20 Weeks

20 Weeks To Oscar: Rush To Poor Judgment?

What is The Academy trying to do by shortening the nomination season by 10 days this year?

When I spoke to Ric Robertson about it late this afternoon, his only real argument for the shift was that by announcing the nominations 2 weeks earlier, it would make it easier for members to see the already nominated films and performances, as there will now be six weeks from nominations to the final voting.

DP: Doesn’t this put an addition emphasis on screeners over screenings?
RR: “There already seems to be a lot of emphasis on screeners.”

DP: Is this move, as some have speculated, a way of reigning in the wild west of Phase One (pre-nominations) last year?
RR: “That was not a part of our consideration.”

DP: So you found a way (electronic voting) to speed up voting, but you’ve made the time to see movies for which to vote weeks shorter.
RR: “Yes.”

DP: The only positive thing I can see in this is that it is a warm-up for moving the actual show much earlier next year.
RR: “Thank you for trying to find one good thing to think about this. I try not to speculate on what may happen in 2014. There has not been any discussion to move the show earlier in 2014. That wasn’t a factor in the decision.”

DP: By announcing this now, The Academy kind of left the studios that scheduled movies in December flat-footed.
RR: “There are only about a dozen movies being released after (Dec 17) and we expect that they will be screened earlier and be available to members.”

RR: “We think it will work.”

I do not. I think it is the dumbing down of The Academy and a continuation of a slow disintegration of standards that is the only thing that keep The Academy Awards from being The People’s Choice Awards.

It may not seem like much, but this is a massive change for the movies and the people who work on them. Essentially, The Academy brain trust has hamstrung the idea of screenings as a primary way of reaching Academy voters for any of the December movies, shifting the emphasis even more intensely onto screeners watched over the holiday break.

Publicists have been SCREAMING for years that a shorter Oscar season means it will be harder to get voters to see movies. So The Academy cooled its heels on that idea. But at the same time, it has shortened the Academy season in the most severe way imaginable. The season, for all but about 18 movies (not counting the docs and shorts) completely ends on January 3.

But January 3 is not really the key date. Go back to December 21, 10 days before the end of the year. That’s when Academy members will start leaving Los Angeles and New York and London in droves for the holidays (Christmas Day is on the following Tuesday.)

But you can go even further back in this bizarro scheduling choice. Academy voting actually begins, ahem, on December 17. And it’s not just ballots going in the mail this year. With new online voting, Academy members can actually register their nominating votes on December 17.

Last year, they mailed ballots out on December 26. This was not intended to induce voting on Dec 27, but to get ballots there by January 1, allowing all the movies that are qualifying to open and for members to use the holiday to catch up on as many movies as possible. This year, you will be able to vote before many of the contending movies are even released.

Now, The Academy is not the biggest offender here. The Screen Actors Guild is CLOSING their voting on Dec 10, the same date that HFPA closes for The Golden Globes. At least HFPA gives you until Dec 5 to show your movie. SAG sends out nominating ballots on November 21. That’s even sillier than the NYFCC idiocy of picking nominees on November 29 last year.

But back to The Academy, which is still the only award that really matters…

What’s the rush?

They’ve cut weeks out of the nominating process and left the old show sitting at the same old dock, at the end of February. There is now a 6-week lag time between nominations and the awards. All the other awards shows that AMPAS seems anxious to get out before will be handing out trophies in full bloom for weeks… and weeks… and weeks… before everyone is supposed to get excited about the same people who have already taken home multiple awards in multiple gowns over a 6-week period finally get The Big One.

And it is more important and it is more exciting… but not only does it remain the very best steak on earth that you’re being asked to consume after eating three pretty good steaks a day for over a month, but by undermining the membership’s ability to watch all the contending films at all, and especially on a theatrical screen, it undermines the entire film industry and the legitimacy of the award itself. It’s not about the movies. It’s about some weird game being played at The Academy to make change after change for no apparent reason with no apparent positive outcome.

Yes, as Ric Robertson and freelance Academy employee Pete Hammond (he writes the Honorary show for them in addition to working for Deadline and other gigs) notes, this does expand the post-nomination viewing period for voters by a couple of weeks. This means, they now can see 8 or 9 BP movies and another 6 or 7 movies with nods in other categories they care about, over a 6-week period. They no longer have to worry about the 30 or 40 other movies that couldn’t find enough eyeballs before Dec 21 and might have been nominated had only enough members had an opportunity to see the work.

Great. More films with big awards marketing budgets and the top consultants and you smaller underdogs can just go screw yourselves now.

This makes me and those like me a lot more powerful. It also makes scumbag bottom-feeders like Carlos de Abreu more powerful because it makes a presence in October infinitely more important. Everyone who separates wheat from chaff, no matter how poorly or with what ulterior motives—or even with the best of skill and motive—is now in an enhanced position.

I wonder whether Pete Hammond, who was one of the great proponents of the nomination of Demián Bichir last year would be bothered if he realized that Demián’s remarkable underdog nomination, driven by his personal charisma and hard work as much as it was by his excellent performance, would be much less likely to happen under this new timetable. Not only does Demián do fewer screenings and meet fewer people, but the crunch for bigger names doing screenings in late November and early December (imagine Brad Pitt’s late push for Moneyball moved up 6 weeks) would make it a lot harder to get voters to show up for Demián’s screenings.

Keep in mind… all those groups that have used The Academy Awards as a springboard to build their own franchises in December and January, with the exception of SAG, are much, much smaller than the near-6000 member Academy. So getting 350 members of BFCA or 85 members of HFPA or 40 critics from one of the critics groups in to see a movie or to watch a screener is quite a different thing than enticing enough of the 5800 or so Academy members to get 600+ votes to get a nomination. Even the SAG Nominating Committee, of about 2200 actors, offers a lesser and more focused challenge.

I thought really hard, looking for a single positive thing about January 3 becoming the end of Oscar voting. I couldn’t think of one. The more I thought, the worse the idea seemed. So then I started calling around… and no one else could come up with a good rationale for the choice by The Academy, much less a positive thing to say about it.

The one thing that people came up with was that The Academy was trying to cut down on the December shenanigans of last year’s Phase One by shortening the window. The rules are much more strict in Phase 2 (post-nominations). But wait… how did we get the shenanigans of last year?

Yes! They were created by The Academy’s new leadership, which opened up the rules and allowed all kinds of member solicitation that had been considered against the rules… until last year. And even when some clearly went beyond last year’s lax rules as they were laid out by the new administration, The Academy chose to look the other way, especially when media outlets were breaking those rules by disguising sponsored marketing events without any screenings by serving a meal at said events.

But recall the top of this piece… The Academy, via Ric Robertson, says this was not an issue. So expect the same shenanigans writ even larger.

Things were a mess last season. And now, this season is on the way to being a bigger mess. And so far, 100% self-inflicted.

The gold standard—a group of industry professionals the vast majority of whom are not in the business of seeing 125+ movies a year—is now voting for the best of the year two weeks before the end of the year. These pros are forced into an even greater reliance on screeners before nominations because they can only see so many movies on the big screen and the opportunity to see films in late December and early January has been compromised severely. And The Academy, which assumes that there won’t be many problems with their membership voting online, is introducing new technology while shortening the window in which it might be used and/or worked around in the case of people having trouble using it. (I guess it’s easier than setting the time on a VCR.)

The personal irony for me is intense. I believe in online voting. I believe firmly that an early Oscar show will improve ratings and status and online voting makes that more possible. But it is hard to imagine a worse way of implementing this new system. It is hard to think of something sadder than The Academy now joining the ranks of awards-givers who have disregarded the calendar for expedience… the mortal enemy of thoughtful consideration.

But mostly, I worry for the movies. Especially the really good movies. The complex movies. The indie movies. The movies that need more than a second to sink in. I love the 10 nominations thing—something else they f-ed up last year for no apparent good reason except being able to say they did—because it celebrates films that are not as easy or obvious or well-funded. Cynics expected big action blockbusters to get nominated. But it was Malick and Winter’s Bone and A Serious Man and great animation like UP that got worldwide recognition.

That is less likely today. And that is sad. And still the big question… WHY?

I appreciate that Ric Robertson represents a big organization and that some people in that organization are afraid to take public responsibility for the choices they push and inflict on the membership and industry. But I cannot agree that giving members six full weeks to see what probably comes down to fewer than 10 films (as they will have seen some of the titles before nominations, obviously) at the cost of opportunity for dozens of titles is a remotely reasonable decision. No. I hope to God he’s lying and that there is some secret endgame. Because if there isn’t…

I don’t want to think any more about it today.


12 Weeks To Oscar: The Battle Of Black Swan

THE LOVED/DESPISED – This one is the Battle of the title of this column. Black Swan. More than any film in the race, aside from Inception in its moment, Swannie is The buzz film. “I can’t believe they did that!” “But was she the one or was the other girl?” “Oh my GOD!” “I can’t wait to see it again!” “Worst film of the year!” (That last one is a direct quote from an Academy voter.)

Darren Aronofsky & Co have delivered a film that is both extreme genre and high art. Obviously, it doesn’t work for everyone. But the film is already looking like it will outperform expectations at the box office. But even more so at the buzz office.

Question is, is it Over-60s who will be the ones who hate it and make it impossible for it to win? Or will the buzz and some surprising box office make them stop and think about it again?

The rest….

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15 Weeks To Oscar: Don’t You Forget About Me

(new charts to land on Thursday afternoon)

As we get to the real fight… DVDs flying, Thanksgiving choices about which film your family wants to watch, absent contenders showing their faces… we are seeing some last minute entries in the race, like Halle Berry, who could shake up the Best Actress race with her schizophrenic, multi-racial performance in Frankie & Alice.

As Disney is out there misstepping by openly declaring their intent to push Toy Story 3 to the winner’s circle – not to mention using the trendy Nouveau-Trade least likely to ask a real question of anyone who gives them information or access to push the agenda… advertorial is fun! – we should probably remember Seabis… uh… Secretariat, which the studio has pretty much abandoned now. (Disney would be well served by no longer declaring their intent about anything. If any weakness in the new regime has been exposed more profoundly in this last year, it’s their failure to lower expectations. In the Media Mayhem of Now™, there is no more valuable strategic skill.)

That’s how it goes. Yesterday’s Important Contender is today’s “Yeah, we’re sending out the DVD and we’ll buy some ads.” But there are some very special films that are suffering this hard reality.

Read the full article »


19 Weeks To Oscar

It’s like is waiting for something exciting, something expected, something that shocks and surprises and makes it all fun. And not getting quite what we expected. What we get isn’t bad. It may even be incredibly valuable and worthwhile. But it’s just not exciting.

It now seems that the excitement of the season comes down the to small handful of films that are not yet in play. They may or may not be better than the films already out there, but there is something pulsing beneath the surface.

The rest of the column, plus new charts

26 Weeks To Oscar: The Year Of… Patience

The awards season has gotten off to a rousing “uh, okay.”

Yeah, the festival season is upon us and there is a lot of drool dripping over some of these films – including my own happy salivations – but it is easy to mistake strong players using the fests to launch their long, complex, and expensive awards plans and the notion that festival excitement is, in and of itself, an answer. It’s not… at least, not to the positive.

Films will die at VeniTelluRonto™, but even the most robust winners/survivors cannot assume they’re set. Some actors will lock in, probably… but not Picture. Two of last year’s ten nominees premiered at one of these festivals in the year they were released. (The Hurt Locker is the third… which was in Toronto in 2008… and almost failed to sell.) Slumdog was the only one of the five the year before. 2007 saw 4 of 5. But that was the exception that reminds us of the rule. In 2006… 1 of 5.

I’m not saying that these festivals are not a great tool for movie marketers to grab a great deal of attention. (And the Oscar race is a marketing event first and an artistic event second, make no mistake.) And who knows? There are those who feel that TIFF 2010 will have more than half the nominees in its theaters. No reason it can’t be the case. But again… it’s the start of a marathon, not a sprint where the first winners get automatic byes.

There are plenty of players in the game for Oscar 2010, but for the first time in a very long time, there are virtually no “you can lock that in from months away” candidates sitting there. You have Eastwood and you have The Coens and Sony over the moon about Fincher’s The Social Network. After that, even amongst pedigree players, it is hard for anyone to get a realistic temperature out there.

In the immortal words of Nancy Meyers, something’s gotta give. But what?

Danny Boyle has his golden statue and a movie that’s a thriller and a crowd pleaser… but is it Oscar? Mike Leigh is always a threat, but one never knows which film will leap up. Jim Brooks has batted .600 overall, with 3 of his first four films getting BP nods… but it’s been 13 years and a flop since he went to The Carpet.

The next group is pretty muscular, but still, a bit aspirational. Ed Zwick is always around The Money, so maybe a lighter film will get him to gold. Julian Schnabel hasn’t made a movie that didn’t get serious awards interest, but Miral may or may not be “good for The Jews.” Julie Taymor may get Shakespeare back in the game for the first time since Ken Branagh. (You remember Ken… director of Thor… right?) Randall Wallace has been to the dance, but is his horse movie too Disney to be embraced as seriously as it will need to be?

David O. Russell is one of the most storied young directors… but has never been nominated… is The Fighter his The Wrestler? And what of young Aronofsky? Is his thriller too thrilling for The Senior Circuit? Also challenging voters with fresh intensity are Mark Romanek, Anton Corbjin, and Ben Affleck (back, this time starring in his sophomore, somewhat more conventional but still very 70s, directorial effort).

Right in what seems like The Oscar Pocket are Tony Goldwyn with a period overcoming-the-odds flick, Calendar Guy Nigel Cole with a warmer Norma Rae, Tom Hooper segueing from John Adams and the well-liked but unrewarded The Damned United to something more Queen-erific, and Roger Michell doing another turn on classic Jim Brooks.

And the Really Young Set… or at least, young to The Academy: Cholodenko, Boden/Fleck, Cianfrance, and Schneider. All in play for real… but still a bit of a mystery to the voters, who, in reality, are not cineastes, but industry pros, as given to whims as any other large group.

Debra Granik is a remarkable director and undeniably a starmaker, but Roadside Attractions needs to leap into the Oscar game with both feet is her Winter’s Bone is to get out of summer and take a firm position in the awards season. RA also picked up the Bardem-starrer from Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu, making them The New Awards Player in town. They have earned a taste for all this, after winning Oscar last year for Best Doc. They just picked up the new Ondi Timoner doc, hoping for a repeat. Roadside certainly doesn’t want to follow too closely in the footsteps of Sidney Kimmel and Bob Yari, as both men have, ahem, narrowed their film interests since they were seen chasing awards. They don’t have the support of horny vampires, a la Summit. But in the land of 10 Best Picture nominees and extremely strong candidates for Actor & Actress, it may be their time.

And who has the fullest stable of contenders? Harvey Weinstein… natch. But damned if I know whether he has the cash, staff, and will to grab what, from a distance, could easily be 2 BP slots out of 10.

Of course, there are the pictures that have already done their big theatrical releases: Toy Story 3, Inception, and Shutter Island. Plus we’ll see pushes from Alice in Wonderland and How To Train Your Dragon.

Floating out there are a new Peter Weir film (aka, the Scott Rudin movie that has no distribution) and a first from screenwriting Oscar winner William Monahan. But who wants to jump onto a moving train to get them into the race in the next 3 months?

And Tyler Perry’s presence is now official. And if he doesn’t get some love, Academy members could just find themselves Madeaed. Watch out.

Does any of this make you feel more settled about what happens next?

Thing is… it will turn into some solids as we move forward. It always does. And those sure bets are often not as sure as we all like to think. But right now, there is a lot more passionate churning about every category but Best Picture. And I have to say… kinda cool for a change.


20 Weeks To Oscar

9 Days To Go
Going Dark



20 Weeks To Oscar – 16 Days To Go.



20 Weeks To Oscar – 11 Weeks To Go

Chances To Make History
It has been a long, odd Oscar race already this year. The first major change was the new 10 Nominees rule, the first time since 65 years ago that we will have so many nominees for Best Picture.
There are other opportunities to make history for Academy members, all just a vote away. As I thought about what new history would look like, I came upon a number of things that would be unique, but would not be truly historic.
But there are four areas in which it seems that Oscar can make history this year.

The column…

No new charts this week.


20 Weeks To Oscar – 13 Weeks To Go

One of the most interesting elements of this season is the lack of backbiting so far.
I know. Some of our favorite hysterics are all about the rage. But every nasty aside she quoted in her blog entry about nasty gossip was old news or false news. And there is a huge difference between a conversation about a real issue with a movie or a little sniping over an event that seemed unusual and a sustained campaign against a movie on dubious grounds.
In the season that Lord of The Rings: Fellowship of the Rings was nominated, there was endless chatter from the three consultants that New Line wasn


14 Weeks To Oscar

The column
And new charts
This column was available a day early via the MCN Newsletter.


15 Weeks To Oscar

The full column


16 Weeks To Oscar

We are getting near the end of the early screenings of the list of titles that will seriously be considered for Best Picture. Very near the end.
The idea of guessing at what films and performances WILL win, especially in this season of relatively soft contenders in all categories (if there is one kind of obvious call, it


20 Weeks To Oscar – 17 Weeks To Go

The Drip, Drip, Drip
The main variation in the 2009/10 Oscar season that keeps getting discussed is the change to 10 nominees.
And it’s not insignificant.
But as the Chinese curse goes, “May you live in interesting times.”
As the Academy made this change, the economy of the film business started to bottom out. (Sadly, I don’t think we’ve quite reached bottom yet, though many businesses have started 12-step.)
The Dependents went from being seven strong (as MGM is still officially a major, according to its membership in MPAA) to three divisions really in business (as opposed to being a placeholder for loose end projects and Home Entertainment libraries).
The True Indies continue to be in the game, though there is a real question of what Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company will look like when next year’s season rolls around and Summit hasn’t yet shown itself to be more than the sum of its vampires. Overture, Magnolia, Freestyle, Roadside Attractions, IFC, Apparition, and Oscilliscope (in order of 2009 domestic box office grosses) all continue to show interest in the season and an inability to get a hold of the voting imaginations of the Academy … at least in the top categories.
Media noise – amplified by a combination of ad budgets being slashed thus making publicity more important again, a wave of new online businesses trying to sell themselves and their ads, and old media flailing about, trying to get attention, also in fear of their own demise – is more relentless and less thoughtful than ever.

The rest…
And the charts…


20 Weeks To Oscar – Underdogs

18 Weeks To Go
The Golden Undies

This year


20 Weeks To Oscar – 20 Weeks To Go



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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.”
~ 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