MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

20W2O: Keep To Your Knitting

There is a big lesson about Oscar season to be learned from this year’s presidential election race.

The opponent can do whatever they like. If you are going to win, you need to make a winning affirmative case and whip it home, no matter what the other side(s) is (are) doing.

Oscar punditry reads a lot like the months and months and months of expertise voiced on cable TV and via print/online media for 18 months leading to the November 8 absurdity of a Trump election. And the voices after the results settled in last night reminded me so much of the post-Oscar (and often, pre-Oscar) whining.

It is human nature to try to find a “why” when you think a result is wrong. It is almost always less complex than you thought. But it is also human nature to express what feels like a really smart idea and to be unwilling to let go of it, no matter how things change around that idea.

In the presidential election, the obsessive narrative was about angry, less-educated white people, often close to or overly racist and sexist, rising up against the tide of change. There were thousands of variations of it. but this was it at the core… against mexicans, muslims, women, blacks, etc.

And it was true that these people were out there and that Trump manipulated them into following him with endless lies about others and false promises about what he could do (or even try to do).

But the real story of losing this election was less nefarious. Democrats didn’t vote in big enough numbers. A full 10% of Democrats who voted for President in 2012 just didn’t show up at the polls in 2016. Over 6 million 2012 Obama voters… vanished.

And the number of votes for Obama in 2012 was down 7% (4.3 million) from the 2008 vote.

The “overwhelming support for Trump?” One million fewer people voted for Trump than did for Romney in 2012. It was downrising. So the idea that they shifted in great numbers for Trump is BS too.

But let me get back to the Oscars.

The range of voters has been between 5700 and 7400 in recent seasons (including this new one). It is a much smaller electorate. The system is a lot more complicated. There are, except for a couple of categories, never fewer than 5 competitors in the end.

Yet… it is still as utterly predictable and impossible to predict as a national election (where, to be fair, we get a lot more statistical information at the end).

Oscar writers… and studios… and consultants… are various degrees of insightful and brilliant. Taste in movies is a wild and hard to assess variable. There seem to be rules that can guide expectations of The Academy, but every year a few are smashed to bits.

Consensus has enormous power… except when it doesn’t. Hillary Clinton wasn’t behind in polling for most of the battleground states for a year… until she lost them. But she wasn’t often far ahead either. And indeed, when she lost a bunch of them, she lost by narrow margins. She ended up losing Michigan by 12,646 votes. She lost Wisconsin by 27,290 votes. She lost Pennsylvania by 67,951. Flip those three – less than 100,000 votes of over 13 million in just those states. Seven tenths of one percent. And the election goes to Clinton.

Where were those Democratic voters? Simply not voting. There are many reasons. But the simple fact… didn’t vote… lost the election.

What happens when there is a perceived upset in an Oscar race? We know even less than they know in retrospect about a political election.

But what we do know is this… some people decided to vote for someone other than Sylvester Stallone.

And we can guess about the many possible reasons why – starting with Mark Rylance owning Bridge of Spies in a truly supporting role – but we will only be guessing. But the only real answer is, not enough votes. And the perception of media that Stallone was a juggernaut that couldn’t be stopped was, simply, false. He may have lost by 1 vote or by 1000. We will never know.

And the only real answer to getting an Oscar for Stallone for Creed was… get more people to vote FOR him. It doesn’t matter what perception is. It doesn’t matter how little Rylance was in Los Angeles (normally seen as a kiss of death for a little-known contender). Rylance got votes because people wanted to vote for him. If more people wanted Stallone to win, he would have won.

Tend to your knitting.

Why do I think La La Land is still the clear front winner to WIN Best Picture. Because it is magic in all the right ways. People will be happy to vote for the film.

Does this make any of the other films that will be nominated against it inferior? No. Art competing is insane. Many of us lose perspective on the truths of this whole awards thing, but the competition is, on many levels, absurd. We know that on the day and we know that in retrospect.

Can Fences beat La La Land for Best Picture? Sure. If more people feel like they want to see it win. It won’t win in the name of political correctness. Nor will it lose for that reason. And I don’t Denzel Washington or Scott Rudin or the late great August Wilson would want to win for that reason. See the movie! It’s excellent. But people will vote how they feel.

Tend to your knitting.

You can’t bring down La La Land, anymore than you could bring down A Beautiful Mind or even The Birth of a Nation. The vast majority of voters simply aren’t vulnerable to that game. In the case of BOAN, it fell apart as an awards player long before award season started at the fall festival launch. The movie depended on the star/co-writer/director as the hero of his own story as well as the film’s… and that died when his legal history became gossip instead of history put in perspective.

Tend to YOUR knitting.

I have always felt that the mockery of Marisa Tomei’s Oscar was nasty, unfair bull. Great category that year. I would have voted for someone else, had I a vote. And there may have been a split. But let’s not forget… Tomei’s performance was GREAT. The details of her turn as Mona Lisa Vito are surely remembered by more people than any of the sensational supporting actress performances that year. Just stomping that foot alone. Who is to say that a majority didn’t simply love that comedy performance more than all the drama?

You want to win an Oscar… go get your votes… or let your performance do it by itself… or be the biggest star doing something new… or whatever. There are a hundred variations. But they all come down to a positive vote. And it is extremely rare when someone or something that isn’t really loved or respected in a way that draws votes ends up winning. Even with the crazy voting system

If Hillary Clinton’s crew tended to their knitting, she would be president-elect. While Trump was endlessly negative, he was also distinctly (albeit lying through his teeth) positive. Aside from making everyone happy and safe, what was Hillary Clinton’s big offer to America? Raising taxes on the wealthy? Tough sell. Fixing Obamacare? Critical… but unclear. Keeping America great. Love it… but not really a big offer.

Clinton was a million times more specific about her plans than Trump was. He lied and overpromised and pretended he could do and influence things that no president can. All bad. Change you absolutely can not believe in, much of it hateful. But as false and horrible as those claims were, he made real, tangible claims.

A.B.C. Always Be Closing.

Nothing in that phrase about telling the truth or being a decent human being.

Trump tended to his disgusting knitting.

There are many ways to tend to your Oscar knitting. Every season brings many variations.

If you can tell me why “I” should vote for your movie in 25 words or less, you have a real chance of winning.

Even more so, if I can tell you those 25 words back in some form… then tell them to my friends… you may be on the way to a win, my friend.

You don’t need to take votes away from any other movie or performance or job. You just need to get out your vote. All of your vote. By any reasonable means necessary. You can all the love in the world, but if those people aren’t voting, they aren’t moving your product forward where it wants to be moved.

And all that other noise? It doesn’t mean a thing if you have an Oscar in hands.

2 Responses to “20W2O: Keep To Your Knitting”

  1. YancySkancy says:

    Nice to see a kind word for Marisa Tomei’s Oscar performance. I, too, thought she was great in My Cousin Vinny, and the brouhaha was pure snobbery (all the other nominees were lauded and respected Brits, plus Aussie legend Judy Davis, who was probably favored to win). I do think that Tomei has silenced some of the naysayers since then with her great, nominated work in In the Bedroom and The Wrestler.

  2. Jon says:

    Langston Hughes, August Wilson – whatever – they’re all the same, right?

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“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
James Gray

“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
~ Producer Jeremy Thomas