Frankly, as much as I loved the performances, I am really not that sure about the so-called ‘lock’ status of 'The Help' in the best picture category. Last year it would have been a piece of cake but we should NOT forget about the new Academy rule (= to secure a nomination, a picture will have collect at least five percent of the first-place votes cast, this will result anywhere from 5 to 10 best picture nominees). Are we really that sure that The Help will get 5% No1 votes THAT easily ? It would need some serious girl power to pull that off, and considering I always hear complaints that the average Academy-voter is middle-aged/elderly white male, I don’t think we can take that girl power for granted.
The problem is, we haven’t seen the effect of this new rule : it could EASILY happen that films we consider strong – The Help, Moneyball, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Shame – won’t even come close, because there will be Academy-fave directors who can EASILY pull off that 5%, even if their films aren’t seriously considered at the moment. These are :
Young Adult – Jason Reitman’s last two dramedies received picture, director, screenplay, lead acting nominations AND even though the Academy is rarely into dramedies/comedies, they seem to be into Reitman’s films. Juno got the bp-nod when there were only 5 (!) slots AND its lead got the Lead Actress nomination as a relative unknown…now we could have as much as 10 (!) slots in the bp-category and the lead is an Academy Award winning movie star…
J. Edgar – This might be the biggest surprise…first of all, don’t let the critics' scores fool you : the RT-score is ridiculous (or at least that 41 looks rather irrelevant considering the average rating is 5.8, and in the top critics-section it is 6.7), and though the MC-score isn’t stellar, either it IS slightly better than The Reader’s which received picture, director, screenplay nominations AND lead acting victory. What should be also emphasized, that most of the critics who ‘matter’, liked/loved the film : Kenneth Turan, Roger Ebert, Lou Lumenick, Manohla Dargis, Todd McCarthy, Peter Travers. Considering how much the Academy seems to love Eastwood, I firmly believe we should NOT count out J. Edgar just yet…Eastwood could EASILY have that 5% fanbase in the Academy. By the way, The Reader-comparison might be more accurate than we thought : both films revolve around controversial/arguably pure evil lead characters, the stories span lifetimes therefore both heavily rely on ‘old’ makeup, both were written and directed by top talent and yet both received mixed reviews despite the onpaperperfect Oscar-concept... then of course we underestimated both and though the jury is still out on J.Edgar, The Reader surprised in the main categories…when there were only 5 (!) bp-slots. I think if Leonardo DiCaprio can pull a ‘Winslet’ (overdue actor finally takes the lead category for an arguably evil/controversial role in a film that received mixed reviews yet sneaked into the main categories) and becomes the frontrunner, J.Edgar is destined to pull a ‘Reader’, as well…we’ll see!
The Ides of March – George Clooney received 5 Oscar nominations in 5 years…rest my case.
We bought a Zoo – Even though Cameron Crowe hasn’t been in the Oscar-race for a long time, there was a time (Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous), when he WAS an Academy-fave. Reviews have been rather mixed so far BUT if the film becomes a BO-hit…
In the Land of Blood and Honey – It’s rare that a first-time director could have remarkable Academy / industry support…but it could be the case if the director in question is an Academy Award winning FEMALE movie star.
(I would love to add Carnage, A Dangerous Method and Coriolanus to this list, but Polanski has some serious image-issues, the Academy doesn’t seem to get Cronenberg and they tend to ignore Ralph Fiennes.)
For the record, I am NOT saying these 5 films will be in the bp-category, I am saying there is a good chance that at least one of them could have the Academy-support (5% No1) and knock out a ‘lock’, even if it seems unrealistic at the moment. I think if there will be 5-7 bp-nominees, ONE of these 5 will sneak in, if there will be 8-10, maybe even TWO. My official dark horses are J. Edgar and Young Adult. This new rule helps ‘name’ directors A LOT and could really hurt films that would have been serious contenders last year, but do NOT have the luxury of a director the Academy already knows and loves.
I also think it’s worth emphasizing, that the strong contenders this year – with the exception of ‘The Artist’ – were ALL directed by Academy-faves : Martin Scorsese, Alexander Payne, Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, probably David Fincher, Stephen Daldry and though not exactly a fave, even Bennett Miller is a previous nominee.
THAT’S why I think it will be much harder for an Oscar-newbie's film to break in, even if it is ridiculously popular (The Help), remarkably well-reviewed (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), or simply one of the best of the year (Shame). Unless the film IS the frontrunner or at least top3 (The Artist) already, I think it will be VERY hard for films from relatively unknown directors…and at the same time, isn’t it weird ? Thanks to the new rule, suddenly the stars of the Awards Season are not the stars anymore…the stars are the directors !
P.S. I didn't bring up The Tree of Life, because I think it WILL get in thanks to this new rule. Even if the Academy rarely gets Malick, he definitely has a passionate fanbase there, so this could be exactly the kind of film that is helped greatly by the new voting system.