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Oscar Theory #6: A Great Name Will Win Ya Best Picture

Guessing who will win the major awards at Sunday night’s Oscars is hardly like picking winning lottery numbers. The Academy tends to be pretty predictable: Best Actress generally goes to America’s Sweetheart (who later gets divorced); Best Actor goes to the guy with the most previous nominations; Best Supporting Actress goes to a breakout star; and Best Supporting Actor goes to the creepy guy. But there’s one category that’s almost impossible to predict—Best Picture. Since 1944, the Academy has nominated five films for the top honor, but this year—after extended debate about how comedies, musicals, animated flicks, and blockbusters get shafted with the limited pickings—the Academy opted to nominate 10 films for Best Picture. So in many ways, it’s anyone’s game on Sunday. That said, we can still look to the past to play Oscar psychic. There are lots of theories out there as to which film wins Best Picture. Statistically, it’s the film that has the most nominations in other categories, which would mean this year’s award would go to “Avatar” or “The Hurt Locker,” which have nine nominations a piece. Another leading theory is that the award tends to go to the Golden Globe Best Drama winner—”The Blind Side.” [NWI Times]

But I’d like to look at another theory, proposed by Tariq Khan of Fox News and Tom O’Neil of the L.A. Times: The film with the best title wins Best Picture. Now, “best title” is a subjective thing. So I’d like to tweak their criteria just a tad. I think what they mean is that the most epic, most classic-sounding, most packed with positive-sounding words tends to win. And that certainly is the case. Some examples:

  • In 1932, “Grand Hotel” won Best Picture—a surprise since it wasn’t nominated in any other categories. “Bad Girl” won both Best Director and Best Screenplay, and was expected to win the top honor, but alas “Bad” just doesn’t have the same Best Picture ring as “Grand.”
  • “The Great Ziegfeld” won in 1937. Its competitors, “Dodsworth” and “The Story of Louis Pasteur,” didn’t stand a chance.
  • “The Greatest Show On Earth” only won one other award during the 1953 Oscars, meaning that folks didn’t like it so, so much. Could it have been the name that boosted it over classics “High Noon” and “The Quiet Moon”?
  • The following year, “From Here to Eternity” won Best Picture. Again, a pretty great name.
  • In 1966, “The Sound of Music” became one of very few musicals to ever win Best Picture, possibly by a name boost. Heck, it even beat out “Doctor Zhivago.”
  • Take two good words, slap ‘em together—like “Braveheart” in 1996—and you have a Best Picture winner.
  • “Shakespeare in Love” upset the popular favorite in 1999, “Saving Private Ryan.” Perhaps it was the name? Shakespeare sounds instantly classic, and who doesn’t like love?
  • I have to say, “American Beauty” is a perfect film name. It rolls off the tongue, while having double meaning and sounding important. No wonder it won in 2000.
  • “A Beautiful Mind” didn’t have any trouble defeating contenders “Gosford Park” and “In The Bedroom” in 2002. “Beauty” definitely is an Oscar-worthy word.
  • Something very rare? A fantasy flick winning Best Picture. But I think “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” may have had the name advantage in 2004.
  • In 2005, “Million Dollar Baby” came out of nowhere and upset “The Aviator,” which most experts predicted would win. Perhaps because “million dollar” is a very positive thought to most folks.
  • Last year’s winner, “Slumdog Millionaire,” has the same thing going for it. It no doubt stood out over vanilla names like “Milk” and “The Reader” on the ballot.

So how could the name factor affect the Best Picture race this year? Judging by this pattern, this gives “Precious” a serious chance at taking the prize. And if that’s what happens, producers should definitely start putting more positive adjectives in their film titles.

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