Relaunched Gold Derby Plays the Numbers

Tom O'Neil's long-running awards site, rebooted after five years at the L.A. Times, turns art into racetrack odds

If “Secretariat” were to win or be nominated for Best Picture, this would be the perfect year for the relaunch of Gold Derby, the awards website that went live today after five years as a licensed part of the Los Angeles Times’ awards site, the Envelope.

But the horse movie is a longshot at best, which means that Tom O’Neil’s rebooted website, whose centerpiece is a breakdown of the Oscar race into racetrack-style odds, will have to make a go of it without the synchronicity that would have been provided by having a real thoroughbred in the thick of awards season.

Gold Derby is a new version of one of the oldest awards-centric websites on the Internet, which O’Neil started in 1999; it was folded into the Envelope in 2005, where it existed mostly as a blog by O’Neil and an active set of forums and message boards. Those forums remain with the Envelope, where O’Neil continues to be a regular contributor.

The Times also retains an affiliation with the new site, getting “partner” billing on the home page and selling all the site’s ads.

Now that the site is up and running, a few comments:

Gold Derby artIt’s all about the numbers.
Given the name of my own Oscar column, this is perhaps a strange point for me to raise – but reducing the Oscar race to a set of numbers in the first week of November, and focusing your entire site on those numbers, seems bold and crazy and unreliable and awfully premature.

I mean, how can “True Grit” have 11/1 odds to win Best Picture? Nobody whose opinion was used to formulate those odds has even seen  the damn thing. O’Neil’s panel of Oscar “experts” (which includes me) says “The Fighter” is a 45/1 longshot, but the Gold Derby editors say it’s actually 50/1 – and neither group really has any idea. (illustration by Gold Derby)

Is the race really this predictable, this early?
On Gold Derby, the “experts’ odds” and the “editors’ odds” are nearly identical, with the same 10 movies predicted to be Best Picture nominees. The biggest difference: the experts have “The Social Network” number one and “The King’s Speech” number two, while the editors have the order reversed.

Over at Movie City News, meanwhile, a larger batch of pundits (the Gurus o' Gold) has almost exactly the same lineup, with nine of the 10 also tabbed for nominations. If we’re to believe all these folks (I don’t, and I’m one of these folks), the lineup will look like this: “Black Swan,” “The Fighter,” “Inception,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “The King’s Speech,” “127 Hours,” “The Social Network,” “Toy Story 3,” “True Grit,” and either “Winter’s Bone,” “Rabbit Hole,” “The Way Back” or “Another Year.” 

I’m getting a nagging feeling that this concentration on lists and numbers and predictions is making the race look duller and more cut-and-dried than it really is.

But this, I suppose, is a digression. Back to Gold Derby:

Gold Derby oddsAre these odds really fair, anyway?
As a member of the so-called experts panel, I listed "The King's Speech" first on my ballot; so did Lane Brown, Pete Hammond and Dave Karger. Only three panelists, meanwhile, had "The Social Network" first. But the Gold Derby system, which gives 10 points for a first-place vote, nine for a second, etc., wound up with "The Social Network" on top.

That's a reasonable way to count the votes, and a reasonable result. But if you tally the experts' votes using the preferential system — i.e., the way the Academy does it — then "The King's Speech" comes out on top.

I'm just saying.

O’Neil still lives for proclamation and provocation.
Other pundits have speculated about whether Julianne Moore should be campaigned as a Supporting Actress candidate for “The Kids Are All Right,” rather than a co-lead with the film’s prime Best Actress contender, Annette Bening. To O’Neil, though, speculation is child’s play – he’d rather trot out the exclamation points and headline his piece, “Julianne Moore: Drop down to supporting – That’s an order!”

I’d say that Moore and Focus Features can’t and won’t do this because it would completely betray the film, in which Bening and Moore are absolutely co-leads. And I suspect that Moore still stands a decent chance of a nomination alongside Bening. But, you know, I’m not going to yell at anybody about it.

The site has got lots of stuff … in some areas.
Click around and it’s surprising how much info is already here: videos, histories, opinions, photo galleries, flights of fancy … Then keep clicking, and sooner or later you’ll encounter, say, a blank page with two lonely words: “Oscars data.” That data, no doubt, will appear before long.

The forums are lean.
Particularly when compared to the robust forums that remain at the Envelope, Gold Derby’s new boards are just getting off the ground. But will everybody make the pilgrimage and leave the Envelope behind, or will they stay in that familiar environment and leave the new site looking thin?

Hey, where are the movie ads?
McDonald’s, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Cost Plus World Market, Budget Rent-a-Car, JC Penney … The lifeblood of most awards and entertainment sites are Oscar-season movie ads, particularly this time of year, but at the moment Gold Derby has a mixture of shopping and dining spots. I did eventually stumble across one lonely ad for “For Colored Girls."

The new Gold Derby will throw its launch party tonight at the Hollywood Museum — and to reinforce his bona fides as a true awards maniac, O'Neil will create his own Career Achievement Award and give the first one to veteran awards campaigner Murray Weismann.