Even though AMPAS’s decision last year to widen the Best Picture field to 10 nominees was an obvious publicity stunt, a means of boosting the Oscar telecast’s ratings share by ensuring that more than one box office cash cow would compete for Oscar’s top prize, we were optimistic that a few legitimately off-the-beaten-path treasures would somehow manage to enter the race. But we know how that turned out, and though we doubt things will pan out differently in this more middlebrow-embracing year, at least we’re going to be spared the endless chatter about how so-and-so film can’t win the Oscar because of its poor box office. And to give you just one example of how much money means to the corrupt Oscar race: By Tuesday morning, the bulk of the dozen or so films with a legitimate shot at a Best Picture nomination will have made in excess of $75 million each. To give you another: The only ones among those dozen or so films that anyone is even talking about possibly not making the cut (127 Hours, The Kids Are All Right, and Winter’s Bone) are the ones that will never make that much money even after you’ve added together their domestic and foreign box office and video receipts.
It’s difficult not to be cynical about a contest that’s so easily manipulated by hype and publicity—a rich-man’s sport that caters to short-attention spans (what world do we live in where critically acclaimed films by Martin Scorsese and Roman Polanski barely figure into the Oscar race?) and makes the smallest film that should be so lucky to make the cut (among the long-shot spoilers: Another Year, Blue Valentine, Get Low, and Rabbit Hole) feel as if it’s begging for alms in a tattered Dolce and Gabbana dress. But you don’t need me to tell you how much the Oscars suck, only which films will make the cut.
So, following just about everyone else’s lead, the following are in: The Social Network, The King’s Speech, The Fighter, Black Swan, Inception, True Grit, and Toy Story 3. Its healthy-enough box office and powerful publicity machine alone probably guarantees The Kids Are All Right a spot as well, while Ben Affleck’s latest portentously sinistah Boston-set melodrama The Town is likely also in, though the latter is by no means a lock as its unlikely to appear near the top of very many ballots. And had the nominations been announced, say, a month ago, we might have tossed the final spot to 127 Hours, but audience’s love affair with the film has turned out to be as split-second as the duration of most of its shots. We’re not sure Winter’s Bone will appear on as many ballots as Danny Boyle’s hyperkinetic drama, but we’re confident enough that it places high enough on the ones it does appear on for it to sneak into the race, meaning the Oscars will have at least one Best Picture nominee that will be acting way too proud to beg.