Can a Film Be an Oscar Contender If No One Has Seen It?

By  · Published on October 23rd, 2013

Hollywood has a favorite sport, one that comes complete with odds and bets and even occasional physical contact, though it’s not one that requires a ball or a uniform or actual rules – it’s Oscar prognostication, and it’s out of control. Every year, awards season wonks start crafting lists of possible contenders and winners still earlier and earlier. Many of this year’s safest bets (if there can be such a thing) have yet to even hit theaters or screen beyond film festivals, but plenty of journalists, bloggers, and writers who focus their attentions on awards season have already gotten to work on their lists for 2014. It must be noted – many of the films apparently bound of Oscar glory haven’t been completed yet, some of them haven’t even started filming, and yet they are already the subject of career-making guesswork.

The last few weeks have seen a surprising number of “surefire” awards season contenders drop out of this year’s race, simply by moving their release dates from late 2013 (prime awards season) to various times in 2014 (obviously, a film cannot be eligible for 2013 awards if it opens in 2014). George Clooney’s The Monuments Men is the latest to join a long line of films, much like Foxcatcher, The Immigrant, Grace of Monaco, and (for awhile there at least) Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.

The LA Times reports that Clooney’s latest has been pushed to early 2014 (most likely to February) because the visual effects will not be ready in time for its once-set December 18 release date, with Alexandre Desplat’s currently unrecorded score certainly not helping matters. Clooney, however, was supposedly not interested in pushing the film for Oscar glory, a fine choice from the director and star, but one that is (bizarrely enough) out of his hands when it comes to Oscar wonks. Clooney and his stacked cast have won Oscars before, why wouldn’t this film be in the running? Well, because it won’t open in time for Oscar eligibility and, oh, no one has seen it yet.

Of course, plenty of people involved with the production of the film have surely seen footage and rough cuts of the picture, but the film is unequivocally incomplete – so incomplete that it needs to be pushed back at least two months — and yet the damn thing has been hanging out on Oscar lists for months.

Oscar prognostication, like any prognostication, is an imperfect science. Sure, it’s easy enough to guess that certain “proven” talents are going to churn out work that’s worthy of accolades, but it’s also possible that even the most magic combination of starpower will result in a major misfire. Plenty of Oscar prognostication rests on examining patterns in previous wins – there is certainly a scientific aspect to the whole thing, at least if an experienced wonk is the one making the guesses – but when handed over to people who are more plugged into hype than actual experience, lots of it just seems like a big game of “oh, this sounds cool.”

It’s that “sounds” that is the problem – anything can “sound” cool, especially when it comes with a pedigreed cast and crew, and just about any film can be made to look respectable with a well-made trailer or two, but it seems increasingly untenable for Hollywood’s biggest night (and, of course, other smaller award events) to be the subject of debate that it is, at best, speculative, and, at worse, just plain uneducated.

The answer to our titular question is, strangely enough, still a “yes, of course,” and that’s the problem. Any film can be found to feel like an Oscar contender, sight-unseen, even if it’s not actually destined to be one. How about waiting to see a film before we decide if it’s worthy of any kind of accolades? Is that so impossible? (For now, at least, the answer to that question also appears to be a “yes, of course”).

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