As we begin another Oscar season it’s business as usual. We pundits call ourselves “experts” as though speculation and opinions are expertise, as if art could be quantified and pinned down like a science. I’ve been here a long time, my friends. I started in 1999 with a dial-up modem and an iMac. I started with HTML code before blogs existed. I started before Premiere Magazine ceased publication in print and went online, before the LA Times figured out there was an internet that was about to change the world of news delivery forever. Back then Oscar coverage was a few people like Dave Karger and Kenneth Turan and Anne Thompson and Ebert. The business of Oscar coverage grew big enough to become sections on all kinds of sites, expanding to branch out on YouTube and billboards — heck, even the guild sites run Oscar ads now. More competition should mean sharper aim, right? More refined analysis. Better predicting. If only. The truth is that too often we get locked into a kind of group-think where we herd a few titles we deem “acceptable” for the Oscar voters and those titles are the ones that run the gauntlet, give or take a few stragglers that can pop up now and again. Mark Harris has long lamented this idea of deciding the race before it’s run. My pal Lynda Obst is always giving me grief on Twitter for acting like I already know how the Oscar race is going to roll out
We know that Lynda and Mark are right. We just don’t know any other way around it. There are some years that are easier to predict and others that remain inscrutable. The Birdman year, the Argo year — those were totally unpredictable until Birdman won the Producers Guild. None of us had any idea what would win that year. This year, no one has a clue either — perhaps because our confidence in forming a consensus has been shaken after the frontrunner’s curse blew up in our faces last year.
The world of Oscar punditry isn’t a very nice one, truth be told. We don’t link out to each other’s work. We don’t support each other. The independent sites are always in competition with each other, and to make matters worse, Penske media bought up Gold Derby, Indiewire, Variety and Deadline and they all link to each other as though they are all separate outlets. They are, in theory, but really we’re not too far off from those outlets — maybe the Hollywood Reporter and The Wrap are the last of the major standalones. Sites like mine and Movie City News and Hollywood-Elsewhere and Awards Watch and Awards Circuit – we’re the independents now. Many of those people who used to run their own sites now work within the Penske group — so if it eventually turns back around to those few sites dominating Oscar coverage, then things will have come totally full circle from when I started. That’s the way it goes, though. Adapt or die.
Still, the best way to know the Oscar race means keeping an open mind to what is possible. The Oscar race is changing. Studios are changing. Now that Harvey Weinstein and his company are no longer part of the Oscar paradigm, it really does feel like the Oscars are headed for some kind of major change as far as the kinds of films they will ultimately reward. Though the pundits are still sort of stuck in the old way of thinking, a new Academy, a new Hollywood, new product may eventually require a new type of coverage. In some ways I wish I was just starting out in the industry as it is today, free from the accumulated mass of knowledge I have about the Oscars. Where would I begin? What would I think stood a chance? How would I try to shift the dialogue?
Every year the pundits are wrong is a better year for the Oscar race because it means that there is a thinking, breathing organic system of people picking films they actually like instead of films that we think they’re going to like. Even though people like me are invested in getting it right — in some ways, getting it wrong will keep it thriving.
You’ll notice that there is a lot more advocacy now than there used to be. This is true across the board with every movie site out there covering the Oscars, and many news sites as well. It’s gone from what will win to what should win. There was a time many years ago when that was considered a sin in the Oscar punditry world. At some point that changed. Now you see almost nothing but “what should win,” here at Awards Daily and everywhere else. We still try to keep our predictions mostly objective. But that gets harder when your heart is involved — and honestly if your heart isn’t involved then what’s the point, right?
So here’s to being wrong. Let’s hope for another big surprise this year.
Here’s your chance to ask me anything. I’ll answer in the comments.