Saturday, December 12, 2009

Oscars & The Art Of Influence [Rant]


Disclaimer: This is from the POV of someone (me) who has interacted solely with members of the Academy who are cool, progressive & vote for what they actually love instead of what what many are pressured into voting for by studio campaigns, critics picks & general Oscar prognostication

Let's get something straight here. I LOVE the Oscars. Love. Every year since I was old enough to have an appreciation of movies, I have made a point to see as many Oscar nominated films as possible, every year. This soon evolved into seeing every movie that COULD be nominated for an Oscar, getting the bulk of my viewing in before the Academy released their noms. I like making my top 10 lists, my top 25 lists and up until this year, my top 5 list, which has always taken careful thought & lots of deliberation, mostly due to having to fight against the influence of Golden Globe winners, Critics choices, etc. My #1 movie of 2005 was Shaun of the Dead. My top five last year consisted of a Swedish Vampire movie & a British movie about a genuinely happy woman from one of my least favorite directors of all time. In 2001, my top 5 was Lord of the Rings and 4 movies that began with the letter M, that are also all considered genre flicks in my book. I've never appreciated being told what to like by critics, but this year, I feel a line is being crossed...

See, every year, the internet gets bigger, but smaller at the same time. More and more blogs get recognition, more sites become well known, more bloggers are invited to screenings, earlier and earlier, so the word gets out sooner and sooner. Opinions are instantly formed and blasted across Twitter and within hours, we have a new front-runner.

Take the past two days. Thursday night my Twitter exploded with 140 character reviews of Avatar, which screened for press for the first time that evening. They were all GLOWING, (save for the seemingly universal thought that the dialogue sucks and the story could have been slightly better) and by Friday morning there were blog posts galore positing that Avatar had a chance not only of being nominated for Best Picture, but winning. That's funny, cause you know who HASN'T seen Avatar yet? ACADEMY MEMBERS.

The rest after the jump

Let's take a look at the Up in the Air, the so called front runner to win Best Picture right now. In December. For weeks, if not months, I've been hearing that this is the movie to beat, it's fantastic, amazing performances, etc etc. But...Paramount only sent the film out to Academy members YESTERDAY. So now, members remotely connected to the Internet at all are going into this movie with incredibly high expectations and perhaps with a bit of a chip on their shoulders. Instead of getting to discover this gem for themselves, they are acutely aware that they are watching the front runner...for the awards THEY nominate. A film that was considered a front-runner before it even opened in theaters or had a single screening for the Academy. Does something not seem off here?

This just adds fuel to the fire that's been steadily rising in my universe of Oscar prognostication. I used to have so much fun guessing the Oscar nominations, but a lot of that fun has been taken away, a little more, year by year, by not only Internet influence, but Critic's Awards.

Children of Men (and frankly, Shaun of the Dead) is now highly regarded as one of the best films of the decade, yet was hardly recognized at the Oscars. I credit this with the fact that it hadn't appeared on any other Critic's list, so what chance did it have?
::Also, Universal, grumble grumble:: Academy members thought, "Oh, it's not on anyone else's best list, so I guess I don't have to watch it" meanwhile, those who DID watch it, had it in their #1 nominating slot. Jennifer Hudson said some lines and sang a song well and because all the other Critics chose her, the Academy certainly had to, right? I'm so sick of this direction the Oscars are heading, where they simply fill in what was outlined by everyone else who didn't work their asses off in this industry to make it into the Academy. (No offense to us bloggers & you critics, you've worked incredibly hard to get where you are, I'm simply saying the Academy should get to do the job they were voted in the Academy to do and that's becoming increasingly difficult.)

Don't get me wrong, politics have been playing a huge role in the Oscars for a long time, especially in the 21st century (Julia Roberts over Ellen Burstyn, anyone?), but we're almost to a place of no return. Up in the Air is officially fucked. Either it's been way too hyped up and a movie that could have taken every Academy member by surprise is swept under the rug as "overrated" or it goes on to win Best Picture and once again, the Oscars are grossly predictable and the new 10 movie nominating format has done nothing.

Ah hah. But there IS something changing this year. The Academy saw what was happening and decided to get old school in an attempt to defy the new school. 10 nominees. If you look at the Best Pic nominees of this decade, they all consist of the following: the epic, the indie fav, the biopic, the musical, the period piece/British fare, the arty farty, the scorsese/eastwood/spielberg or a double up like last years Milk Frost/Nixon double bio pic snooze fest (Sidenote: I enjoyed both films). Now take a look at the 90s - the films DO NOT follow this format to a tee, often the nominees may GASP actually have been the best of the year. In the 2009 Oscars, as we enter a new decade, I'm hoping we may see a marriage of the aughts and the 90s in the Best Pic nominees...sure, there will still be at least 5 noms that are selected out of guilt, or being cornered, or politics, but what if there are also 5 that are ACTUALLY favorites?! Perhaps an animated movie or two! A non-epic genre movie or two! The best romantic comedy in years?! God forbid, a movie directed by a woman?! Movies based on children's books?! A doc about an aging metal group?! A brilliantly disturbing Korean vampire movie?! Okay, maybe I'm aiming too high bringing Thirst into the picture, but you get what I mean.

If you think I'm way off base here, please comment below. I've just been having lots of thoughts on the matter lately so I thought I'd throw them out to you loyal readers & see what you think. There are tons of holes in my argument, I'm sure, I'm not going for an air tight dissection of the movie industry here, just looking to encourage thought & discussion.

And hey, just for fun, if we follow the format this decade has set up for us, the top 5 would be:

Invictus (Eastwood/Biopic. Haven't seen yet)
Up in the Air (Indie fav. Haven't seen yet)
Nine (Musical/Epic. Haven't seen yet)
An Education (British Period Piece - 60s counts!. Seen, loved)
A Serious Man (Arty farty. Seen, loved)

....boring, right? Can you think of some other boring mix a 2009 top 5 would bring us, using those categories?

What other categories do you think the aughts were prone to? War movies? Message movies? World War 2/Holocaust specific movies? Which years in the aughts are the exceptions that prove the rule? Was 1994 the best top 5 ever nominated?

Please comment below. Very interested in your thoughts.

Update 12/15 And then there are times when the buzz sets up a scenario that I would DIE to see - check out Erik Lundegaard's tally and check out who is sweeping the Best Director category. It's time for a woman to win Best Director and since in my opinion, based on what I've seen so far this year, she IS the best director, things are looking good. Almost makes me want Cameron to be nominated too, just so he can lose to his ex-wife.

9 comments:

david said...

if your mission is to afford the oscars at least a sliver of cinephilic dignity, then i applaud your efforts... but the oscars are simply too populist to ever respect film as much as they do their own machinations... and RATINGS. pundits have always and will always frame the debate... films don't care about the academy awards enough & the academy awards don't care about films enough for them all to screen for the academy first and have them be the tastemakers. and that's a GOOD THING. if academy members replaced film fest panels and audiences as initial tastemakers, cinema would die (god forbid the fate of a given film was decided upon solely by LA). the oscars are a heck of a lot of fun, but they're as meaningless as they are myopic... which makes them like most award shows, just with better dresses and higher ratings.

having said that, improvement is certainly possible...defenses against the public discourse, if you will. and the only way to fix things is to renovate and renovate hard. but the problem isn't with the pundits and their interwebs, it's with the academy and its members.

first, kick out 80% of the voters. standards need to be WAY the cuss higher. 2nd - require all voters in all categories to see ALL eligible films for every category... a ghastly task, particularly when the academy manages to make a mockery even of short lists... as you see when the best doc of any given year is perennially excluded from the qualifying roster. eliminate all the films with RT scores south of 70% and the list gets a lot shorter. those that don't see all the films don't get a vote, nor should they... thus every vote is more informed and more impassioned by default. i mean, your primary complaint is really just that oscar voters are too cussing lazy to form their own opinions divorced from public sway... this as close to a solution for that problem as you're gonna get in an awards race where films and perfs are backed by multi-million dollar campaigns.

i understand your frustration... in no other medium do the pop and fine art communities co-mingle and swirl about one another as they in the film world, and thus film's biggest award show is naturally both galvanizing and divisive. but the oscars are a sideshow... they're a gag and they're a game. i can't abide an argument that suggests the film community should better respect AMPAS... AMPAS - if they hope to maintaing their relatively reputable presence for another 80 + yars - must better respect the film community.

david said...

p.s. Up in the Air WILL win best picture.

david said...

alsooooo, can they PLEASE just re-name it the AMERICAN academy of motion picture arts and sciences so their refusal to acknowledge that the best film of any given year since the 20s might not have been American doesn't single-handedly negate their entire organization? kthx.

LoquaciousMuse said...

I wish I could post our Twitter conversation here in the comments section, but that requires entirely too much effort.

I agree that mostly, the Academy needs to rehaul their system to make sure members aren't easily influenced by all these outside sources - critics, prognostication, studio campaigns, etc. Like do what the NBR does and rate movies as they see them.

And the Oscars SHOULD be about more than wearing pretty dresses and making studios money, it's just all gotten especially muddled in the past decade. I want the people who actually vote for their favorites to be heard instead of those that are cornered into voting for the "favorite", you know?

I don't know about this RT score business. I already have loved a few movies this year that didn't score very high on RT.

If Up in the Air wins - zzzzzzzzzz

Castling said...

BUT the pretty dresses are my fave part! Screw the actual award show...that's been disappointing me for years! It's all about the red carpet. New York has fashion week, LA has the Oscars.

david said...

zomg despite how much they piss me off there is really no human means of quantifying how much better the Oscars are than fashion week. none.

ydgmdlu said...

You're off-base here. There are lots of points that I could address, but I'll focus on one particularly problematic assertion, the idea that Children of Men wasn't nominated for Best Picture because it wasn't championed by critics.

Take a look at this chart: http://www.moviecitynews.com/awards/2007/top_tens/00_index.htm

See where Children of Men is? Now look at everything in that top ten that wasn't nominated for Best Picture: Little Children (#9), Borat (#6), Pan's Labyrinth (#5), and United 93 (#1). That's right; the movie that was most beloved by critics couldn't even score a BP nod. So it's not like critics dictate the Oscars.

Children of Men also won a large number of awards and nominations, more than some of the other BP contenders received: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0206634/awards

So you don't think that maybe the reason why it was snubbed was simply because Academy members just didn't like the movie enough? You don't think that their well-known anti-scifi bias had anything to do with it? Do you admit the possibility that it would've been nominated had the BP category used ten slots like this year instead of the traditional five? Do you honestly think that District 9 would've been nominated for BP if there had only been five slots?

Now consider this: Four years ago, the movie that won by far the most awards for best picture was Brokeback Mountain. And what won BP at the Oscars?

Last year, WALL-E and The Dark Knight had the most list mentions (http://www.moviecitynews.com/awards/2009/top_ten/00scoreboard.htm). Did either get nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, or Screenplay?

Now look at the movies that got the top ten most list mentions and tell me how many were nominated for BP: http://www.moviecitynews.com/awards/2010/top_ten/00_scoreboard.html

I know how satisfied you are with this year's nominees for BP. So do you still think that the Academy should just ignore what the critics say? If the Academy had used ten slots three years ago, how closely do think the BP list would've matched the critics' list?

LoquaciousMuse said...

Children of Men was widely acknowledged for its amazing cinematography, but not its strength as a movie. The link you provided proves as much.

And on that Top Ten list, how many of them are the ones that build any buzz? There's a big difference between across the board, every critic anywhere, and the specific lists and awards that act as the "buzz-builders." Children of Men was virtually ignored in every avenue that is considered a legitimate precursor to the Oscars.
Every year one of my favorite movies ends up considered a top ten by these standards (best-reviewed) but doesn't receive the buzz necessary to score in the Oscars. Because it's all about the damn buzz.

I do not think Children of Men would have scored a nomination even if there were ten slots, because it simply didn't have the coveted "buzz" at the time the nominations were announced. If there were five slots this year, District 9 never would have made it, obviously, I'm not a moron, but because there were 10 slots, the film had just enough love to score a slot, which yes, I am thrilled about. Additionally thrilled because of the Academy's seeming bias against Science Fiction.

Brokeback Mountain's buzz worked against it, same with Benjamin Button (though it lost it super early), same with Up in the Air. I knew Brokeback wasn't gonna win on Oscar night. Sometimes the push to demand something as the winner or the front-runner works against a movie, which is just as frustrating.

You're out to get me, are ya?

And it's not critics I have a problem with so much as it is "buzz" - the critics/institutions/websites that declare themselves the ones who know everything, the ones who think they can tell the Academy who to vote for when, hey, last I checked, it's up to the Academy to decide who the Academy votes for.

I mean, come on, you have to admit that the "Avatar is gonna win best picture!" business that started happening before the movie was even released and "Up in the Air is the front-runner!" before the movie was sent out to Academy members crap is pretty silly.

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