MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

20 Weeks To Oscar: 4 Days Away…

There isn’t a lot more to write about this Oscar season.

It wasn’t complex. It wasn’t full of surprises. And nothing in its nature has suggested any real change at The Academy or inside The Industry.

The Academy is still old and white. Young people still tend to spark what changes about the industry. But the process of “becoming” for non-actors tends not to be an overnight event.

Of the 5 Best Director nominees, only one, Mel Gibson, has been nominated before and not surprisingly, he is the oldest at 61. (He also just had a new child born into the world.) But the first time he was nominated as director, production started when he was 39.

Ken Lonergan is second-oldest at 54, finally getting his first nod for something other than writing, with his third feature film. The process began (production on his first feature as writer-director) when he was 37.

Denis Villeneuve, now 49, had been directing Québecois features for 12 years, from the age of 30, before he was drawn into Hollywood after Incendies, his 2010 Foreign Language nominee. In the 7 years since, he has made five English-language features, the fifth of which will be released in October.

Barry Jenkins made a splash at the Indie Spirits, but nowhere else with Medicine for Melancholy at 29 ($111,551 at the box office). Eight years later, he is back with Moonlight, having done many things, but no feature over those years.

Damien Chazelle is the “baby” of the group at 32, with his Oscar nomination for director coming with just his third feature… without the 8-year delay. But there was a 7-year production delay between Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, the feature that was the foundation for La La Land. Interestingly, Chazelle also made a short of Whiplash before succeeding dramatically with the feature film just a year later. I’m guessing that we won’t see any more shorts that lead to features in Chazelle’s career.

Twenty-nine years is the difference between the oldest and the youngest… that is pretty much what The Academy looks like. There have only been 6 Best Director nominees under 30 in the history of The Academy… only one in the 25 years since 1992 (M. Night Shyamalan). There have been 5 directing nominations for directors over 70 in that same period… 3 for Eastwood, and 1 each for Woody Allen and Robert Altman. So that’s the extreme.

But basically, The Academy begins in middle age. And this makes sense. The premise of the organization, whether you feel it fulfills this or not, is that it is a group of people who have delivered a level of achievement. As exciting as youth can be, that tends to lead to maturity.

If you want an awards group that will embrace what younger people embrace (35 and under), look elsewhere. You don’t have to insult the Academy membership. It just makes sense. It is not a young, hip room… by definition.

Race? Not a surprise either.

I’ve done a very broad look at “movies of color,” either focused on a story about people of color of starring a key movie star of color that have grossed over $30 million domestic in the last decade. I count 72 in the last decade… just 7.2 a year. (I am fine with people questioning the methodology. There are titles – like The Blind Side or Invictus – that could be argued. But the number is not wildly off.)

Nine of the 72 are Tyler Perry movies. Eight are Denzel movies (including The Great Debaters, which he directed, but didn’t star in). Six are Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson movies that aren’t Fast or Furious. Five are Will Smith movies. Four are Fast & Furious movies. Thirteen are outright comedies that are in none of the previously mentioned categories.

That’s 45 of 72.

From the pre-qualified categories, what were at-all-realistic Oscar BP contenders? American Gangster, Seven Pounds, The Great Debaters, Flight, Fences. Four Denzel movies and a Will Smith.

Only one BP nominee from that group came to pass.

What does that leave that could be considered Oscar possibles?

The Secret Lives of Bees, Doubt, The Blind Side, Invictus, The Help, Django Unchained, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, 42, 12 Years A Slave, Selma, Get On Up, Straight Outta Compton, Creed, and Hidden Figures. 15 titles.

Five of these 15 titles were nominated. I can understand if you want to kick Help and/or Django to the curb as “not really black movies.” But it’s still a good rate of nomination.

Of course, not every Oscar movie grosses $30 million. 17 BP nominees in the last decade have grossed less than $30m domestic. Under that box office bar, three Best Picture nominees of color have passed: Moonlight, Lion (Indian), and Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Either way, this is not an argument about prejudice. But the facts point to a lack of Oscar-friendly films “of color” more than racial bias (which exists in some ways) in The Academy.

Women? Six films directed by women have been nominated for Best Picture in the last decade (of 78 films nominated for Best Picture). Only one nomination was bestowed upon the female director of those films. Kathryn Bigelow and The Hurt Locker.

I hate pain comparisons, but 5 films directed by black people were nominated for Best Picture in the last decade. And there were 3 nominations for black directors out of those 5. (Denzel and Ava DuVernay were left out.)

There were an additional five films with black leads or themes nominated for Best Picture and directed by white men in that same 10 years. From this group, only Benh Zeitlin got a nomination.

Of course, women represent more than half the population and America is about 13% black, so put that in your calculation.

On the other hand, the industry overall had a lot more movies every year generating $30 million or more that are about or are fronted by women. About 25% of $30m+-grossing films released in 2016 had female leads. Four of the nine Best Picture nominees this season have a female actor as a lead.

But almost none of them were directed by women.

I have nothing against Christian Ditter. Don’t know him. Don’t know much about him. I do know, however, that he didn’t write How To Be Single… didn’t come up with How To Be Single… and Ditter, the director of one previous English-language film that barely got released, was not critical to the success or failure of that film. This is the kind of slot that could easily have been filled at New Line/WB by a female director… one of the scores of them who have made smaller films and TV (as Ditter had) in America (unlike Ditter).

Was Thea Sharrock that hard to swallow as director or the hit, Me Before You?

Some of these low budget, studio-released horror films couldn’t have a woman at the helm?

I understand that most of the films, for women or otherwise, are birthed by male directors who came along at some point and fell in love. Yes. Of course, men were the ones put in position to fall in love and make themselves seem irreplaceable. But there are a lot of programmers out there. Be honest.

Universal is taking a big leap with a franchise title by hiring Trish Sie, with just one feature under her belt, for a franchise film, Pitch Perfect 3. But hey… Jason Moore was a first-time feature director with the first of the series. Elizabeth Banks was a first-time feature director with the second of the series. Geez… Trish Sie is positively overqualified by the successful standard for this franchise.

So. Ageism, racism, and sexism. Which is the biggest problem at The Academy? In Hollywood?

Measuring and comparing is a fool’s errand (which I guess makes me a bit of a fool today). They are all a problem.

And I don’t think The Academy should get a free pass on these issues.

But I believe there is real danger in the target moving endlessly. I don’t think there are many people who don’t want things to improve for women, POC, and elders. But there needs to be a way to find demands/expectations that can be consistently applied. Because when everything is a trigger, nothing gets triggered.

Enjoy the La La Land win. Pray that Jimmy Kimmel is at his very best and we don’t get a load of smirky insider boy humor between him and a dozen actors he has cultivated over the last decade. And love the movies.

See you on the other side…

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8 Responses to “20 Weeks To Oscar: 4 Days Away…”

  1. Glamourboy says:

    I’m wondering about all the backlash for La La Land and if there is going to be a surprise winner for Best Picture. I think the buzz and front-runner status has worn off and ALL I hear from people is that it’s over-rated…or that they absolutely hated it, walked out on it, only watched 30 minutes of it, etc. Will that make a last minute difference? Maybe. I would say that Moonlight would be the surprise winner, but if they didn’t give the Oscar to Brokeback Mountain they aren’t going to give it to Moonlight. I would guess that HIdden Figures, a movie with momentum working for it, could be the surprise winner.

  2. Ben Kabak says:

    Backlash in your own mind. There is a reason it set a record of nom’s.

  3. William O'Neill says:

    Denzel did star in the Great Debaters …

  4. chris says:

    I am begging you to stop leading with phrases such as “There isn’t a lot more to write about” (right before you write a lot more about it) or “I don’t have much to say about” (right before you have much to say about it). You do it a lot. It is annoying and untrue and it devalues your own good work.

  5. Glamourboy says:


    Not a backlash in my own mind…my Fb feed is literally full of posts (with many oscar voters) saying that they finally got around to watching their screener of La La Land and they are wondering about what all the hype is about. The Hollywood Reporter series interviewing Oscar voters had almost no one claiming that they voted for La La Land for Best Pic…Samuel L Jackson was interviewed and said he could only sit through 20 minutes of it….Kareem Abdul Jabar wrote a piece for the Hollywood Report (I believe) talking about how he found the film racist….so trust me, its not just in my mind.

  6. chris says:

    Everyone who sees a movie months after it was raved about wonders what all the hype was about. That’s how hype/expectations work.

  7. Chris L. says:

    That is one nutty hospital. Or something.

    It’s so antithetical to these folks to reward the best movie of the year, that when the Halley’s Comet event happens, it has to come with a cringing, hair-pulling scandal attached.

    I wouldn’t wish that ending on anybody. Those that lost are humiliated, and the winners are robbed of their rightful moment of joy. They need to disband this thing.

  8. Glamourboy says:

    Ah…Hello Ben Kaback….what were you saying about there not being a La La Land backlash?

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