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David Poland

By David Poland

20 Weeks To Oscar: Is The Door Wide Open Again?


Just last Sunday, I wrote about my sense that the door was closed on all but four of the nominees for Best Picture.

But this week has got me wondering about it again…

Could the Academy’s bizarre preferential balloting system be the defining issue in coming to a Best Picture winner this year?

It is possible, of course, that it has mattered in a real way in the past. We don’t know. The Academy leadership is not supposed to know either. The ballots are meant to remain as secret after the awards as they are before the awards. So is it possible that Gravity, for instance, had more #1 votes than 12 Years A Slave last year, but that 12 Years won by having more votes in the #1 and #2 slot in the second round of counting? Yes. No one knows.

And let me note again, before going any further, that the existence of the preferential ballot system at The Academy is IDIOTIC and I will forever believe that this was a bad joke foisted on The Academy by an exiting Bruce Davis. The Academy has always been pretty middlebrow and the preferential ballot makes it more so, as it actually mutes passion rather than encouraging it. And of course, the idiocy is made even more obvious by the fact that they use this rule only for Best Picture. 20% +1 vote can win any other category. Not Picture. Because… we all know that democracy is better served by a system no one understands definitively or can anticipate.

Worse, The Academy system actually does create a situation in which you can, perhaps effectively, vote against a movie. If you think four movies of eight are serious contenders and you love one and wish to handicap the others, put the other three in your 6, 7 & 8 slots. If enough people don’t vote for any movie to qualify to stay in the game, they are eliminated at the end of any voting round. So… if only 300 members voted for, say, Whiplash, as their #1 movie, but every single voter voted for it as #2, it would have been disqualified at the end of Round 1 and though it would, no doubt, have the most overall votes in the Round 2 count, it could not win.


A theory currently floating out there about this season is that the vote is so spread out that it will surely take a second round and no one would be that surprise if it went to a third round of voting before any any film gets to the 2900 or so votes needed to win Best Picture.

And really, if you get past two rounds of vote counting, looking at this year’s group of films, it really could be anyone’s game. I don’t know how many people will go for The Imitation Game or The Theory of Everything as their #1 films… but everything I have heard for months suggests that they will be in the #2, #3, and #4 slots on a ton of ballots. Birdman may be divisive, but will more than half The Academy have it in the top 3 slots on their ballots? I would think so. Boyhood has failed to get to a full lather in the last few weeks… but it still may be the clear frontrunner for a second round of voting that combines #1s and #2s from ballots with eliminated #1s. The Grand Budapest Hotel is another film that is unlikely to win on #1s, but could surge mightily on #2s and #3s.

And what of the two controversial titles, Selma and American Sniper?

I think both films still face a significant protest vote against them. Selma‘s wound is self-inflicted. As discussed earlier this week, calling people whose votes you would like “racist old men” or hoping to support that claim in any way is not a great campaign choice, especially when 85%+ of the group is made up of old white men and surely at least 80% of that group sees themselves as card-carrying liberals.

As for American Sniper, the surge, starting with the massive box office, is undeniable. And many people who are not right-wing fringe players do like the movie… certainly more than the media attacks against the film would suggest. But I also think that at least 30% of Academy members are going to be influenced in a real way (very low ranking) by the portrait that has been laid out about the real Chris Kyle. If I am right, the bar for the film becomes about 2/3rds of Top 3 votes from those willing to vote for the film. That’s a major handicap, even more so in a flat year.

In both cases, I should point out again, the issue is not just votes “against” (aka intentionally low ranking), but also the competition of other films that people like a lot or love. You will most often lose just because people prefer another film in greater numbers. As simple as that, even with the crazy voting system. But if you have a significant block that starts by voting against you, the preferential ballot can kill you.

Without the preferential ballot, I actually think there would be an excellent chance for either Selma or American Sniper to win Best Picture. They are movies stir a great deal of passion, much of it positive. As the system is, they remain longshots.

And it is also worth noting, Crash beat Brokeback Mountain before this system was put in place. If the preferential balloting system was in place then, you could make a good case that Brokeback would have won the day, as Crash‘s support was rabid, positive or negative. (Personally, I would have voted for Munich or Capote over either film.) So perceived injustices are not unique to preferential voting.

And that is what the thinking is this hour…

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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