10 Steps to Picking an Oscar Winner

Is your office running an Oscar pool? If so, here are a few flick picking pointers culled from years of boozing it up with critics, executives, actors and waitresses on the finer points of guessing the cinematic golden children. Naturally, there are always exception to these rules, but by carefully following these steps, you will at the very least sound like someone who's gone to USC School of Cinema and has Sumner Redstone on speed dial.

The following are ten sure-fire ways to be an Oscar prediction genius:

1. Forget your own opinions - This is the first mistake most people make when predicting the winners. The trick is not to pick the ones you think are going to win, but rather which ones a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is going to vote for. These elite individuals have a different way of thinking than you or I may have. Best bet: Make friends with someone that is a voting member. Get them drunk and convince them to tell you how they voted. Still, this is only one vote, but if you talk to them long enough (I.E. pickle their livers and feed their egos) they may spill the beans about a director that nobody likes, or a writer that throws really great parties, which may tip you off as to which way they've voted.

2. Pay attention to the industry buzz. Granted, a lot of the hype around a particular movie may be generated by the studio releasing the film, but by reading articles from the Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter it might give you a slight advantage in helping to pick a winner. Remember that studios spend a great deal of money to make sure a film is marketed to the hilt around Oscar season, so be sure to ignore the full-page, full-color "for your consideration" ads in the mags and focus only on the articles. Of course, unless there is a voting member on staff writing articles in either of these trades, they are still only guesses as well.

3. Follow the trends - The Golden Globes are one of the best indicators of the relative "hotness" of a particular film. Some people think that the Globes - awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association actually sway the decision of the voting members to pick a particular winner over another, more deserving film, but this is not the case. Golden Globe winners are announced after the final Oscar voting ballots have been submitted. So just because the HFPA may think "Borat" should be the film of the year, this doesn't necessarily mean the AMPAS will agree.

Several industry associations have already made their choices for best films, which helps to spot trends for the big fiesta in February:

For example, Clint Eastwood's flick "Letters From Iwo Jima" was chosen as best picture by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Meanwhile, "Babel," "The Departed," "Dreamgirls" and "Little Miss Sunshine" tied with seven nominations each -- including the top feature award -- as the Broadcast Film Critics announced their nominees for the org's Critics Choice Award. And The New York Film Critics Circle and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association named "United 93" as their top flick pick. So by reading up on all the other award shows out there and seeing who they break out the knee pads for, one can begin to paint a picture of the front runners in the Oscar race.

4. Is the film a period flick? - Lots of costumes and elaborate exteriors will give a film an edge for at least one Oscar. Plain and simple, something like Elizabethan England is going to be a lot harder to create than a film about modern day South Central LA. Throw in a decent script that doesn't make you think too much and a few good, but perhaps under-used actors and you increase the odds of winning even more. Bonus points if any of your actors already speak with an English accent.

5. Does it pull at the heartstrings? Dramas win over comedies 10 to 1. Does the central character have some kind of debilitating injury or pre-existing handicap? Does the story place them in impossibly depressing situations that force them to overcome the odds? Do they die anyway? Add a point to their chances.

6. Does the film include seasoned (read: old) actors? Using well-established actors in the sunset of their careers will help to sway the Academy members decisions that the film is worthy of the little gold dude. Extra points are awarded to an actor's chances if they have been in the industry for more than 30 years and have never won the Oscar.

7. Has the film won a boat-load of film festivals? The more little heraldic dingbats on the poster (laurel wreaths, stars, etc), the better the film's chances of winning. It matters little if it's "the Golden Pine Sprig" from the Dubuque Senior Center Film Festival. Voting academy members really just want to fit in with the crowd, (just like the rest of us) and if a film maker's baby carries enough bragging rights, it will definitely factor into the equation.

8. Timing is everything. Very rarely will an Oscar nominated film be released shortly after a recent Oscar season. If it does, it's a sure bet that the producers will spend considerable coin to "re-release" it again around the end of the year just to make sure it stays in the forefront of voters minds.

9. Is there a gimmick? - Maybe its done in black and white on a Bell and Howell 2709. Or maybe it's shot in Panavision format and processed in Technicolor with over-saturated colors. Or perhaps it's shot on digital video or entirely on a Fisher Price Pixelvision and then digitally scanned and hand painted by migrant peasants from Bangladesh. Whatever it is, if the film has some sort of technological hurdle to achieve - for whatever reason - it will have a leg up on its competition.

10. The Socio-political undertone - Hollywood loves controversy. If a film can depict political issues in a subtle, symbolic (or sometimes blatant) way, it's got an advantage over one that does not. Is it a biopic on a famous leader whose historical message hits close to home in today's political climate? Is it going to annoy half the population of the US, one way or the other? Give that one the statuette.

And Don't forget about the long shots. I've been watching films and predicting the winners for over 20 years and I was totally blindsided by "Crash" winning Best Picture last year. Never underestimate the power of a strong political message in the minds of the voting members (no matter how contrived you may think the film may be.)

Remember that nine times out of ten, the film that wins for best original screenplay will also be the one that wins best picture. Also, not quite as often but still frequently the film that wins Best Picture will also win for Best Director. And if the director is an icon (Scorsese, Spielberg, Howard, Zemekis, etc.), chances are that the film they direct will get the nod. However, when it comes to directors, it's important to remember the old Hollywood adage, "you're only as good as your last film," which may upset the odds if their last project flopped.

In the end, even with all the suggestions and formulas, it's still just a big crap-shoot. The real trick to correctly picking the winners is to do the research, study the indicators, and roll the dice just like everyone else.

1 comment:

cinemoose said...

Good list. Here's another formula for picking the Oscar winners. Again, don't go with what you like but what has worked in the past.


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