At the most, only two of what will be 2011's Best Picture nominees have been released. Many of the films likely to be in the running haven't been seen yet. The verdicts from Venice and Telluride have started to come in — but I wasn't at either of those festivals, and the Toronto Film Festival, where I will catch up with many possible contenders, has yet to begin.
In other words, this is no time for me to be predicting what's going to win the top Oscar next February.
But I don't really have a choice in the matter, so I'm going to do it anyway.
The reason I'm going out on a limb this early, which I know is an exceedingly foolish thing to do, is simple: because I did it last year and the year before, and both times I was right.
In late August 2009, the day this column launched on TheWrap, I surveyed what I termed "a landscape of movies I haven't seen and buzz I don’t trust," and came to the conclusion that "The Hurt Locker" had what it took to win Best Picture.
A year later, in early September 2010, I put on my early prognosticator's hat (or, more likely, my fool's cap) once more, said that what I'd heard suggested the two top contenders would be "The King's Speech" and "The Social Network" (neither of which I'd seen), and decided that the former film "has the feel of a possible winner."
So for two years in a row, I've guessed correctly without having enough information and without seeing most of the contenders.
Can I be that lucky (or, um, that brilliant) three years in a row?
Probably not, but I have to try.
The problem is, I don't see a Best Picture winner in this year's crop of films. Instead, I see reasons why every single film deemed to be a contender will probably fall short.
Nonetheless, here's my ridiculously early, obviously foolish Oscar call: on Feb. 26, 2012, "The Descendants" will be named the Best Picture of 2011.
When I first started thinking about this in early August, I was all ready to name "The Ides of March" as the likely winner. I figured its message — our political system is completely screwed up — would resonate this year; Sony would spare no expense to bring home a winner after just missing last year with "The Social Network"; it was likely to get lots of support from the actors branch; and its director, George Clooney, is the consummate self-deprecating charmer, everything "TSN's" David Fincher was not.
But early reviews out of Venice label "Ides" as good but not great — and more to the point, Clooney's other film, Alexander Payne's seriocomic "The Descendants," is the one that seemed to get all the heat.
Initially, that wasn't enough to sway me — in a lot of ways, the reportedly subtle charms and deft calibrations of "The Descendants" are not the kind that usually sway AMPAS voters. (It's the kind of movie that wins screenplay awards, not Best Picture ones.)
But I don’t trust Steven Spielberg's "War Horse"; Spielberg may be Hollywood royalty, but he hasn't directed a Best Picture nominee in six years ("Munich") and a Best Picture winner in 18 ("Schindler's List"), and the material seems too likely to succumb to emotional manipulation. (Not that the Academy dislikes emotional manipulation, mind you.)
And I really don't trust Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar." The actor/director is always said to be loved by the Academy, but his last four films ("Hereafter," "Invictus," "Changeling" and "Gran Torino") fell flat at the Oscars — and one of them, "Invictus," had even more of the on-paper attributes (biopic, respected actor in the lead) that some think make this one a sure thing.
The black-and-white silent film "The Artist" is utterly charming, but maybe too slight to win. "Midnight in Paris" will certainly be in the running for a nomination – but it's no "Annie Hall," is it? "The Tree of Life" could easily get a nomination, because voters will either pick it number one or leave it off their ballots entirely, but that love-it-or-hate-it effect will kill it in the final vote. "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" could be another "The Departed" – i.e., a skillful genre exercise from a respected filmmaker who gets votes partly for the film, partly for his career – but it'd have to be really, really great to turn that trick.
That leaves "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," which sight unseen might be too restrained for the Academy, and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," which to my mind is a real wild card.
I've also heard good things about Ivan Reitman's "Young Adult" and Cameron Crowe's "We Bought a Zoo," but it's a stretch to picture them winning.
So eventually, all roads lead back to "The Descendants," the one film that has picked up the most acclaim from the first two festivals. In a way, it's in the same position as "Slumdog Millionaire" or "The Departed" or "The Hurt Locker" – it's the film that everybody loves at the beginning of awards season, but the one that few people think will have the staying power to be the last film standing.
They were wrong those two years. Payne is respected. Clooney will charm every damn voter … one-by-one, if he has to.
So that's it: since I have a streak to consider, I'm going with "The Descendants."
Last year, by the way, I got lambasted by a few commenters for having the nerve to predict a winner before I'd seen most of the movies. Look, I know this is dumb. And if I'm wrong this year, as the odds suggest I will be, then maybe I won't do it next year.
So if you're one of those who thinks I am, as one person said last year, "a true hollywood d-bag" for doing this, remember what they say:
Third time's a charm.