Donald Clarke on the open derby race for best picture
Oh Lord. It’s the last Screenwriter of the year. As 2012 winds away, Matthew McConaughey celebrates his unexpected reinvention while poor Taylor Kitsch contemplates a sad return to telly. The rest of the movieverse, meanwhile, wearily turns its collective gaze towards boring, boring Oscar season.
Of course, the pointless squabble for “best picture” is generally settled long before the nominations emerge. One could reasonably argue that The Artist, this year’s winner, assumed the status of favourite from its premiere at Cannes in May 2011. Two years ago The King’s Speech was, by this stage of the calendar, already edging ahead of The Social Network. As the mistletoe rose in 2009, no sensible punter would have bet on any film other than The Hurt Locker or Avatar.
It’s little wonder nobody takes these things seriously. Royal successions in bicycling monarchies are harder to predict.
So, who has already cleared a space on the mantelpiece? Wonder of wonders. For the first time in many a year, the race for best picture is far from sewn up. The position of favourite has changed hands around four times in the last few weeks. As many as six films have a realistic chance of winning. If it wasn’t such a vulgar business, one might almost pretend to a degree of interest.
Here’s the story so far. Back in September, David O Russell’s diverting Silver Linings Playbook premiered at the Toronto Film Festival to absurdly positive reviews. Here we go. This fits into the same template as Rain Man and Moonstruck: a serious comedy with big performances. Playbook rapidly became top tip among the internet prognosticators.
But what’s this? Everyone seems to like Argo. Ben Affleck’s entertaining historical romp won over the critics and played well with mainstream audiences. Remember how the Academy loves actors-turned-directors such as Kevin Costner and Robert Redford? Argo is a sure thing.
Hang on. Tom Hooper’s take on Les Misérables is classic Academy material. It’s a well-appointed, middle-brow, quasi-historical affair featuring booming songs and barnstorming performances from the likes of Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. When sneak previews triggered guardedly positive responses, the film rushed to the top of the nap sheets.
Then, a week or so ago, everything shifted again. Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty – story of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden – won gongs from the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review. Early reviews are ecstatic. The Oscar-winning director of The Hurt Locker is surely back in poll position.
Who knows? The ceremony will still be unspeakably boring. The real best film of the year will have no chance of victory. But it does look as if, for the first time in decades, there may be more than two roosters in this fight.
None of which is to suggest you should give a toss.