| March 6, 2022
They are only 2 months away!!!!
Well, 2 months and 10 days.
That makes today the equivalent of the day after Thanksgiving 2019 before last year’s Oscar show. Happy holiday!
That said, it is time for me to stop mocking the *Oscars and to accept that they are not only happening, but that there is joy to be gained from the experience. It shouldn’t be happening, but how many weddings have you been to where you knew the same was true… and you still spent as much as you would have on the gift because who wants to be the grinch at a wedding?
After all the talk and the surprisingly early start for The King of The Apps, things are playing out pretty much as expected. They threw eight movies into the ring and still standing are Mank, The Trial of the Chicago 7, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, any one of them a possible Best Picture winner. And expect nods for Da 5 Bloods, Pieces of a Woman, and even the “thought that one was dead” Hillbilly Elegy. They may not be able to deliver a nom for Sophia Loren, but the film, The Life Ahead, is still a good bet for a song nomination.
The wire-to-wire movie of the season is Nomadland, from the renamed Searchlight Pictures. Fran is The Man. The movie brings a very specific and unique energy to the moment where people are not feeling free to be nomads. And the thought of a woman writing and directing fits the political moment.
But we’ve only filled about 60% of the categories with these power titles.
The superstar for a good chunk of the voting block is Promising Young Woman. It’s tough. It’s smart. It is about a woman who is as tough as Frances McDormand’s character in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and a lot funnier. But as such, it also pisses off a lot of people. Carey Mulligan gives the performance of her career, but it doesn’t feel like Focus is maximizing their star. Female writer-director should be hailed as the next Billy Wilder… but for some reason is not. This is one of these titles that could come out of the dock and absolutely kill it… winning the most awards. But it could just as easily celebrate its six nominations and be happy just to be there… which would be a shame, especially in such a twisted season.
Minari comes from A24, the high-taste masters of the media universe. Neon is an endless joy, but A24 showed up first and dunked the clown before anyone even realized how absurdly smart and tasteful they are. But Minari makes Nomadland look like an action movie. Nominations? Yes. Respect? Yes. Wins? Tough sledding.
Sound of Metal is another movie with a deeply passionate constituency. Riz Ahmed has gone from a remote possibility to a likely Best Actor nominee. The problem for the film’s Best Picture hopes is the downfield ballot. The team is completely deserving, but they have not risen above the field, where there are even more stars below the line this season than above. But maybe. Paul Raci seems like a potential tipping point.
Where are people on News of the World? A similar place that Mank was at a month ago… and it looks like a favorite for most nominations. It’s really the only other conventional studio-like title in the game. And old-fashioned is every bit as much a constituency in The Academy as aggressively progressive. It could grab a handful of crafts noms or it could deliver a surprise.
And why isn’t Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan an oddball cinch for a very nice Best Picture slot to go with Sacha Baron Cohen and Maria Bakalova? Isn’t this the year of the unexpected? Well… not so much. Split attention has always been a challenged for Academy voters of any age. Cohen is locked into a Supporting Actor nod for Chicago 7. Bakalova seems a lock for Supporting Actress. Writing is still possible. And there is always the “Wuhan Flu.”
It gets blurrier for other contenders. One Night in Miami… is as good a four-hander in a hotel room as you can expect… but it is that, albeit with great acting in one of the five true ensembles this season. The Father is an acting show and Olivia Colman’s potential nomination would come to someone who is beloved and in a category without a ton of options. Zendaya and Daniel Kaluuya are both stars who will be with us for many years onscreen, but the material they work with is ill-fitting for both. Never Rarely Sometimes Always has its one-sheet in the dictionary next to “Indie Spirit Movie,” which is not an insult, just a perspective of an organization that is different in focus, even this season. First Cow tooooooo.
How many times do I say “even in this season?” Lots. And I understand if some people think this is a shot at some of these titles. But they are wrong. It’s like going to Baskin-Robbins and they only have 10 flavors. There is some chance that your flavor is one of those 10. And if it isn’t, you can probably find flavors you like in that 10. But part of the experience of Baskin-Robbins is 32 (or more) flavor options… even if you always end up eating one of the same three flavors you always order. You still like Baskin-Robbins. You may think someone is an idiot for loving Rum Raisin, but you can respect bubblegum ice cream even if that isn’t what you want. It’s that season.
And there is this… as we were heading into this asterisk season, people were all excited that this would be the one to break the mold.
But after six months and maybe (maybe!) one title with impact that wasn’t being shown to festival audiences or in the gates from Netflix months and months ago, it is settling down to what is the same old thing. Money. Celebrity. Comfortable films. The only thing more radical than “normal” is that there is just one movie from Universal and one movie from Warner Bros. making a showing for major studios. The nominee from Paramount was released by Netflix.
And when *Oscar voting closes, aside from drive-ins, 95%+ of the voters will have never seen anything they voted for on a movie screen (some may have been at Sundance last year for Promising Young Woman). And 98% of those will have not seen any of the titles without taking a break to go to the bathroom, getting another glass of wine, or answering the door when Doordash rings.
As in every season, I really like a lot of the people who are competing for awards. Incredible talent. Great stories. Hard work. Worthy work.
But I want to sit in a dark theater to watch Mank… and Minari… and Sound of Metal. I want to hear the crowd laugh and gasp and cry in Promising Young Woman. I want to feel the claustrophobic tension of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and One Night in Miami… I want to be the only laughing at an inappropriate joke in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. I want to watch men squirm in Pieces of a Woman and to see how many people with walkers head up the aisle when Andra Day offers up her naked ass in The United States vs Billie Holiday.
And much as it always makes me nuts, I want to hear people going on about how Florence Pugh will get nominated for Black Widow or the fights over which West Side Story is the better West Side Story and to learn Lashana Lynch’s name.
I don’t want to grade the Oscar show (or the *Oscars) on a curve. I don’t want to make fun of yet another high-end Zoom award show. I don’t want to discuss the horrible ratings that are coming.
But I have no choice.
Next year in The Dolby.
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"Netflix, the great disrupter whose algorithms and direct-to-consumer platform have forced powerful media incumbents to rethink their economic models, now seems to need a big strategy change itself. It got me thinking about the simple idea that my film and TV production company Blumhouse is built on: If you give artists a lot of creative freedom and a little money upfront but a big stake in the movie’s or TV show’s commercial success, more often than not the result will be both commercial (the filmmakers are incentivized to make films that will resonate with audiences) and artistically interesting (creative freedom!). This approach has yielded movies as varied as Get Out (made for $4.5 million, with worldwide box office receipts of more than $250 million), Whiplash (made for $3.3 million, winner of three Academy Awards), The Invisible Man (made for $7 million, earned more than $140 million) and Paranormal Activity (made for $15,000, grossed more than $190 million).From the beginning, the most important strategy I used to persuade artists to work with me was to make radically transparent deals: We usually paid the artists (“participants” in Hollywood lingo) the absolute minimum allowable by union contracts upfront, with the promise of healthy bonuses based on actual box office results—instead of the opaque 'percentage points' that artists are usually offered. Anyone can see box office results immediately, so creators don’t quarrel with the payouts. In fact, when it comes time for an artist to collect a bonus based on box office receipts, I email a video clip of myself dropping the check off at FedEx to the recipient."
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