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David Poland

By David Poland

20W2O: “They” – The Oscar Morning Sequel

Andrew O’Hehir and others have suggested that, somehow, Hollywood is “getting skittish” about Zero Dark Thirty on the day that it was nominated for Picture, Actress, and Screenplay… but most infamously, not director.

This is one problem with critics who don’t work in this system in LA – and some who do – opining about The Academy.

The urge to insta-analyze everything is infuriating and often infuriatingly stupid.

I don’t think people are inherently ignorant or wanting to spread fertilizer, but there is an very odd way of thinking that just doesn’t make any sense when you start to deconstruct it.

For instance, a film that is nominated for Best Motion Picture that does not score a Best Director nomination is no less likely to win than it was the day or the week before nominations day. Now, ask someone who pays attention to this stuff, and you will hear, loud and clear, how infrequent it is for a film to win Best Picture without a Best Directing nomination. True dat. But the additional data point adds to the overall set of data, it does not redefine all the data that has been accumulated.

The problem is, in utter ignorance and thoughtlessness, the vast majority of media will repeat whatever the meme of the day is… and THAT is probably a more damaging reality than the actual failure to secure this nomination or that.

So this morning, the race was reduced by many to Lincoln vs Silver Linings Playbook. Why? Because those are the two films that people saw as ‘in the top group” that also got both Directing & Picture nods. Of course, there are people who also feel that it will be Life of Pi or Amour or Beasts of the Southern Wild for, basically the same reason… the two checkmarks in Director and Picture. The other four Best Picture nominees are, somehow, suddenly, unthinkable. But we have no empirical proof of this at all.

The Directors Branch – the nominators for Director – has 369 members. The Academy has, approximately, 5800 voting members. So a filmmaker may not have had the 80 votes (or fewer) to win a Directing nod, but a lot of other members in other branches voted for a film that got a Best Picture nod. (To say how many is the minimum depends of the actual number of voters putting in ballots. The number of eligible voters vs actual vote is usually seen as pretty close. But because of the badly mishandled attempt to convert to e-voting this year, we really don’t know how many eligible voters voted for nominations this year. I personally estimate 4500 – or fewer – which would make the threshold 496 votes. 639 votes would be the maximum needed for a BP nomination if everyone voted.)

The significance of getting a Best Director nod isn’t that statistically significant, really. In fact, we don’t even know whether Directors Branch members voting for a director are also voting for that director’s film as Best Motion Picture. But the conversation shifting to exclude those not included in that category is where real damage can occur.

Or not.

The Oscar season is so overkneaded these days that one has to wonder whether anyone – outside of those who invest a lot of time in following Oscar – is really paying attention to all the flip-flopping. “Well, that means they are thinking this.” “Well, this means they are thinking that.” But in reality, “They” are thinking whatever they are thinking and “precursors” don’t answer the question… because whatever the history, it’s a different group of voters.

What “precursors” do tell us is what groups bigger than each Academy branch membership think… and we know that almost all Academy members are members of the guild or union befitting their branch. So movement as these groups nominate… and especially, give awards… is real. It’s just not 10% as significant as the media now chooses to suggest that they are.

Much as we’d all love to believe it to be otherwise, these “precursors” are not like political primaries because political primaries are voted on my a larger percentage of the community involved when the actual election takes place, not a smaller %, as is the case with Academy nomination voting vs Guild nominations. And because the simplification of the American political system means that primaries, for all intents and purposes, define 2 candidates that will be voted on later, not 5. And when the “final vote happens, there isn’t nearly as much political pressure on voters to vote on strict party lines. And don’t even get me started on the actual data available in a primary vs Guild and Academy votes.

All the precursors do is to try to shape the conversation. “If you won the Globe for Drama, you are really in the Best Picture game.” No. Historically, it’s been a sign of being an Oscar day loser (except in the cases of mortal lock-type films), actually. But we want to believe. We need some logic. And as memes get repeated endlessly, eventually, some shaping can take place.

After all these years, one of the few things I can say about “Them” is that they don’t like to “waste” their vote on something they think cannot win.

Having The Globes after Oscar nominations are announced means a lot of people who will be trying to not look like a poor sport… especially those with Best Picture nods, but some “missing” slots. How many times will Kathryn Bigelow be asked about not being Oscar-nominated on that red carpet? How many answers will she concoct so as to seem neither wounded or wooden?

But the thing about “precursors” is that the most recent one tends to be taken the most seriously… even Academy nominations.

For instance, there have been very few “precursors” suggesting that Beasts of the Southern Wild or Life of Pi can win Best Picture. But today’s nominations, in Picture AND Director, are the only precursors anyone cares about.

The thing is, that assumption is dead wrong IF you believe in precursors. If there are 30 “precursors,” 1 may be more heavily weighted than another, but logically, no 1 or 2 eliminates the weight of the other 28.

But you would never know that if you listened to a lot of otherwise very smart people this morning.

This should not be misunderstood to mean that I think the “precursors” are completely irrelevant. But they must be measured carefully, not impulsively.

Right now, all signs are “go” for Lincoln. It’s been right there in pretty much every conversation.

But when it comes to the final vote, all of the prior details both add up and don’t add up. It’s kind of like Twitter buzz. You can get a ton of it and that does help, especially with awareness… but if you want to convert people on Twitter to tickets sold, you need to do something else and do the work of converting them.

And when you are in the business of converting people, the details don’t much matter to them. No one is going to say, “I am not voting for Django Unchained because Tarantino was not nominated for Director.” What they will say is, “I am not voting for my favorite film, Zero Dark Thirty, because I have heard 3000 times in the last 3 weeks that it cannot win and I really have to choose between Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Amour.”

And that is why the media braying is problematic.

As we found out today, presuming how this group of almost 6000 is a bit silly. And continuing to assume we can read where they will go after having been smacked in the hard with our arrogance, as a group, is a bit insane. That doesn’t mean the tea leaves are meaningless. But perspective counts. And in terms of winning Oscars, any person or any movie can still win in any category in which they are nominated. Period. Movies have lost if they give up today because they didn’t get the right combination of nominations… or were told so by the (mostly profoundly unqualified to have opinions on this) media all day. No one is going to win by giving up.

While there are people/films out ahead in many categories, they are all still open. And there is now a super-idiot-sized Phase 2 in which the fight can be fought. And fought it will be. The public dissection of Lincoln‘s historic veracity – fair or not – has commenced while you were getting your 7am coffee. (Meanwhile, if Zero Dark Thirty doesn’t perform at the box office, it will die without any competitor lifting a hand.)

One last note. There is one way The Golden Globes do matter. If, by some chance, one of the non-Picture/Director movies wins at the Golden Globes (who claim to have closed voting on Wednesday), and the audience and other presenters and make a big show of the win… that could create new momentum. Because the influence of other voters counts many times more than the influence of the media on Oscar voters.

12 Responses to “20W2O: “They” – The Oscar Morning Sequel”

  1. movieman says:

    one of the non-Picture/Director movies

    Don’t you mean Picture/non-Director movies?

  2. Jerry says:

    While the large number of best picture nominees has maximized the chance of picture/non-director controversies it has greatly reduced the likelyhood of the non-picture/director since that has only happened twice in the 16 years when way more picture/feature nominations were given.

  3. Daniella Isaacs says:

    Sometimes it’s smart to seriously consider “not throwing your vote away,” sometimes not. It would depend on how excited you are for your second or third choice. Since I can imagine a lot of people just not that excited by either LINCOLN or SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, they might be more willing to actually vote for a film that REALLY excites them even if they think its chances are something a long shot. That could benefit ZD30 if the film is considered damaged after the Bigelow “snub”, but it could also benefit BEASTS, AMOUR, or LIFE OF PI. But I have to say, every year I think: “I just can’t believe they’re going to give the Oscar to [something as boring as THE KING’S SPEECH or MILLION DOLLAR BABY]” or what not, and they then they do. In that case, LINCOLN seems far and away more likely than SILVER to win, though the former doesn’t have Harvey. Whoever it was who compared this year to the PVT. RYAN/SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE year might have it exactly right.

  4. movielocke says:

    flip a coin nine times.

    It comes up heads each time.

    What are the odds it will come up heads on the next flip?

    It’s still 50%

    Any individual coin flip is always 50%. In aggregate, a group of coin flips such as ten heads in a row has a low probability of happening, but individually, it’s always 50%.

    That means that you’ll have outliers. Oscar has a very few years with only two directors overlapping with best picture nominations. Oscare also has a very few years with five directors overlapping with best picture nominations.

    Both are outliers. the most common result is a match of 4 directors to five pictures, but matching 3 directors to five pictures was not unheard of, iirc.

    This year would almost have certainly been a 4/5 year and very probably would have been a 3/5 year because Argo would have gotten a BP nomination and either ZD30 or Les Mis would have as well.

    Despite the brouhahah today, I still feel like this is a wide open race, Lincoln is in front, but SLP, LoP, ZD30, Les Mis or Argo could all win as well, that’s pretty amazing, and discounting those latter three would be foolish, because they are MUCH loved, and in a year with this many films that are very much loved, we could easily have a BP winner with 25% or less of the vote. I think it’ll be a close thing, so long as the media doesn’t fuck it up too much by convincing everyone it’s only a two or three horse race.

    I sort of feel like an inverse 1998 is coming. Lincoln will take BP, Russell will take BD.

    It’s hard not to go on a spread the wealth tangent, but eh:

    Argo – Editing
    Skyfall – Cinematography
    Anna Karenina – Costumes
    Hobbit – Makeup
    Effects – Life of Pi (or Avengers)
    Production Design – Les Miserables
    Song – skyfall
    Score – (I don’t have a fucking clue)
    sound editing – ZD30
    sound mixing – Les Miserables
    Adapted – Lincoln
    Original – Django

    Lincoln may well win BP with just four wins or fewer, now it’ll never spread the wealth to that degree (probably) but all these frontrunners may go home with gold. how hilarious would it be if Skyfall swept all five and was the oscar winner, having more statues at the end of the night than any other film? It wouldn’t be unprecedented, the sound categories tend to go together and the james bond theme is the most hummable, so it may take score just because of that iconic bit of film music written decades ago.

    it feels wrong picking Spielberg actors to actually win an award–I hope that curse is broken this year.

    Spielberg is the first director nominated in five different (and consecutive decades). I don’t think he has the longest span between first and last/most recent nomination yet, but he’s been relevant in the oscars every decade for longer than anyone else. He was nominated in the 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, and now 10s
    Marty only has 80s, 90s, 00s, and 10s, Allen has 70s, 80s, 90s, and 10s.

    I have a feeling Spielberg and Scorsese will be chasing down Wyler in the next ten years.

    The point is that over 85 years, directors nominations tend to come in clusters, several at the beginning of their hot period, and then nothing for ages, and one, maybe two outlier nominations (think Passage to India), Spielberg has maintained a steadiness unparalled by any except Marty (who got his first nomination a year later than Spielberg’s first, but spielberg gets to count an extra decade).

  5. Daniella Isaacs says:

    Movielock, what are you talking about? All five director nominations are matched by picture nominations; it isn’t 4/5 or, 80%, it’s 5/10, but since there are only five director slots, that’s 100%.

  6. Sam says:

    “The Directors Branch – the nominators for Director – has 369 members. The Academy has, approximately, 5800 voting members. So a filmmaker may not have had the 80 votes (or fewer) to win a Directing nod . . . The significance of getting a Best Director nod isn’t that statistically significant, really.”

    In terms of strict mathematics, this is absolutely incorrect. It’s VERY statistically significant. Crunch the numbers, and you get a sampling error of just 1.6% at a 99.9% confidence interval. By contrast, a really good political poll, asking 3000 out of 200 million people who they’ll vote for, has a 0.6% sample error at a 99.9% confidence interval.

    So the Academy situation is less accurate than a very good national political poll, yes, but to say it’s “not statistically significant” is flagrantly false. The math is rock solid.

    (Note, by the way, that that 1.6% sampling error only applies to the likelihood that ZDT was in the top 5 for Best Picture — NOT if it was, and might still be, the #1 vote-getter.)

    What you must argue instead (and do, elsewhere) is whether the director’s branch is a true representative sample of the larger body. Or come up with any number of other explanations for why ZDT has better chances than what the numbers show.

    But the numbers themselves do make a sound and overwhelming mathematical case against ZDT.

  7. David Poland says:

    I appreciate the actual statistical detail, Sam, but the sampling is not the same as a survey. This has always been true of The Academy.

    As you write yourself, sampling the director’s branch for the purpose of nominations is not the same as sampling the entire group of voters (who did vote for the film). Moreover, the votes in the Directors branch both change with other Phase II influences as well as seeing voters for other films move their vote to a nominee.

    But as I have noted, the time frame of this season – which becomes a non-issue in Phase 2 with a narrowed viewing situation – has, I believe had a more significant impact on the nominations this year than ever before.

  8. pj says:

    Beasts or Amour don’t have a chance to win since they don’t have editing at Oscar or at ACE Eddie.

  9. movielocke says:

    I was imagining this as a traditional year with five BP nominees. Lincoln, SLP and LoP are givens. Argo is almost certainly number four. The fifth nominee would be either Les Mis or Zero Dark Thirty. I’d lean towards Les Mis. I was saying that in a traditional year, there would be only a 3/5 overlap between best director and best picture, like 1990, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 2001. It absolutely wasn’t clear in the first post.

  10. Daniella Isaacs says:

    Considering LIFE OF PI has 11 nominations, though, I think it’s extremely likely it would have been one of the five, had their only been five Best Picture nominees. Other than that, you may be right. LES MIZ strikes me as exactly the kind of film that would have had a picture nod but not a director nod, since the film’s good aspects almost seem to be things from the original source that survive despite bad direction, rather than as a result of good direction.

  11. antoinew says:

    I always love that if you stretch information over a long enough timeline you can get your findings to speak positive for any argument made, and here david is doing that quite well making the comments that just because a movie doesnt get best director, doesnt mean it wont still win best picture. well since 2006 its mean that and im a firm believer in recent trends being more consistant data than historical trends and that the movies that should win, either zero dark thirty or argo, will not because the academy voters are much more similar now to the groups of the last six years, than the groups of the last 50

  12. David Poland says:

    Antoinew – When is the last time you sawnThe Academy and DGA split like this?

    As I wrote, the trend is not as important as the repetition of the idea of there being an unconquerable, simplistic reality…. a reality that has been flipped repeatedly this season… But by all means, let’s hang on to it.

    And it may well come to pass. But no one stat determines anything. It is a reflection of what has happened, not some life force of truth.

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“Because of my relative candor on Twitter regarding why I quit my day job, my DMs have overflowed with similar stories from colleagues around the globe. These peeks behind the curtains of film festivals, venues, distributors and funding bodies weren’t pretty. Certain dismal patterns recurred (and resonated): Boards who don’t engage with or even understand their organization’s artistic mission and are insensitive to the diverse neighborhood in which their organization’s venue is located; incompetent founders and/or presidents who create only obstacles, never solutions; unduly empowered, Trumpian bean counters who chip away at the taste and experiences that make organizations’ cultural offerings special; expensive PR teams that don’t bring to the table a bare-minimum familiarity with the rich subcultural art form they’re half-heartedly peddling as “product”; nonprofit arts organizations for whom art now ranks as a distant-second goal behind profit.”
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