Friday, February 23, 2007

Babel. Can You "Bank" On It?

Oscar buzz is a strange moving target. Before the nominations most awards obsessives screamed Dreamgirls. After the Globes some said Babel. After the SAG nearly everyone (including me) seemed to be convincing themselves that Little Miss Sunshine was going to make good on its tireless "Little Best Picture" campaign. Now, people are scurrying back to Babel. I think I'm gonna stick to The Departed which has always been there. Doesn't it seem like that's the only film that's remained a solid bet throughout? No significant bumps in the road. I'm not confident. But something is troubling me about Babel and it's this: box office.

AMPAS voters don't vote based on dollar numbers but their taste is usually at least somewhat analagous to public response. If Babel wins it will be the least successful Best Picture winner in the past 25 years. I've adjusted for inflation with the help of Box Office Mojo's handy charts and my own admittedly shaky math skills [please view this all as approximate -ed.]. There's only one film that is in Babel's current ballpark of success (or lack thereof) prior to winning the biggest prize and that's The Last Emperor (1987).

Even Chariots of Fire (1981), a small surprise winner back in the day, is a good distance ahead of Babel. Once you've adjusted for inflation the 1981 film's pre-Oscar take is closer to Crash's mid level sleeper success (they're the next lowest grossers after The Last Emperor)

Can Babel win? Like The Last Emperor it's very serious, mostly foreign, big and "meaningful". Emperor's primary competition was two romantic dramedies (Broadcast News and Moonstruck) --not Oscar's favored genre. Babel's competitors are also from non-traditional Oscar genres: a crime flick and an indie comedy. So Babel can win, sure. But it would still be a rare case of a film that never really caught on with the public taking the prize. The Last Emperor opened in late November and was able to gain a significant financial boost from its Oscar win. Babel has been out since October. Should it win it will likely end its run as the lowest grossing winner of at least the past 25 years (I didn't research past 1981)

Oscar has ignored big box office the past couple of years but I'm still tempted to stick with The Departed (It's the only contender with a typical BP winner bank) on account of its solid performance in each quadrant of success: box office + critics + media support + precursors.


Beau said...

I don't know, Nate. "Babel" seems like it's right up the Academy's alley. First 'Crash', now this... all we need is 'Trade' to win next season, and these three years go down in history as
'The Years the Academy Tried to Change The World Via Films Regarding The Need for Social Change."


RC said...

i appreciate your box office work.

i with you on the departed.

adam k. said...

A Babel win is certainly possible, but it has one big thing against it (other than box office) and that's Letters from Iwo Jima. Those two films will be competing for the same voting bloc (older academy types who go for the liberal-guilt-driven/important/socially conscious films).

Babel and Letters are working against each other the same way Little Miss Sunshine and Dreamgirls would be working against each other had the latter been nominated. Now, LMS gets all the light/fun film votes to itself, which puts it in a good position.

I think Babel may well have seen a Last Emperor type win if Dreamgirls and LMS had been the Broadcast News and Moonstruck of this year. But now I think it and the late surging Letters will split the votes, making way for LMS or Departed.

I am also still sticking with Departed cause it just seems like the best bet all around... and no other film has been as consistent.

adam k. said...

Of course, one could also argue that Departed and LMS are Moonstruck and Broadcast, and that Babel will still win. But Babel and Letters are more similar (I think) than LMS and Departed are, and if Letters is drawing as many films as some think it is, then that will hurt Babel.

I still think Departed = Silence of the Lambs, LMS = Beauty and the Beast and Babel/The Queen = Bugsy.

Glenn Dunks said...

That was also 20 years ago and times have certainly changed. Hell, times have changed since this time last year. just because a small "important" movie won last year, why does everyone assume it'll happen again this year? If anything, doesn't it sort of work against Babel to have had Crash win last year?

I'm predicting The Departed. It has the DGA, WGA and ACE up it's sleeve. Every film to get that trifecta has won in the past. And maybe those voters who are voting for Scorsese will also wanna award the film too, as to really make it up to him.

Glenn Dunks said...

Adam, I would say Babel and The Queen also equal JFK. That movie has The Queen's royalty disection by a high class director but it also has the technical bravura of Babel (threefold, I must say).

Is Pan's Labyrinth that year's Terminator 2: Judgement Day??!

Michael Parsons said...

The difference is The Last Emperor was a brilliant film. Trying to match up this year to any other year is silly as the Academy evolves and this is not the 70's and not the 80's. Everyone has a theory as to who is going to win. There will be 5 different people all prediciting a different outcome. 4 of them will be wrong. I have decided to take the easy route and predict a 5 way tie. That way if I am wrong, I am still right.
But here is food for thought. I can just see the Academy giving the first foreign language film a Best Picture oscar to a film directed by a legend.

Still a 5 way tie seems likely

Glenn Dunks said...

Mike, I think you mean "American legend". Surely at least one of the previous foreign language Best Picture nominees was directed by a legend, just not one whose first language was English.

Anonymous said...

It's also interesting to consider what a Babel win would mean in terms of wins. Other than Picture, what else does Babel have a shot at winning? It'll lose Director, Screenplay, Barraza and Kikuchi, and it better lose Score. So, an Editing win? Two wins?

Departed is sure to win Director and Screenplay. Again, maybe an Editing win. The director/screenplay combo plus Babel/Letters splitting and general debate over a "frontrunner" makes me think The Departed is easily the one to beat.

That said, the same lack of a frontrunner means the lightness and heart of Sunshine makes for a definite spoiler. (Though JUST wins in Picture and Screenplay?...If Alda wins early on, I'd say it's over.)

So could The Queen take the edge in Screenplay, nab the Score award, obviously grab Actress, and walk off with Best Picture? Four wins?

I don't even want to think about Letters...

I'm guessing Babel's low box office and lack of chances in other categories counts it out. least I hope so.

Anonymous said...

I can see why you'd pick The Departed. Right now, it is the most logical choice because, as you said, it has the steadiest performance in terms of box office + critical support + media support + precursors.
However, it's lack of love in the other Oscar categories (most notably nominating Leo for Blood Diamond) shows an overall lack of support for the film.

Anonymous said...

I definitely think The Departed will win.
When The Aviator didn't win in '05, it was up against Million Dollar Baby. That movie had a lot of hype and a very prestige feel to it - it doesn't feel to me like either Letters from Iwo Jima or Babel have quite the level of support that MDB did.

I think that for The Departed not to win, there'd have to be a clear favorite to beat it, and there's not.

What I think is interesting is that this year you don't really have Roger Ebert giving his opinion - I know he's still writing some stuff but his voice obviously isn't as present as it usually is.
It always seems to me like he is a barometer of how these things will go - if he loves a movie or a performance and thinks it should win, I usually assume that it will win, and it usually does.
Whether that's because Ebert has a lot of influence on the voters, or that he just thinks like them, or a little bit of both, I don't know.

Glenn Dunks said...

As always there will be keys to sussing out how it will go throughout the show.

If Alda wins Supporting Actor? Maybe it's gonna go Sunshine's way.

If Babel takes score AND editing it could be on it's way to the podium.

If The Queen gets score and then screenplay we know it's getting Mirren too, so... However, I think if it loses Screenplay then it's not winning BP. Same goes for Little Miss Sunshine.

Hmm. It's really quite interesting.

Agustin said...

it's Arkin not Alda!!!
i think letter still has a chance, but I see LMS up there..

John T said...

I think it'll be The Departed as well, but not because this year reminds me of 1987, but 1995. That year was probably the last time the Best Picture race was this wide-open, and again, it was because it was a group of films that didn't really match up with your typical Academy fare: a foreign film, a bloody R-rated flick, a talking pig picture, and two films nominated without Director nods were amongst the competitors. That year, Mel Gibson was the frontrunner for Best Director, but Best Picture was a tossup; this year, Marty is the frontrunner for Best Director and Best Picture is the tossup. Braveheart won both, I think that The Departed will win both.

Anonymous said...

Nathaniel, I agree that "The Departed" is the most logical pick.

But there is a reason that even Marty's greatest films (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) did not win, and I think that's because while technically stunning, the films were cold and off-putting to many. I think the same can be said of "The Departed."

One more caveat about "The Departed." Its so unfair, but I think that many voters compare Scorsese pictures to his all-time greats. I know I do as a viewer. So, in some ways "The Departed" is not just competing against "Babel," "LMS," et al., its competing against Marty's legacy. Some voters may not want to elevate "The Departed" over, say, the true greatness of "Raging Bull." Weird, but a real factor.

PS: Nathaniel, I understand box office ($); critical support (look at the Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes score) and precursors. But how do you measure media support? Are you talking about airtime on entertainment shows or positive articles in the LA Times?

Glenn Dunks said...

Or the Academy could be bored with awarding middleground stuff like Crash and A Beautiful Mind and choose something that really has grabbed the public.

And yes, sorry about calling Alan Arkin Alan Alda. That was odd.


MichaelR when I say media support, you're's not as measureable as the other things but the media was pretty interested in The Departed: the media tends to get behind the 'sexier' contenders or the big successes. and I'd say they talked it up Scorsese's crime flick a good deal (though LMS still probably wins the grand prize of 'media support')

and you're completely right about Scorsese's legacy. It's really unfair but there it is. It is a drawback. Never mind that they didn't think those films were that great at the time and fail to make the connection that The Departed will also probably hold up in 20 years time.

JohnT I would say good comparison but I hate thinking about Suckheart winning so thanks for the uncomfortable connection you bastard (jk)

everyone --so interesting that nobody can agree still. At first I didn't care about this year and now I am so excited for Sunday because WHO KNOWS in so many categories. a potentially wild night ahead.

DrG said...

I agree that 'The Departed' seems to be the one to beat, but I have started to lean to 'The Queen'. BP and BD only seem to go together when there is a clear leader. 'Babel' only really has the Globe win going for it, which I don't think counts for much ('Crash' wasn't nominated at the Globes). 'LMS' has no director nom and 'Letters' seems to have only just snuck in for the BP nom. While 'The Queen' hasn't picked up any majors along the way, it has been consistently nominated (and has plenty of Oscar noms, just that lack of an editing nom has my concern). And I think it's comfortably the least offensive and possibly most appealing for the ageing members vote block...???

Anonymous said...

Right on. I've been irritated about people comparing The Departed to Scorsese's best for weeks.

You know what else doesn't hold up to Scorsese's best? The other 4 nominees. I want to read an article about how Bable doesn't hold up to Goodfellas.

Anonymous said...

I think the biggest obstacle in Babel's way, and the reason I can't see it making it onto stage is... its award tally will be shockingly low for a Best Picture winner. I see it probably taking Editing, but if it misses there...

"Winner of 1 Academy Award - Best Picture."

When was the last time that happened? I'm thinking possibly Grand Hotel, but maybe there was another?


Glenn Dunks said...

I had a weird thought about Babel. What if it did win Best Original Screenplay? The year I go back to is 2003 when everyone thought Best Adapted Screenplay was between The Hours and Adaptation and then The Pianist came out of nowhere and won, and then won Best Director.

I don't think it will happen, but it's not out of the realm of possibility.


rob i wish i knew the answer to that question but i can't find a site that lets you search by amount of awards won restricted to the best pictures.

anyone know the answer (i don't have time to look up all 80+ winners to see their tallies) offhand

Anonymous said...

Broadway Melody (1928/29) also only won 1 award. Grand Hotel is notable for being the only BP winner to receive no other nominations.

Curiously, 1928/29 is the only year where no film won more than one award.

Anonymous said...

All the comments in the past few days are making me more and more sure about The Departed's victory. People are proceeding with way too much caution because of last year's BP upset. Things like that don't happen every year. And Kamikaze Camel, NOTHING is out of the realm of possibility. At least this year. And people predict that Arkin could upset Murphy for Supporting Actor, but I personally think that the best chance of an upset is with Best Actor... not that I think it will happen (I don't, actually), but some facts make me believe it can happen.