October 14, 2011

THE STATUETTE STAKES: The Contenders (Part I)


While you weren’t looking, the Oscar race began.

One could make the argument, of course, that it’s been on for months–since, at least, Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS energized the indie/art-film audience and propelled him into mass consciousness for the first time in years.  (On the other hand, one could also argue that this year’s Oscar race started roughly the moment the producers of THE KING’S SPEECH stopped saying “Thank you” last February 27.)
Certainly the Oscars have been in the air since the incredibly complicated new voting rules for Best Picture nominations were announced.  As a result of those rules, we won’t know until the nominations are actually announced just how many Best Picture nominees there will be–the final number could be anywhere between 5 and 10, because (to simplify brutally) a minimum threshold has to be met for any given film beyond 5 to qualify for a nomination.
Here at SHOWBUZZDAILY we’re embracing the concept of the Oscars as a horse-race.  The Academy Awards are enormous fun, but let’s face it:  they have a relatively limited amount to do with quality, and a great deal to do with strategy, demographics and luck.  (Sure, in 20 years it will be clear that THE SOCIAL NETWORK should have won in 2010…  but in 20 years, it’ll still be the picture that lost.)  So welcome to our coverage.  Over the next few days, we’ll introduce the clear contenders, subdividing them as a racing form might.  Today:  the Chalk (those are the favorites, for the uninitiated).
The odds to win below come from actual bookmaking websites (which probably shouldn’t be linked to); the odds to become one of the Best Picture nominees are ours.  (Note that there are some inconsistencies among the odds, due to biases among bookmaking patrons that include a preference for UK titles, and what some might consider undue regard for films that have already been released.)  Place your bets…
WAR HORSE (DreamWorks/Disney – Dec. 25)
SHOWBUZZDAILY odds to be nominated:  1/5
Bookie odds to win:  5/2
Good Bet:  Steven Spielberg in his wheelhouse, a mix of sentimentality (A Boy and His Horse) and fierce,warfare (Boy Loses Horse to the trenches of WWI).  It also doesn’t hurt that the film is based on the same novel as the Tony-Award winning play (although the two versions were adapted from the book independently of one another).
Bad Bet: Nobody’s seen an inch of it yet… except for the trailer, which comes uncomfortably close to what a Spielberg parody mash-up might look like.  (Did John Williams compose the score in 1988?)
THE DESCENDANTS (Fox Searchlight – Nov. 18)
SHOWBUZZDAILY odds to be nominated:  1/3
Bookie odds to win:  3/1
Good Bet:  Alexander Payne’s first film since Sideways has been hailed at multiple film festivals, and features a sure-to-be-nominated lead performance from George Clooney.
Bad Bet:  It’s a little bit lightweight.  Maybe too much of a comedy for the Academy’s taste. 

THE HELP (DreamWorks/Disney) – Released Aug. 10)
SHOWBUZZDAILY odds to be nominated: 1/2
Bookie odds to win:  20/1
Good Bet:  The little movie that could:  $163M in tickets sold, on a $25M budget.  A weighty subject, and an award-worthy ensemble cast.
Bad Bet:  Concerns about the film’s protagonist being the Emma Stone character rather than the maids, plus a general feel among critics that it was a superficial look at an immensely complicated subject.  DreamWorks has War Horse to push–how much effort will they put into a movie that isn’t directed by Spielberg and has already banked a ton of profit?
J.EDGAR (Warner Bros – Nov. 9)
SHOWBUZZDAILY odds to be nominated: 1/1
Bookie odds to win:  7/2
Good Bet:  Mr. Eastwood.  Exactly the kind of huge, political biography the Academy loves.  DiCaprio aging with lots of prosthetic make-up and a funny voice.  Could this be his year?
Bad Bet: Nobody’s seen it yet, and it opens in less than 4 weeks.  Flags of Our Fathers and Invictus suggest that historical pageants may not be Clint’s thing.  The subject matter is tricky–is the movie really going to tiptoe away from the gay angle? 

THE ARTIST (Weinstein – Nov. 23)
SHOWBUZZDAILY odds to be nominated:  3/2 
Bookie odds to win:  11/2
Good Bet:  There’s nothing else remotely like it:  a black-and-white, virtually silent film that has a heart to go along with its technical perfection.  Already a critical darling after its film festival screenings.  It’s about movies.  And it’s getting this year’s main push from Mr. Harvey Weinstein.
Bad Bet:  It’s unique, all right, but is it important or just odd?  Is there an audience for it beyond cineastes?  Warm-hearted slapstick comedy isn’t usually the Academy’s genre of choice.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (Sony Classics – Released May 20)
SHOWBUZZDAILY odds to be nominated:  2/1
Bookie odds to win:  16/1
Good Bet:  The Woodman’s Biggest Hit Ever.  (If you don’t adjust for inflation.)  A movie everybody likes, it manages to be classy and smart and yet not ostentatious.
Bad Bet:  But let’s face it, not one of Woody’s very best.  The boxoffice gross may be prize enough. 

SHOWBUZZDAILY odds to be nominated:  5/2
Bookie odds to win:  8/1
Good Bet:  There is no better definition of “Oscar Bait” than a movie about 9/11, from the director of Billy Elliot, The Hours and The Reader, based on a critically acclaimed bestseller, that stars Oscar winners Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock–not to mention Max Von Sydow, James Gandolfini, Viola Davis, and John Goodman. It could have been assembled from a How-To-Win-An-Oscar kit.
Bad Bet: Nobody’s seen it.  Critics could very well resist the neatness of the package, and without critical acclaim, its chances would be incredibly far away.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."