Normally, by this time in February, Oscar buzz has reached a fever pitch. But this year, it's ... quiet. Insiders blame the less-than-enthralling Best Picture race.
"It's been the case before that half the country hasn't seen most of the movies," said E! Online columnist Ted Casablanca. "But this year, it's more of a crap shoot than ever."
Casablanca blames the widening of the Best Picture category. This year, there are nine nominees where there once were five.
"It's so muddled now," he said. "It waters down the tension. It turns into more of a horse race than an intense, person-to-person competition. I have no idea who's going to win this year, and I usually know by now."
So what's wrong with the nominees? We consulted a crew of experts:
The black-and-white, mostly silent homage to the era before "talkies" didn't find a huge audiences outside the movie industry. It's made only $20 million in America, less than what "The Help" made its opening weekend. "That disconnect concerns me," Thelma Adams, Yahoo Movies' contributing editor, told ABCNews.com. Then there's the French factor. "It's the French guy [best actor nominee Jean Dujardin] against the American, Clooney, and the general audience is going to root for Clooney," Casablanca said. "Americans won't push for this film in the same way."
As a book, it was a bestseller. As a film, it did well, making $26 million and coming in second at the box office during its opening weekend. And while critics agree that stars Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer deserve many accolades ("Octavia has the Best Supporting Actress Oscar locked up," Casablanca said.) the film overall was deemed "idealized" by the Hollywood Reporter, "obvious" by Time and "too soft" by New York magazine and others.
|Midnight in Paris|
The feel-good film that resurrected Ernest Hemingway and Salvador Dali was Woody Allen's most successful box office gamble ever. It's made $158 million worldwide since its May opening. But the fact that Allen, a fickle friend to awards shows, may not even attend this year's Oscars makes it hard to get excited about "Midnight in Paris."
Martin Scorsese, the man who directed such iconic films as "Mean Streets," "Taxi Driver," "Goodfellas" ... and "Hugo"? While the film was critically well received, the story about a boy who lives inside a clock tower hasn't resonated like Scorsese's greats. "That movie's a big question mark to me, in that category," Casablanca said. "Is 'Hugo' really 'Raging Bull'?" Thelma Adams asked.
Star George Clooney is the favorite going into the Best Actor race and the film earned five nominations -- in all the right categories -- but "The Descendants" has a soft spot, according to The New York Times: its "low-key story." Remember that other Clooney vehicle, "Up in the Air," where he played another emotionally unavailable man, often in voiceover? It failed to nab the Best Picture award. "I like 'The Descendants,'" Adams said, "but I don't think it has a huge deep passion behind it."
|Tree of Life|
Adams calls "Tree of Life" "one of the most challenging films of the year," which might explain why few saw it and some critics thought it was an absolute indulgence on the part of director Terrence Malick. Adams, for one, was glad to see it included because, she said, Malick is such "an iconoclast."
|Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close|
Despite the applause the film received when the list of nominees was announced, the 9/11 drama "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" has been mostly savaged by critics, who have called it "kitsch" (New York Times), declared it "about as artistically profound as those framed 3-D photos of the Twin Towers emblazoned with 'Never Forget'" (New York Post) and dismissed it as "dull and mostly insufferable" (Movieline). No wonder few have seen it.
"Moneyball" started out strong over the summer but has since lost steam. Even a Best Actor nod for its star, Brad Pitt, is not enough to win this baseball flick the top prize. Only three sports movies have won the Best Picture Oscar -- "Rocky" in 1976, "Chariots of Fire" in 1981, and "Million Dollar Baby" in 2004 -- and none were about baseball.
Sure it's Steven Spielberg, but "War Horse" was largely overlooked in the awards preceding Oscar, including by the Directors Guild. Despite glowing reviews, this World War I drama about a man and his horse has similarly failed to find traction with today's audiences. "After people saw it, it dropped like a stone," Adams said.