MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

9 Days To Oscar: Is That All There Is?

Is there anything left to mine this Oscar season?

I am feeling kinda scared for next week’s wave of stories, chasing any shred of an idea for an angle.

What haven’t we seen this season?

No true “dirty tricks” stories. No clear frontrunner, still. Nothing particularly sticky about any element of the films and talent involved, really, aside from #OscarsSoWhite.

It’s been a season without a cause. Last year, you had gay rights (The Imitation Game), black rights (Selma), a groundbreaking indie (Boyhood), a divisive movie about actors (Birdman), and a movie about PTSD that became a rightwing cause of sorts (American Sniper).

This year, the only two movies that connect to Big Issues feel like those issues were resolved long before these movies (The Big Short, Spotlight) arrived. This doesn’t make them any less interesting or valuable, just less essential in the heat of the moment.

The Directing battle has come down to a couple great directors doing beautiful visual pieces. But will the masses remember either film for more than the visceral excitement of those films?

Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t winning a Lifetime Achievement Award as much as a, Who Else Could We Vote For Award… which is not to disrespect the other excellent nominated performances, but Eddie got his last year and Matt is a lot of fun and we showed respect to Fassbender by nominating him in spite of his not being here and the film not doing business, and Cranston is catnip for old people, but Leo… he ate raw liver, was very cold, and grunted a lot… he wins.

In Supporting Actor, you have five nominees who almost went out of their way not to show a real desire to win, though Sly has been very gracious on his wining-dining tour.

Brie Larson has been the clear frontrunner since September and only Saoirse has really shown up there… and she will be back here many times.

Supporting Actress is a mess of great performances with the frontrunners in the commercial failures and the candidates from the two higher grossing films having a surprisingly hard time getting traction.

God love Emmanuel Lubezki (aka Chivo), but is his third win in a row (if it happens) very exciting?

I love the scores, actually… but does anyone care? And Best Song is made up of 5 songs that you couldn’t get someone on the street to hum to you if you offered them 5 $100 bills.

The prohibitive front-runners in Doc, Foreign, and Animation? The box office leaders in all three categories. Zzzzzzz…

Even the idiocy of The Horserace is messed up this season, as we have a three way instead of a two way.

The Academy is at fault for this flat feeling as well. Overreacting to the #OscarsSoWhite story, The Academy has distracted most of the coverage away from the films and re-focused it on the alleged bravery of the CEO and President of the organization. Studios have tried hard to break through the noise and there has been movement within small pockets, but nothing has seemed very celebratory.

And then there is the media, the challenged group in the room that can be counted on to behave exclusively in its own interest in immediate gratification. Ask 50 people if they remember any one specific moment of this award season and my guess is that you will get no fewer than 30 different answers (shrugs amongst them). Who won what at Toronto? I read something about that being important. What do we remember about The Golden Globes? Ricky Gervais. BFCA? No one saw it. SAG Awards? That’s a TV thing, no? But Beyonce was great at the Super Bowl. Has the Emmy push started yet?

If you think I am just picking on everyone else, make no mistake, I don’t think I am adding much to the conversation either. Whether the work media is doing is good or bad, there is such an onslaught that virtually everything has become branded meaninglessness. Virtually every screening, every Q&A, every award, every party… “Look… another posed photo of a movie actor!” “Hey! Another roundtable where you have to watch 60 minutes to catch the 3 quotes that anyone could ever care about.” “Cool… that outlet is so important because they can afford a $100,000 party (sponsored by…) and will promote the 5 people who show up that they hope someone will recognize without a caption!” “Excellent… that film festival has given up on promoting new and challenging films and will make up awards or give one award to five people in order to satisfy the endless hunger for more photos and video that will be forgotten within 48 hours.”

The Oscar season has turned into a 5-month movie premiere that isn’t scaled to quality, but to the need for publicity.

And for the record, it has become very fashionable to not work much anymore… which some talent might eventually realize is not only keeping them from winning awards, but is keeping their movies – when the box office doesn’t make a big award spent easy – from getting their moment. I know it’s shocking, folks, but it’s not all about you. Thus, the large number of people working the Santa Barbara International Film Festival & Circus this year who were not nominated. Oops. Too little, too late.

I really like the group of movies this year… but I am paying very close attention and I can’t find anything to get excited about at this point. If people I like win, I will be happy. That includes movies and performances than may not be my favorite. Ultimately, that means that there are very few categories where I am rooting for any one nominee with significantly more passion than other nominees.

And honestly, if I read one more “explainer” that explains nothing other than the need to fill column inches, I will scream. (Expect a lot of screams.)

The only pleasure left is really the simple truth of these movies. They exist. I am glad they exist. I am glad they are being honored. There are other films I would also love to see being honored, but they aren’t. Not next weekend. So, okay.

The Martian, Bridge of Spies, and Brooklyn were fairly normal development and production films. They should not be slighted for that. And the other of the 8 Best Picture nominees were all brutal slogs. We are lucky to have all of these films.

I hope that when I sit down to watch The Oscars, my experience will be of watching a celebration of the movies. And if that happens, it will be a good night, whoever and whatever wins.

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10 Responses to “9 Days To Oscar: Is That All There Is?”

  1. Glamourboy says:

    Time to scream. Dave, you’ve written a ‘explainer’..there’s no news here at all. All that comes across in the article is your boredom with your job. Imagine being excited about a sports game but the article you read is about how bored the reporter is with the Superbowl…or World Series. Clearly you need a break..maybe a long one. Some of us (myself included) are still excited about who is going to win.

  2. Bob Burns says:

    good column. thanks.

    IMO, the season is very much too long. It feels like yesterday’s news, and has for a while. The system now predigests everything for the Academy voters and any fan with interest and an internet connection can find out nearly all the outcomes weeks before the ceremony. The precursor system is not only a bore, but reduces a series of otherwise excellent awards into mini-Oscars whose prestige depends on predicting, or matching, the Academy’s choices.

    Other awards groups manage to make their choices, often for both film and TV, in far less time than the Academy. The only benefit of the long season I can see is more Oscar advertising cash for the media outlets we enjoy.

    Regarding race, the Academy is in the popularity game and, conservative or liberal, you can’t be popular to the masses and racially exclusive. There is no try.

  3. Sheila kind says:

    Meh column Dave with same old talking points. Tired. I hope some day when people are more inclined to look at movies from this year without attaching baggage to them that things won’t be as murky as you’re projecting. For the record, great year for some really interesting movies for a change. Sad that too many latched onto their faves without giving others due respect. Over and out.

  4. Daniella Isaacs says:

    If it’s become boring, it’s become boring. Dave’s a pundit, not a motivational speaker. I’m pretty bored this year, too. In previous years I would have sent out invites to 20 people to come over and watch at my place by now, but this year… well, all I can say is I’ll watch.

  5. YancySkancy says:

    Re the Best Song category: I can’t imagine that it would be hard to find people who could hum “Earned It.” It was a huge hit, one of the year’s 10 biggest.

  6. Daniella Isaacs says:

    I just listened to it on YouTube, Yancy. Not bad, but I don’t think I’d heard it before that. If I did, I forgot. (I didn’t see the film.)

  7. YancySkancy says:

    I didn’t see the film either. In fact, I’d heard the song multiple times on the radio before I even knew it was in the film.

    If I didn’t spend a fair amount of time in the car every week, I wouldn’t know what was going on with hit radio. In these days of iTunes, satellite radio, Spotify, etc., it’s a wonder anyone knows any music or artists they didn’t grow up with, or outside their favored genres. But the Weeknd is huge right now. Probably won’t help him on Oscar night, but you never know. He did win a Grammy last week for “Earned It,” I believe.

  8. Daniella Isaacs says:

    Exactly. I’m stuck in my own little Pandora universe. Still, when some songs/musicians break out big, I know pretty fast. I guess I missed the Weeknd when they were on SNL, Late Show, etc.

  9. samguy says:

    Bob Brown writes that the season has become much too long even though the actual ceremony is held much earlier (the end of Feb) then it has at times in the past (April). That’s because it starts in the fall with Toronto and doesn’t let up with various festivals, critics group awards and the Globes and constant bombardment in the media. Too long indeed – like the show itself most years.

  10. joshua says:

    yes, earned it/weeknd absolutely huge hit! c’mon poland

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