Monday, January 11, 2010

The Big Picture on Best Picture

Okay, I know I said I would focus on the niche categories this week, but I'll be honest: the niche categories drive me up a wall. I have no love for them. Therefore, I'm moving onto Best Picture. Sue me. It's my blog, and I'll cry if I want to.

Best Picture

This one's more complicated than just a list and a Hit or Miss! pick. This is a conversation that is veering in a whole host of different directions, so I'm going to just analyze ALL of them.

This will take a while.

The Frontrunners: Up in the Air, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, and Avatar.

See, if there were only five Best Picture nominees this year, it would be so easy to put together a list. All five movies have a shot at the gold due to the new weighted-vote system, and it benefits no other movie more than Inglourious Basterds, which may not receive as many #1 votes as a movie such as, oh, let's say, the ridiculously bad Avatar (not picking on any one movie, cough-cough), but a significant amount of #2 and #3 votes could be even better. Up in the Air is, unfortunately, suffering from a fatal backlash, and Precious never really recovered from its own backlash, but both movies have ardent fans and could pull an upset. This race, however, is probably down to the aforementioned Avatar and Basterds, as well as critical darling The Hurt Locker, and I have more faith in the Iraq War drama than any other. It should strike a balance that neither Basterds nor Avatar can hit: a mixture of #1 votes and lower preference (but still critically important) votes. If it does that, then it's won.

The Middle-of-the-Road: An Education, Invictus, and A Serious Man.

Since those five spots are filled, and any other movie stands little to no chance of ousting them, the race becomes not to win, but to be nominated, and there are five more spots with which to accomplish that goal. The three movies here have, for one reason or another, made themselves seem like obvious options. An Education had a tidal wave of buzz going early on, but fizzled as more flashy movies (Up in the Air, Avatar) made their impressions. Invictus, despite solid reviews, never had the sort of gangbuster support that most of the big movies have, but because it's a Clint Eastwood flick, should still squeak into the race. Finally, A Serious Man has some ardent supporters, though not enough, which should be good enough for a nomination, not a win. I'd say the latter two films will have more problems than An Education will.

The Indie Spoilers: A Single Man, (500) Days of Summer, The Messenger, and Crazy Heart.

Ask Brokeback Mountain: there's nothing more likely to unseat an obvious frontrunner than a good old indie. (Hi, Crash!) Any of the movies listed here could make it into the big race, though I have a lot of faith in (500) Days of Summer and The Messenger, despite my distaste for the former. I don't think A Single Man has the buzz to make it in, nor do I think Crazy Heart has the visibility beyond Jeff Bridges' starring performance (see also: The Wrestler, again). There are probably four spots in contention, with two wide open, so the two movies with the buzz and critical adoration have a very good shot.

The Commercial Favorites: Star Trek, The Hangover, The Blind Side, and Up.

These were the movies that were supposed to make it into the big race with the ten nominee shift, but I only have confidence in one of the four making it in. The Blind Side is really just a Sandra Bullock vehicle, so discount that one. Ditto The Hangover; I'm still not sure why there was a wave of support for this movie, but it's never been a real contender. It's an incredibly funny comedy, but not a very well-executed one, and that's what matters to the Academy. (Juno, if you please.) Star Trek could benefit from its late-game buzz shift, but so many ballots were already filled out by the time all this came to pass, it's not as likely as The Summer Flick With Momentum below. Up was heavily favored earlier, but things have really turned against it, including a good tide for The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Look for that to possibly derail its chances, though I still believe that it has a chance of making it in.

The Meryl Streep Vehicles: It's Complicated and Julie & Julia.

Either one of these movies could spoil the race by making it in, but I don't really have that much faith in either simply because I think they'll split votes. Color me surprised if one of them does, but if one of them does, it'll be Julie & Julia.

The Summer Flick With Momentum: District 9.

I have a lot of faith in District 9 suddenly. With major nominations coming through, as well as hype before those nominations (which Star Trek didn't have), it has a great shot at one of those leftover spots. And that is very bad for Avatar, which probably can't win if there's another sci-fi picture in the race (let alone two!). See Dave Karger's OscarWatch blog on for more on that.

The Fallen From Grace: Nine and The Lovely Bones.

Yikes. What happened here, folks? These were supposed to be the Oscar movies this year, and neither one is likely to get a nomination. Bones is done; I've honestly never seen a greater flop from grace--(*suddenly remembers Australia)--oh, wait, scratch that. Nine could still scrape a nod, considering the Academy usually loves him more than critics or audiences do, but I don't think those critics and audiences have hated on him quite as much as they are now. So it's a toss-up. The ultimate Hit or Miss, if you will.

If I had to put together a list right now, it might look a little something like this:

Up in the Air
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
An Education
A Serious Man
(500) Days of Summer
District 9

Man and Summer are the most vulnerable due to cross-competition (respectively, Invictus and The Messenger, but I think the buzz/critical adoration will help put them over the top.

One thing's for sure, though: this is the hardest race to call in years, and it really shouldn't have been.

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