In a season of underdog triumphs, Oscar contenders jostle for 'little guy' status
The history of the Academy Awards suggests that Hollywood loves a good Cinderella story. Will this year be any different?
From politics to pigskins, pooches, and pop culture, America loves its underdogs. Whether it's come-from-behind kids like Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee; Herbie Hancock's unlikely triumph at the Grammys; the New York Giants snatching last-minute victory from the undefeated New England Patriots; or Uno, the modest Beagle pup who took "Best in Show" at Madison Square Garden, this is the season of the Cinderellas.Skip to next paragraph
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Not a surprise, then, that every Oscar nominee wants to be positioned as the underdog. Especially since all-too-many front-runners in past years have failed to cross the finish line in first place. (Remember how "Brokeback Mountain" was considered a shoo-in for the Best Picture of 2006 only to be upset by "Crash"?) As handicapping for Sunday's Academy Awards race intensifies, the value of the "humble" nominee is clearer than ever. When it comes to being the unassuming stepchild in Hollywood, there's more at stake than a glass slipper. The right kind of "Oscar whisper" can mean tens of millions of dollars at the box office, not to mention a statuette.
For now, the presumed front-runner for Best Picture is the Coen Brothers' "No Country for Old Men," which has reaped a respectable $61.3 million to date, in addition to numerous kudos from film critics and the Best Picture award by the influential Producers Guild of America. However, the film's ultraviolence and less-than-conventional ending may turn off voters. Looming large in the Coen Brothers' rear-view mirror is "Atonement," the epic period drama based on Ian McEwan's lauded novel that scooped up top honors at the Golden Globes and the British Academy Film Awards. "Michael Clayton," too, could trump "No Country for Old Men" thanks to George Clooney's high-profile support for the film in between trips to raise awareness of the Darfur situation. Then, again, Awardsdaily.com, a website that tracks buzz on the nominees, notes that "There Will be Blood" – a sort of "Citizen Kane" set in the oil fields of early 20th-century California – is a "dark horse" that has been gaining momentum among voters of late. As in this presidential election cycle, though, "momentum" is a less-than-tangible property.