| September 22, 2021
If a tree falls in the woods, but everyone is watching their TVs, does it make a noise?
It’s been more than 24 hours since The Jonases, beautiful, talented, and from media other than film, adorably announced the *Oscar nominations. And for that day+, I have been – and it seems others have been, too – looking for something worth discussing about the nominations.
And really… nothing. The same group of a dozen films considered in play for months went into the hopper and came out a little differently than other “precursors,” but nothing surprising. The only real “snubs” (a stupid word used stupidly way too often) this season were imaginary nominees in the first place, spurred on by an encouraging media happy to suck in added marketing dollars from the overly hopefuls.
The truth is, the eight Best Picture nominees (it will be 10 from next year’s 10-month season on) were the best- or most-marketed and films that delivered what they claimed (for the most part). Just like every season.
Netflix got only two Best Picture slots, instead of the expected three, mostly because there were only eight nominees. For me, the left-out film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, was their best in show this year. But Mank and The Trial of The Chicago 7 were their Top Two internally and they got their Top 2 internally. And once again, as has become the habit, their horses are strong enough to get into the finals, if not win.
Continuing to show up for this gunfight with knives should be a bit of a concern for the company. That isn’t to say that any distributor that doesn’t win Best Picture this year wouldn’t rather be in Netflix’s Oscar position than their own. But this season should be of more concern than the last few, as with all those nominations, The Trial of The Chicago 7 was a COVID/weakness sale to Netflix by Paramount and Pieces of a Woman was a TIFF buy with the sole purpose of adding an Actress nomination.
The biggest problem with Mank was at the screenplay level, but how much pressure was any studio going to put on David Fincher to change his late father’s screenplay to give the audience greater satisfaction? No screenplay nod.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom came from the theater, but the story became the late, great Chadwick Boseman. Of course, Viola Davis was going to get hers, deservedly. But Netflix let that be the story, as they chased their bigger priorities. Did anyone see a campaign for those who were not already locked down since October? George C. Wolfe, director? Ruben Santiago-Hudson, screenplay adapter? Any of the amazing actors that were part of the ensemble? It probably would have been in for Best Picture with 10 nominees… but with no nods for writing or directing, Best Picture tends to become unlikely.
And The Trial of the Chicago 7 has a happy Boomer audience, but again, where was the target in terms of being able to win Best Picture? Aaron Sorkin, one of our finest living screenwriters, is still a novice director. The skill set of a great writer-director is a mountain to climb. Steve McQueen is up at the apex. No way of knowing if Sorkin is going to get there. (For the record, one can’t blame Netflix for letting Sorkin direct. Paramount made the movie.)
Sorkin’s not terrible, but he writes with a super-strong style. My comparison would be David Mamet, who has made very intimate films with a lot of talking, the most action being in Heist, whose action was written like the clockwork of an old Mission: Impossible episode. But the action and the words are always in separate moments.
It’s easy to forget this was only Sorkin’s ninth screenplay. TV is a very different medium, especially before the last few years. Rob Reiner, Mike Nichols, David Fincher, Bennett Miller, and Danny Boyle made six of the seven he didn’t direct. These excellent directors all took strong writing and made it stronger with a directorial voice. Think about it… when you think, “You can’t handle the truth!,” you probably flash on an image of Nicholson (or Cruise as well, playing out the whole scene). No way a screenplay like Moneyball works like it did without the rare precision of a director like Bennett Miller. Fincher making magic of Jesse Eisenberg’s glum look but active eyes. None of this is easy.
This is the conundrum of Netflix. They have the machine to push out and draw accolades for their movies… but they haven’t had The Movie yet. (The story of Roma was not that it lost, but that such a personal, intimate, foreign-language artwork got so much love. Great work by Netflix there… but not The Movie, frustrating as that is for many.)
I won’t bet against Netflix finding The Movie one of these years. But I suspect that they will need to underplay that film to get it a Best Picture win. It is hard to be the target and take a movie from wire to wire as the overdog, whether you are a streamer or a legacy studio.
But this brings up another interesting part of yesterday’s nominations. In eight slots, the streamers, at a huge advantage in a year without theatrical cinema, only took three. A24, Focus, Searchlight, Sony Classics, and Warner Bros took the other 5 slots.
Now… every one of these films will be seen on TVs almost exclusively this season. By Academy members and media, for sure. In the real world, Warners took all their theatrical to the clusterfuck of HBO Max release and Searchlight made an inter-Disney placement of Nomadland on Hulu. But your only way to see Minari is to go to a movie theater or pay $19.99 to rent it. Promising Young Woman is in VOD (rental and purchase available) and theaters only. and both The Father and Judas & The Black Messiah (having completed its 30-day HBO Max window) are in theatrical-only windows right now.
Is there a big contingent of Academy members who lean hard towards movies that are actually meant for the big screen and not just for streamers? Could be.
I find it hard to imagine that many Academy voters are distinguishing distribution patterns when they are getting every movie in the race made available on their TVs for months now. But maybe.
The other question of bias is that there was a big group of awards-ey dramatic movies made by and starring Black Americans – Da 5 Bloods, 40 Yr Old Version, Judas/Messiah, Ma Rainey, Malcolm/Marie, One Night, US v Holiday – only one of which managed to break into Best Picture and none of which were nominated for Best Director.
There has never been so much on the table. And 15 nominations does not suggest that Oscar is so white. But…
There is also a strong Asian presence, with nine nominations between Minari, Mulan, and The White Tiger. Is Asia, even more overlooked historically than Black America at The Academy, now an area with a solid voting base?
We don’t have an historic guidance on how to read this. Is it a win? Is it a glass ceiling? Is it new international voters pushing some of these films in? Or is it the same old, same old… if you are in it to win it, Academy members, young and old and of color and white as a snow bank are all about the movies they love and are sold to within an inch of their lives?
It gets blurry after that, as so much of this is a matter of taste (and marketing). Both Judas and Chicago 7 got in… and Fred Hampton is in both films. The only movie that got in that was more of a period piece than those 1969 movies is Mank, which is also, by far, the biggest canvas for any movie in contention this season. Are voters biased against period or budget or both or neither?
It’s unknowable. We all know people. We all talk to voters. But the pond for this year’s Train Station *Oscars™ is very small and very fully fished out by voters, albeit not by the public. The season has been 12 movies deep for months already. And each voting group has shifted a little this way… shifted a little that way… but we’re running in place.
And now… and excerpt from this year’s *Oscar show, explaining how we got to Union Station…
| September 22, 2021
| September 20, 2021
| September 5, 2021
"With Toronto, Telluride, Venice, New York and other key fests opening amid an overcrowded field that includes films postponed from 2020, the acclaim, buzz and distinction festivals bestow on award contenders is more important than ever — especially for spectacles such as Dune, which lose impact on the small screen in hybrid streaming/theatrical releases. Yet the surging Delta variant now threatens to derail premieres, star appearances, in-person screenings and the press, the public’s and Oscar voters’ willingness to attend them.
"On August 27, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences postponed all screenings and in-person events for 2021. And on August 30, despite the U.S. having around 60 times as many COVID-19 cases as Canada and a much lower vaccination rate over the previous four weeks, per Johns Hopkins University data, the U.S. State Dept. advised Americans to “reconsider travel to Canada due to [a high level of] COVID-19” there.
“There’s nothing conclusive right now, and everyone is not quite sure how to proceed because of the nature of the COVID pandemic,” says Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard. “Telluride and Toronto have changed what they are going to do dramatically in the last few weeks, putting in a lot more protocols. The New York Film Festival is to be determined—what are they and AFI Fest going to do? Running a festival is like trying to [control] an oil tanker. You can’t just stop it, [and most events] don’t have festival insurance where you can say, ‘COVID shut us down, we gotta get paid.’ It brings up a lot of questions that are really difficult to answer.”
| September 9, 2021
| August 3, 2021
| February 15, 2021
| December 13, 2019
| December 4, 2019
| December 4, 2019