Oscar 2012: Extremely Surprising and Incredibly Unexpected

How Stephen Daldry's poorly reviewed drama Crashed the Best Picture race

By Tom Houseman

January 31, 2012

Sorry, there is no forgiveness for this Best Picture nomination.

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Now, it has happened before that films have snuck into Best Picture despite lackluster guild and precursor showings. Two recent memorable instances of this are Munich and Letters from Iwo Jima. However, both of those films received very strong reviews reviews, with a 78% and a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, and were made by two of the most respected directors of all time, Spielberg and Eastwood. There is clearly a lot of love for Stephen Daldry, as evidenced by his perfect record of making Best Picture nominated movies, but he is not at their level.

So after all this blathering on about how there is no way that ELIC could have possibly gotten nominated for Best Picture, we're left with just one question: how the heck did it? There is one theory that's being floated around the Internet, and that makes some sense, is that it was a matter of timing. Due to its very late release it was one of the last movies that most voters saw, which helped it stick with them. Obviously there is a reason why movies angling for Oscar are released in December, and it is to ensure that they are remembered by voters. Being the freshest in the minds of Academy members was probably a boon. So why didn't it help any of those films?

My personal theory is to blame it all on the actors. Only two of the nine Best Picture nominees received no “below the line” nominations: The Help and ELIC. What do both of these films have in common? Okay, yes, they both feature the beautiful and insanely talented Viola Davis, but that's not what I'm talking about. No, the point I am trying to make is that these films are all about the actors. With a cast like Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow John Goodman, the breathtaking and brilliant Davis, and the crazy cheesehead guy who makes fun of Aaron Rodgers in those State Farm commercials (not even joking a little bit) this is a movie that actors were going to be drawn to.


And remember, this year the nominees didn't have to have the broadest base of support, they just had to have their fans be extremely passionate. Actors were already predisposed to liking ELIC, and those that fell for the film were likely to put it at number one. It had more of an Oscar feel to it than Bridesmaids and was much less dark than The Ides of March, Tinker Tailor, or Dragon Tattoo. This is a film that sets its sights on the heartstrings, and anyone who fell under their spell likely put it at number one.

Might knowledge of the new voting system have played a part in it as well? It is likely that the people who loved ELIC also loved War Horse, Hugo, and The Help, all of which are typical dramatic Oscar fare. But everybody knew that those three films were almost guaranteed Oscar spots. Were voters clever enough to champion the less sure-footed film, putting ELIC at number one simply to help its chances, rather than because they actually believed it was better than any of that trio? I try not to give Oscar voters any credit when it comes to intelligence, but it's a possibility.

Regardless of how it happened, it happened. And regardless of what happens from here on out, there is absolutely no way that ELIC will win Best Picture. So I guess the real question is why is everyone so obsessed with it? That's an easy one: because it doesn't make sense. Oscar predictors believe that with enough knowledge and analysis you can predict the voting patterns of the Academy. Hell, some think that with enough knowledge and analysis they can predict the bowel movements of the Academy. So when something totally unexpected happens, it fascinates us. And then we try and work backwards, looking for an explanation in the footprints of the precursors. But sometimes it just comes down to that famous William Goldman quote that has become the mantra of many an Oscar predictor: “nobody knows anything.”

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