Excuse Me While I Whip This Out: Best Picture in the Time of ObamaFebruary 20, 2014 • By Sasha Stone
Deadline’s Pete Hammond writes, I think, an interesting, well-examined look at Fox Searchlight’s billboard with the message “It’s time” written on it. This has become its own whisper campaign of sorts — Matt Drudge linked to it, very likely sending conservatives into a dizzy tailspin. What a Best Picture win for 12 Years a Slave will mean to the Glenn Becks and Hannitys of the world is “Best Picture by mandate.” They really need better outlets for their rage. This has all circled back to being Obama’s fault. Nothing has contorted the white entitlement in this country like two terms of President Obama. Worse, they feel somehow oppressed by his “fascist” regime. Now, it will extend into the Oscar race.
Something like an ad campaign, or criticisms therein, can sometimes derail an Oscar campaign. Sometimes ad campaigns can be utterly effective, like the “Some movies you feel” slogan for the King’s Speech. You really can’t force large swaths of mostly white voters to do the right thing. They chafe against that almost always. This is how we end up with the lowest common denominator choices for Best Picture. They end up picking Best Picture by the “kitten in a teacup” philosophy: it’s cute, it’s harmless, it has no baggage whatsoever. Give a movie baggage and you can derail its Best Picture campaign. It was easy to take this particular ad and make it a big deal. Know this: Anyone stupid enough to change their vote based on an ad campaign ought not to be put in the position of deciding Best Picture of the year.
But it works. Using a non-issue like this against a movie works — especially a movie that had frontrunner status foisted upon it way too early. It is no longer a cute kitten in a tea cup if the kitten is telling you how cute it is. Voters recoil, perception is everything. Welcome to the Oscar race.
How do you know it’s Oscar voting season? Nasty stuff starts to emerge — it’s the “anything to win” phase of the race — so it doesn’t matter if 12 Years a Slave has won the Golden Globe, the Critics Choice, the Producers Guild, and the BAFTA for Best Picture — it shouldn’t win the Oscar because of an ad campaign. Okay, right, got it.
The best part of Pete’s column, however, are the comments. Watch how whipped up into a frenzy the readers get. If you ask them you will get hundreds of people to say “I don’t know why Citizen Kane is considered the greatest movie of all time — it wasn’t that good.” Or “The third act of Vertigo is a mess. It’s so overrated.” Remember, “best” is almost always the sum total of winning perception. We all want to be on the side that’s winning and very rarely does “Best” really mean best. All you need do is look at the past winners for the award.