For the first time in many years of Oscar races, no heavyweight or pair of heavyweights has dominated the field; no out-of-left-field choice has grabbed the voters’ hearts and run away with them. Academy Awards pundits have been moping, praying for a last-minute savior to appear, and almost refusing to believe that one of these films will have to take the Best Picture trophy.
Nevertheless, after a flurry in the past week of film critics’ awards—and with the Golden Globe nominations this morning—some clear trends have emerged. It’s an exaggeration to say that the Golden Globes set in stone what will and will not be graced by Oscar. The hallowed Academy has shown itself more than willing to ignore the lead of its glitzier, brasher trophy-wielding cousin. But all the same, as much as Oscar might hate this fact, the Globes are a leading indicator of Oscar’s predilections, ratifying trends shaping in the ether and helping solidify the general consensus. As above-it-all-that as Oscar voters like to think they are, in the end they tend to fall in line with the winds of conventional wisdom like everyone else.
In February, someone is going to have to take home the Oscar, and a picture of who that might be is taking shape, as well as a sense of who is looking like the winners and losers of this year’s Best Picture marathon.
WINNER: The Artist
Many have complained that this silent-film tribute to the silent-film era is too slight, too two-dimensional to be a serious Best Pic contender—that it may be a crowd pleaser, but in the end the film is a formalist game, treading on well-covered ground. All that may be the case, but the French film is also one other thing right now: the Oscar frontrunner. After taking the highest number of Globe nominations (six), including Best Picture (comedy/musical) and acting and directing nods, and a flurry of top prizes and Best Picture listings from various critics' associations (Las Vegas, Indiana, San Diego, Broadcast Critics, Detroit, NY Online, Boston, Houston), the film stands—based on the information available today—as the likeliest candidate to sweep the Oscar field.
WINNER: The Descendants
It’s the other big critics’-association favorite and the second-biggest recipient of Globe nominations. Like The Artist, this Alexander Payne–directed character drama was said by some to be too small, too intimately focused to be a Best Picture winner. But as a film whose gravity has given it a durable hold on its fans, as of now it stands as the sole challenger to The Artist.
LOSER: War Horse
Initial hoopla after early screenings was labeling the two-way race a three-way affair, with the Steven Spielberg WWI epic cast as the most traditionally Oscar-y contender, and the one with the potential to run away with it. A couple of weeks later, that narrative does not appear to be taking hold, with the film falling short in the critics’ prizes.The Globes dutifully gave it a Best Picture nomination, but left Spielberg—who a few years ago received the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Lifetime Achievement prize—off the Best Directors list, elevating George Clooney (Ides of March) and Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris) in his place.
WINNER: The Help
The feel-good tale of a small-scale fight against segregation in the South was scorned by many of the intelligentsia when it came out in August, far ahead of the awards-season rush. But the little crowd pleaser is having surprising staying power in the race. Its Best Picture nomination from the Globes gives another boost to its chances of making the Oscar list. And actresses Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, also acknowledged today, are all but locks in their Oscar categories.
WINNER: Conventional Wisdom
With a few quirky departures, the Globes’ biggest job each year is to confirm the general buzz about the major categories. While they take a few risks, by and large the big favorites are granted their nominations, and Oscar’s cosmic unconscious starts to solidify from here. This year was, mostly, no different. The Artist and The Descendants were ratified in the top slots. In the acting groups, the Best Actor category confirmed the troika of Clooney (Descendants), Pitt (Moneyball), and DiCaprio (J. Edgar) that has dominated, while on the Best Actress side, heavy favorites Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn), Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), and Viola Davis (The Help) were passed along to the next level.
LOSER: Edgy Indies
With a race this wide open, it was thought that some challenging, nontraditional films might slip into the fields. Not on the Globes’ watch. Even with two film categories (comedy/musical and drama) of six each, the Globes played it remarkably safe. While the HFPA has shown itself willing to celebrate some quirky, off-the-radar films (Ides of March, for example), those films tend to be on the huggable, star-vehicle-y end of the indie spectrum. Left out of the party today: Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, Kirsten Dunst’s dazzling performance in Lars von Trier’s apocalypse drama Melancholia, the cold, gripping adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and the sexual-addiction drama Shame (apart from "it" boy Michael Fassbender’s nod). Getting passed over here does not mean any of these films are necessarily locked out of the Oscar race, but with time running short, the chances for these smaller films and performances to build steam are getting fewer.
WINNER: "It" Boys
The biggest rap on the Globes is that they pick the nominees by casting the people they would like to see at their ceremony rather than truly focusing on the work on the screen. In their few departures from conventional wisdom, the Globes did nothing to disprove this reputation. The HFPA all but dared Ryan Gosling not to show his universally cooed-over face on its red carpet, granting him not one but two Best Actor nominations—one in the drama category for Ides of March and one in comedy for Crazy Stupid Love. It could do no less for perennial hunk George Clooney, who was recognized not only for his acting in The Descendants but also for his directing of Ides of March, a film that has been largely ignored by the rest of the critical establishment.
If the Globes do, in fact, choose their nominations by casting the ceremony, who they seem not to want is clear: people who don’t look like traditional movie stars. While Bridesmaids earned a Best Comedy/Musical nomination, no room could be found in the acting categories for its breakout star, Melissa McCarthy. Likewise, no seat was available for nerd king Patton Oswalt’s standout performance in Young Adult.
WINNER: Harvey Weinstein
Long the king of awards-circuit manipulation, Weinstein has proved his mettle once again this year. Not only is his unlikely release The Artist now sitting in the Best Picture catbird seat, but he managed to shoehorn the tepid, largely unloved My Week With Marilyn into a nomination by putting it forward in the comedy/musical category rather than the dramatic category, where, with the exception of one song, it clearly belongs.
LOSER: Scott Rudin
The producer of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has been waging a battle with the media to keep a lid on buzz from early screenings of his films. The war may have been a bit too successful, as both—with the exception of an acting nod for Dragon girl Rooney Mara—were left off the lists today. (His Moneyball, however, which was released in September and therefore had to be seen by humans, did do nicely.)