As critical heat continues to build for "No Country for Old Men," cool-headed Oscarologists must wonder: is this another "L.A. Confidential" or another "United 93" / "Mulholland Drive"? All three of those movies swept the critics' awards and reaped Oscar nominations for their directors, but only "L.A. Confidential" was nominated by the academy for best picture.
If voting occurred right now, I think it's obvious that "No Country" would sweep the critics' awards, but beware: their latest frenzy might turn out to be much like some past ones — Oscar dead ends reached when critics got blinded by a testosterone rush. More than 80 percent of film critics are male and, when leaders get that hormonal rush, it spreads like gangs across the streets of east L.A. A few years ago it didn't matter that director David Lynch himself confessed that he didn't know what the hell that mess "Mulholland Drive" was all about, it swept through the critics' awards of 2001 like the Crips marching on the Bloods.
Actually, it wasn't a frontrunner at the start of the 2001 derby. "Mulholland Drive" emerged at the New York Film Critics Circle as a compromise choice when voting blocs behind "In the Bedroom," "Gosford Park" and "Shrek" couldn't muster sufficient support to win best picture. After that voting session was over, I asked a stunned female member (one of the few gals among the circle's 30-plus members) how "Mulholland" won.
"I've got to admit that it shocked the hell out of all of us," she confessed. "But now that I think about it, the reason's obvious, isn't it? The movie has a hot lesbian scene." Soon thereafter, other film critics'
gangs groups got equally excited about "Mulholland," too.
Now this year a new testosterone rush is triggered by Javier Bardem's relentnessly violent trek after Josh Brolin. When I saw "No Country" at the Toronto film festival, I thought it was good, but, come on, rather repetitive and obvious. Over and over creepy Javier creeps up on Josh's tail, then Josh escapes, then step and repeat, step and repeat, till you get to the movie's non-ending. But most film critics didn't care about those potential shortcomings. In the theater's semi-darkness up in Toronto I could observe the gleeful bloodlust on their faces as they egged on Javier's every vile move, sometimes gasping, "Awesome!"
Will Oscar voters respond the same way? They're overwhelmingly male, of course, but older dudes are sometimes less prone to such adolescent bloodlust and groupthink. In fact, they often shrink from extremely violent films when voting.
While dishing the best-picture race, AwardsDaily.com's Sasha Stone recently wrote, "the two closest to being locks are 'Atonement' and 'No Country'" for nominations.
Meantime, Kris Tapley of InContention.com and Variety.com just declared, "After intense initial doubts on my part, I'm jumping onto that 'No Country for Old Men' bandwagon that is galloping away at full speed. There are detractors, and they will come out of the woodwork soon enough when the film releases. But Miramax is also more and more placing a direct and concerted emphasis on this being their big hopeful, and that says a lot."
I am tempted to shout to Kris aboard that departing bandwagon, "Shane, come back!" but he might be smart to surrender to the gathering buzz, after all. Oooops, turns out I don't have to holler. Just heard that Kris has decided to step back off the bandwagon.
Frankly, I'm just as bewildered as he is. Over the past week, several Oscar voters, who've seen "No Country," told me that they don't understand all of the industry gushing. One of them told me that she — yes, a she — hated the movie. Two middle-aged academy males said they admire it a lot, but there was not much passion in their voices.
Stephen Holt of AwardsDaily.com attended a recent academy screening in New York and chatted with some voters afterward. "The elliptical ending of 'No Country for Old Men' left many out in the cold and very confused and complaining about it," he emailed me afterward. However, "All still feel it's a shoo-in for a best-picture nod."
But that optimistic view about its best-pic prospects means nothing unless voters rank "No Country" high up on their ballots, not just include it in the fourth or fifth position when listing their choices for nominees. Widespread low-rung support would get "No Country" nominated at other awards that use a weighted ballot, but not at the Oscars where a peculiar preferential ballot is employed.
Let's try applying the actual process of Oscar voting to how TheEnvelope's Oscar gurus voted at our Buzzmeter. (CLICK HERE, then click on the link for "Individual Panelists' Rankings" to see the grid of predix. Use the dated drop-down menu to make sure you're looking at the week of Nov. 4. )
First, let's take a tally of what our pundits thought about the best-pic race that week — then let's compare results to their newest views, which will be posted here on Monday or Tuesday (Nov. 12-13), after "No Country' pulls off impressive b.o. ka-ching following its limited release to theaters.
Out of our 27 pundits, 7 did not put "No Country" anywhere in their top five: Jill Bernstein (Entertainment Weekly), Stephen Farber, Pete Hammond (TheEnvelope.com, Maxim), Scott Feinberg (AndTheWinnerIs blog), Steve Pond (TheEnvelope.com, author of the Oscar book "The Big Show"), Carrie Rickey (Philadelphia Inquirer) and that Doubting Thomas — me.
Six pundits ranked "No Country" in first place, as the frontrunner to win the Oscar for best picture: Anthony Breznican (USA Today), Dave Fear (Time Out New York), Jeff Goldsmith (Creative Screenwriting Magazine), Peter Howell (Toronto Star), Sasha Stone (AwardsDaily.com), Peter Travers (Rolling Stone).
Five pundits place "No Country" in second place: Thelma Adams (Us Weekly), Sheigh Crabtree (TheEnvelope.com), Greg Ellwood (MSN Movies), Mark Olsen (TheEnvelope.com), Susan Wloszczyna (USA Today)
Five pundits rank it third: Dan Kois (Culture Vulture/NY Magazine), Jack Mathews (New York Daily News), Jeff Wells (Hollywood-Elsewhere.com), Edward Douglas (ComingSoon.net), Bob Tourtellotte (Reuters).
Four pundits say fourth place: Dave Karger (Entertainment Weekly), Kris Tapley (InContention.com/ Variety.com), Anne Thompson (Variety.com), Clay Smith ("E.T."/"The Insider").
Now let's apply the Oscars' actual voting process — its preferential ballot — to these scores and see if "No Country" comes up as a nominee. To do so, the movie needs to be ranked first (or, in some cases, second) on slightly more than one-sixth of the ballots. That means it needs five top votes. Done. It's got six. So it doesn't matter how weak its support is on other ballots.
But hold your horses, Derbyites!
The vast majority of our pundits are film critics, which skews our noodling. Let's separate three gurus from this list who are widely admired Oscarologists, even though two are also film critics: Dave Karger, Pete Hammond and Jack Mathews. All three have proven in the past that they're sensitive to how differently academy members think than film critics.
None of them ranks "No Country" number one. Pete doesn't rank the movie at all. Mathews ranks it third, Karger fourth. Done. If you accept these results, then there's no way "No Country" gets nominated for best picture.
But those were last week's rankings. I have a hunch that the gathering buzz and the movie's b.o. success will change some minds. Maybe even mine. Now tell us what YOU think! Vote in our polls below.
And let's remember that there's a major movie in this derby that none of us have seen yet — one that could feed male critics' bloodlust even more than "No Country," which may cause them to switch ponies. WHY DO I HAVE TO KEEP WARNING YOU ABOUT "SWEENEY TODD"?