..Gary Dretzka
Noah Forrest
..Leonard Klady
..David Poland
..Douglas Pratt
..Ray Pride
..Kim Voynar
..Michael Wilmington

Week Sixteen - 31 Days to Go
And Now For Something You'll Really Like
... Again?!?!

And now, we start the 2007 Oscar season again for the last time...

Yes, Phase II (post-nom time, as it is called) 2007 may be the most wide open race in memory. The last time we were looking at as many of the 5 nominees that could really win was the year of Gladiator, Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Chocolat. Of course, what was very different that year was that all but one of the movies (Chocolat) either had or were on their way to crossing the $100 million mark. And the films all had a significant number of nominations.

This year, as I wrote a few days ago, the 9 open categories aside from The Top Eight (Picture, Director, Acting, Writing) have a total of 6 nominations from this year's five Best Picture nominees. What does this mean? Maybe nothing. Or maybe it means that Academy members continue to vote their minds and that none of the Big Five was as well crafted as other pictures, like 6-time nomineePan's Labyrinth.

Ironically, this also indicates - to me, at least - that the shorter season remains a very positive influence. Members, especially in their branch votes, have seen a lot of the films and made independent minded choices. Another month of marketing seems quite unlikely to lead to a wider group of choices, but instead, more time for the bigger pictures to push for more.

The odd circumstance of the spread voting makes it very, very possible that Dreamgirls will continue the role of being a top Academy film, sans Best Picture, and win more or as many Oscars as any other film. Think about it. Hudson, Murphy, Song, and say, Sound Mixing. There are only a couple of films with enough total nominations to get four wins. If people assume that Jennifer Hudson still wins Best Supporting Actress - and do any of us feel like assuming much of anything this week? - that takes Babel down to 5 opportunities, Little Miss Sunshine down to 4 and leaves The Departed and The Queen at 5 and Letters from Iwo Jima at 4.

Speaking of The Queen, last year's super-stat was Cynthia Swartz's "no film ever won Best Picture without an editing nomination."

Stats are made to be upended. And if any year is not going to comply with stats - however expected most of what has happened so far remains - this seems to be the one. But if you take on Ms. Swartz's clever analysis, which leaned towards Crash and away from Brokeback Mountain last season, it leaves only The Departed and Babel in the running for the win.

Paramount Vantage's favorite Phase I Oscar start was that 28 times there have been two Supporting Actress candidates from the same movie. This was prophetic, as Babel got nominations for both Rinko Kikuchi and Adrianna Barraza. Beyond getting in, the stat gets fuzzy. This has happened five times in the last 20 years. Only in the case of Chicago did the film go on to win Best Picture. In one other case, the film was nominated for Best Picture (Working Girl). And in the other three cases, there wasn't even a BP nod (Almost Famous, Bullets Over Broadway, Enemies, A Love Story).

Other stats working against the nominees include the fact that only one film has ever won Best Picture without a directing nod, Driving Miss Daisy. Does that mean the disqualification of Little Miss Sunshine? Oh yes... and it's been 29 years since the last comedy, Annie Hall, won Best Picture.

Even after overcoming the lack of guild support, is it really possible for Letters From Iwo Jima to move to the winner's circle with no acting nominations and only one branch nod aside from the directors, the writers, and sound editing?

As for The Departed, when was the last time a remake won Best Picture? 1956 with Marty, a remake from a TV version of the same.

Of course, my position is and has been that Phase II is a different race than Phase I. Once the field has been narrowed to five, the dynamic shifts. And there are a whole new set of questions to answer.

Will Warner Bros spend big on Letters From Iwo Jima now, even though they never really saw this film as having much commercial potential? A push could pay off handsomely if the film actually won. But if it doesn't, it is good money thrown away after already achieving the nomination.

How much deeper in the hole will Paramount and Paramount Vantage go on Babel in order to race. Again, the nomination actually puts the film in position to come within $10 million of breakeven after ancillaries. With an extraordinary success in DVD, they could break even. But any additional millions in spending to chase the win would all be lost if they didn't win.

The campaign for The Departed has been very laid back. Will that change? Will Mark Wahlberg, now Oscar nominated, finally feel like he is appropriately valued by the studio? (Recall problematic moments at the junket and premieres.) The re-release might pay for itself. But is a strategic shift forthcoming?

The Queen will continue to expand and spend. But with Sheen out, leaving the same central trio on the campaign trail, with Mirren still an apparent lock, how can they ramp things up any further?

And we all know that Little Miss Sunshine will continue its "Little Best Picture" push. But how hard? And can they overshoot the mark?

The media involvement in all this remains at issue. As the media negativity on Dreamgirls spread to the New York Times and Variety, did it have some effect on the missed nominations? Who knows?

My theory on how the noms went is that there may not have been any first ballot nominees this year. With six strong candidates - which include Dreamgirls, and now, obviously, Letters From Iwo Jima - 14% each (6% short of a nomination) is 84% of the vote, leaving 16% for all the other films out there. I don't think that many people doubt that any of these six titles managed 14% of the vote. Then, in the second round, counting #2 votes, all the nominees could well have gotten in. If ever there was a year where it feels this way, this is it. And indeed, others could have been in when #2 votes were counted, but came up short of the Top 5.

Looking at the final vote, start with that same 14% times 5 and that's 70% of the vote. Where will the other displaced 30% go? That, my friends, is the rub. And that is where is might be a fight or it might be already close to settled.

Does Little Miss Sunshine have a unique advantage as the one non-drama?

Does The Queen have every one of the 400 British Oscar voters votes that it didn't get the first time lined up now?

Does the box office dominance of The Departed make it more attractive?

Is Babel the Crash of this year... and if so, will the filmmakers blush?

Does the Eastwood Mystique and a very serious, contemplative, war related story make Letters From Iwo Jima a potential winner?

The bottom line is that there is both more and less of a race right now than appears on the surface to exist. And the media influence is both more and less significant than it appears to be.

One problem I have with the daily analysis, both online and in Traditional Media, is that there tends to be a sporting event mindset. If you lose, the quarterback sucks. If you win, he's the best ever. The only play that counts in many minds is the last play. And most of all, there is this ongoing insane notion that the Academy equals an objective analysis of the best films of the year. A nomination means that the movie is better than the other movie... or the lack, that there is worse. But of course, that is just self-indulgence at its best.

My rule remains the same... if you want to make that argument, be consistent. If the Academy left out Dreamgirls because "they just didn't think it was that good," then it also left out United 93 and Pan's Labyrinth for the same reason. If the Golden Globes are unimportant because Dreamgirls didn't get nominated in spite of winning the most Globes, it was equally irrelevant for Babel, which did get nom'ed. And if you think all five nominees "deserved" or "didn't deserve" to be nominated this year... the same will be true next year and forever.

The only think that really changes, for a lot of writers, is their personal opinion. When David Carr finds himself apologizing for believing Dreamgirls would win Best Picture, does it matter to anyone whether he was 50 votes off of this nomination or 1000 votes? There is no objective standard for analysis. And apologizing - or taking any of this personally - is idiotic. And the Bagger, a very smart guy, will surely learn this lesson if he chooses to continue on this beat in years to come. This is not a zero sum game.

Also, for all the talk about December being out of favor as a launching pad and the murmur about Crash's May launch, it should be pointed out that Little Miss Sunshine's July 26 launch was the earliest this year, with Letters From Iwo Jima's Dec 20 launch the latest. One went out on the last days of Sept and two went in October. So is late Sept/early Oct the new Oscar hot zone? Of course not. Oscar is in the details, not the release date. Some movies would have been better off in December and others better off in October. Every film needs its own strategy. Period.

Finally, a side note. The nominations as they connect to the MCN's Top Ten Chart turned out to be numbers 2, 3, 4, 7, and 8. This is the second straight year when all the BP noms were in the Top Eight of critical consensus. Interesting. Another stat to rip up in the years to come. But as I have long written, the media's primary involvement in the Oscar season is to narrow the field. And once again, it seems they have.

If you are curious, last year #7 (and the fourth highest ranked in the group of noms) won. That correlates to Little Miss Sunshine this year. Shrug.

(Thursday, 6:39p - Column Corrections - As sometimes happens, there are some stats that I got wrong this morning… and thanks to some committed, interested readers, here's a chance to correct them. I thank all of you who sent e-mails.

1. Ordinary People (1981), Annie Hall (1978), and Grand Hotel (1932) won in the past without Best Editing nominations.

2. As I researched it last night, I left Dame duo Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren's double Supporting Actress noms for Gosford Park off the list of films that had that phenomenon in the last 20 years.)

The Charts
Best Picture
Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Screenplay
Best Director

Week Sixteen: And Now For Something You'll Really Like .. Again
Week Fifteen: Pow!!(er)
Week Fouteen: Everything Old Is Neew Again
Week Thirteen: Outside Looking In
Week Eleven The Great Settling
Week Ten: The Search For Meaning
Week Nine: Inside Out
Week Eight: The Season That Couldn't Shoot Straight
Week Six: Dreamgirls Wake
Week Five: Isn't It Romantic?
Week Four: The Rules - Episode One
Week Three: Channel #2
Week Two: Hope Floats
Week One: Ready, Steady ... Gold, Cat, Gold!
The August 11 Preview

- Email David Poland



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