Heat Meter: Is ‘Descendants’ hotter than ‘The Artist’?


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By now the race for best picture is unequivocally a two-horse field, with “The Descendants” and “The Artist” winning the top two awards at the Golden Globes Sunday night. (Last time a pair of legit front-runners split the Globes’ drama and comedy awards? In 2003, when “The Hours” and “Chicago” walked away with the honors.)

But which film has the bigger head of steam? The Los Angeles Times’ Heat Meter system, which Times data editor Doug Smith has helped us devise and which uses a set of algorithms to tally points based on nominations, awards and critics groups throughout the season (for more detail on the scoring, please see this key) shows that “Descendants” has actually pulled slightly ahead. Slightly.


Within the best picture category, “The Descendants” has accumulated 84.3 points while “The Artist” has rung up 81.

The Clooney-fest and the study-in-silence have of course also been nabbing other prizes, from acting to score. Though those don’t figure directly into the best picture category, they matter for a movie’s prestige--and also give a film momentum and a sense of inevitability--so we roll them up into a movie’s total score.

So which has accumulated more overall awards points?

That race, too, is more competitive than an overachieving child at a spelling be : “Descendants” is now ahead of “The Artist”--but barely, 253-237. (For those following the bronze-medal competition, the race for third has gotten even more bunched up: “The Help” has 132 points and “Hugo” 131.)

The intense battle between Fox Searchlight’s “The Descendants” and the Weinstein Co.’s “The Artist” (next up: Oscar nominations on Jan. 24, with ballots already in) is reminiscent of last year’s face-off between Sony’s “The Social Network” and Weinstein’s “The King’s Speech.” Each also emerged ahead of the pack.

Last year at this time, that race wasn’t nearly as tight. “Network” had a sizable lead over “Speech,” 364-285, when it came to overall points. But that was a very different battle that followed a much clearer trajectory. “The Social Network” was an early favorite when it came out on the first day of October after premiering just days earlier. Then it steadily began to lose momentum. By Oscar night, “Speech” had overtaken it.

The fight between “Artist” and “Descendants” has been a more complicated thing. “The Artist” made a splash at Cannes then went, well, silent for a few months. In the meantime, “The Descendants” debuted at late-summer festivals and was considered a solid contender. Then it faded a bit as “Artist” took center stage. And now it’s re-emerged again. On any given week, one film has been stronger than the other, which is why their Heat Meter scores are as close they are.


Trying to figure out categories of relative strength has been tricky too—“Artist” may be slightly stronger on the director side, but Clooney has emerged as the man to beat on the actor side.

The only thing that’s clear is that when this season wraps up, one of these films will emerge as the big winner. Or maybe it’s the other one.


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--Steven Zeitchik