MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

20 Weeks To Oscar: The Big Quiet

Can you hear it?

Listen carefully.

Silence.

We are still a month from The Oscars.

We are still weeks from voting.

And in what has felt like a pretty open season is not accelerating into a passionate discussion of the top movies of 2017. The discussion is about the Solo trailer and Black Panther.

I will make my now-annual argument that The Academy has the season upside down. Now is when they should be stoking – and encouraging the distributors with films in play – the excitement. But instead, they restrict activities and leave the entire push to an enclave with a few hundred Oscar voters in what has devolved into a series of trade magazine promotions. (Perhaps they should start calling Santa Barbara “The Contended.”)

The four month slog from September to December remains a bit of a cluster fuck, though to be fair, the major studios have withdrawn nearly all but their Dependents and talent is participating less and less. Was there a single event this entire awards season that anyone can remember with passion?

All of the studios have put on lovely garden parties and lunches. But… yawn. Everyone does it by rote.

Do we remember anything about The Golden Globes that involved celebrating movies?

The (Fake) Hollywood Film Awards continues, without a TV platform or the slightest pretense of influence.

The Contenders has become a better liked event… but means nothing in the long run. I dare anyone to claim a single nomination over all these years of the event – which should be illegal by Academy rules – that was pushed along at all by appearing at The Contenders. No one will. Everyone does it because of fear of not doing it.

The most interesting events of a few years ago, musical events, have been eliminated by The Academy. (Jane managed to do it beautifully and unforgettably at The Hollywood Bowl… probably breaking a host of Academy rules in the process, which hasn’t become a talking point because the film was “just a doc” and now, it turns out, didn’t make it into the 5.)

I thought the “fashion show” evening for Phantom Thread was exceptional. Elegant. Beautiful. But the lack of a big presence by Paul Thomas Anderson and/or Daniel Day Lewis neutered its significance as an awards event.

Quick… right off the top of your head… can you remember what film won either NY or LA film critics? Best Actor? Best Supporting?

Look… no one can complain about lunch with celebrities at nice restaurants with good food and free valet parking.

There have been beautiful books and wonderful art and many charming people nicely dressed.

But the clutter… the repetition… the odd push by The Academy to kill showmanship while encouraging advertising spending ahead of publicity…

Have the great minds who manage the awards season forgotten how to put on a show that will have a lasting impact on voters (and the media, for that matter)?

The Nominees Luncheon is happening as I finish writing this piece. It is one of the great events of the whole season. Many call it their favorite event. But as a press event, it is crap… and it should be crap! It should be for the nominees. Putting press at tables inside is just stupid. It constrains a joyous event just a little, which is a little too much. Likewise, allowing the Governor’s Award to turn into an epic glad-handing media shitshow that generates more stories about potential nominees saying clever things than it does about the worthy winners of (essentially) lifetime achievement awards.

So… where does that leave us?

As of today, I see nothing – aside from the movies themselves – that is going to change anyone’s vote. The season is wide open for some movie to take a strong position and to win Best Picture against expectations. But… crickets. Ads. Managing the flow of information.

The conversations have been had. The movies have been seen. Might as well start voting this week. But we won’t.

This is the kind of season where The Default Movie wins. The question remains, what is the default movie?

Is it Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri or The Shape of Water?

Could the big grossers, Dunkirk or Get Out, leap into the power position?

Does Lady Bird have a strong enough following with men to be the default? For that matter, is Shape of Water too genre for the older half of The Academy? And will the chatter about Three Billboards being “racist” shape its potential?

As everyone has written, every film has its limitations this season.

So again what is The Default? And we’re back to the two Searchlight movies, which have split most of the awards so far.

And that is how it will probably go.

Maybe not. We still have a near 3 week window in which a clear case for any one of the nine nominees can emerge.

But it’s not looking like anyone wants it that bad.

Sigh.

5 Responses to “20 Weeks To Oscar: The Big Quiet”

  1. Monco says:

    The season is too long. The attention span of the media is too short. The Academy Awards should occur on the date the Globes do to be relevant by today’s social media standard. 2017 movies are so two months ago. We need to talk about the new shitty Star Wars movie.

  2. Bob Burns says:

    Most can agree on “Tone-deaf” for 3B. Why give Best Picture to a film nearly everyone already agrees is tone-deaf?

    I wonder if The Artist would have been nommed this year. It’s an embarrassment right there in front of everyone’s eyes. Honestly, can anyone say they won’t find 3B creepy in a few years?

  3. Hepwa says:

    Timothee Chalamet won Best Actor at LAFCA and NYFCC. I remember everything.

  4. shuddles says:

    @Monco, not sure if you’re aware, but that new Star Wars movie came out in 2017 as well.

  5. Stephen Barrow says:

    I agree that the awards season is far too long. I don’t understand why the Oscars get pushed back by an extra week every 4 years because of the Winter Olympics. How does one effect the other? If BAFTA happened 2 weeks after the Globes and Oscar 2 weeks after that we’d have had them already! However, we still haven’t had Lady Bird, Shape of Water or I, Tonya in Britain yet which is infuriating.

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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.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin