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

View the Updated Oscar Predictions

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


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.


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.


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.


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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  • Calvin

    I think the fact that Rachel McAdams got a Satellite nomination indicates that there is some down-ballot success for Midnight in Paris. The actor-heavy Academy tends to respond to films with clear acting nominations, and Rachel McAdams is seeming like its best bet. If they push her, the film may move up into the next category.

    • I don’t take the Satellites very seriously. If she scores with the Globes next week (which she might), then it’s legitimate.

  • I’m making a prediction that War Horse will fail in every way. Spielberg will have a chance in 2012 with his Lincoln movie, but I doubt that 2011 will be his year. The trailor just looks awful.

    I’m betting that Dragon Tattoo and Tinker, Tailor will score big once the mainstream awards start coming in. The Help and Midnight in Paris on the other hand will probably be forgotten about.

    Here are my predictions (if there were six):
    The Artist
    The Descendants
    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
    Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

  • Genadijus

    I suppose that “The Artist” has about 75% probability to win Best Picture statue, but I’m not sore sure about Best actor, Best director, Best screenplay for it. Best Art decoration, Best score, Sound Editing for sure.

    Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy looks better for BAFTA awards. This is real Bristish-style movie, like “The Artist” real Hollywood golden age style film.

    There is one interesting point that a lot of people think Michelle Williams is standing somewhere very very close near Viola Davis and Meryl Streep. If she’ll get more recognition from other awards (especially Golden Globe for best actress in musical-comedy and BAFTA, which is very presumable, because “My week with Marilyn” shows British period of Monroe…. Moreover, I won’t be surprised if Viola Davis won’t be nominated for BAFTA… Otherwise, Tilda is very strond contender for BAFTA also… So finally getting more hot in Best actress category. Finaly it’s not only Davis vs. Streep, Close looks like absolute out-of-race….

    • Williams, Streep, and Close all face the issue of starring in movies that were not that well received. We will learn this year how much the quality of a film matters to one’s Oscar chances.

  • Genadijus

    I agree on that, Alex. We have very interesting year. Only a couple of movies received good reviews regarding performances, directing and movie as overall.

    At the begining of the year we had absolutely different front-runners: “A Dangerous Method” (whish I feel will be recognized in the future and will be included in books like “1000 movies you need to see before death”), “Tree of Life”, “J. Edgar”, “Midnight in Paris” and etc. Who knew that tv-series style “The Help” will be so well recognized by critics and audience.

    • I agree – A Dangerous Method is so underappreciated this season. I think it suffered from bad word of mouth press regarding Keira Knightley’s performance, but honestly I had no issue with it at all.

  • The Artist and The Descendants are definitely locks …. i wish War Horse would have that epic feel to it that you get from the trailer but there are many movies that haven’t gotten any reviews yet so yeah i don’t know but to be honest, this year’s contenders are very weak. it was last year when there were like 10 perfect movies that i don’t see today.
    if there are like 7 nominees which i think would be …

    The Artist
    The Descendants
    Midnight In Paris
    Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
    The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or War Horse

  • Genadijus

    I don’t agree that this year is some kind of weak, without strong contenders for Best Picture statue. The reason is that American movies are not so good this year. Comparing with European cinema, Hollywood made quite middle-ranked mainstream movies, there is nothing special in screenplays, performances, directing and so on. Otherwise, this year was very succesful for Arthouse (Auteur)cinema, and I’m very lucky for it :)

    • I also disagree that this year’s contenders are weak. There are always a few Best Picture frontrunners that aren’t necessarily the best films, but overall I think it has been a GREAT year. One of the best since 2000, hands down.

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