The Curious Case of Benjamin Button grazed history last week with 13 Academy Award nominations. But could it seize Oscar legend by the throat on Feb. 22 with 13 losses? We think so!
The previous record for single-year Oscar futility is shared by 1977's The Turning Point and 1985's The Color Purple, both of which went 0-for-11. More recently, Miramax failed to capitalize on a single one of Gangs of New York's 10 nominations in 2002 — an accomplishment hinting that the Academy can willingly defy even the most art-directed, costume-designed, massive-budget prestige exercises of their respective years. Be afraid, Paramount, and here's why:
· Best Picture and Director: If the Slumdog juggernaut were stoppable, Button would be the likeliest candidate to step on its spry urchin heels at the Oscar-night finish line. It's a hit, after all, and an Academy with any populist conscience after last year's glum-indie orgy would at least give it Picture. Where's the harm? Except in recent instances where that's happened — most notoriously with Crash's win in 2005 — the Picture bone-throw has favored indies. So maybe David Fincher gets Director? Probably not; Danny Boyle's got his own momentum from critics associations, guilds and Globes behind him. If the DGA nods Fincher's way on Jan. 31, then it may be a race. If it doesn't, forget it. 0-for-2
· Actor: We know we were among those steering the Brad Pitt bandwagon back in those early, glimmering autumn days before the Oscar Turnpike froze over with Rourke/Penn hype and our man went skidding into an uncool embankment. That's no reason to choose to burn to death in the ensuing fire. We're out, Brad — help is on the way. Next year. 0-for-3
· Best Supporting Actress: This is Penelope Cruz's award to lose, and anyway, Taraji P. Henson swears she was asleep when the nominations were announced. Oscar is not impressed. 0-for-4
· Best Adapted Screenplay: Eric Roth already won this one for the same film 14 years ago. The writers branch loves him, but it loves John Patrick Shanley (Doubt) and Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) — in that order — far more. Even David Hare (The Reader) would probably trump Roth on the lone basis of adapting a short book to a film under two hours. 0-for-5
· Best Cinematography and Editing: There's a faction among technicians who cream over the potential of what Fincher and shooter Claudio Miranda accomplished digitally both in camera and with the aid of their visual effects crew. The problem is that The Dark Knight's Wally Pfister and editor Lee Smith did more fitfully revolutionary work with IMAX, and TDK eventually has to win something, so... 0-for-7
· Best Score: It's nominated alongside WALL-E, for which the score essentially is vast swaths of the film and for which voters who were passionate enough to nominate it will be passionate enough to nudge it to a win. 0-for-8
· Best Visual Effects and Makeup: Button's likeliest and probably most deserving shots at wins, it still must contend with not only TDK's admittedly inferior technical achievements but the more formidable politics of snub-backlash. The bottom line is it's more of a coin toss than anyone probably wants to believe, and this late, any when-in-doubt scenario would seem to automatically favor The Dark Knight. 0-for 10
· Best Art Direction and Costume Design: As mentioned above, Gangs of New York proves that no craft category shall be taken for granted as a token for losses incurred elsewhere — especially not opposite an actual, accomplished period drama like The Duchess. 0-for-12
· Best Sound Mixing: At this point Button's already got the record, but why not go all the way with it — 0-for-13, sort of the Detroit Lions of the Oscars. Should Fincher's quartet win, here's hoping the technicians refuse their statuettes in a gutsy act of loser solidarity with their taskmaster director. It's the least they could do for history's sake, and that lone "Academy Award Winner - Best Sound Editing" sticker on the DVD would look stupid anyway.