I got a call earlier today from a smart movie guy, and he knows this phantom-like Oscar oddsmaker…a kind of consultant who sees everything and talks to a lot of Academy members and probably wears pricey suits but who shuns the spotlight and doesn’t give his phone number out. The guy funnels his information to…you tell me, maybe exhibitors or gambling operations or whomever. The point is that my movie pal says this guy, whom he’s known for years, has been “Nate Silver-like” and even “spookily accurate” in predicting Oscar winners. And this fucking guy (i.e., the phantom) is saying, believe it or not, that Saving Mr. Banks is going to take the Best Picture Oscar and that Emma Thompson, portrayer of P.L. Travers, is going to win for Best Actress.


I asked if I could speak to this guy and so my friend made the call right away, but the guy hasn’t responded so far. I laughed loudly and feigned shock when he dropped the bomb. “It’s the Driving Miss Daisy syndrome!,” I groaned. “Daisy, The King’s Speech, Argo…always the least offensive, most mild-mannered film with a poignant little emotional tug and the least amount of baggage. Plus it’s Hollywood factory-friendly. The sugarcoat syndrome wins out in the end and the artist goes home in frustration and the movie is a hit.”

My friend explained as follows: “This guy is not invested in Saving Mr. Banks. Not at all. He’s dispassionate. He agrees with you about Adele Exarchpoulos and says if Academy members would just watch Blue Is The Warmest Color they would at least nominate her. And he really likes Wolf of Wall Street. He says it’s like a string of firecrackers but way too much for the Academy. He’s just saying that Saving Mr. Banks is the right kind of middlebrow contender that your older Academy member (60s and 70s, rich, semi-complacent, living in a gated community) likes…it’s right in their middlebrow sweet spot. And he’s making this call because he’s talked to a lot of people and, like it or not, this is the kind of film that the Academy likes to get behind.

Gravity could pull it out but he thinks that the Academy will choose to give that film a couple of tech Oscars and give the Best Director to Alfonso Cuaron. Maybe. They won’t relate to the Scorsese, which they’ll find too lewd and abrasive, and the Russell…actually, he didn’t mention the Russell…but no way is 12 Years A Slave going to make it. No way. They respect 12 Years but they don’t like it. 12 Years A Slave may be this year’s The Color Purple — a long list of nominations, blanked on wins. Although 12 Years screenwriter John Ridley may the one nominee who actually wins. Maybe.

“This guy is basing his prediction on balloting, on relationships,” my friend says. “He’s very accurate, this guy. He’s Nate Silver. He called The Artist early on. He called The King’s Speech over The Social Network early on. Crash over Brokeback Mountain. I’ve know him and have been listening to him for years, and he knows what he’s talking about.

“Best Director is a toss-up between Alfonso Cuaron and Steve McQueen, with the latter perhaps in line for a consolation prize for 12 Years not getting the Best Picture Oscar,” the guy is allegedly saying. “But then McQueen has only just stepped into the ring and Cuaron has been around for a while. He made Children of Men and did a Harry Potter movie and Gravity has become a huge hit.

“Emma Thompson will take the Best Actress Oscar,” he says. “A Best Picture winner will always result in an acting award if anyone significant is nominated. If there’s a nomination to go with the Best Picture nom, that nominee tends to win. He’s the one who reminded me that if a movie is not up for Best Editing, it’s not going to win Best Picture.”

Best Actor-wise, the Phantom Handicapper is sensing that Robert Redford and Bruce Dern “might possibly split the old-guy vote and cancel each other out, leaving Matthew McConaughey as the winner. McConaughey’s weight-loss thing was Raging Bull in reverse, and the Academy may feel that they owe McConaughey because he was snubbed last year. Why don’t thjy feel they owe Redford, who is great respected? Because All Is Lost is done at the box-office…what’s it made so far?…and they don’t respect low grossers.

“If McConaughey gets the Best Actor Oscar, Jared Leto‘s not gonna win for Best Supporting. But if McConaughey doesn’t get it, Leto will probably win. The Academy’s history has always been to spread the wealth.”

For whatever reason we didn’t get into Best Supporting Actress, but I’m thinking all on my own that they have to give it to 12 Years A Slave‘s Lupita Nyong’o. I just can’t seem them tumbling for a Jennifer Lawrence performance two years in a row.

If the Phantom Guy is right, the March 2014 Oscar show is going to deliver another Another Major Best Picture Embarassment, and across America and around the world tens of millions of film lovers are going to be rolling their eyes and throwing sandwich food and gobs of guacamole at the TV screen and looking at each other and saying, “This….they chose this generally agreeable but by no means historic film as the year’s best?”

I’ve suggested a measure that would reduce the influence of deadwood Academy members before, and here I am suggesting it again.