Alright. It must be said. I’m as guilty as anyone, perhaps more than most, at positioning this year’s Oscar race as a two-horse sprint to the finish between “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker.” But slowly it’s occurred to me that this Oscar race has been boiled down so quickly because it makes for such a sexy headline. There’s David and Goliath, there’s the exes thing, there’s plenty of meat in the idea that these two films are out in front of the pack.
And now I see it once again with Entertainment Weekly’s cover query: “Can anything beat ‘Avatar?’”
Has the press (again, guilty) been lazy in allowing things to be positioned as such? Well, yes and no. The usual indicators tell us that these are the two films in question for obvious reasons. Guild support has been rampant for both, after all. And the list of Oscar nominations had each out in front, tied with nine nominations apiece. But there is a crucial point that many a journalist (again, guilty) is failing to consider when calling this thing.
This year the Best Picture category (and only the Best Picture category) will use the preferential voting system rather than the standard one-vote system to determine the winner. In so many words, the answer becomes: Which film is the most acceptable to the group, regardless of passion pockets?
This scheme, for instance, could render the fact that no film that failed to receive an acting or screenplay nomination has won Best Picture since 1932’s “Grand Hotel” moot. Then again, the good news doesn’t stay on “Avatar”‘s side for long, as it’s most certainly a film with staunch detractors.
“The Hurt Locker” doesn’t necessarily have vocal dissent holding it back, but the preferential ballot could nevertheless allow any sort of displeasure with the film to be a bit more pronounced. Meanwhile, a film like “Up in the Air,” which seems like a soft lob and agreeable all around, could be poised to surprise. The same could be said of Pixar’s “Up” or, hell, even “An Education,” which is sure to have a healthy British contingency going for it somewhere near the top of a great many ballots. “Precious” and “Inglourious Basterds” certainly have their detractors, but one never knows how perceptions can shift.
Granted, the preferential system didn’t hurt Kathryn Bigelow’s film at the PGA Awards, which utilized it for the first time this year. But now we have a whole different set of professionals added to the mixture. Anything can happen.
At the end of the day, we have to consider what these ballots are going to look like. If a bunch of #1 votes go to the perceived two frontrunners, that’s fine. But if these other films manage to dominate the #2 and #3 positions down the board, as well they might — well, let’s just say we could be in for a big surprise come Oscar night.