Why Prematurely Declaring An Oscar Frontrunner Is Never A Good Idea
By Joey Magidson
In any realm of journalism, it’s all about being first on the scene. That certainly applies to writing about film and subsequently the Oscar race. Calling a winner well in advance is a badge of honor, though sometimes it works to cloud the objective view of a writer. I’ve come close to falling into that trap, but I do make a point to try and see the forest for the trees. This year is no exception, especially considering how wide open the Best Picture race is.
Subjectively, I love Argo. It’s my favorite film of 2012, and I’d be overjoyed to see it win Best Picture. That’s my personal feeling. Professionally, I think it’s somewhat foolish to take its recent Golden Globes and Critics Choice wins and assume that it’s now some sort of Oscar frontrunner. If Ben Affleck’s flick were to do well with the upcoming Guild awards, that’s another story, but right now no movie has won anything that automatically translates to Oscar.
Why are Guild wins more important than citations from the Globes and the Broadcast Film Critics Association? It’s quite simple: The people who vote for the Oscars also vote for the Guild Awards. The Critics Choice awards are voted on by critics, while the Globes are chosen by the small Hollywood Foreign Press Association. They may be respectable folks, but they’re not Oscar voters, and that had to be remembered.
Historically, the Golden Globes have never been good at crowning future Oscar winners when it comes to Best Picture. In fact, winning the Globe for Best Picture Drama or Comedy/Musical has almost been a kiss of death for Academy hopefuls. Aside from The Artist, the last winners accurately predicted by the Globes were Slumdog Millionaire and before that The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
Members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association have certain types of films that they like, and they often stick to that formula when voting. That’s completely fine, but to put any real stakes onto what the Globes choose is to prepare for disappointment.
As for the Critics Choice Awards, they’ve been more accurate than the Globes, but they still can’t be looked upon as a truly solid Oscar indicator. They capture the zeitgeist of film critics, but that does not make for a Best Picture winner in any real or notable way.
The voters of the Broadcast Film Critics Association represent what the critical favorite of any given year is at that moment, but that’s not necessarily something that translates to the Academy. For example, Sideways was the undisputed critical favorite through much of the precursors, including the Critics Choice Awards. Not only did it wind up losing the Oscar, but it lost to a late release in Million Dollar Baby, which also managed to become a critical darling at just the right moment.
Anyone banking on Argo winning because of those aforementioned awards and not factoring in the impending Guild announcements need only remember the case of The Social Network. It absolutely dominated the precursors that involved critics, but when the Guilds began giving out their awards, they instead crowned The King’s Speech, which led to the latter taking Best Picture from the former.
The Guilds are where we’ll really learn more about which of the Best Picture nominees have a realistic shot at winning. If one particular film dominates the Directors Guild, Producers Guild, Screen Actors Guild and Writers Guild Awards, then we just might have a frontrunner. However, if the Guilds split things up, we might just wind up even more confused.
Things could get interesting if the DGA rewards one of the directors not nominated for Best Director. Argo could get a boost from an Affleck win, but the more likely scenario has either Steven Spielberg pushing Lincoln forward or Ang Lee boosting Life of Pi. Had Affleck gotten in with the Oscars, a win here would have been good for Argo. Now, it might not make too much of a difference.
The WGA’s tendency to disqualify some of the future Oscar nominees makes it the least impacting of the Guilds. Still, it hassome sway and likely will wind up honoring a flick nominated by the Academy. Argo again could be helped here, but just as likely is a boost for Lincoln in Adapted Screenplay. Original Screenplay could help Zero Dark Thirty, but its days as a potential winner seem to be behind it.
SAG can only help Argo, Les Miserables, Lincoln or Silver Linings Playbook. Affleck’s flick would love a win here, but it’s a long shot. Les Miserables is fading fast, but Lincoln or Silver Linings Playbook could use this one as a feather in its cap.
The biggest Guild ceremony of all is the PGA’s, which very well might hold the key to winning the Oscar. In many ways, as the producers go, so go the Oscars. While Argo can cross its fingers, this again more than likely will favor Lincoln or Life of Pi.
In my mind, there really is no frontrunner for Best Picture right now. Sure, a few films like Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook seem to have a leg up on the competition (with Life of Pi not too far behind), but almost none of the contenders are out of the running.
There’s no singular factor that makes a film into an Oscar frontrunner. Elements can boost or hinder a candidacy, but it takes a certain mix to get a movie all the way to the stage to accept the award for Best Picture. I’m not comfortable with any of the contenders as a frontrunner right now.
After the Guilds announce, well … that’s another story.
Tags: Ang Lee, Argo, Ben Affleck, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Million Dollar Baby, of the King, Sideways, Silver Linings Playbook, Slumdog Millionaire, Steven Spielberg, The Artist, The King's Speech, The Lord of the Rings: The Return, The Social Network, Zero Dark Thirty