I’ve been mostly quiet on the subject of the Oscars this year. Instead of throw my hat into the race, I’d like to offer up what I’ve noticed of the ways my friends and colleagues have approached the subject. After all, it is basically the Super Bowl of film events. So insane has the madness surrounding the Oscars become, that there is an entire swath of calendar, getting longer and longer every year, known as “Awards Season”. In the end, I encounter a few interesting characters in real life and on the web every year surrounding the Oscar madness. Here’s a peek at who they are.
Nostradamus know-it-alls. Pontificators. Armchair zen-masters of all things AMPAS. Sure, in the past week the web was rife with tipsters helping you fill out an office pool, but the truth is that there is that you can rev up the prediction machine as early as you like. I have trouble believing that the whispers of Sandra Bullock’s nomination were driven by seasoned journalists and critics. More likely it was clever marketeers trying to nudge Academy voters. But let’s pretend news outlets and bloggers started the early talk on their own. The whisper became a shout, and would you look at that: Ms. Bullock is considered the front runner in a race with the likes of Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep. Although I never reviewed it, I did see The Blind Side and all I can say is that it’s a topsy turvy world where she gets in a nod in a category with only 5 slots.
I played this game a few weeks back with my Oscar Infographic. Much like Major League Baseball’s sabremetricians (look it up), an army of analysts has popped up around the Oscars. On Friday, the New York Times featured an analysis of 75 years worth of data, predicting the winners based on what awards they have garnered throughout the awards season. This is basically the equivalent of political polling, determining how people will eventually cast their ballot based on prior evidence. The truth remains that members of the Academy will vote however they please. It’s tough to think so black and white about something as subjective as cinema, which is why I never go for this stuff. I think this year’s nominees turn most logic on its side anyway when the frontrunner for Best Picture, Avatar, has been seen by over 3000 times more people than the second runner up, The Hurt Locker.
This year is interesting because there is some actual news to report in advance of the Awards broadcast. When Nicolas Chartier was caught e-mailing Academy members asking for Hurt Locker votes, the so-called blogosphere turned the whole event into primetime news. The producer is now barred from attending the event for breaking Academy rules by directly soliciting votes. The plot is thickened by the fact that after The Hurt Locker was nominated for Best Picture, Mr. Chartier had to petition AMPAS to be considered an eligible recipient of a statue should the film win, since tradition has mandated only three producers can ever receive the statue for any top film. What a great story! Except that it has very little to do with movies. I wouldn’t blame you if you fell asleep during my little explanation because it really is such a footnote. Personally, my favorite non- movie related Oscar tale happened in 2000, when 52 statuettes were stolen from a loading dock in a suburb of Los Angeles, only to show up two weeks later in a trash can. Come on, that’s way more interesting than some guy rooting for his film via e-mail.
You’ve picked a film, and you roll with it. I can jibe with that. After all, I always root for my baseball team even when the odds are severely against them. However, you’ve got to come out of the reverie for a little bit if you expect to have a decent discussion about the awards playing field. This tends to get pretty silly in the technical categories, where most people have no idea what criteria are actually being considered and perhaps just pull the lever for their favorite film. Do you know the difference between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing? If not, you’ll probably still fight to the death that Inglourious Basterds is going to take both if that’s your first love this season. Cheers to you, but maybe dig a bit deeper to figure out what you’re cheering for.
The Too-Cool-for-School Awards Nihilists
“There is no respect for artistry…” “The Oscars are just a marketing ploy to push DVD sales…” “If they respected the best films they’d nominate Jim Jarmusch for…” blah blah blah. I hear this all the time. The truth is that our entire industry, top to bottom and side to side, would not function as well as it does without the Oscars. Think about it: without the Oscars there would not be the bounty of awards shows for every facet of filmmaking, including the Independent Spirit Awards. And if you think those are just as dumb, then there will never be any convincing you of any jury-based rewards system for cinema. If you’re fine with that, then shut up and don’t tell me who should be nominated for Oscars because you don’t believe in awards, remember? Every single accolade in this business suffers from the same kind of silliness and politicking that the Oscars do, it just looks different. If you think a Palme D’Or or a Golden Lion or a BAFTA holds more weight than an Oscar, that’s fine. You should just recognize that getting those awards requires one to play the same kind of game.