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Can Amazon's Top 10 List Nudge 'Winter's Bone' Over the Oscar Line?

Jennifer Lawrence
Roadside Attractions
"Winter's Bone"

Of all the Oscar season awards, this week’s Amazon.com Best of 2010 Movies & TV Editors’ Picks, emailed this Monday, are probably the most ignored by movie cognoscenti, despite the vast audience they reach. But could those innumerably huge e-mails and page views affect the Oscar race?

When I was working as Amazon’s Bestsellers and Entertainment editor, my own choices intensely affected bestseller lists, including The New York Times'  (you’re welcome, Michael Moore, Charles Cross and Left Behind), though as founding VOD editor, it was too early in the adoption of VOD for me to be remotely as influential. (I am now a happy Netflix and Amazon VOD customer, via Roku, though less happy about dumping my seven-figure options before the stock octupled.)

Current movie editor Ellen Kim confirms that Amazon editors have not been replaced by ectoplasmic algorithms. “We have a handful of Amazon movie editors who contributed to the editors’ picks,” emails Kim. Was there a formal numbered rating system like the National Society of Film Critics, where your top vote counts as 3 points, your second as 2, your third as 1? “We used a formal rating system we developed ourselves, by secret ballot.”

Here are Amazon's top 10 DVDs of 2010 (not counting TV shows): Inception, Toy Story 3, The Hurt Locker, Up in the Air, Despicable Me, Kick-Ass, The Blind Side, Avatar, How to Train Your Dragon, ZombielandInception was ranked No. 1 on both the DVD and Blu-ray best lists. Will its twin win give it that crucial nudge to beat The King’s Speech for best screenplay, or maybe even best picture? “The Amazon movie editors have not yet seen King’s Speech, therefore I can’t fairly comment on how they will compare at the Oscars,” e-mails Kim, proving she lacks the prognosticatory shamelessness of the true Oscar blogger.

Amazon’s Best of 2010 Awards seem unlikely to affect voters’ views of blockbusters, but might conceivably help worthy indies like Focus Features’ The Kids Are All Right or Roadside Attractions' great Oscar hope, Winter’s Bone, both on Kathleen C. Fennessy’s Best of 2010 Art House & International list. “I really appreciate the fact that my editor, Ellen, gave me free reign,” e-mails Fennessy. “Winter's Bone seemed like a given. I wish I was as taken with Jennifer Lawrence as the rest of the world; she's good, but I thought John Hawkes, who I've always liked, was the real star of the show. It helps that they post these lists so early. As more people rent and/or buy Winter's Bone, and tell their friends about it, that can only help its chances, and I do feel that it deserves awards recognition. But I would also give companies like Netflix credit. And Light in the Attic for releasing the soundtrack.” 

"As for Inception, I enjoyed it, but I don't hear people talking about it anymore, whereas Winter's Bone remains a part of the conversation as more people discover it. Inception seems like a better candidate for tech award recognition come Oscar time.”

Roadside Attractions co-president Howard Cohen says the old-fashioned screener mailing to Academy, DGA, SAG and other guilds is still the most important Oscar-boosting push. “We sent out over 10,000 units two weeks ago. That’s really where you impact the Oscars. You don’t wait for 'em to buy it on Amazon.” Cohen looks at Amazon in the whole context of Winter’s Bone’s marketing strategy. “The timing of the release in June and in October on DVD in hopes it would get another bite of the apple has certainly proved to be true.” VOD is increasingly important in getting the word out about worthy films. “You’re able to get it to everybody – they’re not all in places where Landmark Theatres are. The first week of DVD on Winter’s Bone, we sold about 12,000 full-price units, including Wal-Mart and Amazon. And we sold 21,000 cable VOD units the first week, not including rental. That doesn’t include Netflix.”

At the dawn of video-on-demand circa 2006, year-end best lists should have been called “The Best We Could Get – Sorry!” But 13 of the 15 titles featured on Amazon Video on Demand’s 2010 “Our Picks for the Best Flicks” are unquestionably first-rate, including Winter’s Bone. Slowly, stumblingly, technology is enabling good movies to find their audiences, including, I believe, at least some Oscar voters.

“The way movies come out in all these media at once definitely impacts the Oscar race,” says Cohen. “I do think it's a boom. You just have to look at it holistically. 600,000 people saw Winter’s Bone in theaters. Maybe more could watch it in the aftermarket.”