They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don’t They?

Will Oscar Ignore Box Office Again?

By J. Don Birnam

November 3, 2015

The next person who asks about Mad Men is getting punched in the face.

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The Best Picture race is probably the most wide-open it has been at this stage of the race in several years. What will win right now is really anybody’s guess, so at least there is excitement and intrigue for a little while longer. Several trends seem to be playing and pulling against each other, I’ll take a look at some of them today. Check-out our updated Best Picture power rankings at our awards research page, and follow me on Twitter, and on Instagram for up to the minute updates on the Oscar race.

The Wide Open Race

At this point last year, most people assumed that Boyhood was going to win Best Picture. Although Birdman triumphed in the end, we had a clear consensus front-runner one month away from the beginning of the critics’ awards, even if some dissidents saw room for a shift.

Similarly, two years ago, everyone assumed 12 Years A Slave was headed for the win. Again, there were some questions and doubts as to whether Gravity could upset it, but the race had pretty much boiled down to those two contenders.

And so on…for most of the last few years, a consensus pick has emerged around this time, and even if that consensus pick does not end up triumphing, the conversation has at least narrowed considerably by November 1st.

Not so this year. With a long list of movies that have a real chance at a Best Picture nomination, a long list of passion projects (Freeheld, Suffragette), issues movies (Spotlight, Truth, The Danish Girl), and movies with big names (Steve Jobs, Carol, Joy), there seems to be very little agreement as to what is ahead, other than perhaps…




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Is It Spotlight or is it…The Martian?

Most prognosticators have Spotlight in their number one slot, but it seems almost an afterthought or default choice. Many also complain that Spotlight doesn’t have the dramatic climax - the quintessential Oscar moment - that is needed for a Best Picture win.

I actually have Spotlight still at number one and have more conviction in my prediction right now than the apologetic ranking that others have for it. Spotlight is a deliberate, methodical movie; it is thoughtfully made, without a false note, and with a sense of importance - voters can feel good voting for the good guys by supporting Spotlight. The movie does not have one climatic denouement but it has a climactic sequence and several key emotional scenes. One particular scene between Mark Ruffalo and Stanley Tucci towards the end of the movie stands out.

I have no idea if it will actually win, but can it win? Absolutely. Nothing else that has been widely seen seems remotely close. Unless, that is, you buy the theory that The Martian is actually ahead.

The comparison to Gravity is obvious and easy, so some people are making it. But The Martian does not have the intellectual gravitas of Gravity, nor does it have the technological breakthrough that propelled Gravity to a stunning seven Academy Awards. These could be good things, on the other hand, with The Martian being more accessible to viewers and voters, a more familiar, Argo-like story of American ingenuity and saving the day, and an overall feel-good thriller that delivers a euphoric finale that Gravity did not.


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