Tuesday, January 31

Oscar Predictions

British oddsmakers have handicapped the Best Picture race as follows:

Brokeback Mountain ($50.8m) : 1/6
Crash ($55.4m) : 9/1
Good Night, and Good Luck ($25.1m) : 12/1
Munich ($40.5m) : 20/1
Capote ($15.0m) : 50/1

(Box office grosses are through January 29, courtesy of rottentomatoes.com)

UPDATE: American oddsmakers see the race somewhat differently (and very differently from my prediction, below):

Brokeback Mountain: 1/10
Crash: 6/1
Munich: 15/1
Capote: 15/1
Good Night, and Good Luck: 2o/1

My first reaction was: Wow, those are some low-grossing movies. It appears that Hollywood is congratulating itself for its intellectual gravity and moral complexity in an age of reflexive conformity and “with us or against us” politics. It is also sticking its finger in the eye of popular critical successes like King Kong ($213.2m) and Walk the Line ($106.1m). None of the nominated films is even close to grossing $100 and they would all require a substantial post-nomination (or post-win) boost to hit that mark.

I did a little quick research. The last Best Picture not to gross $100m was the English Patient, in 1996 ($78m in 1996; $96.7 m in today’s dollars). The lowest grossing Best Pictures of all time are Annie Hall (1978) ($38m) and The Last Emperor (1987) ($43m). These pictures grossed $113.4m and $73.7m respectively, in today’s dollars. (Calculations courtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis).

There is no inherent relationship between quality and popularity (and if there were, it would probably be an inverse one), but with its embrace of exclusively marginal movies this year, Hollywood insularity has reached a new low.

So, to my prediction for best picture: Good Night, and Good Luck. First, Hollywood loves George Clooney, and with good reason. He is a throwback to the handsome, urbane stars of Hollywood's golden era like Cary Grant, Tyrone Power, Montgomery Clift. He is also personally charming, a better than average actor, and a very good director. Second, Good Night, and Good Luck is the safe protest pick. In a year of nominees chosen, perhaps unconsciously, to stick it to Bush and red state America, Good Night does so without obviously alienating the greater public who are responsible for the industry’s bottom line. Of course, I’m never right about these things, so I will fall back on another prediction:

The Oscars’ ratings will be down this year. Without a box office smash to cheer for, and with a host who is unknown to most of America (nothing against Jon Stewart, but most of the country doesn’t watch the Comedy Network and about half of the country isn’t exactly in step with his take on our politics and culture), there is no hook to pull in the heartland viewers.

In lieu of further analysis, I will enable comments for this post. Not that anyone has shown any inclination to comment in the last week.

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