The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Are the Golden Globes really such a good crystal ball for the Oscars?

December 16, 2009 |  1:41 pm

We all know that barely anyone pays attention to critics awards anymore, so its hardly a big deal -- in terms of the Oscar race -- that a host of critics groups named "The Hurt Locker" as their best picture of the year. In fact, as Vulture sagely pointed out today, the last time that the New York Film Critics Circle, the L.A.Film Critics Assn., the Boston Society of Film Critics and the San Francisco Film Critics Circle all agreed on a favorite best picture was in 2005, when their awards were swept by "Brokeback Mountain," which of course proceeded to lose the Oscar best picture to "Crash." Ditto for 2004, when the same organizations all picked "Sideways" as best picture, which got trounced on Oscar night by "Million Dollar Baby."

Up_in_the_air But surely it's a different story with the Golden Globes, right? I mean, judging from the breathless media coverage in the last 24 hours, you'd assume that "Up in the Air," with its six Globes nominations, including one for best drama, is the leading contender for Oscar best picture. That's certainly the way my good friend and colleague, John Horn, sees it, calling the Jason Reitman-directed drama the "film to beat" in the competition for Oscar best picture.

But is "Up in the Air" really a shoo-in? I would argue argue that recent Globes history tells us a very different story. If "Up in the Air" goes on to win the Globe for best drama, it would still have a long, uphill slog to Oscar glory.

In fact, in the last five years, only one Golden Globe best drama winner went on to also win best picture in the Oscar race. That was last year's "Slumdog Millionaire," which is something of an anomaly, since it was a front-runner all along, running off with pretty much every major award in sight (except for those contrarian critics groups, with the New York critics giving their top award to "Milk" and the L.A. critics rewarding "Wall-E").

If you put aside "Slumdog," since 2001, when the Globes' and the Oscars' top award went to "A Beautiful Mind," the Globes' winner for best drama has gone to a different film each year except for 2003, when "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" was a winner with both organizations. In 2007, for example, the Globes winner for best drama was "Atonement," while the best picture Oscar went to "No Country for Old Men." In 2006, "Babel" won the Globe for best drama while "Departed" won the Oscar for best picture. In 2005, the Globe for best drama went to "Brokeback Mountain" while the Oscar went to "Crash." (In fact, "Crash" didn't even get a best drama Globes nomination.) In 2004, the Globes picked "Aviator" as best drama, but it lost to "Million Dollar Baby" on Oscar night.

In fairness, there was one year -- 2002 -- where "Chicago," the Globes' winner for best musical or comedy, turned out to also be the Oscar best picture winner. But as it turns out, there are plenty of recent examples when the Globes were a poor predictor of the ultimate Oscar winner. So I'm making a prediction of my own: As good as "Up in the Air" is, it's way too early to make the film a clearcut favorite in the always unpredictable Oscar race.

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