MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

20 Weeks To Oscar: The Golden Goose & Those Lovely Eggs

This column started as just “The Chicken & The Egg,” but it didn’t seem grand enough for Oscar season. Gotta shine those little ideas into big ideas if you want to get attention.

Point was… we are in that time of year when there is a lot of stuff flying around and it is all too easy to assign meaning to each thing in a way that doesn’t really add up.

Here is the Top 10 from Gurus o’ Gold BEFORE the fall festivals—Venice, Telluride, Toronto:

Manchester By The Sea
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
La La Land
Arrival
Fences
Silence
Loving
Moonlight
Hell or High Water
Bleed for This

This last week’s Top 10 includes EIGHT of the same titles, three-and-a-half months later. Billy Lynn imploded. Bleed For This never caught fire.

The primary addition is Jackie, which “happened” at Toronto, the one true surprise of the festival season. Lion was #12 on the pre-festival list, so it got stronger, but it’s no surprise.

Nearby, 20th Century Women (#11 pre-fest) is still in big play, if not for Best Picture, than for writing and acting. Hacksaw Ridge was not shown respect… but has earned it. And Hidden Figures was not pushed publicly as an awards movie until Toronto… and even then, mostly as a music thing… which underestimates it. Prognosticators are still underestimating it. I believe that will change when Oscar nominations land.

The illusion that something is evolving now, in December, is absurd on its face. Every year, we go through this. People write about NBR and BFCA and The Globes and all the others like they are changing the game. But the game has not only been in play for half a year already… it was 80% or more set in stone last summer.

Yes, there are changes. Yes, the films have to work, and be worked to stay in the slots for which they were so clearly destined. But that is the job, not a magic trick. (The work is hard and involves great strategy and tactical work… but most of the work was done by the town, including the genius consultants, months ago.)

Change in the award season in December is on the margins only, even in a season of small movies like this. La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Arrival, Fences, Silence, Hell or High Water… even Moonlight, which feels a lot like the surprise of the season… these 7 were Top 9 before anyone in the media or The Academy even saw them. And if something odd happens, 1 of them be out. And even if all 7 get in, at least one of the Jackie/Loving/Lion/Hacksaw Hill/Hidden Figures will be in. Likely two.

Phase II (post-Oscar-nods) is much more complex in some ways… and much simpler in others.

The illusion of free will that is foisted on Phase I becomes much more real in Phase II. Because the power of narrowing choices actually shifts to the Academy voters and away from the media and the consultants.

This is not to say that voters cannot still be manipulated. They can. And they are. But…

Voters will decide, for themselves, whether they LOVE Emma, Natalie, or Annette. No one can argue them into their vote. People write pieces every year about this angle or that angle on why an Academy voter may vote this way or that. And it is true for some… a few. But mostly, voters who literally said, “What is that?” when you mentioned La La Land or Jackie or 20th Century Women just 6 weeks ago are going to see all three and fall in love with one of these actresses more than the others.

The same is true for the guys, though the race feels more open there. Does Casey Affleck’s character feel like an Oscar-winning character or does the low-key nature of his brilliant work underwhelm voter enthusiasm? Will Denzel get points for directing his own performance? Will Ryan get penalized for (his character) being the less likable half of the La La Land dance team? Will Andrew Garfield get double points for being great in two powerful movies?

The Academy has split Best Director from Best Picture in three of the last four years. But what do all three of those Director wins share? They were for movies that looked like nothing else we had ever seen before. (Same with the one match, Birdman, by the way.) Does that movie exist this year? You could argue that Silence, Moonlight, and Jackie share that unique position… but not really… especially since the freshest look really belongs to La La Land, so…

This should be an interesting Phase II season. The only mortal lock, I think, is La La Land for Best Picture. Mahershala Ali feels pretty well locked in too. And Viola, the lead (genius) in a supporting role… though I think there is more vulnerability there than others think.

There will even be surprises in the nominations. But no shocks. Not if you are really paying attention.

But go on. Keep asking if the chicken or the egg came first. The truth is, the chicken popped out an egg last July and a bunch of execs and consultants cooked it up for you, then paid a fortune to put it back in the egg so you could pretend that it was just like that when you cracked it yourself… because you are special… now give us your vote.

Cynical, perhaps. But tasty.

5 Responses to “20 Weeks To Oscar: The Golden Goose & Those Lovely Eggs”

  1. palmtree says:

    Haha…great chicken/egg analogy. The question always pops up every year when my friends ask how I can make Oscar predictions so early on with such conviction.

  2. Daniella Isaacs says:

    I don’t remember “Hell or High Water” being a “Top 9″ film “before anyone in the media or The Academy even saw [it].” The media saw it at Cannes, right? way back in May. Even after that it was thought of mostly as a genre film until slowly gaining traction over the fall months.

  3. Monco says:

    How is it not a problem when you can precict the majority of nominees before they have even been seen? This lack of spontaneity is what makes the whole award season feel so tired.

  4. lucas says:

    don’t get Arrival at all.
    my wish for BP list

    top 8
    Hacksaw Ridge
    Manchester by the Sea
    Jackie
    Lion
    Fences
    Hell or High Water
    Moonlight
    La La Land

    and the last seat
    Silence or Loving

  5. Sam E. says:

    The article’s factual assertions are right. However, the presence of Moonlight as best picture undermines its argument. Moonlight probably as much as any other movie as worked the PR angles. That said if it wins best picture it will be far the least commercially successful film to do so.

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“The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes. It’s the destruction of our business. I have such respect and admiration for film criticism. When I was growing up film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that. And you would read Pauline’s Kael’s reviews, or some others, and that doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s about a number. A compounded number of how many positives vs. negatives. Now it’s about, ‘What’s your Rotten Tomatoes score?’ And that’s sad, because the Rotten Tomatoes score was so low on Batman v Superman I think it put a cloud over a movie that was incredibly successful. People don’t realize what goes into making a movie like that. It’s mind-blowing. It’s just insane, it’s hurting the business, it’s getting people to not see a movie. In Middle America it’s, ‘Oh, it’s a low Rotten Tomatoes score so I’m not going to go see it because it must suck.’ But that number is an aggregate and one that nobody can figure out exactly what it means, and it’s not always correct. I’ve seen some great movies with really abysmal Rotten Tomatoes scores. What’s sad is film criticism has disappeared. It’s really sad.”
~ Brett Ratner Has A Sad

“The loss of a local newspaper critic is a real loss. People who know the local audience and know the local cultural scene are very important resources. You can’t just substitute the stuff that comes in from nowhere through syndication or the wire. I think at the same time, some of the newer outlets have really beefed up and improved their coverage and made room for criticism. The real problem is in the more specialized art forms — fine arts, classical music, dance and jazz, say. There is a real slowing of critical voices, partly because those art forms have smaller audiences. Newspapers and magazines can say that doesn’t get enough traffic, so we don’t have room for that. To me, that’s especially worrisome. This is the opposite of what newspapers are supposed to do, which is not to try to figure out what people are already interested in and recite that back to them, but to hopefully guide them to something that they should be interested in, connecting potential audiences with more interesting work.

“Then again, not everyone needs a critic. People have been going to movies for more than 100 years now, and probably the vast majority of those people have not read movie reviews or cared what critics thought. But there has always been an important subset that wants to know more, that wants to think about what they’ve seen and what they’re going to see, and wants someone to think along with. I think critics are important, not just as dispensers of consumer advice — though that’s certainly part of it, too — but as trusted voices and companions for people to argue with in your head when you’re going to movies or afterwards.”
~ A. O. Scott