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Why are Oscar pundits betting against Tom Hooper?

February 23, 2011 |  5:00 pm

Check out the Oscar predictions at The Envelope's Buzzmeter and you'll notice something amazing. While six of the nine experts say "The King's Speech" will win best picture, none of the nine believe its helmer, Tom Hooper, will bag the trophy for best director.

Normally, those two awards match up -– about 80% of the time over the past 50 years. The agreement rate is a bit less in recent years -- 70% over the past decade -– but that's still impressive.

Tom Hooper Oscars predictions news

Tom Hooper recently won the top prize bestowed by the Directors Guild of America, which also tends to overlap with the Oscar for  director: 70% over the past 10 years.

Given these stats, you'd think all Oscarologists would be betting on Hooper. Or at least most of them. But it's utterly flabbergasting that none of the pundits we poll is in his camp. Everybody's betting on David Fincher ("The Social Network"). Why?

There is a widespread belief this year that "The Social Network" is getting cheated out of the best picture award that major film critics' groups believe it deserves. In fact, "The Social Network" won the best picture awards bestowed by them all, plus the Golden Globe. Consensus like that is rare. Suddenly, as it heads into the Oscars, "The Social Network" looks like it is being punished for being artistically honest -– for not being a huggy, feel-good film, which Oscar voters like.

As a result, guilt-ridden Oscar voters will probably want to give it a top award in some category. Sure, it will probably win the awards for adapted screenplay and film editing, maybe music score too, but that's not enough. If it had a realistic chance to win an acting award that might take care of voters' obligation to give it major due, but it doesn't.

Therefore, the Oscar category for director seems to be the logical place for voters to go. Arguably, "Social Network" is a superior directorial achievement to "King's Network" anyway. Let's be honest:  David Fincher really deserves to win. Hooper took DGA because voters had the same heartfelt response to its story and had only one category to express themselves. If they had had two categories, they probably would've split their votes for both films.

Still, it seems ludicrous to bet against Hooper considering he won DGA and his film is universally expected to win best picture too, don't you think? No. Let's recall 2002 when "Chicago's" Rob Marshall won DGA and the film claimed the Oscar for best picture. Marshall lost the Academy Award for  director to Roman Polanski ("The Pianist"). I think it's a parallel situation. Back then, DGA voters had a strong emotional response to "Chicago," so they honored Marshall with their only award. At the Oscars, voters had a chance to split the honors and did so.

-- Tom O'Neil

Photos: Tom Hooper (Weinstein Co.); David Fincher, right, with Aaron Sorkin (Columbia)