MCN Commentary & Analysis

Oscar: The Perpetual Motion Machine

I’ve been at this a long time. The other day, another long-termer pal was commenting that they had started following Oscar publicly the year Gladiator won Best Picture. I was in a tux on on E! that year, swearing that, “As God as my witness, Gladiator will not win Best Picture.”

God let me and Steven Soderbergh down (not in that order).

This particular Oscar season has been, shall we say, challenging to me. I am 100% pro-streaming. And I am 100% pro-theatrical. These things are not in conflict, you see. I know that is the screed of much of the media. But they are, simply, wrong. There is a world in which we all end up on our couches and chairs and beds forever more, flipping channels and switching apps. But I don’t think we are ready to become the third act of Wall-E.

To have an Oscar season where hardly any of the films nominated have been seen by anyone – Academy members, the public, the press – on anything but a TV in the safety of our homes makes no sense to me. Emmy? Absolutely! Oscar? No.

But it’s not up to me. I am not eligible, in my profession, to be a member of The Academy, much less a leader. So it is what it is.

And this week, it became even clearer how things work.

The 4 Netflixes – Da 5 Bloods, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Mank, The Trial Of The Chicago 7

The Searchlight Frontrunner – Nomadland

Disney Animation – Soul

The Ordained Since September Field – Judas And The Black Messiah, Minari, One Night In Miami…, and Sound Of Metal

Coulda been the Gold Derby Awards. Maybe the were too late to get onboard the recent, deserved surge for Promising Young Woman. Perhaps Universal had too big a movie star in their News of the World.

This a small group of voters making the call and they were too careful to even choose between Hamilton being a movie or a TV show… so they gave it a special award.

And then there are the Independent Spirit Awards, which now cover films under $22.5 million. Besides being the confused mush of disconnected nominations, brought on by nominating committees—meaning that Promising Young Woman can gave one of the best directors, actresses, and screenplay, but not make it for Best Picture or even Best First Feature —they still managed to do as they do every year, which is to lean into the expected and give a slot or two in every category to an unexpected name.

“Eligible films must have either: a. Been programmed in 2020 at one of the following seven film festivals: New Directors/New Films, New York Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, SXSW Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival (even if, due to COVID-19, the festival did not physically take place), OR…”

No need for a cinema, though if you happened to play in one, that’s nice too.

Netflix got their Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in, although it is at a disadvantage because it probably won’t be indie enough for this year. First Cow, Minari, Nomadland, and Never Rarely Somtimes Always have been locks for a while.

How is it that just as things feel like we are at the beginning of the season, we are actually at the locked down part of the season?

The Perpetual Movement Machine.

And don’t get me wrong. I like the vast majority of these films and am happy for the filmmakers and actors. And to be fair, none of these groups have a whole lot more than the titles they have chosen to work with, in the realistic constraints of award season. It’s not to say that the films are unworthy… just that we are in a singularly constrained season and the tail of award shows is now wagging the industry dog.

If one of my personal favorites becomes a frontrunner—there are none yet—it will amuse me. But after decades of playing in this sandbox, fending off questions about why any of this should be taken seriously at all, I can’t answer the question this year, even though it is the most serious, thoughtful, progressive award season ever. And that kinda sucks.

2 Responses to “Oscar: The Perpetual Motion Machine”

  1. Stella's Boy says:

    ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI is excellent. The leads are outstanding, especially Aldis Hodge, who is so commanding and charismatic on screen (great year for him). Sure it’s a bit like watching a play but with writing and performances that are so good that’s a minor issue. The central debate at the heart of the narrative is a fascinating one. The conversations are lively and compelling and occasionally provocative. Just a really wonderful movie. Not surprised at all that Regina King is a good director.

    PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN blew me away. I watched it on consecutive nights. Can’t remember the last time I did that. Everything just worked for me. The aesthetic, music, storytelling, performances, everything. It seamlessly shifts between genres and is so confident and bold. Carey Mulligan is sensational. The supporting cast is perfect. It is funny and disturbing and shocking and timely and just fucking amazing. The third act floored me the first time and I was stunned into silence, unsure of how I felt about it, but after a second viewing, I can’t imagine any other ending. An absolutely incredible debut feature. I will watch this one again for sure. It will stand the test of time. A remarkable movie. Easily one of the best of 2020.

  2. Bob Burns says:

    Seems like a democratic/egalitarian year to me… in the sense that the voters and the audience hordes are seeing films in similar ways.

    In a normal year, the film viewing experience of awards voters has little in common with common people, fine screening rooms, sophisticated audiences, meet-and-greet with the filmmakers, panels, good food, and other perks of which I am unaware.

    Were I king, I would be tempted to forbid all of these perks in awards campaigns, but I guess that the scene attracts investors.

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