The 5 Hardest to Predict Oscar Races

Every Oscar pundit reacts differently to Awards races that are particularly difficult to predict. Some react with frustration as things don’t seem to fall into place and Academy members give no indication as to which direction they may be leaning. I prefer to greet the mysteries as a challenge and I’m more than happy to be surprised when the Academy chooses a winner that is completely out of left field. There are some categories that are notoriously hard to predict in any given year, but often times the closest races fall in categories that were locked up in previous years. Ignoring the always impossible to predict short films, here are the 5 Oscar races that are the toughest to call hours before the awards.

5) Best Cinematography

A couple weeks ago, very few people suspected this award could go to anybody but Roger Deakins, the long overdue cinematographer of the Coen brothers’ Western True Grit. Oscar voters love to award the overdue members of their own Academy and with films like The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, The Man Who Wasn’t There, A Beautiful Mind, and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford under his belt, Deakins is definitely due for a win. However, recently the precursor awards for cinematography have all been handed out to Inception‘s Wally Pfister. Notably, Pfister just took home the top prize from the American Cinematographers Society, a group whose winner has gone on to win the Oscar three of the past five years. However, Deakins recently won the award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and has received a lot of For Your Consideration attention from Paramount. That means the award is all his, right?

Probable Winner: Roger Deakins – True Grit

Potential Spoiler(s): Wally Pfister – Inception


4) Best Costume Design

The top two contenders for Best Costume Design at this year’s Oscars are two of the biggest veterans in the business. Jenny Beavan of The King’s Speech and Colleen Atwood of Alice in Wonderland each received their 9th Oscar nominations this year. Each designer uses elements in their films that are truly Oscar bait: Beavan designs a period piece that required an immense amount of research and Atwood designs a fantasy film that required an immense amount of imagination. Each woman has won an Oscar already, so neither will get the “overdue” sympathy votes. Atwood has won a few more precursor awards with Alice in Wonderland taking home this year’s BAFTA and Satellite awards, but Beavan works in the most nominated film of the year with The King’s Speech earning 12 nominations. The Costume Designers Guild of America decided not to make anything easier by giving each designer an Award, as they split their prizes by Fantasy, Period, and Contemporary film.

So who will win? Flip a coin and there’s your answer. Nine of the fifteen Gurus o’ Gold at Movie City News predict the prize will go to Alice in Wonderland, but I’m not so sure. Historically the Oscars have favored period pieces with films about royalty having won the past four straight years (Marie Antoinette, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Duchess, The Young Victoria). For the sake of my predictions, I’m hoping that trend continues.

Probable Winner: Jenny Beavan – The King’s Speech

Potential Spoiler(s): Colleen Atwood – Alice in Wonderland


3) Best Supporting Actress

The most interesting Oscar races are not the ones that face a showdown between two strong contenders, but the ones where any of the nominees could potentially sneak up and take the prize. Just about every actress nominated for Best Supporting Actress at this year’s Oscar has received support from a major precursor body. Melissa Leo leads the way having already won the Critics Choice Award, the Golden Globe, and the Screen Actors Guild Award; Hailee Steinfeld is not far behind with awards from several major critics groups including Toronto, Online, Las Vegas, and Chicago; Helena Bonham-Carter is a favorite across the pond winning the British Independent Film Award and the BAFTA; Jacki Weaver has even taken home prizes from the National Board of Review and the Los Angeles Film Critics.

Many Oscar pundits, including nine of the fifteen Gurus O’ Gold are predicting Melissa Leo’s major award winning streak will continue through tonight. However, just like momentum in the Best Picture race shifted from The Social Network to The King’s Speech, there are rumblings of a similar shift occurring supporting actress. Recently Melissa Leo took out her own For Your Consideration ads in the major trades that consisted of a photo of herself and the word “Consider.” The response to this effort was not what Leo expected with many members of the Academy calling it “selfish” and “unnecessary.” That factor along with the fact that Hailee Steinfeld may represent one of the Academy’s only chances to recognize the well-respected True Grit may be enough to sway the Academy in favor of Hailee Steinfeld. There is also a significant faction of Oscar pundits, including Anne Thompson and Kris Tapley who think the award belongs to Helena Bonham-Carter for no other reason than she’s just so damn charming.

So who is going to take the prize? I think that despite everything the award is still Melissa Leo’s to lose. A spoiler would not be a surprise in the least, but The Fighter still has enough support to stay on top in both supporting categories.

Probable Winner: Melissa Leo – The Fighter

Potential Spoiler(s): Hailee Steinfeld – True Grit, Helena Bonham Carter – The King’s Speech


2) Best Director

Can the director whose film wins Best Picture manage to lose the Best Director Oscar? In the past several years that has not happened, however throughout Oscar history the Best Picture and Best Director awards have only correlated about three quarters of the time. This year could mark the first time such an event has occurred since 2005 when Ang Lee took home Best Director and Paul Haggis’ Crash won the big prize. Tom Hooper’s film The King’s Speech is my prediction to take home the Best Picture Oscar, but I’m not so sure about his chances to win Best Director. The Social Network‘s David Fincher has lead the precursor race by a significant margin having won the Golden Globe, the Critics Choice, almost all major Critics awards, and he even took home the BAFTA Award for Best Director despite The King’s Speech almost sweeping every other category. Statistically it would appear the race belongs to Fincher.

There is one area, however, where statistics are completely in favor of Tom Hooper: the Directors Guild of America. Hooper surprised everyone when his name was announced as winner of the 2011 Directors Guild of America Award a few weeks ago. Only twice in the past ten years has the DGA winner NOT gone on to win Best Director at the Oscars and it hasn’t happened since 2002. Could such an event occur again? My answer is yes, as the overall momentum for the Oscar race does not seem to be completely favoring The King’s Speech. David Fincher is the Academy’s opportunity to give a consolation prize to one of the best films of the year.

Probable Winner: David Fincher – The Social Network

Potential Spoiler: Tom Hooper – The King’s Speech


1) Best Foreign Film

I would argue that Best Foreign Film is the most fun category to predict at the Oscars because every year any of the five nominees could potentially be announced as a winner. Very few of the Academy’s 6,000+ member branch are even eligible to vote for this Award because a voter must have seen all five nominees to even fill out a ballot. The problem with this category is nicely spelled out in a recent article from The Wrap that dissects the make up of the small voting body. Even though a film like Mexico’s Biutiful has a high amount of support within the Academy, few of its fans will be eligible to vote.

So how does one even predict a winner?

The best way to decide is to look at the history in this category. Typically those who vote for Best Foreign Film favor small movies with generally straight-forward narratives – notable with winners like The Secret in Their Eyes, Departures, and The Counterfeiters. There is always a lot of passion that goes into this category as each critic has the film they root for. Whatever name is announced tonight you will undoubtedly hear passionate outcries of support or anger around Twitter and the many movie blogs.

Probable Winner: DENMARK – In a Better World

Potential Spoiler(s): GREECE – Dogtooth, MEXICO – Biutiful, CANADA – Incendies, ALGERIA – Outside the Law

View the complete Oscar charts and stay tuned for coverage throughout the entire day leading up to live updates during the ceremony tonight!

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  • Andrew R.

    Don’t forget Picture…I still think Social Network could pull an upset…right? RIGHT?

    But the last minute “Let’s predict Hailee Steinfeld” furor is silly. Everyone predicted “The Town” at the last minute, and 127 Hours got in anyway.

    I need to stress this: THEY’RE NOT VOTING TONIGHT. THEY VOTED AWHILE AGO WHEN LEO STILL HAD ALL THE BUZZ. LEO IS PROBABLY GOING TO WIN.

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