Tom O’Neil on ‘Les Miserables’ Oscars mystery: Will it win?

Now that I’ve seen “Les Miserables” – and have witnessed the reactions of hundreds of others at Grauman’s theater in Hollywood – a few things are clear. Yes, this film can win Best Picture, but it’s not a shoo-in, and it might even set a few Oscar milestones.

Les Miserables” could set two records. One would be for most nominations. Currently, that honor is held by “Titanic” (1997) and “All About Eve” (1950), which earned 14. Certainly, it will nab bids for Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costumes, Film Editing, Song (“Suddenly”) and Sound Mixing and Editing. That’s 9. Maybe Makeup & Hair too. It’s possible that it could even make the list for Adapted Screenplay, but that may be a stretch since the script has very little spoken dialogue. Then the big cliffhanger: How many acting noms?

“Les Miserables” could set a record for most acting bids in one film. That distinction is currently shared by nine flicks that reaped five: “All About Eve” (1950), “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967), “From Here to Eternity” (1953), “Godfather, Part II” (1974), “Mrs. Miniver” (1942), “Network” (1976), “On the Waterfront” (1954), “Peyton Place” (1957), “Tom Jones” (1963). “Les Miz” will surely get at least three: Hugh Jackman (lead) and Anne Hathaway and Eddie Redmayne in supporting. Three others are possible: Russell Crowe, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, all in those second-tier slots.

Do the math: 9 noms + 2 + 6 = 17. It’s unlikely to reap such bounty, so let’s toss out the possiblity of Best Adapted Screenplay. Thus, “Les Miz” could still score a record-breaking tally of 16. It would need to win 12 to set a new record for most victories.

Reviews are embargoed until Dec. 11 so it’s tricky to discuss the film, but here goes. The audience flipped for it. It’s (nearly) everything that “Les Miz” nuts hoped for. Eddie Redmayne is the big surprise. His performance wows and, yikes, who knew he could sing like that? Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter try to steal the film — and the contents of every pocket in 19th-century Paris. But Carter can’t win. Anne Hathaway has Best Supporting Actress in the bag and Hugh Jackman poses a serious threat to Daniel Day-Lewis‘ dominion over Best Actor. But what about Best Picture?

So far “Les Miz” and “Argo” look like the front-runners, but a few others are in the mix (“Silver Linings Playbook,” “Lincoln”) and two other pix are still unseen by Oscarologists: “Zero Dark Thirty” (we’re seeing it on Sunday) and “Django Unchained” (later this week). Both of those have something that “Les Miz” lacks big time: The Cool Factor. Lately, that hasn’t mattered much considering voters went for such fuddy-duddy fare as “The King’s Speech” (2010) and “The Artist” (2011). But often hipness does count, as demonstrated by such choices as “No Country for Old Men” (2007) and “The Hurt Locker” (2009).

RELATED: Roundup of views by other journalists who’ve seen ‘Les Miserables’

Both of those films defied the usual formula for Best Pic, but they got launched by winning the early film critics’ awards and their momentum couldn’t be stopped. Bagging the top Oscar is often all about momentum. When bandwagons get launched, they usually keep going (with rare exceptions like “Social Network”). That may seem odd considering the nature of academy members: big-ego Hollywooders who fancy themselves to be mavericks. Mavericks don’t usually surrender to herd mentality – so why do Oscar voters often rubber stamp whatever’s winning the precursor awards? A few years ago I posed that fascinating question to one of the top Oscar campaigners, Cynthia Swartz, who engineered those big wins for “No Country for Old Men” and “The Hurt Locker” plus “Crash” and “Chicago,” etc.

“That’s easy,” she replied. “Everybody wants to be on the winning team.”

If that same voting pattern repeats this year, then a lot rides on the film critics’ prizes, which will be doled out on Dec. 3 (New York Film Critics’ Circle) and Dec. 7 (Los Angeles Film Critics Association).
And therein lies the problem for “Les Miserables.” It’s not cool enough to win either one of those. What will? My guess: “Zero Dark Thirty” or “Django Unchained.” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Argo” have shot too.

Currently, “Argo” is out front for the top Oscar, according to the experts polled by Gold Derby. “Les Miz” is in second place, followed by “Lincoln” and “Silver Linings Playbook.”  After “Zero Dark Thirty” is seen on Sunday, the Oscarologists will start to update their predix and we’ll get a better sense of the derby. Stay tuned.

Check out Gold Derby’s home page on Sunday at 6 p.m. PT (9 p.m. ET). Soon after seeing “Zero Dark Thirty,” I’ll discuss the state of the Oscars live via webcam with Gold Derby executive editor Paul Sheehan. We invite you to participate by adding your comments and questions in the chat room that will be adjacent to the video box.

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