In last week's column we pretty much avoided the topic of the films with a shot at a Best Picture nomination -- mainly because we were focused on the actors at hand, but partly because it is turning into a far more boring race than we ever anticipated. A nomination may be just a formality for The Artist as it is casually staying out front of the awards tally. The only real drama is just how many nominees the Academy will grace us with under their newest rule change.
Here's an idea, Academy - just vote, tally points and choose a set number of nominees. Stop throwing out ballots based on preset numbers for first place appearances. Your system would confuse Charlie on Num3ers. If the Best Picture race is starting to get a little stale, maybe we can still count on the Director race to add a little flavor. After all, if you can predict one, chances are you can predict the other. Or can you?
To date, there have been 15 directors who have either won or been nominated for an award by the various groups over the past month. Yes, even Stephen Daldry. Guess the BFCA was counting on Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close being a big contender. Wrong horse to back. Unfortunately for our purposes, the Broadcast Film Critics Association is one of five groups that we use to narrow down the field. Along with the Golden Globes and the big three markets of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, the list is narrowed down to 9 filmmakers currently in the running. Yes, even Stephen Daldry.
Up until last year, here were the last five directors to win the New York prize and then be nominated by Chicago, the Globes and the BFCA - Kathryn Bigelow (2009), Joel & Ethan Coen (2007), Martin Scorsese (2006), Ang Lee (2005) and Clint Eastwood (2004). Do you need to look up what they won afterwards? It could have been six cases in a row too. That is until Tom Hooper spoiled David Fincher's push for his first Oscar in 2010. Fincher is one of the 15 in 2011 for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but he is not one of the nine. The director who does fit this trend is Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) and seeing as his film belongs to the studio who took the Oscar away from the streak last year, the odds are in his favor for the win.
A reminder that we are still primarily focused on the nominations here, and a nod from Chicago, the Globes and the BFCA have translated into the big nod from the Academy 16 of 18 times since 2001 - shunning only Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge) and Christopher Nolan (Inception). That puts Alexander Payne (The Descendants) and Martin Scorsese (Hugo) with an 83% approval rating. Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) won Best Director from both Los Angeles and Chicago. The last ten times those cities have agreed in the category, the filmmaker was nominated. In the manner of doing the right thing, we won't mention the only time back in 1989 when the director was snubbed.
So if that gives us four with the inside track, which of the remaining five will vault ahead to grab the last slot? With due respect to Fincher, Asghar Farhadi (A Separation), Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter), Lynne Ramsay (We Need To Talk About Kevin), Tate Taylor (The Help) and Lars Von Trier (Melancholia), the last time a director didn't get a win or nomination from the three top cities, nor BFCA, Globes - or even BAFTA - and still got an Oscar nod was Fernando Meirelles (City of God) back in 2002. Both Mike Leigh (Vera Drake) and Bennett Miller (Capote) had nothing until getting a BAFTA nod late in the season and ended up getting nominations, so we will have to see if they can shake things up in January.
Woody Allen (Midnight In Paris) and George Clooney (The Ides of March) were singled out by the Hollywood Foreign Press. Twelve times this has occurred over the last decade and nine times those choices were overlooked. David O. Russell (The Fighter) was able to overcome those odds last year and the other two times it was, believe it or not, Stephen Daldry. But even the Globes voters couldn't bring themselves to nominate him for his latest work. Maybe their request for an all-expense paid trip to Ground Zero was ignored. However, both of those times Daldry was supplemented with a BAFTA nod, so pay attention to their list if Allen scores there. Sorry, but I continue to write off The Ides of March completely.
Daldry, as mentioned earlier, IS on the BFCA cut though, as is Steven Spielberg (War Horse). Only 4 of the 11 directors that the junketeer crowd predicted would get an Oscar nomination, without benefit of a win/nomination from any of the other major groups, actually did - Taylor Hackford (Ray), Paul Haggis (who also scored a BAFTA nod for Crash), Lee Daniels (Precious) and the Coens (True Grit). It did not help Spielberg for Minority Report any more than the Globes helped Allen for Match Point, but you cannot count either out yet. Both six-time nominees, Allen has not been nominated for Director since 1995's Bullets Over Broadway and Spielberg's War Horse may be helped by outgrossing his last shot at Oscar, Munich, by as early as next week.
The wild card on the list is Nicolas Winding Refn and his film, Drive. It has been doing very well this awards season, boosted in part by the many accolades for Albert Brooks' performance, but there is still some lingering doubt it will be up for the big prize. Refn himself was nominated in Chicago and by the BFCA, a combination that was good news for Roman Polanski (2002 - The Pianist), Paul Greengrass (2006 - United 93 - also a victor in L.A.) and Gus Van Sant (2008 - Milk). Not so good news for Tim Burton (2003 - Big Fish) and Christopher Nolan (2008 - The Dark Knight). The odds favor him more than it does Spielberg or Allen, plus there is still the lingering fact that Stephen Daldry is 3-for-3 getting a Best Director nod -- no matter who nominated him or how bad his films were.
Next week we will be preparing for the next stage of awards season as the major guilds announce get set to announce. But this column will give you a numbers preview on where all of the films rank for Best Picture contention.