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Oscar derby update: 'Avatar' battles 'Up in the Air' and 'Inglourious Basterds' for best picture

December 30, 2009 |  9:41 am

Avatar battle news 510

Just two weeks ago an esteemed Oscarologist crowed to me over the phone, "I am proud to say that I have never, never wavered in my prediction that 'Up in the Air' will win best picture. It obviously is the one film in the race that has the pedigree."

Then, last week, he switched his prediction to "Avatar" — just like many other Oscar pundits, including Sasha Stone (Awards Daily) and Jeffrey Wells (Hollywood-Elsewhere). See our updated Buzzmeter here.

What's interesting about him jumping horses is that he had already seen "Avatar" when boasting to me about his firm faith in "Up in the Air." That means the recent megabuzz surrounding "Avatar" has convinced him that it's suddenly the pony to ride.

But another esteemed Oscarologist, Dave Karger of Entertainment Weekly, is still high on "Up in the Air." However, he believes that the ascendancy of "Avatar" "is likely the death knell for 'Star Trek' and 'District 9's' best picture hopes, since there probably won't be room for two sci-fi films in the list of 10. Likewise, other box-office smashes like 'The Hangover' and 'The Blind Side' now seem quite pale by comparison to James Cameron’s visionary work."

Inglourious basterds oscars news-2

Regardless of what's nominated, only a few contenders seem to have the potential to win best picture. The list: "Avatar," "The Hurt Locker," "Inglourious Basterds," "Precious" and "Up in the Air." My, my, that's only five! How strange that the academy chose this year to expand the best-picture race to 10 slots.

Over at InContention.com, Guy Lodge now becomes the one other brave Oscarologist to back me up on my prediction that "Inglourious Basterds" will win. Smart move, Guy! Just a month ago, he was part of the screeching chorus condemning me publicly even for taking "Basterds" seriously as a contender. He wrote, "Tom O’Neil has suggested 'Basterds' can win best picture, and he's probably just spinning his wheels. I’ll gladly eat my hat if that happens."

Just prior to the recent announcement of Golden Globe and Critics Choice nominations — where "Basterds" romped, proving its muscle — InContention.com had "Basterds" listed in its fourth tier of potential contenders, way down below "Bright Star" and "The Last Station" and a few dozen other films. After those noms came out, Kris Tapley finally included the movie in his Oscar best-pic predix, but he continued to snub Quentin Tarantino in the directors' race. Then, the other day, he added Tarantino.

I shouldn't pick on my colleagues at InContention for doing what all other pundits are doing too — dismissing, for some crazy reason, one of the most formidable contenders for the top Oscar. I got ridiculed and lambasted almost universally across the blogosphere for suggesting that it's even seriously in the running. Scott Feinberg (AndTheWinnerIs) even bragged publicly at Jeff Wells' blog that, just like Tapley, he ranked "Basterds" and Tarantino "pretty far down." In fact, in Feinberg's case, he merely ranked "Basterds" in his 12th spot on Nov. 18, but nonetheless he thought that "Bright Star," "Julie & Julia" and "A Serious Man" had better shots to be nominated and to win. Currently, Scott ranks "Basterds" in fourth place to win.

Over at HitFix, Greg Ellwood almost busted a gut laughing at my suggestion that "Basterds" was a serioius contender, insisting that "there are more holes in his theory than a slice of swiss cheese" while dismissing my prediction as "just a nice reach for page views" on the Web.

At TheWrap, Steve Pond pooh-poohed me too, but a bit more respectfully, saying, "Sorry, Tom. I’m not buying this one." Now Steve is obviously coming 'round, albeit slowly. He ranks "Inglourious Basterds" in his eighth position. Last month Jeff Wells told his readers at Hollywood-Elsewhere, "Trust me -- this won't happen." Now he ranks "Basterds" in seventh place. 

Hmmm ... what do you think all these pundits will say when "Basterds" and "Avatar" lead with the most Oscar nominations when bids are unveiled on Feb. 2, eh? Till then, it's good to see them moving in the right direction, albeit grudgingly in some cases.

To read in-depth explanation of why I believe "Basterds" will win best picture, click here.

Some Oscar pundits like to dismiss any handicapping I do because of a few bum early predix in the past. I remind you that I almost always trounce the vast majority of rivals at the Buzzmeter (last year I tied for first place --- see here) and many of my longshot calls come through ("Departures" for best foreign film last year, Marion Cotillard for best actress of 2007 when virtually every pundit predicted Julie Christie). But I like to start crystal-balling early in derby season and if I dare to forecast a wrong winner several months before the Oscarcast, it doesn't matter if I change my mind later. Some rival pundits like to call out my earliest, wrong call. That's what Ellwood did in his post zapping my "Basterds" forecast, adding, "Remember 'Sweeney Todd,' Tom?" Yes, Greg, I do. Click here to see your prediction that "Dreamgirls" would win best picture one year earlier. You weren't alone. Many other Gurus of Gold agreed with you, including David Poland, Sasha Stone and Kris Tapley. A few weeks earlier you and Stone predicted "The Good German" would win. Neither flick, of course, was even nominated. One year later, most of the Gurus of Gold picked "Atonement" early. At least it got nominated. Is it fair to quote those predictions now — so far out of the context when they were made?

Granted, "Avatar" seems to be out front now, and, yes, it can win. But beware: Oscar voters don't fill out ballots to decide a winner for another month and a half. That's forever in fickle Hollywood time. Historically, voters have shown enormous reluctance to give golden statuettes to sci-fi/fantasy fare. They nominate those films generously sometimes. "Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring" reaped 13 bids in 2001 — that's the second most in Oscar history — but it lost best picture to "A Beautiful Mind," even though the latter film was under fierce media attack for sugar-coating its true-life story. The last film of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, "Return of the King," finally ended up winning best picture because it had to. Academy members would've been strung up from lampposts along Wilshire Boulevard if they'd still refused to give hobbits their due.

Now why should we assume that voters will eagerly embrace blue monkeys?

I admit that "Basterds" probably won't get the most first-place votes, but a weighted ballot is being used this year. Academy members are ranking all 10 contenders. While chatting with many voters, I hear widely divergent opinions of "Avatar," "The Hurt Locker," "Precious" and "Up in the Air," but support for "Basterds" is strong and consistent. That's why it is the most formidable contender of all.

RELATED POSTS

Why 'Inglourious Basterds' will win best picture at the Oscars (part 2)

Poll: Will 'Avatar' win best drama picture at the Golden Globes?

Poll: How many Oscars nominations will 'Avatar' get?

It's really complicated: Can Meryl Streep beat herself at the Golden Globes?

Poll: Who will win the SAG Award for best actress?

Poll: Which Golden Globe nominee will win best comedy/musical picture?

Poll: Who'll win the Golden Globe for best drama actor? George Clooney? Jeff Bridges?

"Avatar" photo: 20th Century Fox. "Inglourious Basterds" photo: the Weinstein Co.

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Comments

"The Hurt Locker" is just a war drama and I don't like that movie at all.
"Avatar" is great movie.. :)

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I didn't think "The Hurt Locker" was as strong in comparison to "Saving Private Ryan" or "Platoon". It was more like a TV war drama. Noted, it's a good important film, but not a great film. "Up in the Air" was simply overrated and a snoozer (most likely nominated because of George Clooney). "Avatar" and "Inglorious Basterds" were highly entertaining, and IB is Territino's most mature film to date. Well, I was simply amazed with "Avatar" and "500 Days of Summer", 2 films with originality, and not your typical motion picture story. My bet is on "Avatar" because it moved people, and it's a difficult film to make that should get rewarded.

Have these people making predictions even seen the films?! There's no way in hell Avatar is a best picture contender. It's a good film, but its your average action film.

Critics criticizing each others' critiques? Shouldn't that create some kind of time paradox?

Thanks for sticking to your guns Tom, I've been calling Basterds as a top contender for months now and no one has taken me seriously.

The way I see it, is that "Avatar" is way too CGI for a Best Picture win. I've seen the movie, and you have to have more than just awesome computer graphics to win. To me, what really stands out is Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds". Not only is it unique in it's script, it's also unique in it cinematography. Quentin really plays to spaghetti western in all of us with Inglourious. I do believe, however, that "Precious" is a serious contender to "Inglourious Basterds". I, unfortunately, haven't had the chance to see the movie due to it's lack of screenings in my town, however, I've read the book. And, I believe that it being such a true and influential film, it could really take the cake. I think I'll keep my bets on Inglouious, though. Not just because I find it a truly exceptional film, but also because I'll be a true-blue Quentin supporter until I die.

Avatar was lovely to look at, to be sure, but can anybody really suggest that it has enough gravitas to even hope to emulate the kind of success that Titanic enjoyed? Basterds was fun, and I don't understand any comments that it was boring, but again, it doesn't meet my standards for a best picture Oscar. I haven't seen Up In The Air yet, but it wil have to be pretty clever and charming to beat my own personal favourite this year, that being 'Moon'.

People are getting tired of Tarantino's gimmicky-gore almost as much as they are of George Clooney. On the other hand, "In the Loop" was a pretty good film...

I saw Bastards and unless the criteria for Oscar is boring as hell than there is no way for it to get an Oscar nod for best picture. I love Quintin's movies but this one left me cold.

I did not see Up in the air so I have no comment on that. But Avatar deserve to be on that list. The movie was spectacular. It's the Gone With The Wind of our generation. It's beautiful and an artistic achievement. So the story has been told before, big deal. Making a movies about the Holocaust are popular because Oscar voters can't get enough of them. The fact that Avatar is Dances with wolves in space doesn't bother me. I hope the people voting on these thing will vote for it for best picture because it was an amazing movie

Actually I found both Basterds and Avatar somewhat boring. The interminable bouts of dialogue with nobody having anything meaningful to say in Basterds was dismaying. Avatar was just TOO much. Too long. Too preachy. The characters were too black and white, good guy/bad guy, with no shades of gray. I will be pulling for Up In The Air (Some chance) or Up (No chance).

Don't mock other people Tom. You were right thinking that Basterds' in the race, but as you say, we're a long time away from when the final votes are cast; so assuming your horse will prevail is a bit far-fetched at this moment in time.

Inglorious Basterds for Script, Best Picture, and Christoph Waltz.

Avatar for Director, many technical prizes, and possibly Zoe Saldana (a nomination would be victory in itself).

It would be great to see Quentin win, wouldn't it?

When are the DGA and PGA nominees announced?

Honestly, Tom, I think if the Academy HADN'T expanded to 10 pictures, we wouldn't be talking about Inglourious Basterds as a frontrunner, much less a winner. If I remember correctly, it wasn't so hotly received when it ran the festival circuit earlier this year, and it wasn't until the critics and the audiences started loving it much later when it was released that it gained some acclaim. So with 10 BP slots, everyone began widening their net a little as to what pics would float to the status of frontrunner. Pics like Up in the Air and Precious were always guaranteed slots per se simply because of their nature, but because we had 10 slots, everyone felt more comfortable about something as quirky as Inglourious Basterds.

While I still don't feel strongly about Basterds taking the ultimate prize, I have from he VERY beginning felt confident about it making it into the Top Ten for BP. And I find it fascinating that Kris Tapley in particular finally caved; he had been so skeptical this entire time about the overall quality and credibility of IB.

As for Avatar, I just don't see what is making this one a frontrunner. It was a juvenile story with strong CGI. I saw it and had a great time at the theater, and the crowd enjoyed it, but I just can't see how a film like this could ever win BP. Return of the King was an entirely different animal in 2004-Solid CGI AS WELL AS an excellent adapted screenplay, incredible actors (best among them Sir Ian McKellan), and of course the directorial magic of Peter Jackson.

Avatar just isn't worthy of this type of accolade. It just isn't.

Nope. Greg at HitFix mocked you for predicting that "Basterds" would win without any substantive evidence. He certainly didn't mock you for calling it a serious contender. Anyway, though, it's important that you gloat when you get things right.

Finally someone is taking into consideration the weighted ballot! Well at least using it as an explanation to their theory why or why not something will or won't win.


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