Calling the Best Picture wild cards

Posted by · 8:52 am · October 30th, 2009

Emily Blunt in The Young VictoriaTom O’Neil has pooled the thoughts of 16 awards-watchers on which 10 films will make the Best Picture cut, and the results make for ominously predictable reading.

All 16 agree that “The Hurt Locker” and “Invictus” are in (I guess it’s just me holding out on the latter then), while there’s near-consensus on the likes of “Precious,” “Up in the Air,” “Up” … you get the idea. Yawn. At this rate, the switch to 10 nominees looks to sap any excitement from this stage of the race whatsoever.

More interesting, then, is to venture further down the list to see what the pundits’ more out-on-a-limb picks are. One would like to think at least one of the slots has to be filled with something slightly less expected — otherwise what’s the point? So I turned my attention to the films receiving a solitary vote from one of O’Neil’s posse.

Those hoping for a foreign-language contender in the mix (no, “Inglourious Basterds” does not count) might want to look away, as not a single punter has one on their list, while things look similarly grim for documentaries.

Most of dark horses mentioned therefore lean towards the populist end of the spectrum. Scott Feinberg opts for “Julie & Julia,” and I’m a little surprised he’s the only one. Meanwhile, Susan Wloszczyna shares my long-held (and potentially wildly off-base) hunch that it’ll be Meryl Streep’s second comedy of 2009, “It’s Complicated,” that tickles the Academy.

Other picks range from plausible long-shots (Peter Travers picks “District 9”) to films that strike me, at least, as no-hopers. (Respect to Robert Osborne, but “Away We Go?” Really?) Some picks (“2012”) seem a mite cynical, others (“Moon,” for example) perhaps more wishful thinking.

The wild-card prediction that baffled me more than any other, however, was Pete Hammond’s. O’Neil’s colleague at The Envelope leaves “An Education” off his list, but finds room for “The Young Victoria” instead. I can’t imagine Jean-Marc Vallee’s sleepy costume drama cornering the British vote, given its tepid UK reception way back in March, so what does Hammond know that we don’t?

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45 responses so far

  • 1 10-30-2009 at 8:59 am

    McGuff said...

    I think my own wild card prediction is the exclusion of Up. I’m letting my own opinion probably getting in the way, but I can’t help think that it’s lost some traction in the past few months. Maybe the upcoming screenings will reignite the flame, but there has to be some reason that Hurt Locker has stayed in our collective subconscious, and dialogue on Up seems relegated to quiet corners.

  • 2 10-30-2009 at 8:59 am

    Nigel Bridgeman said...

    I saw “Moon” at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square yesterday (what’s the deal with the floor in the downstairs cinema?) and loved it. While it probably doesn’t have a shot at anything other than Best Actor (and that’s unlikely, even though Duncan Jones is trying his little heart out to get him nominated, bless him) I’d love to see it mentioned a few times.

    Oh, and a host of nominations for “Inglourious Basterds” please. Thanks.

  • 3 10-30-2009 at 9:03 am

    Morgan said...

    Can we be honest and say that Pixar’s movies have been underwhelming for the last few years? They are more about high concepts than actually interesting stories.

    “Up” is about an old guy and a Boy Scout trudging across a stone wasteland for an hour and a half to a waterfall we can already see, with a talking dog and a giant bird. Other than that I couldn’t remember anything about it at all.

  • 4 10-30-2009 at 9:11 am

    Mr. F said...

    Is that all that stuck with you about UP? Not even the themes of coping with the passing of the person you love the most, being there when somebody needs you, and the effect obsession has on people?

  • 5 10-30-2009 at 9:17 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Nigel: Welcome to London! I love the Prince Charles — for economic reasons above all — but the floor does take some getting used to.

    McGuff: I’m actually toying with the same idea. It seems to me that “Up” isn’t quite the level of pop-culture phenomenon that “WALL-E” was — and personally I think it lags behind “WALL-E” and “Ratatouille” in quality. But for now, I still think there will be enough of a studio push to get it in.

  • 6 10-30-2009 at 9:18 am

    Loyal said...

    8 or 9 of the BP 10 have been etched in stone for some time now. That’s what happens when you double the field, just about everyone you expect to get in, gets in.

    The excitement this year isnt guessing the nominees but rather the winner.

    I think its going to be a showdown between critic darlings (Precious, Up in the Air) and big Hollywood (Avatar, Nine). That’s pretty exciting when the past 5 races have been between critic darlings and critic darlings.

  • 7 10-30-2009 at 9:20 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    How was “The Departed” not “big Hollywood?”

  • 8 10-30-2009 at 9:33 am

    Nigel Bridgeman said...

    Thanks Guy. I’m here for two more weeks and then it’s back to Australia.

    I had been forewarned about the floor of the PCC. Still had to be seen to be believed though. Much nicer, price-wise, than any of the other cinemas around the place.

  • 9 10-30-2009 at 9:41 am

    Loyal said...

    I think its critical support (93% top critics, 86 on MC) comes slightly ahead the “big Hollywood” label (ranks just inside the 250 highest grossing films of all-time).

    But I’d also argue there wasn’t much of a race that year regardless. Babel was going to win? The Queen? Iwo Jima? LMS?

  • 10 10-30-2009 at 9:44 am

    McGuff said...

    I wonder, by that logic, whether Little Miss Sunshine was critical support or Big Hollywood?

    I’m guessing, and hoping, you’d say that critical support led to Big Hollywood.

    But to that, I’d say, didn’t the Big Hollywood casting of the Departed (Martin+Jack+Leo+etc) lead to critical support?

  • 11 10-30-2009 at 9:52 am

    Loyal said...

    Scorsese is a god. He could have populated Departed with relative unknowns and still struck gold.

    LMS is part of the Fox Searchlight machine. Juno, Sideways, Slumdog. Strong marketing machines that benefit beloved smaller films.

  • 12 10-30-2009 at 9:53 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    2006 was the most open Best Picture race in years, actually. I always thought “The Departed” was the obvious winner, but with the precursors scattered everywhere, a lot of pundits didn’t.

  • 13 10-30-2009 at 10:02 am

    McGuff said...

    Loyal: All I’m saying is that I don’t understand the distinction. So often, one begets the other. Sometimes, “The Reader” happens, but usually the line gets blurred pretty quick.

  • 14 10-30-2009 at 10:03 am

    david said...

    I agree that there doesn’t seem to be the same level of passion for “Up” as for Wall-E, despite strong reviews. It very well could end up getting restricted to the Animation film category. If so, that opens up a spot for one live-action film that wouldn’t have made the cut otherwise. I really think that Where the Wild Things Are could be a real sleeper pick. There is Wall-E like support for this film in certain circles. Those who liked Wild Things were very passionate in there approval, and if it meets with the Academy’s liking, could steal the spot so many seem to already have reserved for UP. But I’m pretty much in agreement right now with the 10 films Kris currently has listed on his prediction sidebar.

  • 15 10-30-2009 at 10:08 am

    John said...

    The young Victoria is so boring and dull, huh! And Emily Blunt has no chance, maybe costume design?

  • 16 10-30-2009 at 10:16 am

    The Other James D. said...

    I still don’t understand this “It’s Complicated” conviction, but I respect and possibly agree regarding “Invictus”. With 10, it could sneak in, but I could see Eastwood being shut out. It has a stale feeling to it, subject-matter-wise. Plus, I don’t see how people can predict it to win since with the ever-crammed Adapted Screenplay category, a film like “Invictus” would take a lot to be able to crack it. Oy, I dunno.

    I think the most underestimated at this point has to be “A Single Man”. (One could toss “A Serious Man” in as well.) With Firth’s performance on the horizon as a potential critical favorite, and the impeccable trailer hinting at a sublime visual stunner, it could definitely be one of the underdogs to crack this bitch.

  • 17 10-30-2009 at 10:21 am

    McGuff said...

    I remember, for whatever reason, being quite sure the day after Oscar night last year that Sherlock Holmes would be in the discussion. I don’t know why I assumed we were all underrating Guy Ritchie, but I did. Now, with the release approaching slowly, I can honestly say I haven’t heard a word about the project. It’s too bad, because Downey-as-Holmes could have really struck gold with someone else.

  • 18 10-30-2009 at 10:30 am

    Loyal said...

    @ Guy

    That would be an awesome flashback topic. I remember everyone falling backwards over The Departed.

    But even if you remove The Departed from the conversation, the past 5 Oscar seasons have been severely lopsided in the scope and size of films nominated.

    I look forward to the switch to 10 nominees if for no other reason than much needed variety.

  • 19 10-30-2009 at 10:43 am

    tc said...

    The White Ribbon

  • 20 10-30-2009 at 10:47 am

    Morgan said...

    “Up” was boring. I know everyone went gaga over the tear-jerking prologue, but honestly this is starting to feel manipulative from Pixar. “Wall-E” was also overrated (and had a boring hero). Their recent films just don’t compare to the earlier ones. Things seemed to start going downhill after “The Incredibles.”

    And I am NOT excited about the prospect of Toy Story 3, either.

  • 21 10-30-2009 at 10:56 am

    Jon said...

    I watched The Young Victoria on my flight back from South Africa earlier this month … well I should say I tried to watch it … boring, dumbed down costume fluff on the level of The Other Boleyn Girl. There’s no way.

  • 22 10-30-2009 at 10:56 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Other James: My “It’s Complicated” prediction is a hunch — it’s FAR from a conviction. Let me make that clear.

    As for “A Single Man,” I just don’t see it — lovely film, but it’s a talky, decidedly mannered arthouse piece from an industry outsider. (I also have a feeling some critical dissent is brewing.)

  • 23 10-30-2009 at 11:04 am

    The Other James D. said...

    Uh-oh, from whose corners?

    I guess that’s just my hunch. I was predicting the decidedly outside choice of “(500) Days of Summer”, based on its general likability, and Fox Searchlight’s track record. Now that I’m moving that out, I guess “A Single Man” gets to be my wild card option.

    I don’t really see “Up” getting in. We’re all assuming an animated would be an easy in this way, but I think many voters are still of the mindset that they have their own category and should stick to it–animation segregation.

  • 24 10-30-2009 at 11:25 am

    Morgan said...

    If they’re going to put a sci-fi film in the 10, how can they NOT pick District 9 over Avatar? (or even Moon over Avatar?)

  • 25 10-30-2009 at 11:38 am

    "Julianstark" said...

    Because, in theory, James Cameron would trump a new director any day. Of course, I’m not thinking that any of those three will make the cut for Picture

  • 26 10-30-2009 at 11:42 am

    McGuff said...

    Well, and also, Avatar is promising to push the genre forward, with groundbreaking technical work. District 9 and Moon, as much as I like them, are playing within the genre.

  • 27 10-30-2009 at 12:24 pm

    Al said...

    When I read the real deal I was happy to see Inglourious Basterds getting more than a few pundits support. Things are looking good (fingers crossed)

  • 28 10-30-2009 at 12:28 pm

    red_wine said...

    Up has been on the sidelines but it might again surface. The Blu-ray and dvd release is nearing and “best video release of the year” reviews are tumbling forth with frequency. The reaction in Europe has also been extra-ordinary with even Cahiers Du Cinema giving it a 4 out 4 star review.

    And come Top 10 time, the out-of-hand praise most critics lavished on the film would make it slightly awkward if they did not have the film in atleast their Top 3 or top 5. And even if it is a make-up nomination for Wall-E, its gonna go to a mighty fine film and I daresay it will deserve its nomination more than half of the other nominees.

  • 29 10-30-2009 at 12:29 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    INGLORIOUS BASTERDS is on the fray and should be nominated, id bet money its the highest grossing american film to use so little english, which says something

  • 30 10-30-2009 at 12:44 pm

    Andrew Webb said...

    I love for Star Trek to get the “mainstream” nomination but that’s just the fanboy wishful thinking in me. It’ll be interesting if Paramount decides to put that kind of support behind it in the coming months.

    Thankfully I’ve seen a few of the top contenders already and they have not disappointed me at all. To see Precious, Up, and The Hurt Locker in the 10 would just be a no-brainer to me at this point. Still waiting to see The Road (screening coming up in a few weeks for me) and Up in the Air.

  • 31 10-30-2009 at 1:01 pm

    Lance said...

    I loved “The Young Victoria” I keep hearing people on this site say that it’s boring. Many movies such as “Ghandi” “Out of Africa” “The Last Emperor” and “The English Patient” have tested most movie goer’s attention spans. Hearing people say a movie is boring could actually be a good thing when you’re talking about Oscar contenders.

  • 32 10-30-2009 at 1:12 pm

    Morgan said...

    The sci-fi genre is not about CGI. That’s the only thing that Avatar appears to offer.

  • 33 10-30-2009 at 1:34 pm

    j said...

    Up has amazing reviews. Over half the reviews on MC are perfect while just under half the reviews for HL are perfect. Up has a perfect score on BFCA. And Up’s average rating on RT for both all & top critics>HL.

    I do think that it doesn’t have the buzz of HL precisely because (~) no one thinks it has any chance of winning.

  • 34 10-30-2009 at 1:58 pm

    Ivan said...

    An Education
    The Hurt Locker
    The Lovely Bones
    A Serious Man
    Up in the Air

    Likely 10 nominees in recent years

    The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
    The Reader
    Slumdog Milionaire

    The Dark Knight
    Frozen River
    The Wrestler

    Michael Clayton
    No Country for Old Men
    There Will Be Blood

    The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
    Away from Her
    Sweeney Todd

    The Departed
    Letters from Iwo Jima
    Little Miss Sunshine
    The Queen

    Pan´s Labyrinth
    The Devil Wears Prada
    Notes on a Scandal

    Brokeback Mountain
    Good Night & Good Luck

    A History of Violence
    Match Point
    Memoirs of a Geisha
    Pride & Prejudice

    The Aviator
    Finding Neverland
    Million Dollar Baby

    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    Hotel Rwanda
    The Incredibles
    The Motorcycle Diaries
    Vera Drake

    The Lord of the Rings: TROTK
    Lost in Translation
    Master and Commander: Far Side of the World
    Mystic River

    City of God
    Cold Mountain
    Finding Nemo
    In America
    The Last Samurai

    Gangs of New York
    The Hours
    The Lord of the Rings: TTT
    The Pianist

    About Schmidt
    My Big Fat Greek Wedding
    Y Tu Mama Tambien
    Far from Heaven
    Talk to Her

    A Beautiful Mind
    Gosford Park
    In the Bedroom
    The Lord of the Rings: TFOTR
    Moulin Rouge

    Mulholland Drive
    Black Hawk Down
    Monster´s Ball

    Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
    Erin Brocovich

    Almost Famous
    O Brother Where art Thou?
    You Can Count on Me
    Wonder Boys

  • 35 10-30-2009 at 2:08 pm

    Patryk said...

    “The Messenger?”

  • 36 10-30-2009 at 2:55 pm

    Chris said...


    With the 10 Best Picture scenario…

    2007 – You don’t think ‘The Bourne Ultimatum,’ with it’s 3 wins, wouldn’t have made a Best Picture nomination in 2007. I can’t see the Academy giving ‘Hairspray’ a Best Picture nod without a single nomination elsewhere. ‘Assassination of Jesse James’ or ‘Into the Wild’ would have been more feesible too.

    2006 – Blood Diamond had 5 nominations. It was pretty close to a Best Picture nomination. Closer than ‘Volver’ or ‘Devil Wears Prada.’

    2005 – ‘Walk the Line.’ I remember a lot of people being surprised that didn’t make it in.

    2000 – As much as I love ‘Wonder Boys,’ Michael Douglas was shutout and Tom Hanks was nominated. I bet ‘Cast Away’ would have been an easy nomination for Best Picture. I could also see ‘Billy Elliot’ getting in.

  • 37 10-30-2009 at 3:29 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Wild card: Disgrace.

    I just figured this but wouldn’t the Razzies actually go to ten nominees as well for Worst Picture?

  • 38 10-30-2009 at 5:26 pm

    Manuel L. said...

    Here’s my take on what the Best Picture top ten would have looked like this decade:
    1. No Country for Old Men
    2. There Will Be Blood
    3. Michael Clayton
    4. Juno
    5. Atonement
    6. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
    7. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
    8. Into the Wild
    9. American Gangster
    10. Ratatouille (or Away from Her)

    1. The Departed
    2. Little Miss Sunshine
    3. Babel
    4. Letters from Iwo Jima
    5. The Queen
    6. Dreamgirls
    7. Pan’s Labyrinth
    8. United 93
    9. Little Children
    10. Blood Diamond

    1. Crash
    2. Brokeback Mountain
    3. Good Night, and Good Luck.
    4. Munich
    5. Capote
    6. Walk the Line
    7. The Constant Gardener
    8. A History of Violence
    9. Cinderella Man
    10. Mmmm, King Kong? (God, I hope it wasn’t Memoirs of a Geisha)

    1. Million Dollar Baby
    2. The Aviator
    3. Sideways
    4. Ray
    5. Finding Neverland
    6. Hotel Rwanda
    7. The Incredibles
    8. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    9. Fahrenheit 9/11
    10. Vera Drake

    1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
    2. Mystic River
    3. Lost in Translation
    4. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
    5. Seabiscuit
    6. Cold Mountain
    7. In America
    8. City of God
    9. Finding Nemo
    10. The Last Samurai

    1. Chicago
    2. The Pianist
    3. The Hours
    4. Gangs of New York
    5. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
    6. Adaptation.
    7. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
    8. About Schmidt
    9. Talk to Her
    10. Road to Perdition

    1. A Beautiful Mind
    2. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
    3. Moulin Rouge
    4. Gosford Park
    5. In the Bedroom
    6. Black Hawk Down
    7. Shrek
    8. Amélie
    9. Monster’s Ball
    10. Mulholland Dr. (maybe it’s just wishful thinking…)

    1. Gladiator
    2. Traffic
    3. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
    4. Erin Brockovich
    5. Chocolat
    6. Almost Famous
    7. Billy Elliot
    8. Cast Away
    9. You Can Count on Me
    10. Quills

  • 39 10-30-2009 at 5:27 pm

    Manuel L. said...

    Forgot 2008:
    1. Slumdog Millionaire
    2. Milk
    3. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
    4. The Reader
    5. Frost/Nixon
    6. The Dark Knight
    7. Doubt
    8. WALL-E
    9. The Wrestler
    10. Gran Torino

  • 40 10-30-2009 at 6:44 pm

    Pablo (Col) said...

    I saw The Hurt Locker. I think the raves it has received are a bit over the top. The movie is good but too slow at times and, as a foreign spectator, i think its too american. It will sure get the oscar but the rest of the world wont really mind.

  • 41 10-31-2009 at 12:22 am

    Glenn said...

    Pete Hammond has a total hardon for Emily Blunt (he thinks she should be nominated for both Victoria and Sunshine Cleaning!) It’s baffling, really. Blunt was actually bad in the very dull Young Victoria.

  • 42 10-31-2009 at 4:22 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Glenn (and others): Thank you for reassuring me that I’m not crazy! I’d forgotten about Hammond’s Blunt crush — that makes more sense now.

    And yeah, she’s really awkward in the film … strange, since she’s usually such fun to watch. Friend acts her off the screen, for my money.

  • 43 10-31-2009 at 2:20 pm

    Andrew said...

    The Young Victoria is a fine picture. I would love to see noms for it and other films like:

    The Damned United
    In the Loop

    I didn’t like MOON. I thought it was predictable. What’s the message of that film? Evil corporations!… Big yawn.

    I don’t think Up will get a best pic nom, basically because the Academy has a category for animated films. Wall*e was arguably the most beloved animation of the last 10 years and it couldn’t make it to the final 5. The Reader made it instead. I think studio executives and journalists undermine the prestige of the Best Animated Feature category.

  • 44 10-31-2009 at 4:07 pm

    Joshua said...

    Unfortunately, the Best Animated Feature award IS undermined by most of the Academy. A Foreign language feature has managed to cross over from both the Foreign Language category and into the Best Picture category on several occasions, which is something Animated films aren’t afforded. That just proves that they are being excluded because flesh and blood characters aren’t up on screen.

  • 45 10-31-2009 at 4:11 pm

    Matthew said...

    UP, Avatar, and Inglorious Basterds will get in. They can go ahead and send thank you notes to Batman and Wall-E.

    PS. Up and Inglorious were great though, and I won’t begrudge them being nominated for the big prize. If Avatar doesn’t live up to expectations, I don’t think Trek or District 9 will sneak in. The spot will probably go to some other unknown indy fare.