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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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“The core fear is what can happen to you, personally. Your body. That’s what horror films deal with, precisely. We are a very thin skin wrapped around a pumping heart and guts. At any given moment it can come down to that, be it diseases, or somebody’s assault, or war, or a car wreck. You could be reduced to the simple laws of physics and your body’s vulnerability. The edged weapon is the penultimate weapon to disclose that reality to you.”
~ Wes Craven, 1996, promoting Scream

MAMET
Well, that, to me, is always the trick of dramaturgy; theoretically, perfectly, what one wants to do is put the protagonist and the audience in exactly the same position. The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always what does the protagonist want. That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about theme, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about setting, but what the protagonist wants. What gives rise to the drama, what is the precipitating event, and how, at the end of the play, do we see that event culminated? Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated? That’s the structure of drama. You break it down into three acts.

INTERVIEWER
Does this explain why your plays have so little exposition?

MAMET
Yes. People only speak to get something. If I say, Let me tell you a few things about myself, already your defenses go up; you go, Look, I wonder what he wants from me, because no one ever speaks except to obtain an objective. That’s the only reason anyone ever opens their mouth, onstage or offstage. They may use a language that seems revealing, but if so, it’s just coincidence, because what they’re trying to do is accomplish an objective… The question is where does the dramatist have to lead you? Answer: the place where he or she thinks the audience needs to be led. But what does the character think? Does the character need to convey that information? If the answer is no, then you’d better cut it out, because you aren’t putting the audience in the same position with the protagonist. You’re saying, in effect, Let’s stop the play. That’s what the narration is doing—stopping the play… It’s action, as Aristotle said. That’s all that it is—exactly what the person does. It’s not what they “think,” because we don’t know what they think. It’s not what they say. It’s what they do, what they’re physically trying to accomplish on the stage. Which is exactly the same way we understand a person’s character in life—not by what they say, but by what they do. Say someone came up to you and said, I’m glad to be your neighbor because I’m a very honest man. That’s my character. I’m honest, I like to do things, I’m forthright, I like to be clear about everything, I like to be concise. Well, you really don’t know anything about that guy’s character. Or the person is onstage, and the playwright has him or her make those same claims in several subtle or not-so-subtle ways, the audience will say, Oh yes, I understand their character now; now I understand that they are a character. But in fact you don’t understand anything. You just understand that they’re jabbering to try to convince you of something.
~ David Mamet

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