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Ballots Are Out and the Heat Is On

Happy New Year, Tribeca readers! January brings reminiscences, resolutions and… Oscar ballots.

Oscar Statuettes


Happy New Year, Tribeca readers! With the new year comes reminiscences, resolutions and… Oscar ballots.


When we last spoke, ballots hadn’t even gone out yet. They were mailed out to the Academy’s 6,000+ voters directly after Christmas, and they’re due back on Friday, January 14. Did you know they were color-coded? The bulk of nomination voting is done during the holiday week that just passed and, well, now. The natural question is what is in the cultural air right now influencing those votes?


True Grit the Hit




Over the past two weeks True Grit, the new Western from the Coen Brothers, has emerged as a genuine hit. Despite occasional media griping to the contrary, Oscar voters love a hit film. (Last year’s win for The Hurt Locker was something of an anomaly, as it’s actually the lowest grossing Best Picture winner.) Hollywood runs on blockbusters, and gold can often follow green. Just ask Sandra Bullock.


True Grit’s dominance of the critical and box office discussion over the past two weeks secures it a Best Picture nomination. The movie had seemed likely to place, but was nothing of a done deal in early December when 12 to 14 films still looked strong for ten slots. Jeff Bridges was always a threat for a Best Actor nomination, recreating the role that won John Wayne the Oscar in the first film version of the novel.




Bridges has been having a marvelous late career wind, reminding everyone that he’s always been one of Hollywood’s favorite sons. (He was born in LA, the son of film star Lloyd Bridges, and was an Oscar nominee himself by the age of 22. That’s very young for male stars.) The afterglow from his Crazy Heart win is still with him.


The success of the Western may prove more of a boost to the writer/directors who could have easily been left off the list (particularly for direction) if voters felt they’d been sufficiently rewarded; the Coen brothers already share four Oscars. (Do they have joint custody passing them back and forth, or do they each keep two in their homes?)




So who’ll benefit most from the surprise success? That’s the serious little girl at the forefront. Despite driving the narrative, appearing in every scene, and narrating the whole story, Hailee Steinfeld is being fraudulently campaigned as “Supporting Actress.” That’s a common practice when the lead or co-lead of a film is young and paired with a big star (see also: Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense or Tatum O’Neal, who won for Paper Moon), and chances are good that Oscar voters will accept the fraud again. That’s exciting if you love what Steinfeld did in the film. That’s horrifying if you’re a fan of the great Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom) or sexy Mila Kunis (Black Swan), since one of them will likely have to vacate Supporting Actress to fit this lead player in.


Critics & Precursors


Do Academy voters pay attention to precursor awards? It’s a common question with no definitive answer. The least tangible but truest feeling answer is that even if they don’t care, or claim not to, these things sink in.


Best in Show: Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network


Precursor awards, be they high profile (Globes, SAG), medium profile (BFCA) or no profile (any critics awards not named New York Film Critics Circle or Los Angeles Film Critics Association), are like background music composed of many songs played simultaneously. If there’s enough of the same melody playing, the song will get stuck in your head. It’s only human. This is very good news for The Social Network, which has proved enormously dominant, even prompting this (fan-made) FYC ad that’s hilariously arrogant, and thus totally in keeping with the film’s persona:




After losing the NYFCC and LAFCA best actress gongs (the only critics groups that are loud and close enough to catch Oscar’s ear), Natalie Portman went on to thoroughly dominate the rest of the critics prizes, so her chances for the Oscar continue to look good. If there’s one melody rising above the din, it’s probably Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Like True Grit, Black Swan became a bonafide hit just as voting was about to start.




The most open-ended divisive race in terms of a future winner is undoubtedly Supporting Actress. It began as a war of the scary mothers: Jacki Weaver, powered only by her performance and not personal fame or a frontrunning film, looked dominant for a split second. Then Melissa Leo (The Fighter) took over the buzz. Suddenly, towards late December, everyone was only talking about the youngest girls (Kunis, Steinfeld) in the mix. We’ve already established that Oscar likes them young.




The Guilds


The most important precursor awards, theoretically, are the guilds. That’s because they’re voted on by actual industry professional like the Oscars. The tricky part in terms of predictions is that the memberships do not line up. AMPAS member are usually guild members, but the reverse is not true, since the guilds are much larger than AMPAS.


The Guilds often have different rules, too, preventing some major Oscar contenders from receiving early kudos. Recently, for example, when the Writers Guild announced, there was a distinct absence of contenders as major as The King’s Speech and Toy Story 3, among others. They were ineligible, but don’t expect them to miss Oscar’s screenplay lists.


the king's speech


This year the Producers Guild may just match the Oscar list exactly. They chose the following 10 films as the year’s best.


127 Hours
• Black Swan
• The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
• The King’s Speech
• The Social Network
The Town
• Toy Story 3
• True Grit


That’s about everything that’s racking up the awards to date, minus the chilly summer sleeper Winter’s Bone. The BFCA, who pride themselves on their Oscar predictive capability, selected the exact same ten minus The Kids Are All Right, making room for Winter’s Bone.


Winter's Bone: Jennifer Lawrence as Ree


Will Oscar voters think for themselves or will these same 11 films hog all the glory on January 25 when nominations are announced?


Nathaniel Rogers
blogs on The Film Experience. He is also a bit of an Oscar savant.


More in our 2010 Oscars series:
Is Oscar Age-ist Re: Best Actress
12 Hungry Films; Only Room for 10
The Spirits vs. The Oscars
Too Many Screeners, Not Enough Turkey
Awards Season Begins

2010 Oscar Doc Shortlist: 15 Films


What you need to know today