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David Poland

By David Poland

20 Weeks To Oscar… 3 Days Left

The irony of this moment is that with almost nothing left to say, the world’s media suddenly feels compelled to say EVERYTHING all at once.

Here’s the deal, as concisely as I can offer it…

Best Picture is a giant cluster of possibilities, none of which is sure. The only film that I truly think is locked out at this point is Selma, because the anger around the lack of more nominations slapped a lot of Academy voters right in the face. Had Selma been the winner, it would not have been an embarrassment… nor would it be locked into the slot as one of the greatest films ever made. But the social game blew up in the film’s face. Hollywood prefers meaningless snubs, like Ben Affleck not getting a Best Director slot, to a discussion of race that points a finger at the voters (fairly or not).

That leaves 7.

And that invokes all that is good and bad about preferential voting.

Simplifying… do half of the ballots +1 (approximately 3001) have your title in the first round of counting? That seems impossible this year.

Without getting into a complicated attempt to explain how the preferential voting process works, each following round disqualifies the lowest/lower vote-getters and redistributes their highest still-qualified vote.

Preferential Voting has been defended in some corners. The LA Times took a shot at explaining the process again this year… and got a kick in the teeth for allegedly getting some of it wrong. (Ed. Note, 5:12p: The LA Times piece has been given a “thumbs up” by PriceWaterhouseCoppers, so the slap – certainly its dismissive tone – seems to be out of order.) Writers point out that the Australian Parliament, 10 American cities, some universities, and others use the system.

But while the preferential vote is not an issue – which suggests to me that it should not exist – in most Best Picture races, where one or two films seem to dominate the voting. Everyone seems to assume – though none of us actually know – that most Best Picture votes in this system go to the second round, where there is one redistribution of votes, and a winner is selected.

But this is a unique year. There seems to be a lot of support for pretty much all of the 8 nominees. And this is where the convolutions of preferential voting get (potentially) ugly. The more broadly support is spread over the 8 titles, the more rounds of redistribution become inevitable.

The purpose of preferential voting is to avoid one passion film that is widely disliked by the rest of the voting group from winning because there are so many candidates. In a group like The Academy, that means that 6000 or so votes (the full membership is now over 6200 because of expansion to attempt greater diversity in age, color, and gender), making 751 the minimum possible winning total in a straight up vote of #1s, more realistically meaning that 1000 or 1200 votes could conceivably win Best Picture without a rule requiring adjustment. The argument against this being that no one wants a film to win Best Picture when only 20% of The Academy loves it when 60% might hate it.

I don’t actually think this would be so bad. I see the value of this system in political races in which there are more than 3 or 4 candidates. The cost of re-votes is prohibitive and there is a public interest in a winner by majority. But with The Academy, the stakes are much lower and there is no situation in which one could anticipate a radical mob of 1200 in The Academy picking a porn film (or some such horror) to win Best Picture to make a statement.

For the record, this also means that I discount any real possibility of enough people “gaming the system,” as people call it, to make a major difference in what happens in a vote of 6000 individuals. I do think the smaller branches are subject to this kind of thing when it comes to nominations. If your branch has 350 people in it and 100 are so committed to one film that they avoid voting for what they see as a serious competitor from a short list, that could certainly keep the threatening film from a nomination. But I’m not talking about categories other than Best Picture today… or the nominating process.

Now… even if you don’t think a straight majority is okay, I would argue that there are better systems to make this work. My personal preference would be for a Top 5 vote in which every vote is counted and weighted. It’s simple and more voices with wider interests would, I feel, be heard that way. Or heck.. do the whole group of nominees, whatever the number. Getting a 50% +1 majority would not be an issue, as every film would have as many votes as are counted.

And if voters want to, effectively, vote against a film by making it their #8 or whatever, so be it. It is an election, not a game.

With that issue brought up again… and put to bed for now… the other 24 categories are going to be interesting as well… for much the same reason that the Best Picture race is so interesting this year. There aren’t a lot of obvious answers.

Yes… there are JK Simmons, Patricia Arquette, and Julianne Moore. All seem pretty obvious at this point. To be honest, I don’t think Moore, who has given better performances in better movies, is a natural slam-dunk. But there hasn’t been much push from anyone else to keep her from the win. So I don’t really see an upset happening there.

And then there are the other 21 categories.

Actor has become a 3-horse race… the never-before-nominated Redmayne and Keaton, and the thrice-in-a-row nominated Bradley Cooper. True toss-up.

Director seems like a competition between two brilliant stunts… Alejandro G. Iñárritu and the “one-shot” vs Richard Linklater and the 12-year journey. And Wes Anderson, director of well-loved and profoundly stunty films is right there in case the leaders somehow kill one another off.

Both Screenplay votes seem precursor-settled and reality-up-in-the-air. The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game have won a lot of hardware so far. But Birdman and Boyhood and Whiplash and American Sniper all seem right in range to “upset.” Often, when you watch The Oscars, there are certain categories that seem to signal what is coming at the end of the night. This could be the tipping point this year… or an utter distraction of the “so close… but so far” variety. We’ll only know in retrospect.

Cinematography seems to be locking in for Chivo for the second straight year. But then again, it would be the second straight year. Do people think about that when they vote? Does the name Emmanuel Lubezki even register or are voters mostly thinking about the movie they thought looked coolest? (“Manny Lubeski” could have come over from Poland 40 years ago. He didn’t… but he could have.) Again, The Grand Budapest Hotel, shot by Robert D. Yeoman, looks pretty great. And Yeoman has been around this game, in LA, for 30 years.

Production Design seems to be settled in with Grand Budapest… but it is such a diverse category. You have a big showy fantasy-ish pieces in Into The Woods, early-1800’s England in Mr. Turner, the space/corn continuum in Interstellar, and 1940s England, including a cool model for the first computer in The Imitation GameBudapest is the biggest show-er in this group… but sometimes they push back on that.

Costume Design is also interesting. Budapest‘s high style, Maleficent‘s high goth, Into The Woods‘ high/low, Inherent Vice‘s high high, and Mr. Turner‘s nose high in the air. Some say Budapest is locked in. I see this as a pretty open race.

Editing is a pretty distinct choice. 12 years cut together in Boyhood. Tempo setting on Whiplash. Action in American Sniper. And Wes Anderson pacing in The Grand Budapest Hotel. You even have William Goldenberg for The Imitation Game, a win that seems unlikely, but would be for a guy who is a longtime part of “the family” (as is Joel Cox, fwiw). Complete crap shoot, as far as I’m concerned. Could be a vote for the favorite film. Could be hooked into the time thing. Could be that a beautifully edited, but cut-heavy music piece feels like the most edited.

The sound editing and mixing categories are always mysteries. What those categories are meant to honor and what the wide expanse of Academy voters think they are voting for is always at loggerheads.

Visual Effects would be well served if every voter could get a look at the “bake-off” reels. This is another category where voters often go for “most effects” because they really don’t know what they are looking at when they consider their picks.

Make-Up and Hair is an interesting one because it does seem so obvious. Or does it? This season in particular, it’s The Hair (Budapest) vs The Nose (Foxcatcher) vs The Skin (Guardians). But is this fair to any of the contenders? For instance, on Guardians, the green skin was done by the make-up team, but the scarred Drax skin was done by a prosthetics team. And how would a voter balance that out, even if they knew? Ironically, this is a category for work that is really meant to be seamless… unnoticeable. And in many ways, it is. So people pick what they like… which probably means Budapest.

Score is interesting this year. Since 1946, when it became a 5-person race, there has been a composer nominated for two films in the same year 14 times (8 of those times, it was John Williams) and the only time any of them have won was when John Williams won for Star Wars, the score of which was an actual bestseller on vinyl. This year, 8-time nominee Alexandre Desplat is up for The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game. He seems a lock. Only one of his competitors has a Best Picture nod to go with the score. None of the scores have become pop hits and none of the nominated songs are from any of the films nominated for score. But history suggests that Alexandre is going to be left at the altar again. Or maybe history just isn’t an issue this year.

Song would seem to be a mortal lock for Selma‘s “Glory.” But the name-calling put a lot of Academy voters (male and female) off. So maybe there is a surprise coming.

Documentary branch seemed to push away any of Citizenfour‘s seriously entertaining competitors. But we know that the vote of the full Academy tends to go for lighter, apolitical fare. Does this mean Virunga or Finding Vivian Maier? I think so. But every Academy rule is naturally meant to be broken.

Foreign Language is always rife with surprises. Ida is the only film to get a nomination outside of Foreign Language, which bodes well for a win in this category. Wild Tales is the most entertaining of the group. Leviathan is somewhere in between these two. Coin flip.

Animated Feature has been battled out hard by DreamWorks Animation and Disney. DWA seems to have done well in overcoming the objection to a “2” at the end of an Oscar nominated title. Any of the other three films seems like a longshot simply on the basis of familiarity of the name. Lean Dragon… don’t be surprised by BH6… and don’t have a heart attack if The Tale of Princess Kaguya, one of the last films from the founding leaders of Studio Ghibli finds its way to the podium.

The shorts? No idea. If 20% of voters have watched them, I’d be shocked. Dart board.

And with that, I wish you a great Oscar Sunday. It could be the most obvious series of winners ever… or the most chopped up night with no one getting more than 3 wins. That, my friends, is why they run the race.

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One Response to “20 Weeks To Oscar… 3 Days Left”

  1. lazarus says:

    “Does the name Emmanuel Lubezki even register or are voters mostly thinking about the movie they thought looked coolest?”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the names of the cinematographers aren’t on the ballot, just the titles of the films. Same for every non-acting category including direction.

    So it doesn’t matter at all whether they know who Lubezki is. In my opinion, it’s a shame that the award is going to a logistical gimmick for the second year in a row instead of exemplary photographic aesthetics.

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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.

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“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.

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