Don­ald Clarke on the open derby race for best pic­ture

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - OPINION - screen wriTer

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.

dclarke@irish­times.com

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