It’s deflating, to a certain degree, when the Oscar nominations are finally announced and we’re left to sit and stew over them for the next four weeks (sometimes longer). The race continues, obviously, and many of the season’s unexpected twists have yet to occur. On top of that, the role of the ‘pundit’ comes into sharper focus, since the job shifts from attempting to predict an entire field of nominees to simply predicting single winners in each category. All that, and yet the charm of Phase One — the months of build-up, the gradual emergence of all the contenders, plotting the awards season landscape, and the satisfaction of experiencing each film, good or bad — is hard to match. But that hysteria is almost over. Christmas Eve has arrived…tomorrow morning we will unwrap the gifts. After that, a new period of hysteria begins. Phase Two is its own beast, setting the tone for the final push to Oscar Night. But after months of thinking, discussing, and predicting, it’s all over but the nominatin’.
…after months of thinking, discussing, and predicting, it’s all over but the nominatin’.
Phase One 2011-12 has been particularly mystifying, since the Oscar race has somehow seemed at once more and less predictable than ever. It’s easy to see now that The Artist is the clear Best Picture favorite, but I was out with that prediction in early September, on the eve of the fall festival season. Noting that my prediction held up after all this time is not an attempt to toot my own horn (since I certainly wasn’t alone), but to illustrate how this season seemed to be decided by the end of the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s quite boring, in a way. And yet there is such a complete aura of mystery to nearly every major Oscar category — especially Best Picture. We may feel confident about the eventual winner, but we can’t be sure which films will be nominated — or even how many films will be nominated. The eventual tally will be as few as five and as many as 10, but the final number is entirely up to passion and mathematics, two words that I will likely never use in tandem again…or at least, until Nomination Eve 2013. ‘Mathematics’ refers to the complicated new vote counting system employed by AMPAS this year, by which a film must receive 5% of first-place votes in order to guarantee a nomination. ‘Passion’ refers to that 5% figure, since it takes a very fervent support base to land a spot in the revamped Best Picture category.
Consensus says the eventual nominee count will be seven or eight…I’ve been predicting eight since the beginning, so I will likely stick with it now. Problem is, films that once seemed to have the appropriate amount of passion to result in the correct math have faded, and other seemingly unfathomable outsiders have risen to the top tier of contenders. Can War Horse manage a Best Picture nomination on the back of a poor showing among the industry guilds? Will The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo make the leap from its distinctly anti-Oscar tone to become a multiple nominee? Moneyball is a widely-respected film, but does it have the passion to become a Best Picture nominee? How about Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy? It once seemed like a dark horse, later appeared to be an afterthought, and now there are murmurs that Academy members really liked what they saw when they put the screener in the Blu-Ray player. And what of Bridesmaids? Can the most celebrated comedy of the year become a Best Picture contender?
Other categories have a set number of nominees, but just as much uncertainty. Will Terrence Malick finally get a nod of industry respect for the enormity of his work on The Tree of Life with a Best Director nomination? Can outsiders like Michael Shannon and Gary Oldman push into a crowded Best Actor field? Will widespread love for Dragon Tattoo push Rooney Mara into the Best Actress race…and if so, who would she push out? The supporting categories are always unpredictable, but they are wackier than ever this year, with about nine candidates each vying for the five slots. Can Albert Brooks re-enter the race after a SAG snub? Will Nick Nolte make the leap after Warrior was ignored in its September release? Jessica Chastain had the Coming Out year to end all Coming Out years…will her body of work be rewarded with a nomination? After making such a charming impression on the fall festival circuit, The Descdendants’ Shailene Woodley seems to have fallen out…can she move into the Supporting Actress race once again? Will Janet McTeer fill out the Supporting Actress category, or Melissa McCarthy? Or both?
I’ve been obsessing over these and many other questions for over four months. Answers will be coming after a short winter’s nap. My final nominations are on the way. I’m expecting a few surprises, though I can’t be sure where they’ll turn up. It’s been an interesting Phase One. I can’t wait to see how Phase Two begins.