| January 21, 2021
Writing this feels a bit like whistling past the graveyard, but as we move inside 20 weeks to the award show formerly known as Oscar, intensity is picking up.
We are a long way from the Academy membership settling into this season. Lots of complaining about the content on the Academy app, which suggests that many members don’t understand that this year’s “race” is going to be very inside baseball. The Great Settling has been postponed until March, when there is no organic driver of a Great Settling. It will happen… even if the nature of the moment will be driven differently.
Top Ten lists are leaning hard against Netflix… surely too much so. But film critics are, ultimately, fans. Very sophisticated fans. So if you want to go exclusively by critics at a time when no one is paying attention, amidst vaccines and electors and business closings (oh my!), expect the Best Picture nominees to be (in no specific order), Nomadland, Ammonite, First Cow, Never Really Somtimes Always, Promising Young Female, Beanpole, Palm Springs, Collective, and Minari.
I don’t expect that this will hold.
The big question, for me, is how the constituency for films that are not “high indie” will come together. High-powered studio content, which so often creates its gravity on its own, doesn’t exist this season. I’m good with News of the World, but it’s not the kind of movie they are going to launch parades to celebrate.
Screenings with Zoom Q&As are flying fast and furiously around the web, but Academy voters, as mid-brow as they can be, are sophisticated enough to want to see the movie and not just the celebrity froufrou. Q&As can create a target for viewing time , but as is ultimately the norm, it’s all about the movie, unless you can create a great narrative.
But what are the narratives this season? Inclusion and… and… uh…
Thing is, almost every candidate is inclusive of either women or people of color. Netflix has some of the only not-inclusive movies, but they also have movies in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Da 5 Bloods, and the gay-centric but problematic The Prom. Two movies have older white men protecting pre-teen silent blonde girls (one in space, the other in the old West).
The other major factor in this season looks like that the love-hate on almost every single movie is a jump ball. Every time I run into a series of voters who are positive or negative about a movie, it seems inevitable that I will run into another series of voters who feel exactly the other way. The media has written off, for instance, Hillbilly Elegy and The Prom… but I have run into multiple voters who love either or both movies. (Tellingly, they could not care less what the media told them to think.)
In many ways, The Academy is running into the story of the moment… streaming. As one result of all of the films that hope to be *Oscar nominees being seen exclusively on TV by the membership, it is all just a giant TV schedule. The Queen’s Gambit, a series not qualified for *Oscar is on the same mental line as Mank. Steve McQueen’s Small Axe pentalogy has been on more movie Top 10 lists than any Netflix movie but will not qualify for *Oscar. And just try to get a 70-year-old to differentiate Nomadland and Minari by name.
Speaking of Minari and Nomadland… how do you hard-sell beautiful, intimate movies that are all about their modesty?
And Warners has certainly killed the ambitions of Tenet with the war of words between the studio and Christopher Nolan and the general sense that the studio no longer cares about talent (which is a step beyond the actuality, much as I think The Kilar Initiative is a car wreck).
The magic trick of all Oscar seasons is that one or two movies tend to find the right narrative and the right combination of factors as we head into or just out of nominations… and we all think it’s organic. It’s not organic. It can’t be forced, but it’s like topiary, a natural plant, but very carefully shaped into looking like what is desired by the audience.
The answer for consultants could be that they get something new, late in the game, that throws over the table by appealing to the broadest audience amongst the candidates. Could that be The United States vs Billie Holiday or Malcolm & Marie? Maybe.
Thing is, the normal differentiators of an award season are out the window. There is a massive difference in impact between seeing a cool Q&A with an actor you like and the opportunity to shake the actor’s hand and have 45 seconds of small talk with a glass of wine in your hands. Just is. Can’t be recreated unless someone is going to get their talent to do Cameos for every voter in every group. And even then… “signed” notes are more old news. Unless Tom Hanks knows your kids’ names and hand writes them on the card… zzzzzz.
But the machine keeps grinding, as close to normal as possible, because… well… people have jobs and need those paychecks. Media too.
I don’t think there should be a competitive Oscar season this year. I like and love a bunch of these movies… but awards are about the least important thing imaginable in the film industry.
Moreover, whether they admit it or not, Oscar is moving faster down a track that could end the film industry that AMPAS was built to support and honor. Not to put too fine a point on it, but making Oscar into an award for anything captured on video that is between 90 minutes and 3 hours (with a few irrational exceptions) is the end of Oscar. And for many people, that is fine with them, even preferred. Hell, I can’t say that, outside of finding a new way to pay for my life, I would lose sleep over this.
But there is a deep importance to being honored by your industry that Oscar has represented like no other film award for a long time. Even those who have been marginalized by Oscar seem committed not to bring down the award, but to be included and awarded.
Unlike the business itself, which will define its own future no matter what the media and generally ignorant talking heads say because the ultimate standard is money and money carves out its own space like water defining a forest, Oscar is built on image and a weird faith that AMPAS members are the gold standard of the industry. Gestures matter. A lot.
The way Oscar is engaged by the industry, from start to finish, can stand some change. I am not arguing that hanging out in LA for three months to glad-hand at least half the Academy membership is an Oscar-worthy act. I’m not saying that the industry embracing the corrupt-by-design HFPA as a key step on the journey is great. Etcetera.
But this year without a structure. This year with a significantly reduced competition. This year in which money will eventually overcome purity, as it inevitably does (and which didn’t last season, thrilling most of the people involved, even from competitors). This season could expose, reshape, and push from troubled, overly paranoid status into real crisis mode for The Academy.
The nominees will be good movies. The winner will be loved by a lot of people. And right down through all of the categories. This is the micro and it will be okay.
But the macro view? The line from Excalibur keeps floating in my brain. “The King without a sword, the land without a king!”
| January 21, 2021
| January 18, 2021
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| January 22, 2021
Emerald Fennell: "I don’t work conceptually, or even in a genre-type way. Generally what happens is I’ve been thinking about something for a while. I’ve been thinking about consent, and the sort of raunch culture that I grew up with, and the kind of 'loopholes' that are exploited to take advantage of women and their bodies. With this movie, the first moment was — which is what usually happens for me — a very specific scene. The specific scene was a drunk girl on a bed having her clothes taken off and saying, drunkenly, 'What are you doing? What are you doing?' And then sitting up sober and saying, 'What are you doing?' That moment came fairly fully formed. From there, I knew who Cassie was and maybe what the film was going to be. I’m interested in Westerns and road movies and the revenge genre, and in particular, I think, kind of centering women and trying to wonder what … For me, it’s always like, What would I do? What could I do? I probably wouldn’t know where to get a gun, and I probably wouldn’t trust myself with one. I think that’s a reason women don’t resort to violence, and it very rarely ends well when they do. But what could I do? And I think that that’s what always interests me. It’s like, Okay, well, what I could do is fuck with people. I could frighten them. But it would have to be in a much more psychological and existential way. And so that was kind of the root of this, maybe: How do you write a revenge movie that feels like something real and that is based in real trauma and grief? Because I suppose the other thing with the revenge [genre] that we don’t talk about very much is revenge and vengeance aren’t good things. And I think that’s the thing that was always interesting about Cassie, and particularly the way Carey played her, was that she just did something I’ve never been able to do in my own life and just said, “Fuck off. Fuck off, everyone.'"
| January 22, 2021
"The best bits of a conference — the demonstrations, sales pitches and chance encounters — are impossible to replicate online. For everyday meetings, however, I think there is a better chance that video chat will outlast the pandemic. Zoom fatigue may be real but the shift to virtual meetings is one of the more helpful changes to have taken place in the past year. Not only do they cut out long commutes and jet-lagged business trips but they appear to have sharpened up start times and reduced cross-talk. Recorded meetings are very helpful for those of us who work with colleagues in different time zones, too."
| January 22, 2021
| December 13, 2019
| December 4, 2019
| December 4, 2019