Total Recall: And the Oscar Goes To...

We try predicting the Best Picture winner based on Tomatometer and box office.

Instead of focusing on one hot movie for Total Recall, this week you'll get five. They're a little old now, but I think you'll forgive me -- after all, they're Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, and There Will Be Blood.

I've never been good at predicting the Oscars. Last year, for example, I thought Pan's Labyrinth was going to win Best Foreign. Silly me! So this year, I'm ditching gut feelings and going the experimental route: the Tomatometer. The average Best Picture nominee's Tomatometer hovers in the upper-80 percentile, so critical reception and Best Picture nomination go hand in hand. My mini-experiment: can an ad hoc formula using Tomatometer and box office numbers be used to predict the winner?

To begin with, here are this year's Best Picture nominees:
 

Movie title

Tomatometer

Box office so far (in mil.)

No Country for Old Men

94%

$61

Juno

93%

$126

There Will Be Blood

91%

$31

Michael Clayton

90%

$48

Atonement

82%

$48

I'm going to predict an upset and say either Juno or Michael Clayton will take Best Picture. I'm probably wrong. And I hope I'm wrong -- I want There Will Be Blood to win. No Country has also deserved all of its momentum. But going on purely Tomatometer and box office statistics, the numbers are against both NCFOM and TWBB. But more on that later.

First, let's talk Atonement. What happened here? It has strong performances, a rousing score, gorgeous panoramas, and a love story that transcends both time and large bodies of water. In other words, the perfect Oscar movie. And director Joe Wright skillfully avoided preening for the award throughout his movie. But, suddenly, it's Atonement, not Juno, that should be happy to have gotten this far.

This week's issue of Entertainment Weekly pegs Atonement with a 10 percent chance of victory, writing, "Aren't the days of the typical 'Oscar movie' over?" Indeed, the smear-and-sneer campaigns the last historical, epic Best Pictures (The English Patient [85 percent] and Titanic [82 percent]) have endured after their wins reveal audiences have had their fill. Plus, Wright wasn't even nominated for Best Director. There's only been three instances that a movie has won Best Picture under those circumstances (Wings [100 percent], Grand Hotel [84 percent], and Driving Miss Daisy [78 percent]), and two of those came at a time when Private Snafu seemed like cutting-edge animation.

I can't decide if either Michael Clayton and Juno will win. They both exist in the now, even as they embody specific eras: Clayton recalls meaty American dramas like Network (90 percent) and On the Waterfront (100 percent), and Juno, with its precious music and Gen Y jive, is a movie with its head in the clouds, leaning ever-so-slightly into the future. If I had a gun to my nose, I'll say Juno will pull the upset. It's been a while since a movie mainly identified as a comedy has won Best Picture. And Juno has much in common with Annie Hall (98 percent): they're both culture-driven products of their time, but their ruminations on love and relationships have universality.

So what does the Tomatometer have against a movie like No Country for Old Men, with its virtual lock on the Best Picture race? Get this: my cursory peek into criticism history shows that in the past 36 years, only twice has the nominee with the highest Tomatometer won Best Picture: Annie Hall in 1977, and Unforgiven (96 percent) in 1992.

Why is that? Ideally, a year's Best Picture is a meeting point between art and commerce: a movie of deep thoughts with the sweet charm to pass them on to whomever's around. Critics, thirsty for something to wow them after watching several hundred movies a year, are likely more wont to praise movies of extreme novelty and subtlety before audiences (and the Oscars) can fully latch onto them.

No Country for Old Men is the only Best Picture nominee that has virtually no backlash against it. The movie is challenging and deliberately obscure, but the Coens' mastery of their medium has kept audiences electrified. I still feel jolts and chills thinking about it. But Tomatometer-wise, NCFOM has a 5.5 percent chance of winning. So if we are heading for an upset, I would normally picture There Will Be Blood sneaking up to take home the statue.

And that would be a remarkable feat for reasons beyond the fact that There Will Be Blood is a sprawling, shapeless movie about an ugly misanthrope. TWBB has grossed the least of all the nominees. And from what I can guess, the lowest-grossing nominee has never, ever won. The reason's fairly obvious: even though There Will Be Blood has been drawing strong per-theater averages, the less a country feels compelled to watch a movie, the less likely they are to vote for it.

The Oscars have suffered a number of embarrassments this year. Snubs for Zodiac (89 percent) and The Simpsons Movie (89 percent). The sheer presence of Norbit (9 percent). And on the rejection of Persepolis (96 percent), The Band's Visit (98 percent), and 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (97 percent), foreign Oscar chairman Mark Johnson had this to say: "It's just inconceivable to me that they weren't included." But public humiliations aside, this year's Best Pictures selections are among the most thoughtful, well-rounded crew to represent cinema in decades.

In last month's "The Downsizing of Oscar," Richard Corliss wondered, "Why not just change the name, from the Oscars to the Independent Spirit Awards?" But I don't think it's a matter of the academy out of touch with what the public watches. In fact, it's the opposite: not only do these movies represent the still-smoldering hope of indie fare connecting with audiences, it demonstrates the Academy is finally catching up with the rest of us.

After giving Best Picture to the lazy, self-congratulatory pap of Crash (75 percent), the Academy atoned by giving Martin Scorsese his Oscar last year. And now they're recognizing five movies each relevant in its unique way.  I haven't seen as much online discourse sparked as the complexities of deceit in Atonement and Michael Clayton have, or of the annoying/endearing personality of Juno, the mystique of Anton Chigurh, and the general WTFness of Daniel Plainview. Their stories may not always make a mint at the box office, but they are exactly the thing to rile up the modern community -- the bloggers, the users, the podcasters, the budding scholars and filmmakers. Choose the movies that get us talking. We will be the ones who make them last.

Comments

witherwings

Jamie Lynn

Atonement. Something for everyone.

Feb 20 - 04:43 PM

LiLHecLou

hector torres

juno

Feb 20 - 04:57 PM

FireflyFan4evr

Steven Johnson

There Will Be Blood is IMO probably the greatest American masterpiece since "Casablanca". But No Country (while still awesome) or Juno (a tad over-rated, definitely not the year's best) will probably win... but then what do I know?

Feb 20 - 04:57 PM

bluedream24

Gabriel Vázquez

I hope Juno wins

but No country for old me probably will

Feb 20 - 05:23 PM

jokerboy1991

jack giroux

Go NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, JUNO is getting way to much praise. I think its a great movie, but I like INTO THE WILD, ZODIAC, AMERICAN GANGSTER, I'M NOT THERE, 3:10 TO YUMA, and THE GREAT DEBATERS more. Thats a big list.

Feb 20 - 05:27 PM

jokerboy1991

jack giroux

I do think though THERE WILL BE BLOOD, ATONEMENT, and MICHAEL CLAYTON definately deserved nods. - GO NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN!

Feb 20 - 05:28 PM

jokerboy1991

jack giroux

AMERICAN GANGSTER was definately the biggest snub, that was so great. It really reminded me of THE FRENCH CONNECTION.

Feb 20 - 05:32 PM

jokerboy1991

jack giroux

SWEENEY TODD was really great to.

Feb 20 - 05:33 PM

Mcpeer3

Michael Peer

There will be blood or No Country.

Feb 20 - 05:40 PM

Some guy you dont know

Bruce Campbell

If There Will Be Blood dosen't win, There WILL Be Blood.

Feb 20 - 06:01 PM

vagrant_hippo

Jonathan Schwarzbach

Honestly, if I absolutely HAD to pick, There Will Be Blood deserves the most awards, but No Country is almost tied in all aspects. And I'm sorry, Juno and Michael Clayton are possibly the most over-rated movies of the year. For anyone who has ever seen a fair share of indie films and Knocked Up (while not a great movie, was still good), they have essentially already seen Juno (and the dialogue really wasn't that witty, and it tried much too hard many times). Plus, we've seen literally everything in Michael Clayton before, and the movie didn't really do it any better-- I don't understand why it's garnering so many nominations (and yes, I get all the subtle morality themes and the such-- but come on, we have those in almost everything).

Feb 20 - 06:33 PM

jokerboy1991

jack giroux

I would say the dialogue tried to be funny in the first 20 minutes in JUNO that mostly fell flat, but then developed into a really good movie(not an oscar worthy movie). I also think MICHAEL CLAYTON is definately not overrated.

Feb 20 - 08:23 PM

drew12881288

Andrew b

Not to be a dick, but Juno and Knocked Up should not be mentioned in the same breath. Knocked Up was a consumer movie and nothing more, whereas Juno is a more respectable work of art that just happens to appeal to a wide audience

Feb 20 - 10:50 PM

ThinPhantom

james cochino

"Juno is a more respectable work of art that just happens to appeal to a wide audience"

far funnier than any line in juno.

Feb 21 - 09:41 AM

muffin7

Brenton Steinhilber

I swore it after Crash actually won and I swore it again after The departed won, but this time I mean it. If Juno wins best picture I will never pay any attention to the Oscars again. I won't even click on an internet article having to do with the Oscars unless it is about all of the people involved in choosing the winners getting gang raped or something similar.
Juno was a good movie, but the best movie of the year? The best movie of the year cannot be filled with that much snappy dialogue, damnit!

Feb 20 - 06:34 PM

vagrant_hippo

Jonathan Schwarzbach

Oh, and WHAT HAPPENED TO "ONCE"???

THE most snubbed film of the year, and all their thinking about giving it is the Best Original Song award.

Feb 20 - 06:34 PM

muffin7

Brenton Steinhilber

Sigh... the more I think about it Juno is going to win.

Feb 20 - 06:35 PM

AntonChigurh

Chris Scharlau

If no country for old men doesnt win, and juno does the oscars are dead to me.

Feb 20 - 06:47 PM

insanemansam5

Samuel Ewing

There's a reason why the academy sometimes splits the best dircector and best picture award primarily uncertainty about what the best film of the year is.
IMO

Juno-Best Picture

Coen Brothers-Best Director

Feb 20 - 07:14 PM

PornAgainChristian

Newage Lightbulb

**** Juno. I'm so ****ING sick of hearing about that lame, self-important, tired movie. Atonement sucks, too, but at least they have the decency to keep a low profile. One more shot of that chick saying "No, Morgan Freeman" and then pausing for the laugh that NEVER WILL COME, or Michael Cera stuttering out some ridiculous 40-year-old-blog-writer's idea of a teenage non-sequitur, and it's postal time.

Feb 20 - 06:48 PM

jvmilano

james milano

Amen my brother.

Feb 20 - 07:47 PM

insanemansam5

Samuel Ewing

There's a reason why the academy sometimes splits the best dircector and best picture award primarily uncertainty about what the best film of the year is.
IMO

Juno-Best Picture

Coen Brothers-Best Director

Feb 20 - 07:14 PM

DarthWonka

Jesse Rodgers

If the Acedemy replaced should-be-on-Lifetime-Channel/ends-like-St. Elsewhere-"It-all-took-place-in-a-snowglobe-in-the-mind-of-an-autistic-child"/Ends-like-Dallas-"It-was-all-a-Dream"/Sorry-but-everything-you-just- saw-was-bull****/Sorry-but-this-movie-is-totally-not-sweeping-nor-romantic "Atonement" with the totally delivering on every promise it makes dance-enducing, crowd-pleasing, ultra-feel-good, best musical since "Grease" "Hairspray," the Academy would make more sense to me. Alas, they, and a lot of people, totally overlook this amazing gem of summer entertainment when thinking about awesome movies of '07. Just because it's a lightweight film doesn't make it dismissal. The movie is perfect in every single way it had to be. Atonement...was...not.

Feb 20 - 07:17 PM

insanemansam5

Samuel Ewing

I agreee that the academy has a tendency to dismiss summer films but what movies did they dimiss this year?

Feb 20 - 07:21 PM

DarthWonka

Jesse Rodgers

I just meant that I felt like the Academy totally overlooked "Hairspray." Other than that, there were no other summer tentpole films that were deserving of the mention of "Best Pic," but "Hairspray" definitely did. Had it been released in Nov. or Dec. I think it would have stood a better chance.

And please, Atonement-lovers, I'm here to discuss movies. I'm totally open to hearing why this movie works for you. I really want to know because I don't get its appeal at all. The damn thing felt overly manipulative in the end. I'm still angry about it, but a worthy Atonement-defender could assuage my ire.

Feb 20 - 07:50 PM

insanemansam5

Samuel Ewing

Perhaps; I didn't see the movie and probably won't. The academy has dialed down its love for the musical recently though. Dreamgirls missed a nomination last year and both Sweeney Todd and Hairspray missed nominations this year.

Feb 21 - 08:18 AM

insanemansam5

Samuel Ewing

I agreee that the academy has a tendency to dismiss summer films but what movies did they dimiss this year?

Feb 20 - 07:21 PM

DarthWonka

Jesse Rodgers

I just meant that I felt like the Academy totally overlooked "Hairspray." Other than that, there were no other summer tentpole films that were deserving of the mention of "Best Pic," but "Hairspray" definitely did. Had it been released in Nov. or Dec. I think it would have stood a better chance.

And please, Atonement-lovers, I'm here to discuss movies. I'm totally open to hearing why this movie works for you. I really want to know because I don't get its appeal at all. The damn thing felt overly manipulative in the end. I'm still angry about it, but a worthy Atonement-defender could assuage my ire.

Feb 20 - 07:50 PM

insanemansam5

Samuel Ewing

Perhaps; I didn't see the movie and probably won't. The academy has dialed down its love for the musical recently though. Dreamgirls missed a nomination last year and both Sweeney Todd and Hairspray missed nominations this year.

Feb 21 - 08:18 AM

Ragalar

Joey Z

Hey RT Don't Let your writers, CRITICIZE MOVIES IN AN ARTICLE THAT ISN'T ABOUT CRITICIZING MOVIES. THIS GUY CALLS CRASH TERRIBLE???!?!?! MAKE SURE HE DOESN'T LET HIS PERSONAL BIASES SLIP IN AN ARTICLE AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!!

Feb 20 - 07:27 PM

drew12881288

Andrew b

It might be a bad thing if Crash was actually a good movie.

Feb 20 - 10:47 PM

Clintnorth69

Wesley Eastwood

crash WAS terrible. besides, this whole article was about his personal opinions.. so shut up

Feb 24 - 09:07 PM

What's Hot On RT

Total Recall
Total Recall

Cameron Diaz's 10 Best Movies

Five Favorite Films
Five Favorite Films

Brick Mansions star RZA

WonderCon
WonderCon

175 cosplay pictures

24 Frames
24 Frames

Experiments Gone Wrong!

Find us on:                 
Help | About | Jobs | Critics Submission | Press | API | Licensing | Mobile