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Academy Members “React” to Gone Girl

In case you were wondering why Oscar pundits like Scott Feinberg and now, the LA Times’ Glenn Whipp are so cool on Gone Girl’s Oscar chances because stories like this reveal how Academy members think. This has been an ongoing issue for decades, of course, which is why Vertigo – hailed as the greatest film of all time only received two Oscar nominations. One for Art Direction and one for Sound.

The mistake is to listen to what these older middled aged mostly male voters think about movies and somehow deduce that it means something beyond: it’s a divisive film. There are those who love it and those who hate it. And then there are these members who really don’t feel anything about it except to shrug and say “that’s it?”

I remember walking up to the Mona Lisa in the Louvre with hundreds of people gathered around trying to take her photo and all around me I heard people say: “That’s it?” I thought about that painting a lot the rest of that day wondering whether its greatness depended on what any old person off the street thought versus what art critics thought at the time and now.

Gone Girl isn’t even a critics’ darling by this point but it is entertaining. I remember when Martin Scorsese’s The Departed came out everyone said the same thing: it’s a good movie but it’s not an Oscar movie. Some even said “that’s it?” But The Departed fits more nicely into the Academy’s wheelhouse, in a way, than Gone Girl does. How many films in the Best Picture race can you count that were written by women? Can you even think of a single one that was a female adapting a novel that she wrote?

The success of Gone Girl will be pinned on Fincher but to me I look at this piece by Whipp, and some of the harsher reviews by people like Manohla Dargis and I just think: Same fucking shit, different day. Voters will be inclined to pretend that Fincher is the one who “ruined” the book while neglecting to realize that Flynn wrote the screenplay. Same fucking shit. Different day.

“I didn’t want to know anything about the movie before I saw it, but I kept hearing people talking about Ben Affleck’s penis,” one academy member, a screenwriter, said. “Now I know why. It’s a more fully realized character here than the one Pike plays.”

That complaint was echoed by multiple academy members who had read the book and came away dissatisfied with the character balance in the adaptation.

“It probably couldn’t be helped,” one voter said, “because of the way the book alternates between her story and his. The movie, it’s mostly Affleck. You don’t hear enough of her voice, and it throws the whole thing off.”

“Gone Girl” screened for New York-based academy members Tuesday, with star Rosamund Pike interviewed afterward. There was no Q&A following Saturday’s screening at the Goldwyn. The audience clapped when the closing credits began to roll, but there was no applause when they finished. Contrasted to most movies that go on to win a best picture nomination, it was a rather subdued reaction, particularly given the buzz that was in the room when the film began.

Fincher’s technical prowess – the precise camera work, the immaculately composed shots, the razor-sharp editing – remained unimpeachable for some. “This is first-class filmmaking,” one academy member said. But … “But, like a lot of his other movies, you admire it more than you enjoy it.”

In short, when it comes to the academy, “Gone Girl” could have some issues. Many critics love it. The Internet is obsessed with it, dissecting its gender politics, its ending, its fidelity to the book. But, perhaps owing to the hype, not to mention the aforementioned gender politics and that wackadoodle ending, audiences might be divided between ardent believers, the unimpressed and the nonplussed.

“What did I just see?” one Oscar-nominated producer asked, walking along Wilshire Boulevard to his car. “That’s it? Really? I’ve seen better social commentary in a good episode of ‘Bob’s Burgers.'”

The shame in my business to read stories like this that equate quality with Academy tastes. People who watch the Oscars can’t seem to decide if “they” are worthy of admiration or not. When they want to see a movie fail in the race they act as though it is some kind of great honor to be nominated. When they love a movie that “they” reject they deride the Academy as a bunch of know-nothings. You can’t have it both ways. Believe me, I’ve been trying for 16 years.

Here’s what I know about Academy members. They like you to be good but they don’t like you to be good. Believe me, I was here when Martin Scorsese had not yet won an Oscar. Martin Scorsese who directed Taxi Driver in 1976, who didn’t win a directing Oscar until 2006. And the only reason he finally won for The Departed was because it was a movie voters could kind of get. It was also easily the best of the five that year. The Oscars are really nothing more than a cut above the People’s Choice awards. In fact, the Hollywood Foreign Press has a better track record than the Oscars throughout film history, having awarded such films as A Place in the Sun, Chinatown, etc.

Gone Girl was never meant to be an Oscar movie. The only reason it’s even in the conversation is because of people like me who desperately want it to be in the conversation because the last thing people like me want to do is spend the next few months hand holding a bunch of crybabies. There is nothing more thrilling than having a dark film like Gone Girl in the Best Picture race from my perspective. Ditto Foxcatcher, Birdman, Maps to the Stars, Mommy – bring back the great films, please for the love of all things holy. When did the Oscar race turn into such a mushy, developmentally disabled affair?

The complaints seem to vary (as they do with ticket buyers and critics) that they didn’t think Rosamund Pike was given enough screen time, that she was more fully realized in the novel. The same could be said for Wendy in The Shining, Mrs. Brody in Jaws and on and on it goes. A cinematic rendition of a novel is different from a novel. The experience is different. When I read The English Patient it forever turned me off of the movie. The book is so wonderfully written, and the Kristen Scott-Thomas character is so different than she is in the book. But you know what? In the end, a movie is a movie and a book is a book and these voters should know that.

Whipp calls Gone Girl’s Cinemascore of “B” “middling.” And indeed, to WIN Best Picture you really need an A. Shit movies get A grades but Best Picture winners often do too. Argo got an A+. The King’s Speech an A or A+. Titanic got an A+. The Departed got an A-. But hey, Dolphin Tale 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy both got Cinemascores of A — let’s nominate them for Best Picture. Cinemascore really measures audiences expectations versus how those expectations were met. Expectations for Gone Girl were upended, by design.

BUT – all of this to say that Gone Girl’s chances of winning Best Picture are nil. And it’s too early in the race to decide whether the industry will count it among the best pictures of the year for a nomination.

But here’s what I will tell you:

If you’re a smart pundit you will cross Gone Girl and everything about it off your list. Don’t you be like me. Don’t measure your hopes and dreams by a consensus vote. If they’re already shrugging at this point in the race, trust me, you don’t want to see how this thing will play out.

However, please also do me this favor: delide what’s best on your own, without hugging up close to the Academy because their little gold statues must mean something. They don’t. What they mean is power and popularity in Hollywood. Nothing more, nothing less. They can sometimes make careers, especially in categories like Documentary Feature and the Shorts. Overall, though? This is the Homecoming Dance with a little taste.

2014 will likely be filled with great movies, more than enough soft weepies to fill the Academy’s slate of nine. Forgive me if I continue to write about a film that thrilled me from start to finish. I don’t write about films I think the Academy will pick. I would shoot myself in the face if I did.

But you should follow more objective “Oscar pundits” like Scott Feinberg, Anne Thompson, Kris Tapley, Pete Hammond — they don’t get their hearts involved and they will help you win your office pool. They can tolerate Academy members, too, so they talk to them. Me, I’d much rather talk to the bartenders and waitresses at Academy parties.

To recap: This is me telling you not to predict Gone Girl for anything. Nothing. That way you can’t blame me when it fails to receive a nomination. As for me, I can’t imagine any group with the honor of bestowing high achievements in film not honoring this movie as one of the best (if not the best) of 2014.

David Fincher, like Stanley Kubrick, like Steven Spielberg, like Martin Scorsese, like John Ford makes America proud. His canon speaks for itself, though these Academy members are right. He’s never going to make the kind of movie they want him to make to win one of their ornaments. He’s never going to make a movie that makes us all feel good about ourselves and our world. Please tell me Oscar voters still get that.

So if the worst you can say about Gone Girl is that the Academy members didn’t like it and it only got a Cinemascore of a B? Well, that isn’t so bad.

And with that, the scene that has always summed up the Oscar race for me.