MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

20W2O: Episode 12 Wks to Go – The Desolation Of Smog

The world of covering the Oscar race has changed.

Of course, you know that. It’s not really news. I guess my question is whether awards coverage 2103 is the chicken or the egg of current journalistic trends.

We just did our 7th Best Picture chart for Gurus o’ Gold and the thing that strikes me most powerfully, is that the movies that were in the Top Ten are still the same 10 movies that are there today and none of them have ever dropped out of the 10… and obviously, nothing new has broken in.

Yesterday, we did a post-Globes nomination chart and only one other Guru beside myself chose to stay pat with the same Top Ten as just 2 or 3 days before. But did anything actually change with the Globes nominations? Well, there was movement inside the group of 10 select pictures. The overall number of films getting any votes went from 14 to 13. But was there any real change? No.

American Hustle didn’t get the full embrace after NYFCC voted for it… but after it also got a bunch of Globes nominations, it got the bear hug. And after Saving Mr. Banks didn’t get a picture nomination of either flavor, it fell a bit. Of course, The Wolf of Wall Street took an even bigger hit, falling from #6 (presumed in) to #9 (very borderline) after getting nominated. So go figure.

This is what I figure. I think that movie journalists, bless our hearts, have gone from keeping score on the pinball machine of the season to being under the glass… part of the game. Every time there is a noise, instead of just reporting it in the perspective of the hundreds of other sounds—and the biggest story, which is whether the ball is still in play—each noise is A GAME CHANGER.

But to misquote The Incredibles, if everything is a Game Changer, then nothing is a Game Changer.

We’ve pretty much been in award lockdown since before Venice/Telluride/Toronto. Take a look at the pre-V/T/T Gurus chart and you will see that the only film not in The Top Ten back then that’s there today and has been there since Gurus started voting weekly in November is Her, which became a member of the Top Ten and has stayed since it was shown at the NY Film Festival in October.

And yet, there we are, OMGing every award from every obscure and not-so-obscure awards-giving body (or individual person).

Now, to be fair, there are other categories. But even that shows very little movement since 6 charts ago. Really, the specific performances in American Hustle have been the one real change in the game since we started playing all those months ago.

The odd thing is that instead of this being hailed as a fairly even race between pictures and performances and below-the-line efforts on a dozen movies that are pretty well-liked and respected across the board, allowing the media and everyone else to slow it all down and to appreciate the pleasure of each award—knowing full well that in the end, with one of the longest Phase II periods ever, Academy members will see each of the dozen movies and just plain make up their minds for themselves—the intensity of every single freakin’ moment as a crucial change in the wind is sucking much of the pleasure out of the strong movie year we are experiencing.

(Was that a run-on sentence or just really, really long?)

I don’t expect The Oscars themselves to be a better or as good a show as the musical event thrown by Scott Rudin, CBS Films, and T-Bone Burnett for Inside Llewyn Davis. I’m not sure there will be as lovely a moment on the Oscar show as Richard Sherman leading a restaurant full of jaded indistry-ites in “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” with an able assist from Emma Thompson and the cast of Saving Mr. Banks. Will there be another experience like the first time you see Gravity on a big screen and wonder if you have seen the dawn of a new cinema? Can anyone ever know what is going to come out of the heart of Spike Jonze?

And there are thousands of people who vote and cover and think about awards season who are having all kinds of other wonderful experiences of their own along the way. That’s the point, isn’t it? To celebrate what is amazing about movies?

So next time you read, “X has happened and it’s changed the race dramatically,” take a deep breath and think. If the race has been between the same 15 movies and the same 35 actors, etc, for months already, does any one event really change… or even suggest anything changing amongst 5800 people who are, mostly, not voting for any of the prior awards?

Or more specifically, do you really believe that being included or not included in the votes of 88-ish foreign journalists really define the choices that thousands of Academy members will make next week?

Or even more specifically, do you really feel comfortable that, say, Joaquin Phoenix or Idris Elba isn’t locked into an Academy Best Actor slot, but Bruce Dern and Robert Redford are after being nominated for the same awards? Is Saving Mr Banks really out of the Best Picture race because it wasn’t nominated for a Best Picture Globe, but Nebraska and Rush are because they were?

Even the most statistically valid of arguments… that not being Globe nominated makes it unlikely that a film will win Best Picture at the Oscars… has exceptions. But the most basic one, of which films will be Academy-nominated, are invariably wrong if you compare the Globes 10 to the Academy 10.

All groups are now reading off the same small list of “legit contenders.” They have been for months and will be throughout the rest of the season. There will be—and have been—variations of which films and performances are chosen from that list. There is even the possibility of someone or something coming from completely off the small list.

Trends do start to happen. This is completely legit. But they don’t happen because of award nominations.

So stop, look at the movies, and don’t listen too much. You’re likely being sold a duck in a barrel… the very best one.

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4 Responses to “20W2O: Episode 12 Wks to Go – The Desolation Of Smog”

  1. Sam E. says:

    I’ve thought since the beginning of October that I would be surprised if the winner wasn’t American Hustle, Captain Philips, 12 Years a Slave or Gravity.

  2. Daniel says:

    I sure do miss the Critics Scoreboard. Hopefully someone will have time to put it together, as well as the Top 10s for 2013?

  3. Ray Pride says:

    They’re in the making.

  4. Jerry says:

    Great to hear the composite top tens will be back since that is why I started reading MCN. I hate the Metacritic scoring system which makes a third place and a tenth place the same so I hope MCN sticks with their old scoring system

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