OSCAR TRACKER: The Insiders and Outsiders in the 2012 Best Picture Race

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Last week we saw the beginning of what is soon to become an eruption of precursor awards throughout the month of December. Critics groups from every corner of the country, press associations, Hollywood guilds, and international artist organizations all need to have their say on the year in film. With the exception of a few independently minded groups, it seems that every organization presents their awards with an eye on the Oscars – distributing awards only to films and performances that have a genuine shot at recognition by the Academy Awards. Before long, every group just copies one another and we head into the same tedious rigamarole that we see every year.

There is something different about this year’s race, however. Here we sit, just under two months away from the Oscar nominations, and there are no definitive locks to win in any major category. The critics groups that presented their awards last week and early this week have been all over the board in Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Actress. Last year by this time Colin Firth had already all but locked down the Oscar for Best Actor and Natalie Portman was looking awfully tough to beat for the Best Actress prize.

At this point in 2011 we are in a very different situation. Certain films have scored with the New York Critics, but missed with the Spirit Awards. Others have been championed by the Gothams, but ignored by the Washington Film Critics. The exciting thing is that it’s not split between two films either. There are a handful of films that are looking like strong contenders to emerge as frontrunners once the critics awards pick up next week.

That being said, there are certainly some films and performances that seem safe to call “locks” at this point. For this week’s Oscar Tracker, let’s take a look at the films that are locks in the top four categories as they compare to the films that have some ground to make up.

Best Picture

LOCKS

The Artist – The film that has been atop the Film Misery Oscar predictions for a month cemented its position even further last week after it took home the top prize from the New York Film Critics Circle and the Washington Film Critics Association. The film finally surpassed War Horse on the Gold Derby list of critics’ predictions and seems to be on a collision course with Oscar gold.

The Descendants – The film that is potentially the biggest threat to upset The Artist suffered a minor setback last week when it failed to be recognized by some of the Alexander Payne-loving New York Film Critics. However,  George Clooney is emerging as a potential Best Actor frontrunner and the film is going to be a permanent fixture on end of the year top ten lists, so it’s campaign continues at full-speed.

PROBABLES

War Horse – In a year that seems to emphasize nostalgia, how can the Academy ignore a film that shows Steven Spielberg doing exactly what he did in his Oscar magnetic 90s films? It seems like Tintin is getting great reviews as well, so this nomination will be like a double reward.

Hugo – The last film to win the National Board of Review award for Best Film and not go on to receive a Best Picture nomination was Quills in the year 2000. The positive reviews for Hugo and appreciation that academic and other organizations have for it should help it easily secure a nominations.

Moneyball – The New York Film Critics Circle reminded everyone how much people love this movie by giving it two awards, for Best Actor (Brad Pitt) and Best Screenplay. There hasn’t been as much talk about the film lately, just because it is no longer in theatres, but it should definitely not be counted out.

NEED A BOOST

Midnight in Paris – Many were surprised that the film was essentially shut out from the Independent Spirit Awards, but I’ve noticed that group skews younger with their awards, so I’m not shocked. The film does need some support from the critics, but if it can mount a decent campaign it should still make it in.

The Help – The film has been dominating in the Best Ensemble category, but it needs more than that. This is not the type of film that will take home many critics awards, but if it does not get a lot of recognition from the Golden Globe nominations next week, than it could be in serious trouble.

The Tree of Life – The film has done well with the artsy crowd (i.e. Sight and Sound and Cahiers du Cinema) and several critics groups. I think there is enough of a high-brow contingent within the Academy that this will be ranked at number one on many a list. However, it needs to continue to get precursor attention to make it on the list.

JUST OUTSIDE

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Sony screened this film early so that critics could include it in their end of the year awards and so far…it hasn’t shown up in any awards. Rooney Mara is guaranteed some attention for her performance, but until we can read more reviews it is hard to be convinced.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Warner Bros. has started screening the film, but reactions have not been posted yet. Scott Rudin must have some sort of strategy in holding two of his biggest hopes this Oscar season for so long (the other being The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). Right now it seems like both are missing the party.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – Word on this film has quieted greatly since it premiered in Venice and Toronto in September. The film has not been present on many of the early top ten lists and has yet to take home a critics award.  It will surely be getting some attention from the BAFTAs, but will that be too little too late?

There are about a dozen other films that are also on the fringe including We Need to Talk About Kevin, Shame, Margin Call, Young Adult, and 50/50. However, the 11 films listed above seem like the ones to beat at this point. What do you think about the current race?

Don’t forget to check out the complete Oscar predictions which are updated in Picture, Director, Actor, and Actress.

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