The Oscars

The Oscars: Could The Help beat The Artist?

A wild upset prediction for best picture.

Driving Miss Daisy poster art
Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy in Driving Miss Daisy

The Zanuck Co.

Dan Kois, Troy Patterson, and Dana Stevens will be on Slate’s Facebook page at 11 a.m. on Monday to chat with readers about Sunday’s Oscar ceremony.

Yes, it’s been a glum Oscar season, partially because—as we diagnosed way back in the Movie Club—it’s just been an enervating year for movies, with few films getting people very enthusiastic or enraged. (The one nominee that has legions of acolytes, The Tree of Life, is seemingly one of the least likely to stage an upset.) Add to that big shrug of a movie year the sense of inevitability looming over the major awards, and you’ve got a recipe for a real snoozefest of a ceremony, even before the War Horse Take the Reins Beefeater® Gin Cocktails start flowing.

But I’m here to shake things up! What every Oscar party needs is a guy who’s loudly predicting an upset in a major category that most viewers feel is in the bank. He puts all his money on that upset in the five-dollar Oscar pool and is inevitably crushed when The King’s Speech wins after all. Now you, Slate reader, can be that guy! Here’s my upset that almost certainly won’t happen but you can almost talk yourself into believing it will: The Help for best picture.

What? Impossible, you say? The Artist has it locked up, you claim? For the love of Pete, you add, no movie’s won best picture without being nominated for best director in 22 years? But let’s take a closer look at that movie that won best picture in 1990: Driving Miss Daisy. I believe The Help is the Driving Miss Daisy of 2012.

They have a lot in common! They’re both Southern stories with somewhat retrograde takes on race relations—specifically the charged relationship between the white overclass and the blacks who serve them. Both are crowd-pleasers that don’t challenge an audience to any great degree, but which embrace liberal uplift and gentle-hearted goodness.

And, most important, both movies have tremendous support from the academy’s actors branch—the largest, by far, among the various groups that make up the Oscar vote. How much did the actors of 1990 like Driving Miss Daisy? They liked it so much they gave a supporting actor nomination to Dan Aykroyd. Just like Daisy, The Help collected three acting nominations, more than any other movie. And—as was the case with Daisy—two of those nominees look set to win.

I think The Help doesn’t need a best director nomination to win. I think it comes out of nowhere and wins supporting actress, actress, and picture. I think the gasps that echo through Hollywood will usher in a wave of Helplike entertainments for years to come. (I’m just looking forward to this generation’s version of 1991’s Fried Green Tomatoes.)

Has someone made this argument already? Surely they have, though I couldn’t find it. Am I probably wrong? Of course I am. Daisy attracted male voters, thanks to Morgan Freeman’s terrific, reserved performance; The Help is so determinedly domestic (to its credit) that male voters may not give it a chance. Daisy won the Golden Globe; The Help lost. There remains the very distinct possibility that voters won’t want to go down in history as the first to give best picture to a movie featuring coprophagia.

Nonetheless, I’m gonna be that guy. The Help will upset The Artist for best picture! If it really does win, I’ll be disappointed—say what you will about The Artist, but it’s certainly more adventuresome than The Help—but not angry, thanks to all those $5 bills I’ll be pocketing with a shit-eating grin.

Forever uppercasing The Academy no matter what the stylebook says,