We've been talking about Oscar frontrunners since last May's Cannes Film Festival, but we won't know who the contenders really are until Academy members' nominations are announced Jan. 10.
As always, many wannabees will fall by the wayside when the noms are revealed in Los Angeles Thursday morning. For those films, all the Oscar marketing costs for ads, screenings, encrypted DVDs sent to Academy members, and receptions held to promote the fortunes of filmmakers and actors will have been for naught.
It's a safe bet, however, that some high profile titles that have already done well with Golden Globes nominations--like Les Miserables
, Silver Linings Playbook
, Django Unchained
and Zero Dark Thirty
--will wind up on Oscar's best picture list. Since that list can include between five and 10 films, there's plenty of room for surprises.
For films that get into the best picture race and for individuals who make the cut in their category, the rigors of campaigning over the last four months will have paid off. But they must now do more of the same under even greater pressure until the Academy polls close Feb. 19 at 5:00 p.m. By then, Oscar voters will have made their choices and the lucky winners will be announced Feb. 24 at the 85th Annual Academy Awards.
This year saw the Academy introduce online voting to its membership, which includes many elderly males thought to have limited ability when it comes to using the Internet or sending e-mails. Some Hollywood handicappers have voiced concern that the Academy's flawed online voting system--many members reportedly found it difficult or impossible to use--may influence who gets nominated this time around.
While paper ballots were still an option for those who requested them, the new online voting system has been criticized for being anything from a frustration to a nightmare for members who ran into problems using the Academy's ultra-secure online system.
Those frustrations apparently involved things like not being able to log in to the system because passwords provided to them didn't work or finding that the system was down when they tried to vote. No one really knows if because of those problems some voters gave up or just weren't able to vote.
Moreover, because of a newly compressed nominating period allowing the Academy to announce noms a week earlier than in the past, voters didn't have enough time to see as many films as they might have liked to have seen before voting.
Oscarologists will analyze Thursday's noms more closely than ever and will speculate about why certain films were left out. They'll conclude in some cases that Academy members just didn't get around to seeing the lower profile titles. While no one can say for sure how true that is, the Hollywood media crowd believes Academy members have way less time than they need to see films.
Members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association attend screenings throughout the year as part of their work as journalists and, therefore, see just about everything before making their Golden Globes noms. Academy members, however, are busy making movies, themselves, all year and don't have time to see films until they're ready to vote.
This year's nominations voting began Dec. 17 and was scheduled to end Jan. 3. After encountering so many online voting issues, the Academy announced Jan. 1 that it was extending the balloting by 24 hours to Fri., Jan. 4 at 5:00 p.m. The nominating period coincided with a time when many Academy members were enjoying holiday vacations and weren't home to attend screenings or watch DVDs.
As a result, they really had to pick and choose what they devoted time to seeing. A key factor in making such choices is typically how other awards givers have reacted to the same movies. That's why the studios work so hard to win honors at film festivals and from critics groups and other organizations. The headlines those wins or noms generate can make Academy members regard them as must-see titles.
Academy rules allow for between five and 10 Best Picture nominees and for five nominees in most other categories. Academy branch members--actors, producers, directors, writers, film editors, etc.--nominate in their own categories and everyone nominates for Best Picture.
Because the system allows for more best picture contenders than there are nominees in other categories, there can be 10 films competing for Best Picture, but only five directors can be nominated for Best Directing. That can turn as many as five Best Picture into orphans because their directors aren't nominees. The perception typically is that such titles are less likely to win best picture because their directors aren't also up for consideration.
However, there always are exceptions to this. For instance, Driving Miss Daisy
won best picture in 1990 although its director, Bruce Beresford, wasn't nominated. The media crowd refers ironically to such films as movies that directed themselves.
The same limit of five nominees also applies to the best film editing category, a nomination which is widely regarded as being essential if a film is to win Best Picture.
Looking back at last year's nominations illustrates how the relationship between Best Picture, Directing and Film Editing noms works. There were nine best picture nominees last year--The Artist
, The Descendants
, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
, The Help
, Midnight in Paris
, The Tree of Life
and War Horse
Five of those Best Picture nominees had directors who also were nominated--Artist
. Four of those Best Picture nominees also received film editing noms--Artist
. The fifth editing nom went to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
, which did not receive noms for Best Picture or Directing, but won for Film Editing.
As a result, four of the nine Best Picture contenders were at a considerable disadvantage because their directors weren't nominated--Extremely
. And five of the nine Best Picture nominees were underdogs because their film editors weren't nominated--Extremely
That left only three out of nine Best Picture nominees with both best directing and film editing noms--Artist
. The winner, of course, came from this group--Artist
While it's possible to find examples to show this analysis doesn't always hold true, Oscar handicappers strongly believe that directing and film editing noms are a key factor in predicting Best Picture wins. So one of the first things they'll be looking at Thursday is which best picture contenders are also up for directing and film editing Oscars.
Six titles (in no particular order) have emerged as being very likely to land best picture noms--Les Miserables
, directed by Tom Hooper; Silver Linings Playbook,
directed by David O. Russell; Django Unchained
, directed by Quentin Tarantino; Argo
, directed by Ben Affleck; Lincoln
, directed by Steven Spielberg; and Zero Dark Thirty
, directed by Kathryn Bigelow.
Of these, Argo, Django
are Golden Globes nominees for Best Motion Picture - Drama and Les Mis
both have Globes noms for Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical. If any of them are big winners at the Globes Jan. 13 that should enhance their Oscar prospects (assuming they're Oscar nominated, as expected, Jan. 10).
, Les Mis
have the advantage of being Screen Actors Guild (SAG) nominees for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. That's SAG's equivalent of a best picture nom. SAG's actors make up the Academy's largest voting branch so Oscar handicappers take SAG noms very seriously.
All six of these leading titles also received best picture noms from the Producers Guild of America (PGA), which nominates a total of 10 films for best picture consideration. PGA noms are typically a good bellwether for Oscar noms. The Directors Guild of America (DGA) is another important indicator of how Academy noms may go. The DGA's noms aren't known at this writing, but will be announced Jan. 8 so you may know them as you read this column.
Other films that also have been generating a good best picture Oscar buzz are--Life of Pi
, directed by Ang Lee; Beasts of the Southern Wild
, directed by Benh Zeitlin; The Master
, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson; and Amour
, directed by Michael Haneke.
is a Golden Globes nominee for Best Motion Picture – Drama and a PGA best picture nominee. Beasts
has a PGA best picture nom.
A few other titles are also generating talk as possible best picture nominees and could turn up in the race--Moonrise Kingdom
, directed by Wes Anderson; Skyfall
, directed by Sam Mendes; and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
, directed by John Madden. Although neither Moonrise
had a big best picture buzz going for them, both wound up with best picture PGA noms.
It's potentially helpful for Moonrise
that Scott Rudin, one of its producers, is a high profile producer and a longtime Academy favorite. Rudin won Best Picture in 2008 for producing No Country For Old Men
and was a Best Picture nominee for The Hours
in 2003, for both True Grit
and The Social Network
in 2011; and for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
As for Marigold
, while it hadn't been generating a huge best picture buzz, it got a valuable boost from being one of SAG's five nominees for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.
, the 23rd episode in the James Bond franchise, gets into the best picture race it will be the first time a Bond film has done so. Skyfall
director Sam Mendes won the Oscar in 2000 for directing American Beauty
, that year's Best Picture winner, and is the first Oscar winning director to direct a Bond
When the Academy went a few years ago from five to 10 (and since then to between five and 10) Best Picture noms, one of its reasons was to make room for box office hits to get into the best picture race along with the art house films and specialty dramas that have come to dominate the Best Picture race. The value to the Academy in broadening the scope of films nominated for best picture is that these are the movies people around the world have seen and enjoyed.
The Academy's licensing fees for its Oscar telecast depend on achieving good or, at least, decent ratings. When viewers have a vested interest in rooting for big films they've seen and enjoyed--as opposed to smaller films they've ignored or couldn't see because they weren't playing in their local theatres--the ratings tend to increase.
In an effort to provide something on this year's telecast for Bond fans--with Skyfall
having grossed about $297 million in domestic theatres there clearly are many such fans out there--the Academy is doing a tribute to 007 and his 50 year old series.
This year, in addition to Skyfall
, insiders have also been wondering whether The Dark Knight Rises
might land a Best Picture nod. As the concluding episode in Christopher Nolan's well regarded and highly successful trilogy, Rises
could be on some Academy members' radar screens.
The overlong Oscar race heads into the homestretch with Thursday's nominations. It's still wide open, but frontrunners will emerge when we see who receives the most noms and, especially, in key categories.