MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

3 Days To Oscar

What can one say at his juncture?

Have a good show.

I’ve been saying that this has been the least contentious season I can remember. Some people nod, agreeing. Others get a puzzled look on their face. But with few exceptions, the people who have been in play all season have been remarkably gentle and generous and easy this year.

The most edginess I have noticed is a building sentiment against The Social Network… not just for The King’s Speech. There are a surprising number of people rooting against the film. It reminds me a bit of some of the anger that built up, quietly, around Brokeback Mountain.

I think each of those movies had some movie reasons why they ended up – or might end up – not winning. But there was also a certain resentment that built up around the idea that their wins were inevitable… or even righteous.

It’s an Oscar Rule that only applies to one movie each year, but often, no movie at all. It’s bad enough to be The Frontrunner early, but never act like you are The Frontrunner and never ever act like you think you deserve to be The Frontrunner.

Perhaps the story of this Oscar season is how, as much pressure as Harvey Weinstein put on his team to push King’s Speech, he never got loud or ugly in public. There weren’t hit jobs on other movies. The case for The King’s Speech didn’t get wildly overstated. Of course there is a very hard working machine making it look like they weren’t trying all that hard… but for the most part, it didn’t look like they were trying all that hard.

And at the center of that effort is Colin Firth, who has been as gracious as a highbred dog at a nursery school that never snaps at a kid or whines, no matter how they pull at his hair or demand his attention. He’s been a champ. And his two on-screen partners have been, truly, supporting players… in for a touch of this or a moment of that. But he has done most of the heavy lifting and he’s done it with epic grace.

Honestly, I have enjoyed pretty much everyone I have DP/30ed this season. I am genuinely happy for all of them. Part of me wants Melissa Leo to win just so she never has to wonder if she screwed it up for herself… and part of me just because she’s a hell of an actress and a straight shooter. I would be happy to see a few wins that aren’t expected so The Social Network team doesn’t feel like they got rebuffed for their work.

Has there ever been a year with two babies in Oscar acting play? Javier Bardem’s son and Natalie Portman’s growing belly-full? (I’ll let someone else do the research. It seems likely, however, that some year long passed there were multiple men with wives at home, knocking them out.)

I will say, as I have said before, that critics groups did themselves a great disservice this season by walking in such lockstep. There was a stunning lack of creative thinking as December’s award season ran its course. This, of course, would later be followed by story after story about how boring Oscar is, how there’s no spice, etc. Physicians heal thyselves.

Now, it’s on to the Big Show.

Watching the Grammys last week – and all of you who think it’s great to be in late February, away from the Super Bowl… Oscar is two weeks after THE GRAMMYS! – I thought about how clever putting on a big superstar concert in place of an awards so is. And how The Oscars can’t do that. I thought about how only The Grammys could do 15 big numbers with 30 or more acts involved, while MTV Music Awards do a half-dozen. But Oscar can’t control the flow of talent that way either (except by moving earlier… duh.)

So the promise of this year is that the set will be cooler.


In the end, it will still be the show that was written, the show that was designed. It will be marginally better or worse.

No one needs a Grease number… and I can only hope that the intentional leaks are not reflective of what is on the stage. And in spite of a profound love and respect for Randy Newman, these four songs being played is pretty much a guaranteed bathroom break for the audience. Good songs, but not a hit amongst them.

It might be worth noting now that there hasn’t been a movie musical nominated for Best Picture since Chicago won in 2002. (So much for the return of the musical.) So why does the show keep doing big musical numbers?

Another note… this is the third year in a row in which The Academy went for an older/younger team of producers… as well as the third straight year of at least one gay producer after a long history of straight producers. What does this mean? Hard to say (aside from knowing that the gay community loves Oscar more than any other, aside from the winners, and can at least be counted on to have some style). The team of Condon and Mark had worked together before. The team of Mechanic and Shankman had not. Likewise, Mischer and Cohen. Is the job too big for one person? Is The Academy Board fearful of an Alan Carr extravaganza if they hand the reins over to one gay producer?

(Side Note: Has The Academy Awards ever been on TV without at least one Jewish producer… as long as we’re getting into ethnic stuff? And has there ever been a producer of color?)

I personally think that everyone would be well served by a producer with a 3-year term. This is the sixth year in a row with a change of producer (though two of them were Gil Cates). How can the show have any consistency? Television audiences grow through expectations, not constant change.

The problem is, no one who is working in the industry wants to, or is able to, take off 3 or 4 months a year to produce the Oscars. So you either get someone for whom this is their main gig each year or you keep changing producers.

What would it be like if someone like Don Mischer took the producing gig for a few years, set a course, and then, each year, invited a Guest Curator to come in and add their sensibility to a stable show? That’s when the idea of having Spielberg or Tarantino or someone like that come in and produce the show is viable. Say that the Guest Curator came in and played with 20% of the show, not every facet of the production.

In some ways, that is already what happens. These producing teams are not allowed to reinvent the wheel. So they come in and tinker where they can. Do we really think that set design changes each year are keeping the audience interested? Do they really think that announcements about presenters mean anything at all?

It’s a tough job. And I look forward to seeing what Mischer and Cohen do.

See you on the other side…

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11 Responses to “3 Days To Oscar”

  1. Rodd Hibbard says:

    I was thinking the other day how impossible it really is to play around with the Oscar format, and that the best “innovation” (to my mind) in recent years was when then got five past winners to invite the new winner to join their club. That was a great change. The worst when they had all five nominees standing on stage or in the auditorium while they announced that four of them had missed out – quite excruciating!

  2. mee says:

    “Has The Academy Awards ever been on TV without at least one Jewish producer… as long as we’re getting into ethnic stuff?”

    Sure, 1969, 1970 (Frankovich is not a Jew), 1971 (neither’s Robert Wise), 1974, 1979, 1981 (hello, Norman Jewison), 1984, 1996, 2000. Quincy Jones was the producer in 1996, and there’s your one person of color. Maybe I missed some years. Didn’t look that hard.

    Maybe next time you could ask if Chris Columbus has ever made a kids’ movie without at least one Jewish young actor in a prominent part. At least that’s a more pleasant question, and it doesn’t involve producers (and the answer is simpler… “no”).

  3. David Poland says:

    Norman Jewison isn’t Jewish?

  4. mee says:

    “Norman Jewison isn’t Jewish?”

    Surely you’re not seriously asking that question, are you? Shirley?

  5. waterbucket says:

    You made a good point about the Grammys vs the Oscars. The Grammys was essentially a big concert to celebrate music and I loved it. The Oscars, on the other hand, was all about padding each other on the back and that’s gotten too stale. How about re-enact some of the most iconic scenes from the current movie year on stage. But then which actors not named Streep would be brave enough to do that?

  6. Charles Brown says:

    Most of the growing sentiment against The Social Network is not against David Fincher. He is a great director and is probably the only director in America who will not totally fuck up the remakes of the Girl With The Dragon Tatoo series. No- the resentment is against that smug, arrogant prick, Aaron Sorkin, who has the audacity to compare himself to Shakespeare or Tolstoy and his adequate script to Citizen Kane. If I were a voter I would check Winter’s Bone for that category. Jack D.Ripper.

  7. Freddy Ardanza says:

    I’m cuorious, is the sentiment against The Social Network from before nominations of after that?.

  8. filmboymichael says:
  9. movielocke says:

    the sentiment I hear tends to be about, and I quote (PGA/acad member), “I still don’t understand why everyone lost their shit about Social Network.” Which led to an interesting conversation about how King’s Speech and Social Network were both excellent movies, like Saving Private Ryan and Shakespeare in Love, but that SN still was not The Second Coming of Christ that critics made it out to be.

    The critics went bukkake over Social Network, and a lot of people think that is just EXTREMELY nasty. The last times the critics universally drowned a movie with their juices like that was Brokeback Mountain, and we all know how that turned out.

  10. Daniella Isaacs says:

    …though, with another month, voters might have felt the same way about the KING’S SPEECH choir. Some of the partisans of that film I’ve talked to act like disliking it suggests you’re not sympathetic to the handicapped, or friendship across class lines, over overcoming adversity, etc. Were the Oscars still being held in late March, the screw might have turned again causing it all to go to TRUE GRIT.

  11. FrankieJ says:

    Anti-semetic much?

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon