The Awards Line: Sorting Out the Best Pictures

The Awards Line: Sorting Out the Best Pictures

Jan 03, 2012

We have made it into 2012. The end of the world for some, but just the beginning of the next stage of awards season. The critics have spoken and in terms of the nominees, the trends suggest we already have 16 locks amongst the 25 nominees in the acting and directing categories. But now we are heading into the guilds, and after the Producers, Directors and Writers speak, some of those locks will be permanent. One category we have not examined in a while is the biggest of all. If the Academy would actually play fair and give us a set number like five or even the expanded ten of the past two years, this category would be almost certain to call. Instead, we have no idea how many nominees there will be and the only sure bet is that the Academy will want to show off how their new rule works and supply us with somewhere between 5 and 10 Best Picture nominees.

We are not even going to pretend we will know which Academy members will likely mark which films with a First Place vote on their ballot and which will fall off because they did not get enough votes in the cutoff stage. It's dumb. Instead we have our own numbers to work with and these are more assertive. For example, did you know that since 2001, a film getting a nomination from the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild (for ensemble) and a kicker victory from either the Los Angeles or New York Film Critics is 7-for-7 in getting a Best Picture nomination? OK, so even without those numbers an idiot could tell you that The Artist and The Descendants were locks.

If we were still in 2008 when we could count on the Academy for five nominees, we may have been ready to call the race entire. The next two films on the precursor list are The Help and Midnight in Paris. Neither have the aforementioned L.A. or N.Y. kickers, but each are nominees with the BFCA, Globes and SAG. In the past decade, 30 films have been as such and 25 of them were Best Picture nominees. Only Adaptation (2002), Hotel Rwanda (2004), Dreamgirls (2006), American Gangster (2007) and Nine (2009) were left off the final list. Plus, let's be honest. Only one of those was a shock not to be nominated. Pay attention to those Producers Guild nominations this week though. If either or both of The Help and Midnight in Paris get nods, their percentage for the major ones goes up from 83.3% to 91.6%.

With a much smaller sample size, there is Martin Scorsese's Hugo. No SAG nod to speak of, but we can substitute its Chicago nomination in there along with its BFCA & Globe mentions. 6-of-7 times in the same period has that trifecta (minus the coastal kicker) merited a Best Picture nod. The film to be snubbed? Finding Nemo. And we know how the Academy felt upon nominating an Animated Film amongst their live-action elite prior to 2009. That seems like a pretty stable five, does it not?

From here on out it gets a little tricky. At least until the PGA announces their list. Percentage-wise the next two films on the list are Drive and The Tree of Life. They are both nominees from Chicago and the BFCA. Eight films since 2001 have gone into this next stage with that in their pocket. Four films - Far From Heaven (2002), United 93 (2006), WALL-E (2008) and Milk (2008) were aided by a victory in either NY or LA. Or not aided as the case would be for three of those films. The other four films without the kicker were King Kong (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), A Serious Man (2009) and Winter's Bone (2010). So three of the five films since '08 in this realm were nominated for Best Picture and the two that were not were considered very much in the race up until nomination morning. It is a 50/50 proposition for these two contenders with no guarantee that the guilds can secure them. Though when you consider that since the field was expanded, the five Director nominees also had their film up for Best Picture. As we mentioned last week, the last ten times that Los Angeles and Chicago agreed on Best Director (as they have in 2011 with Terrence Malick) the filmmaker was nominated. If Malick is in, then the film likely is as well.

Next on the list are the two films that received shout-outs from the Globes and the BFCA for Best Picture but no one else. Moneyball and War Horse would likely be locks if there were ten slots. But who knows? Therefore when you break it down, they are part of a group that contains 16 films over the past ten years. And only five of them have been nominated giving each a 31.2% chance. However, here is a spot where the guilds have propelled these films into the spotlight. Producers, Writers, Directors. They announce in that order on Jan. 3, 5 and 9, respectively. Pay attention. Because of those 16 films mentioned, five of them received at least two nominations amongst those three Guilds. Gangs of New York (2002), Master & Commander (2003), Juno (2007) and Avatar (2009) were four of them. Only Cold Mountain (2003) was snubbed. Atonement (2007) was the odd duck, getting none of the Guilds with their BFCA/Chicago combo and still got a Best Pic click. That is unlikely to happen with the two contenders this year. Moneyball should be a lock for a WGA nod and War Horse seems certain to get either or both of the PGA and DGA. With ten PGA slots to fill, it would be rather surprising that Moneyball does not get in there either, which would put it in the same boat as Juno. And Cold Mountain.

There are five other films to get a Best Picture nomination from one of the six groups we focus on from the critics' stage of awards season. At least a couple of them could even benefit from a Producers' Guild nomination too. Three films that need more than help are 50/50, My Week With Marilyn and The Ides of March, hardly coming up as "the first slam-dunk Best Picture nominee" as it was called by Dave Karger of Entertainment Weekly. These three are Golden Globe nominees for Best Picture, the latter in Drama, the former two in Comedy/Musical. Their only nomination. Ten years of this have produced a single PGA nod (The Incredibles - 2004) and an 0-for-32 donut in getting a Best Picture nomination. 11 WGA nods, but not Best Picture nominations. Unless Clooney's film gets a Governor's reprieve in two of the three guilds, it is pretty much goodnight.

That still leaves three films to look at. Yes, we initially said five total, but bear with us. Those who have scoffed at the possibility that Bridesmaids could be a real contender should note the following. It is only the fifth film to get only a Globes nod for Best Pic and a SAG ensemble nod. Two of the others - Bobby (2006) and Hairspray (2007) - received no additional help. My Big Fat Greek Wedding, another box office blockbuster with a female center, did receive a PGA nod. And last year, The Kids Are All Right got PGA & WGA nods, which Bridesmaids also has a decent shot at. Of course, we're not living in a world of 10 guaranteed nominees anymore.

The much scarier scenario is Stephen Daldry's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close making a late surge. The BFCA "predicted" that it would be on a list of ten Best Picture nominees. This is, of course, before it was screened for majorities who think of quality first when filling out their ballots. A single BFCA nod for Best Picture worked only for Munich (2005) and Letters From Iwo Jima (2006) prior to 2009, leaving 15 other films in the lurch. In '09 & '10, three of the single BFCA nods - Up, Toy Story 3 and 127 Hours were nominated. Two others - Invictus and The Town - were not. All five got PGA nominations. If EL&IC gets a PGA nod, and a WGA nod, and God forbid a DGA nod, Crash will no longer be the punchline for those who making out a list of the worst Best Picture nominees of all time.

Finally, we promised you a sixth film. No guarantees here. None at all. But if the Producers Guild really wanted to honor a major achievement in production, they could momentarily shake the race up with a nomination for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. They have only gone rogue from all the other groups three times over the last decade. Twice in 2009 with Star Trek and eventual Best Picture nominee, District 9. And then way back in 2001 where it all began with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. There were only five nominees in the PGA back then. And if they could nominate the universally-believed weakest entry in the series, with a field of ten they could certainly nominate the best. Arguably. Of course, the wizard's chances for the big Oscar nomination are diminished without a guaranteed field of ten. Dumb Academy.

1. The Artist
2. The Descendants
3. The Help
4. Midnight In Paris
5. Hugo
6. The Tree of Life
7. War Horse
8. Moneyball
9. Drive
10. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
11. Bridesmaids
12. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Categories: Features, Awards
Tags: The Oscars
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