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Do Oscar gurus and their voodoo predictions matter? – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell

Hollywoodnews.com: The 2011 awards marathon hasn’t officially begun yet – most films planning to compete are gathering at the starting line waiting for festivals in Venice, Toronto and Telluride so the real race can launch – and already we are seeing a war of words between Oscar bloggers.

Using harsh terms like “pure nothingness,” Jeff Wells took shots at the season’s first Gurus of Gold chart, a collection of opinions from assorted Oscar trackers meant to gauge which films have the best shot at making up this year’s Best Picture field.

Tabulating votes from 12 awards gurus, the chart lists three films that have opened in theaters (Woody Allen’s “Midnight In Paris,” Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life” and Tate Taylor’s “The Help”), one Cannes film in “The Artist,” and nine films that will open between now and the end of the year.

In one post, Wells critiques the films selected by the gurus, from George Clooney’s “The Ides of March” to Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse,” quickly pointing out that the predictions are “pure nothingness” because the guesses were made, in most cases, without the benefit of actually screening the film.

“All it means is that most of them want to see a smart political film with good acting and a strong theme about loyalty and betrayal, etc.,” Wells writes about Clooney’s film leading the chart.

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And he’s right. An early, pre-TIFF chart such as this is little more than speculation until the actual films play out. Of course, all of us reading and potentially watching want Spielberg to release another masterpiece, or to have Alexander Payne blows us away with “The Descendants.” But there’s a real danger to going out on a limb with a prediction, because the film you back might fail to connect with Oscar voters, as when an awards blogger put his weight behind a Best Picture nom for Joel Schumacher’s “The Phantom of the Opera” a few years back. The film earned three below-the-line Oscar nominations and scored zero wins.

But Wells wasn’t finished. In a follow up post titled “Set It Straight,” the head of Hollywood Elsewhere clarified his stance, lest anyone think he supported the reading of Oscar tea leaves to define the race. Using words like “worthless” and “contemptible,” Wells tore down the practice of the Guru chart and its “prediction racket and prediction karma,” going so far as to say, “If I could clap my hands three times and banish the concept of Gurus of Gold from the minds of my online colleagues and competitors, I would clap my hands three times.”

Then the column devolved into a rehash of last season’s incessant “The King’s Speech” bashing.

But Wells raises excellent questions with these posts. Are the gurus necessary when the majority of Academy voters are computer-phobic, meaning large percentages of the people who would be influenced by such a chart might never actually see the chart? Blogger Kris Tapley admits, “Same shit different year, but I can only say that anyone who thinks an Academy member reads a group of predictions and then decides to vote for the film at the top of said list is an absolute moron.”

Do the Guru predictions carry any weight at the early stage in the game when they are ranking films most of them probably haven’t seen? One guru whose name appears on the chart admits, “It’s not the most fun thing in the world, participating in this. For one thing, you have to predict movies you haven’t even seen — movies no one has seen. So you get to look like a fool if there are any major changes.”

And is it OK to guess that “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” will be in the Best Picture discussion because it involved 9-11, stars Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, and comes from perpetual nominee Stephen Daldry? That kind of wrong-headed thinking allowed Cameron Crowe’s dreadful “Elizabethtown” to carry a little bit of awards buzz into the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival. Then the movie was screened, and no guru would touch it with a 10-foot Oscar. And yet, Crowe’s “We Bought a Zoo” is on the first Guru chart.

Why? Someone should ask the gurus.

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