Oscars theory No. 5: best picture = big picture
It should be no surprise to learn that in Hollywood, at least, size matters. That maxim applies in several ways to influencing how winners are chosen in the Oscar best picture race.
First, running time: The longest movie among the five nominees wins about half of the time. Perhaps not this year, though, not if the pundits are right about the top winner this Sunday night. "There Will Be Blood" unspools the most minutes (158), followed by three films of approximately two hours apiece — "Atonement" (123), "No Country for Old Men" (122), and "Michael Clayton" (119) — and, finally, "Juno" (96).
Second, nominations: The movie with the most usually wins, as it has 15 times in the last 20 years. This year "No Country" and "There Will Be Blood" lead with eight apiece.
Thirdly, epic perspective: Voters love grand, sprawling pageants played out on wide screens. Thus it should feel and look big, like "Titanic," "Gladiator," "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" or "Lawrence of Arabia." Three fit that bill this year: "No Country," "There Will Be Blood" and "Atonement."
Fourth: box office: Winners should be financially successful. Among this year's five best-picture nominees, only "Juno" has broken the $100 million mark domestically, with its take to date at $125 million. The only comedy in the running, it is still in the top 10 b.o. rankings after 11 weeks in release, but, considering how voters have laughed off comedies historically, the winner of this race may have to be sized up based upon the most serious entries: the four dramas. Of those, "No Country" has made the most ($62 million) and debuts on DVD next month. "Michael Clayton" earned $47 million before coming out on DVD this week, while "Atonement" just took in another $2 million to equal that. And "There Will Be Blood" made $4 million last weekend for a total of $32 million after eight weeks.