Can ‘Jackie’ overcome Oscar bias against women’s stories?

Jackie,” Pablo Larrain’s biopic starring Natalie Portman about First Lady Jackie Kennedy’s grief process following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, opened in limited markets on December 2 and will attempt to reaffirm its position in the awards race with potentially big numbers at the specialty box office. Currently sixth in our combined predictions for a Best Picture nomination at 14/1 odds, can “Jackie” maintain its awards buzz and keep its position among the season’s top contenders despite an industry that remains heavily biased against moody female-driven films?

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“Jackie” became a surprise entry into the awards conversation after its acclaimed premiere at the Venice Film Festival in early September; that’s the fest that introduced the last two Best Picture winners (“Spotlight” and “Birdman”) as well as our current Best Picture frontrunner “La La Land.” Since then “Jackie” has been nominated for Best Film by both the Independent Spirit Awards and Satellite Awards. But this week it failed to reap nominations at the Critics’ Choice Awards for Best Picture and Best Director despite six nominations in other categories, and it earned no accolades from the New York Film Critics Circle. In this early stage of the precursor season, “Jackie” is looking somewhat divisive.

While the film itself is sixth in the Best Picture category, Portman is currently second in the Best Actress race with 10/3 odds and is almost assured a nomination there. But the correlation between those two categories has been inconsistent: last year only two Best Actress nominees were in Best Picture-nominated films, while 2014 had just one and 2013 had three. As a comparison, the Best Actor race in last three years included two Best Picture nominees in 2015, four in 2014 and all five in 2013. The truth is that the academy is still heavily dominated by its male membership and that majority’s willingness to embrace female-driven narratives in the Best Picture race should be continuously closely examined.

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The academy does, of course, nominate films with female leads for Best Picture, but the moods, styles and subjects of those films are far less diverse than that of male-led nominees. Last year the academy improved its record somewhat by nominating the period romance “Brooklyn,” the action spectacle “Mad Max: Fury Road” and the emotionally uplifting “Room,” but failed to nominate the more reserved “Carol,” despite it being a season-long critical success that was considered a frontrunner for a nomination. In 2014 no film with a woman solely at the center was nominated for Best Picture — two strong contenders that year, the dark thriller “Gone Girl” and the introspective “Wild,” both came up short. In 2013 only the sci-fi thriller “Gravity” and the touching “Philomena” made it in with women on the forefront.

At the end of the day, audiences gravitate toward films they can not only relate to, but ones they can also connect with emotionally. So when we talk about what types of female stories a predominantly male academy membership will embrace for their top prize we have to consider what stories about women these men have the capacity to relate to. At the risk of oversimplifying, they understand war (“Zero Dark Thirty”), sports (“The Blind Side”), friendship (“The Help”) and history (“The Reader”), but apparently don’t want to see women grieving (“Rabbit Hole”), angry (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) or unstable (“Blue Jasmine”).

Photo Gallery: Top 15 Best Actress Oscar Contenders

So “Jackie,” a film entirely focused on the interior life of a woman forced to grieve on the national stage after the unexpected death of her husband, could be viewed as entering the Best Picture race at a disadvantage. In many ways the mood of the film echoes the other female-driven films that just missed out on their own Best Picture nominations. However, its presence elsewhere at the Oscars will not be small; it is a strong contender in many other categories: Original Screenplay (10/1 odds), Cinematography (11/2 odds), Costume Design (leading 12/5 odds), Film Editing (11/2 odds), Makeup and Hairstyling (leading 8/5 odds), Production Design (5/1 odds) and Original Score (4/1 odds), all of which bolster its chances that it will be popular enough with a broad and diverse group of academy voters to vault it to the top of their Best Picture ballots.

Predict the Oscar nominations now; change them till January 24

Be sure to make your Oscar predictions. How do you think “Jackie” will do with academy voters? Weigh in now with your picks so that Hollywood insiders can see how this film is faring in our Oscar odds. You can keep changing your predictions right up until just before nominations are announced on January 24 at 5:00 am PT/8:00 am ET. Be sure to read our contest rules. And join in the fierce debate over the Oscars taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our forums.

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