MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

20 Weeks To Oscar: First Major Event


There are three major events in the Oscar season when it comes down to the actual voters.

Major Event 1: Watching movies over Thanksgiving weekend. This is a big one, as this is when most of the movies are in the hands of the voters and they are going to interact with friends and family for four days straight without the weight of the real world bearing down upon them. Not only will most voters who have not seen the current slate of front runners sit down and watch, but they will also be influenced to watch some stuff they wouldn’t otherwise watch by those around them. And not only might they see the film, but they can be influenced by the awareness of those who are not nearly as powerful as they, aka non-voters.

Been dragging your feet on Nightcrawler? This is the moment. Not so sure you’re ready to seriously consider a musical again? Into The Woods hits that DVD player for everyone in the family who wants to see if Meryl or Chris Pine or Emily Blunt can sing… or who know that Anna Kendrick can sing from Pitch Perfect and must see her sing some more immediately. Is Wild going to happen? Only if a bunch of voters like what they see on the DVDs this weekend. How many people will fall asleep in the first hour of Inherent Vice this weekend, wake up and ask their spouse, “What happened?,” and be told, “Hell if I know… but there is this scene I need to rewind to so you can see it and explain it to me.”

Here’s another view… if a voter’s family makes them watch The Theory of Everything again, even if the voter doesn’t really want to, and the voter sits through it again why the family enjoys it, that can change a vote. (Of course, enter any film here. Theory was just an example.)

And if the women in the household get you to watch The Fault In Our Stars, make sure the lights are down and spend a few hours complaining about allergies, because you will definitely cry and there is a very good chance you will seriously consider Shailene Woodley for Best Actress in a way you never expected.

Major Event 2: There’s an 11-day Christmas/New Year’s window this year. In that period, there will be more viewing – on DVDs and off – more persuading, and a lot of deciding. There is some influence on this event by the many awards either given out or nominated in the three weeks before the December holiday window. But those awards are not the critical event. They can draw interest to actors or films that may have been lower in the big pile of DVDs. (The count here, as of this writing, is 60 awards DVDs… and that doesn’t include the glorious but massive block of DVDs sent by Magnolia/Magnet.)

I, of course, am a movie freak, and have seen all but a dozen or so of the more obscure titles that have been sent. But even frequent moviegoers have probably seen as many or as few as half the films.

Still missing as of this writing, but likely to show up in the next couple weeks, are all the Paramount films – Interstellar, Selma, The Gambler, Top Five, and maybe Noah. Three of the films haven’t been released yet and Paramount did send out free ticket vouchers to see Interstellar in a theater, which is smart.

Likewise, no Weinstein Company movies… at least not on my doorstep. No Imitation Game. No St Vincent. No Tracks. And no Big Eyes.

The reasoning, we have heard over the years, is not sending things out before they open. But we do have Into The Woods and American Sniper, which are not opening until Christmas Day (from different companies than those whose discs aren’t out).

But as noted, those are likely to turn up in a couple of weeks (along with Unbroken), before Christmas Day, in time for the second major viewing window.

People complain about the DVD discussion each year. And I agree that all these movies are better seen on a screen and there are plenty of screenings. But the movies that everyone wants to leave home to see are just fine. It’s those to which there is some resistance that stand to win big over these home viewing windows.

Major Event 3: Post-nominations. Field narrows. Attention is focused.

It often feels like winners have been predetermined even before nominations are announced, but mostly not… and this year, especially not.

The movies still matter a lot, but other stuff matters more than before. For instance, it doesn’t matter if you win the Golden Globe or even if you are nominated for it… but your speech/presentation/demeanor can be an instant gamechanger. Just how you sit at a table can become a meme. And if you can walk away, win or lose, with people rooting for you, things are going your way.

The rest of it is detail work. Guild nominations are rarely outside of the well-established box. It takes a series of those events in coordination to change the game. Critics awards… lovely. But enjoy them for what they are, because they may not match nominations, much less winners.

The business of awards has changed, so that more and more emphasis is put on the “precursors,” but this is – like much of movie marketing – about awareness more than closing the sale. Quick… tell me who won the network-televised Hollywood Film Awards for Best Actor. Benedict Cumberbatch? Eddie Redmayne? Michael Keaton? Steve Carell? All of the above? None of the above?

No one really remembers. But there was a red carpet and TV cameras and so, it matters… kinda.

This weekend is the first big weekend of award season. It will be won by The Hunger Games, which may or may not get a single Oscar nomination. But hearts and minds will be changed… but the work itself… and for all the circus, that is really what matters… and that is what wins Oscars.

One Response to “20 Weeks To Oscar: First Major Event”

  1. Patryk says:

    Sad that appearance at early awards shows influences some voters. I found McConaughey extremely annoying throughout the awards season and he still won over (arguably) more worthy contenders. So I guess poise and charm and just the right amount of humility can count…sometimes.

Quote Unquotesee all »

“The important thing is: what makes the audience interested in it? Of course, I don’t take on any roles that don’t interest me, or where I can’t find anything for myself in it. But I don’t like talking about that. If you go into a restaurant and you have been served an exquisite meal, you don’t need to know how the chef felt, or when he chose the vegetables on the market. I always feel a little like I would pull the rug out from under myself if I were to I speak about the background of my work. My explanations would come into conflict with the reason a movie is made in the first place — for the experience of the audience — and that, I would not want.
~  Christoph Waltz

This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.