Every year, UK statistician Andrew Sidhom keeps running charts of the best-reviewed movies of the year (one for US/UK productions and one for foreign productions), using Rotten Tomatoes' average rating. He also tracks current box office totals and theater counts. Over the past few years, the results closely matched the films that ended up being nominated for end-of-year awards and Oscars in the best picture category, provided that they were box office winners that were not in such Academy-unfriendly genres as sci fi, animation, horror, or sequels. The 2010 chart is pretty impressive: it's led by The Social Network, Toy Story 3, The King's Speech, True Grit and Black Swan.
Going by this mid-year report--remember the fall season hasn't started yet--the film that is currently in the lead for best picture is The Tree of Life. See the charts below.
I'd argue that the films on this list that are most likely to land best picture nominations (anywhere from five to ten) are The Tree of Life, Midnight in Paris, The Help and Jane Eyre; others such as Tom McCarthy's Win Win or Mike Mills' Beginners could turn up in other categories like acting or writing. Rango and Winnie the Pooh are likely to wind up in animation. Bellflower, Meek's Cutoff, The Guard, The Trip, The Future, Submarine, Terri and Attack the Block won't qualify on box office grounds.
And hurt by their genre or sequel status are Harry Potter, Bridesmaids, Super 8, X-Men: First Class, Source Code, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Crazy, Stupid, Love and Hanna. I don't think any of the mid-year foreign films are likely to be best picture nominees; their status as foreign nominees first depends on their being submitted by their country of origin.
Sidhom ranks the titles according to their RT average rating (which is the critics' indicator of a film’s quality). When two movies have the same average rating, he places the one with the smallest Tomatometer score first. (A lesser Tomatometer means more negative reviews, but if the average rating manages to stay the same and not drop, that means that the positive reviews were more positive). For Sidhom, "that’s what matters for film awards more than wide consensus." By similar reasoning, if the Tomatometer for a movie is considerably less than that of another but the average rating only drops by little in comparison, the movie is ranked higher. Example: The Tree of Life (8.2/10, 85%) precedes Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (8.4/10, 97%) because the former, while considerably more divisive, managed to maintain an average rating close to Harry Potter's (only 0.2 less), which indicates that its positive reviews were more positive (and it will probably land on more critics' Top Ten lists). Generally, Sidhom uses a 5% Tomatometer margin decrease to correspond to a 0.1 average rating decrease.
- Movies on the first 2011 chart are US or UK English speaking movies. All others are considered foreign.
- US/UK movies have to have at least 30 reviews to be on the charts. Foreign movies need at least 25.
- RT numbers are as of August 10, 2011. Box Office grosses for the 2011 chart are as of August 8, 2011. Box office grosses in the 2010 chart are as of January 14, 2011 – the date when nomination ballots were due at the Academy.