MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

20 Weeks To Oscar: 6 Weeks To Go – The Great Rush To Judgment… And Subsequent Settling

This Great Settling is an annual phenomenon. Basically, it is when all the elements – critics, box office, awards, publicity, marketing – coalesce into some kind of consensus.

Only this season, because of rather bizarre choices by The Academy, the whole thing has been rushed. And though prognosticators want to believe that we have settled into a frontrunner and 2nd and 3rd slot… but we really haven’t. We are in an odd space where there are no clear answers and doors that would have seemed shut in years past could be opened.

This has been overly rationalized in the media – even though there is some truth to it – into a field too competitive for a front-runner to truly emerge. It’s more like, “the sex is pretty good, but the guy isn’t patient/focused enough to bring her to climax.”

Someone is going to get into the groove soon. But one never knows “who” it will be.

Now, it could be that traditional notions of what happens after nominations are announced in recent years – pleasure in nominations, but concession to the unconquerable mountain that one or two films have built – are how studios process this season in the next few days. Pencils down! Hands in the air!

But what the history-laden don’t seem to want to understand this year is that The Academy has created a major disruption within its own ranks. The Academy will never admit how many people didn’t vote for nominations this year. Regardless, because of their accelerated schedule, Academy voters, who got back from holiday just a week ago, will have seen most of their January experience of the awards season end 5 days from now with the Golden Globes presentation.

It’s not that The Globes are unusually early… it’s that by the time they are handed out, we will already have had days to digest Oscar nods… and BFCA… and both LA & NY’s critics dinners…

It’s weird.

Is it good? Is it bad? I have no idea.

But it is, to my eye, the most significant influencer in the season so far… more so than the marketing or the movies. They started the race before all of the horses were in the gate. That doesn’t mean that one of those unsettled horses won’t win. Magic happens in all races. Where was The Hurt Locker before Avatar became a phenom? But it’s different.

There is really no way to quantify the situation, as the data that would help – still leaving mostly opinion – is private and not available to me or anyone else with a public forum. (In theory, it is not openly available to The Academy itself.)

But what I can surmise is that we are about to go into The Great Settling with extra weeks for things to form. There will be almost nothing Oscar-y worth writing about from next Monday through the Super Bowl. And that void in the news cycle can drive people to distraction. But the media doesn’t get to vote for The Oscar.

What will happen is some breathing room. People who have seen Lincoln may see it again. Those who have not, will see it soon. Zero Dark Thirty and Silver Linings Playbook will have national roll-outs that will either prove impressive commercially or awards-repressive. Universal will find a way (has to find a way) to give another peak for Les Miserables to reach. Argo will just keep rolling along, the Good Son of the season, not clearly exciting enough, but not generating any big negativity either… hoping to split the difference between others (which, of course, is only in position to do because it is a very good movie). And Life of Pi will be trying to find a way to connect this movie to the actors’ branch, another solid underdog amongst sexier players.

Memes will grow stronger. Some will be strangled in the crib. And others could be reversed in the next few weeks, but by no magic of publicists or journalists.

Ultimately, voters (aka, people) will decide for themselves. And if everyone tells them they are crazy, they will either acquiesce or get angry and fight harder for what they care about.

There are many thing Pete Hammond thinks and writes along the way that I think are laughable. However, it is during The Great Settling when he shines with insight because he spends more time directly associating with the Academy members than anyone else in the business. When I get back from Sundance, his opinion will be the one I am most interested in… not today… but in a 3 weeks or so. If there is The Answer, he may well know it by then. He will certainly know what the 2-film race has become.

But as of today… as of the parade of opinions when nominations are announced on Thursday… it’s Goldman Time, baby. No one KNOWS anything. Not yet.

(This won’t keep us all, me included, from spouting off. See you on Thursday with a new column.)

3 Responses to “20 Weeks To Oscar: 6 Weeks To Go – The Great Rush To Judgment… And Subsequent Settling”

  1. movielocke says:

    imagine if instead of the nominations thursday we got the Oscar Longlists, with ten-fifteen candidates qualifying in all categories and 20-30 qualifying for BP.

  2. Bob Burns says:

    now, if they move the ceremony to late January it will make sense.

    clear out Feb for popcorn. March has become a launch month for big films, why not Feb?

  3. movielocke says:

    hah, called the Affleck snub, the whole thing has felt far too Apollo 13 to me all season long (including identically suspenseful endings for both movies, Affleck is now the favorite to win the DGA ala Howard!), the Bigelow snub is shocking, Hooper a bit less so, I really thought Bigelow would win.

    @ Bob, I think that’s the idea behind the earlier date this year, they want to land the awards in the week in between the end of the NFL playoffs and the Superbowl.

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You worked as second AD on Jerry Lewis’ The Day the Clown Cried,  about a clown entertaining Jewish children in a WW II concentration camp. 
Yes, and I never saw the film. I was just the second assistant and it was an incredible fairytale for me, to work with Jerry Lewis. Jerry Lewis, along with Louis de Funes—who, by the way, had a very similar career to Jerry Lewis. He was a huge comic in France, but never, ever until now, 20 years after his death, recognized as a great actor. But they both made me laugh as a child. Jerry Lewis did everything: he did stand-up. He could act. He could sing and dance. He’s a photographer. He’s a director. And his films, when you look at them, are extremely daring and inventive. So he was someone that I wanted to emulate, in a way. The cinematographer of the film, Edmond Richard, who had shot a film I worked on directed by Rene Clement, called Hope to Die, with Jean-Louis Trintignant, Aldo Ray and Robert Ryan. It was like I had been invited to the court of Queen Elizabeth. It felt like a real achievement. I tried to work as hard as possible, and be very speedy. Like the weather, you don’t wait for somebody to ask. The moment the director says “I would like to have a…” you know what needs and get it for him. The greatest moment on that set for me was, one day Jerry Lewis got really upset with his crew, and went off on them, saying “You’re all too lazy. You don’t work hard enough. There’s only one guy who understands!” And he pointed to me. I only worked on the film for 15 days, at the circus in Paris. I never heard a thing about it after. I knew it was bogged down in lawsuits after it was finished, but it was an important moment in my professional life. I worked with a lot of amazing people before I directed my first film. I was an assistant director for twelve years. It was a great training ground, watching those masters work. I have many great memories. I started making films very late, you know.”
~ Jean-Jacques Beineix

“A shot is a story. A shot on its own should be a piece of a story. Which is why I talk a lot about watching films, even the films we’re working on, with the sound off. Just to analyze how the film works, because a film should work for an audience without any sound. The biggest problem I see is that someone may have a superficial understanding of what a shot is propositionally, but they don’t have an understanding of how all of these shots are part of a family that needs to connect, and so you’ll get something that’s like a sentence arranged poorly with six nouns in a row. That surprises me, because I think that’s something that can be learned. Some things can’t be, but that can. It’s a grammar. In a classroom I could walk somebody through the difference between a sequence in which the filmmaker has a deep understanding of how images connect, and someone who doesn’t. It’s not really an intellectual process. Some people are just born with it and are just sort of savants at that deep mathematical understanding of shot construction.  I’m better than I used to be, but there are some people I’m just never going to catch. Spielberg. His staging ability. I’m never going to catch him. But when you’re trying to figure out how to get better—I’m not competitive in the sense of looking around at other filmmakers and comparing myself to them. What I do have to think about in trying to navigate myself through a career is: what can I get better at, and what do I have that I can enhance that somebody else doesn’t have?”
~ Steven Soderbergh