Yep, it’s Oscar season, and after what everyone is agreeing was a truly exceptional year for film, the 85th Academy Awards are going to be the most hotly contested in years.
As always, the jewel in the crown of the Oscars will be Best Picture, the award for (wait for it) the best film of the year. Year in, year out, it’s proven to be one of the most difficult to predict, and has been the source of some of the biggest controversies in Academy history – Citizen Kane, anyone?
However, last year, HeyUGuys distilled the very essence of the Best Picture category and gave you five sure-fire ways of getting a film nominated. This year, we’re back, and just like Brad Pitt in Moneyball, we’re going to turn the odds on the casino and give you a bonafide, cast-iron run-through for those doomed to fail and those who can dream of success in this year’s Best Picture contest.
First of all, a quick recap of the five golden rules:
- Be a stereotypical, foreign (ideally British) film
- Have an IOU from the Academy
- Be extremely serious
- Milk history for all it’s worth (either with a biopic or an imaginative retelling of some historical event)
- The odd-one-out
And now, without further ado, the main event.
Despite an extremely effective Twitter campaign led by almost-certainly the real director Michael Haneke, the chances of Amour taking the coveted prize back to Austria are extremely slim. Whilst it ticks two of the boxes outlined above – foreign, extremely serious – the fact that the previous two winners (The Artist from France and The King’s Speech, which very much had a British feel to it) both helped fill out the Academy’s quota for rewarding foreign film as well as that produced by Hollywood means it’s extremely unlikely to make it a third year running for overseas film.
Combined with the fact that it’s essentially a dead certainty to win Best Foreign Language Film, as it’s the only one from that category also nominated for Best Picture, therefore suggesting the Academy already thinks it’s the best, Amour can say “Adieu” to Best Picture.
Argo, like Amour, has two big ticks to its name – it’s an entertaining retelling of an important event in recent American history, the Iranian hostage situation, and there’s one IOU fresh out the Academy oven that could very easily come into play.
Ben Affleck’s omission from the Best Director category this year was one of the most talked about moments of the nominations, and the fact he has won both the Critics’ Choice Awards and the Golden Globe directing awards gives you a good gauge of the general reaction to the decision to ignore Affleck. The Academy will have no doubt got wind of the vociferous response, and it’ll certainly do Argo’s chances no harm at all.
That being said, Argo’s success elsewhere isn’t all good news – the Golden Globe for Best Drama, which the film won, has proven to be a promised chalice – only three of the past eleven winners of the award have gone on to win Best Picture, including none of the last three winners.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Along with Silver Linings Playbook, Beasts of the Southern Wild was the major surprise package of the Oscar nominations. Few would have considered this low-budget magical realism flick to have any real clout amongst its heavily financed colleagues, particularly as it took a highly-respectable-yet-relatively-insignificant $10m at the US box office, a fraction of what its fellow nominees cost to make (Django Unchained cost ten times that).
Very much an odd-one-out with some foreign film sensibilities thrown in for good measure, it seems unlikely that the Academy will go two years in a row rewarding a small budget film (after The Artist last year), particularly as its has a ready-made headline should it make Quvenzhané Wallis, the lead actress, the youngest ever recipient of an Oscar.
Quentin Tarantino has a long, tortured history when it comes to the Academy, despite the fact he is actually a winner (for Best Original Screenplay with Pulp Fiction). He’s never won for Best Director, and none of his films have ever won Best Picture, despite several being lauded as modern classics.
This year’s offering, Django Unchained, represents one big, if slightly unusual tick in the ‘History’ category, with it’s exploitation-style spin on slavery (under basically any other director working in Hollywood today, Django would definitely also check the ‘Serious’ box). Christoph Waltz is the odds-on favourite to become a double winner in the Best Supporting Actor category, and that, combined with the typhoon of controversy that’s whipped up around the film courtesy of Spike Lee et al., makes it unlikely that this will be Tarantino’s year.
The Academy may hate to look out of touch or unfair, but they’ll rarely risk actually angering people.
Tom Hooper has proven he knows exactly how to ‘do’ the Oscars, having swept the board with Best Director and Best Picture with The King’s Speech in 2011.
Les Misérables has an awful lot going for it – a grandiose epic, a huge fanbase courtesy of the musical, historical context, and a cast chock full of Oscar potential, and don’t forget that all-fabled English connection. However, as with Amour, it seems unlikely that the Academy will let foreign film score a Best Picture hat trick.
Life of Pi
Ang Lee, as with Hooper and unlike Tarantino, has a strong track record with the Oscars. His adaptation of one of the most-loved pieces of modern literature has proved extremely popular, and has a winning combination of being an American film with many of the trappings of a foreign movie.
However, it doesn’t have an awful lot else going for it – any potential seriousness is eschewed for magical realism, Lee has seen plenty of success over the years, and there’s no historical context. An outside chance at best.
One of the standout favourites, Lincoln garnered more nominations than any other film this year.
Steven Spielberg’s evocative portrait of one of the US’s greatest leaders is bound to play well, especially after a particularly tempestuous and mean-spirited election campaign in which neither President nor candidate came across as particularly imposing or inspirational.
Clearly the most historical of this year’s entrants, it also seems to be resisting the fact neither its director or main star (two-time Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis) can be considered at all eligible for the patented Academy IOU, with both mooted as potential winners in their fields.
Silver Linings Playbook
For many, Silver Linings Playbook has already walked away a winner, after becoming the first film in over thirty years to be nominated for all four major acting awards.
A sure-fire contender thanks to its light-hearted take on a heavy subject (mental illness), and its casting of two of Hollywood’s hottest properties (Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper) in unconventional roles.
However, it’s unlikely to take the prize due to Hollywood’s overall aversion to romantic-comedies, even unusual ones such as this, but don’t rule out one of the acting prospects coming good.
Zero Dark Thirty
The ninth and final nominee in the running this year, Zero Dark Thirty is the fourth directed by a former winner Oscar winner.
Kathryn Bigelow’s retelling of the CIA’s pursuit of Osama Bin Laden does have the (albeit very recent) history angle working for it, it has none of the humour of Argo so that’s the seriousness criterion filled, and the combination of Bigelow (the only female winner of the director gong) and Jessica Chastain, whose meteoric rise has seen her become perhaps the most critically vaunted actress in Hollywood in the past few years, means that it’s hard to exclude it from the race.
We can tentatively rule out Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Les Misérables and Silver Linings Playbook. Argo is extremely tough to call, as it’s difficult to tell if the Academy will go out of its way to reward it having realised Affleck’s snub was something of a mistake, or they’ll stick to their guns and ignore it just as they did its director.
Django Unchained, like all of Tarantino’s films, has had something of a polarising effect on audiences (or, at least, had enough controversy generated by a vocal minority to make it appear polarising), and that may well do for its chances. Life of Pi has an outside chance, but there’s been little buzz about it (it doesn’t seem to have been anyone’s “favourite” film), and although an American production, its foreign flavourings may prove a bit too much given the previous two Best Picture winners. Lincoln, as demonstrated by its number of nominations, is an extremely strong contender, and, as a timely reminder of a strong, decisive President, could play very well. Zero Dark Thirty, like Life of Pi, seems popular, but not a particular favourite.
For my money, it’s between Argo and Lincoln, but, of course, one rule hasn’t been invoked so far is the odd one out, so if you’ve got your heart set on a golden ceremony for Silver Linings Playbook or a night of Pi, don’t despair! All will be revealed come February 24th.