Hollywood-Elsewhere just posted a quote from Rope of Silicon’s Brad Brevet, which reads:
“The past few years of Oscar predictions have become quite boring as the conversation leading up to the show pretty much dictated the winners,” he continues. “Could it be the same again as the Social Network crowd reaches a fevered pitch?” While The Social Network “speaks squarely to the heart of the Gen-Y crowd” and The King’s Speech is “the one film that’s right up the Academy’s alley,” the game will be affected this weekend by Social Network ticket sales ” “another bullet point for the conversation to focus on.”
However, says Brevet, “true cinematic advancement in the Best Picture field won’t come with a Social Network win. Something like Darren Aronofsky’s ballet thriller Black Swan or Christopher Nolan’s Inception would mark an actual step forward. Will Nolan get the requisite ‘he deserved it Oscar for Batman 3 diminishing its cultural and cinematic significance? And when will one of Aronofsky’s forward-thinking features get the recognition it deserves?
“Oscar pundits wanting to crank the dial need start pushing films and decisions that truly change the landscape.”
And that’s because Oscar pundits are responsible for the Academy’s choices? On what planet, Brad? The votes are not determined by committee. The Academy members are not mindless drones who sit there trying to appease bloggers and critics.
I’ll never forget an interview I had with one older member who said that they don’t pay much attention to the jibber jabber: they vote for what they consider the “best movie.” The bloggers, critics and publicists can, perhaps, place in front of them a group to choose from but in the end, they are coming at their vote from a wholly different perspective from our own. They don’t write about movies, most of them; they make movies. Many of them have seen wunderkinds come and go – critics have been shoving films down the Academy’s throat for decades. Great films by daring directors have often not gotten attention by the Academy. This is why people say stuff like “it’s not an Oscar movie.” And that statement is true, for the most part, except when it isn’t. A great film by Academy standards is usually the one most people would agree upon as the best film of the year. The key word here is “most.”
The most that here are the opinions of around 6,000 employees of the film industry. Moving the dial by Brad Brevet or Jeff Wells’ perspective means that what they consider “progress” is about what THEY themselves like. Put ten of them in a room and do you think a consensus will be reached? No.
The film has to work on a different level — a more public level if you expect over 6,000 people to vote for it. Even if you put 6,000 film critics or Oscar bloggers in the same room you’re still looking for a CONSENSUS VOTE. This isn’t to say that great films can’t be recognized: great films HAVE been recognized in the past few years. To not notice that, or to try to float the notion that The Social Network isn’t forward thinking ENOUGH, is a tad looney. No disrespect intended.
More to the point, it isn’t the job of Oscar bloggers, the lowest group on the food chain, to “move the Oscar dial.” We don’t determine what films get made. We don’t decide whether or not Inception or Black Swan is a favorite film by voters. THEY decide. At best, you can perhaps illuminate the greatness within the film. The moment you try to force it down the voters’ throats? That’s when you lose any chance to change people’s minds. No one likes to be pressured or bullied into agreeing with you.
Maybe you have to have been a mother to understand this rationale. If you’ve ever worked with kids you understand this basic trait of human beings.
Where does this type of battle cry ultimately lead? Are we then the ones who try to take credit for the success or failure of a film? If I championed The Hurt Locker over Avatar last year does that mean I get to take the credit when it wins? I didn’t make it, I didn’t vote for it. How then am I to take credit? I told people to vote it? I didn’t. I would never do such a thing. I wrote about the movie. And I wrote about the politics of a potential Best Picture win, what it might do. The last thing I would ever have done last year was say that the Academy SHOULD vote The Hurt Locker. Saying you hope it wins it very different from saying it SHOULD win.
Those who say what SHOULD win, or what they SHOULD vote for often mistake their own personal taste for a consensus vote. I am sure plenty of voters voted against the grain last year and every other year before that. But the majority is what counts. That means it isn’t just the readers of blogs who vote – it’s the retired writers, art directors, effects designers, animators, composers, costumers, sound techs – are you really saying you’re going to herd them into voting YOUR way?
“You should eat your broccoli honey.”
“Yes, because it’s good for you.”
“But I don’t like the way it tastes.”
“You have to eat it. If you don’t eat it, the junk food wins.”
“But the junk food tastes better.”
“The junk food will kill you. Eat the broccoli.”
Parent steps out of the room. The kid is given two trays of food. One has french fries, the other has broccoli. No one is there to pressure him into eating one or the other. There are no direct consequences. No one will ever know he was the one who chose the french fries. What do you think the kid is going to do? What would YOU do? You might eat the broccoli. Put 6,000 people in the room? Even if they’re adults you know they are going to do what they want to do, not what you told them to do. Some of them will still eat the broccoli. And some of the Oscar voters will vote for the film you tell them is the best film of the year. But most are going to vote for the film they think is the best. Period.
And with that, the Oscar Watching/Advocating rules for 2010
1. “You Don’t say ‘here’s the punchline,’ you just do the punchline.” Jerry Lewis tells Robert De Niro that in a cab in Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. If you plan on advocating for a film, don’t spill the beans up front by saying “HERE IS A FILM YOU ACADEMY PEOPLE SHOULD VOTE FOR.” That has no prayer of working. In fact, it has a better chance of reversing your wish. Saying DON’T VOTE FOR MO’NIQUE! Or DON’T VOTE FOR A BEAUTIFUL MIND — these things only diminish your voice. Stay on the content of the film, the themes it evokes in our culture – tell us WHY it is good, not why “they” should vote for it. (i.e. “this broccoli tastes so much better than those fries. The fries are soggy and have no salt. The broccoli is smothered in butter and perfectly cooked. Yum.”)
2. To change minds in the Academy you have to first understand the Academy. You don’t understand them by bullying them into becoming unified with YOUR idea of what a good film is. If you gather ten of your friends into a room, all from different walks of life and you say “this movie you are about to see is the best film of the year. It is the best film because it has a Metacritic score of 88% and because I personally think it’s the best film of the year. Not only that, but I know five other people who agree with me. Not only that but it’s artistically daring, wholly original, a masterpiece, an instant classic. It redefines the idea of a children’s movie. It made me sob like a little girl after I watched it because IT SPOKE TO ME.
Now I’m going to put this movie on for you to watch. I want you all to like it as much as I did. Not only like it, but like it BEST. You Jenny, the office manager and you Craig, the postman, and you Carl, the waiter and you Bob, the actor. I want you all to vote for this because if you don’t you are jeopardizing the future of film.
The film is played. One of them feels like you do. The other nine don’t. Are they “stupid” or “out of touch” too? If they are then given an opportunity to vote honestly, do you think they’re going to vote because you told them to? Or are they going to vote because they genuinely liked a different film better than the one you’re shoving down their throats?
Sometimes you get lucky and the film you are shoving down their throats also happens to deliver the goods. What are “the goods?” A good movie. You know it when you see it. It is a complete story. Deep, satisfying. And above all, you don’t feel wanting by the end. Are you always going to find people who feel wanting anyway? Of course you are. Are there people who didn’t even like No Country for Old Men? Are there people who aren’t going to like Black Swan? Or people who didn’t like Inception? You bet. Do you think you telling them they SHOULD like it is going to help your case any?
3. Academy members do move the dial. They do it on a different clock. Last year’s The Hurt Locker moved the dial for women voters, yes. But also for dedicated filmmakers who stick to their intentions and make the movie they wanted to make no matter how much it cost. They moved the dial when they awarded Halle Berry and Denzel Washington acting trophies the same year. They moved the dial when they awarded An Inconvenient Truth, thereby helping to validate Al Gore’s Global Warming message.
4. If you really want to influence Academy members, make a good case. Don’t spend all of your time talking about “the shoulds.” There is no guarantee that if you make a good case it’s going to have any impact at all. But you can at least try. And in so doing, you drive the debate and the dialogue, keeping it ON THE FILMS themselves and the performances and the cinematography, etc.
5. “Nobody knows anything.” If you start from there, the possibilities are endless.
6. “The trick is not minding.” This remains true each and every day. You can huff and puff and cheerlead all you want — in the end, they vote with their hearts and they vote what THEY think is the best. If you want to write about the Oscars, if you want to have any part in the discussion, you have to understand that it is THEIR choice, not yours ultimately.
And decide what you want to be. If you want to be a good predictor, you must remove your own opinions from the equation. Just ask the best one of the bunch, Kris Tapley. He’ll tell you.¬† If you want to be an advocate, be prepared to be a bad predictor.
7. It’s only the Oscars. Whether 6,000 people think the movie you love is the best movie of the year or not doesn’t change the fact that the movie is great. If I think Inception is a masterpiece, and it is shut out of the Oscars, does that diminish my love for the film? No. Does that diminish the film’s greatness in any way, shape or form? Nope. In fact, the opposite is true. When a film wins it dies a little death. Who was it that said that having an orgasm is like dying a little? That is what an Oscar win is like — a grand climax, followed by a little death.
What two films are often considered the greatest films ever made? Citizen Kane and Raging Bull. It’s true that both Godfather films are also considered among the greatest, but whether they won Oscars or not has very little to do with it. The movie is the movie.
8. If you dream, dream big. By all means, if you want to advocate, go for it. Just make sure you follow the basics. If you just do the punchline instead of saying ‘here’s the punchline,’ the joke is funnier. Let the films speak for themselves. Illuminate the greatness of the people involved, the obstacles they overcame, the beauty in their work, their artistic courage and bravery. In short, it’s about them, not you.
Having said that, the best thing about Oscar season is imagining the impossible becoming possible. My idea of what’s impossible, though, is going to be different from Jeff’s or Brad’s. Look, if it were that easy, all of Jeff’s advocating for Children of Men or Zodiac would have had some impact. It didn’t. The movie is the movie.
9. The publicists matter a lot more than the bloggers. They are the ones who know how to strategize and yet they never get any credit. They must exist mostly invisible while others elbow each other out of the way to step forward and take the credit. I am always dazzled by a great campaign – whether it’s politics or the Oscar race. It is always important to pay attention to how they’re playing the game because that is how you know whether you should continue pleading or whether you should shut the hell up. Some movies don’t need your help and are, in fact, hurt by it.
10. It is what it is. It isn’t the LA Film Critics. It isn’t the BAFTAs. It isn’t the Spirit Awards. It isn’t even the Golden Globes. The road map leading there means you have to take into account things other than critical acclaim. Politics and economics also play into it. As you make your way down the road you’ll pass the critics first. Then you pass through the guilds, which are much more similar to Oscar voters than the critics. No blogger or critic will ever be able to change the demographics and general makeup of the Academy. Never. It will still come down to what the most people can agree upon as the best film of the year.
There is no one to stop you from advocating to your heart’s content, or rallying the troops to “crank the dial.” And there’s no one to stop you from stepping forward and taking credit for this person’s win, or that film’s win. Just remember that in the end, it’s about the movies and the people who make them. The bloggers? Not so much.