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David Poland

By David Poland

Strategy Session: Eight Things (In No Particular Order) To Know About Oscar Season

1. The Best Picture Field Has Already Been Narrowed To 30 Movies Or Less By August 1.

Movies don’t happen overnight. Some of the horses get out of the gate pretty late. But distributors see where they are throughout the winter and spring. By the summer, priorities have been made, schedules have been set, festivals have been targeted, and your dream that there will be fresh discoveries is mostly out the door.

Even indie hipsters, like A24, have their targets in mind well before you, the public, know a Room from a Moonlight. Things speed up fast after the films start screening at the festivals, but there are people who know exactly what they are hoping for and working towards that coaxing surprised agreement from the audience.

2. Journalists Help Narrow The Field Early In The Season (Festival Window) And After Thanksgiving.

The idea that critics and feature writers and Oscar bloggers (oh my!) are meaningless is false. However, the main times when they matter is during the first festival window (Venice/Telluride/Toronto) and during the bubbling cauldron of “what to do” in late November and early December.

In the festival window, journalists narrow the field. Obviously, some of the narrowing would happen without us. But some of it would not. Also, journalists can expand the field, though one often wonders if we are suckers being led to something we think is unexpected (like The Two Popes at Telluride this year).

And journalists can be a very real part of defining the narrative of a movie. This can be good or bad, especially these days. So much of the chattering class is busy chattering about biases and perceived values that have little to do with the moviegoing experience of real people. When this kind of thing occurs, the people selling the movie can either overreact or underreact to this kind of narrative. Challenging.

Later, as we head into the heavy pre-Oscar voting period, many of the groups are trying to figure out what Oscar voters will end up doing because, no matter how they protest, most groups want to be seen as Oscar influencers, knowing full well that their specific awards will soon be a distant memory for most. The Battle of The HFPA is also going on, although it is quite remarkable how many paid experts in that field turn out to be wrong in the end. But back to journalists… narrowing, narrowing, narrowing.

3. Some Big Titles Are Regularly Excluded From Telluride & NY By Those Festivals And It Is A Big Secret.

Does it really matter whether a handful of people in Berkeley or Manhattan think your movie sucks? No. They are often dead wrong. But in those early days of the season, no one wants the stain of being rejected. They want to be seen as making an affirmative choice. But almost every single season, at least one of the eventual Best Picture nominees and, by my count, at least four of the last 10 Best Picture winners has been rejected by one of those 2 early fall festivals.

4. No One Really Cares About Your Stinkin’ Politics.

This one is simple. Everything in the world is political in some way for some people. But the annual fantasy that Oscar voters are going to get behind this movie or that because of the politics of the moment is dashed pretty much every single time. In the last 40 years, Crash is really the only example I can find… and honestly, I see that win as a response to a still very homophobic Academy membership as much as anything else. (It’s not that they hated gay people… it’s that they didn’t want a movie about gay love to represent Oscar to the world. I know it’s splitting hairs a bit, but it was the kind of genderism that was the norm in the last generation of voters, same as they saw black people as lesser, but not as bad. Please don’t kill the messenger.)

The Academy doesn’t send political messages in their voting. They can be convinced that something is not good for them.

Movies like Spotlight or 12 Years A Slave seem like “good for you” movies that may have a political edge, but I believe in cases like those, they are the default movies for those seasons and the few that could have win instead simply failed to close the sale. They didn’t find the hook that said, “a vote for this film instead will make you feel better.”

5. Gotham Awards, NBR Awards, And Many Other Awards Simply Do Not Matter To The Outcome Of Oscar.

Sorry. Lovely events. Wonderful winners. Great nominees. Happy crowds.

Don’t mean diddly.

Gotham, god bless it, doesn’t even really try. Four awards that match Oscar. Just not trying.

NBR is a shill machine and who really cares. Do you know who votes? No. Do you care for any reason other than they are the only ones announcing that early? No.

New York and LA critics… matter. Yes. They are not decisive. But they are respected enough to help a turtle over the hump.

6. It Is, In Most Situations, Much More Important To Not Be Left Out Than To Be Included.

This is basic. Why do so many crap events get so much talent? Because if one does it, everyone thinks they need to do it.

Do they? Not at all. Mostly meaningless. Some are quite lovely. Some are quite sincere. But I am waiting to see a single example of a Hollywood Film Award or a Festival X Award or a Top Contenders event that changes anything for anyone. Literally, five votes.

Now, they do confirm what people are already thinking when they occur. If the snowball is already headed downhill, no one wants to do anything to slow it down. And indeed, the magic things that make the snowball so big in the first place tend to continue to keep working.

On the other hand, if you are the only one not at The Big Event of the Week, the whispering starts… “they couldn’t even get this shitty award?” Petty. But if you aren’t on top, you are always worried about being shoved to the bottom. So the whore, the merrier.

7. The Significance Of Money is Absolute… Except When It Is Not.

You gotta spend The Cash. If you don’t have The Cash to spend, you are facing a mountain instead of a mole hill (and mole hills are already a challenge).

Everyone likes to believe money doesn’t matter. And in terms of box office, this is the one major change that was created with the birth of the expanded Best Picture field to as many as 10.

A24 is not a mega-spender… though they are a little less frugal than some think. Anyway, they didn’t go crazy spending into Moonlight. But they had a massive win in social media and that led to traditional media and that, I believe, took them to the big win.

So it is possible. And not just Dumb & Dumber possible.

But you need magic to happen. This season, the biggest chaser of magic is Parasite. Neon isn’t going to spend wildly. So they need everything – above and beyond having great movie – to even get a nomination. And after that, fate starts playing its hand.

On the other hand, a movie like Little Women will walk right into its nominations, fully supported by Sony. They may not spend like some, but spend they will. And that pushes a strong movie into a much better position to close the deal. Just the way it is.

Lady Bird also got its nominations. But that was the harder road with less money. And sometimes, that means that Beanie Feldman can’t get the second Supporting Actress slot.

Again… nothing to do with the quality of the movie. But as I have long said, you can spend like a maniac, but you have to have a movie that hits a certain level. You can’t get there without a movie. BUT… if you have a movie that is for real and a budget to take you on the journey comfortably, it is a massive advantage.

8. No One And No Amount Of Spending Can Force A Winner… But You Can Try To Prevent A Win By Undermining The Value Of The Frontrunner, Which Is Roughly A 50/50 Proposition.

Once the horses are in the gate for the final race, the rules change substantially. Part of it is that the marketing hands are tied a bit tighter than in Phase I. I have always thought this a bit idiotic, as a more narrowed field is, in my opinion, when the freedom to push hard should really occur. The field is evened by the nominations, while as in Phase I (pre-noms), it’s a wild rumpus.

People love to talk about how Harvey Weinstein screwed over poor Steven Spielberg for Best Picture. But people are being a bit melodramatic and taking advantage of the weak memories. Yes, Harvey is and was an ax murderer and a rapist and a horrible human. But he was not the first person to dare suggest that Saving Private Ryan was a bit schizo. Spielberg himself talked about how the intense, violent, heart-pounding landing was meant to take audiences to a different level of intensity before they settled into the main story. I think it was a brilliant choice.

However… there were TWO WW II movies that year. And I feel The Thin Red Line is the better of the two. There was also the brilliant Elizabeth, which was the major launch of Cate Blanchett into our American lives. And we had just been through a run of epics winning Best Picture. And Ryan had time to go stale from the summer, while Shakespeare in Love was a December release and had a lightness and.a freshness.

So did Harvey steal that win? I could argue either side.

But get past that and ask, has anyone bought a win since?

I don’t see one. Literally, not one.

I have seen competitive arguments in which what likely seemed the winner ended up losing. But that is part of the ebb and flow of any season.

If you are fortunate to be in the top group that seems like a potential winner, find the thing that people love about your competitor and bring that thing to the perception of your movie. Take it away from theirs.

You can’t buy it. You need to feel it.

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24 Responses to “Strategy Session: Eight Things (In No Particular Order) To Know About Oscar Season”

  1. YancySkancy says:

    Tangential to the subject, but likely Oscar nominee Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was re-released in 1,000 theaters today, supposedly with about 10 minutes of additional footage. I just saw it, and I noticed not one second of additional footage. What’s up with that, AMC in Evansville, Indiana? Anyone know what the new footage is supposed to be?

  2. Hcat says:

    It’s all in a post credit scene where Brad Pitt kneecaps Spiro Agnew. Did you not stay till the end?

  3. movieman says:

    Hcat: A post credit scene is 10 minutes long?!? Doesn’t seem like it would take that long for Pitt to kneecap Agnew.

    Or is this a case where there are near-subliminal additions scattered throughout (a shot that previously lasted 20 seconds now runs 30 seconds, etc.)?
    I really hate this s**t. It’s cynical as hell and almost never appreciably adds anything to a film.
    Save ’em for the DVD/Blu-Ray’s “deleted scenes” extras.

    Speaking of which, has anyone seen a firm home video release date?
    Or are they counting on a slew of Oscar nominations to justify another theatrical re-release (to be followed by a h/vid rollout in February?)
    If so, how 2003 of them.

  4. Hcat says:

    Actually I don’t really know, I was just being goofy.

  5. YancySkancy says:

    Nice try, Hcat, but I did indeed stay all the way till the lights came up. 🙂

  6. movieman says:

    Sayth Variety:

    “Over 10 minutes of four additional scenes were added before the start of the film and during the end credits for the re-release.

    Does that sound about right, Yancy?
    I’m toying with the idea of catching it this week, but only if the additional footage truly merits another trip to the ‘plex.

  7. YancySkancy says:

    This article gives a fairly detailed account of the additional footage:

    But yeah, my AMC didn’t show any of it. I don’t think their app said anything about the new footage, but since the film had gone away and then came back on the same day as the re-release, I think it was fair to assume this would be the new cut.

  8. movieman says:

    Groovy, Yancy: thanks!
    But I’ll probably just wait for the “Special Edition” Blu-Ray edition.
    Which should arrive sometime between now and…Valentine’s Day?

    I wonder if we’ll ever see that “Hateful 8”-style Netflix version of “…Hollywood.”
    Fingers crossed.

    Apropos nothing but terminal grooviness: In my internet meanderings, I discovered a March 1974 Pittsburgh drive-in triple feature of–are you sitting down?–“A Clockwork Orange,” “Performance” AND “Straw Dogs.”
    Those were the days alright.

  9. BO Sock Puppet says:

    Thanks for that link Yancy. Now I don’t have to go back and see it again.

  10. palmtree says:

    Commercials? C’mon…

  11. Stella's Boy says:

    Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will be released on Blu-ray/DVD on December 10. Over 20 minutes of additional scenes.

  12. movieman says:

    Glad they finally agreed on a release date.
    I’d seen November previously, but no specific date.

  13. palmtree says:

    RIP Robert Evans.

  14. Hcat says:

    ” I discovered a March 1974 Pittsburgh drive-in triple feature of–are you sitting down?–“A Clockwork Orange,” “Performance” AND “Straw Dogs.””

    And that was before the radio broadcast so you would have to have your windows down to hear the speaker? I would not feel comfortable being in a crowd of 1970s Pittsburghians who were down for that triple feature. Maybe if I attended in a Brink’s truck. That would be the ultimate shitty date night, “Hey baby lets go to the drive in and cuddle while people cheer and honk at rape scenes.”

  15. Bob Burns says:

    The Academy should do an Oscar show once a week, charge admission, have a mini-red carpet, sprinkle in several of the hundreds of thousands of “stars” living around LA. Give out awards to the myriad numbers of actor-driven films released every week by rich kids who don’t want to actually work. Everyone gets to make an Oscar speech at the Kodak. Make it a full time reality TV show, with pundits and dressers. Let Oscars remaining fans have a chance to be treated as well as the pampered Academy members.

  16. movieman says:

    We can’t discount the “They’re overdue: it’s their time” campaigns sure to be waged on behalf of Tarantino and Malick.
    And it’s true on both counts. Both are long overdue for their Oscar imprimatur.
    (Next up: Wes Anderson.)

    Sometimes it works (Scorsese and “The Departed;” the Coen Bros. and “No Country”); sometimes it doesn’t (Glenn Close).

  17. Stella's Boy says:

    Hoping the Razzies don’t forget Once Upon a Time.

  18. Bob says:

    Has Poland given up on Trump losing in ’20 and come back to movies? He’s seen the awful Democrat field I guess.

  19. YancySkancy says:

    Stella’s: I will eat my hat if Once Upon a Time gets even one Razzie nomination. Unless it’s something to do with QT’s foot fetish. (Note: I do not own a hat, so I have an out in case they throw Lena Dunham’s minuscule role into Worst Supporting Actress or something).

  20. Stella's Boy says:

    If that’s the case the Razzies are meaningless and should cease operations.

  21. YancySkancy says:

    The Razzies have always been meaningless and should’ve ceased operations after the first year, when Worst Director nominees included Stanley Kubrick for The Shining and Brian De Palma for Dressed to Kill.

  22. Stella's Boy says:

    That’s funny. Bold choices. Well I can dream. “Joker and Once Upon a Time lead Razzie Nominations.” A headline I’d like to see.

  23. leahnz says:

    those dumb, boring slogs will likely headline that other awards SB (because this alternate timeline of ‘revenge of the aggrieved white dudes’ is some fucked up poop)

  24. Stella's Boy says:

    I fear you’re right leah.

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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.”
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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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