My latest Vote column, for the Friday print editions of Variety, discusses how — in a best picture race with no single film to beat — the more Oscar contenders people see, the more their curiosity grows for what they haven't. It begins as follows:
Waiting for "Les Miserables." Waiting for "Zero Dark Thirty." Waiting to see if those or any other highly anticipated end-of-year releases will seize the reins at the next Academy Awards or whether the race will continue to comprise a cluster of films without a frontrunner for the grand prize.
Some years, an early season leader completes its journey to Oscar glory (say, "Forrest Gump"), while others fall just shy of the ultimate honor ("Saving Private Ryan"). Other years, eventual Oscar winners don't emerge until other contenders stumble, as was the case with "Gladiator."
Four months before the Feb. 24 ceremony, Oscar watchers are largely looking past Halloween and Thanksgiving into December, because those late-debuting films, unseen even by most insiders, still retain an air of mystery. In contrast, a quorum of industryites has had the chance to size up the imminent releases, each of which has found its own base of support, though none has emerged as a consensus leader. ...