Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Curious Case of the Front-Runner That Wasn't

Below is our first guest post from The Danifesto, Oscar/Baseball/Politics Trivia Buff Extraordinaire who will be helping us out here at All Things Fangirl with some occasional Oscar related updates throughout the month. He knows his shit and hopefully you'll enjoy his musings as much as I do!

This week, The Danifesto explains why Avatar is most likely shit out of luck come Best Picture time.

So without further ado, I give you, The Danifesto.


So is this the best week ever or what? Sunday night saw a populist Grammys reward such crowd-pleasing fare as Taylor Swift, Beyonce and Lady Gaga, Lost returns tonight (and, if you’re an East Coaster, it’s already returned), the Super Bowl is on Sunday and, of course, The Blind Side was nominated for Best Picture today.

Kidding – sorta. Greetings from Los Angeles, where nominations for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards were announced with perfect diction by Anne Hathaway this morning. And, my oh my, do we have lots to talk about! The rest, after the jump.

Oscar history is my area of expertise, so that’s what I’ll focus on in this post. But first, let’s review some basic facts, starting with the major Best Picture nominees: Avatar and The Hurt Locker lead the way with nine nominations apiece, followed by Inglourious Basterds with eight and Up in the Air and Precious with six. Kathryn Bigelow is the fourth woman ever nominated for Best Director, while Lee Daniels is the second African-American. Precious is the first movie directed by an African-American to ever be nominated for Best Picture (you read that right). Up is the second animated, and first computer-animated, film to be nominated for Best Picture. And the marvelous Meryl Streep continues to break her own record with her sweet 16th acting nomination (and 13th for Best Actress, another record).

Oh, and District 9 rocks. Yay!

But let’s get down to business. Much of the coverage over today’s nominations has focused, regrettably, on some kind of magical horse race between The Hurt Locker and Avatar simply because they tied for the most nominations (nine, to refresh your memory). This is ill-advised and misleading. While it might sound kinda silly to say Avatar “only” got nine nominations… well, Avatar only got nine nominations – and nothing in a major category outside of Picture and Director. This is a big deal. There was some buzz that its Screenplay or Zoe Saldana would be nominated, but that didn’t materialize. This is in contrast to The Hurt Locker, which saw its Screenplay get nominated, along with its lead actor in Jeremy Renner, who joins a pretty impressive field of titans in his category.

Why is this important? Well, Avatar is the biggest movie of all time, and its buzz lately has been bordering on stratospheric. It’s made titanic sums (pun intended) at the domestic box office, and the best it could do was tie for the lead in nominations with a small film that has made, like, $12 million at the domestic box office. Unfortunately for all you Pandoraphiles out there (and I’m one of you), this has Benjamin Button doom written all over it. Cameron’s latest film, Titanic, was at least able to muscle its way into the Actress and Supporting Actress categories. Avatar couldn’t crack anything major outside of two slots for which it was preordained – to say nothing of the fact that it’s also been passed over for everything but the Meaningless Piece of Eye Candy Award Golden Globe. I’d say that its chances at winning Best Picture were practically put on life support today by its relatively poor performance.

But, wait a second, you say! It still got nine nominations! And who cares if it didn’t get nods in any other “major” categories? Well, let’s take a look at history. It is extremely rare for a film to win Best Picture without being nominated for something big outside of Picture and Director (Actor, Actress, Screenplay/Story*, we’re looking at you). Oh, sure, it’s happened – but not for 77 years. That’s right, you have to go all the way back to Grand Hotel in 1931/32 to find a film that won Best Picture without also being nominated for Actor, Actress or Screenplay/Story* (Grand Hotel’s win for Picture was actually its only win of the night).

Now, there have been some weird Best Picture winners in years past. Driving Miss Daisy’s big win in 1989 – in which it wasn’t even nominated for Best Director, prompting Oscar host Billy Crystal to christen it “The Film That Directed Itself” – comes to mind. Braveheart won five Oscars, including Best Picture, in 1995 and its only other “major” nomination outside of Picture or Director was for Screenplay – somewhat odd for a movie with the star power of Mel Gibson. Gigi, which as a freakin’ musical should have been all about the performances, went 9-for-9 in 1958 with no acting nominations (though it did nab a Screenplay Oscar). But this, as you can tell, is not a long list. And Avatar now finds itself looking to join an even shorter list – one that hasn’t added a member since the Herbert Hoover administration. The only other film besides Grand Hotel to win Best Picture without a nomination for Actor, Actress or Screenplay/Story* was Wings, the very first – and only silent – Best Picture winner, in 1927/28.

Now, the one caveat here is that there has never been a movie quite like Avatar before. When you’re dealing with 10-foot tall blue humanoids re-enacting the story of Fern Gully Pocahontas on a 3D jungle planet, can you really compare it to anything else in history, let alone a Clara Bow or Greta Garbo from 500 years ago? Well, maybe not. But I’m willing to bet that Avatar’s dubious place in Oscar history, coupled with what some in this town might call “Cameron fatigue” (or just plain bitterness and/or jealousy), is going to kill its Best Picture hopes on Oscar night. It may not look like it if you’re simply taking a numerical tally of the nominees, but as of this moment The Hurt Locker is the solid favorite to trump Goliath and take home the big prize next month. And if you’re looking for a dark horse to beat out The Little Iraq War Movie That Could, I’d suggest looking to Inglourious Basterds. But I’ll leave that for Muse to crow about.

*The Greatest Show on Earth won Best Picture in 1952 without being nominated for Actor, Actress or Screenplay – but it was nominated for (and won) the Story Oscar, a prize that has since been discontinued. For the purposes of this post, we are categorizes it in with the other screenwriting awards, since you can’t have a screenplay without a story.


Da7e said...

I agree with everything except this: Fern is a word, Gully is a word, but FernGully is one word with a capitalized G. I checked.

Fei Meng said...

The Hurt Locker has been the frontrunner since its surprising win at with the PGA. The DGA and the Oscar nominations only sealed the deal. Most people in the know are no longer saying that Avatar is the frontrunner.

LoquaciousMuse said...

Yeah, I've just been saying for the past couple months that Avatar was never a front-runner, listening to people telling me I don't know enough to know what I'm talking about. When I do. It's nice to proven right by the Academy.

LoquaciousMuse said...

Sorry, I'm arguing with someone on another website and assuming you are that person...if you are not, I apologize for my snarky tone haha

LoquaciousMuse said...

Also, I think Inglorious Basterds DEFINITELY has a dark horse shot. More of a shot than Avatar and Up in the Air do!

TooAdorkable said...

@LoquaciousMuse I completely agree about Inglourious Basterds. If anything is going to beat The Hurt Locker, it's the Basterds.