Silver Lining Playbook currently leads the Oscar predictions for Best Picture at Gold Derby, reaping 11-to-2 odds, but -- beware -- it's got a big problem.
The quirky romance starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper doesn't have a key component that's usually essential to victory: support "below the line," as they say in Hollywood. That is, it's not likely to reap many nominations in those crafts categories like sound mixing, cinematography and art direction. In order to win, a movie must usually demonstrate broad support across the academy's peer groups. Two year's ago, The King's Speech had six crafts bids before it was crowned Best Picture. Last year The Artist reaped three.
A lot of other leading 2012 Best Picture contenders have similar problems -- they don't fit classic Oscar theories -- and that's confounding a lot of us experts. Our crystal balls are suddenly cloudy. How can we possibly look smart by harrumphing that this-or-that film is out front in the derby because of this-or-that theory when the theories don't apply? How can this derby turn out to be any fun?
Silver Linings Playbook isn't the only contender with trouble below the line. Ditto Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins as the director of Psycho), The Sessions (John Hawkes as polio victim who hires a sex surrogate played by Helen Hunt), Amour (director Michael Haneke's French-language study of an old woman dying slowly; it won of Palme d'Or at Cannes) and Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson's whimsical tale of runaway teen lovers).
At least most of those films have something else considered essential to winning Best Picture -- they're seriously in the running for acting awards. That's Oscar Prediction Rule No. 2: In order to win Best Picture, a film must be nominated in at least one acting category. The argument goes: a movie must display strength within the academy's largest branch, which contains about 1,300 actors.
But several Best Picture contenders break that rule. It's highly unlikely that Ang Lee's Life of Pi will score an acting nom. The best shot for an acting bid for The Hobbit is probably Ian McKellen, who got nominated for the first installment of Lord of the Rings, but not the last two. Now it doesn't look good for him to be acknowledged for starring in the prequel.
Early scuttlebutt on Zero Dark Thirty -- director Kathryn Bigelow's (The Hurt Locker) dramatization of the U.S. attack on Bin Laden -- is that it's primarily action-driven, not likely to reap acting bids, but that could turn out to be untrue. It stars Jessica Chastain, a Hollywood darling nominated last year for The Help.
If both Oscar Prediction Rules 1 & 2 turn out to be true, then Best Picture will be won by one of these films that have the potential to score lots of bids above and below the line:
* Les Miserables -- Director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) brings the Broadway classic to the screen with Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway.
* Lincoln -- Steven Spielberg looks at the final days of America's 16th president, featuring Daniel Day-Lewis as Abe.
* Argo -- Ben Affleck both directs and stars in this dramatic retelling of how six U.S. hostages were smuggled out of Iran in 1980.
* Django Unchained -- Quentin Tarantino reveals the tale of a former slave (Jamie Foxx) who seeks to free his wife from the clutches a vicious plantation owner (Leo DiCaprio).
* Beasts of the Southern Wild -- A father and daughter living in the backwaters of New Orleans struggle to survive the hardships of Hurricane Katrina.
* Flight -- Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump) presents the tale of a pilot (Denzel Washington) who becomes a hero when he saves passengers during a jet crash, then becomes demonized by the media.
* The Master -- Director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson reveals how a misfit drifter (Joaquin Phoenix) becomes spellbound by a cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
* Anna Karenina -- Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice) directs a stylish modern update of Tolstoy's novel of an aristocratic woman (Keira Knightley) cursed by love.
Of course, both prediction rules could turn out to be wrong because there are always exceptions to every rule. Slumdog Millionaire and The Last Emperor won Best Picture without acting nominations and Million Dollar Baby and Crash prevailed with very little support below the line.
Check out the latest racetrack odds of all top Oscars contenders at Gold Derby.
Photo: Anne Hathaway in "Les Miserables" (Universal)
Follow Tom O'Neil on Twitter: www.twitter.com/goldderby