By David Poland firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.