Could ‘Flight’ land in Best Picture race at Oscars?

This past weekend, “Flight” came in at #2 at the box office with a $25 million haul. That’s not bad for an R-rated, heavily adult-skewing drama. The film received an A- rating from Cinemascore, showing that word-of-mouth is very strong among audiences. And critics have responded positively to “Flight”, praising Denzel Washington’s performance and Robert Zemeckis’ direction with the film scoring 76 at MetaCritic.

Taking all of this into account, can “Flight” make it into the Best Picture race at this year’s Oscars?

A Best Actor nomination for Washington seems like a sure thing — he’s ranked number 4 with odds of 15/2 — but beyond that buzz has been muted. Currently, the film is ranked at number 12 with odds of 100/1 while Zemeckis is ranked at number 11 amongst potential Best Director nominees, with similar odds.

Yet if word-of-mouth continues to yield strong box office, will academy voters take notice? Certainly an expanded field makes it easier for the film to crack Best Picture, especially if upcoming contenders like “Les Miserables”, “Zero Dark Thirty”, “Django Unchained”, and “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” fail to meet expectations.

Washington has already won two Oscars — one for Supporting Actor for “Glory” (1989) and one for Best Actor for “Training Day” (2001). He received nominations for “Cry, Freedom” (1987), “Malcolm X” (1992), and “The Hurricane” (1999).

Despite a crowded field, it seems unlikely that Washington will miss out: if there’s one thing the academy loves, it’s a character struggling with addiction, as witnessed by such wins as Ray Milland for “The Lost Weekend” (1945) and Nicolas Cage for “Leaving Las Vegas” (1995).

Zemeckis won Best Director in 1994 for “Forrest Gump.” Despite having directed “Back to the Future” (1985), “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” (1988), and “Cast Away” (2000), “Gump” yielded his sole nomination. After a decade-long hiatus from live-action filmmaking, will the directors branch be ready to welcome him back with a second nomination? Voters should certainly respect his handling of the harrowing plane crash in the first half-hour and his direction of Washington throughout, but will that be enough?

The Original Screenplay race is always a category with a lot of wiggle room, and John Gatins is currently ranked at number 6 with odds of 33/1. However, he’s ranked behind such heavyweight contenders as Paul Thomas Anderson for “The Master” (9/4), Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained” (4/1), Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola for “Moonrise Kingdom” (4/1), Mark Boal for “Zero Dark Thirty” (8/1), and Michael Haneke for “Amour” (10/1), so a nomination could prove to be an uphill battle.

John Goodman is in play for two films this year — “Argo” and “Flight.” Goodman is the kind of veteran performer academy voters love to reward with a nomination, yet it seems more likely he’d be recognized for “Argo” if he is recognized at all. As of right now, he’s ranked at 15 for “Argo” and 41 for “Flight”, both with odds of 100/1.

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There are several tech categories in which the film could secure nominations, such as Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects, and Film Editing, especially considering that opening plane crash sequence.

All of this is dependent on how academy members respond to the film. If “Flight” continues to perform strongly at the box office, and if several other high profile titles fall short, voters may feel inclined to reward the kind of mid-budget studio film Hollywood once made so well.

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