The academy may have doubled the number of nominations, made room for more critics’ faves and box-office juggernauts, and completely overhauled how ballots are going to be tabulated for the Best Picture contest this year, but to hear everyone tell it, it’s all still going to boil down to a grudge match between Contender #1 and Contender #2, the same as it usually is. And likely the same as it always shall be until the academy’s board of directors can jerry-rig a system that will automatically favor the movie that is not only seen by the fewest number of voters, but also represents that perfect middle ground between fiercely loved and fiercely loathed.
Oh wait, as Armond White just noted, the system as it was before has always seemed to favor movies that few see and even fewer actually feel much passion toward. That’s what got us into this whole deca-slate mess in the first place, and yet everyone is still adamant that the more things change in Oscarland, the more things will stay the same, so far as the results are concerned.
Sure, it’s possible a surprise win for Up in the Air, Inglourious Basterds, or hell, even something like Up could prove us all wrong; this interactive demonstration from USA Today shows just how easy it would be for a second- or even third-place movie to come from behind after ballots are redistributed. And if it turns out the system secures a win for any of those three movies, I’ve no doubt the board of directors would look upon it as a win, all being to varying degrees respectable examples of pop storytelling.
But as Grandma Henderson is oft heard to say, sure but no. The Mark Harris “narrative” going into this contest is The Hurt Locker vs. Avatar, David vs. Goliath, analogue vs. digital, old school craft vs. new science, Little Miss Can’t Be Seen vs. the Big Fat Fuck. Picking the winner the traditional way would be no sweat. Dramatic gravity wins against sci-fi fluff every time. But it’s probably a mistake to ignore the connection the board of director’s ratings-hungry changes have with an industry that perceives itself to be dying. The message may be the medium, but profit is salvation, so settling this race might entail figuring out which movie’s liberal-pandering credentials are the most unimpeachable. No small feat given both seem overwhelmed by things that go boom in the night, but ultimately we expect most voters to care less about that Unobtanium underneath the universe’s oldest tree than mourn the displaced guts of that little spy boy Iraqi insurgents filled with explosives. Oscar may be working overtime to yield to the masses, but never forget that Oscar voters think they know better than average moviegoers.
Will Win: The Hurt Locker