Why Oscars prophets are going crazy: Old rules don’t apply?

Silver Linings Playbook” currently leads the Oscar predictions for Best Picture at Gold Derby, reaping 11-to-2 odds, but – beware – it’s got a big problem.

The quirky romance starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper doesn’t have a key component that’s usually essential to victory: support “below the line,” as they say in Hollywood. That is, it’s not likely to reap many nominations in those crafts categories like sound mixing, cinematography and art direction. In order to win, a movie must usually demonstrate broad support across the academy’s peer groups. Two year’s ago, “The King’s Speech” had six crafts bids before it was crowned Best Picture. Last year “The Artist” reaped three.

A lot of other leading Best Picture contenders have similar problems – they don’t fit classic Oscar rules – and that’s confounding a lot of us “experts.” Our crystal balls are suddenly cloudy. How can we possibly look smart by harrumphing that this-or-that film is out front in the derby because of this-or-that theory when the theories don’t apply? How can this derby turn out to be any fun?

Silver Linings Playbook” isn’t the only contender with trouble below the line. Ditto “Hitchcock” (Anthony Hopkins as the director of “Psycho”), “The Sessions” (John Hawkes as polio victim who hires a sex surrogate played by Helen Hunt), “Amour” (director Michael Haneke‘s French-language study of an old woman dying slowly; it won of Palme d’Or at Cannes) and “Moonrise Kingdom” (Wes Anderson‘s  whimsical tale of runaway teen lovers).

At least most of those films have something else considered essential to winning Best Picture – they’re seriously in the running for acting awards. That’s Oscar Prediction Rule No. 2: In order to win Best Picture, a film must be nominated in at least one acting category. The argument goes: a movie must display strength within the academy’s largest branch, which contains about 1,300 actors.

But several Best Picture contenders break that rule. It’s highly unlikely that Ang Lee‘s “Life of Pi” will score an acting nom. The best shot for an acting bid for “The Hobbit” is probably Ian McKellen, who got nominated for the first installment of “Lord of the Rings,” but not the last two. Now it doesn’t look good for him to be acknowledged for starring in the prequel.

Early scuttlebutt on “Zero Dark Thirty” – director Kathryn Bigelow‘s (“The Hurt Locker”) dramatization of the attack on Bin Laden – is that it’s primarily action-driven, not likely to reap acting bids, but that could turn out to be untrue. It stars Jessica Chastain, a Hollywood darling nominated last year for “The Help.”

If both Oscar Prediction Rules 1 & 2 turn out to be true, then Best Picture will be won by one of these films that have the potential to score lots of bids above and below the line:

* Les Miserables – Director Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”) brings the Broadway classic to the screen with Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway.

*LincolnSteven Spielberg looks at the final days of America’s 16th president, featuring Daniel Day-Lewis as Abe.

* ArgoBen Affleck both directs and stars in this dramatic retelling of how six U.S. hostages were smuggled out of Iran in 1980.

* “Django Unchained”Quentin Tarantino reveals the tale of a former slave (Jamie Foxx) seeks to free his wife from the clutches a vicious plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio).

* “Beasts of the Southern Wild” – A father and daughter living in the backwaters of New Orleans struggle to survive the hardships of Hurricane Katrina.

* “Flight”Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump”) presents the tale of a pilot (Denzel Washington) who becomes a hero when he saves passengers jduring a jet crash, then becomes demonized by the media.

* “The Master” – Director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson reveals how a misfit drifter (Joaquin Phoenix) becomes spellbound by a cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

* “Anna Karenina”Joe Wright (“Atonement,” “Pride and Prejudice”) directs a stylish modern update of Leo Tolstoy‘s novel of an aristocratic woman (Keira Knightley) cursed by love.

Of course, both prediction rules could turn out to be wrong because there are always exceptions to every rule. “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Last Emperor” won Best Picture without acting nominations and “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash” prevailed with very little support below the line.

Photo: Anne Hathaway in “Les Miserables” (Universal)

9 thoughts on “Why Oscars prophets are going crazy: Old rules don’t apply?

  1. Outside of the almost overwhelming urge to bang heads together when I read some comments, I just keep telling myself, “Wait until 12/26!”. These people just don’t have a clue about what they are going to see. They haven’t sat in a theater with half of the audience audibly sobbing or exited singing the great anthems or listened to the score repeatedly and imagined what it will be like when the limitations of stage are expanded to the possibilities of film. Short of an absolutely massive screw up on all levels which from insider reactions isn’t the case, this film isn’t “Oscar Bait”, it is sit back an be overwhelmed by magic.

  2. One HUGE problem this year is the Jan. 3 deadline for nom ballots. That means films that wait till Xmas to open (Les Miz, Django) have only 9 days to sell themselves to Academy voters thru regular release; they have to rely on advance screenings and, yes, buzz for many of their noms. If December films focus on specific below-the-line categories, that could make it easier for earlier releases to get Best Picture noms without it as they’ve had more time in release to sell themselves to the general Academy membership.

  3. Late-release campaigns focused on specific below-the-line branches may also make things easier for early releases to get Best Picture noms with Actors Branch support alone. For example, that helps SLP as Jennifer Lawrence has become the prohibitive frontrunner for Best Actress. Indeed, among the current frontrunners in the top-six races only Anne Hathaway is from a film dropping in December.

  4. Which raises an interesting question: If Lawrence & Hathaway both win we know the film on their Oscars will be SLP & Les Miz respectively. But how do we know the voters didn’t REALLY give it to them for THG & TDKR?

  5. Ian McKellen WAS indeed nominated as Best Supporting Actor for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and lost to Jim Broadbent for Iris.

  6. I would have sworn the photo at the top was a young Matthew Broderick but bless her it’s Anne Hathaway in Les Mis. Is it just me?

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