MCN Blogs
David Poland

By David Poland

23 Weeks To Oscar: It’s Getting Hot In Here, So Take Off All Your Journalistic Ideals

I was asked two questions by a journalist for a story and I am holding this entry until he publishes, so as not to step on his feet… but I thought my answer to him was a pretty good read on how I assess the field of awards analysis right now.


1. Is there a “right” time to begin Oscar prognosticating? Is it ever too early?

2. “It’s only September!” is a phrase I’ve seen many times in recent weeks. But don’t we always start our punditry in September, or even earlier? Did something change this year?


There is never a wrong time to project anything, so long as the prognosticator offers context. The trouble starts when people start throwing out definitive statements when many of the films that may be in contention have not been seen or when every event in the calendar brings forth a fresh round of “this is the big moment.” You can look at the year’s calendar in March and see what films seem to be likely awards contenders… but only about half the list will be publicly available at that time. Cannes may or may not add or subtract from the list. TIFF tends to have at least 10 contenders every season, so that can change the battlefield quite dramatically. NYFF to a lesser degree.

But it’s not really until that first week of December, when the very last movie is shown, that a definitive argument can be made. And at that point, most of the awards groups will announce winners or nominations within 2 weeks.

So there is never really the “right” time for being too sure. But if you show some modesty, anytime is fine.

Yes, the punditry does rev up round TIFF every year… tends to go silent for a couple months after. This year, the noise still coming out is thicker and louder than ever as more and more outlets – especially Old Media outlets – try to claim a big position in the game.

“It’s only September” is naive on some level. The companies pushing out awards movies have been strategizing and making decisions about these films for months by September. The season really starts in April/May. On the other hand, making definitive statements about who or what is going to win this or that in September is a bit idiotic. It is true that some movies, like The King’s Speech, seem, in September, to be set to ride the wining wave for the next 4 or 5 months. But one doesn’t really know until all the horses are in the gates. Another shoe can always drop… and no one knows how or when that might happen. Often, it is the shoe that never drops that surprises. But no one really knows. Publicists claim to know… but they are working and their job is to obfuscate.

The only thing that really changed this year is that more journalists are trying to plant a flag. In order to be unique, you need to find your own space. In order to find your own space in an already overcrowded arena like awards punditry, you almost always need to overreach. And they have. And more will. And even for the veterans covering this, a higher level of insistence is likely, just to be heard over the din.

Be Sociable, Share!

25 Responses to “23 Weeks To Oscar: It’s Getting Hot In Here, So Take Off All Your Journalistic Ideals”

  1. Don R. Lewis says:

    Does a “sensible” prognostication matter any more than a BS one? It’s like sports talk radio; just people with some knowledge spitballing and making wishes. Should the Yankees resign Robinson Cano = will UPSTREAM COLOR get any nominations. It’s fun yet ultimately pointless as no one knows anythig for sure until it happens.

  2. David Poland says:

    Here’s the thing, Don… it’s not just a guessing game. There are journalistic elements to following the season. There is history, which is sometimes more valuable/accurate than other times. There is behavior by the people who are paying for the pushes that clearly affect the outcomes.

    There are rooters and there are “should” questions asked all the time. But knowing, for instance, where Weinstein is on their slate today – where money and effort will go and where it won’t – is legit reporting. But one must keep perspective that no matter how hard a studio pushes a Shipping News, sometimes the voters out there decide that it’s going to be In The Bedroom. And that doesn’t make the guy who guessed that in September a genius or the one who reported how Miramax was leaning was a sucker.

    As in sports, you can have all the knowledge about who is going to play and how they are feeling and how they’ve been playing… but when they get on the field, no one is in charge of what happens.

  3. Don R. Lewis says:

    Totally agree…which is what does and always has bugged me about these self-proclaimed Oscar prognosticators. Aside from my point about there really being NO sure things (well, rarely) many of these Oscar guessers just woke up one day, decided they could guess and recycle stories as good as anyone and then BOOM, they’re a person people read and trust.

    I guess it’s true for anything in Hollywood where you just say you’re something and then you are, but your irritation is noted as it IS irritating the amount of laziness, spin and recycled noise that starts up this time of year.

    I’ve always wanted these Oscar folks to be more wishful and push for the smaller stuff that came out outside of awards season and try and make people pay attention but instead it’s a big circle jerk over the same 10 films and performances.

  4. Joe Leydon says:

    In September 1967, I wrote my very first movie review for my high school newspaper. It was a review of the movie “In the Heat of the Night.” I wrote that it was the film to beat for the Oscar. No joke.

  5. Etguild2 says:

    What in the world is going to stop “Twelve Years as a Slave” or “Gravity?” Said that after Venice/TIFF and nothing has changed. “Wolf of Wall St” looks likely to push off this year. “American Hustle…” hard to see…

    Also, good to know that DP is aware of Nelly.

  6. berg says:

    in early 1974 I wrote an essay in my high school paper in which I stated that David Niven would be the first person to appear nude at the annual Oscars … I was almost right … by the way you do know that Joe Leydon is a native of New Orleans and that in grade school he sat next to John Kennedy Toole in homeroom at NOLA Elementary School

  7. leahnz says:

    “The trouble starts when people start throwing out definitive statements…. ”

    the “trouble” – what “trouble”? i mean the ‘trouble’ caused by people throwing out definative statements amidst a small bunch of self-appointed self-involved people taking part in a meaningless, ridiculous crap-shoot guessing game about the results of a self-indulgent subjective awards show is like the ‘trouble’ caused by a fart in the wind swirling around the ruins of The Colosseum, how on earth can anyone take this ‘oscar blogger prognosticator’ stuff seriously with a straight face?

  8. LYT says:

    Gravity will when awards for effects, maybe sound editing, but nothing else. People are underestimating the sheer number of viewers who DO NOT want to see a movie about Sandra Bullock maybe dying in isolation.

  9. Chris says:

    You mean the sheer number of Oscar voters, LYT? Also, I suspect word will get out that, in fact, this is a movie they do want to see. I have a feeling the thing that’s being underestimated at this point is “Gravity” (although the fact that it’s my favorite film of the year so far could be coloring that).

  10. pj says:

    LOL Gravity…underestimated…lol good one.

  11. Etguild2 says:

    It reminds me of the time no one saw that movie about a bomb disposal specialist in Iraq.

  12. Joe Leydon says:

    Berg: That is absolutely untrue. I attended St. Vincent de Paul grade school, where the nuns routinely disciplined me with corporal punishment and threats of eternal hellfire. John Kennedy Toole, I believe, was attending Tulane University at the time.

  13. David Poland says:

    Look… can’t argue with Leah on this because she’s already thrown up her hands in disgust and doesn’t think the discussion is worth having. I get that, but I do think there is gray and not just black & white on the way the season is approached.

    ET… you are a bit of a victim of the system. Right now, those films are being screamed about endlessly. So that is all you can imagine winning. One of them may, indeed, win. But it’s a long f-ing way to Tipperary.

    And Luke… yes and no. Gravity could become the film to beat. Or it could be a blip. No way of knowing until it becomes a hit or not. The perception of the film outside of the Academy is a major factor and we only know the media spin at this point. Academy is very middle brow.

    In some ways, my opining on this is quite self-serving. I was amongst the first in the water. I had my approach… which has been misunderstood from the start by many of the other early Oscar writers. So who am I to say that mine is the correct approach or that there is a correct approach. I deeply believe in covering the season as a news story, not as a tit-for-tat, “I’m right, you’re wrong” guessing game. But that gets harder and harder, working it from the inside. We are all competitive and when someone else gets candy we think we might might, it can be very distracting from the real goals.

    This is also where we make most of our money at MCN, so there is a financial interest as well (though I don’t think we give up the site to Oscar or chasing every idea every publicist floats as many others do). When I can generate as much revenue as I do during Oscar season doing something else I enjoy – like DP/30 – believe me, someone else will be covering Oscar at MCN. And if that doesn’t sustain the advertising levels we have had for the past decade, the new fearless leader will figure out a different fall/winter focus for the site, I guess.

    I go into each summer wondering whether “the other shoe” will drop this year and studios will stop chasing as hard as they do. But you know, the people who are employed by each company to chase are also professionals of skill and experience who don’t like losing any more than pro athletes. Same with most of the filmmakers.

    It is very east to dismiss everything about the movie business as meaningless. But you either do the job or you don’t. And if you do it and if you care, you want the others who do the same thing you do to act like pros and not like petulant, ignorant children.

    If someone suggested to Leah that they shut down WETA because effects are killing the movies by reducing them to the trivialities of bigger effects every year (something I do not believe), I don’t think she would be as blithe. (You should correct me if I’m wrong, L.) All political are local.

    And it’s worth pointing out that Kris Tapley was just given an award for his coverage of cinematography by the Cinematographers Guild… which he was only really able to do because of the award season. They value his contribution to the discussion of their art.

    I have the freedom to cover docs, foreign, and small indies more often than I might otherwise – especially in the other half of the year – because the chase for the little gold guy funds me. I take pleasure in both sides, but as all of you have witnessed, getting the money to cover the less pop side of the business is tougher and tougher… witness indietelevisionbreakingbadnewpicturesfromthelatestfranchiseWIRE.

    The majority of journalists, even the big ones, are in survival mode these days. I get it. I empathize with it. But in every whorehouse in the world, there are lazy whores who just want to get the john out of there and hard working whores who want the john to have a good value for their money (even if the john doesn’t always know the difference). Isn’t one better than the other?

  14. cadavra says:

    I’d like to point out that 19 years ago at this point, nobody was talking about MILLION DOLLAR BABY–because Clint was still shooting it.

  15. Big G says:

    I think you mean 9 years ago.

  16. David Poland says:

    A little bit of an exaggeration, Cad (it was in post)… but point taken.

    You never know until you know.

    It’s funny. I was in one of the very first screenings of that film…. 3 of us at the WB lot. And I “knew” it was going to win right then. And I was FIRST to write about it. That was also the year of Phantom. And, scarily enough, Alexander.

    You never know until you know.

  17. movieman says:

    With the Bennett Miller movie, “Grace of Monaco” and (more than likely) Scorsese pushed back till 2014, I’m starting to wonder which other highly touted year-end releases will suffer–or be graced with–the same fate.
    Any predix?

  18. Big G says:

    Grudge Match maybe.

  19. movieman says:

    I don’t think anyone involved w/ “GM” has any serious awards aspirations, though, G.
    But it does seem like an unconventional holiday release.
    I could definitely see it being delayed until 2014.
    I was thinking more along the lines of heavy-breathing Oscar bait fare.

  20. Etguild2 says:

    “Foxcatcher” has already moved. The only unseen major contenders left, assuming WOWS moves, are “Monuments Men,” “American Hustle,” and “Her.”

  21. cadavra says:

    Big G: D’oh!

  22. movieman says:

    “Her” is obviously not moving since it closes NYFF.
    “Hustle” and “Monuments,” though?
    Doesn’t it seem odd that Sony would be releasing two such awards bait-y type of movies within mere days of each other?

  23. Etguild2 says:

    Oh, and “Saving Mr. Banks” has yet to be seen.

  24. Joe Leydon says:

    The only reason I get annoyed about Oscar talk this time of year: It seems people already have forgotten everything released before August. I’m not saying there were dozens of possible nominees in the mix, but geez: Fruitvale Station, The Great Gatsby, 42, Mud, Unfinished Song… OK, I admit, I was the only one talking up a Terence Stamp nomination for that one, but still…

  25. David Poland says:

    U is quite serious about Soul Survivor as well.

The Hot Blog

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