Atonement was my favorite film of last year, and from its pedigree looks like the sort of film that should be a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination for best picture. But looks can be deceiving. Witness last year's snub of Dreamgirls. Prior to the nominees being announced it looked like a lock for a nomination, along with The Departed and The Queen. Yet it didn't get it. Looking back, I read one wise pundit's analysis that said the reason it didn't was because while a lot of people liked Dreamgirls, few loved it, and since the way Oscar balloting works involves a ranking system rather than giving equal credit to all of a member's nominees, a film gets more "votes" if a few people rank it their favorite, rather than if a lot of people have it in on their list at say 4th or 5th place.
That analysis appears to fit Atonement. While it's on a lot of critics' and societies' year-end lists, it's usually not the top pick. No Country for Old Men is the obvious favorite, with significant support for There Will Be Blood too. These people aren't necessarily Academy members, but I think it highlights how the film is being received.
Then there's the guilds, who've all but snubbed Atonement. This is particularly key, since the guild members are likely to closely resemble the Academy members, and at the Oscars actors nominate actors, directors nominate directors, etc. Everyone gets to nominate the best pictures. First there was the Screen Actors Guild, who passed over Keira Knightley, James McAvoy and Saoirse Ronan, as well as the cast for their "ensemble" award (the SAG's equivalent to best picture). Then the Director's Guild of America (DGA) passed over Joe Wright. And finally the Writer's Guild of America (WGA--Yes, the ones on strike), didn't nominate Atonement for their adapted screenplay honor. (How could you not nominate the screenplay for having adapted such a complex and difficult novel so effectively? Whatever.) Even the technical guilds are a mixed bag. The cinematographers and art directors nominated the film, but not the editors or sound mixers.
Some of the Oscar prognosticators still have Atonement in the game, but acknowledge its momentum is quickly fading. Entertainment Weekly has their Oscar nominees predictions out this week, and predicted the film for picture, director and adapted screenplay, but I'm skeptical. At this point, there are two things that could help save its chances:
1) A win at the Golden Globes on Sunday. In my lifetime, every film that has won this award has been an Oscar nominee for best picture. Atonement is, of course, up against frontrunner No Country for Old Men in this category, but the Globes have sometimes made surprising choices, Scent of Woman in 1993 being a notable one.
2) A nomination from the Producers Guild of America on Monday. The PGA nod would be a big boost. Like I said, everyone gets to vote in the pictures category, but the award goes to the producers, so getting their nod would be important.