A Few Minutes with Feinberg: Oscar Race Pits Crowd-Pleasers Against Downers (Video)

Thanks for checking out the thirteenth installment of A Few Minutes With Feinberg, The Hollywood Reporter’s weekly video series in which I spend -- you guessed it -- a few minutes dissecting the race to the Academy Awards. This week, I'm coming to you from the Beverly Hills headquarters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the members of which are now voting to determine the nominees for the 85th Oscars. And, on this week's episode, I explore the question: are the Oscar prospects for a best picture contender demonstrably helped if it captures the spirit of the holiday season?

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The answer, of course, is complex.

Over the past six years, the Academy has shown no clear preference for crowd-pleasers versus downers, awarding their best picture Oscar to just as many of the latter (The Departed, No Country for Old Men and The Hurt Locker) as the former (Slumdog Millionaire, The King's Speech and The Artist). That would indicate that all that matters to them is the quality of the movie and perhaps the campaign mounted on its behalf.

But, when one looks closer, one finds that this is the first year on record in which voters will be forced to pick their nominees over the holidays, without having the option to do so after they end. Last year's nomination ballots were only mailed out to voters on Dec. 27, two days after Christmas, and voting extended all the way to Jan. 13. This year, however, voting began the week before Christmas, on Dec. 17, and will end less than a week after New Year's Day, on Jan. 3.

I believe that allotting less time for nominations voting and scheduling that time to overlap with the holidays might well alter the sorts of films that voters choose to watch (they can't watch everything they're supposed to in such a short amount of time) and that they feel inclined to nominate. In short, I think that the new voting timetable might give a greater advantage to films that capture the holiday spirit -- in other words, movies that touch upon themes of honor, sacrifice, and family -- over those that present bleaker worlds and worldviews.

Being a feel-good movie does not always equate to being a good movie, or vice-versa. In fact, most feel-good contenders have dark moments and most downer contenders have light moments. But it must be acknowledged that some movies leave viewers feeling especially happy or sad, and that this might matter this year.

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Most people cheer at the end of Argo; smile at the end of Silver Linings Playbook and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; marvel at the end of Beasts of the Southern Wild; chuckle at the end of The Intouchables and Moonrise Kingdom; and feel satisfied to have gotten the winking references at the end of Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises.

Conversely, most people leave Amour feeling devastated and The Master feeling perplexed. (This is not to say that they won't score best picture Oscar noms -- with the current voting system, only 5% of voters have to place a film at #1 on their ballot for it to make the cut, and people who like these two films tend to really like them.)

The wild-cards are the films that fall somewhere in-between -- that take viewers to very dark places and put them through the emotional wringer before finally presenting them with a resolution that is satisfying to some degree (i.e. Les Miserables, Django Unchained, The Impossible, Life of Pi) or at least thought-provoking (i.e. Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Flight). Of course, considering that all of those films have runtimes of more than two hours (except for The Impossible, which is 13 minutes shy of that), and that some of their screeners span multiple discs, their prospects may hinge upon voters' willingness to stick with them until they end.