Oscars mystery: Can ‘The Silver Linings Playbook’ really win Best Picture?

In Gold Derby’s poll of 23 Oscarologists, “The Silver Linings Playbook” gets the most support with eight pundits picking it to win Best Picture. That translates into 5-to-1 racetrack odds, but its odds may actually be longer. Yes, it’s a superbly made film that connects powerfully with some people (see Jeff Wells’ freak-out when a few of the film’s obvious flaws were merely pointed out), but it doesn’t fit the traditional profile of a Best Picture champ.

This is not a movie with a Big Message – like “The Artist” (surviving the death of silent pictures in Hollywood) or “The Hurt Locker” (surviving the war in Iraq). It’s one of those awkward love stories about two social misfits who find salvation in each other’s arms. Arguably, you can say that “Silver Linings” is thus in the tradition of “Slumdog Millionaire” or, even better, “Annie Hall” (both have comedic qualities), but Oscar voters aren’t often smitten with love stories in this race, especially comedic ones. Usually, they believe Best Picture = Big Serious Picture.

However, the most important quality a winner must have is The Rooting Factor and “The Silver Linings Playbook” has more passionate fans than the Philadelphia Eagles on David O. Russell‘s silver screen. We saw evidence of that earlier this month during its screenings to critics and industry chiefs at the Toronto International Film Festival and in a parking garage last night after a screening in Beverly Hills. That’s where Jeff Wells had a pop-eyed meltdown when some of us mentioned the film’s predictable plotting (it’s obvious as hell how the film’s big dance competition will end — and, for that matter, how the love story will play out too).

But such criticism is quibbling. Over all, “The Silver Linings Playbook” is extremely well made, deeply felt. It delivers. Of course, it will be nominated for Best Picture, director, screenplay. Twenty of the 23 Oscarologists polled by Gold Derby say Jennifer Lawrence will win Best Actress. With 17 to 10 odds, she’s a virtual shoo-in. Robert De Niro is in second place to win Best Supporting Actor, (6 to 1 odds). (See Gold Derby’s odds in all top races.)

The one big cliffhanger: Can Bradley Cooper win Best Actor? He’s in fourth place, according to our poll. One of our Oscarologists (Pete Hammond, Deadline Hollywood) is picking him to prevail. But beware: Cooper could be knocked out by The Slap-the-Stud Syndrome, which denies the Oscar to men too pretty (Johnny Depp, Leo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise).

One more mystery needs to be solved: What was behind Jeff Wells’ meltdown last night in that parking garage? Why does he adore this film so much?

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I have a cynical answer that will probably get Jeff mad again, but I think it’s pertinent to this film’s place in this Oscar derby. “The Silver Linings Playbook” is the ultimate masturbatory fantasy of mature str8 guys. They feel like they can have a failed marriage or two behind them, they can even be a bit loopy in the head and cast off by the world, but, hey, somewhere, on some back suburban street, there’s a hot chick chasing him relentlessly, begging for sex.

Now consider all of the loopy str8 geezers who dominate the membership of the motion picture academy. Hmmm … maybe “The Silver Linings Playbook” really is out front … and unbeatable?

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