It feels like the weeks before ballots are due are stretching farther than they ever have before. Believe it or not there is still a full two weeks before final ballots are due. That means there is time for reflection if Academy members are having a hard time making up their minds.
In order to make their vote strategic, they will have to do an anti-vote for a certain film. That means they have to put their favorite at the top and its competition at the bottom. One hopes, though, that no one in the Academy is shallow enough to do it that way. They should vote for their favorite films and order them one through ten. Otherwise, the whole thing is a sham of a mockery of a sham.
What was clear about watching the luncheon and listening to the applause – the Academy voters support their friends. They vote for whom they know and like. Watching the luncheon it also became clear just how important attending that event is if you want to show that you are campaigning to win. You might not win even still, but at least you’re putting it out there.
But the luncheon also seemed to capture the spirit of the awards in terms of their honoring people with the nomination certificate. There was no tense competition, no nerves – just a celebration of the great work the publicists did getting them their nominations — I mean, the artists, the work!
Here are a couple of random observations of the goings-on. The first thing is that the heat coming off of Kathryn Bigelow is palpable. As noted by Anne Thompson on Twitter yesterday, this is especially true of the non-actors. She was the star of the nominees luncheon. Buzz like this you can’t buy, folks. What that means in terms of Best Picture is hard to say.
Jeff Bridges is very popular among his fellow actors and Academy members. They like him. A lot. He will win.
Similarly, Maggie Gyllenhaal got a lot of friendly applause and seemed quite popular. Conversely, Mo’Nique was not there. Precious has much more support than Crazy Heart overall, and if Mo’Nique is going to be that film’s one big win it seems like a done deal.
But if Maggie Gyllenhaal does upset Mo’Nique it won’t be because she gave the better performance, but because she is more well liked overall within the Academy. Yes, Virginia, it really does work that way. Friends vote for friends. Had I watched the luncheon the year Alan Arkin beat Eddie Murphy, we probably could have seen it play out long beforehand.
Sandra Bullock was also the big star of the day. This was due mainly to the fact that she’s very funny, charming and well-liked by both audiences and her fellow actors, but also that she was a first-time nominee. Everyone was pleased to see her get this kind of attention. She and Jeff Bridges and Kathryn Bigelow seems to be drawing focus.
Also very popular at the luncheon – Christoph Waltz and the Inglourious Basterds crew. Tarantino himself seems incredibly well-liked so, again, it’s almost impossible to imagine him not winning screenplay for Basterds. Waltz has it very much in the bag.
Not that surprising to see Jim Cameron not get the kind of applause one would expect. He isn’t as well liked as, say, Tarantino or Kathryn Bigelow. Who knows whether this is true or reliable Or whether it will have any impact at all on how the Oscars turn out. It’s just that we got a bit of a glimpse into the way the Academy was feeling on the eve of final ballots. We’ll have to wait and see how it all turns out in the final act.
The Big Story could have one of three endings – The Hurt Locker wins and thus becomes the lowest earner ever to win a Best Picture Oscar, but at the same time, the first film directed by a woman to win Best Picture. A trade-off, to be sure. It depends on where your loyalties lie. The thing is, The Hurt Locker’s win celebrates faithful productions that stayed true to their intention. They didn’t sell out one piece of that movie to dumb it down or sell it to people who are only drawn to star-driven vehicles. They told the story because the story needed to be told.
On the other hand, Avatar wins. One can see them throwing Bigelow a bone for director but then lavishing their top prize on the film that made the most money this year, the film that toppled Titanic as the all-time box office champ – the film that has practically become a religion onto itself — a film that has claimed to be the future of filmmaking. We have gazed into that future and seen 3-D, emotion-capture, a visual feast unlike any other – all wrapped up around an anti-war, pro-environment message. How can it lose?
But we know that this race feels less about the future of filmmaking versus the quality of a good story. It feels more about Bigelow vs. Cameron. They sit on two ends of spectrum, each representing the polar opposite of the other in every way possible. You have to then ask yourself – is Bigelow the future of filmmaking? Women finally making it into the master class that has thus far been dominated by white males for eight decades? Or is the future the technology? The press likes the ex-wife, ex-husband, Cameron-is-an-asshole story. But that’s just a story.
The third scenario is that Inglourious Basterds pulls in a surprise upset because of the preferential balloting — Up in the Air could also do very well in such a scenario, particularly if members are attempting to “strategically vote,” which could end up putting Up in the Air squarely in the sweet spot to get the most overall votes at the top of the ballot. And of course, Precious is still a threat, being the one that also got an editing vote. Basically, I could see any of these films being named Best Picture and I wouldn’t be that surprised.
I saw a TV spot last night for the Oscars. It touted it being the “biggest ever” in terms of blockbusters. It showed clips briefly from Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds (“see audiences, Brad Pitt might be there!”), The Hurt Locker and, of course, lots of Avatar. Like the Golden Globes, they hope people are tuned in to see “if Avatar will win Best Picture,” as the TV announcer kept repeating on the Globes telecast. Will the Academy bow to that pressure? Hard to say. Right now, Best Picture is still a coin toss.
But the bottom line here is that all eyes are on the exes. Either one winning will be an historic moment. Avatar will be the first sci-fi movie to win but it will also be the first film in seventy years or so to win without any acting or writing nominations. The Hurt Locker will be the first film directed by a woman to win. If it wins, Bigelow wins both for producing and for directing. That’s huge, folks. Women producers have won before – but not for directing and producing.
Photos sourced from ONTD