The way to predict the best picture Oscar isn’t to find the best nominee — it’s to eliminate all the losing options. Whatever remains, however improbable (to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes) must be your winner.
Let’s eliminate the eight best picture nominees that can’t win — in order of their impossibility — and see what’s left.
Elimination #1: AMOUR. Never have so many reviews said the same thing: A terrific movie that’s too horrible to actually watch. (“A must-see film that not everyone must see,” as the Washington Post put it.) The last film to really get those kind of reviews was Bad Lieutenant. (“Harvey Keitel is amazing. And way too frightening to watch.”) Learning that Amour actress Emmanuelle Riva was in the intensely boring Hiroshima, Mon Amour 50 years ago just seals the deal.
Elimination #2: DJANGO UNCHAINED. Nobody’s really fond of Quentin Tarantino. People like his films, sure. But there’s no reservoir of goodwill that could carry this uber-violent film to victory. (We can always remember Pulp Fiction, though.)
Elimination #3: LIFE OF PI. Perhaps if it was retitled Shankar In Love? Ang Lee does have a reservoir of goodwill, but “a tiger and an Indian kid in a boat” is just too hard a sell.
Elimination #4: LES MISERABLES. It has the look and feel of a best picture winner, but who liked it? “Dreadful” was one friend’s review. It doesn’t matter how sad Anne Hathaway is, it won’t win. The play’s creators will just have to settle for having grossed well over $2 billion in theaters over th
Elimination #5: ZERO DARK THIRTY. Too much negative torture talk. And having given Kathryn Bigelow best picture for The Hurt Locker, people won’t want to go back to the same well here.
That leaves us with four real contenders: Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lincoln, and Silver Linings Playbook. All have their virtues, but we must keep cutting.
Elimination #6: BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD. “Come on Hushpuppy, show me them guns! Guns! Guns!” So many great moments in this movie. But this startling indie is in the same boat as the startling indie District 9 a few years ago: too many Academy voters will think the nomination is the reward.
Elimination #7: LINCOLN. I have a theory about Steven Spielberg‘s “serious” movies: they look and feel so much like best picture winners that people forget to actually vote for them. It’s like they’re too Oscar-ish — too glossy, too heart-tugging, too… much. Plus, everyone knows Daniel Day-Lewis is a lock as Abe Lincoln, so that will be enough.
Elimination #8: SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. There’s no way this movie should actually be considered for best picture; it’s a nice little film with mentally-challenged characters and a happy ending, nothing more. We all know how much the Academy loves mentally-challenged characters and happy endings, but even so this one is too lightweight to carry the day. (Right?)
And that leaves us with your best picture winner: ARGO. Like Silver Linings, it’s a good, competent, well-made picture that really isn’t best picture material. But Ben Affleck is pretty darn cool in it, and a big movie star with charisma goes a long way. And he’ll get a lot of sympathy for missing a best director nomination.
So whatever remains, however improbable, is your best picture winner. Congratulations, Argo!