Will boffo box office boost Oscar odds for ‘Les Miserables’?

Les Miserables” unspooled Christmas Day to $18 million, setting two records — highest-ever opening for a musical and highest-non weekend Xmas debut (“Sherlock Holmes” opened on Christmas Day 2009 which was a Friday and grossed $24 million.)

This boffo box office was a welcome gift for Universal, especially after some of the tepid reviews for the picture. Overall, the critics had been grinches, with the film scoring just 64 at MetaCritic.

However, among the more positive notices was one from LA Times scribe Kenneth Turan. He is likely the most widely read reviewer among academy members. The site rates his review at 80, based on observations such as these: “Despite its pitfalls, this movie musical is a clutch player that delivers an emotional wallop when it counts. You can walk into the theater as an agnostic, but you may just leave singing with the choir.”

If “Les Miserables” can keep making this kind of money, could that help it overcome the usual prerequisite of rock solid reviews and win Best Picture?

Of  the most recent 10 Best Picture champs, only two scored lower at MetaCritic than the last musical — “Chicago” (2002) at 82 — to prevail. They were 2000 winner “A Beautiful Mind” at 72 and 2005 winner “Crash” at 69. 

Otherwise, the Best Picture winners have rated as follows:

86 — “Million Dollar Baby” (2004); “The Departed” (2006); “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008); “The King’s Speech” (2010)

89 — “The Artist” (2011)

91 — “No Country for Old Men” (2007)

94 — “The Return of the King”; (2000); “The Hurt Locker” (2009)

After “Les Miserables” had well-received screenings for the press and industry over Thanksgiving weekend, our experts were jumping on the bandwagon, with up to 12 of them predicting it to win Best Picture. Following the withering reviews, that support ebbed away, leaving only three of them expecting it to prevail — Dave Karger (Fandango), Keith Simanton (IMDB) and Alex Suskind (Moviefone).  

Lincoln,” which rated 86 at Metacritic and has made $120 million, is now the top pick of 13 of our experts. It leads the race with odds of 9 to 2 while “Les Miz” is in fourth place with odds of 15 to 2. In between are “Zero Dark Thirty” (11/2) and “Argo” (6/1). 

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Looking ahead to the precursor prize calendar, two key dates loom on either side of Oscar nomination day (Jan. 10). On Jan. 8, the Directors Guild of America will unveil its five nominees for Best Director while on Jan. 11 the American Cinema Editors announce the contenders for their prizes which, like the Golden Globes, are divided into drama and comedy/musical categories. 

“Les Miserables” helmer Tom Hooper kicked off his 2010 Oscar victory march for “The King’s Speech” with a win from the DGA. In the past decade, 40 of the 50 DGA nominees have gone on to be Oscar hopefuls. And while all the DGA nominees may not contend at the Academy Awards, whoever wins with the DGA is likely to prevail at the Oscars as well.

Since the guild began handing out awards in 1949, the winning helmer has gone on to take home the Oscar with six exceptions. And in the 64-year history of the DGA prize, the guild choice for Best Director has helmed the academy’s pick for Best Picture 50 times. 

The winner of the Golden Eddie has proven to be one of the best indicators of which film takes home the Best Picture Oscar. Since 1990, the film that came up with the ACE went on to win the top prize at the Academy Awards 16 times.

In four of the six years when the ACE barometer was wrong, the Eddie champ was at least a contender for Best Picture. That includes 2010 when the team that cut critics’ darling “The Social Network” (Angus WallKirk Baxter) won over the Eddies and claimed the editing Oscar as well but saw their film fall to “The King’s Speech” for the Best Picture prize. 

In 2007, neither of the Eddie winners — “The Bourne Ultimatum” nor “Sweeney Todd” — made the final five at the Oscars and 1999 the same fate befell “The Matrix” and “Being John Malkovich.”

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