MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

20W2O: 4 Weeks To Go – Quid Pro Quo, Clarice

So we know what the alleged precursors have to say.

But i would argue – and have forever – that these groups are following the same bouncing ball as everyone else during the award season. There are years when consensus winners are quite close to undeniable. But there are usually 2 to 3 contenders who would not really be shocking winners of awards. Except for the issue of every award as a stepping stone to the next.

So a win by someone or something other than the “expected” is now positioned immediately as motivated by a shift in thinking by “Them.”

This way of looking at the awards season is, in fact, absurd… because it is all based on rationalizing events after they happen. And that way lies madness.

Of course, to make any argument other than “the tide shifted to Movie X” is somehow insulting to Movie X and had best not be spoken aloud. (This utterly discounts the insult that these simplistic arguments inflict on the other films in the field.. but they didn’t win, so who cares? Right?)

What I find endlessly infuriating about those who cover these races for a living is not the content of the arguments, but the flawed infrastructure of the arguments. Which is to say, we have so little real information that reverse engineering answers as to motive in group of over 5000 voting members for an Oscar is more than challenging and to assume definitive motives is nearly an act of insanity.

And a season like the one we are in, where nothing seems to quite match, exposes the insanity of it as an average season never does.

So thank you to The Academy for screwing things up with a late change of the season schedule and complicating things with a new voting system that The Academy tells us worked brilliantly, despite scores of members publicly saying otherwise.

Would it surprise you to know that, in this up-n-down season, The Gurus o’ Gold had all 9 of the Oscar Best Picture nominees in its Top 11 BEFORE the Toronto Film Festival happened? (Moonrise Kingdom and The Master are the two that were left out.) Just after TIFF, The Gurus went 8 of 9, with Master as the odd one out (#7) and Django ranked at #12.

In other words, we’ve spent these last 5 months arguing about which title would rank where on the list, not even which films would make it in. And nothing has really changed since the nominations.

I am reminded of the way fairly minor differences between Republicans and Democrats can be blown up into massive battles, in many ways because it is not in the interest of said parties to seem too similar politically.

It’s no different in the 4 acting categories, where The Gurus hit on 15 of 20 acting nominations in September. There, only 2 of the 5 “missed” performances were not in the Top 7. Jessica Chastain for Lead (i was alone on that one) and Christoph Waltz in Supporting, without a single vote. But both December films, so we did have one voter go with Chastain in Supporting Actress. How could we know?

And not a lot had changed a month and a week later when The Gurus started the weekly charts.

And nothing much has changed since nominations morning either… except that at the very top of the charts, the old rules are being thrown to the side.

Now I believe in throwing aside the rules. But there are rules to throwing aside the rules… and those are simply reduced down to, “be consistent in your unruled arguments.”

Bit that isn’t so much the rule. After months of wrestling around with 3 or 4 titles that were taken seriously as potential winners of Best Picture and/or Director, the discussion after every award show seems to be, “Yes, we have an answer,” “Not so fast,” “But why not?,” “But what about?,” and at that point, there is another award show and the cycle starts again.

Is Argo going to win Best Picture? Could be. Lincoln? Sure. Silver Linings Playbook or Zero Dark Thirty or Life of Pi? Why not?

The biggest difference with the “precursors” this year is that the bizarre Academy schedule – nominations before any major “the nominees are” awards and a noxious 7 weeks between nominations and The Show – has thrown the possibilities up in the air…. within reason… you know, the kind of reason that has 14 journalists predicting 80% of the nominees in August. PGA and DGA and WGA have no idea who will win and no clear moment in The Academy to guide their voters. So not only are they voting blind, but they are much more susceptible to the vagaries of campaigning without those groups than ever before.

But don’t say that… because it’s disrespectful to the winners.

It is very possible that the most significant player in the Best Picture races is the Academy’s (insane) weighted voting system. Does the system insure a general consensus or simply reward mediocrity?

And what does it say that it’s looking more and more like The Season ended, in many ways, by mid-November? A coincidence? In spite of (dubious) claims by The Academy that there was a heavy voting turnout for nominations, does it seem illogical to consider whether the majority of votes came in before Christmas, shortening the season even more? Especially in the directing branch, where none of the nominees premiered and was widely screened any later than Nov 15?


Real perspective on this season is a year or two away. Some terrible decisions by The Academy have been made, but will probably not change in the next year, short of Seth McFarlane dropping his pants with no shorts on. But what does it all mean?

What I think it does not mean is that the unwritten “rules” are Old School one day and irrelevant the next, based on whatever has happened most recently.

I also do not think the mystery of the race will draw an extra eyeball to the TV, which is really what The Academy is obsessed with these days.

And remember, as of this writing, we are still 10 days away from the start of final voting. You know what they say about idle minds…

5 Responses to “20W2O: 4 Weeks To Go – Quid Pro Quo, Clarice”

  1. movielocke says:

    “scores of members”

    Are there even twelve (a score) members publicly on the record of being unable to use a computer and vote? The LA Times article has six or seven disgruntled members with a luddite axe to grind and that’s been extrapolated to the entire academy membership.

    As for the rest of the whinging.

    Blame the journalists and the publicists who are their masters. The publicists put names and titles out there early and often and the journalists only cover those names and titles. Its in both of their mutual best interests! The publicists want their film to succeed on the awards circuit, the journalists want to have amazing predictive powers of foresight. If the journalists will only cover the names they will introduce, it’s a neat and self-contained cycle that is thoroughly controlled by these two classes of people.

    AND conveniently, journalists all get to cover up their egregious publicist fellating by claiming they are limiting their coverage to what the academy likes. “A legitimate Awards contender” (sometimes they miss films like Hugo because they’re so desperate to be right about what is legitimate that journalists are EAGER to throw out entire genres and classes of films in order to narrow the field and increase their predictive percentages)

    It’d be so much fun to go back to 1991, today, no journalist at all would cover or consider Silence of the Lambs. A february movie? They can’t cover that, the academy would never go for it. A horror movie? They can’t cover that, the academy would never go for it. Self-fulfilling prophecies.

    So maybe if people start being willing to be wrong the field will broaden. but that won’t happen because the incentives are all in making the self-fulfilling prophecies come true.

  2. Jay says:

    A score is 20.

  3. Stephen Holt says:

    I thought this was the day that a new Gurus chart would show that they all now switched to “Argo.”

  4. Bob Burns says:

    good, God… edit this stuff DP. Have read almost all for at least ten years, am loyal, lots of insight, but give us a break.

    I most appreciate your comment about reverse engineering some sort of insight into the thoughts of 5,000 Academy voters.

  5. movielocke says:

    “a score is 20″


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