It took me waaaaay too long to get back to this so....the top twenty candidates for best picture nomination (current buzz scores in parentheses):
1. War Horse (98)
Spielberg helmed war film adapted from beloved book. The stage version won the Tony. But...War Horse is a children's book and Disney does not have the best record with live action films and the AMPAS in recent years.
2. The Tree of Life (92)
Terence Malick is a beloved aging director and the film won Cannes. But...it is very divisive critically, rather abstract, and Malick is very hit or miss with the Academy. Also, minimized role of actors could weaken the film's support in the largest voting block.
3. The Descendants (72)
Alexander Payne directs and George Clooney stars in a heavy drama about a dysfunctional family. But...Clooney has another horse in the race this year.
4. J. Edgar (70)
DiCapprio leads a cast that includes Judi Dench, Armee Hammer (both Winklevoss twins in The Social Network), and Naomi Watts. True life story of famous recent historical figure. But...director Clint Eastwood has been on a streak of mediocrity of late.
5. The Ides of March (66)
Clooney directs himself, Gosling, P.S. Hoffman, Tomei, and Giamatti. But...is it just a thriller? And what about Clooney overload?
6. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (64)
Fincher and brand portend quality and all but assure box office gold. But...the original movie series was released domestically so recently. Also, it is a grisly graphic story, just the sort of movie Fincher sometimes does too well for delicate aging voters to digest.
7. A Dangerous Method (62)
True life biopic of famous historical figures with fantastic director and cast. But...this director and most of the cast are routinely overlooked by Oscar.
8. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (55)
Tenth anniversary of 9/11 makes this film incredibly topical and director Daldry has great Oscar track record, as do stars Hanks and Bullock. But...Hank's early year disaster Larry Crowne (paired with the other queen of rom-com) could have left a bad taste in voter's mouths
9. Hugo (48)
Hugely popular source material and the early trailers look great. But...Scorcese is often overlooked by AMPAS and it's based on a children's book. Will there be room for this AND War Horse?
10. Midnight In Paris (47)
Woody Allen's biggest box office hit of all time (not adjusting for inflation), and his best reviewed film in years. But...it seems to be a film that people liked more than loved and the new nomination process requires lots of first place votes to qualify.
11. The Artist (41)
Weinstein distribution, RAVE reviews at Cannes where it nabbed Best Actor (Jean Dujardin). But...a mostly silent, black and white foreign film is going to need box office success and great press to secure a nomination.
12.. Young Adult (40)
In Reitman's short career, his feature films have a 67% success rate in this category. Written by Diablo Cody and starring Charlize Theron. But...every winning streak must end at some point.
13. We Bought a Zoo (40)
Stars Matt Damon and Scarlet Johanssen. But...it's ANOTHER family film, and director Crowe has not been producing his best work of late.
14. The Iron Lady (40)
Streep starring in a Margaret Thatcher biopic almost guarantees at least an acting nod and certainly suggests the possibility of others. But... Mamma Mia director Lloyd at the helm makes Best Picture seem less likely.
15. Moneyball (39)
Aaron Sorkin scripts Brad Pitt and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. But...Oscar isn't crazy about sports (except boxing), and the premise sounds very dry (but so did a movie about Face Book).
16. Contagion (35)
Soderbergh directing the kind of cast that Altman used to assemble: Damon, Cotillard, Cranston, Winslet, Paltrow, Law, Fishburne, Hawkes, and Gould. But...it's an adventure/disaster flick....um....
17. Super 8 (30)
Good box office, many good reviews, Spielberg produced. But...not great reviews (which Sci-Fi needs to get in). More of an homage to great movie making than a great movie.
18. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (29)
Great cast, great promotional materials, brilliant director who knows how to transcend a genre. But...this is director Alfredson's first English language production.
19. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (29)
Final, best received installment of a beloved franchise with HUGE box office. But...two potentially stronger adaptations of children's books also in the race. So far the franchise has only received love from the Academy in technical categories.
20. Carnage (25)
Iconic director leads three Oscar Winners and one former nominee in adaptation of award winning play. But...Polanski is poison...brilliant, brilliant poison.
Other movies with 10 or more buzz points: Drive; Martha, Marcy, Mae, Marlene, My Week With Marilyn, On the Road, One Day, Take Shelter, The Adventures of Tin-Tin, The Help, The Skin I Live In, We Need To Talk About Kevin.
So how much does this all mean. Late August of last year the Buzzmeter for Best Picture looked like this:
2. Toy Story 3
3. The Kids Are All Right
4. The Tree of Life
5. The Social Network
7. True Grit
8. The Way Back
9. The Fighter
10. Another Year
So, 60% remained in the top ten. The King's Speech (14), Black Swan (15), and Winter's Bone (18) were also in the top twenty. Before the fall festivals last year, not many people were foreseeing 127 Hours as a contender.
Of the films that fell out of the top ten, The Tree of Life was pushed back to this year. Hereafter was not received critically as well as could be hoped. Another Year's buzz peaked too early and it just missed the boat. As for The Way Back, it just sort of faded away.
What hunches do I have about the awards trajectory of this year's batch of films? Well, War Horse seems like a safe bet for a nomination, but it will be amazing if it can maintain frontrunner status through to the end. The Tree of Life is very divisive, but being a love it or hate it movie could actually HELP in the securing first place votes department. Nevertheless, I think it's buzz will fade somewhat in the coming months. Most of these films are still unseen by anyone, certainly by me, and it's hard to find one to bet against. Fincher could take "Tatoo" so over the top that it loses out even if it pure genius. I think that the Weinstein Company will get either The Artist or The Iron Lady into the mix (I'm betting the former). Harry and Super 8 seem unlikely at this point. So does Carnage, for completely different reasons. The Help will be in the next revised top twenty. Beyond that...we will have to wait and see.
Just like the swamp..Hollywood is sink or swim.