Right now Hollywood studio chiefs are scared stiff of being declared an early Oscars frontrunner.
Just because some clueless, self-proclaimed pundits say it's a terrible thing to be? Frankly, they concocted the Early Frontrunner Stumbles Theory to explain what they don't understand, but what's actually quite obvious to true Oscar authorities — that is, why "Dreamgirls" and "Brokeback Mountain" tripped up. Neither of those films lost best picture because they were the early frontrunner, but more on that later.
For now let's put this ridiculous myth to rest. Has everyone already forgotten that Helen Mirren ("The Queen") and Forest Whitaker ("Last King of Scotland") were ahead to win best actress and actor at this time last year? They didn't lose a single major award in the derby ahead.
But somehow clueless pundits argue that the best-picture race is different? How so? It's not.
Throughout most of Oscars history, the vast majority of early frontrunners in all top categories ended up trotting over the finish line just fine.
Others like "The Aviator" probably would've soared ahead, but the late-breaking release of a Clint flick can trip up anything in Eastwood-mad Hollyweird.
Consider these recent, early best-picture faves: "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King," "Titantic," "Gladiator," "The English Patient," "Forrest Gump," "Schindler's List" and "Unforgiven," to name just a few. Heck, "A Beautiful Mind" was under ferocious assault by media outraged over its creators sugar-coating its real-life story in 2001 (there was no smear campaign against it — let's not go there again) and it still won!
Most upsets in the best-picture race can be explained by the peculiarities involved in each case. The L.A. Times was among major media predicting "Apollo 13" would win in 1995, but let's recall that film had a major Oscar glitch: Ron Howard — who had won DGA — wasn't nominated for best director. Once Mel Gibson won the helmer's prize at the Golden Globes, his pic took off like a rocket that probably couldn't be stopped. After all, "Braveheart" entered the Oscars with the most nominations that year (10, followed by 9 for "Apollo 13"). Why is anyone surprised, in retrospect, that it won?
There's one legitimate case of an early frontrunner stumbling because voters were bored later. I believe voters ended up making the best choice in the end, though I concede they probably would've voted differently if they'd cast their ballots earlier: "Shakespeare in Love" vs. "Saving Private Ryan" (1998). Summer-release "Ryan" had been out front for soooooo long, that by the time the Oscars rolled around late the following March, Entertainment Weekly wisecracked, "We thought it won already!"
One more time: the reason "Brokeback Mountain" lost and "Dreamgirls" wasn't nominated was simply because those old, str8 white guys in the academy couldn't empathize with gay cowboys and hip young black chicks. No, voters are not prejudiced against them. They just couldn't get into their heads, feel their angst, take their emotional journeys. If only that had been Clint Eastwood in "Dreamgirls" belting out "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," that geezer academy crowd would've burst into hysterical sobs, torn at their thinning hair, raced out of the screening rooms of Beverly Hills screaming, and then hurled their bodies into moving traffic just to stop the pain.
If any of them had survived, they would've voted for "Dreamgirls" for best picture and it not only would've been nominated, it would've swept every category. Deep down in your heart, you know I'm right.