MCN Commentary & Analysis

The State of Oscar. 020420. Rebuilding The Oscar Season (Pt 2)

Final voting closes today and I want to suggest another way to tear the whole thing up.

As discussed in the last column, I am putting aside all the reasons why change is agonizing in The Academy. My thought is to look at all the problems with current system and to devise a better way to embrace the status of The Academy while finding a realistic way to open things up.

Split up the season into segments officially.

Endless complaining about not being able to see movies. Insane amounts of money and time requests in a very short window from the end of October through the middle of January. Frustration about access to the process for films that are not armed with big dollars or a media wave that only ever really works for one, maybe two, movie(s). Too much DVD viewing and not enough on theater screens.

Break it up.

Group 1 – Up to 10 movies released between January 1 and April 30.
Group 2 – Up to 10 movies released May 1 through August 15.
Group 3 – Up to 10 movies released between August 16 – October 15.
Group 4 – Movies released between October 16 – December 31.

I know. It sounds complicated. But it is actually the road to simplicity and a greater degree of sanity.

Release your movie in the Group 1 period, get 2500 votes to be included from The Academy, which could run a vote anytime in the month of May, any you qualify to be on The Best Picture Short List. Of course, if there aren’t 10 films that can get to 2500 votes, the list from Group 1 would be shorter. If there are more than 10, the 10 highest vote counts get in. Simple.

Same deal with Group 2. And Group 3.

Screen in theaters all you like. No awards DVDs before October 1, though Group 1 films have the advantage of going to DVD/streaming release sometime in the summer.

Obviously, Group 4 is the most complicated. I would suggest just leaving that group without a qualifying votes. They would have the advantage of awards voting from other groups as instant promotion, but they would also be making the dangerous bet on their film being able to turn the corner quickly.

There are certainly quirks in this to be thought out over more time with more minds at work, but my belief is that a system like this would have little to no effect on the films that we have been talking about seriously for Oscar in the last 8 weeks… but could add some more titles to the conversation.

Obviously, a change in the rules that creates legit opportunity in every month of the year would draw more titles. But in Group 1 this last year, I see about 12 films that would be competing seriously for the 10 possible slots. The big commercial movies would be US, Avengers: Endgame, and The Upside.

This brings up the advantage of a system like this, where votes in the Qualifying Groups would not be as precious, so voters would likely allow themselves to vote for commercial movies they like, even if they don’t seem like traditional Best Picture nominees. As wee have seen with the expansion to more than 5 Best Picture nominees, qualifying more films expands the imagination of what “could win” with the voters.

Another group of potential qualifiers would be “real” indies, like Fast Color, Her Smell, Hotel Mumbai, The Mustang, Teen Spirit, and Under The Silver Lake.

A doc, like Apollo 11.

And then, International films, like Everybody Knows and Peterloo (which would surely have waited for the spring if it meant a better shot at qualifying and not sitting on the film for another 8 months).

My guess is that only 5 or 6 of the 11 titles I mentioned – and maybe a couple I did not – could make the 2500 vote cut. But what is the downside? Don’t we want docs and off-Oscar commercial movies and International films and True Indies to be in the discussion? Why not give these films a commercial and prestige boost without having to assure them Oscar nominations?

In Qualifying Group 2 this year, it could have been (in order of release) The Biggest Little Farm, The Souvenir, The Sun Is Also A Star, Echo in The Canyon, Booksmart, Rocketman, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Pavarotti, Wild Rose, Midsommar, The Farewell, The Lion King, For Sama, Honeyland, The Peanut Butter Falcon. 15 titles. Obviously there would be others in play…but if 5 or 6 of these got the push of being “Oscar Qualifiers,” what is the downside?

At this point, we would be at August 15 with maybe 12 – 15 Qualified films. Only 1 of these is Oscar nominated for anything other than the tech categories as things went this year… and that is for Best Feature Doc.

If you want broader representation in the Oscar conversation, this would do it. Would any more of these titles show up in the actual nominations? No one knows. But with 4 months left in the year, Academy voters would have more time and a broader list to focus on, even if they don’t read their Twitter feeds all day.

September release has been a death zone for Best Picture Oscar nominations, so this Qualifying group may be the weakest. Aquarela, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, Brittany Runs a Marathon, Hustlers, Ad Astra, Downton Abbey, Judy, Lucy In The Sky, Joker, Parasite. You may have other choices. But maybe 6 qualifiers.

The final Qualifying Group is the strongest… at least as things sit now. Jojo Rabbit, The Cave, The Lighthouse, Motherless Brooklyn, Honey Boy, Waves, Ford v Ferrari, Dark Waters, A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood, Queen & Slim, Knives Out, A Hidden Life, Richard Jewell, Bombshell, Uncut Gems, Invisible Life, Cats, Star Wars 9, Just Mercy, 1917, Little Women, Clemency.

Remember, this is an open Group. As many as get in for nominations get in, but no Qualifying. 4 of these titles are now nominated for Best Picture. Another half-dozen have some kind of Top 8 category footprint.

In a full year – and I assume films would move strategically, but not so much in and out of the year – the number of films being looked at seriously is about 30… same as now. But by spreading it the conversation in a real way, more films of more variety are getting the spotlight on them throughout the 8 months of the year when awards are really a minor conversation, at best.

This is similar to a strategy that has been used at The Academy by the Doc Branch, though they don’t qualify through the year. But trying to get members to see as many movies as possible is a challenged addressed by spreading things out.

I imagine the big complaint about this idea would be that it makes Oscar season a full year activity. But let’s be real. It is already a half-year activity. And we continue to complain about the time to see movies, the short period of intense focus, and the limited scope of the films that find their way to actual nominations. I see this idea as taking the pressure off of Sept-Dec a bit and giving more opportunity to a wider range of films to get a PR benefit in the form of qualifying. I just don’t see the downside to this.

Please offer your criticism and your ideas to improve Oscar.

14 Responses to “The State of Oscar. 020420. Rebuilding The Oscar Season (Pt 2)”

  1. YancySkancy says:

    Downside would probably be getting the membership to understand and embrace the concept. Status quo always dies hard.

  2. Stella's Boy says:

    This is a good, thoughtful piece. As almost all of Wesley Morris’ pieces are.
    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/04/movies/oscars-best-picture.html

  3. Bob Burns says:

    agree about the Morris piece.

    Thisse ideas of David’s could be built into an Oscar season off-season, like the NBA and NFL off seasons, which draw a lot of fan interest.

  4. Stella's Boy says:

    Listened to this earlier today: https://the1a.org/segments/the-academy-awards-from-oscarssowhite-to-even-whiter/

    It’s a good listen. Covers a lot like stats, shortened window, and rules.

  5. YancySkancy says:

    From the Wesley Morris article: “The last thing I’d want is for the Academy to vet and damage-control the nominees, the way the muckety-mucks who operate the Grammys are rumored to do. Guys, too many whites! We got to get “Queen & Slim” in here. Let the Academy Awards do what they’ve always done: Tell on the film industry.”

    I enjoyed the article, but it’s another instance of everyone knowing the problem but having no practical solutions for it. I don’t know that David’s idea is workable, but at least he’s making an attempt. Most just want to curse the darkness (or whiteness, I guess) rather than light a candle. I think the unspoken solution for many is just to do away with the awards altogether, which I suppose I understand if you feel achieving the kind of diversity you want to be a lost cause.

  6. Stella's Boy says:

    Listen to the radio show. They talk about problems and solutions.

  7. Stella's Boy says:

    The U.S. is 60% non-white and 50% female. Yet the Academy is 84% white and 68% male. Seems like a great place to start.

  8. Rams says:

    I saw “The Irishman” at a discount theatre. I wanted to see if it basically was framed for television. And it was. There were several long scenes that were head shots and POV shots. The film was shot in the “flat” aspect ratio which is perfect for a 16:9 television. I remember when David Lean, was forced to shoot “A Passage to India” in the flat format for HBO consumption.

    The best thing about it was the production design. If the film was made ten years ago, the de-aging would have worked. All the seventy-plus actors moved like old men. Scorsese tried for a Godfather effect with the dusky cinematography , the in your face gun shots, and the multiple baptisms.

    The whole sequence of events that lead up to Hoffa’s killing was interesting but bizarrely confusing.

    The film should have been released as a mini-series. As a cinephile I’m glad I saw it on a large cinema screen. And I’m glad the cinema got rent for playing it.

    On to the new Dee Rees debacle.

  9. Bob Burns says:

    From the NY Times editorial page, about filmmakers deliberate choices to tell the historical stories the don’t include women and people of color.

    Directors, even the best, consistently make stupid and misleading history films. 1917 is a ridiculous depiction of WWI, The Kings Speech was historical crap, Dunkirk was a horror…… as history.

    Over and again we hear about artistic license in the portrayal of history. We are told that agreed upon facts, and respect for learned interpretation of historical events, are not important, too much to ask of even our greatest filmmakers. Is it any wonder we have a Trump as president within a society whose greatest artists treat truth as subordinate and unimportant?

  10. YancySkancy says:

    Stella’s Boy: “The U.S. is 60% non-white and 50% female. Yet the Academy is 84% white and 68% male. Seems like a great place to start.”

    I’ve consistently argued that continuing to work on those percentages is not only a great place to start but perhaps the only viable solution to the perceived problem, at least as long as the awards are decided by the member voting.

  11. Stella's Boy says:

    I mean it’s 2020 it is pretty pathetic that those numbers aren’t better than they are. But yeah it would be a great place to start.

  12. YancySkancy says:

    And to be fair, they’ve started, with many “diversity” invitations extended in the last few years. Not sure what the percentage changes are from then to now though.

  13. Stella's Boy says:

    That radio interview mentions the percentage changes. Can’t remember exact figures but they go over them.

  14. cadavra says:

    IRISHMAN isn’t 1.85 because of Netflix (THE HIGHWAYMEN is in ‘Scope). Prieto said Scorsese went flat because “Frank does not have a cinematic worldview. ” His is a very narrow life and he felt that it should be reflected that way both visually and aurally (the movie is a tribute to “silence”).

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