Isn’t this fun? The race for best picture continues to surprise at each turn. Outside of “Amour’s” win with the LAFCA contingent Sunday, “Zero Dark Thirty” has emerged as the critics favorite winning NYFCC, Boston Society of Film Critics and the National Board of Review (among others). So far, the other presumed best picture frontrunners “Les Miserables,” “Lincoln” and “Argo” have had to make due with just acting, directing or screenwriting honors. Of course, all this will change beginning Wednesday when SAG pipes in for its yearly honors and on Thursday when the HFPA hopes to influence something (most entertainment industry executives will tell you its ticket sales and Emmy voters). We’re in the thick of it and pronouncements about the fates of contenders are being made left and right. Taking that into account, it seems appropriate to review some of these repeated refrains and determine whether or not they have any basis in reality.
“Les Miserables” reviews are going to hurt its chances to win best picture.
FALSE – The initial reviews certainly don’t help, but the film plays to enthusiastic audiences with applause throughout. Out of all the major contenders with a shot at Oscar gold it is the most emotional and entertaining. In theory that’s what you need to win a close best picture race.
“Django Unchained” is a lock for a best picture nomination.
FALSE – If any film has arrived too late to the party it may just be “Django.” You could argue the picture is one of the few that will get discovered in theaters, but it’s late screening schedule could seriously harm it with SAG where it needs to show some support. Expected Golden Globe nods just won’t cut it.
“Zero Dark Thirty” isn’t emotional enough to win best picture.
FALSE – This is a talking point from competing consultants and publicists hoping to take down the “surprise” late contender. Over the past decade, best picture winners such as Bigelow’s own “The Hurt Locker,” “No Country For Old Men” and “The Departed” were hardly tearjerkers. Does it help? Sure — see why “Les Miz” is still a player — but it’s not a requirement.
It’s going to be a close race to the end.
TRUE – This isn’t wishful thinking from the Oscar show producers hoping to pump up ratings. Baring a sweep of all the major guild awards by one film, there are too many signs indicating that upcoming events will keep all the major players in the race until the bit show.
“Silver Linings Playbook” blew its chances with its limited debut.
TRUE AND FALSE – After winning the People’s Choice in Toronto and becoming the darling of festival critics (including this one), “Playbook” seemed like the surefire bet to win it all. It was pegged as a dramedy in the vein of “Terms of Endearment” or “Rain Man” that could win over the Academy. That may still be the case, but the Weinstein Company did themselves a horrible disservice by opening the picture in limited release against the first weekend of “Breaking Dawn, Pt. 2” and the second weekend of international blockbuster “Skyfall.” It wasn’t just that “Playbook’s” per screen looked weak compared to say “Lincoln’s” in the same number of theaters (a completely media driven story most Academy members won’t even be aware of), but the competitive frame didn’t allow for the necessary publicity burst to make it the movie of the “moment.” What made matters worse was the fact its Thanksgiving expansion and hold were not especially spectacular (so much for being a word of mouth wonder). Granted, the Academy could still embrace “Playbook” over the next few weeks to push it back to the top, but at this point that would be a comeback for the Oscar ages.
More importantly, the current countdown as of Sunday, Dec. 9, 2013.
1. Les Miserables
Probably not what Universal was hoping for in terms of initial reviews, but that’s what happens when you drop an embargo on unsuspecting critics. Don’t worry Mr. Hooper, those Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores will inch up slowly but surely.
2. Zero Dark Thirty
Losing LAFCA helped it avoid the unfair “Social Network” comparisons. The response following the LA world premiere premiere Monday night will be telling.
Probably the one film that was going to be able to claim the most top 10 lists of the year until “Zero Dark Thirty” showed its wares.
First week of December and a large contingent of Academy members have seen this picture more than any other. Oh, and they like it. Can it come from being perceived as “behind” for a post nominations comeback? Or, is it already there?
5. Life of Pi
You have to wonder if Ang Lee made a mistake reshooting the bookends without Tobey Maguire. Would a familiar face have helped it be more of a contender than pretender?
6. Silver Linings Playbook
Would have loved to snag a best picture honor from LAFCA or NYFCC. Always possibly, always unlikely.
7. Beasts of the Southern Wild
The LAFCA wins help. Increasingly seen as “in,” but Searchlight will probably be crossing their fingers until Jan. 10.
8. The Impossible
The underground campaign no one wants to acknowledge? If Naomi Watts lands a best actress nod from SAG watch out.
LAFCA honor wasn’t necessary. Too many members of the acting guild love it for it not to get in.
About to hit $1 billion and will make a surprising number of top 10 lists. With “Moonrise” and “Django” making little noise with the critics, it’s the safe pick for no. 10…for now.
What do you think about the current state of the best picture race? Share your thoughts below.