Oscar Predictions: Round 3 - A Question of Taste

Lincoln - The Drama or The Drama-plus?
Slow and steady wins the race. Not much has changed since our last survey of the Oscar field, other than Lincoln’s booming opening expansion and Skyfall’s thunderous box office take overall. (Silver Linings Playbook and Anna Karenina also performed respectably in limited release against strong widely released competition.) Lincoln didn't work for me entirely, but I see why it has such vocal supporters; however, I’m a big fan of Skyfall, but I’m skeptical its chances as a major Oscar contender. I think that Skyfall can count on some technical nominations (most likely a cinematography nom for DP Roger Deakins, or perhaps even a win.) Best Song could be happening, too, if Adele’s “Skyfall” isn’t disqualified for sampling the original Bond theme by Monty Norman. The Artist sampled lots of classic music last year and won, though, so the music branch of The Academy will look awful foolish if it flip-flops. Another flip-flop could be Steven Spielberg’s reversal of my opinion that he’s become soft after the woeful War Horse. Lincoln seems to have joined Argo as a safe bet for a Best Picture nomination. It’s sitting well with critics and seeming to do very well with audiences; however, it needs a few weeks to show us whether it has the same legs that Argo does. Ben Affleck’s film continues to do gangbusters, both commercially and critically. It was recently announced that Affleck with receive the modern master award at Santa Barbara, so the fêting of Hollywood’s new prized actor-director has taken one small step towards Oscar. There are many stats for actors winning Best Director, but I don’t quite believe that numbers are the best way to play the Oscar predictions game.

Quantitative patterns don’t always work in the sport of Oscar. One can point to box office dollars as a key to success, but then one has to ignore a billion-dollar behemoth like Avatar losing to the pocket change of The Hurt Locker. Likewise, we can tally the precursors to find a formula, but then we have the remainder of Crash. Numbers help, but they don’t tell us everthing. Lest we forget that film is a branch of the arts, not of mathematics, so statistics don’t account for the variable of taste. Movies are often (or always) a question of taste. Let us therefore take a qualitative approach to Oscar history and see if that helps chart the radar of Oscars 2012.
Midnight in Paris -  My #1 from last year
For example, if you look at my own history of Top Ten lists, you’ll likely notice a pattern. In the years listed, my #1 film is often something literary. This trend probably stems from my interest in adaption and explains why films like Adaptation, Sideways, The Constant Gardener, Little Children, Atonement, and Precious ended up on top. Moreover, the most book savvy film to earn a top spot on my lists is not actually a page-to-screen effort, for one could argue that Midnight in Paris is the most literary film of them all (save for Adaptation) thanks to its magical throwback to the bookmakers of the Roaring Twenties. (One could make a similar case for my 2003 pick The Barbarian Invasions, which recently replaced past favourite House of Sand and Fog during a revisit.) After the bookish picks are removed, we’re left with Black Swan, Rachel Getting Married, Mulholland Dr., and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Rachel Getting Married might be the anomaly in the trends, but Black Swan and Mulholland Dr. are dark art-house mind-benders, while Crouching Tiger has a similar artiness, not to mention literary pedigree that fits with the aforementioned films. Rachel Getting Married is certainly a downer, though, and that seems to be a trend in my preferences. There seems to be a kind of restricted variability in my cinematic leanings. So, if I tend to put a similar kind of film in my number one spot year after year, do Oscar voters do the same?

I think they might. If one looks at the past Oscar nominees from a categorical angle, a trend emerges. I realize that any attempt to classify and label diverse films is a flawed process, so please keep in mind that these categories are meant to be flexible, just as I grouped Midnight in Paris with a slight interpretative leap. Each year, the five nominees (or five films with a Best Director nomination in the years with more than five nominees) generally offer a guide to Academy taste buds. The Academy tends to like five flavours of ice cream. They are:

The Drama: Not the most specific category, The Drama is a standard film for mature viewers. It's basically the vanilla ice cream of the Oscar nominees. It might offer a big name star and studio sheen, or it could be a more low-budget affair, but it’s generally the type of film that can easily be defined as Classical Hollywood Cinema. It has a beginning, middle, and an end, and it generally tells a story rather than exciting the mind through form. It’s a fairly digestible kind of enlightened entertainment. It’s what the average Joe looks for when he goes to Blockbuster in search of a “good movie.”

The Drama-plus: Similar to The Drama, the Drama-plus yields something extra. It might be more aesthetically refined or a bit more formalist; likewise, it can be more ambitious in the scope of its ideas or story. The Drama-plus isn’t too provocative, but it’s not for all tastes. Joe at Blockbuster might not like it, yet discerning viewers probably will.

The Big Movie: Also synonymous with “The Epic,” “The Event,” “The Blockbuster,” or “The Major Studio Film.” The Big Movie is that big film you have been looking forward to all year. Big in budget or massive in scope, the studios have invested oodles of money in this film, in the form of A-level talent and production value. It might not always be big in budget, but there is something titanic at its core.

The Crowd Pleaser: The Crowd Pleaser is often the most emotionally compelling film in the bunch. It is generally the most entertaining of the nominees. The Crowd Pleaser often makes viewers stand up and cheer or cast Audience Award ballots. It’s the film that connects us all with a universal feel good message. Fans of The Drama-plus might dismiss The Crowd Pleaser as “slight,” but only nitpicky fans of cerebral formalism will refuse to be charmed by the Crowd Pleaser. The Crowd Pleaser often wears the badge of “The Little Movie That Could.”

The Art Film: Also synonymous with “The Indie.” The Art Film is the most variable film in the group. It could be a typical low-budget comedy, but films of the ‘fo-shizzle’ variety are more likely to pick up the crown of The Crowd Pleaser and let another favourite emerge from the festival circuit. The Art Film tends to be the most exciting film in the Oscar race because it offers viewers something new, aesthetically, narratively, or generically. The Art film might amass oodles of critics’ prizes, but Oscar wins are scant.

So, if we accept these labels and apply them with a grain of salt and little elbow grease, let us see which of the past nominees show a pattern of taste in The Academy. (For the sake of time, I will only go back to 2000, since that is the same year from which I used myself as a barometer of taste.)

Best Picture winner


The Drama: Erin Brockovich
The Drama-plus: Traffic
The Big Movie: Gladiator
The Crowd Pleaser: Chocolat
The Art Film: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon


The Drama: A Beautiful Mind
The Drama-plus: Gosford Park
The Big Movie: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The Crowd Pleaser: Moulin Rouge!
The Art Film: In the Bedroom (also: Moulin Rouge!)


The Drama: Gangs of New York
The Drama-plus: The Hours
The Big Movie: The Two Towers (also: Gangs)
The Crowd Pleaser: Chicago
The Art Film: The Pianist


The Drama: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
The Drama-plus: Mystic River
The Big Movie: The Return of the King
The Crowd Pleaser: Seabiscuit
The Art Film: Lost in Translation


The Drama: Ray
The Drama-plus: Million Dollar Baby
The Big Movie: The Aviator
The Crowd Pleaser: Finding Neverland
The Art Film: Sideways

2005 *This might be the year with the most flawed classifications

The Drama: Capote
The Drama-plus: Good Night, and Good Luck
The Big Movie: Munich
The Crowd Pleaser: Crash
The Art Film: Brokeback Mountain


The Drama: Letters from Iwo Jima
The Drama-plus: The Queen
The Big Movie: The Departed
The Crowd Pleaser: Little Miss Sunshine
The Art Film: Babel


The Drama: Michael Clayton
The Drama-plus: No Country for Old Men (also: TWBB)
The Big Movie: There Will Be Blood
The Crowd Pleaser: Juno
The Art Film: Atonement

Or, based on some feedback, it could read:
The Drama: Michael Clayton
The Drama-plus: Atonement
The Big Movie: No Country for Old Men (also: TWBB)
The Crowd Pleaser: Juno
The Art Film: There Will Be Blood


The Drama: Frost/Nixon
The Drama-plus: The Reader
The Big Movie: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Crowd Pleaser: Slumdog Millionaire
The Art Film: Milk

*The Ten begins, so films with a Best Director nom are placed first

The Drama: Up in the Air | The Blind Side
The Drama-plus: Inglourious Basterds | An Education
The Big Movie: Avatar | District 9 (I realize they’re not the same in terms of budget)
The Crowd Pleaser: Precious | Up, The Blind Side
The Art Film: The Hurt Locker | A Serious Man


The Drama: The Fighter | 127 Hours
The Drama-plus: The Social Network | Winter’s Bone
The Big Movie: True Grit | Inception
The Crowd Pleaser: The King’s Speech | Toy Story 3
The Art Film: Black Swan | The Kids Are All Right

*Slightly complicated again, given the flexibility of the category
The Drama: Moneyball, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (also: The Help)
The Drama-plus: The Descendants, Midnight in Paris
The Big Movie: Hugo | War Horse
The Crowd Pleaser: The Artist | The Help
The Art Film: The Tree of Life

Still with me? Good. As one can see from the winners and nominees, the preferences aren't fixed. They vary and overlap depending on the year, with five Crowd Pleasers leading as winners, followed by three Big Movies, two Drama-plus, and one Drama and Art Film. Then if we accept these trends in voters’ preferences, we might be able to predict this year as such:

The Drama: Argo, The Impossible
The Drama-plus: Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained
The Big Movie: Les Misérables, Life of Pi, The Hobbit, Skyfall,
The Crowd Pleaser: Silver Linings Playbook, The Sessions
The Art Film: The Master, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Moonrise Kingdom, Anna Karenina, Amour
Silver Linings Playbook - The Crowd Pleaser
Argo seems like a good contender to win votes from The Drama crowd. It’s Classical Hollywood Cinema at its finest. It is solid entertainment and fairly safe. All the forty-year-old men at the video store are sure to like it. Lincoln could be The Drama-plus. It’s just as straightforward a film as Argo is, but it’s a bit more ambitious in style and meaning. Moreover, Daniel Day-Lewis’s finely tuned performance might give it that extra “something else” that viewers might think is missing from Argo, as does its encapsulation of American history that echoes today’s President. The Big Movie looks to be Les Misérables. It’s that lavish Christmas Day release that many of us have been looking forward to and it’s been building a steady stream of hype for months. Life of Pi and The Hobbit are close behind, with their big name directors, dazzling special effects, and ready-made audiences in the form of readers. The fourth spot, The Crowd Pleaser, is doubtlessly Silver Linings Playbook. It’s an irresistible comedy and it also has that valuable TIFF endorsement displayed by precursor Crowd Pleasers such as The King’s Speech, Precious, Slumdog Millionaire and  2007’s TIFF runner-up Juno. (It would look great for the festival if the Oscar race comes down to Silver Linings Playbook versus this year’s runner-up, Argo.) Finally, The Master is a pretty safe bet to win the votes of The Art Film crowd. It might be the most divisive film on the list (save for Anna), but it built an ardent group of fans during its successful festival run, so it probably has whatever mystery number of votes it needs to win one of the guaranteed five slots.
Anna Karenina - The Art Film?
I’m fairly comfortable that these tastes align, some of these films might not be in the right place. Should Argo or Lincoln be classified as The Big Movie? Do Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained fit the bill of Drama-plus even though they’re sight unseen? Is Les Mis the only Big Movie with a shot at the Oscars? Will Anna Karenina be squeezed out from the Art Film crowd, or could it appeal to the discerning fans of the Drama-plus? Anna Karenina finally seems to be gaining fans now that it’s been seen in the States, so I’m still holding out hope that it makes the final cut. Polarizing as it may be, the people who love it love it. (Smart ones they are.)

With these tastes in mind, I’ve kept my steady list of ten predicted nominees. Some of the other categories have changed given the recent surges for Lincoln and such. It seems that almost everybody likes Sally Field (they really like her!), so I’ve dropped Dame Judi Dench once again. It also pained me—pained me—to remove Dench’s fellow Brit Maggie Smith from the leading actress category. Quartet just hasn’t made the murmur it deserves, but it’s still very early, so it might come back into play when it opens in December. I’ll cross my fingers that it does. Finally, I've been going mad over the Best Director category. Now that Steven Spielberg seems to have joined Ben Affleck as a likely contender, I've dropped Kathryn Bigelow from the list. This move seems like madness to me, but Zero Dark Thirty is one of the films that has yet to screen (I think?), so she might jump back when it's not 'sight unseen.' I'm also trying to find room for Ang Lee... might Silver Linings Playbook be a film without a director nom? In that case, could Life of Pi be a Crowd Pleaser?

Without further ado, I’ve reformatted the films from the tastes into my current soothsaying of the Best Picture list:

Best Picture
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Zero Dark Thirty
Alt: Amour, The Hobbit, The Sessions

Best Director
Ben Affleck, Argo
Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
Tom Hooper, Les Misérables
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg,  Lincoln
 Alt: Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty, Michael Haneke, Amour, Ang Lee, Life of Pi;

Best Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis,  Lincoln
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight
Alt: Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook; Anthony Hopkins, Hitchcock; Omar Sy, The Intouchables

Best Actress
Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
Keira Knightley, Anna Karenina
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild 
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Smashed
Alt: Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty; Emayatzi Cornealdi, Middle of Nowhere; Helen Mirren, Hitchcock; Maggie Smith, Quartet; Naomi Watts, The Impossible

Best Supporting Actor
Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook
Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
John Goodman, Argo
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones,  Lincoln
Alt: Alan Arkin, Argo; Javier Bardem, Skyfall; Billy Connolly, Quartet; Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild; Jude Law, Anna Karenina

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field,  Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Alt: Pauline Collins Quartet; Judi Dench, Skyfall; Ann Dowd, Compliance

Best Original Screenplay
Amour, Michael Haneke
Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino
The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson
Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola 
Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal
Alt: Looper, Rian Johnson; Middle of Nowhere, Ava DuVernay

Best Adapted Screenplay
Anna Karenina, Tom Stoppard
Argo, Chris Terrio
 Lincoln , Tony Kushner
Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell
Alt: Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlan & Lucy Alibar; Life of Pi, David Magee; The Sessions, Ben Lewis; This is 40, Judd Apatow

Best Editing
Argo, William Goldenberg
Beasts of the Southern Wild, Crockett Doob and Affonso Gonçalves
 Lincoln, Michael Kahn
Les Misérables, Chris Dickens
Alt: The Hunger Games, Stephen Mirrione, Juliette Welfling; Looper, Bob Ducsay; Skyfall, Stuart Baird; Zero Dark Thirty, William Goldenberg

Best Cinematography
Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda
  Lincoln , Janusz Kaminski
Skyfall, Roger Deakins
Zero Dark Thirty, Grieg Fraser
Alt: Anna Karenina, Seamus McGarvey; The Dark Knight Rises Wally Pfister; Les Misérables, Danny Cohen; The Master, Mihai Malaimare Jr.;

Best Production Design
Anna Karenina, Sarah Greenwood
Les Misérables, Eve Stewart
 Lincoln, Rick Carter
Moonrise Kingdom, Adam Stockhausen
Prometheus, Arthur Max
Alt: Cloud Atlas, Django Unchained, The Hobbit, Great Expectations

Best Costumes
Anna Karenina, Jacqueline Durran
Django Unchained, Sharen Davis
Great Expectations, Beatrix Pasztor
Les Misérables, Paco Delgado
 Lincoln, Joanna Johnston
Alt: Snow White and the Hunstman, Colleen Atwood; The Hobbit

Best Score
Anna Karenina, Dario Marianelli
The Dark Knight Rises, Hans Zimmer
Life of Pi, Mychael Danna
 Lincoln, John Williams
Moonrise Kingdom, Alexandre Desplat

Best Foreign Language Film
Amour – Austria
Blancanieves – Spain
Fill the Void - Israel
Lore – Australia
Rebelle – Canada
Alt: The Intouchables (France), Pieta (South Korea)

Best Documentary
Central Park Five
How to Survive a Plague
The Queen of Versailles
Alt: Detropia, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God

Best Hair and Make-up
The Hobbit
Alt: Great Expectations, Holy Motors

Best Visual Effects
The Hobbit
Life of Pi
Alt: The Dark Knight Rises, The Impossible

Best Animated Feature
 Rise of the Guardians
Wreck it Ralph
Alt: Le tableau, The Rabbi's Cat

Best Song
Awaiting list

Best Animated Short
(reviewed: Dripped, Fresh Guacamole)

Best Live Action Short
Awaiting shortlist

Best Documentary Short
As always, previous editions of predictions have been archived on the page with their corresponding write-up and the full list of predictions is available on the Oscar Predictions page.

Do you think Academy tastes repeat themselves? Do your own? Please chime in!