is the real deal, a dramatic epic that happens to be a musical. Bigelow and Boal’s Zero Dark Thirty is a highly political war movie which may benefit from its timeliness, but it also may hinder how much of the Academy puts it at the top of their list over the other movies, which makes it a bit of a dark horse.
We think Django Unchained will suffer more from its late screening than The Hobbit, mainly since the Academy has already proven that they are fans of Peter Jackson’s work in Middle-earth by giving all their awards to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King back in 2003. The Academy have a love/hate relationship with Tarantino and while Inglourious Basterds put him back in their favor (without really changing his style of writing/filmmaking), Django Unchained may not necessarily be their cup of tea.
So if we figure that the first four get in and two or three of the unscreened movies and two of the Tier 2 titles, we’re looking at nine Best Picture nominations and this is how we think it will play out (in alphabetical order):
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild
3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
4. Les Misérables
5. Life of Pi
7. The Master
8. Silver Linings Playbook
9. Zero Dark Thirty
We hope to step up these Oscar Warrior posts in the coming weeks as we have a chance to see the rest of the movies, and next time we’ll look at the director’s race and where it stands.