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Beware: Here comes an 'Inglourious' upset at the Oscars

February 17, 2010 | 10:17 am

The Academy Awards never go according to script. Although most Oscarologists say that "The Hurt Locker" or "Avatar" will win best picture, they may be underestimating that sneaky dark horse poised to pull off a classic derby upset: "Inglourious Basterds."

Yes, "The Hurt Locker" has the most momentum and buzz right now and appears to be the front-runner โ€“ with "Avatar" close enough behind to dash ahead in the homestretch. But "Basterds" is within striking distance too and, I believe, will strike.

Oscars Academy Awards news upset prediction 2

"We're going to win best picture," vows its executive producer, veteran Oscar grabber Harvey Weinstein, whose former studio Miramax won best pic twice ("Chicago" in 2002, "Shakespeare in Love" in 1998) when it was part of Disney. Now that Harvey is out on his own with the Weinstein Co., he's hellbent to have his shingle do it again, although technically he won't win a statuette himself. That'll go to producer Lawrence Bender if "Basterds" does prevail. Harvey got a taste of victory last year with Weinstein Co.'s "The Reader" being nommed for best pic and winning best actress for Kate Winslet. But now he tells my Envelope colleague Pete Hammond that "Basterds" will nail it: "We are going for it and we are gonna get it."

As Pete's article points out, Harvey's mounting a full-throttle blitzkrieg across Hollywood. Last week Gold Derby caught agent Ari Emanuel rallying Quentin Tarantino's pals at Mr. Chow in Beverly Hills. Meantime, out in Manhattan, New York magazine's Vulture blog spied Quentin and Harvey huddling with Oscar voters "in the fantastically opulent Upper East Side townhouse of director/rich person" Katharina Otto-Bernstein "to pretend they were only sort of campaigning for Oscars."

One of Harvey's best picture victories, "Shakespeare in Love," was a jaw-dropper pulled off after it won the ensemble prize at the Screen Actors Guild, the same award "Crash" nabbed before usurping the best picture trophy in 2005. At the most recent SAG Awards, that ensemble award was snagged by "Inglourious Basterds."

One of the most respected Oscarologists on the planet, Jack Mathews -- former film critic of the New York Daily News who now writes for Moviefone -- believes that "Basterds" has a real shot to win: "A very good case can be made for its ability to pull off a 'Shakespeare'-size upset. It received just one less nomination than 'Avatar' and 'The Hurt Locker' and it has received them in all of the pertinent categories -- picture, directing, acting, screenplay and film editing. It also did well at the box office, selling $120.5 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada and $193 million overseas. Academy voters don't always reward the biggest commercial success, which is 'Avatar;' nor are they known for throwing gold in the direction of box office bombs, which is 'The Hurt Locker.' Compared to those extremes, 'Basterds' may have just the right mix of good filmmaking and commercial appeal."

Other notable Oscarologists like Hammond believe a "Basterds" upset is possible too. Susan Wloszcyzyna of USA Today says, "If any film has a chance to pull an upset (over 'The Hurt Locker'), it's going to be 'Basterds' and not 'Avatar.'" See Gold Derby's roundups of diverse opinions about a possible "Basterds" upset from many major Oscar pundits here and here.

"Basterds" also has something else in its favor that often decides what wins best picture: a famous person behind it who's overdue for Oscar glory.

Former Variety editor Peter Bart has a brilliant Oscar theory we should all carve on tablets to be doled out from mountaintops. He says that movies that win best picture almost always have a recognizable person behind them that we wish to give an Oscar. "Million Dollar Baby" (2004) and "Unforgiven" (1992) won, for example, because Hollywood wanted to hug Clint Eastwood. No one -- let's be honest -- thought that "The Departed" was the best picture of 2006. It prevailed because Hollywood wanted to give an overdue best picture hug to Marty Scorsese. Even though "A Beautiful Mind" (2001) was under fierce media attack for sugarcoating the oft-sordid story of its real-life protagonist, it still won because Hollywood was determined to catch up with Ron Howard.

Of the key people behind the three current best picture leaders, there's less urgency to reward James Cameron since his "Titanic" swept in the past, tying "Ben-Hur's" record (11 wins). But he's not completely out of the running considering that Eastwood's films won twice. However, "Avatar" may be cursed because no sci-fi flick has ever claimed the top Oscar.

If so, then best picture is a race between Kathryn Bigelow and Tarantino. Early tea leaves say Bigelow should win because she claimed top honors from two prizes that often mirror Oscar's outcome: the producers' and directors' guilds. In fact, PGA's voting method mirrored Oscar's exactly using a preferential ballot with 10 nominees and "The Hurt Locker" won. Doesn't that guarantee that it'll win best picture at the Oscars too?

No. This year the main focus is chiefly on Bigelow. She's a glamorous, even heroic filmmaker -- a sexy person to vote for in many ways. At PGA and DGA there was only one category for voters to embrace her. However, at the Oscars, there are two -- best picture and director -- and that's the key difference. Voters will certainly give Bigelow the Oscar for best director and, once they've checked off that list, they may wish to go elsewhere with their best picture vote. Maybe to that other notable person who's overdue for Oscar glory: Tarantino.

In 1932-43, when the Oscars expanded their best picture race to more than five nominees, the winner didn't agree with best director five times (42%) out of 12 derbies. Over the last decade, the director and picture races were out of sync three out of 10 races (30%).

Quentin hasn't been in the derby since his "Pulp Fiction" lost best picture to "Forrest Gump." Since 1994, we haven't had a chance to measure his Oscar support across Hollywood while he made more overtly commercial flicks like "Kill Bill." It's clear that many people have underestimated him. Early this derby season, many Oscar bloggers didn't even have "Basterds" on their lists of top contenders. When I warned that it could win best picture, the idea seemed so ludicrous that I got crucified across the blogosphere. Now most Oscar pundits admit that it's in the top three to win.

As I chat with actual Oscar voters, it's clear that they consistently rank "Basterds" high on their ballots too. "The Hurt Locker" gets ranked high as well, but it has a significant number of detractors who'll rank it low -- even though they, strangely, plan to give Bigelow the director's trophy. That's crazy Hollywood for you. "Basterds" doesn't seem to have many detractors.

Thanks to the introduction of the preferential ballot, the movie with the most consistently high-ranked support will win. Thus, "Basterds" can do it. I don't believe it would win if voters couldn't give Bigelow the director's award, but since voters can split the baby, I think they will.

As a best picture contender, "Inglourious Basterds" has a very strong plus: one of the sexiest titles ever on an Oscar ballot. Often the movie with the coolest title wins. As my Oscarologist pal Tariq Khan (Fox News) likes to point out, "Million Dollar Baby" wouldn't have won best picture if it retained its original title, "Rope Burns." Having a similar word in its title may have helped "Slumdog Millionaire" hit the Oscar jackpot. Having "beauty" going for them: "A Beautiful Mind" and "American Beauty." (Read more about Tariq's theory here.) If this theory is true, then Bigelow's movie may truly be hurt by being called "The Hurt Locker."

Back in November, I predicted that "Basterds" will win best picture, but shortly after "The Hurt Locker" won PGA and DGA, I temporarily ditched "Basterds" to jump on the Bigelow bandwagon, but now I'm getting back off after talking with actual Oscar voters. Yes, there's a whole lot of academy love out there for "Hurt Locker," but everybody's underestimating "Basterds" again -- just like they, foolishly, did earlier.

Photo credit: Weinstein Co.


Pundits pipe in: 'Yes, "Inglourious Basterds" can pull off an Oscar upset'; 'No, "Basterds" will not win best picture'

More pundits dish: Can 'Inglourious Basterds' pull off an Oscar upset for best picture?

Gold Derby nuggets: Oscars: No singing, lots of dancing | Oscars nominee luncheon reports | James Cameron: 'Failure is an option'

Gold Derby nuggets: 'Avatar' & 'Hurt Locker' win with guilds | Barbara Walters ends Oscars specials | Emmy champ David Canary leaving 'AMC'

Oscars telecast details revealed in promo video

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The comments to this entry are closed.


There's only one word that comes to mind when someone claims Basterds will win Best Picture...


Another thing Tom, by your choice of words ("usurping") I see your still bitter about Crash winning BP in 2005.

You need to stop saying that it lost because of homophobia because it's not true. The movie was a romantic drama. Romance movies haven't won BP in a while. Did you think The Notebook had a chance too for a nomination?

BM was simply overhyped by the media and overrated by critics because of its "shock value" in the gay sex scenes. The performances were subpar, especially Ledger who was cartoonish and cliched, and more important, the story was weak to begin with. Have you ever read the short story is based on? The writer, a woman, knew nothing about a gay relationship.

A nomination simply represented a pat in the back to those who took on the duty of filming it and also a self-congratulatory "how far we've come" message because the academy likes to think that they're always ahead of the rest, opening the door for the rest of us. Said door was opened In 2000 when Hilary Swank won for "Boys Don't Cry" and it felt like gay community was (once again) feeling acknowledged by Hollywood.

As for Mr. Ang Lee's award? He was simply overdue for not winning in 2001.

Crash's win was clean and foreseeable. The Gay Madison County was never in serious contention for Best Picture. Accept it and move on.

Tom, I understand your caution to not point this out, but IB has tremendous support amongst the jewish community. It's not a secret that Hollywood is mostly a jewish business, and chances are, most jewish voters will be ranking it as the top movie of the year. You're also not taking into account how many Holocaust-themed movies have received Oscar love in the past. I would say that IB qualifies as such.

I think O'Neil might be right, but it's cynicism on his part. He realizes the Weinsteins' effectiveness at waging successful Oscar campaigns. They are really really good at the practice.

@john haggerty...
You need to rewatch Avatar, because you have it all wrong. Either you weren't paying attention, or your movie comprehension is very low, because the bad guys in Avatar were corporate mercenaries hired for security. The hero in the film is a United States Marine. Why this seems to escape most right-wingers is beyond me...

A movie about Jews killing Nazis. Hmmm? might be a good bet with the Oscar voters.

There is a reason that Tarentino hasn't ben nominated (until now) since PULP FICTON. His films were garbage. Has O'Neil seen either of the KILL BILLs? Absolute trash, directed with some flair, yes, but trash nonetheless.

BASTERDS is not a bad film, but it certainly is not the best film of the year. That honor belongs to either THE HURT LOCKER or UP IN THE AIR (or, perhaps, BROKEN EMBRACES). I still think that LOCKER will take it and O'Neil's musings of a BASTERDS win is wishful thinking on his part.

Inglourious Basterds had the best acting throughout the movie. The actors spoke the appropriate native language; and it worked so well. SAG got it right awarding them with Best Ensemble. Unique and enjoyable and deserving of BEST PICTURE.

Among the 3 films (Hurt Locker, Avatar, Inglourious Basterds), which films do you want to re-watch 5 years from now? 15 years from now?

Obviously, IG is the answer. I only watched Avatar because of the 3d effects. the story sucks. Hurt Locker is rewatchable too, but it isn't as fun or memorable as Inglourious.

The movie SUCKED. Boring. Pretty boy with a crappy southern accent trying to be tough. Please. I would be scared of a young Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, Chuck Bronson they seemed real bad ass on screen. Brad arm Pitt Brahahahaha. I am in my 50's and can whip his namby pamby ass.

I love Inglorious Basterds and think it should not only win best picture but best director as well -- Tarantino is the man behind Christoph Waltz's performance -- it is his vision and winning best picture does not get him an oscar -- best director does. I love the hurt locker (jeremy renner should win best actor) but Inglorious Basterds is far and away the most enjoyable film of the year.

Go Tarantino!

theres no way either HL or IB are best film of the year. Been there done that for both films

@ Diane, omg what movie did you see?! that was nothing like any nazi movie i've seen before, very original and unique... he even altered the ending, somebody is just prone to originality

It should also be noted that Tarantino did nab the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for PULP FICTION, so it's not like he's never won anything.

Inglourious Basterds is frankly a terrible movie with nothing original to say. If it wins, it'll be a greater travesty than the victories of A Beautiful Mind, Crash and Shakespeare in Love. Those may not have been memorable, but at least they were watchable.

"Nazi/Holocaust movies are just sooooo tired now...give them a rest already!!"
Posted by: Cisco

Yes, if you've seen one, you've seen um all. And there have certainly been enough. Sorry, Tom. But, it requires no guts or creativity to churn out the usual Nazi/Holocaust fare year after year in hopes that it results in Best Picture gold. Everyone knows that if it weren't for Christoph Waltz, no one would even be talking about "Basterds," except Weinstein.

Here you go again Tom... harping and singing hosannas to your bet for this year... in a way... I.G. is Tom's Dreamgirls of 2009... or the Sweeney Todd of 2009!! Tom O'Neil the Oscarologist who cried wolf for his insane and laughable choices of best pics... just to rock the boat... and have something different to side on!

Well here is my 2 cents on the Oscars. The HUrt Locker is in no way a best picture winner. Yes, I agree and would vote for Kathryn Biegelow becuase she did an amazing job directing the film. I think Precious was and is the best picture.
As far as best actress, it shuld be Meryl Streep. SAndra Bullock was good in The Blind Side, but it was more of a made for TV movie than a theatrical movie. There is no comparision in what Meryl did and Sandra did. I will be one angry movie and OScar fan if the acadamy gives Sandra Bullock the Oscar.-

I was annoyed by James Cameron's depiction in "Avatar" of apparent American military personnel being defeated and humiliated. But for the American military's World War II's sacrifices , as evidenced, among other places, in the American military cemetery located at France's Normandy Beach Europe would probably have fallen under the control of Nazi Germany. Furthermore, it was Anerican military power which was instrumental in preventing Joseph Stalin's imperialistic totalitarian system from gaining complete control over most of postwar Europe.
"Invictus", which was not even nominated for best picture, though it should have been, had a far better story, acting and directing than "Avatar." Proof of the good direcrion is that two of its stars received Oscar nominations.

Mr. O'Neil, that is ridiculous. Making a case for "Basterds" to win Picture because HARVEY WEINSTEIN said it would discredits your whole argument simply because the man said the same thing about "The Reader" last year (even when "Slumdog'"won every award leading up to the Oscars).

It's only in the race at all because of the SAG award and while that does make it somewhat relevant (because of the actor populace in the Academy), every other guild has awarded their top prizes to "Locker."

Another thing to look at (that no one ever reports on) is the odds:

'Basterds' isn't even in the same conversation as "Hurt Locker" and "Avatar."

Also, Tarantino isn't going to win an Oscar based on body of work because outside of "Pulp Fiction," he hasn't made a "Best Picture" worthy film. Scorsese and his pics had been nominated for picture/director 5 times before "The Departed." Eastwood won his first for "Unforgiven" at 63 years old after having established himself as a cinematic icon (nevermind the fact that his best directed-films had yet to come).

Tarantino will remain champion of the fanboys in the internet age (who haven't seen film before 1990 unless QT referenced it in a DVD special feature), but will have to come up with something more legitimate than a genre hodge-podge in order to be a true contender.

Sure the Oscars don't mean much...but isn't it fun to read different viewpoints from the movie-going public??? Enjoy the debates and just go with the flow...IB is a big bore. Avatar is over-rated and THL is a critics darling....I smell a big upset on the horizon for Best Pic...Smooches all around!

If IB pulls a [deserved] upset, then it will cancel out the travesty of "Crash". ...Now to resolve that nagging "Shakespeare in Love" win...

Jeez, some of you need to get a life if you get so worked up about what movie wins Best Picture. Here's a protip: next time you watch a movie, just try to enjoy it, don't worry about how it compares to the new Weinstein picture coming out, or whether it will be a dark horse in the Oscars. Because I'll tell you something about the Oscars: they don't matter. I know some people will hate those words, but they are true. Oscars just don't matter. Do you think Rupert Murdoch gives a flying you-know-what if Avatar doesn't win? Nope, his company just added a fatass profit to their bottom line, a gold statue matter little.

A good example would be Crash winning best picture some years ago. Do you remember that movie? Neither do I....not very memorable.

One huge problem with your theory, Tom: The sole credited producer of IB is Lawrence Bender, so Quentin Tarantino will NOT be honored if it wins Best Picture. (Indeed, he's the only one of the five directing nominees who is NOT also nommed as a co-producer; James Cameron, Kathryn Bigelow, Lee Daniels & Jason Reitman are all nommed for picture as well as director.) If you want to honor both Tarantino & Bigelow, it makes more sense to give Best Director to Tarantino and Best Picture to Bigelow & co. for THL.

Has Avatar broken even yet? Are the Weinsteins out of bankruptcy after the failure that of the "Grind house" movie? What a stinker that was! There are a lot more financial concerns besides whether a small indie film like The Hurt Locker that only cost an amazing $10 million has been successful and made back its money. It has. The question is are $300 million dollar films the only thing Hollywood wants to make anymore, stuffed with stupid dialogue and bad CGI? Will everything be forced to be 3-D? Will the Weinsteins ever regain power and have cash flow again in a Hollywood where so many people have been burned by them? They are talented guys, but why do they waste their time trying to get Oscars for films that don't really deserve them? Why don't they try to get back their Miramax library and make some better films. Dump the talent that isn't working and get back to nuts and bolts filmmaking.




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