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Oscar derby update: 'The Hurt Locker' may defy the odds to win best picture, Jeff Bridges and Sandra Bullock pull ahead in the lead acting races

January 28, 2010 |  1:17 pm

BEST PICTURE CATEGORY: Now that "The Hurt Locker" has pulled off a jaw-dropper at the Producers Guild of America Awards, all doubters must concede that it could seriously win the top Oscar. Over the past 20 years the PGA has predicted the best-picture Oscar 13 times, and this year the parallel between them is especially significant. Not only did PGA expand its list of contenders to 10 just like the Oscars, but the guild used the same preferential ballot used by the academy.

But beware: "The Hurt Locker" doesn't fit the profile of the typical Oscar champ. In fact, it has four strikes against it.

Hurt locker 22

1. "The Hurt Locker" doesn't feature well-known stars like typical victors "The Departed" (Jack Nicholson, Leo DiCaprio), "Million Dollar Baby" (Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Hilary Swank) or "No Country for Old Men" (Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem). Yes, last year's champ, "Slumdog Millionaire," didn't feature known faces either, but it was hugely successful film, earning $377 million worldwide. That leads us to "The Hurt Locker's" next problem.

2. "The Hurt Locker" didn't fare well in theaters. In fact, if it wins the top Oscar, it's going to be the lowest-earning film ever to do so (when all comparative films are adjusted for inflation), having grossed only $12 million in U.S. theaters. How much of that is net revenue? The film cost $11 million to produce. Now add millions more for promotion, advertising and an aggressive Oscar campaign. "The Hurt Locker" could become the first money loser ever to win best picture — at least when measured merely in terms of box-office revenue. Right now "The Hurt Locker" is the top-selling DVD.

3. It's possible that "The Hurt Locker" may have the most nominations but not likely. Having the most bids is usually a key factor. Over the past 20 years, the film with the most bids has won best picture 15 times. If Jeremy Renner gets nommed for lead actor, "The Hurt Locker" is likely to reap eight noms (picture, director, screenplay, editing, cinematography, sound editing, sound mixing). Make that nine if Anthony Mackie makes it into the supporting lineup. "Avatar" will probably score nine nominations; "Inglourious Basterds" nine or 10. But does that really matter? Last year "Slumdog Millionaire" (10 noms) easily squashed "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which reigned with the second-most bids in Oscar history (13).

4. "The Hurt Locker" is about Iraq. Movies with a Mideast military theme tend to be shunned — not even nominated (remember "In the Valley of Elah"?). But maybe viewers don't think of "The Hurt Locker" as a typical movie about U.S. involvement in Iraq because it doesn't have a political theme. It plays like an action thriller.

BEST ACTOR CATEGORY: By winning both the Golden Globe and Screen Actors' Guild Awards, Jeff Bridges ("Crazy Heart") seems to have squashed any threat from chief rival George Clooney ("Up in the Air"). Clooney's defeat at SAG was devastating considering that he had an edge in the guild race. Paramount had sent out DVD screeners of "Up in the Air" to the full 100,000 membership. Fox Searchlight didn't do the same rollout for "Crazy Heart."

BEST ACTRESS CATEGORY: A week ago, most Oscar pundits believed that Meryl Streep ("Julie & Julia") and Sandra Bullock ("The Blind Side") were neck and neck in the lead-actress race, but Bullock just pulled ahead by winning SAG. The vast majority of lead actors who win both awards go on to win the top acting Oscar. Some industry insiders grumble their belief that "The Blind Side" isn't an Oscar-worthy film. Nonetheless, it's clear that more people within the industry are rooting for Bullock over Streep.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR AND ACTRESS: Christoph Waltz ("Inglourious Basterds") and Mo'Nique ("Precious") now look like Oscar sure bets based upon their consistent sweep of award shows, but beware. When upsets happen at the Oscars, they usually occur in the supporting slots. Mo'Nique seems secure, but Woody Harrelson ("The Messenger") could upset Waltz. It's unlikely, but it's possible.

Photo credit: Summit Entertainment

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