Like a snake eating its own tail, Mark Harris, over at Grantland, suggests that as we wait out the lull (read: as we wait for the Big Oscar Movies to drop), perhaps it’s time to scrutinize the group we love to hate:
So while we wait, perhaps it’s time to turn to the Academy itself. As Oscar-watchers, we all root for excellence to be rewarded. Sometimes that doesn’t happen because of collective bad taste, or sentimentality, or blind spots, or irrational exuberance, but it’s particularly galling when it doesn’t happen because the Academy’s own rules prevent it.
Mark writes up three things, all well worth the read. I’m going to have a pretend conversation with him for the hell of it.
1. Mark says: I hate to beat up on the Academy’s foreign-film selection system because in recent years, some intelligent and helpful reforms have actually been instituted. Nobody can say they’re not trying. Unfortunately, the Oscars still obstruct, rather than encourage, the honoring of the best of world cinema.
I say: when you’re right, you’re right. The process of selecting a “foreign language film” is itself outdated. Yes, maybe they’re trying to honor World Cinema, but the truth is, World Cinema is kicking American Cinema’s ass year after year. Hell, the Koreans alone…the Foreign Language race is as ludicrous as the Animated Feature race. Good movies are good movies. It does kind of say to the world: we are going to honor “our” movies (“ours” meaning America and England, one presumes) and then over here we’ll honor movies that don’t have the chance to play over here as much and perhaps it will bring more eyeballs, and more money, to those productions. Unfortunately, the little box they’ve tried to put foreign language film into is just too damned small by this point. But what is the solution? The Oscars, I do believe, should honor the best and I am inclined to think they should do what they were invented to do: help promote the American studio system. Mark lays out the biggest problem:
But what lingers is the original sin: Unlike any other Academy Award, the foreign-film system outsources Oscar judgment to other countries — and the one-submission-per-nation rule makes for a Petri dish of infighting, political resentments, and under-the-table deals. Who are each country’s selectors, how are they chosen, and what guards against favoritism? Who the hell knows? Why is it that Pedro Almodóvar, possibly the most beloved living European director among U.S. moviegoers, can’t compete for best foreign-language film with his elegantly nightmarish new movie The Skin I Live In — just as his last film,Broken Embraces, was ineligible? Because Spain didn’t pick him, that’s why.
Mark’s solution is to broaden the submission rules, to allow for more than one per country.
There’s some merit to the submission rules, which at least insure that an extraordinary range of countries gets to run one movie past the votership each year. The Academy doesn’t need to overrule those selections. But why not amplify them with, say, half a dozen well-received foreign films that opened here during the year or won major film festival prizes but weren’t submitted by their country of origin? (Perhaps they didn’t even have a country of origin — among other benefits, this reform would open the door to international co-productions.) Just add them to the 63 submissions and let them take their chances.
He is especially bothered by the Academy’s rejection of Joshua Marsten’s film, “although I haven’t seen his movie, ‘insufficiently Albanian’ strikes me as maybe the worst reason in history for a film not to be eligible for an Oscar.”
It’s hard to argue with Mark, isn’t it?
Mark says: I know some Academy members who feel strongly that their mission is to preserve the primacy of theatrical distribution. They’re wrong. Their mission is to reward the year’s best movies, and to respond with a flexibility that keeps pace with the way those movies are seen.
I say: Wouldn’t it be great if they rewarded the best movies of the year? It happens every so often, but more often than not, it’s about the game of Oscar. And the game of Oscar has always been designed to maximize profits.
Mark says: If your four favorite lead performances of 2011 are Michael Fassbender as Rochester in Jane Eyre, Michael Fassbender as Magneto in X-Men: First Class, Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method, and Michael Fassbender as a very unhappy, very naked man in Shame, too bad. Although the same actor can be nominated in both lead and supporting categories (it’s happened about a dozen times, most recently for Cate Blanchett in 2007), the Academy will not allow an actor to be nominated for more than one performance within the same category. There’s not much to say about this rule other than that it’s so dumb that no other branch of the Academy shares the policy. Steven Soderbergh famously competed against himself for best director in 2000; he lost for Erin Brockovich and won for Traffic.
I say: It was easy enough for Soderbergh to sit back and let the publicity department do the campaigning. But remember when Kate Winslet had two movies to promote? I can’t imagine an actor being able to juggle all of that campaigning – and the kind of fighting that would cause. Those with the fatter wallets pay for the better events…and in the end, unless someone sent out a letter urging Academy voters to side with one film (as they did with Soderbergh and Traffic) how would voters know which to vote for? In the end, voters vote for the actor, for the star that they like. It’s hardly ever the performance. So of the three suggestions Mark has put forth, this one I don’t agree with.
Meanwhile, Mark invites you to write him – Follow him on Twitter on Twitter and send him emails to get the discussion going and he might cover them in his column. He’s an awfully friendly fellow, I might add