September Is the Month to Make Bad Oscar Predictions

Over the next weeks Hollywood gets its first look at many of the Oscar heavyweights at the Toronto, Venice and Telluride film festivals. But that doesn't hold back the pundits from weighing in today on who owns this race.

In his intro to the list, Guru-master David Poland cautions, "about half of the contenders haven't been seen. Darts are flying in the dark. Some are hitting expected titles and others are real surprises."

How then does the punditry deliver such judgments on films which may still be getting worked over in the cutting room? A combination of factors go into a Oscar savants' calculations - first, as noted above, hitting certain tried and true notes (historic epic, biopic, Clint Eastwood directed) move a film straight onto the field, no questions asked. And then the pundits note the buzz from friends at the studios and in the marketing departments; what they are hearing about the film. One will note that Lovely Bones, which just on the basis of its provenance seemed to have the Best Picture crown locked up two years ago before it was ever shot, now falls surprisingly low on the Guru scale. Could there be some bad buzz flying about from those few on the inside who have seen the film?

One should also note that the September buzz, now 184 days before the March 7, 2010 Oscar telecast, is almost always wrong in some very huge ways. Last year's chart just after Toronto , Frost/Nixon, Milk and Benjamin Button were the early favorites, far outshining eventual winner Slumdog Millionaire, and The Soloist, which ended up being so dreary it ended up dropping out of the Oscar race,its release was pushed back to the following year, was in a respectable seventh place on the pundits round-up.

In 2007, the ultimately dreadful Atonement was far and away the pundits' best bet. In 2006, the early charts were led by Dreamgirls, Flags of Our Fathers and Babel, all of which fizzled far short of trophy night.

Perhaps the greatest fun of the Oscar race is watching these pre-season flame-outs. Every year brings a film or two massively bloated and portentious in its very silhouette; it can be seen standing on a mountain-top overlooking Hollywood, waiting to come down and claim its destiny, which then sputters and tumbles all the way down the hill, hitting Sunset Blvd. with a thud. The aforementioned Soloist comes to mind. Phantom of the Opera, Cold Mountain, Memoirs of a Giesha - wonderful car wrecks all.

Of course, a good percent of the time these bloated monstrosities actually win the race (Gladiator, The English Patient, Titanic and Braveheart, to name a few).

And no Oscar race is officially underway without the first harumph of the season from the LA Times' Patrick Goldstein. To the horror of the Times' ad sales department, Goldstein has been waging war on the Oscar race for several years now, every season making the shocking case that the Oscar derby is not about art, why it's just a contest! And a silly one at that! (Imagine, calling the Oscars silly! The cajones!)

Goldstein's brave stand against contests kicked off this week with his plea to the world to ignore the Oscars, at least until he tells you its time to pay attention. This year, he seems to be bringing some muscle into the mix, promising to review the early predictions next February and hold erring pundits accountable.

At Moviecitynews, the Gurus O' Gold pundits panel have offered their picks on this year's Oscar favorites, in a Best Picture race thrown into pandemonium by the announcement that there will be ten nominees this year, rather than the standard five. The Academy's hope seems to have been that by broadening the field, they would make room for some crowd pleasers, some movies that people have actually seen, to get what used to be called "the general public" perhaps interested in what has largely become a battle of obscure indie dramas.

If that was their intent, however, the Gurus offer little hope in the top slot.

Out of the gate, The Gurus have selected as the one film they clearly have all seen at the slight favorite: Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq bomb defusing drama The Hurt Locker, which after two and a half months of release has raked in all of eleven million dollars.

After Hurt Locker, the field is cluttered with various usual suspecty types of trophy bait, whose log lines and proper nouns read like mash-ups of contenders of yore; A Clint Eastwood directed bio of Nelson Mandela (Invictus), a Weinstein produced musical (Nine), a Jason Juno Reitman/George Clooney film about a corporate downsizer (Up In the Air), the story of an overweight, illiterate teen in Harlem (Precious) Peter Jackson's rendition of a beloved favorite of contemporary quasi-snooty fiction (The Lovely Bones) and Hillary Swank in an Amelia Earhart biopic (Amelia).

That's right people, it is on. Oscars 2010 is here to stay, for the next six months.