Yes…and more than one movie, actually…

Posted by · 9:44 am · February 4th, 2010

Cover of Entertainment WeeklyAlright.  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.

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53 responses so far

  • 1 2-05-2010 at 2:42 am

    Glenn said...

    I like how people are acting as if “Avatar” is the end of actors and acting as we know it and saying that actors won’t like it and yet they never once bring up the fact that “Up” is ANIMATION. Hence, actors are only required for voice work. Good god. Any number of those actors criticising mocap or whatever as the end of acting would give anything to be in the highest grossing movie of all time. I mean, there are ACTORS in that movie. ACTORS giving PERFORMANCES. If the members of the actors branch – remember, over 1000 members in that branch alone – can’t figure that out then maybe they are doomed. Doomed due to stupidity. But, then again, a lot of them probably didn’t get there because of their smarts.

  • 2 2-05-2010 at 5:20 am

    John H. Foote said...

    The Blind Side being nominated is the exact happening many of us feared, a lousy movie up for Best Picture — can it win? God can you imagine?? But I think the Oscar will go to The Hurt Locker, and that works for me despite my belief that the years best film was Up — Avatar was incredible, and a lot of fun, but partway through there was a letdown and the story became all too familiar — should be Hurt Locker, but the Basterds cannot be counted out…not yet. Avatar and Hurt could split the vote…but Bigelow wins Best Director.

  • 3 2-06-2010 at 10:36 am

    Rob Richie said...

    Writer Craighere seems to really under preferential voting — much more so than many reporters and bloggers. A picture first has to do well in first choice rankings — only at that point is it important to be ranked highly on a majority of ballots.

    Bottom line is that when it comes down to the final two movies, the winner will be the one that more voters prefer than the other. It’s as simple as that.

    By the way, I have no idea what Kris means when writing : “This year the Best Picture category (and only the Best Picture category) will use the preferential voting system rather than the standard weighted system to determine the winner”

    Hunh? No ‘standard weighted system.” The other system is the nominee with the most votes wins, even if that’s just 21% and 79% of voters really don’t like it. Given that in most categories you can win with less than 25% and can get nominated with less than 25%, you can get “upsets” that are actually poorly reflective of what most Academy voters want.