Everybody’s favourite mid-year guessing game

Thursday, 14 August 2003 — 2:44pm | Film, Oscars

We’re at the halfway mark to the Oscars and the crapshoot’s already begun. Hopefully someone, somewhere will score higher than three-for-five in the big categories, but in recent years this has only happened in the absurdly predictable 2002, which had most bettors pegging all five of the eventual Best Picture nominees in various permutations when the 2001 awards were hardly out of the gate.

David Poland, one of the most dependable and reputable critics in the industry today, is recognizing the guaranteed entry – The Return of the King – and making two daring stabs at naming the other locks. The first is Peter Weir’s Master and Commander. I find it interesting that Fox is already touting the Russell Crowe vehicle as their historical epic flagship in the Academy regatta. From the teaser trailer it looks to be playing it safe and conventional, and does not at all come off as the great Napoleonic-era film of its time, which it needs to be if it is aiming that high. (Come to think of it, is there a great Napoleonic-era film yet?)

This year, aside from Master and Commander, the forecast shows two other bids for the Obligatory Period-Film Slot in The Last Samurai and Cold Mountain. Of the three, it is in Mountain that my flag of prognostication is firmly planted. It is impossible to tell until these films actually see release, of course, and I do hope that all three of these do as well as promised. Note the omission of The Alamo; let’s just say it would be a surprise if it actually turns out to be good.

Poland’s other prediction is Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s 21 Grams, which is if anything, an unconventional guess. We’ll know for sure by the end of the Toronto Film Festival. There is little I can say about it, as I have never watched Amores Perros or any other Innaritu film.

The other prediction making the rounds, which Poland covers briefly, is that Seabiscuit and Finding Nemo will probably be shafted; I tend to agree. The former is in the Road to Perdition slot – a refined, conventional period film released in July that slowly drops from a clear first place to an even clearer sixth over the course of half a year. The latter is this year’s Minority Report – near-unanimous praise from both critics and audiences, but severely hurt by what it is. In Nemo‘s case, it is clearly the very best film of the year thus far beyond any comparison, but alas, it is animated. On the other hand, if one film deserves to be the only animated film to be nominated for Best Picture other than the similarly deserving Beauty and the Beast, this is the one. In my opinion, Finding Nemo should ideally win Best Picture unless it comes up against the next Lawrence of Arabia.

Naturally, by some cosmic convergence, this is the year that the next Lawrence of Arabia is finally released in full, with the completion of The Lord of the Rings. The Return of the King must win this year, period. It makes one weep for Nemo, but if anything should upstage the fish movie, it should be the recognition of the defining film of this generation.

Aside from David Poland’s predictions, last year’s prediction ace Mark Bakalor has his charts up and running, and is naming four of the films I have already mentioned – The Return of the King, Cold Mountain, The Last Samurai and Seabiscuit – plus The House of Sand and Fog, the small-film guess. Like everyone else, Bakalor will probably shuffle his list like a rack of Scrabble tiles in the coming months. Kris Tapley has also put together his mid-season bets, identical to Bakalor’s if you swap Samurai with Master and Commander.

The unfortunate thing is that of the early predictions, one almost certainly underperforms upon release. This would be a real shame, as many of them sound like they have so much potential.

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