Oscar puzzler: How could ‘True Grit’ get 10 nominations but take a best picture dive?

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If you were reading a lot of media coverage of Tuesday’s Oscar nominations, you’d think it was a glorious day for ‘True Grit’ and its chances to win the best picture award. After all, the film landed 10 nominations, second only to the 12 for ‘The King’s Speech,’ prompting Variety to say that ‘True Grit’ ‘emerged as a strong contender’ for best picture. But if you talk to Oscar insiders, you’d know that Variety’s upbeat assessment is, well, a lot of hooey.

If there is one key indicator that provides the most accurate prediction of a film’s best picture chances, it is not how many nominations the film received, but whether it earned an all-important nomination for best editing. In fact, not since ‘Ordinary People’ way, way back in 1980 has a film won best picture without also being nominated for the best editing award. And sadly for directors Joel and Ethan Coen, ‘True Grit’ did not score a best editing nomination, which pretty much puts a big damper on its best picture chances.

Of course, that means there are a host of other films that are already out of the best picture race too. If you believe in the predictive power of the best editing category, ‘Inception’ is also dead in the water, since it didn’t score an editing nomination or even a directing nod for Christopher Nolan. That leaves ‘The King’s Speech,’ which did land an editing nomination, along with four possible rivals: ‘The Social Network,’ ‘The Fighter,’ ‘127 Hours’ and ‘The Black Swan.’

While some of those films, especially ‘The Fighter,’ are popular with a broad swath of the academy, I’m guessing right now that the Oscar horse race remains the same two-film derby it looked like two months ago, a showdown between ‘The King’s Speech’ and ‘The Social Network,’ which got eight nominations Tuesday and has racked up a host of critics’ awards. They are both richly deserving of all their honors, but only one will emerge a winner. Will it be the vibrant, old-fashioned storytelling of ‘The King’s Speech,’ which appeals to the older members of the academy, or the sharp-tongued cultural observations of ‘The Social Network,’ which has captured the imagination of a younger generation?


If I had to place a bet, I’d bet on the old trumping the new, since that’s exactly what happened at the Oscars last year, when the gripping war-movie narrative of ‘The Hurt Locker’ won out over the edgier, video-game style innovation of ‘Avatar.’ By that logic, the prize goes to ‘The King’s Speech.’ But since when were the Oscars ever logical? I guess I’m saying that for now, this race is a lot like the Super Bowl match-up between the Packers and the Steelers. It’s way too close to call.

--Patrick Goldstein