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Challenging Movies Make Voters Nervous, but If they Can’t Take the Heat…

slave11n-9-web

One of the hardest parts of Oscar watching is the inevitable truths that come out every year about the behavior of Academy voters, who are more like your average movie-goer than they are like film critics. A friend of mine said, after seeing 12 Years a Slave, that if the Academy chose that film for Best Picture it would be a step forward for a group that tends to pick more comforting, uplifting fare. Probably the two most challenging Best Picture winners in recent years have been Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker and Joel and Ethan Coen’s No Country for Old Men. Both of these wins had the rooting factor included – the first woman to win, and finally rewarding the beloved Coens. Regardless of what Academy voters are doing now, regardless of their resistance to “difficult” movies, there is a very strong added element to this year’s race: making Oscar history. And not just because Brad Pitt will finally win an Oscar.

There are many Oscar pundits who report on the infamous Academy screenings. How they respond to certain films, how long the applause lasts, how many show up, etc. I have found over the years that these reports are spotty at best, though they can sometimes lend insights into human nature overall. The reports of voters “dancing in the aisles” after Chicago was maybe a good indication it would win. According to Steve Pond over at the Wrap the Gravity screening went exceedingly well, which is generating all of the Best Picture talk of late. And now this:

A week after every seat in the 1,000-seat Samuel Goldwyn Theater was filled for the official AMPAS screening of Alfonso Cuaron’s space movie, only about half as many members showed up for a Sunday night screening of Steve McQueen’s harrowing “12 Years.”

And that screening had the added lure of featuring a post-screening Q&A with McQueen, stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o and Alfre Woodard, cinematographer Sean Bobbitt and composer Hans Zimmer. (The “Gravity” screening did not include a Q&A, which normally increases attendance.)

Maybe Academy members were home watching the Red Sox/Tigers game, or the Cowboys/Redskins battle. Maybe they were in other theaters seeing “Gravity” or “Captain Phillips.”

Or maybe they just didn’t feel as excited about a brutally powerful slavery drama as they had about a whiz-bang zero-gravity adventure.

Or maybe voters pay some attention to critical favorites from the festival circuit (a crowd of 500 is still a substantial Sunday-night turnout), but far more attention to box-office hits and pop-culture phenomena.

Whatever the reason, several members who attended the screening immediately mentioned the size of the crowd, which was not only smaller than the “Gravity” screening but also smaller than the recent audiences for “Captain Phillips.”

And while members reported that the applause was robust for the film, particularly for McQueen and its principal actors, the film’s relentless violence also prompted a few walkouts, and left some voters visibly disturbed.

There is no denying that Gravity has the “wanna see” factor and 12 Years a Slave doesn’t. People are afraid of it. They’re afraid of the seriousness, the confrontational aspect and what they’ve heard is the violence. And that’s fine. It’s fine if they choose Best Picture the same way they hit “like” on Facebook when they see five baby pigs poking out of a picnic basket. “Like.” They should, however, stop pretending that their top prize is about the “highest achievement in film” because it isn’t. It’s a favorited photo, a snapshot of a moment in time when they felt good for a few minutes. It is about anything but finding the best film of the year.

Word of mouth on 12 Years a Slave is going to drive people to see it. Yes, it is an uphill battle to get people to watch that movie on screener. I’d be willing to bet many voters didn’t even watch The Hurt Locker but merely got caught up in the Bigelow vs. Cameron narrative and wanted to side with Bigelow. You know hardly anyone saw The Hurt Locker because its box office take was so low.  Lots of people wanted to see Avatar. The Academy screening was similarly PACKED.   

Lest we forget, 12 Years a Slave won the audience award in Toronto – that means if enough people see it, chances are they’re going to vote for it. And if they don’t see it? Throw their asses out of the Academy stat.   Here is what David Denby recently wrote about 12 Years a Slave:

“12 Years a Slave” is easily the greatest feature film ever made about American slavery. It shows up the plantation scenes of “Gone with the Wind” for the sentimental kitsch that they are, and, intentionally or not, it’s an artist’s rebuke to Quentin Tarantino’s high-pitched, luridly extravagant “Django Unchained.” For McQueen, who comes out of the London gallery-and-museum world of short films and videos, the movie is an enormous step forward. “Hunger” (2008), his first feature, was a kind of sacerdotal monument to Bobby Sands and other I.R.A. prisoners who staged a hunger strike. The movie, which starred Michael Fassbender, was marked by a fetishistic absorption in beatings, self-denial, the disintegration of the body. His next feature, “Shame” (2011), also starring Fassbender, was a sexually explicit folly about the utter hell of being a single, straight, handsome, well-employed young white male in New York. Both movies were staged as austere rituals. But now McQueen has opened himself up to society, history, and narrative. There are expertly composed short scenes set in Saratoga and at various slave-trading posts on the journey to Louisiana. McQueen and his screenwriter, John Ridley, might have done more with the minor characters that Northup encounters—Paul Giamatti as a fussy slave broker, Alfre Woodard as a cynical plantation mistress—but they move on fast.

If Academy members can’t be bothered to see this film, at the very least, they can’t be called anything but totally useless and incompetent. They should certainly not be in charge of deciding what should be called Best Picture of the Year. They should be put out to pasture where they can sink into the warm bath that is nostalgia TV for the rest of their lives. If they can’t show up and do their jobs they should get out of the fucking way so other more responsible people can do it for them.

Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot

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Oscar Voters Spilling the Beans

99 Comments

  1. JoeS
    October 14, 2013

    In the end, almost all voters will see 12 YEARS. Sure, there were reports of older voters boycotting BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN a few years ago, but, if the critical heat for 12 YEARS continues to be this strong, AND it gets a boatload of nominations, all but the most pig-headed will succumb and give the movie a chance.

  2. Bryce Forestieri
    October 14, 2013

    David Denby? Why? I just saw he also mentions DJANGO somewhere in there. Why? I’m staying away.

  3. Kane
    October 14, 2013

    Sasha, your comment about the Academy not awarding the “highest achievement in film” is aces. It’s a very astute argument and one that required the simplest of analogies, a “like.” However, it is discouraging to read stuff like, “I’d be willing to bet the Academy didn’t see The Hurt Locker.” Not that I’m a fan of the Academy but it always seems like a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” scenario. They award the right movie, give best director to a woman and all should be right with the world. But then it seems like you’re trying to find reasons to blame the academy for past wrongdoings and what they could leave out this year. I hope I didn’t read what you wrote incorrectly because I feel that was one of the few years they got everything right.

    When it comes to disturbing subject matters such as slavery or genocide, that stuff will drive away the general public, not so much the academy. They didn’t shy away from Schindler’s List, Hotel Rwanda, The Color Purple and (yes to a point) Django Unchained. Despite who made the films and the controversy that followed any of them, they all had scenes that were unflinchingly horrific. 12 Years a Slave will be nominated for best picture. Will it win? Who knows. If it loses yeah it may suck but at least it got there. We’re not inside every voters’ head and many of them are very respected filmmakers that I’m sure most of us admire. When you boil everything down to its basics for 12 Years a Slave, win or lose this is the most competitive Oscar race I have ever seen. Any film that takes home any Oscar should let out a sigh of relief.

  4. Kane
    October 14, 2013

    Sorry of it appears I’m being contrarian. I loved most of the article as a matter of fact :)

  5. phantom
    October 14, 2013

    I wouldn’t worry even if Academy voters won’t be interested to see it, they WILL vote for it. And even if they don’t in large numbers (unlikely), the new rule (every BP nominee needs 10% No1) will kick in and help just like it did other films deemed hard to sit through. The Academy may not be edgy anymore but they sure like to pretend they are (The Tree of Life, Beasts of the Southern Wild etc.), so I’m not worried at all just yet.

    Not to mention once the real campaigning starts, Pitt will probably support the film with a lot of appearances and Q&As…and trust me, he will do it in VERY crowded rooms. As ridiculous as it may sound, if he had attended the Academy screening, I’m willing to bet it would have been a full house. Unfortunately that’s how much precedent backs up the theory that voters ARE greatly influenced by star power. Just look at last year when the remarkably charming Affleck-Clooney duo did like ‘three shows a day’ for months, flashed their perfect smiles at every Academy voter and probably shook all of their hands by the end, as well, and voila, the same group who denied the Director even the nomination, gave his film Best Picture…yeah, yeah ‘poor Affleck narrative’, I know…but those two were responsible for creating that narrative with their tireless, months-long campaigning, even after the BD-snub. For the record, I’m not hating on them. I know they were just the players playing the game…but boy is the ‘game’ flawed.

  6. Scott (the other one)
    October 14, 2013

    I assume the main reason so many people turned up at the Academy screening for Gravity is that it is quintessentially a movie that must be seen in a movie theatre, not on TV. I don’t think the size of the crowd necessarily means anything more than that people wanted to be engulfed by the “lost in space” experience of the film, whereas most people think that most other movies can be watched with complete satisfaction on a large screen television.

  7. Christophe
    October 14, 2013

    I strongly support the Academy’s right to choose. Yes, I said it I’m pro-choice… as long as the final vote takes place less than 8 weeks after the nominations were announced! I sure hope voters won’t let themselves be bullied or influenced by self-righteous arbiters of style, but will instead stand their ground and support those films and performances, that best reflect their taste.

  8. PJ
    October 14, 2013

    The “It’s September, for chrissakes!” guy sounds awfully prophetic right now.

  9. Patrick Mulholland
    October 14, 2013

    Yes siree. As long as it picks up enough buzz (and it surely will), they’ll all see it. Some Academy members may have been willing to publicly express homophobia eight years ago, but ain’t none of them gonna admit racism now or ever.

  10. October 14, 2013

    Amen.

  11. JP
    October 14, 2013

    In the end, only two films can beat 12 Years a Slave:
    - American Hustle
    - Saving Mr. Banks

    Gravity will win at least 4 Oscars (it could be 6 or 7) but we all know the actors rule the Academy and it’s no actors movie.

  12. SallyinChicago
    October 14, 2013

    I had to walk out of the Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete. I can’t watch endangered children. And there was a lot of gritty “urban” stuff going on. I thought Jennifer Hudson is earning her stripes as an actress….but I didn’t want to see what happened to the two boys in the end….I felt the same about Midnight Cowboy. I can’t see that movie again. I’m skittish about seeing 12 Yrs.

  13. SallyinChicago
    October 14, 2013

    “off topic”?

  14. tr
    October 14, 2013

    An award for “Best Picture” should not reflect “their taste,” it should reflect what is the best film of the year as objectively as humanly possible.

  15. tr
    October 14, 2013

    Saving Mr. Banks won’t come close. It’s more The Blind Side than The Artist.

  16. Jeremy
    October 14, 2013

    Seems like there’s always SOMETHING in the way of the great movies getting their due. Sometimes its those critics, so many of them now, with all their opinions and feelings, daring to dislike something you loved so much. Other times, its the Academy, the old backward jerks, voting on the easiest, most charming, and not necessarily “the best”. Then there are times you gotta factor all the PR/Q&A/Controversy angles, how many ways Harvey Weinstein can butter up those members, just how charming George Clooney happens to be, how much showboating Michel Hazanavicius does in LA. And of course there are the times where you’re REALLY invested, with a frontrunner you can rally behind emerges, only to suddenly come to a screeching halt. “Oh, haven’t you heard? Argo is winning this year.”

    I feel like we do this little song and dance every year, that “But…” that comes in to disappoint you, so we’re getting ahead of the game and talking about that “But…” right now. Its a little odd how easily we all get sucked into this dog-and-pony show every single year, when we all readily see how flawed the whole thing is. We all love cinema here, and love to see the people in front and behind the camera get their due, but often it feels like I love the IDEA of the Oscars more than the actual thing.

    As for today’s “But…”, I’m actually not too worried about. Sight unseen, but if the movie is really as good as so many say, one of these big juggernauts with a nice narrative to it(First black Best Director), it’ll overcome the “challenging” moniker in a way like awarding Spielberg for Schindler’s List or Bigelow for Hurt Locker have in the past.

    I probably just jinxed it.

  17. Tony
    October 14, 2013

    Each year I’d like to see “the best” movie win. (But, is there really such a thing?) What I never like to see happen is history being made just for its own sake. Unlike some, I don’t care about the gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. of the producer, director, writer, etc.

  18. October 14, 2013

    Sasha, as always, is soooo right on. I agree with everything she’s said here. There’s a palbable(sp?) fear among certain Academy types about seeing this film.
    Meanwhile, BOTH screenings here in NYC, were full. There’s a waiting list.
    Where there’s a waiting list, there’s hope.
    I wanted to see it again, but couldn’t get in. I think that’s a good thing for this film. It’s not difficult. It’s a masterpiece.

  19. m1
    October 14, 2013

    And yet, The Blind Side got a Best Picture nomination.

  20. m1
    October 14, 2013

    Interesting article but I think Sasha is confusing the word “challenging” with “depressing.” Movies can be intelligent and still be “fun” to watch.

  21. Bryce Forestieri
    October 14, 2013

    Sort of off-topic: I haven’t seen the film HER so I don’t have an opinion about it (yet). But I’m asking those who’ve seen it. Is this a valid point?

    http://www.indiewire.com/article/spike-jonze-why-are-there-no-brown-people-in-your-future-los-angeles

  22. Pepper
    October 14, 2013

    Just out of curiosity, have you seen 12YAS?

    I haven’t, but I personally thought Gravity was pretty damn great. It’s also beating it on metacritic and rotten tomatoes – not the end all, be all, but as objective a measure as we have.

  23. Pepper
    October 14, 2013

    I have trouble feeling sympathy for the producers of Twelve Years a Slave. In the past couple days, I’ve seen positive segments on this film everywhere from Chris Hayes’s show on MSNBC to the NY Times – and it doesn’t even open in my area until 11/1. No other movie in recent memory has had that kind of positive publicity. (And let’s not even go into the fact that it was crowned the best picture winner by critics as early as Labor Day.)

    It’s produced by one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, has a large cast of respected name actors to promote it (and having a big cast always helps), and has a studio behind it that knows how to promote Oscar winners.

    I understand that some people will find this film difficult to watch – heck, I expect I will find it difficult to watch – but anyone who is interested in award season movies, including Academy members, are going to watch it.

    There are films out there like Short Term 12 (no, this is not david posting under a ghost account) that are worthwhile but come from tiny studios, have few or no stars, and have little publicity behind them. How many Academy members do you think are showing up to the ST12 screenings or watching the screeners? Those are the films that are really shortchanged by the Academy process.

  24. Tony
    October 14, 2013

    I had just read that same article. If it’s true (haven’t seen the movie yet) and is not explained in a plausible way, it’s a bit troubling. But, we really are turning into a nation of bean counters re just about everything.

  25. Manuel
    October 14, 2013

    Watching 12YAS at the NYFF screening was a very interesting experience. Knowing that every single person in that theatre are genuine interested in movies and have lots of knowledge as well. There were tears, silence, respectful clapping for the movie, the director and then the cast.

    To me 12YAS is an instant classic and masterpiece of filmmaking. Steve McQueen shows his brilliant eye and man is he good with actors. Every single of them are acting on the highest level. Fassbender was mesmerizing, Lupita was incredible and Chiwetel the arc we follow to the end. His journey is so powerful, brutal, beautiful and a piece of poetry with high historic value

    Im so glad that I saw this movie. It is an important one and it will live forever in my mind

  26. Loola234
    October 14, 2013

    Not about the main thrust of the post, and I don’t mean to be sarcastic, but do some people think that Brad Pitt is due an Oscar? Has he been snubbed of a nom? Or lost a close race? I’m just wondering as I’ve really liked him in many roles (especially Moneyball), but I’ve never thought he was robbed.

  27. Bob Burns
    October 14, 2013

    race-guilt is very powerful. gets a lot of ridicule, but it is real and powerful nonetheless.

    went to a meeting between social workers and black lesbians last week. the lesbians could not have been more pleasant, but the social workers were reduced to mumbling puddles.

    remember, the Academy is a country club.

  28. Brian
    October 14, 2013

    Sounds like Pond is on the WB payroll, shilling for Gravity. In the end,
    the Academy still wants to retain some degree of social relevance — it will go for the serious, important, elegant and masterful 12 Years,
    not Sandy Bullock flying around in a spacesuit.

  29. PatrickR
    October 14, 2013

    I can’t agree more with your comments about some (perhaps more than some) Academy voters who don’t put much thought toward what is a best movie for any given year. Or maybe they do – but their standards are simply different.
    A lot of these voters are influenced by personal gain. (ie I want this guy to win because that will ensure he gets work – and he will hire me). They’re also influenced by word of mouh, good and bad press. And sometimes they’re completely apethetic to the whole thing and let their wife/maid/friend/granddaughter do it for them – who in turn are influenced by word of mouth, personal gain, etc
    They also know these people on a more personal level than the average movie goer, so there’s a popularity contest at work here, in much the same way you’d see in any highschool.
    It’s sort of like real politics in a way – where most people digest a few headlines and vote on whatever makes them most angry, who has the best cuff links, etc. They don’t sit down and review the credentials of every single candidate so that they can draw their own thought out conclusions.

  30. Josh
    October 14, 2013

    Uhhh I don’t think he’s saying it won’t be nominated…it very likely will. He’s saying he thinks it has about the same chance of WINNING as Blind Side did…i.e. none

  31. Jason B.
    October 14, 2013

    I disagree with you 100%. Voters shouldn’t vote objectively. Maybe that works fine for presidential elections, but they should vote about films they are passionate about and perhaps they’ll be surprised to find out more people share that passion than they had thought.

  32. Jason B.
    October 14, 2013

    After all, Academy members are academy members because they are seen as qualified in their field. Why not let them use that insight in their field to pick the film they themselves think is the best. Not what they “feel” is the best by some objective standard.

  33. Jason B.
    October 14, 2013

    That’s just a ridiculous comment. Everyone knows the anticipation and draw Gravity has. I’ve never seen a line for a non-franchise film longer than it was for a Press & Industry screening of Gravity at Toronto.

    I don’t see why it must be Gravity VERSUS 12 Years. They are both fantastic pieces of American narrative filmmaking that has been rather weak of late.

  34. logan
    October 14, 2013

    Yeah, dumbo, but only one of them can win best picture.

  35. Bryce Forestieri
    October 14, 2013

    And it’s a Spike Jonze movie, to me, it’s like getting pissed for not getting a diverse cast in a Wes Anderson film. Having said, that let’s wait and see what the tone and rules are that Jonze has set.

    Isn’t anyone else itching to let everyone know what the 100 Best Film in History are? Pitch in!!

    http://www.awardsdaily.com/forum/

    *under general*

  36. October 14, 2013

    Speaking of critics, I don’t know if anyone has mentioned over the past few days that the Dean of Critics, and my personal favorite film scribe ever dating back to my college years decades ago – The New Republic’s Stanley Kauffmann passed on at age 97. Here is my personal tribute to him:

    I first came upon the film criticism of Stanley Kauffmann as an impressionable first year student at Bergen Community College in the spring of 1973. At the time I spent hours at the institution’s library, where I first began to pore through periodical racks that housed back issues of The New Republic, an oasis of scholarship that focused on politics and the arts. At a time when my Introduction to the Cinema course offered up such in class diamonds like Resnais’s Nuit et Bruilliard, Bunuel’s Simon of the Desert and Albert Lamorisee’s The Red Balloon, I began to discover (with the fruitful complicity of the main text, Lee R. Bobker’s Elements of Film, an essential work for the budding and seasoned cinephile) the works of Bergman, Fellini, Antonioni, Bresson, Losey and other art house luminaries for the very first time. This period of exploration and revelation invariably led to the research of the writers of the time who provided the intellectual analysis of the works that as young men and women we desired to unravel what we then saw as some of the myriad themes and philosophical thrust of cinema’s inner recesses. Along with a lifelong friend, Tony Lucibello -a same age fellow movie buff who remains to this day a very close social comrade and one who attended school with me from kindergarten, we talked about Kauffmann’s criticism and began to compare notes and make copies from the back issues of The New Republic of “The Kauf’s” film criticism. Years later I presented my case to others, and the opinion of the “Kauf” was always brought to the table. To say that we weren’t influenced by this brilliant man of letters -a man who published novels and nearly a dozen works of collected criticism, and began his career as an actor, and taught film for many years at Columbia University- would be a fabrication, though both of us could readily recall numerous instances where we parted company with his summary judgment. In those early days Kauffmann rivaled Simon and Kael as the most difficult to please, and we were repeatedly frustrated by his dicing of films we liked quite a bit. While Kauffmann will always be remembered for his ultra-rare dismissal of The Godfather and it’s celebrated sequel, he did raise more than a few eyebrows with his almost savage takedowns of Ken Russell’s The Devils, Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist among others. He also had little use for Woody Allen’s 70′s and 80′s films and trashed John Boorman’s Deliverance, asserting “The beauty of nature shots are trite, the drama is clumsy and the editing clanks.” Perhaps most shockingly he referred to the Coen brothers as “those arty nuisances.”

    But when Kauffmann loved something, his eloquence was unbridled and his passion infectious. In discussing the second part of Swedish director Jan Troell’s immigrant opus The New Land, Kauffmann as always gives rapt attention to the acting (more than any other of the great film critics he stressed the value of performances, especially since he wrote theater reviews for many years, and once served as head theater critic for The New York Times), was an actor himself in his early days, and after saying that he will have to “restrain myself from gushing” over Max Von Sydow’s turn, he then surrenders to the work of Liv Ullmann: “I shall gush.” He continues: “She is irresistible. In the long spectrum of aging and experience through which this two-part film takes her, she is utterly and always a giver of life, her wonderful talent making her beauty more beautiful. In a fairly trite moment, like the one in which the hard-working suddenly tries on a fancy hat, she tears out of film triteness into experience because it really is happening to that woman. She does the same with her death scene, where she holds an apple from a now-mature tree-less variety and contrast than von Sydow’s, but Kristina never becomes mawkish or consciously noble because Ullmann is aware of fallibility. After her death, worn and weak, we see a shot of her as her husband remembers their meeting–a girl walking toward us down a Swedish road, smiling, a bit nervous about her braids. The radiant simplicity, the simple radiance–well, I promised to gush, and I’m only sorry that space limits prevent me from going on.”

    Kauffmann’s defense of West Side Story as the greatest film musical of all-time is a model of insight and comparative discussion of a film adapted from the stage. In his glowing review of the Cuban film Memories of Underdevelopment , Kauffmann opines: “But the picture rests on the vision and exploration of Sergio’s character and the casting of Sergio Corrieri in the role. Corrieri’s face and manner fix the delicacy, the intelligence, the faded strength, the stubborn curiosity that are needed. The put the matter in shorthand, what the film gives us is an Antonioni character in the middle of a political revolution, a man who comes out of 100 years of cultivation-as-refuge, now facing profound changes that may alter the reason for the refuge and the refuge itself. He is an anachronism who lives in quasi-fear that he may turn out not to be an anachronism, who has only a shaky faith in the revolution that may make him obsolescent.”

    Kauffmann’s passionate review of Karoly Maak’s Love, which starred his personal friend Lili Darvas is one of the form’s most emotionally wrenching writings, and his massive essay on Bergman’s Persona is surely one of the most brilliant and intricate examinations of a film ever written.

    In Professor Edward Murray’s superlative “turning-the-tables-on-the-pundits” volume Nine American Film Critics, the author cites Kauffmann’s theatrical roots and ability to dissect a performance better than anybody and states frankly that his aversion to critical battles sets him as one of the very best critics the country has produced. Susan Sontag has called him “a national treasure” while Eric Bentley referred to him as a cultural icon. Roger Ebert declared that Kauffmann was “the most vital film critic in America.” His passing signals the end of the period when the word of a critic meant something to a movie-goer. After decades of reading and discussing his work dating back to the college years, I lament the end of an era, and the inevitable ending of a glorious period of film writing.

    R.I.P. Stanley. You were a true superstar.

  37. rufussondheim
    October 14, 2013

    Actually, they aren’t very objective. A film like Gravity is not nearly as ambitious or risky as 12 Years a Slave. When a film goes way out on a limb with huge risks, it’s more likely to find a detractor or two, as 12 Years has done.

    What year was it that HP 7.2 had great RT scores? And how did that work out?

  38. rufussondheim
    October 14, 2013

    please do yourself a solid and read the book. If you were captivated by the movie, then surely you’ll find extreme value in the first-person narrative written mere months after the story ends.

    It’s like seeing the Mona Lisa or the Grand Canyon, it’s so epic, so important, yet extremely personal and unique and vastly rewarding.

  39. rufussondheim
    October 14, 2013

    he’s been a major star for two decades, for that alone he deserves recognition from the Academy, an organization that’s just as likely to reward star power as talent.

  40. October 14, 2013

    Well, this clearly ominous for 12 Years A Slave. Though it’s too early to comment the final verdict on who will win Best Picture, but I won’t be tiniest bit surprised if Gravity pulls an “Argo” next year. With it being such a stupendous success on box-office, and in all probability being the highest grosser Best Picture nominee, and add to it the “wow”-ness about it, I certainly feel it might take the top prize. And in case, somehow Alfonso Cuaron gets snubbed for Best Director [though unlikely] the race for Best Picture is over there and then. Gravity wins.

    Anyway, the only good that we can derive out of this unpleasant news of Academy members avoiding 12 years is that race hasn’t ended as many were predicting back in September. Hopefully it will be as interesting as last year.

  41. steve50
    October 14, 2013

    Nice tribute, Sam. Actually just finished reading it on the website to which you are linked.

    Kauffmann is just about the last of the greats. He was maddening at times, but when he was on the same wavelength, he conveyed his opinions brilliantly.

    Although he was very old school in some of his social ideas – his 1966 essay, “Homosexual Drama and its Disguises” really rattled some windows at the time, had he lived another 90+ years, I’m sure he would have come around.

    Whether one agreed with his opinions or not on a particular film, his opinion had clout because he expressed himself clearly. You always knew where he stood and he wasn’t going after the quoteable blurb.

  42. October 14, 2013

    Thanks so much Steve! You capture him superbly here yourself, and thrilled that we are on the same page. I never read that essay “Homosexual Drama and its Disguises” but will investigate. I couldn’t agree more that he told it like it is and never cared for publicity. There were times he did drive you batty, but you knew he never gave free passes.

  43. October 14, 2013

    Sally, you gotta man up. The Oscar race is not for wimps.

  44. October 14, 2013

    I honestly don’t know how to “objectively’ judge art. Is there a formula? Is it the film with more cuts per second? Larger ratio of warm colors/cold colors per frame? More words per character? Camera tilts per dolly shots?
    Furthermore, I don’t know why the Academy should be closer to this group or further away from that group (or, for that matter, close to “my” opinion, whoever it is that “I” is). Each group (Academy, various groups of critics, general public, different festivals, other Academies throughtout the world etc) has a role to play in the great scheme of things, and at the end of the day, not one of those opinions of who or what is “Best” (a misnomer if there ever was one) is, in itself, any better than any other.
    Now, of course that any serious member of a serious group should, procedurally, take as careful a look at any candidates as possible. And vote for whatever appeals to them.

  45. Christophe
    October 14, 2013

    - I doubt Spike Jonze did it on purpose, maybe it just didn’t occur to him… plus, they say it doesn’t look anything like LA anyway. I guess they just don’t have that many blacks and latinos in China (where the film was shot).

    -Super, I’ll try to come up with a Top 100, though I’m dreading signing up for the forum (I never sign up for anything), but I’m warning you, you’ve got to bring your own toothbrush because it’s going to be full of vanilla!

  46. October 14, 2013

    All you guys who were saying GRAVITY was so amazeballs caused this. 12YAS is gonna lose now, and it’s all your fault. :P

    No but for realies, this is what I thought the problem would be with 12YAS. I thought that maybe THE BUTLER would do well in its stead because it allows people to vote for a movie about black history but that’s a movie that’s kind of happy. I’m not commenting on the quality of 12YAS because I haven’t seen it. But I could tell it was going to be something they might not want to see or award.

  47. Joey
    October 14, 2013

    You mentioned the driving force of Oscar narratives near the beginning with Bigelow and the Coens. Do you think the fact that black man has ever won for Director could become a driving force behind 12 Years?

  48. Unlikely hood
    October 14, 2013

    …aaaand Sasha just convinced several voters NEVER to vote for 12YAS. People hate being pigeonhole-slapped like that, even if they might like the film.

    I hope this article isn’t widely seen. Sorry to be an appeaser but I want 12YAS to win (well, I assume; I haven’t seen it) and I don’t think this helps.

  49. Tony
    October 14, 2013

    You nailed it, UnH. It’s one thing to tell somebody, “Go see this movie; it’s very good.” It’s another thing to say, “Go see this movie; it’s one of the BEST MOVIES EVER MADE yadda yadda yadda.” You’re just setting it up for disappointment most of the time.

  50. October 14, 2013

    “…aaaand Sasha just convinced several voters NEVER to vote for 12YAS.”

    Fuck any voters who could be so childish and weak-minded. They’re a lost cause.
    Fuck any voters who care less about their duty to the Academy than their own touchy wittle egos.
    Fuck any sulky fit-throwing voters who would pitch a private temper-tantrum in their own petty little heads.

    Those are the voters who already gave us the least worthy Oscar winners of past 20 years. They don’t need Sasha’s provocation to behave irresponsibly. Any voters who would turn against a movie because their feathers got ruffled are the problem we wish could be fixed. They’re the blight that taint the Oscars. Yes, Unlikely hood, I’m certain those “several voters” exist. So thank God for the thousands of conscientious members of the AMPAS who must surely be just as disgusted by those Oscar cancers causing rot in their midst. No doubt the most sophisticated voters are as sick of the ignorant rationales of that smattering of their piddling peers as I am.

  51. Loola
    October 15, 2013

    Deserves or will get? I don’t have an issue with him getting an Oscar for producing. I was wondering more about acting.
    I’ve long thought that how well you like the recipient dictates how much or little career achievement Oscars “bother” a person.

  52. Bob Burns
    October 15, 2013

    it’s not just the Academy. it’s the guilds, too, basically the whole industry…. narcissistic schlock for the last three years,nearly all of them, and now they are going to do something real?

    race guilt vs a cg space thingy? right…….

    Wolf will clean up,

  53. steve50
    October 15, 2013

    Christophe – don’t be shy about the “vanilla”. Remember that the most popular spread at any buffet is the dessert table, so go for it!

    I’m not big on forums, either – never got into the previous one that Sasha recently cut loose from this site, but I thought I’d give this one a try.

    Looking forward to your list.

  54. October 15, 2013

    The 3 or 4 times I ventured into the old forum, it felt like getting lost in a bad part of town. This new experimental community will be whatever we want to make of it.

  55. October 15, 2013

    Over at the forum, Bryce says:

    If Top 100 sounds like a bit too much work, try to come up with a Top 50 or at the very least a Top 30 –It’s all-time, folks.

    Dude, making a shorter list is HARDER. I need to do this in stages. I’m going to approach this task in a slippery manner — by maybe listing 150 movies since 1950. Wait, no, make that since 1960.

    Then at some point I’ll make another list of 150 films pre-1960.

    Forget even ranking for now. That part will be harder than ranking the top 150 blowjobs I ever got. Or gave.

    How do you guys assemble your lists so fast? You must have cheated by starting years ago.

    After I get rough list of 300 movies then I can start murdering directors. Because that’s what this feels like. Feels like a serial killer assignment.

  56. Unlikely hood
    October 15, 2013

    I hope you’re right.

  57. steve50
    October 15, 2013

    It’s not that hard – I always have a top ten per decade in the back of my mind which varies in content as I re-see stuff. What do I care what I liked two years ago if I prefer something else now? Less baggage that way.

    I don’t rank items within a list – find it much easier to remember without assigning placement, grades, stars etc. The only time I’ll pick a “best” is when asked, “what’s your favorite movie this year,” or “what were the best fillms of the 60′s?” Then, front of mind wins the race.

    Wouldn’t want to attempt a long list that combines all years, though. Can’t compare La Roue with Apocalypse Now with Pi.

    (shit – forgot Apocalypse Now on my list – thanks for including an editing button!)

  58. rufussondheim
    October 15, 2013

    “deserves” in the eyes of the Academy

  59. Bryce Forestieri
    October 15, 2013

    I know!! I have the same problems you do. I ended up with something that looked like a Top 300 from the 70′s on my first attempt. Just trying to make it as welcoming as possible for everyone, even those who have not seen as many films or only been able to see recent films.

  60. Bryce Forestieri
    October 15, 2013

    Christophe,

    Looking forward to your list! I’m trying to be as merciless as possible, but at this point, I’m pretty sure my first list will have to include Stephen Daldry’s magnum opus BILLY ELLIOT. Vanilla is vital.

  61. October 15, 2013

    Truly. — I would love to see anyone’s and everyone’s Long List too — we might open another thread for those? Thing is, all the scrolling. But that’s ok, yeah?

    I have a tentative 196 titles from 1960-2013

    And then when I look at it, I’m ashamed that it’s about 85% American films. So that can’t be right. I have to go back now and figure out what international films I’m neglecting.

    I could easily eventually put together a list of 500 movies from the silent era up to today. I’ll probably end up doing that — just chronologically. And then cull my ranked 100 from that.

  62. October 15, 2013

    Vanilla is good.

    I somehow put together a list of 200 favorite films from the past 50 years — and I think I only have 2 comedies. My list is going to be 99.8% PAIN SADNESS AND DEATH. How did THAT happen?

  63. JoeS
    October 15, 2013

    It’s a damn shame that Stanley’s passing got relatively little attention (including on many…ahem…movie related websites).

    He was my favorite critic although I disagreed with him often enough (but, really, NO two critics are always gonna agree – heck, when I re-see a movie I sometimes disagree with MYSELF!). He was intelligent, well-read and had a great sense of drama formed by not only the movies, but theater and literature.

    And, we shared our suspicions of the Coen Brothers and Tarantino long before others joined the backlash.

  64. JoeS
    October 15, 2013

    The Los Angeles Times has an article with similar stories coming out of the Academy screening: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/envelope/goldstandard/la-et-mn-12-years-slave-academy-20131013,0,5451503.story

  65. October 15, 2013

    The only time I’ll pick a “best” is when asked

    I’m sort of that way. Ask me about my LEAST favorite Oscar contender of every year for the past 85 years and I could tell you in an instant.

  66. October 15, 2013

    I’m just so tired of trying to cater to and coddle the most thickheaded elements of society, aren’t you? Maybe gentle psychological persuasion would work? But not when they insist on being more psycho than logical.

  67. Christophe
    October 15, 2013

    @Bryce
    Yeah “Billy Elliott”!

    Thx for reminding me, I’ll have to include it too, it’s much better than most of the $hit I have so far. At some point I even had “Home Alone”, “Mrs. Doubtfire”, “Hook” and “Honey, I shrunk the kids” because I could watch those movies over and over again as a kid… I know I’ve watched many other films, supposedly greater and more diverse than 90′s American Junk, but I can’t remember them!

  68. Robert A.
    October 15, 2013

    I’m also willing to play the Top 100 Films game.

    My only problem is I feel like I have to watch all of cinema first! And that is, well, a bit of a daunting task…

  69. Bryce Forestieri
    October 15, 2013

    Not at all. I myself have never seen a King Vidor film, and I’m not tripping. Looking forward to see what your favorites are!

    On a different note: FUUUCK THIS SHIT. What did I get myself into with this?. I need a system. I just can’t. I tried but couldn’t. Sorry. I’m gonna proceed as follows: Top 100 Films of the 1960′s, and then will do a Top 100 Films of the 2000′s, and keep doing it by decade like that. Since I hope we keep contributing over time, and we’re able to get more and more readers involved; I should be fine.

  70. October 15, 2013

    “I’m gonna proceed as follows: Top 100 Films of the 1960′s, and then will do a Top 100 Films of the 2000′s…”

    Eagerly anticipating your encyclopedia! :)

    I’m the same way. As soon as I said to myself: “maybe I’ll make a list of 500 favorite movies from the past 100 years…” suddenly I realized it would be more fun to add more. Like twice as many. 1000 favorites. And now I need a secretary.

  71. October 15, 2013

    “I myself have never seen a King Vidor film”

    let’s party

    haven’t even had time to unshrink his shrinkwrap.

  72. Alfredo
    October 15, 2013

    I brought up Brad Pitt as I was remembering the many film roles of Paul Newman. An incredible actor that wasn’t awarded a competitive acting Oscar until later in his life. I theorized that much like Paul Newman, Brad Pitt is a phenomenal actor but some people have a hard time getting past how good looking the man is.

    Seriously, the man is really, really, ridiculously good looking (as was Paul Newman).

  73. Jason B.
    October 15, 2013

    Clearly you have no understanding of context. The response was in regards to discrediting Pond because he was enthusiastic about Gravity. The ideal scenario – as I’m sure Ryan and Sasha would agree – is for the Best Picture category to be littered with so many great films that a random choice would still be perfect.

    Whereas it seems like the presidential elections where you have two major films battling (and everyone has to pick a side) and the rest are seen as non-serious “third party” choices that the Academy members would be wasting their vote on.

  74. Robert A.
    October 15, 2013

    But I’m not talking about never having seen a King Vidor movie.

    I’m talking about never having seen friggin’ Nashville or McCabe and Mrs. Miller. I’m talking about never having seen Children of Paradise! *hides from AD*

    P.S. King Vidor directed the Kansas scenes in The Wizard of Oz, so maybe you guys have sort of seen a Vidor movie?

  75. October 15, 2013

    “I’m talking about never having seen friggin’ … McCabe and Mrs. Miller…”

    This needs to be fixed. If the world economy isn’t destroyed in a day or two, the absence of McCabe and Mrs. Miller from your eyes is the new crisis to avert.

  76. Paul
    October 15, 2013

    It’s probably not the first time this comparison is made, but: Steve McQueen = David Fincher? Both are super-intellectuals that make cold, brilliant and sometimes brutal movies. Also, it would seem that both have some level of disdain for the campaign aspect of Oscar season. Will this prevent McQueen from winning this year as it did for Fincher in 2011.

    Sidenote: Sasha, it’s clear you prefer No Country to There Will Be Blood. I would argue that TWBB has only risen in stature since 07 whereas No Country has (somewhat) diminished. Now, both are excellent movies, but couldn’t I argue that No Country was an example of Facebook “liking”, albeit one where the movie was excellent in of itself? Do we have a similar situation on our hands this year, where Gravity is the Facebook “like” movie, but one it’s hard to get mad at for winning? I’d argue that There Will Be Blood is the best movie of the 00′s (full disclosure: it might be my favorite movie ever), but weirdly, No Country still ends up as the best movie to win best picture in the last few years because 07 was stacked. And though No Country > Gravity, I will have a hard time getting worked up over a Gravity win simply because it also towers above recent academy fare.

  77. Robert A.
    October 15, 2013

    Okay. I’m committing to watching McCabe and Mrs. Miller this weekend.

  78. benny tarleton
    October 15, 2013

    That sounds about right …movies such as GRAVITY are mere entertainment whereas 12 YRS has historical gravitas and the voters will feel DUTY BOUND to vote for it (even if they didn’t see it )
    Those folks in the Academy crave respect and to be taken serious by Americans and to use the Bully pulpit of fame to broadcast their Left wing views …12 Yrs seems like an obvious winner to me …after all , Hollywood is where Left wing politics meets showbiz

  79. benny tarleton
    October 15, 2013

    That’s a good point …I don’t think for one minute that GRAVITY will beat 12 Yrs as it’s political dynamite , an explosive expose of America’s sin of slavery …infact , i think this Oscar race is already over

  80. benny tarleton
    October 15, 2013

    !2 yrs will ride to Oscar victory on a syrupy , mawkish wave of white guilt …considering the subject matter , the other movies just don’t stand a chance…it’s an expose of America’s sin of slavery , for christsake

  81. October 16, 2013

    Oh yah yah, if there is one thing we know about 12 Years a Slave it’s how “syrupy” and “mawkish” it is. And any white person that likes it must be just guilt-trippin. This might be the crudest comment about 12 Years a Slave we’ve seen all year. Congrats. You win a big bucket of syrup. A bucket of syrup big enough to stick your head in.

  82. October 16, 2013

    You really got the movie business all figured out. Rare to find insight so deep and thoughts so goddamn unique.

  83. Mattoc
    October 16, 2013

    NOW is a good time to see Nashville also…

  84. benny tarleton
    October 16, 2013

    But it’s still going to win ….Steve Macqueen will surely win BD , partly because no black man has ever won…after all , those voters are not going to miss an opportunity to reward a black man and they are not going to leave themselves open to bogus accusatioins of racism , are they ?

    All in all , I think 12 YRS is a magnificent movie well worthy of multiple Oscars , but political correctness will leave it beyond any doubt

    BP…BD…BA….BSA…..and maybe even best supporting actress …..but Oprah has a huge advantage of being a ”celebrity ” and a black woman

  85. benny tarleton
    October 16, 2013

    High praise indeed !….voters of a liberal/leftish disposition are just sooooo predictable

  86. Jesus Alonso
    October 16, 2013

    I think the deciding factor between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave is, that Gravity’s full power comes in IMAX 3D, otherwise you miss half the experience at least… 12 Years a Slave will work well on Screeners, which is the way votes are normally decided.

    That’s why I have Bullock for Gravity and Picture and Director going for 12 Years (I think now, it’s a done deal, that 12 Years HAS to win Director in order to win BP, it’s rather unconceivable that they will award the film and not McQueen). If Cuarón wins BD, Picture will go to Gravity, Captain Phillips or some other contender.

  87. Bryce Forestieri
    October 16, 2013

    I was gonna go with WAR AND PEACE even when it seems it’s not entry-level Vidor,…but then again,…party all night!!.

    I wish I could see NASHVILLE and MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER for the first time again! You should make your list Robert A: I feel sick about this. I’m not happy at all. Not one little bit. But we do what we have to do. We do what we must. Just because we don’t want to do something doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

    My first 100 are up on the forum. Check them out!

    Mattoc, are you joining the church?

  88. benny tarleton
    October 16, 2013

    Oh good …I like syrup and I like porridge too , and like Oliver twist I always ask for more

  89. benny tarleton
    October 16, 2013

    That’s right …they are like two inseperatable Siamese twins …it’s both or nothing

  90. benny tarleton
    October 16, 2013

    That’s right ..they are duty bound to see it , in a similar way to Schindler’s List …it’s difficult . but necessary viewing …it’s medicine that is good for you !

    12 Yrs is no where near as brutal as S L as it’s a movie about slavery not genocide …slaves were very valuable property , very few were ever killed

  91. October 16, 2013

    yah, it’s comforting to think how completely not brutal it must have felt to a slave to live for 80 years as property. What luck!

  92. Mattoc
    October 16, 2013

    @Bryce. I’ll give it go…

    It’s a bit like buying a present for two of your four kids/pets though.

    I’m a bad fuckin’ parent!

  93. Christophe
    October 16, 2013

    That’s all folks! This year’s race might be heating up, but next year’s race is already said and done. Per Deadline, The Weinstein Company is about to acquire distribution rights for MacBeth: William Shakespeare + Michael Fassbender + Marion Cotillard + Harvey Weinstein = OSCAR GOLD! Expect nominations and probably wins across the board. I sure hope this one won’t be delayed to 2015, just can’t wait!

  94. benny tarleton
    October 16, 2013

    I was addressing the claim that the movie was overly brutal for academy voters to watch ……in comparison to S L it is relatively mild …indeed , the very notion that it is too brutal to win B P is about the dumbest thing i’ve read this season

    A movie such as DJANGO really could turn voters off because the violence was of a gratuitous nature …a typical , voyeuristic , atavistic , Tarantino pornographic bloodfest

  95. October 16, 2013

    Django was slapstick violence. Loony Toons violence. 12 Years won’t make audiences LOL, I assure you.

    Django’s violence was nauseating only because the crowd reacted like it was a laugh riot.

  96. Bryce Forestieri
    October 16, 2013

    Perhaps he hasn’t been blatantly robbed that many times, but there are quite a few instances when he’s been more deserving than one or more of the nominees. He has the best filmography of any actor of the last 2 decades. Hands down. I’m of the opinion that he should be an Oscar winner by now.

    -Best Supporting Actor – SE7EN (He was nominated that year so who cares, but he was great, great film too)

    - Best Actor – FIGHT CLUB
    instead of whom you might ask? Sean Penn or Denzel Washington, actually Pitt was more deserving than Farnsworth, but I’m cool with him being nominated, he was good.

    -Best Supporting Actor – OCEAN’S ELEVEN (I mean if something as mediocre as THE MONUMENTS MEN is going to get acting nominations a true classic like Soderbergh’s film should have got some Oscar love –it’s definition of top-notch filmmaking. From that stellar cast? Pitt for my money.)

    Instead of whom you might ask? I can easily do without Jim Broadbent, Ben Kingsley, and even Jon Voight who’s pretty good but ALI is such an uncharacteristically weak Mann film.

    -Best Supporting Actor – BABEL

    Wait what more deserving than who? Both Eddie Murphy and Djimon Hounsou. –truly forgettable stuff.

    -Best Actor – THE ASSASINATION OF JESSE JAMES (Robbed – No explanation necessary)

    -Best Supporting Actor – BURN AFTER READING

    I gotta hand it. That was a pretty strong line-up that year, but I can’t be the only person who will never see DOUBT again, and that isn’t true for the Coens’ film. Pitt proves yet again he can do anything. At least as hilarious as Downey Jr.

    Best Supporting Actor – INGLORIOUS BASTERDS

    Pitt could have replaced Christopher Plummer, Matt Damon, and Stanley Tucci

    Best Supporting Actor – THE TREE OF LIFE (Robbed – no explanation necessary)

    Next year AMPAS will have the opportunity to right this wrong if director David Ayer (END OF WATCH) delivers yet again. We know Brad Pitt will do his part. I for one would have loved to see him nominated last year (KILLING THEM SOFTLY) instead of LES MIZ’ Hugh Jackman.

  97. October 16, 2013

    “very few were ever killed”

    Have you lost your damn mind Benny? Millions of African slaves died and were murdered during this country’s heyday of slavery.

    Slavery lasting 150 years and a European Genocide of millions of Jews, cannot and should not be compared. Both were horrible, and millions of people died due to racist attitudes and beliefs that each race was inferior or to be feared.

  98. benny tarleton
    October 16, 2013

    DJANGO was ”The Wild Bunch ” meets ”Blazing Saddles ”

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