In the latest Oscar Podcast we discuss the 4th annual Academy Awards held at the Biltmore hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Herbert Hoover’s vice president was in attendance. Prohibition didn’t keep attendees from bringing flasks. It isn’t the most exciting Oscars ever – Cimarron won after all – but there were many interesting tidbits about some of the winners. Have a listen! And if you’d like to check out the Academy’s own resources for that year, click on over.
Ryan Adams, Craig Kennedy and I brought back the historical Academy Awards podcasts to revisit 1929/1930, the year when the Academy was pressured to change their voting from a select committee who picked the winners to the entire membership voting on the winners. Back then the branches still chose the nominees, as they continue to do today. Mary Pickford was part of the reason for the change as she and many of the Academy founders kept winning the awards. It was also the year Louise Brooks starred in Pandora’s Box, though it didn’t get anywhere near Oscar. We discuss the two Oscars in one year (there were two ceremonies, one in April and one in November) and the Louise Brooks film. Have a listen.
We finally pulled it together for an updated podcast, mostly talking about Cannes and the impact of Mad Max: Fury Road on the Oscar race. You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes by clicking here.
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We talk about the DGA and the BAFTA and what that might mean for Best Picture. Plus answering readers questions on Twitter.
Really, once you’ve resigned yourself to the state of things there isn’t much to complain about – what good does it do? We still find a few things to complain about, and to praise….
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We talk about the Selma shut out of the guilds, primarily the Producers Guild, and we talk a bit about the race in general, including American Sniper and what films we think will make it to the end.
It’s up! We’re talking the weekend we just had right before the SAG noms dropped. We cover Unbroken, American Sniper and the Oscar race overall.
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Craig Kennedy, Ryan Adams and I kick around Gone Girl for a bit before moving on to the notion of what defines a frontrunner and what are the frontrunners so far this year.
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(NOTE: We tried to dance delicately around Gone Girl SPOILERS but we trip up several times. Badly. If don’t want to risk hearing anything about Gone Girl plot points then you can skip ahead to the 37:25 mark. We don’t mention Gone Girl after that. – Ryan)
Ryan Adams, Craig Kennedy and me, Sasha Stone talk about the Oscar year 2011 While spending a lot of time on this year also, talking about many things, including Best Picture.
In our first podcast we discuss the great man that was Robin Williams, and a bit more about Boyhood’s Oscar chances.
In part two, we delve into 2010, when The Social Network and King’s Speech split the critics and the industry, with each naming the film they thought was the Best Picture of that year.
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Some movies are symphonies. The Godfather comes to mind. Some movies are jazz. John Coltrane or Miles Davis. Goodfellas and Taxi Driver. Sometimes a movie is so quiet and intense it brings no music to mind. The Coen’s No Country for Old Men. David Fincher’s The Social Network? It’s Stairway to Heaven. It’s a film mapped out perfectly, with layers of rhythm, each added onto until it builds to a climax like no other. Like the band Led Zeppelin when they recorded Stairway to Heaven, every element is operating at a perfect 10. Here, the music — Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross cradling the film throughout, ever present, never overbearing, never intrusive or manipulative – full collaborators. That’s John Bonham on drums. Next you have the actors — Jessie Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg as king asshole (“Because you go to BU.”), with his upright spine and his perpetual, “I’m smarter than you” sneer. Contrast that with the vulnerable, sensitive human that is Andrew Garfield (“Sean, how old are they?”), the ridiculous showman that is Justin Timberlake (“Drop the THE. Just Facebook. It’s cleaner.”) and the foppish old-money Winklevei played perfectly times two by Armie Hammer. The actors? They’re John Paul Jones.
Of the four Oscars the film won, Aaron Sorkin’s screen adaptation was one of them. His script is tight, flawless, funny, prophetic, sad. Who knew what would become of our culture in the grip of social networking, Facebook above all — it has changed our culture. It is a mutation in our evolution. We must address and confront this from now on. You never say goodbye to people, they hover in your Facebook feed — an amalgam of your memory of them and the persona they’ve decided to show the world. Sorkin turned Mark Zuckerberg into the Wizard of Oz, giving the friendless friends, making the ugly beautiful, making the unpopular popular, turning stalking into normal social behavior. And the dialogue? If people were really paying attention, this would be the most quotable movie of the last twenty years. Sorkin? He’s Robert Plant.
Finally, there is one overriding vision that holds Stairway to Heaven together and it’s the one thing that makes The Social Network, working with all of the other elements, the masterpiece that it is. Director David Fincher? He’s Jimmy Page. Of course, working closely with Fincher were Oscar winning editors, Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter. Fincher insisting again and again that they pare down and reshape the film to make it as lean as possible. Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth’s deep browns, shifting light, faces in shadow. The result there is a perfect film. You can watch it over and over again, as I have done, and you will not find a single mistake. But The Social Network would not be the masterpiece that it is if it was just a perfect film, which it is.
Stairway to Heaven would be a boring song if all it did was built momentum to a climax with flawless collaborative masterwork. But the thrill of Stairway to Heaven, and the thrill of The Social Network, is where it takes you while watching it. You might not notice Jimmy Page’s guitar until the big solo but it is there throughout, masterfully holding the film together while the drums and Plant get all of the attention in the beginning.
But when Page starts in your heart stops. How could anyone play that good? How could anyone master the form so completely as to deliver what has to be among the most memorable guitar solos in rock history? It’s an inexplicable thing. Fincher’s eye controls The Social Network in the same way. We watch him tell this story with rhythm. By the end of it, you remember where it started and where it ended. This film sends you away with a bittersweet smile on your face as Mark Zuckerberg hits refresh and refresh and refresh. The song starts, “How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?”
The entire film flips back on itself and you realize what it’s about, what social networking is about, what illusion and pretense, what shyness and vulnerability are about. The Social Network soars in its exactness but it never loses sight of how this little pisher, and the tech industry run by guys just like him, carefully exacted his revenge on a culture that rejected him. Is it the real Mark Zuckerberg? Why would anyone ask that question. It’s a work of art not a documentary.
The Social Network dazzled the critics and became the film to beat. It wasn’t until after the Golden Globes that The King’s Speech moved ahead in the race by winning the PGA, the DGA, and the Oscar for Picture and Director. No one was ready to let go of David Fincher winning what he deserved to win. I remember my fellow gurus shaking their head, no way. I did the math, built the charts and there was no way, heading into the race that Tom Hooper was going to lose either the DGA or the Oscar. It didn’t happen that way then. You didn’t have an agreed-upon split like as we saw last year in the post-Argo Oscar world. Once Ben Affleck was left off the ticket altogether, only then have voters seen fit to split, as they did last year. Were these two films headed for Oscar now, I bet Fincher would take it.
Then again, the heart wants what it wants and SOME MOVIES YOU FEEL.
The Social Network vs. The King’s Speech showdown reveals what the Oscars are really about. They aren’t rewarding Miss Right, but Miss Right Now — and they are all about perception. “No, we don’t want to award The Social Network because we didn’t like that guy. He was an asshole.” It didn’t matter if the Fincher/Sorkin Zuckerberg wasn’t an asshole, but just “trying really hard to be one.” When you had a stuttering King George overcoming that stutter with the help of Geoffrey Rush? Forget about it. It made people cry. It made their heart sing. More importantly, it flew under the radar and didn’t make itself a target. The film was won not with bloggers and critics but with private parties and handshakes.
Even now, though, you can talk to just about anyone and ask them if they liked that movie and they will all say yes. Best Picture isn’t about cinematic greatness. If it were, Vertigo and Citizen Kane would have won Best Picture. So would Raging Bull, Goodfellas, All the Presidents Men — the list goes on and on. In some ways the Oscar race is a short step up from the People’s Choice Awards and believe me, likability goes farther than genius with voters. Always has, always will.
It was a heartbreaking year, to be sure. But there is really no point in trashing The King’s Speech. Winning an Oscar wasn’t going to make The Social Network a better film. Winning the Oscar for the King’s Speech does tell a story about a year in the Oscar race where industry voters turned away from the right now and nestled comfortably into the past, a time we understood so much better, a time that didn’t poke at our tender spots but rather soothed them. The King’s Speech was a drastic shift from 2009’s winner, The Hurt Locker. It would be followed by The Artist’s win, and then Argo — each a comfortable, comforting versions of our past, marinating in nostalgia. That’s the industry for you.
It is going to take a few years for the critics and bloggers to abandon what it felt like to put all of their might behind a film and that effort falter. Before the big guilds started to go the other way, The Social Network had received more awards heading into the race than literally any film in Oscar history.
But once that blow fades away, the films remain. You will watch The King’s Speech and feel the same way you did when you saw it the first time. What a touching story of friendship from British filmmakers. But watching The Social Network is to see the kind of artistry that puts American cinema at the forefront. How an industry could give Aaron Sorkin, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter the Oscar and not reward Fincher — who made and went unrewarded for Fight Club, Benjamin Button and Zodiac, a pioneer of digital filmmaking who is the gold standard for the kind of great director America can still produce — can only really be chalked up to the old line from Postcards from the Edge. They want you to be good, just not better than they are.
See, I can forgive the actors — maybe even the producers — for not choosing The Social Network. But I’ll never understand the DGA choosing Tom Hooper over David Fincher. The directors are the ones we count on, the only branch other than editors, who really are supposed care about great cinema. But these days it seems like it doesn’t matter if you’re a producer or an actor or an Academy member. You are part of a consensus and that consensus decides.
So you heard a lot of “it was good but it wasn’t THAT good.” We call that frontrunner’s syndrome. Voters like to put their vote behind someone they think needs it. The poor children in India. The pretty tall female director making history. That nice and humble British dude who directed John Adams but more importantly, the stuttering king! It’s much harder to ask thousands of people to vote with any other organ, least of all their brains. So if you write about the Oscars, remember that. The vote always has to be FOR someone they pity. No one is ever going to pity the talented David Fincher. We will just stand back, breathless when he starts to play.
We will be recording our personal impressions of this thing some time over the weekend.
In Part One we discuss Ari Folman’s The Congress and in Part Two we head into the year 2009 when The Hurt Locker beat Avatar for Best Picture.
Have a listen!
We finally got around to it – head on over here to listen to Parts One and Two with Craig Kennedy and Ryan Adams. We talk Boyhood and The Congress on Part One and then the year 2009 on Part Two.
2009 was probably the most interesting Oscar year I’ve ever blogged about. It was David and Goliath, ex-husband vs. ex-wife, mentor vs. protege, biggest blockbuster of all time vs. one of the lowest grossing Best Picture contenders ever. It was old fashioned, hand held filmmaking vs. performance capture and green screen. Both were war films. Both were kick-ass action films. It was also the year that the Oscar race for Best Picture made the leap from five on a weighted ballot to ten on a preferential ballot. Ten slots for best film of the year was designed to include genre films along with art films along with independent films. It was meant to open things up to accommodate what felt like then a rebirth. This was before international box office ruled Hollywood, before the sequel and the remake had really begun to dominate. The Academy would only use this process of ten nominees for voters to choose before switching back their nomination ballot to five (The Academy would then choose more than five, so far 9 in 2011, 2012 and 2013).
But most will remember 2009 as the year Kathryn Bigelow made DGA and Academy history by becoming the first woman to ever win Best Picture and Best Director. It was a major milestone, not without its share of controversy. “She ONLY won because she was a woman” was a continual lament. “She didn’t really direct that movie, Mark Boal did. And the film only won because it looked like a man directed it.”
The Hurt Locker only gets better as the years wear on. It is genius filmmaking of the highest order, denigrated ONLY because she’s a woman. Believe me, any hipster 20-something male who directed it would be a god by now. Bigelow’s painter’s eye is visible throughout. The focus on three soldiers as the war effects them in different ways, the absence of responsibility of the war in Iraq, the futility of the war, the senseless unpredictability of the many lives lost there — it’s in every frame of this perfect film. It was by far the most deserving film to win Best Picture.
Giving it some heat was Inglourious Basterds, the Tarantino revenge fantasy about killing Nazis. Full of style and wit, Basterds was the favored film of “the internet,” well, those who didn’t love Avatar. The male-dominated film fans could not abide The Hurt Locker beating those two films and still can’t.
Somehow Bigelow’s film hasn’t yet cracked Sight & Sound’s top 250 but mark my words, it will.
We’ll be chit chatting about this as we prepare to close out the 2000s and head into the 2010s. We’ll then likely rubber-band back to the beginning days of Oscar and start from the beginning.
Our podcast got away from this week. It was not easy pulling it all together, and for some reason 2008 was not the most fun year to talk about. At any rate, it’s divided up into two – the first is current cinema, such as it is. And the second is back to the Oscar year 2008.
Have a listen.
The year was 2008. I will forever remember it as the year the Oscar race finally broke the NY Times’ David Carr, who watched the whole season buckle under a can’t-lose frontrunner.
It happens sometimes. You have years where a film is too big to ignore — Schindler’s List, Titanic — and then you have delightfully wide open years where any film could win. And then there are those years where a movie comes along that is so utterly beloved it wins EVERYTHING. When Slumdog Millionaire won the SAG ensemble it was all over but the shouting.
It was just one of those perfect storms. It was a similar dynamic to Million Dollar Baby vs. The Aviator. In this case, it was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button vs. Slumdog Millionaire. The Oscar race always needs those two things – the high achieving frontrunner and the little movie that could. The race is run almost purely on emotion, with nearly as much thought as one gives to clicking the like button on Facebook. Think of it like a whirlwind romance, where the object of your desire has the glow of perfection about them. You won’t be able to see this person clearly until many years later, once the fog of love has died down. And so it goes with Best Picture.
Then again, how could anyone not fall hard? It’s just a beautiful, beautiful film. It was an easy call, knowing how everyone would vote that year.
Vibrant, imaginative Danny Boyle brought his directing to the strange kind of disconnect between worldwide poverty and the dangling of the American dream – that you too can become a millionaire if you get lucky. The film would not turn on luck, in the end, but on integrity. And that might be, finally, why it soared like it did.
But there was another dynamic at play and one that has inflicted the Oscar race since. As American directors become darker, more daring and experimental, the Academy and the industry turn to foreign directors for more traditional stories. They are still the same kinds of films the Academy has always liked – very structured iconic roles – heroic men, women in need of rescuing (or the reverse). Beginning, middle and end, real actors, uplifting ending, some kind of morality at play. Although the following year The Hurt Locker would defy this theory, it would come roaring back in the next year with The King’s Speech and the following year with The Artist. Those nostalgic, familiar stories would trump filmmakers who were trying to break new ground.
That year the movie that broke new ground was David Fincher’s Benjamin Button, a film that blooms over time and becomes a deeper experience the older you get. Crushingly beautiful, the film is an examination of lost or missed opportunities. It toys with the notion of physical beauty, youth and the agony of it all slipping away. As is usual with Fincher, the film is filled with an array of diverse performers, with strong women throughout.
Despite its many nominations, Benjamin Button was not an across the board crowd pleaser like Slumdog. No other film I can think of in recent memory did to voters what Slumdog did. But Benjamin Button is a much bigger, deeper experience overall than the momentary but delirious fantasy that Slumdog offers. Returning to Benjamin Button year after year is like returning to most of Fincher’s canon – it is to see almost a different movie with each repeated viewing.
At the same time, Benjamin Button and ultimately Fincher’s method of filmmaking, was threatening to Hollywood as much of it was told with visual effects. Stunning though they were, that element continues to put up a barrier for film awards. There has always been the preference to reward nuts and bolts filmmaking, from the ground up, with dependence upon acting, writing and directing.
The luscious cinematography, the melancholy performances, the damn shame of how it all turns out. Damned if it ain’t life itself, not a fantasy but scratching at that thing that breaks your heart about life every day you wake up into it. No one will ever convince me that Benjamin Button was not the better film but it’s frustrating to have to make that choice. The Oscar race is not about the best, of course. It’s about how much you love seeing winners win. Danny Boyle was a guy no one ever got sick of seeing win anything.
My favorite thing about this clip is watching David Fincher squirm under the camera lens. Thing is about these awards is that they themselves offer up a fantasy. People have to want you to win, to feel as though their vote is bestowing something. That only added to the film itself — all dreams come true in Hollywood.
“For those of you at home…”
The other films that year were pretty great – Frost/Nixon, Milk and The Reader.
The Dark Knight changed the Oscars.
2008 will also be remembered as the year The Dark Knight changed the Oscars. 2008 was the last year there were five nominees. When The Reader took what many believed would be the Dark Knight’s slot, there was a big uproar. The Academy felt they needed to broaden the slate in order to honor films like The Dark Knight – genre/effects movies. But they would never figure that their current procedure for nominating films would continue to exclude genre movies; who is going to put The Dark Knight as their number 1? Or even their number 5? But with a slate of ten choices, as they did from 2009 to 2010? Genre movies have a better chance of getting in.
The death of Heath Ledger was one of the most talked about things that impacted the race and certainly made the omission of The Dark Night for Best Picture even more severe. But I believe it was a film worthy of that fifth slot, over The Reader. Stephen Daldry has a hypnotic effect on the Academy and probably because he is so friendly with the actors branch. Either which way, that a Weinstein coup unlike any other. It was a great example of Harvey Weinstein knowing instinctually what the voters will go for. That’s why we call him the Oscar whisperer.
How about you readers? What was your favorite film of 2009? We will be recording our podcast in the next few days.
When No Country for Old Men won big for the Coen brothers. Also There Will Be Blood and Juno gave it a run for its money. Not nominated: Zodiac. Should have won: Cate Blanchett for I’m Not There.
Here is our podcast. No time to write anything as I’m leaving on a jet plane!
In anticipation of the 2006 flashback podcast, Ben Zuk has written in ruminating on that year. Zuk says that he often makes “alternative Oscars” lists and decided to share his from 2006:
I’ve nominated ten films from 2006 in order to reflect the academy’s recent transition to this number of nominees, but I have also ranked my choices in this category for anyone who might be curious what would’ve been top 5 versus top 10.
Babel is a film I feel the need to defend despite it’s popularity amongst people my age. It’s a film that boldly embraces the emotions of it’s characters situations as opposed to trying to intellectually rationalizing every one of it’s points. It’s a collage of global conflict that has only grown in appreciation for me. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu attaches himself to his subjects in a way that many find corny, but I just see it as emotionally engaging and truthful.
The Lives of Others is a film where nothing is wasted. When I saw it for the second time I noticed how the man working in the mailroom at the end is the same character as the one who was chastised and fired in the lunchroom scene earlier in the film. It takes a certain amount of brilliance to pull this off and director (Florian Henckel von Donnersmark) pulled it off despite what the lukewarm reception of The Tourist would have you believe. Deceased actor Ulrich Muhe deserves much credit too for his emotionally restrained and eternally lonely performance as the weaselly East German agent Wiesler.