They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?
The Oscar Race as it Stands Pre-Nominations
By J. Don Birnam
January 15, 2014
Trying to predict the Oscars has always been a dicey proposition - advisable only if one doesn’t mind constant embarrassment - particularly in (increasingly rare) competitive races like Oscar year 2013. Widely considered a strong year for movies, 2013 has as of yet not shown itself predictable regarding the Best Picture race. At least not as predictable as the last few iterations of Oscar have been, with the Best Picture winner known well in advance of the big night. While there is an undeniable frontrunner - the challenging and important 12 Years a Slave - there is at least an argument that critical darling American Hustle and its star-studded cast poses a serious threat. On the outside looking in is a third film, likely the actual Best of the year, about a woman’s literal and figurative heart-wrenching travail back to Earth - Alfonso Cuaron’s technical masterpiece, Gravity.
In a few weeks, when the three major guilds (PGA, DGA, and SAG), have spoken, we may have a clearer picture of where the Oscar chips are falling (or, for the sake of excitement, perhaps we may not). But with more than six weeks to go to the big show, on the eve of nominations, and fresh off the heels of the Golden Globes, it is a little harder to predict what will reign victorious on March 2nd. Indeed, the three films vying for the top prize each won significant awards at this weekend’s Golden Globes (12 Years won Best Drama; Hustle won Best Comedy; and Gravity won Best Director). While of course there is no overlap between the 80-plus foreign correspondents that hand out the Globes and the eclectic 6,000 or so members of the Academy, both groups are, after all, composed of human beings. There is only so wide a range of emotions.
Thus, with the Golden Globe three-way split offering little insight as to where the little gold man may land, we are forced to resort to Oscar’s vast history to illuminate the way. Indeed, even a quick dip into Oscar’s recent trends reveals several clear propositions and, perhaps/probably/likely, our eventual winner. The first, and easiest proposition, is that Gravity cannot and will not win Best Picture. I can give several dozen reasons. Sci-fi and/or space movies never win. Movies about strong female lead characters never win. A movie about basically one person will simply never win. It just doesn’t feel “important” enough. Oh, of course one can find exceptions here and there over 85+ years of Oscar. But the overall trends are undeniable. If Gravity won Best Picture it would signify a stunning shift in the Academy’s tastes that simply is not in the cards.
The second proposition is that the race will be decided by whatever movie makes Oscar voters feel best about themselves. Sprinkled over the last several Best Picture races is a subtle but undeniable message: give us the movie that will make us feel the best when we vote for it when we leave the movie house. Examples include Argo, with its underdog story about snubbed Ben Affleck and about an American hero; The Artist, with its cute little dog and quirky, happy soundtrack and dance; and The King’s Speech, with the quintessential hero that must overcome adversity and personal flaws to save the world. These three movies undeniably have that feature in common - they lift up the human spirit. Certainly, they make one “feel” a lot better than the films each of these winners vanquished - the darker Lincoln or the more complex Life of Pi, or the unforgiving, hope-killing Social Network.