A couple of days ago Hollywood Reporter columnist Scott Feinberg asked why I had decided that his latest Gurus of Gold Best Picture predictions indicated that he is a Silver Linings Playbook naysayer “when I have it at #4? Just because I don’t think it’s going to win doesn’t mean I don’t hold it in a very high regard.” Fair enough. I re-phrased by stating that Feinberg is one of three “apparent modified frowners” (along with EW‘s Anthony Breznican and L.A. Times reporter Mark Olsen).
Every year I try and explain what Gurus of Gold and Gold Derby predictions are really about, and I guess it’s time to re-explain. One, they are never solely about predicting those movies or individual contributions (directing, performances, etc.) that a Guru or a Gold Derby person believes is likely to be nominated or to win based on an allegedly neutral assessment of what other people like. They are always partly if not significantly about what the Guru or Gold Derby-ite personally admires and would like to see nominated or win.
The process works as follows: (a) a Guru or Gold Derby-ite decides that he/she likes this or that film or performance or whatever, and then (b) takes the temperature of the room (i.e., licks his or her finger and raises it in the wind) and adapts himself or herself to an idea of how things are.
The adaptation is about this Guru or Gold Derby-ite, a film devotee who’s spent many years or decades in the movie journalist trenches, having decided that this or that film or filmmaker deserves award-season favor. He/she thereafter concludes that the entertainment community (Academy, guilds) has (a) almost surely come to this judgment on their own or (b) eventually will come to this judgment once they shake off their shallow or misguided attachments to other films or creative contributions that the Guru or Gold Derby-ite doesn’t approve of.
It follows then that if a Guru or Gold Derby-ite puts a presumed or potential Best Picture contender at #4, he/she is saying that while he/she respects or approves of this film to some degree, he/she isn’t really feeling it and, truth be told, is probably harboring some minor or modest reservations about the film.
To go by his Gurus of Gold predictions, Feinberg believes that Argo is the most likely Best Picture winner at this time, followed by Les Miserables at #2 and Lincoln at #3 and Silver Linings Playbook at #4. Let me explain something. Lincoln hasn’t a fucking chance in hell of winning the Best Picture Oscar — it’s too plodding, too slow, too reserved, too Kaminski-ized, too much of a dutiful procedural. But Feinberg personally loves it so he’s got it at #3. Argo is a very skillfully made and highly engrossing caper film, but it has really no subtext or undercurrent and there’s no way it wins — not unless Academy members decide to just give in out of laziness and vote for its chops or likableness. But at least part of Feinberg’s decision to rank it at #1, trust me, is because he personally likes and admires it and so does everyone else he’s been talking to and so he’s putting himself (his thoughts and experiences and whatever else) into the equation and putting Argo on top. He’s doing his job at an industry analyst, but he’s also listening to that little man in his chest.
In short, he is not Jimmy-the-Greek-ing his industry readings — he is Scott Feinberg-ing them.
Feelings about a film are finally inseparable from predictions about a film’s chances. Nobody is impartially looking at the field and saying “this is what my inner Jimmy-the-Greek is telling me about this film’s chances in the Best Picture race.” It is always to some extent about private personal preferences. Anybody who claims to be 100% impartial is a liar. Nobody ever predicts with genuine conviction that a film they truly hate will win the Best Picture Oscar, and nobody ever predicts with any emphasis or assurance that a film they truly love will fail to be nominated or will almost certainly lose. Feelings and private opinions are never not in the mix. Anyone who says they’ve completely removed their own preferences and persuasions from their deliberative attempts to predict award-winners is simply not being honest.
The one exception is when somebody like Pete Hammond says in the final stretch that he’s been talking to several Academy members and they really like or really don’t like this or that film. That I believe because it’s real reporting and not just pulling preferences out of your ass.