Five Reasons Drive Won't Do Well At the Oscars

Why the biggest cult movie of 2011 won't get any Oscar love. 

by Jett Wells

It's an open secret that the Academy Awards are a frustrating, out of touch, and occasionally rigged popularity contest. This is why critical and fan favorites like Nicholas Winding Refn's Drive will get the big snub. Refn's slow-burn thriller didn't blow out the box office, but it's already cemented itself as something of a modern classic by virtue of heavy internet love, a bestselling soundtrack, and a 92% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But Drive isn't going to do much at the Oscars in February, and here's why.

1. It didn't take in boatloads at the box office.

Drive was a small-budget indie film that's garnered a modest $34.3 million since its release in September, but as past Best Pictures indicate, Academy voters like big sellers. Look at the bigger winners in years past: The King's Speech ($138.8 million), Slumdog Millionaire ($141.2 million), The Departed ($132.3 million), Million Dollar Baby ($100.4 million), and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King ($377 million). The only outlier in that list is The Hurt Locker, which grossed just $15.7 million. Despite the growing disconnect between a film's budget, its quality, and what it makes at the box office, Academy voters still like what the masses go out to see.  

2. It has a morally ambiguous hero.

Ryan Gosling's nameless driver is a cold, machine-like, anti-hero largely characterized by steely stares, beautifully shot montages, and wild bursts of hammer-wielding violence. He's less Luke Skywalker and more The Man With No Name, and Academy voters like big, redemptive moments where the protagonist wins back the hearts of the audience. Phil Contrino of pointed out that the crowd at his showing lost interest once Gosling slapped media-darling Christina Hendricks, even though her character was plotting his demise. Even though Gosling's driver is a huge internet fan favorite and represents one of his strongest performances, the character itself could tank the movie's chances.

3. It skews too young.

The average Academy voter is in his mid-sixties, which translates to traditional, conservative sensibilities, by and large. With a synth-rock soundtrack, a highly-stylized retro aesthetic of hot cars and skinny jeans, and a leading man cultishly adored by people in their twenties, Drive is a younger generation's movie. Last year, the Generation Y-focused The Social Network (directed by David Fincher, a man who started out doing music videos) lost out to period film The King's Speech. Don't expect anything different this year.

4. It's too bloody.

Part of Drive's appeal is the tension it builds between long stretches of quiet minimalism and sudden bursts of ultraviolence. But artful and stylized though it was, most audiences found it way too bloody. History has shown the Academy voters can take some blood occasionally — just look at the opening scene from Best Picture favorite Saving Private Ryan. Still, it's doubtful Refn's chic bloodletting will get the same pass as the historically significant violence from that film.

5. There aren't enough Hollywood moments.

Though it's deeply indebted to Hollywood genre traditions, Drive lacks many of the standard beats of today's blockbusters. I'm referring to those Steven Spielberg moments: a crying grandfather, a twenty-foot shark explosion, a grandiose score, a big, obvious emotional payoff. These sentimental elements aren't totally absent from Drive, but Refn is more subversive about introducing them, doing so subtly and in layers. But what endeared him to critics will probably hurt him come February — Academy voters are suckers for tearjerkers.

What Drive will get:

I predict that Albert Brooks will have a serious claim to Best Supporting actor for his chilling but weirdly amusing role as Bernie Rose, though that'll be more out of respect for his long-overlooked talent than this particular performance. Drive might steal some design and music awards, possibly cinematography, if it's lucky. Do you understand?

Commentarium (33 Comments)

Nov 28 11 - 2:23am
Ricky Gervais

Should of made it about Jews.

Nov 28 11 - 5:17am

"One Reason Melancholia Won't Do Well at the Oscars"

Nov 28 11 - 2:32am
Wait Five Minutes

Are you sure the average Oscar voter is in his/her mid-60s? I don't think the age thing in the Academy is quite as bad as it used to be.

Mar 04 12 - 3:39pm

the academy skews make 60s big time and that is average, i believe. this movie while great, was possibly too artsy and bloody for them.

Nov 28 11 - 2:49am
Ho Hum

How bout, "Wasn't a great film"?

Nov 28 11 - 6:42pm
That One Guy

Funny joke

Dec 18 11 - 8:06am

Drive was a good film, but far from great. And Ryan Gosling wasn't anything special in it. The part didn't call for anything special. He was better in The Ides of March.

Nov 28 11 - 2:51am

fyi... saving private ryan did not win best picture

Nov 28 11 - 3:39am
Johnny Motherfucker

Yeah, I think Shakespeare in Love robbed that Oscar. Does anyone still remember that movie.?

Fuck. I do.

Nov 28 11 - 11:04am
Alex Heigl

You're right! I think we were trying to re-tell history there.

Nov 28 11 - 5:07pm

The Thin Red Line was the only real contender that year.

Nov 28 11 - 6:19am

Just saw Drive. It creates a great atmosphere but felt very empty. Kept thinking all the time that it was like a remake of American Gigolo...same cold anti hero with the soundtrack making more of an emotional impact than the characters......... kept remembering that Paul Schraeder bullshit about movies always being about a "man in a room"......

Nov 28 11 - 6:31am

Omg such a neo-noir rapegazey soundtrack u gawys ! 8.6

Nov 28 11 - 7:12am

Did you just use 'rapegazey' in a sentence?

Nov 28 11 - 9:13am

You forgot the fact that it's a passable but cynical and overambitious directorial masturbation session. And I like Refn. There's no way it's Oscar material though, and not just because the simpleminded plebeians don't get it. It's just simply not that great of a film.

Nov 28 11 - 10:39am

they should of asked you to direct it.

Nov 28 11 - 2:52pm
John Son

Also, the Oscars suck balls. Let's not forget that.

Nov 28 11 - 3:34pm

I love you haircut. Bear my children.

Nov 28 11 - 10:37pm

no you bear my children myke with a y!

Nov 28 11 - 11:01pm

Sure, I don't care how we do this, let's just consummate our love affair already.

Nov 28 11 - 11:02am

I can't believe how old the average Oscar voter is!! They need to have a group of voters that reflect the overall population.

Nov 28 11 - 2:47pm

ryan gosling

Nov 28 11 - 5:25pm

Albert Brooks was my least favorite part of the movie...

Nov 28 11 - 5:33pm

Well said Mike

Nov 29 11 - 5:24am

Not sure which I agree with... number three or other number three.

Nov 29 11 - 4:27pm

Your crazy. Best movie of the year. I challenge you to name something better??

Dec 18 11 - 8:09am
Jett Wells

My crazy what?

Nov 29 11 - 5:16pm

If 'Crash' can win Best Picture then there's hope for any movie out there. 'Drive' should win something (anything) simply based on how hot Ryan Gosling is.....

Nov 30 11 - 5:35pm

the Boxoffice returns of the oscar winners is all relative as the oscar push in end of Dec/early January push the boxoffice for the nominees or the movies that have oscar marketing push. Maybe if Drive was release this week, it would have been different. I do agree that the mood movie make it hard to compete against movies like "The artist".

Nov 30 11 - 5:40pm

Did your dad get you this job too?

Nov 30 11 - 8:03pm

the academy voters should read this article

Dec 10 11 - 3:53am

I think the scene where he kills at the beach seemed like a future iconic film moment to me. It was so eery and odd, that it had an instant effect on me.

Dec 25 11 - 1:05am

Actually no. The King's Speech didn't actually get as many awards as it deserved. It was a completely moral and innocent film. Whereas the Oscars love films that are morally ambiguous. Just look at a list of movies that won.

Do you really think the morality in "Million Dollar Baby" was cut and dry?