In Woody Allen’s Oscar-winning comedy “Annie Hall,” his skittish character evaluates Hollywood’s big night.
“What’s with all these awards?” he asks. “They’re always giving out awards. Best fascist dictator: Adolf Hitler.”
The Woodman earned four nominations this year for “Midnight in Paris.” While it’s probable that the notoriously anti-red carpet filmmaker might win in the original screenplay category, he won’t have to suffer the same “indignity” when it comes to 2012’s top award.
There are steadfast reasons why some of the nine (yes, nine) best picture nominees have a shot at the gold statuette and why others will go home “just thrilled to be nominated.”
Here’s a rundown of the finalists and one veteran movie watcher’s estimation of their chances to emerge victorious at tonight’s Academy Awards, in descending order of probability.‘The Artist’
Silence is golden, as they say.
Originally appearing to be more of a critics’ darling, “The Artist” blossomed into a mainstream Oscar front-runner. This charming tale in the silent tradition emerges as a contrast to some of the field’s more downer offerings.
Yet the last and only silent film to take top honors is 1927’s “Wings” (although “The Artist” is “mostly” silent). And the last black and white film to win is 1993’s “Schindler’s List” (which is “mostly” black and white). Filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius’ effort isn’t an epic along these lines but a knowing wink at a bygone era. While the picture often intentionally wallows in period-style melodrama, it never succumbs to it.
This is mainly due to Jean Dujardin’s amazing title role, with its graceful dancing highs and pitiable alcoholic lows. He may very well beat George Clooney in the actor race, and that performance should make the difference for best picture.
Perhaps it’s time to laud an Extremely Not Loud project for a change.
Chance of winning: 50 percent ‘The Descendants’
Oscar winner Alexander Payne (“Sideways”) mines the tragicomedy vein once more with a film that has all the pedigree of an “American Beauty”- type winner. Artistically, “The Descendants” unleashes witty dialogue and terrific performances from mainstream actors. Topically, it dives into family dysfunction, death, deceit Hawaii.
The biggest knock is that its characters are so thoroughly unlikable. Even Clooney — arguably Hollywood’s most beloved leading man — comes across as a complete jerk. Everyone surrounding him is either selfish, arrogant, snotty or moronic. Despite the movie’s strengths, it’s just plain difficult spending two hours with these people.
However, those who think “The Artist” is too light and gimmicky may opt for this gloomy alternative.
Chance of winning: 20 percent ‘The Help’
An actual shot at winning best picture without a directing nom? No one has succeeded since 1989’s “Driving Miss Daisy.”
Of course, that, too, is a Southern period heart-warmer about race relations. Both feature strong central performances and appeal to older Oscar voters. And both are about as cutting-edge when it comes to a meaningful discussion of racism as “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” which is to say, not very.
“The Help” falls into Hollywood’s most fundamental trap: the inability to tell a minority’s story unless it’s filtered through the eyes of a white person. In this case, that’s plucky wannabe reporter Skeeter (Emma Stone) — speaking of clichés.
The film manages to be quite watchable, thanks to likely Oscar-winning performances by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer (Jessica Chastain, not so much). But this adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel embraces stereotypes more than it shatters them.
It might still pull off an upset because the elderly are always reliable when it comes to voter turnout.
Chance of winning: 20 percent ‘Hugo’
When Martin Scorsese’s name is mentioned, a few words come to mind: violence, gritty, New York. Yet the terms that describe “Hugo” — kid-friendly, magical, 3-D — are polar opposites. Not that the legendary director has ever kept his talent confined to one genre. But he really moves outside his comfort zone with this 1931-set mystery involving an orphan (Asa Butterfield) living in a Paris train station who attempts to solve a mystery that links an automaton and a cinematic pioneer.
“Hugo” is one of the director’s best in decades, and he has a real shot at nabbing a second Oscar for directing. Only it’s been 22 years since a PG-rated pic won the top prize. The academy will likely deem his effort as not having enough gravitas. Or as they say in France: gravité.
Chance of winning: 4 percent ‘Midnight in Paris’
Woody Allen goes sci-fi — sort of. Surprisingly, this results in his highest-grossing effort to date.
The filmmaker has only once taken home best picture honors (for 1977’s “Annie Hall,” which trumped another sci-fi thingy called “Star Wars”). Can his delightful tale of an engaged man (Owen Wilson) who time slips back to the 1920s repeat that feat? Unlikely, due to its whimsical fantasy subject matter.
Allen does hit upon a fascinating concept: Each generation believes a previous one lived in a more exciting, interesting era. That philosophy applies to moviemaking as well. Perhaps “Midnight in Paris” will be regarded by future generations as one of Allen’s all-time best.
Chance of winning: 2 percent ‘Moneyball’
Oddsmakers never predicted “Moneyball” would end up a top nominee. It is, after all, a drama about sports statistics. But terrific performances by Oscar nominees Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill and a script co-written by last year’s adapted screenplay winner Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) stack the odds.
Pitt plays Billy Beane, general mangaer of the Oakland A’s, who is perpetually trying to win at “an unfair game.” Tired of losing marquee players to teams with higher payrolls, he enlists a Yale economics grad (Hill) to rethink the sport’s long-held doctrines.
Like “The Social Network,” the film is a character study about how a revolutionary way of approaching things affects those who do or don’t adapt to change. But if “Field of Dreams” or “Bull Durham” or “Eight Men Out” can’t win an Oscar, then this baseball movie doesn’t have the championship roster either.
Chance of winning: 1 percent ‘The Tree of Life’
Few movies polarize audiences like Terrence Malick’s latest drama.
Even its supporters will acknowledge sections are impenetrable. But its detractors must admit it delivers some of the most visually dazzling and emotionally candid scenes of the year.
Brad Pitt provides an even better performance than his turn in “Moneyball,” playing a strict father to sons growing up in 1950s Texas. However, the core plot frequently veers off into flashbacks concerning the dawn of time and mopey flashforwards to afterlife scenes spotlighting a befuddled Sean Penn. Oh, there are also dinosaurs.
This isn’t just an art film; it’s an experimental film. The union of these factors makes it an Oscar enigma that is all but incapable of prevailing.
Chance of winning: 1 percent ‘Extremely Loud Incredibly Close’
In one of the biggest nomination shocks, this infuriating 9/11 drama snuck into a slot most assumed belonged to “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” But somehow it appeals to at least 5 percent of the academy. (Under the new rules, that’s the minimum who must mark this as their No. 1 flick to make the ballot.)
Based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2005 novel, the project features Oskar (Thomas Horn), New York’s kookiest kid, as he obsessively searches for clues that connect to the death of his father (Tom Hanks) in the twin towers.
“Extremely Loud” is too divisive to take out the front-runners. For everyone who finds director Stephen Daldry’s (“The Reader”) style imaginative and compelling, there is an equal amount who react to it as cutesy and disjointed.
Chance of winning: 1 percent ‘War Horse’
The customary five nominees made it improbable that a dark horse could win best picture. But nine combatants can more easily split the vote. Thus, “War Horse” may be a long shot but not a mathematical impossibility.
Too bad, because Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel is easily the weakest in the race. And who exactly is this movie for? The World War I drama proves too upsetting for children (graphic battles, animals in peril) and too hokey for adults (the finale is phonier than a Lifetime drama).
“The Artist” presents an homage to melodrama; “War Horse” is actual melodrama.
Chance of winning: 1 percent