Let me be clear about one thing before I begin this piece. Concerning the upcoming Oscars, I am not, in any way, shape or form, an “expert critic.” I don’t know what makes one, but when it comes to predicting Academy Award winners, I am sometimes right and sometimes wrong. Over the years, I’ve had both the experience of picking the underdog who winds up defeating the more established competitors, and also been completely off in my guesstimates. (“The Artist“? If you called that one, I am impressed.) So if you’re looking for some surefire tips for winning an Oscar betting pool, you’ll probably want to go with an expert instead.
The nine movies up for Best Picture consideration are: Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight. Quite a prestigious group, which I hope to eventually all view. Whichever wins will give those involved the satisfaction of knowing they beat out a tough field.
Since I don’t own a crystal ball, I’ve developed my own (unscientific) criteria which I use to narrow down the field. Even then, surprises happen – as the final guideline will discuss. They may go by different names with different people, but they’re probably similar.
1. The Summer Book List Reading Rule – Even if you enjoy reading in general, having to complete a certain number of novels by the first day of school can be a chore. You may start off vowing to get them all finished early, but that might not actually wind up occurring because other more pleasurable stuff gets in the way. I suspect that this might also happen with the Oscar judges; occasionally one or two films wind up getting a cursory viewing. Not that you don’t eventually finish the assignment, just that it might involve less time and effort than it should.
2. The Chocolate Box Sampler Rule – Some films will have more naturally appealing subject matter, and you’ll be tempted to give those a viewing first. Others will strike you as palatable, and you won’t have a problem consuming them. However, there may be one or two that just doesn’t sound like anything you’d want to watch and still be able to sleep peacefully the night after. This is more a matter of personal prejudice than simply having to do your homework. It might even be easier to rationalize why you want to watch one of the movies again – for ostensibly good reasons, but really because you prefer a caramel cream over a cherry bomb.
3. The Snob Factor – The winner is not going to be the summer blockbuster that made you laugh so hard you choked on your popcorn, but usually there are several candidates that manage to combine the goals of giving the viewer an enjoyable time and teaching them something new. Also foreign films may, for whatever reasons, be automatically considered classier than movies set in the US. If the film is sufficiently prestigious and manages to sneak in some fun and heartwarming in the process, it may be a top contender.
4. The “Good Person” Voter Test – Even anonymously, people may shade the truth when completing surveys or voting. We may pick the answers or candidates that we feel we should rather than the ones we would prefer. If the movie makes a nominee feel virtuous or politically correct when electing it, it might get a boost. I don’t know if there’s a section of the brain that changes when we do what we feel is the “right thing,” and gives us a small reward, but I’m willing to bet on it.
5. The Character Personal Accountability Scale – All movie protagonists have issues that they must grapple and come to terms with by the end of the film. Generally, characters who take responsibility for the ones they can alter by the first half of the film and do so with some degree of maturity are easier to root for. If the character has a less than likeable personality, if it’s due to uncontrollable factors (such as childhood trauma), sympathy may develop anyway.
6. The Character Likeability Scale – Characters with whom the viewer wouldn’t mind hanging out are a plus. Even if they’re not the life of the party, but clearly care for their family and friends, this can help boost a film’s chances of winning.
7. The Wild Card – Sometimes people revolt and do the unexpected. After such an upset occurs, experts immediately begin assembling a list of “whys,” which make the win seem obvious in retrospect, but the truth is, they really had no idea. Predictions are made by observing patterns, but even experts can miss what’s right in front of them at times. I would bet that in such cases, many voters feel that they are in the minority but go ahead and choose the film they feel is the most deserving anyway.
So which movie would I pick to win? “Hidden Figures,” because it’s enjoyable, profound, politically correct and as a bonus, is a film you can watch while your young children are in the room. The main characters grapple with serious issues, but you don’t come away from the film feeling as depleted as a wet dishrag. As Mary Poppins put it in song, a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.
(But I would consider most of the others worthy winners, too.)