MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

20W2O: The “They” In Award Season

You hear a lot about “Them” this time of year.

They don’t think this. They don’t think that. They don’t respond well to this, but they love that.

What continues to keep The Academy Awards the dominant award in film is that with nearly 6000 potential voters, there can be no They.

There are some broad generalizations that do seem consistent. They like some heft to their films, even more as winners than nominees. They don’t embrace what they see as silly. They don’t want to be associated with movies that are seen as financial failures. They tend to be a bit racist, a bit xenophobic, and none too anxious to mix laughs with gold. And they really don’t like to be told what they have to do… not so they are conscious of it, at lease.

But these are broad terms. I have found over these 15 years or so that every time any of us think we have a bead on how They think or what They will do, We are wrong.

The first line of argument against Zero Dark Thirty? They won’t award Kathryn Bigelow twice in 4 years. Apparently that argument is not such an issue for Tom Hooper, who won two years ago. Spielberg went six years between directing Oscars. Ang Lee’s gone 7 years since his win. Coppola didn’t get 2 in 3 years because he lost to Fosse & Cabaret in the year of The Godfather. (Shocking side note: Gordon Willis wasn’t even nominated for Godfather or GII.)

Even without the specific They-isms, history is a pretty harsh mistress for wannabe Oscar prognosticators as well. They don’t like comedies… except when they do. They don’t like musicals, except when they do.

The move to 10 – and now, 5 – 10 – nominees really changed the notions of what They will honor. The Hurt Locker was the worst commercial performer ever to win a Best Picture Oscar… and there have been more nominations for “underperforming” films in this system than ever before.

They are certainly kinds of films that They like… but ultimately, being the kind of film They like isn’t nearly as important as the film itself.

It’s a weird thing, because We really do have a pretty good beat on what They will nominate, in part because We have told them what should be seriously considered for nomination. And they are looking for ways of narrowing the field so they don’t feel compelled to watch every film. But They will still surprise Us… in some small ways.

I tend to work from the other side of the equation. Yes, I speak to plenty of awards voters. But I start with the movies themselves. They know two things. 1. What they are told about the movie they haven’t seen, and 2. How they feel about the movie they have seen. What story will work for Them?

Sometimes the idea of what to expect takes… sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the movie itself changes the story completely. Other times, not so much.

I get the feeling that this year, as much or more than any other in memory, that They are just going to make up their minds on their own terms. Narrowed field, but not so interested in being influenced, as brilliant as some of the influencing is. Of course, the really big question – probably to go unanswered – is how many Academy voters will miss nominations altogether because of the newly inflicted voting system and the questions about how easy it will really be to use when people get around to voting… by January 3.

It’s all up to Them now.

6 Responses to “20W2O: The “They” In Award Season”

  1. movielocke says:

    10 days until voting starts, which movies havnt been seriously seen? Quartet moved up, amour has made their moves. Friggin promised land made abig push this week with the today show. I feel like the only movies not realy seen due to the unmitigating horror of earlier voting are guilt trip and billy crystal the grandfather schmuck movie. And they were never contenders.

  2. Daniella Isaacs says:

    Oliver Stone won Best Director twice in four years. I still think Affleck will take that award in a split year with some other film getting BP, and ZD30 could well be it, especially if LINCOLN and LES MIZ splits the older, more conservative vote.

  3. spassky says:

    “Oliver Stone won Best Director twice in four years.”

    This makes me sad.

  4. theschu says:

    This is a great point. People talk about The Academy like they talk about Hollywood. As if they’re both made up of 20 guys sitting in a room.

  5. pj says:

    I think that statistic about previous winners and Oscar only take part if there is a real close vote. Right now, I do not think it matters that Bigelow won not too long ago. I think she would win bot h BP and BD if vote held today. But if something like SLP or Life of Pi were to pick up steam then they would be more likely to give it to Russell or Lee who never won over Speilberg or Bigelow. Hopefully DGA can shed some light on the matter.

  6. YancySkancy says:

    pj: As Dave mentions, Ang Lee has won before (for BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN).

    I’ve always felt that Coppola’s loss for THE GODFATHER was at least partially due to voters wanting Fosse to have an Oscar-Tony-Emmy year (which he did).

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“Roger Ebert claimed that the re-editing of The Brown Bunny after Cannes allowed him a difference of opinion so vast that he first called it the worst film in history and eventually gave it a thumbs up. This is both far fetched and an outright lie. The truth is, unlike the many claims that the unfinished film that showed at Cannes was 24 minutes shorter than the finished film, it was only 8 minutes shorter. The running time I filled out on the Cannes submission form was arbitrary. The running time I chose was just a number I liked. I had no idea where in the process I would actually be when I needed to stop cutting to meet the screening deadline. So whatever running time was printed in the program, I promise you, was not the actual running time. And the cuts I made to finish the film after Cannes were not many. I shortened the opening race scene once I was able to do so digitally. After rewatching the last 4 minutes of the film over and over again, somewhere within those 4 minutes, I froze the picture and just ended the film there, cutting out everything after that point, which was about 3 minutes. Originally in the salt flats scene, the motorcycle returned from the white. I removed the return portion of that shot, which seemed too literal. And I cut a scene of me putting on a sweater. That’s pretty much it. Plus the usual frame here, frame there, final tweaks. If you didn’t like the unfinished film at Cannes, you didn’t like the finished film, and vice versa. Roger Ebert made up his story and his premise because after calling my film literally the worst film ever made, he eventually realized it was not in his best interest to be stuck with that mantra. Stuck with a brutal, dismissive review of a film that other, more serious critics eventually felt differently about. He also took attention away from what he actually did at the press screening. It is outrageous that a single critic disrupted a press screening for a film chosen in main competition at such a high profile festival and even more outrageous that Ebert was ever allowed into another screening at Cannes. His ranting, moaning and eventual loud singing happened within the first 20 minutes, completely disrupting and manipulating the press screening of my film. Afterwards, at the first public screening, booing, laughing and hissing started during the open credits, even before the first scene of the film. The public, who had heard and read rumors about the Ebert incident and about me personally, heckled from frame one and never stopped. To make things weirder, I got a record-setting standing ovation from the supporters of the film who were trying to show up the distractors who had been disrupting the film. It was not the cut nor the film itself that drew blood. It was something suspicious about me. Something offensive to certain ideologues.”
~ Vincent Gallo

“I think [technology has[ its made my life faster, it’s made the ability to succeed easier. But has that made my life better? Is it better now than it was in the eighties or seventies? I don’t think we are happier. Maybe because I’m 55, I really am asking these questions… I really want to do meaningful things! This is also the time that I really want to focus on directing. I think that I will act less and less. I’ve been doing it for 52 years. It’s a long time to do one thing and I feel like there are a lot of stories that I got out of my system that I don’t need to tell anymore. I don’t need to ever do The Accused again! That is never going to happen again! You hit these milestones as an actor, and then you say, ‘Now what? Now what do I have to say?'”
~ Jodie Foster