2013 Oscars: Best Picture

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

First, a little bit of Oscars history. I’ve told the story of why there are somewhere between 5 and 10 Best Picture nominees every year now a few times, so I figured it’d be good to do a quick summation.

You might have heard of a movie called The Dark Knight, which became one of the highest grossing movies of all-time while also being called one of the greatest crime films in history. A rare feat for any film, but particularly for one where the main character spends half his time in a cape and mask. Oh, and you might have heard about a certain late actor who delivered one of the Top 5 performances in the history of the silver screen playing a makeup splattered psychopath (and took home a posthumous Oscars win).

So anyway, TDK seemed to be a shoe-in for a Best Picture nomination and actually looked like it might be a dark horse candidate for the big prize (though it likely wouldn’t have overtaken the upstart Slumdog Millionaire). But then Harvey Weinstein, who is one of the biggest and most powerful producers in Hollywood, started pushing for his little indie who could, “The Reader”. The Reader was a fine film with a powerhouse performance from Kate Winslet, but had serious narrative and pacing flaws. Good, but not great. Ultimately, Weinstein got his way, pushing TDK out of one of the five slots for Best Picture.

There was a fair amount of uproar after this, and so the Academy decided they would double the number of nominees to allow for something like TDK to eventually get the nomination it deserved. The idea being that while a certain subsection of the population won’t take a Batman movie seriously, with 10 slots there should be enough leeway for a broader scope of films.

Unfortunately, this immediately led to the nomination of The Blind Side, widely considered to be the worst movie to ever be nominated for the top prize at the Oscars. Not to say The Blind Side isn’t a good film, but it’s hardly great and, if you removed Sandra Bullock’s terrific performance, it’s just average.

Ultimately, the Academy chose to adjust the Best Picture nominations to a floating number between 5 and 10. Each nominee must have at least 5% of the vote to qualify for the Best Picture list at the Oscars.

What this has created is a situation where there’s usually a few pictures that are truly in the mix, a few that are dark horses and a few that are completely out of it. Since I already covered my reviews for each of the nominees (and others) in my previous blog post, I’ll start by making the separations.

Realistic chance: Argo, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook
In the mix: Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty
Virtually no shot: Armour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables

A month ago when the nominations came out, Argo looked dead in the water. Ben Affleck was left off the nominations for both Best Actor and Director, and John Goodman didn’t make the cut for Best Supporting Actor. While both the additional actor nominations were a long shot (many argued Affleck should have cast a Latino in his role), the lack of the director nomination was one of the more shocking snubs in recent Oscars history. Argo was widely considered to be as good as it was due to Affleck’s steady directorial hand, and it’s been decades since a Best Picture winner didn’t also come with at least a Directors nomination.

But the backlash throughout Hollywood since then has been pretty amazing. Every few days, a picture floats across IMDB or Variety of the bearded Affleck holding up award after award in all of the run up ceremonies. The ground has shifted, and many Oscar prognosticators give Argo the slight edge going into Oscars night.

But, the nominations speak for themselves. While the media loves to tout the total number of nominations as some sort of a prognosticator, you really need to focus on the Top 8 awards: Picture, Director, 4 actors and one of the two writing categories.

The two that lead in that respect for Oscars night are Silver Linings Playbook and Lincoln. SLP actually ran the table, taking 7 of 7 possible Oscars nominations in the top categories (there are eight, but you can only get nominated in one of two writing categories). This virtually never happens; it was the early 80’s since it happened last, and you can count on one hand the number of films that have managed the feat.

Realistically, SLP is likely to win Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), has a good shot in Best Supporting Actor (Robert De Niro) and little chance in the Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay and Best Director categories. That’s not a bad Oscars haul for a film looking at Best Picture, but 1-2 more “good chances” would help their chances. It also doesn’t help that it is a dark comedy, which seldom gain enough traction in these sort of broad based awards (Simply because some people don’t deal well with the tones of a dark comedy, and some don’t take comedies seriously. These are the same people who thought The Reader was a superior film to The Dark Knight only because Kate Winslet didn’t wear a cape).

Lincoln is everything you normally see in a Best Picture win: epic, historical, powerhouse performances and a serious and steady tone that appeals to a broad-base of people (those who want entertainment, and those who only see films for the “art” factor). It also scores 6 of 7 of the top nominations, with the only miss being in the Best Actress category, simply because it has no lead actress.

Life of Pi and Zero Dark Thirty are two films which are in contention based on their quality, but both have their problems. For Life of Pi, director Ang Lee created an epic film from an “unfilmable” book that was driven by his direction and the editing. However, it’s very difficult for a movie without an anchor performance (read: Oscars nominated) to gain any momentum. Zero Dark Thirty is widely considered to be an epic, historical film and does have that necessary performance. But the torture scenes have driven enough backlash and controversy to also get previous Oscars winner Katheryn Bigelow a Best Director snub and likely take away enough votes to keep it out of contention.

Rounding out the categories are two small indie films with hipster cred and two larger, but long productions which also missed out on Best Director nominations. Amour and Beasts are two films which came out of virtually no where with no recognizable names (in the US, anyway). While these films are both good, they are not great, but tend to get more hype than they deserve due to that “I heard of it first” quality. Neither are good enough to carry the day, however.

Les Miserables and Django Unchained both come from previous Best Director nominees (Tom Hooper won both director and Best Picture with The King’s Speech). Both carry enough flaws in length and pacing that they haven’t gained any sort of foothold in the Best Picture discussion, and that’s not expected to change by Oscars night.

So who is going to win? I have no idea really; it’ll be Argo, Silver Linings or Lincoln. But it’ll be a photo-finish. Who should win? Any of the three, but I think one just edges out the other two. Barely; it’s incredibly close; razor-thin margins.

Who will win: Argo
Who should win: Silver Linings Playbook