MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

11 Weeks To Oscar: Control Freak’s Lament


This (see above) is what Oscar writers – we’re all f-ing bloggers now! – have looked like over the last few weeks. Blowing in the wind of the NBR, NYFCC, LAFCA, SAG, and a parade of local film critics groups.

It’s one of those life ironies. As the business of chasing awards for dollars has peaked in the four-trade, everyone-in, go get those ad dollars from those specialized budgets, here comes an award season with few, if any, clear answers.

What gets really weird is that it all becomes so much inside baseball numbers banter that we seem to lose track of what the good part of an award season is… The Work.

We should all be celebrating the fact that there has been so much excellent work done this year that there are wildly divergent views of what the best of that work is. But instead, the awards season media seems in a constant brood about why each personal preference isn’t getting traction here or there… or being all too celebratory about a win here or there.

Not only is award season not about the journalists who cover it, but it is not really even about the machinations of the season. It is about The Work.

And it is not.

Both ideas have to live in your head at the same time to make sense of this glorious insanity. Candidates for awards are both artists and salesmen. The media covering the season is both a source of perspective and a source of myopia. The studios chasing awards are driven by both ego-driven vanity and earnest pride in the work to which they are parent.

In balance lies sanity. If you seek purity in the award season, you will find endless despair. If you focus only on the daily grind of the machine, you will destined for the loony bin after you lose your sanity completely. But the cocktail of hope and cynicism, objective reality and flights of fancy, talent time and real time, hysteria and cool… that is the way to survive as a professional in this game.

But in the media, we get endless whining instead. NYFCC goes with Carol and Keaton… and BOOM!, Carol, thought to be an also-ran by many, is inevitable and Keaton is a lock and Michael Fassbender is over. But then, LAFCA goes Mad Max and Fassbender and Alicia Vikander in Supporting not for The Danish Girl, even though the group has a history of giving acting awards for the year’s cumulative work in multiple movies and BOOM!, Spotlight is in trouble in Supporting Actor and George Miller is the guaranteed Best Director winner. Then today, SAG leaves out Spotlight‘s men – except in its version of Best Picture, Best Ensemble – so BOOM!, that’s gotta be over and Stallone is just a vapor after being the favorite to win for some just last week and Beasts of No Nation is a Best Picture nominee to come and Vikander & Mara are both in Supporting, but don’t pay too much attention to that because until someone gets the trademark on “category fraud,” what’s the point and, oh yeah, Spotlight, which failed to get a Supporting Male nomination, is the only film that can win Best Picture in 3 months because SAG’s history of nominees says so, so nice knowing you The Martian, The Academy, which more often than not doesn’t match up with SAG, has got its marching orders from SAG.


And now, rationalizations. This one didn’t get their discs in time. That one wasn’t in town enough. I watched an Oscar writer freak out a director profoundly by telling him that his film didn’t get SAG nominations because the studio didn’t get the discs out in time. The director immediately started investigating who was responsible, a volcano in waiting, and the writer started sweating and doing his best Ed Norton (not the actor, the Honeymooner).

Of course, some fool at one of the many trades – can’t throw away just one – came up with the story that Oscar race is now a “hot mess.” Why? Because he can’t guess what’s coming. And you know what? He couldn’t really guess what was coming if he had a printed map. But everyone else seems confused too… so it must be chaos of some kind. It couldn’t just be that different groups have different taste and that there are a lot of good choices in the field…. you know, what Oscar writers claim they really, really want… until it happens and they can’t guess every step that every group makes. We are such victims!

And here is the hot, hot news… it’s not going to change until we actually get the Oscar nominations. It won’t change tomorrow with the Golden Globe nominations, no matter what happens. In a bit over 2 weeks, Academy voting with open online. Printed ballots will be available a few days later. And over the course of two weeks, Academy members will vote. And here is, exactly, how it will go…

They will vote for what they like.

It will be a short list of legitimate contenders, but there will be at least double the number of films and performances and work they consider seriously as there are votes they cast for nominees.

When nominations are announced, there will be surprises and things that seem obvious.

No one will be snubbed. Many worthy candidates will not be nominated.

It’s really that simple. The job of all the consultants and media and everyone who expresses the urge to exert power over this process is now about getting people to see the movies. If not enough voters see Creed or Straight Outta Brooklyn, the less the possibility – mathematically – that there are nominations from those films. And if you are an Oscar voter, you have an absolute duty to see both of those films. Try them. You may love them. You may not. But you are derelict in your duty if you do not.

And not only those (though those two films face the very real sting of racial bias in terms of getting many voters seeing those films)… I also hear about voters who don’t want to watch The Danish Girl and I have no idea if that is a trans bias or not. (The fantasy that Tangerine, glorious though it is, has a chance at The Academy is, well, a fantasy.) And there is talk about people avoiding The Revenant and/or The Hateful Eight and, sorry, you need to go… you just do… you may hate one or both, but if you are voting, these are directors you can’t just dismiss. And by the way, put Sicario in the damned machine already! And see Carol in a theater, where it belongs.

Sorry if your movie wasn’t in that paragraph, but you don’t really need a push The Martian or Room or Spotlight or Bridge of Spies… Academy voters will almost all watch your films without being shoved into it. You’re just fine.

You see, this is about the movies. And about you, the Academy voter. And we are just typing monkeys trying to pretend to know more than we could possibly know – “That race was so close”… based on what exactly? – in part because we love it and in part because we think our perceived intelligence and insight about the season makes us feel safer in getting ad sales that pay the bills – whether trade bills or personal – when in fact, a dolphin with a crayon in their blowhole and an Academy address list could make a fortune in this market.

Certainly, some distributors and some consultants are significantly more skillful about getting voters to see the movies and warming up the room. Room, for instance, is not only really well liked, but those involved have done a really excellent job of making its fans feel good about voting for the film and that their votes will not be wasted. Others would have blown that. Much bigger movies with a lot more money to work with are going to blow it this season. I’m not going to name names right now, but there are 4 or 5 campaigns sliding out of the race right now because they are being mishandled in various ways. Pray that it’s not your film. But if you build it (correctly), they will (usually) come. And that is really all you, as a person behind any film, can do.

There are also going to be a significant group of films that… well… just aren’t good enough. Sell ’em, don’t sell ’em… it doesn’t matter. Academy members may have middlebrow taste, but damn it, they have to like your film and all the cocktails and superstars aren’t going to get you nominated. (This isn’t the enter-any-BS-awards-group-name-here!)

The only people obsessing on what SAG nominated or what slot Rooney Mara is in or what the gosh-darned Hollywood Foreign Press The Flesh & Reap The Wealth Association decides they like and/or may make them look like they influenced the Oscars, are media. And we don’t have a vote.

And the only people who will know what writer I called an idiot in this piece? Writers and consultants. Because no one else will bother to remember whose byline that was. We are not the news.

So stop wasting your time reading me (until next week… please come back next week… I have a kid who needs his school paid for!!!!) and go to the movies. Because the movies are all that matters. Honest.

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4 Responses to “11 Weeks To Oscar: Control Freak’s Lament”

  1. The Pope says:

    I know it’s just a typo, but I did smile at STRAIGHT OUTTA BROOKLYN.
    A group of Irish immigrants rapping at the local church dance.
    Or could that be a logline for Perfect Pitch 3?

  2. Kevin says:

    I was about to comment about Straight Outta Brooklyn too! Intentional or not, I love it.

  3. Bob Burns says:

    Great rant.

    lotta well-paid people trying to create a narrative for the awards season. The Peeves in me is enjoying the confusion. Temporary, no doubt.

  4. Glamourboy says:

    Dave, your company THRIVES on Oscar forecasting. You are part of the voices that pipe in and forecast. Here is one easy way to lessen the chaos…step out of it. Stop writing about the awards season every week. Maybe you think that writing about Oscar forecasters is somehow more interesting than writing about the films themselves? It isn’t.

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