Over at Hollywood-Elsewhere, Jeff Wells reports that both Milk and Frost/Nixon are pretty good, in his estimations. He gives them both about an 8.5 on a scale of one to ten but says he doesn’t understand what the early impressions of Frost/Nixon were about and the so-called bad buzz he heard about Milk was also unfounded. In the comments, Scott Feinberg, wrote:
Jeff, I was getting the same BS tips about “Milk” being a disappointment, and then I saw it today and happen to think it’s terrific, especially–but far from exclusively–Penn. The bad buzz actually only lowered expectations and made the movie all the more rewarding… but, still, you’ve gotta wonder where this stuff starts, and why it sometimes builds to the point that usually-credible people start circulating it to us.
I’ll take a stab at answering that, from a gal who’s been around the block shall we say: trust no one.
Any good Oscarwatcher worth his or her salt must start there. You can’t trust anyone anyway but remind yourself every year: Nobody knows anything. And that includes people who get to see early screenings. Screenings exist in a vacuum, mostly, which is why I prefer a good old audience out in the valley to a cushy screening room in the city proper. A screening can tell you that everyone wildly applauded, sobbed hysterically, or even walked out – none of these reports can be trusted completely – why? Oscar voters and bloggers/critics (sorry critics) are different audiences that expect and want different things. Think back to how many people gave middling reviews of No Country for Old Men who saw it at screenings. How we respond to it depends on the mood we’re in, whether or not we’re in love or heartbroken, embittered – it all impacts our reaction to films because it is a subjective medium.¬† Good films will never survive a round of bloggers and critics who eye them with judgment first, especially when that judgment has anything to do with winning awards.
When people complain about sites like this one usually they are complaining about turning this beloved, subjective medium into a sport. The Oscar race is a competition and hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on that competition; we didn’t invent the game but we’re playing it, for better or worse. It’s a sorry achievement, and not one that will necessarily garner respect at a cocktail party. We’re probably seen more like parasites than fans of films, the Oscars or the race itself. But who cares what we do in the privacy of our little blogging world, right? Well, wrong. Nowadays people do care. At best, a site like this one can highlight films or performers who might have been otherwise forgotten come Oscar time. We can sabotage a carefully plotted publicity campaign. At worst, I suppose, we can wring the enjoyment and value out of cinema in the first place.
This is the usual lament.¬† It’s a dirty business, the Oscar race. It always has been. I suppose that’s why it annoys me when people complain about how Oscar blogs are ruining the film business. Depending on who’s doing the complaining – a publicist or a critic – the end result is the same. Critics complain about the pass/fail test. Publicists complain about personal vendettas and the ongoing hassle of having to cater to various egos of bloggers who will trash a movie if they don’t get into a screening early or the studio doesn’t choose to advertise with them.
A lot has changed in ten years.
Now, the bloggers who are in the business of Oscarwatching are too trigger-happy in their desire to be the “first” to call a movie a winner or a loser. I have never found any joy in calling out a loser and usually keep my big mouth shut even if I fear that a film is going to take a tumble. I do this because it isn’t just about my own opinion – it’s about careers, jobs, health insurance, pay raises. What little gratification I would get in being first and being right would be quickly consumed by waves of guilt that my stupid little need to get attention would have mucked things up for an underling or a publicist would be too much to sleep on. I rarely sleep as it is.
So Scott Feinberg wants to know why “usually credible” people float news his way. I guess it depends on who is doing the floating and why. You have to know your source – know their tastes and biases. If Roger Ebert wrote me an email (he only did that once during the Crash vs. Brokeback debacle) telling me a major Oscar contender was a turkey I would believe him. Why? He has nothing to gain or lose by telling me this unless he was telling it to me to somehow slant my coverage. If he was telling me as a friend (I should be so lucky) I would trust it coming from him. If someone whose opinion I didn’t trust as much as Ebert’s, someone whose taste is radically divergent from my own (not to mention that of AMPAS) I would take it from whence it came.
Incontention‘s Kris Tapley responds to Scott Feinberg:
Come off the conspiracy theory shit, Scott. There are some people who genuinely have issues with “Milk” and their concerns aren’t totally unfounded. Just because they disagree doesn’t mean they’re somehow “wrong.” Don’t puff yourself and your “tips” into something they’re not.
You have to wonder, though, why someone would float negative buzz Feinberg’s way. He writes for his own Oscar site, And the Winner Is, and he also works for the LA Times’ The Envelope. Floating negative buzz his way IS a way to slant Oscar coverage, for better or worse. Why would someone do it? To knock out the competition. To get back at someone. To be “first.” It’s likely to be one of those.
I think this Oscar season is getting off to a very strange start. Usually by this time I have several movies on the contender list for Best Picture, one of which will go all the way. Maybe that movie is The Dark Knight, maybe Slumdog. The Wrestler is one that could make it as well. Rachel Getting Married could get in there. It’s almost November and many of the Big Oscar Movies haven’t been seen. The more they hold them off the hungrier the bloggers will get — they’ll want to be first and they’re want to be right.
It’s all making me very nervous about where this is going but also kind of excited. It reminds me of the early days of Oscarwatching, before everyone and their brother was on this sit.
In the next few weeks reviews and opinions will be coming fast and furiously. None of it will mean much until the critics’ awards start rolling out – only then will we know what the general consensus is, or at least what the critics’ are going to like best. There are several movies we know they’re going to like – Ballast is one. Frozen River is another. The Visitor is still another. These are “little” movies by Oscar standards but they might be hinting at the season to come, one where the Academy and the critics once again diverge.
The Chicago Film Critics will announce their nominees as early as December 8th, and their winners on the 11th. This gives us about a month to start seeing what’s what. Hopefully, though, we’ll all remember that these aren’t football teams stocked with best athletes to take the heat; these are artists who are trying to do something outside the realm of “winning” and “losing.” Yes, the Oscars a dirty game. The film industry is a dirty business, mostly. But filmmaking is not.