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Oscar Roundtable Take Seven

The post nominations flurry has died down a bit. I felt less heat around these nominations than usual. Part of that was the smallish pool from which to choose this year, and part of it was that ten nominees for Best Picture turned out to be what we suspected it would be – the top ten, or thereabouts, that usually collect during the season. I wanted to hear the perspectives of others, however, so with no further ado. The seventh in a series of discussions about the Oscars with a variety of writers and thinkers around the web.

The participants:

Damien Bona, Inside Oscar
Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today
Pete Hammond, The Envelope
Tom O’Neil, Gold Derby
Moises Chiullan, Hollywood-Elsewhere
Melissa Silverstein, Women and Hollywood
Craig Kennedy, Living in Cinema
Nathaniel Rogers, The Film Experience
Erik Childress, eFilm Critic, Cinematical

1. Do you think that Woman is the New Black at the Oscars? And if that door is finally kicked down, will this year be a one-off or will this fuel more faith in women as both cinematic icons and money makers?

Bona: At the time, I had thought that Jane Campion‚Äôs nomination and the many nominations (and 3 wins) for The Piano signaled that the proverbial door was, if not knocked down, at least unlocked, But, of course, in the 16 years since The Piano, only two other women have received directing nominations. A likely win by a woman does not a trend make, so I wouldn’t call women the New Black.On the positive side, a second Best Picture nominee this year was made by a woman (An Education), which is a good thing, Quite simply, women filmmakers need to be given more opportunities to direct major films. Perhaps even more encouraging than these two nominations, however, is the fact that a woman this year made a film that grossed over $200 million ‚Äì Betty Thomas with Alvin And The Chipmunks ‚Äì The Squeakel. Awards recognition is nice, but large grosses are really the kind of success that will keep opening cinematic doors for women.

Wloszczyna: Well it has taken almost 20 years for another black director to just be in the category. But it seems to me this was a year fairly abundant with quality work by female directors and perhaps there is a turning point to come even if Bigelow doesn’t win. But if she does perhaps studios will A. women can direct more than romcoms and Twilight films and B. that movies well made know no gender. If I watched The Hurt Locker, I probably would naturally assume it was made by a man given the subject. Now if only the film made as much as Avatar, Woman would be the new green and all studios would be scrambling for them to oversee their next ballsy action film.

Hammond: It won’t change much. Every success is measured in terms of dollars and/or awards. If women’s films continue to fit in one of those categories they will thrive. This has been a good year for women for behind the camera but Bigelow is an exception. As I have said before, she made a movie that looked like it was directed by a man. That plus the subsequent hype (not fostered by her in any way) about being the “first woman” has made her inevitable. Oddly if Hurt Locker WAS directed by a man we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The award would be Cameron’s to lose.

O’Neil: The door won’t be kicked open, no, but it will open a bit more, offering some hope of gender equality ahead, but since there’s been so little hope in the past, “some” may be a meager gain. If Bigelow had helmed an Oscar-winning money machine, then, yes, maybe a kicker.

Chiullan: I sure as hell hope that it does. There are few columns I’ve agreed with more in the last year than the one Manohla Dargis wrote excoriating the “girly romcom” and the perception of the types of movies women are “allowed” to direct. The problem is, the same executives and boys’ club politics are still in place. That isn’t going to change as quickly as vampire projects got greenlit after Twilight.

That’s on top of the fact that plenty of women don’t make it past their first year in film school thinking of themselves as directors. This is a result of male-heavy faculties that encourage and nurture the men that remind them of themselves rather than the women that are more than capable.

What I view as the inevitable Bigelow win will hopefully have long-term effects, but it’s not going to be felt even as soon as the next few years.

Over the next month people are going to hear Kathryn Bigelow’s name so many times not only as a best director nominee but also as the director and maybe(when they resolve the credits) the producer of one of the best picture nominees. That’s big. It’s not only that she is nominated, it’s that her nomination this year has a sense of gravitas that can help make a difference.

Don’t underestimate what it means to girls (and boys) to see a woman standing beside her peers as an equal. It opens up worlds of possibilities to dream bigger.

But I am also keenly aware of the difficulties women directors face and sadly, in the short term, we probably won’t see too much improvement. The point is that things won’t change until we see more of a critical mass of women directors getting the respect and success that male directors do.

So in jest and taking a play from Tina Fey’s book: Bigelow is the new black!

Kennedy: On one hand, money talks a little louder in Hollywood than awards and Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker still only made $12 million at the box office. It would’ve made more if it had been released by a studio with more marketing muscle, but how much more? On the other hand, she pretty much destroys the idea that women can only make flaccid romantic comedies.

Meanwhile, Sandra Bullock proved a woman over 40 can drive a film over $200 million AND pick up a few awards. The Proposal did alright for itself too.

The evidence is there to support more women as movers in the film industry, but will the industry take off it’s 3-D goggles long enough to see the obvious? Consider me skeptical.

Rogers: Hollywood is slow to place faith in women and they’ll continue to be. The media is part of the problem, too, because they also play dumb half the time (unless it’s this year’s “story”). Consider that every year the media is surprised when some female-oriented movie become hits. They’re all Dory from Finding Nemo, forgetting where they’ve just been. Only less funny like.

Doubt it. It’s not like we’re going to see Nancy Meyers and Nora Ephron all of a sudden become Oscar favorites and they are as successful as female directors come. Bigelow’s greatest box office success peaked at $43 million (Point Break). No, this is still a man’s game and the films that Bigelow makes fit right into that mold. If anything its going to allow her to work more often, which is always a good thing.

2. Now that the nominations are in, ten best picture candidates — good or bad?

Bona: The Academy managed to pick the worst possible year to expand to 10. It’s generally assumed that the films which received Best Director nods are the quintet which would have been nominated under the previous system, and there’s not a single movie among the other finalists which would have caused an uproar had it not made it into a field of five. Would there really have been wailing and gnashing of teeth if, say, A Serious Man was not one of five Best Picture nominees?¬† On the other hand, had there only been five finalists, then the Academy wouldn’t have to deal with the ignominy of The Blind Side going into the official records as a Best Picture Oscar nominee. The organization never has been able to live down those Picture nominations for the likes of Doctor Doolittle, the Mutiny On The Bounty remake and The Towering Inferno, and now it’s got another one to add to that pile.

Wloszczyna: We will see what the weighted voting will hath wrought for the final determination. But I do like the mix and that the voters went for District 9 instead of the perfectly good Star Trek or the perfectly awful Nine. The problem is — those five without directors nominated? Really no chance at all to win.

Hammond: Very good. Somehow the Academy managed the right mix and the fact that there are five box office champs in the bunch is good all around for the health of the Oscars.

O’Neil: Very good. More genre films like sci-fi snuck in, but stuffy Oscar still refused to show a sense of humor. Unless you call “The Blind Side” getting in over “The Hangover” …. that’s a joke, right?

Chiullan: I’ve been a huge fan of this since it was announced and remain in the “good” camp. I don’t think we would have seen A Serious Man, or possibly even An Education in a Top Five year. Some would (and I’m sure will) call this blasphemy or the ravings of a know-nothing “child”, but I’d be fine expanding acting, directing, cinematography, foreign film, and documentary to ten nominees apiece. It wouldn’t water anything down, but rather, give a more substantive cross-section of the year and help promote more of the product that the industry is making.

Kennedy: I still think the move to 10 nominees was a cynical one, but it was effective. More people are interested in the race. That’s a good thing and the danger of one of the films outside of the 5 director nominees actually winning seems small. Ask me this question again if The Blind Side wins BP.

Rogers: Unnecessary.

Childress: Stupid. Has been since the first announcement of it, but even more so now. With five nominees we already knew that at least three of them had no chance to win. Now there are eight. Big deal. Are we going to be remembering fondly that The Blind Side was a Best Picture nominee? Yay, an animated film finally got a Best Picture nod again. Big deal. It took WALL-E guilt and an extra five spaces to open it up to that possibility. The only thing it has done is help take the heat of the argument away from the five usual contenders. Now we don’t focus on whether Precious or Avatar was deserving, we think of The Blind Side getting in and something like Invictus getting snubbed; two films that would not have even been worthy to be in the discussion this morning had there been only five slots.

3. With what you’ve heard about the upcoming Oscar ceremony? Do you agree with producer Adam Shankman that the Oscars are the biggest and best reality show on television?

Bona: Shankman’s statement was glib and stupid, although giving him the benefit of the doubt maybe he was being facetious. The Academy Awards are 180 degrees away from reality shows, which. let’s face it, consist of non-entities hoping to find a smidgen of fame by doing things that range from mildly discomfiting to idiotic. The Oscars are as iconic a popular cultural event as there is in this country and to liken them to the televised spectacles of large people losing weight and class-less nouveau riche housewives acting out their banal problems in drama queen fashion shows a shocking mis-readinng of Oscar history and the role of the Academy Awards in our collective lives. But then again this is an Oscar show producer who is banking on the evening’s emotional high point to be the reunion of Judd Nelson and Anthony Michael Hall.

One does have to feel for Adam Shankman, however. Here he was with grandiose plans to have 500,000 dancers on stage for the Best Song performances and the Music committee goes and nominates a pastiche of a ’30s boulevardier chanson on which the accordion is the dominant instrument and a slow country ballad. And when they do nominate a song from Nine it’s another ballad, rather than the terrible-but-upbeat “Cinema Italiano” which would have allowed Shankman to go wild and get Kate Hudson (or some Kate Hudson doppelganger) to shake her ass amidst a bevy of chorus boys and go go girls on the Kodak stage.

Looking at various movie and Oscar-spcefic websites, people seem giddy with anticipation that this show will be a glorious train wreck, the most wonderfully godawful thing since the legendary Allan Carr/Snow White/Rob Lowe fiasco of 1988. And the Academy is setting itself up: The official poster for the show does say “You‚Äôve Never Seen Oscar Like This” — a tag that’s just begging for a punch line.

Wloszczyna: Unless Heidi Klum hosts with Jeff Probst and that bespectacled dude Alton Brown from Iron Chef, nope. People dressed in borrowed clothes and jewels air kissing each is certainly not my idea of reality.

Hammond: No, they are not a “reality” show. God, let’s hope he doesn’t take himself seriously. It’s an awards show. Always has been , always will be. The cottage industry of blogging that has grown up around the Oscars is turning into the true reality show.

No, not unless they add Simon Cowell goosing Kathy Griffin in a shack on the Jersey Shore

I don’t like the idea of reality television infecting the media much more than it already has, and I hope there isn’t a classiness dive in terms of presenters all of a sudden. If Lady Gaga presents something and we never see Betty White or any other actress over 50 (aside from Streep), I’ll lose it and write an angry letter. “Dear Internet…”

Kennedy: God, I hope not.

Rogers: I try not to listen to plans for the Oscar ceremony. Most of the time I feel like the show runners don’t even understand why (and who) watches the Oscars. And comparing them to reality television doesn’t exactly instill confidence. Can we look forward to constant replays of what just happened and what’s about to happen sprinkled with “I’m not here to make friends” cliches.

That’s overselling it a bit, don’t you think Adam? I don’t know if the average blue collar viewer sees anything in Hollywood as “reality.” Of course, the same people watch The Bachelor so you never know.

4. Does having a Best Picture nomination solidify Sandra Bullock’s chances to win for Best Actress or could she be upset by someone unexpected like Carey Mulligan or Gabby Sidibe?

Bona: Bullock is clearly the front-runner now. Even a month ago, no one could have envisioned such a scenario, but the Best Picture nod has solidified her lead. Meryl Streep is still a formidable challenger, but 2009 has morphed into Sandra Bullock’s year.

Wloszczyna: Sandra. Will. Rule. Meryl is the only one who could pose a threat. Carey and Gabby are young and still relatively untested despite delivering perfect portraits of young girls swept up in forces beyond their control in their films. It just feel like the Oscars gods have decided to embrace Ms. B this year, if only to save us from the sequel Even More About Steve.

Hammond: Definitely it’s the only acting category where an “upset” is possible. The Best Picture nomination though certainly makes it appear she could be invincible but I think this race is a lot closer than people might suspect and I’m not just talking Sandra vs. Meryl. In the end though I think it’s Sandy’s to lose.

O’Neil: The Blind Side best-pic nom is the best news for Bullock.

Chiullan: There is plenty of time for voters to decide they don’t want to pull a Brockovich and split the voting all over the place, so there is indeed time for a late surge campaign on behalf of Carey Mulligan…which could then splinter the vote enough for Gabourey to take it in a big shock.

Kennedy: The BP nomination shows the cynicism about The Blind Side doesn’t run as deeply in Hollywood as I thought it might and it definitely makes Bullock my front runner. I thought the voters would really have to hold their blue state noses just to vote for Bullock, but the fact enough of them actually went for the movie too says a lot.

I think the momentum for best actress is now in Sandra Bullock’s court. Her win might be a really smart way of placating middle America who thinks that Hollywood is full of hedonists. The truth is that there are a lot of people like Leigh Ann Thouy in this country and making them feel part of the Hollywood culture might be a great long term investment. I also think she has the Sally Field factor going for her this year – people really like her, they like her self-deprecation and her genuine surprise at the ride she is taking. I really think the fight is now between Bullock and Streep with the other three going along for the ride.

It’s purely Streep vs. Bullock. Nobody else has been able to generate anything like a winner’s heat in the pre-season. I once held the belief that Streep had this in the bag, capitalizing on the momentum of 27 years of losing and a few consecutive years of big comedic hits that, to me at least, dwarfs any single year accomplishment of Bullock’s. But the media has other ideas. Now that the performances and films have become such abstractions, quality and filmographies aren’t really the issue. The media seems to WANT Sandra Bullock to be an Oscar winner. And what the media wants with Oscar, they often get.

Absolutely not. It doesn’t affect her chances in anyway. Either the voters like her enough to continue voting for her after the Globes and SAG or they wake up and realize that our greatest living actress with her 16th nomination for, arguably, the best female performance of the year hasn’t won an Oscar since 1982. Meryl Streep was as close as she ever was in some time for Doubt last year. Save for the last minute switch from supporting to lead for Kate Winslet and it just may have happened. To think Streep would lose to a poor woman’s Erin Brockovich is just sickening. Of course maybe it will all just fit into this year’s theme of white liberal guilt.

5. Both Inglourious Basterds and Precious got nominations in all of the crucial categories: Picture, Director, Screenplay, and in the acting categories (Precious with two, IB with one). Does this put it a position to potentially upset given the preferential balloting?

Bona: Although their tones, intentions and attitudes are very different, Avatar, Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds are all, at heart, action films. Thus, I wouldn’t think Tarantino’s film is the one to challenge the two front runners, since it shares a constituency with them. Throughout awards season, it had seemed as if the literate Up In The Air would be the alternative to Avartar and The Hurt Locker for voters preferring a more cerebral work, but the fact that the Reitman film didn’t receive a nomination for Best Editing — even though the editing is a prime reason the film works so well — would indicate surprisingly soft support. (The last movie to win Best Picture without an Editing nomination was Ordinary People back in 1980. Some savvy Oscar watchers — myself not among them — correctly predicted that Brokeback Mountain was doomed on Oscar night because it lacked an Editing nomination.)

Precious Based On The Novel Pushed by Sapphire did, for some reason, receive an Editing nod. So if one is looking for a possible upset Oscar night, Precious now seems to be the character-driven drama that could pull it off. At the same time, with the preferential system, one has to consider second and third place preferences, and Up In The Air seems like the kind of film many people would list in the place or show spots. (And perhaps with the preferential system, Up In The Air’s editing omission may not matter as much as in previous years.) Precious may be too downbeat and gritty for many Academy members so it may end up low on the lists of voters who don’t absolutely love it.

Wloszczyna: It will be interesting to see how the Avatar vs. Hurt Locker knockdown will play out. I do think Basterds is the only other film that could somehow sneak in there between them. It is far more popular out there than critics gave it credit for when it first opened.

Hammond: It’s uncharted territory so anything could happen with Preferential voting, but it seems the movie pref voting helps most is Hurt Locker which is the film most often mentioned by Oscar voters even if one of the others is their first choice.

O’Neil: Inglourious Basterds had a good shot at derailing Avatar — until the Hurt Locker bandwagon came crashing through town

Chiullan: Basterds could only pull this off if it didn’t seem like the Academy “undecideds” were turning in favor of Hurt Locker overwhelmingly. It feels like the momentum is with the underdog indie about the realities of war. Avatar has made tons of money and it’s still leading the B.O., but its head steam is past and it’s coasting. It would take a devastating anti-Hurt Locker publicity campaign to stop it now, and I can’t conceive of how someone could take down the feel-good story of success that it’s become. Slow and steady wins the race. Everyone else broke early.

Kennedy: Officially for now I’m sticking with The Hurt Locker, but quietly and emotionally I think Inglourious Basterds has a real shot at sneaking in, particularly with this preferential ballot business.

Rogers: I don’t really think preferential balloting will make all that much of a difference. We always assume it will in nominations but it never seems to (notice how similar Oscar lineups are to precursor lineups that don’t use preferential systems)

Nope. Just as it doesn’t give Avatar a leg down for being only the sixth film since 1981 to get a Best Picture nod without a single acting or writing nod (Master & Commander (2003), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Mission (1986) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)) It is Avatar vs. The Hurt Locker all the way