Subscribe To Oscar Eye: Box Office Matters, But The Avengers Still Won't Be Nominated For Best Picture Updates
You don't always have to be a box office hit to get the Oscars to pay attention to you. In fact, in the last few years, it's almost been a hindrance-- The Hurt Locker (total domestic box office: $17 million) edged out Avatar (total domestic box office: $760 million) for Best Picture, while last year The Artist (total domestic box office: $44 million) ran away with the entire awards season, cruising past competition like The Help ($169 million) and Moneyball ($75 million).

But this year's Oscar race is already looking unusually favorable to major studio releases, and those films almost always benefit from big box office-- runaway, beloved audience hits with great reviews usually get Best Picture nominations, if not wins (unless they're superhero movies, of course). Argo, a Warner Bros. release, has made a healthy $43 million already, and coupled with exuberant reviews is now strongly positioned as a Best Picture nominee. This week sees the British release of Sony's Skyfall, a Bond movie that, as I mentioned last week, very much deserves Best Picture consideration-- and when it inevitably becomes a hit, that will only help it get there. And as the holiday season approaches, there are a whole ton of studio films-- Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Django Unchained, This is 40-- angling to both win the box office and Oscar buzz in one fell swoop.

This is the part where you probably want me to talk about The Avengers, the year's most successful movie and the one that, based on the comments I've been getting, you all think deserves more than an "Outside Chance" at Best Picture. But superhero movies remain the spot where the "box office success + critical raves = Oscars" formula falls apart. The Academy is still feeling some of the backlash from their snub of The Dark Knight in 2008, which many believe led them to open up the Best Picture category to 10 nominees (now a sliding scale of 5-10, depending on how many votes they get) and probably helped Inception get a nod two years later. The Avengers is in some ways this year's The Dark Knight, the runaway box office success that everybody saw, and the only summer movie that seemed to universally get people excited.

But even with all that success, The Academy will find it all too easy to ignore The Avengers, because it combines three things the Oscars have always been practically allergic to: superheroes, comedy and franchises. The superhero bias is pretty well-established at this point, but it's worth noting that nothing has actually changed since the Dark Knight snub-- there still hasn't been a superhero movie that came even close to the Best Picture roster. The comedy bias is well-established too, and goes back way longer than superhero movies have been around. The comedies nominated for Best Picture in the last dozen years or so-- The Descendants, The Kids Are All Right, Up in the Air, Juno-- are all dramedies at best, and all come with the indie-style stamp that makes them feel real, even if a bit light-hearted. The Avengers is far from all comedy, but it's best moments are often laugh lines; if the first time the Oscars seemed to be taking superheroes even remotely serious was when Batman went super-dark with The Dark Knight, a lighter take on the genre isn't likely to turn their heads.

And finally, the franchise question. Yes, all three Lord of the Rings films got Best Picture nominations, and Return of the King won. Yes, Toy Story 3 was nominated just two years ago. But it's not hard to see those as exceptions to the rule-- the last sequel to be nominated before the Lord of the Rings franchise was The Godfather Part III, back in 1990, and God only knows how that even happened. Sure, The Avengers isn't technically a sequel-- but even comic nerds know that's splitting hairs. The Avengers is a big bundle of familiar characters who happen to wear funny costumes to save the world, and it takes the whole genre with a lighthearted attitude. That's what made the movie such an enormous success, but it's also what will keep it away from Best Picture.

That said, I'll still keep The Avengers as an outside chance, because you seriously never know-- I've been blindsided by Best Picture nominations in the past, God knows. But The Avengers is unlikely to win awards from critic's group as Best Picture, and is unlikely to get attention from the guilds as well-- though the Writer's Guild could pull off a nomination for Joss Whedon's script, which could easily lead to the movie's most high-profile Oscar nod. Feel free to argue with me in the comments about The Avengers's secret strengths-- I'm glad to see its devoted fans keeping the torch alive.

And one more note on box office-- keep an eye on Cloud Atlas as it opens in theaters this weekend. I recognize that not everyone loves the movie as much as I do, and i've kind of given up hope that it will be a major player for awards this year. But if it opens strong, Warner Bros. may feel inclined to push harder for Cloud Atlas among their other awards contenders. We'll see how that box office pans out in next week's column.

And now, on to the charts, where there's still not a lot of change, but there's a desperate plea for someone to finally make the Best Supporting Actress category interesting.

oscar winner prediction
BEST PICTURE

No changes in the rankings here, though as mentioned above Argo continues to look strong with its box office success. Last night I also noticed the first TV spot for Life of Pi, airing nearly a month before its scheduled November 21 release. That's an interesting sign of how much faith Fox has in the movie, and could mean it's being positioned as that runaway box office + critical hit I talked about above. Or it could be this year's Hugo-- technically gorgeous and critically beloved, but not necessarily a huge hit. We've got more than a month to wait that one out, unfortunately.

MORTAL LOCK

NONE
LIKELY CONTENDER

Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
STILL IN THE RUNNING

Amour
Anna Karenina
Django Unchained
Flight
Hitchcock
The Impossible
Les Miserables
The Master
Moonrise Kingdom
Promised Land
Skyfall
Zero Dark Thirty
OUTSIDE CHANCE

Arbitrage
The Avengers
Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Cloud Atlas
End of Watch
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Killing Them Softly
Not Fade Away
Quartet
Rust and Bone
The Sessions
This Is 40
oscar winner prediction
BEST DIRECTOR

As more people start seeing Lincoln and raving about it to other critics, the more the so-so New York Film Festival reaction doesn't seem to be sticking-- and the more Steven Spielberg looks like a very strong contender here. So I've bumped him up, while leaving a whole flock of previous Best Director winners and nominees-- plus Benh Zeitlin-- in the category below. Any one of them could potentially bump up into what's now a fifth slot.

MORTAL LOCK

NONE
LIKELY CONTENDER

Ben Affleck, Argo
Michael Haneke, Amour
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
STILL IN THE RUNNING

Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Tom Hooper, Les Miserables
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
Gus van Sant, Promised Land
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
OUTSIDE CHANCE

Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom
Jacques Audiard, Rust and Bone
Juan Antonio Bayona, The Impossible
Sacha Gervasi, Hitchcock
Peter Jackson, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Sam Mendes, Skyfall
Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, Cloud Atlas
Joe Wright, Anna Karenina
Robert Zemeckis, Flight
oscar winner prediction
BEST ACTOR
I caught up with Bernie last week and completely adored it, and now I understand why distributor Millennium Films is launching a Best Actor campaign for Jack Black, however unlikely they are to actually score that nomination. Sadly he's in a fiercely competitive category, which isn't showing any change this week.

MORTAL LOCK

NONE
LIKELY CONTENDER

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight
STILL IN THE RUNNING

Matt Damon, Promised Land
Anthony Hopkins, Hitchcock
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour
OUTSIDE CHANCE

Ben Affleck, Argo
Jack Black, Bernie
Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained
Richard Gere, Arbitrage
Jake Gyllenhaal, End of Watch
Tommy Lee Jones, Hope Springs
Tom Holland, The Impossible
Bill Murray, Hyde Park on Hudson
Liam Neeson, The Grey
Brad Pitt, Killing Them Softly
Suraj Sharma, Life of Pi
oscar winner prediction
BEST ACTRESS
I received a screener copy of The Deep Blue Sea last week, which means that there's at least some kind of campaign in place for Rachel Weisz's fragile, heartbreaking performance in that movie. I'd love to bump her up from Outside Chance, but she-- like Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Michelle Williams-- is reaping a performance from a film that just seems too small to get in on the competition. That said, the only change in this week's chart is the addition of Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty, whose role has been confirmed as a lead-- though, since nobody's seen the movie, I have no idea how important that will wind up being.

MORTAL LOCK

NONE
LIKELY CONTENDER

Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
STILL IN THE RUNNING

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Judi Dench, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Keira Knightley, Anna Karenina
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
OUTSIDE CHANCE

Halle Berry, Cloud Atlas
Melanie Lynskey, Hello I Must Be Going
Helen Mirren, Hitchcock
Meryl Streep, Hope Springs
Barbra Streisand, The Guilt Trip
Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea
Michelle Williams, Take This Waltz
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Smashed
oscar winner prediction
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Back to Bernie for a second, Matthew McConaughey also turns in a strong performance there, but I think that will only augment his chances for Magic Mike (yet another box office smash with critical raves to back it up). And as more praise pours in for Javier Bardem in Skyfall, his chances at a nomination start seeming all the great-- but it's hard to know who he'd bump out just yet. If I had to pick, it would be De Niro, who is quite strong in Silver Linings Playbook, but doesn't have quite as beefy a part as you might want.

MORTAL LOCK

NONE
LIKELY CONTENDER

Alan Arkin, Argo
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
STILL IN THE RUNNING

Javier Bardem, Skyfall
Russell Crowe, Les Miserables
Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
Jude Law, Anna Karenina
Ewan McGregor, The Impossible
Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being A Wallflower
Michael Pena, End of Watch
David Strathairn, Lincoln
OUTSIDE CHANCE

Jim Broadbent, Cloud Atlas
Bryan Cranston, Argo
Tom Hanks, Cloud Atlas
Garrett Hedlund, On the Road
Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild
John Krasinski, Promised Land
William H. Macy, The Sessions
Eddie Redmayne, Les Miserables
Jim Sturgess, Cloud Atlas
oscar winner prediction
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
This category continues to drive me bonkers. I'm officially soliciting suggestions for some totally out-there surprises who might show up and really shake this category. Kerry Washington? Amanda Seryfried? Can this be an all-Les Mis category? I'm desperate for anything here.

MORTAL LOCK

NONE
LIKELY CONTENDER

Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
STILL IN THE RUNNING

Samantha Barks, Les Miserables
Judi Dench, Skyfall
Amanda Seyfried, Les Miserables
Maggie Smith, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Kerry Washington, Django Unchained
OUTSIDE CHANCE

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Pauline Collins, Quartet
Salma Hayek, Savages
Frances McDormand, Promised Land
Jacki Weaver, SIlver Linings Playbook

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