As we wind down the 2008 Oscar year, it‚Äôs time to take a look back at the wreckage. What went right, what went wrong, how come no one cares?
It was the old bait and switch this year as the momentum rose for Wall-E and The Dark Knight only to see both of them snubbed. In their place, five mostly traditional Oscar movies.
Exciting is when a movie that has no place being in the Oscar race manages to not only get in but to become the frontrunner. This was, for a while, Slumdog Millionaire. It was the underdog in all possible ways until it became the defacto winner and once it started winning it never stopped.¬† Slumdog became the cultural phenomenon of the year, even though most people out there are only just beginning to find their way to a theater to see it, if it is even playing near them.
It really does turn out to be an odd mix of films, certainly not films that would necessarily define 2008. Despite having tracked this race for ten years I can‚Äôt quite get a handle on how certain films end up in the big five while others don‚Äôt. Even though it‚Äôs mostly easy to predict the race, especially Best Picture, there are certain things one never sees coming.
And with that, 2008 Oscar watching rules.
1) Voters cannot be pressured into voting for something they don‚Äôt like, unless of course they nominate it without having seen it. All one has to do to prove this is take an anonymous poll. You will recognize the impulse to vote for whatever the hell you want to vote for no matter what anyone says. You can‚Äôt force a mouse into a trap. If you want the mouse you have to trick them with cheese – in other words, make voters think it‚Äôs THEIR idea.
2)It is still a white straight man‚Äôs game, for the most part. Not a lot has changed. It reflects the film business, but not really since there are many successful films that are completely ignored by the Academy. The Oscar films are becoming more and more marginalized because they adhere to a certain type of film. Therefore, it is appropriate now more than more than ever to refer to these year-end awards movies as ‚ÄúOscar movies,‚Äù
3) While it doesn‚Äôt really help to have the internet behind you (The Dark Knight), you don‚Äôt want the internet against you (Benjamin Button). Mob mentality took over on that one and probably people will change their minds about it in ten years time. There seemed to be a delicious delight in those eager to take a swipe at it. It still managed 13 nominations, bruised and battered though it was.
4) Sexually open and/or either uneducated (street smart) or even slightly dumb is still a great awards-getter. The combination of the two seems to be irresistible to voters. Actresses take note.¬† These qualities can be found in many performances up to and including Kate Winslet‚Äôs in The Reader. Actually dumb or uneducated works for both men and women as it turns out. The sex thing usually only works with women: Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, Helen Hunt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry, Charlize Theron, Hilary Swank — they all had either the education thing or the sex thing or both. On the other hand, there is Helen Mirren and Judi Dench, actresses who won for different reasons. Still, when in doubt, take off your clothes and act smart but uneducated (in an Oscar movie).
5) The BAFTA counts for more than it ever has. What it can do better than any other group now is lend respectability. It also seems to have somehow matched Oscar‚Äôs tastes. The BAFTA are right in the middle, and they don‚Äôt seem to care that much about the critics and they do respond to box office success. There used to be a time when their choices seemed fanciful but now, they‚Äôve trumped all others, maybe not in terms of influence but certainly in terms of demographics.
6) Harvey Weinstein is back in the game and we must now return to a very old rule, never underestimate the power of Mr. Weinstein. He knows the Academy like no other. One might say he IS the Academy.¬†¬† Even if it wasn’t 100% Harvey Weinstein’s doing, he is the symbol and thus, gets the credit.
7) Animation is still safely locked away in the ghetto of ‚Äúanimated feature.‚Äù If Wall-E can‚Äôt break out of it, no film can. Remember this next time Pixar hits it out of the park. Oh, and the Annie‚Äôs? Please.
8) The better the film looks on Screener-TV, the better its chances for a nomination; if the film must be seen on the big screen (or IMAX) to be fully appreciated, you can forget it. A lot of them still see the movies on their televisions.
9) It‚Äôs all about the weighted ballot. Figuring out which film is going to be the number 1 or 2 is more important than figuring the top five in any given year. This is how the Dark Knight missed and it‚Äôs how Dreamgirls missed. Both films were probably on the majority of the ballots but not in the top two positions.
10) While the big studios decided to hold their movies until the end of the year they were still hurt by the chatter on the web. Movies are in danger of becoming like politicians: only the cleanest can triumph. This is why The Reader being nominated is meaningful — it was a move by the Academy to state what they like regardless of what anyone says. It‚Äôs sort of like taking the unpopular girl to the school dance and holding your head high. But in choosing a film the critics loathed, and one that wasn‚Äôt really recognized by any other voting body except the BAFTAs, the Oscars also marginalized themselves more than ever before. Still, it‚Äôs their party, folks, their club, their tastes, their history. Though it‚Äôs hard to remember this and live by it, we are here to predict, not to influence, what they do.