Welcome to the last slow stretch of the Oscar season. Over the next few weeks, a couple of movies will open with the hope of landing acting or writing nominations, but mostly they just want your money (For Your Consideration: The Thing?). The year’s remaining big guns won’t start to arrive until mid-November, and here’s a hunch, based partly on what I’ve seen, partly on instinct, and partly on hope: We’re looking at a year without an early frontrunner. By which I mean that the more than two dozen critics’ groups that announce their year-end prizes in a furiously compressed frenzy of semi-futile self-assertion may not become one big hive mind the way they did in 2009 with The Hurt Locker or last year with The Social Network. It’s possible that The Descendants, the black-and-white silent sensation The Artist, or one of the still-unscreened contenders — War Horse? The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close? — could turn into The Monolith, but otherwise, December could bring a scattered and chaotic field. Here’s hoping.
So while we wait, perhaps it’s time to turn to the Academy itself. As Oscar-watchers, we all root for excellence to be rewarded. Sometimes that doesn’t happen because of collective bad taste, or sentimentality, or blind spots, or irrational exuberance, but it’s particularly galling when it doesn’t happen because the Academy’s own rules prevent it.