Friday, March 5, 2010

One Category at a Time: Best Picture

This is it. The big ten.

But is it really?

Nomination/win patterns from the last 30 years have given us a fairly reliable template for what a film needs in order to win Best Picture. The question is: with a field 10 deep and with a pesky preferential ballot, is that template still a valid model? Or is it that everything we know is wrong?

The rules are that to win you need nominations for Directing, Writing, and most importantly, Editing. Let's assume the rules hold. Narrowing down the Best Picture field becomes a fairly simple process of elimination:

Avatar: Editing (Y), Directing (Y), Writing (N)
The Blind Side: Editing (N), Directing (N), Writing (N)
District 9: Editing (Y), Directing (N), Writing (Y)
An Education: Editing (N), Directing (N), Writing (Y)
The Hurt Locker: Editing (Y), Directing (Y), Writing (Y)
Inglourious Basterds: Editing (Y), Directing (Y), Writing (Y)
Precious: Editing (Y), Directing (Y), Writing (Y)
A Serious Man: Editing (N), Directing (N), Writing (Y)
Up: Editing (N), Directing (N), Writing (Y)
Up in the Air: Editing (N), Directing (Y), Writing (Y)

So if we go by the rules, the winner is either The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, or Precious.

The Hurt Locker currently sits in the best position, despite the spat instigated by Nicholas Chartier's silly faux pas. It fills all the necessary criteria, and has been cleaning up precursors left, right, and centre. By all traditional logic, it should win. But traditional logic may be irrelevant in this nontraditional year. Beware Inglourious Basterds. Weinstein's aggressive campaigning may be rubbing a handful of people the wrong way, but he has the power to influence more than enough people to give the Basterds an edge. The SAG Ensemble is the card he's playing. He doesn't need everyone to rank the film #1. He just needs enough #2 and #3 votes to pass The Hurt Locker. As for Precious, it'll be floating around the top of everyone's ballots, but do enough people think it's the best movie of the year to keep it afloat through the first elimination rounds of the vote tabulating?

If the rules are followed, those are your three possible outcomes. But all rules have exceptions, and if we trace the awards back exactly 30 years, we'll find that there is an exception to each of the three rules:

1980 - Ordinary People wins without an Editing nomination.
1989 - Driving Miss Daisy wins without a Directing nomination.
1997 - Titanic win without a Writing nomination.

Ordinary People was heartstring-tugging weepy. It doesn't easily compare with any of this year's contenders, but it relates the closest to Up in the Air; solid dramatic fare that everybody likes, with nominations for Acting, Writing, and Directing. We can only assume that Up in the Air, an ACE nominee, only just missed an Editing nod with AMPAS. It should not be counted out. Nor should An Education, although its lack of a Directing nod makes it a weaker contender.

Driving Miss Daisy relates the closest, I think, with The Blind Side. A tame, easily accessible film with a strong female lead (not my opinion) that touches on racial issues in the gentlest possible way, thus presenting the illusion of importance. But Driving Miss Daisy had nominations for Editing and Writing to back it up, assets which The Blind Side has not. If there is a rule-breaking winner, this won't be it.

Titanic is obviously a parallel to Avatar. The rule about a having a Writing nomination was broken when Jim Cameron's romantic epic swept the awards only twelve years ago. This could be the rule breaker, but it would be breaking more than the Writing rule. It would be just breaking the Sci-Fi rule as well. It's a polarizing genre film that many feel has no substance. Is all that money enough to overcome such strong prejudices? I guess we'll find out on March 7th whether the Academy cares more about Substance or $ubstance.

The remaining nominees have obvious Achilles heals. District 9 is a sci-fi and is too icky. A Serious Man is bleak, and not nearly accessible enough. Up is animated, and will receive its due in Animated Feature and Score.

Will win (ranks): #1 The Hurt Locker
#2 Inglourious Basterds
#3 Precious
#4 Avatar
#5 Up in the Air
#6 An Education
#7 Up
#8 District 9
#9 A Serious Man
#10 The Blind Side

Should win: The Hurt Locker

Should have won: The Cove

1 comment:

Michael Stypulkoski said...

This is a fantastic post, informative and very interesting. I never realized how important nominations in other categories are to winning Best Picture.