MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

13 Weeks To Oscar: The Irony Of Fear

Every year about this time, after those of us in the Oscar chattering class have, basically, shaped the conversation for months, taking the whole mess within 80% or so of what the actual outcome will be, I start to notice the desperation of the films and candidates that just aren’t going to make it. It’s like seeing a beautiful woman of a certain age without make-up… they may still be beautiful, but the willing illusion is gone.

But it’s not just a different kind of beauty that turns up. There is some real ugliness… the witch in Snow White behind the 2nd most beautiful person in the world.

This weekend, Hollywood will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars appeasing the utterly mad Nikki Finke for one reason and one reason only. Fear. Grown men and women with seven and eight figure salaries are so afraid of being called names by this person… by any person… that when she tells them to jump, they say “no” repeatedly until they quietly ask, “How high?”

The only possible thing they have to gain is the lack of being attacked by Nikki. This is one of the costs. And, in fact, they can cost themselves and their movies dearly by participating, as they have no idea how this will play out. They aren‘t screening movies. They are doing a marketing event, conceived by Nikki, Madelyn Hammond, and Academy president Tom Sherak, who told them how to avoid breaking the marketing rules of the Academy… if only by a hair. But because lunch is free and because the studios aren’t paying Nikki directly, The Academy chooses to look the other way. And the studios will parade around like monkeys in a zoo.

Nikki won’t be there. She’s out of town, still running from the service of subpoenas. Oh, how very powerful!

So here are these studios, having invested millions in awards campaigns, spending more so one idiot won’t say, “So and So is an ASSHOLE!”

And here is the irony part… there are a bunch of us meaningless blogger idiots who can do more damage to any of the Oscar wannabes than Nikki Finke has ever done… with a tweet… with a sentence… with a sneer.

Throw up the “arrogant ass” banner if you must. But understand… the paranoia level is high. And it’s high for a reason. I’m not saying that I or any of my “blogger idiot” colleagues are worthy of the power we possess. I’m not saying that any of us or even us as a collective determines who wins an Oscar.

But we have all seen movies go from 60 to 0 in 5 seconds flat after a first screening… even a heavily embargoed screening.

We saw the New York Film Critics Circle corrupted by the perception of this power this season, as they moved to a voting date that would embarrass any legitimate film critic (online or off) out of a sense that the veteran, Traditional Media driven group should be more entitled than the various joke groups (see: NBR, HFPA, and yes, The Idiot Bloggers) that have gotten perceived advantages over NYFCC.

And then, we saw the fall out from that act of stupidity. The embargo was broken by a veteran print critic who knows better, muscling up his sense of entitlement. Then the studio felt compelled to be overly cautious about warning everyone else, effectively insulting everyone else. Then, stories about the stories about the stories, including e-mails placed by the consultants for the film in an online blog and then putting Fincher on the record with a friendly print outlet.

Shit rolls uphill, I guess.

And here is the stark reality, friends. As long as we have the infrastructure we have, all of this matters on some level. And in the end, when it comes down to it, none of it matters.

It’s the movies, stupid.

What film will win the Oscar? The one that was qualified by all of the pre-nomination drama, but is then, simply, the group’s favorite. You can’t buy it. You can‘t sell it. You have to be there and ask for it a little. But even that rule gets smashed regularly. (See: Sean Penn over Mickey Rourke.)

So this weekend, a bunch of studio types who are incredibly bright and capable will lower themselves to grovel at the feet of Nikki Finke so one of their bosses (1 at each company) will not get called names in the schoolyard by the least powerful bully in the industry. And you know what… being stuck there, they will make the best of it. Because there is a lot of shit in any job, no matter how powerful. So who knows… there may be a moment or two of value in Nikki’s Oscar Whorefest.

And next year, she’ll do it again because people did it this year. And they will all know that it did nothing to help any of their movies. But it will be part of the landscape and will therefore continue for all the wrong reasons.

Will it have any effect? Yes. It will make a lot of good people look and feel small. Hoo-ray. Nikki’s one real skill realized.

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8 Responses to “13 Weeks To Oscar: The Irony Of Fear”

  1. movielocke says:

    What bugs me more about the bloggering class of oscar salivators is the ‘oscar movie’ madness of dismissing or embracing films. A mediocre effort from Payne is locked in because it’s a typical male melodrama ‘oscar movie’ but a pulpy thriller is dismissed as ‘not an oscar movie’. No one seems to give any consideration to the idea that it’s about whether the movies are good or bad anymore.

    That was the great thing about ten nominees. There are seven or eight ‘oscar movies’ released in a year, so the ten nominees opened up slots to films that were not ‘oscar movies’ And we got a WONDROUS diversity of films nominated: A Serious Man, District 9, Blind Side, Up, Toy Story 3, Winter’s Bone. It really made a best picture nomination mean more than it ever did because now it included being the most beloved/best, not just the usual suspects of the oscar genre.

    If the films of twenty years ago came out today, bloggers like Tapley would be AGRESSIVELY dismissing and decrying Silence of the Lambs for not being an Oscar movie, for being an early release etc etc, and that sort of chatter that it’s inappropriate to nominate outside the protected critical fold does hurt films from getting a fair shake.

    I hate being in an awards season where 98% of the bloggers would say Godfather is not an oscar movie because it’s too dark and violent and long and complicated for the academy (and no happy ending oh noes!).

    Whether or not Dragon Tattoo is worthy is almost beside the point, pundits have been eagerly and enthusiastically slapping it with “it’s unworthy” labels for months simply because the source material is pulpy (they must hate film noir) and there is no benefit of the doubt that the movie itself might be worthy apart from the source. Hugo is a good example of what we need more of, open minds and a willingness to admit one’s pre-judgment was wrong, everyone dismissed it after the first trailer but it turned out to be a masterpiece, it’s thankfully making its way into the race. To me, Oscar is much more interesting when it includes films like Dragon Tattoo and forgets stolid oscar genre efforts like Ides of March

  2. I think you’re being entirely unfair as it pertains to what I do, movielocke. I wouldn’t aggressively dismiss anything so long as it has the talk to back it up. Sure, a lead up the the Oscar season might include the expected, “I dunno, genre movie, February release” for something like Silence. But once it started gaining headway, picking up steam with industry people and Oscar voters, then it’s all about conveying that truth: People are talking about it, people are voting for it, it looks like a winner.

    Simple as that. It’s called reporting. Don’t try to hang your own sense of what’s wrong about the Oscar season on the messengers. That’s incredibly lazy and doesn’t fully take into account what we do.

  3. musealien says:

    “There are a bunch of us meaningless blogger idiots who can do more damage to any of the Oscar wannabes than Nikki Finke has ever done… with a tweet… with a sentence… with a sneer.”

    It’s hard to imagine anyone being more delusional. It really is.

  4. TC Kirkham says:

    The sad thing about Oscar prognosticators, Kristopher, is that most of them (possibly including yourself) don’t seem to realize just how much these activities turn OFF the general movie going fan. In five years of producing Subject:CINEMA, the biggest complaint we get from our listeners around this time of year is not “What is going to win (insert award here)” but “When are all the prognosticators just going to SHUT THE HELL UP?”. Our show last weekend was devoted to “The Politics Of Oscar” and how it utterly turns the average movie fan completely off, and how ridiculous the average movie-going patron thinks all this Oscar stuff is.

    Even as someone who watches and covers the movie industry, I am totally turned off by the Oscar handicappers, who generally start spouting off their predictions around the beginning of the Toronto Film Festival, a full FIVE MONTHS before Oscar. It’s getting to be as bad as political campaigns; I’m old enough to remember when you didn’t start ads for President until after the party convention – now they start two years before the election.

    Pretty soon, at the rate of progression that’s been happening in the Oscar prognostication race the last few years, the bar will shoved further back, and it won’t be unusual to hear people start their “Oscar Watch” around the time of Cannes.

    I have no doubt that the Oscar watch people do serve a purpose for those who are so interested, and that’s definitely cool by me. But by the same token, I also have no doubt that they have virtually NO effect on the race – last year nearly 80% of the prediction sites failed to get even one category completely correct. Which shows just how moot the entire exercise is, to me at least.

    What makes it worse is when all the prognosticators seem to be in lock-step with each other, as they were last year, because then it gets boring – if everyone out there is predicting the same films and people, what fun is that? There’s nothing left to debate. Movielocke is correct in that aspect – the prognosticators DO embrace or reject films based on their views on how they WANT things to go as well as how they honestly think they WILL go. How else to explain the huge lock step for “The Social Network”, which is a great film from any angle, but hardly a candidate for Best Picture – I could name probably ten or fifteen films – major and indie – from last year that were more deserving of the nomination, but had no chance of being considered because of the politics of Oscar. And notice – the Academy had a mind of it’s own and chose “The Kings Speech”. So much for the predictions…

    It’s happening again this year with Young Adult, which truly has no prayer of landing a single Oscar nomination and yet which the prognosticators continue to endlessly plug due strictly to it’s pedigree – Jason Reitman, Diablo Cody, et al. Not having seen it yet, I can’t comment on what I personally think of it, but I have had a growing number of other people tell me it’s just not a very good movie, so why all the love from the prognosticators?

    And with all due respect, and not meaning to offend you, Kristopher, but what you do is not “reporting” because there is no news to report. It is “commentary” and “speculation”, and remains so until the awards are all given out. Then you can call it reporting, as you report on the ones you happened to predict correctly as well as the ones you missed, and why you think it happened. There is no truth to convey until the winners have been announced; you’re merely noting a “trend”, which as we all know damn sure don’t mean a thing in Hollyweird, where minds change on a whim. Yesterdays sure fire winner could be tomorrow’s runner up – again, see “The Social Network” and “The Kings Speech”.

    Not trying to piss anyone off, but too many times I see worthy films and performances get blown off by the prognosticators and it just gets under my skin from time to time, that’s all. A little more open-mindedness and a little less of “I am ABSOLUTELY RIGHT” (and a LOT less pomposity) when making predictions might make this a little more fun for everybody…

  5. Keil Shults says:

    if they’d let kris tapley and i pick best picture each year we wouldn’t be having this conversation


  6. David Poland says:

    Please musealien… a single example of any influence Nikki has had on any Oscar-chasing movie. One will do.

  7. TC:

    “But by the same token, I also have no doubt that they have virtually NO effect on the race.”

    You actually won’t get any argument from me there. I’ve always chafed at the notion that we somehow steer the conversation. Perhaps en masse we do to an extent, but I don’t think the impact is as considerable as others do.

    I was doing this a decade ago and have seen it turn into a thriving industry unto itself. It started for me as a way to have fun making guesses about the Oscars. It became a platform to do what is, I would say, 75% of my coverage, which is discussing the films I love and engaging that conversation with readers. Anyone who reads me regularly knows this, of course, but so often it’s too easy to lump “Oscar prognosticators” into a ghetto of misfits.

    “The prognosticators DO embrace or reject films based on their views on how they WANT things to go…”

    As it pertains to me and a few others, that is patently false. Otherwise I wouldn’t have “The Artist,” a film I don’t like, chalked up for the numerous Oscar nominations I know it will get. You use “The Social Network” as ammunition for your argument, but you’re forgetting I was one of the few who was emphatic about it not being the eventual winner (as was David, by the way). So again, I understand your need to lump everyone in, but if you read me, you know I don’t walk in lockstep necessarily.

    The bulk of my work is championing films I love. Exit Through the Gift Shop and Another Year last year, for example. Films that didn’t particularly light up the Oscars. Margaret and Rampart this year. The same. So please be a little more discerning about how you choose to boil everything down.

    And finally, I agree that there is plenty of commentary and speculation in what I do, but I can only assume you don’t read me if you think there is zero journalistic quotient involved.

  8. Stephen Holt says:

    Er, what exactly IS this event David is writing about that the alleged fugitive Nikki Finke is “throwing”? A party? An Oscar party? Is she, who is never seen, going to be there? I don’t get it. But then I live in NYC…

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