Friday, January 19, 2018
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Steve Persall: Movies with most Oscar nods not always big winners

Go ahead and celebrate, Gravity and American Hustle. Leading the way with 10 Academy Award nominations each is a great place to be in January.

But if recent history is any indication, leading the pack now will likely lead to disappointment on March 2, when the 86th annual Oscars are handed out at Hollywood's Dolby Theatre.

Just ask Lincoln — the movie, not the man — that collected 12 nominations last year and lost to Argo with nearly half as many. Ask Hugo, after one more nomination than The Artist's 10, and one less best picture Oscar to its credit. Ask Benjamin Button, who piled up a near-record 13 nominations and lost to Slumdog Millionaire.

Over the past five years only The King's Speech and The Hurt Locker (tied with Avatar) led their Oscar fields in nominations then went on to victory. It's a marked difference from days when scoring the most nominations made a movie practically unbeatable.

So, don't be surprised if a runner-up now becomes an Oscar champion. The likeliest candidate for a minor upset is 12 Years a Slave, close behind with nine Oscar finalists. Steve McQueen's drama offers a chance for Hollywood to atone for decades of overlooking African-American artists and stories. The situation improved since the 1990s when the Oscars were regularly protested for not including more black nominees.

But if you're seeking a longshot, try Dallas Buyers Club with six nominations, including three areas critical to best picture chances: acting, writing and film editing. Dallas Buyers Club doesn't have a best director nod, but that didn't hurt Argo last year.

THANKS FOR PLAYING: Always more interesting than the nominees is the list of people that academy voters passed over. This is a particularly stellar years of snubbed performances and careers that won't add the crowning touch an Oscar provides.

Do you think Tom Hanks wouldn't love a third statuette like Daniel Day-Lewis earned last year? If so, you didn't catch his affable campaigning for both Captain Phillips (five minutes of great acting isn't enough), and Saving Mr. Banks. He played Walt Disney, for Mickey's sake. You don't take that role unless you plan to win an Oscar. Sorry for Emma Thompson, too.

The Butler can take the night off. Lee Daniels' splayed-out civil rights drama impressed until 12 Years a Slave came along. Not even Oprah Winfrey could wrangle a nomination for The Butler. And she's Oprah Winfrey.

Robert Redford gets the best reviews of his illustrious career for All is Lost and the title turns out to be true. Academy voters probably couldn't squeeze in that second viewing of Inside Llewyn Davis that all movies by Joel and Ethan Coen require for recognizing greatness. It would've been so right: Oscar Isaac winning an Oscar, with Isaac the bartender presenting.

MOST OBSCURE NOMINEE: The first original song finalist announced was the morning's "huh?" moment, placing the title song from something called Alone Yet Not Alone in the mix with U2, Pharrell Williams, Karen O and the traditional Disney entry.

Alone Yet Not Alone is a faith-based history lesson, set during colonial times, with two sisters abducted by Native Americans and surviving through Christian belief. The $7 million independently produced drama is slated for "nationwide release" on March 14, according to its Facebook page, culling grassroots church support.

The Oscar nod shows how widely voters searched for five deserving songs, and gives the movie exposure that's rare in the faith-based film industry.

MOST MEMORABLE NOMINEE: Of all the announcements Thursday, this piece of information is forever burned into my brain: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is an Academy Award nominated film.

The candid-camera comedy starring Johnny Knoxville in geriatric drag is nominated for best makeup and hairstyling. Appropriately enough, Bad Grandpa is competing with 2013's Bad Movie, The Lone Ranger, making something good come from Johnny Depp's unfortunate crow scrunchie.

Mark down Dallas Buyers Club as a lock in this three-way race, simply because the academy doesn't want the shame any other choice would bring.

SPIKE'S WORLD: Don't look now, but the nominee who had the most to celebrate Thursday might have been Spike Jonze. Notably his marvelous virtual romance Her earned five Oscar nominations including best picture and for Jonze's original screenplay. But he also had a hand in two other nominated movies.

Jonze is a producer and writer for Bad Grandpa, continuing a long relationship with the Jackass franchise. He acted in that film, and turned a single scene into a Wolf of Wall Street highlight, playing a boiler room broker. Forget Thursday; Jonze will have plenty of Oscar night shindig invitations. Party on.

Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.

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Published: 01/18/18