“Old endgame lost of old, play and lose and have done with losing.”
The Oscar race is all over but the shouting. History will be made one way or another. History already has been made once the Academy pushed their ballot deadline to occur before the big guilds announced. That one little move forever altered the race, throwing it into complete chaos. The truth is we think we know how it will go. After all, can thousands upon thousands of people be that unpredictable? How much of Argo’s success is based on the movie itself and how much is based on the groundswell of support for Ben Affleck in opposition to the Academy’s snub? It’s hard to say. I’m sure fans of the film will stand by it and brush off the director snub. But anyone who’s been paying close attention to the race can’t help but stare right at it. The timing is just too suspect. Timing is a funny thing — you can be caught up in the moment and not yet have the perspective to look at it objectively. History might clarify things a bit more.
For instance, the torture debate around Zero Dark Thirty? All but evaporated but the damage was done. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were publicists behind some of that, even though at the time it didn’t seem like it. Ditto with the congressman hoping to embarrass Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner by demanding they “fix” Connecticut’s vote. He laughed that it had anything to do with Oscar campaigning but come on, dude, who are you trying to kid?
Time is the great equalizer. We’ll know in five or ten years what this Oscar season really meant. For now, we all have our ideas about the various narratives.
The one thing I don’t think the world needs is another parrot of objective Oscar coverage. What this year was greatly missing was any kind of strong critical voices. Stu Van Airsdale left his post at Movieline and Mark Harris left Grantland for the year and that left us with objective Oscar coverage and advocacy. We still have the Carpetbagger, David Poland but Jeff Wells has turned into a one-man take-down machine which has rendered his voice as useless as my own. We advocates did what we usually do to little or no success in either direction but I figure, better than that become one more person huddled on the wall telling everyone what we can all plainly see with our own eyes.
But we’re going to see it out, by god, this historic unpredictable year. People always say they want the Oscars to stop being so predictable — well, the Academy tried to be unpredictable but the giant industry guilds tried to shove predictability right back down their throats: your Oscars will be what we say it will be. Even so, if Argo is going to be our predictable Best Picture winner, a new oddity has emerged.
For the first time in many many decades, Best Director is up for grabs — really up for grabs. When it was Driving Miss Daisy up for the Oscar, Oliver Stone had won the DGA and then won the Oscar. The other splits that there have been between Picture and Director tend to side with the DGA. But the DGA picked Affleck, in keeping with the years where Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard were snubbed but then won it. Yet Argo has been winning everything, as your typical award season winner would do — a Slumdog Millionaire kind of sweep of the precursors so already it feels bigger than both of those other movies. Of course, there are more awards now than there ever have been and more Oscar coverage than there ever has been.
This season comes with conflicting pairings at every turn. As disappointed as I am that the industry appears to have shunned Lincoln, I’m thrilled that the overall made such an impact on the American public. Fans of the film write me from all over the country to talk about how meaningful it was for them. Surely that has to be worthwhile. Life of Pi has made over $500 million worldwide. And our Oscars appear to be once again choosing a movie that is plug-and-play, appealing to people of every intellectual level, economic status and country of origin. The last two winners were that way — perhaps that’s the only kind of film that can win.
One thing I find fascinating by the industry’s embracing of Argo and the unwillingness of journalists to question its subject matter is how much things have changed since I’ve been watching movies. For Valentine’s Day I watched Annie Hall. It struck me how critical Woody Allen’s view of Hollywood is in the film, “all you do is give out awards here – best fascist dictator Adolph Hitler.” To him, Hollywood was silly. They kept throwing awards at him anyway because deep down in places they don’t talk about in public, no one really wants to languish in ass-kissing buffoonery that is the awards race.
But that kind of criticism is mostly lost now because money and profit is so hard to come by. You have to stay relevant, you have to go to the awards shows, you have to do it because the movie needs you to. We’ve moved away from a star-driven system so stars no longer have the luxury to not show up. Even Woody Allen eventually had to suck up to save his film business. I never thought I’d see the day when Woody Allen would appear at the Oscars. But he did.
Robert Altman made The Player, a film so dead on about Hollywood no one has ever topped it. In it, the studio mogul kills the screenwriter and gets away with it. Not only that, but he gets the screenwriter’s girlfriend too. The more bad things he does the higher he climbs. “Movies now more than ever” is the motto of the up and comer. When I look around today at the Critics Choice awards standing ovation for Ben Affleck and their broadcast’s bizarre decision to not show Tony Kushner accepting his award — and how no one cared because the ratings soared — I have to figure, Altman’s vision of Hollywood has been realized. There is no Robert Altman around now. In his place are people who see Hollywood as a healthy, thriving dream factory. The Artist and now Argo both idealize Hollywood — and the people who run it. John Goodman stars in both as a lovably hated studio guy.
Though Argo might be about the cheap effects movies in Hollywood in the 1970s and how the naive Iranians fell for it, it is about the ultimate good Hollywood does; even a scrappy, forgotten producer can help bring the hostages home. Similarly, the CIA is portrayed as aw shucks nice guys just doing a good deed. Maya from Zero Dark Thirty is shunned. Abe Lincoln dragged across the mud after 150 years and portrayed as a racist but Hollywood and the CIA? They’re the heroes.
It’s not a comment on Argo so much as the industry that has embraced it – an industry that is more and more made up of exactly the same people. There aren’t critics and bloggers anymore – they are one in the same. They all vote on roughly the same awards now. They are the ones who are buying this idea that Movies Now More than Ever is the new normal. I can dig it but I just wish Robert Altman were still around to remind us that are two ways of seeing things.
The Gurus voted on whether or not social networking has been bad for the Oscar race. And I have to think so. Twitter is now an angry mob. That made it great when it came to Anonymous and getting Obama re-elected but it surely sucks now when the only way you can win the day is by being the cool pick. It’s no longer enough that we have critics and box office – now we have Twitter.
We were also asked if the Academy should go back to five – and I’d have to say yes. If they value their film directors they will do just that if, for no other reason, they won’t have five best directors standing there with nothing to do. As the awards race changes, we Oscar watchers must change. And as Thomas Jefferson once said, “when you feel you are at the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hold on.”