If Oscar honors were based purely on quality of work and logic, there would be no Oscar pools, handicapping, heated cocktail talk and curmudgeonly complaining about no-shows and couldabeens. There is always a maddening, befuddling magic to the Oscar process that defies explanation. That’s what we’re here for.
This is Daily Variety’s attempt to stamp a number on the forehead of each of the Contenders, a mark of the Oscar beast that will help the most determined Oscar-prognosticators in their efforts to factor in the ephemeral elements that so often overwhelm sanity and meritoriousness.
Rankings for each of the Contenders in the following eight categories are on a scale of one to 10, one being Wait Till Next Year and 10 being Get Ready for Your Closeup:
1) Classic Oscar credentials: Big-budget studio fare with sweeping vistas, big-ticket production values and historical-epic shadings (“Out of Africa,” “Ghandi,” “Lawrence of Arabia” the models here). Superstar casting doesn’t hurt either.
2) Cause celebre: PC subject matter a plus; such as putting a human face on AIDS (“Philadelphia”), exposing racial discrimination (“Driving Miss Daisy,” “Amistad”) or calling attention to ethnic cleansing (“Schindler’s List,” “Welcome to Sarajevo”).
3) Vanity element: Invariably there are pictures that might not be Oscar-worthy but if a Spielberg or a Brad Pitt is involved, trumpeting their Oscar-worthiness is studio politics as usual. Its cinematography notwithstanding, Col TriStar will be hanging its Oscar hopes on Pitt’s performance in “Seven Years in Tibet.”
4) The David vs. Goliath syndrome or, a Big Hand for the Little Guy: With indie films having come to the fore, simply being an indie pic, or a quasi-indie pic such as those distributed by Miramax, is a plus. But it’s gotten to the point where a film like “The English Patient” is virtually indistinguishable from the Classic Oscar pic. Nevertheless, the Weinsteins are the model for hawking a “small film” for its “art” with the tenacity of carnival barkers.
5) The feel-good movie of the year factor: Whether it’s the triumph of the human spirit or fighting for your dignity, movies like “Thelma and Louise,” “Jerry Maguire” and “The First Wives Club” are the stuff of Time mag cover stories — movies that add to the nation’s vernacular (“Show me the money!”) or call attention to ageism or sexual discrimination in a broad, visceral, pop cultural fashion.
6) The unavoidable, inexorable buzz pic: “The Usual Suspects” had “Who is Keyser Soze?” and snappy noir patois; “Il Postino” had Massimo Troisi’s last performance that struck many an emotional chord; and “Cinema Paradiso” was the foreign pic that everybody insisted that you see. But the buzz must be slow-building, steady and persistent.
7) Idiot savants have more fun: “My Left Foot,” “Rain Man,” “Forrest Gump” and “Sling Blade” all had histrionic or tick-laden performances that appealed to audiences’ penchant for rooting for the underdog or the physically or mentally challenged (or the exceptionally gifted), and more often than not, they also received a slew of nominations.
8) Timing is everything: Conventional wisdom dictates that the closer to Christmas a film is released, the fresher in the minds of Acad voters. However, films released early in the year will often get a second wide release (a la “Braveheart”) based on critical and commercial momentum.
The 24 films selected by Daily Variety as ’97’s Oscar Contenders are all rated as likely candidates for at least three nominations in the following nine major categories: picture, director, screenplay, actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress, score, cinematography. They are listed in alphabetical order.
As Good As It Gets
Full Monty, The
Good Will Hunting
Ice Storm, The
In & Out
John Grisham’s The Rainmaker
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
My Best Friend’s Wedding
One Night Stand
Oscar and Lucinda
Seven Years in Tibet
Welcome to Sarajevo