Earlier today I was invited to attend the Vanity Fair Oscar blogger panel at WeWork, Hollywood, a very comfortable social workspace where, for a monthly fee, you can sit and wi-fi. Free food and drink. You’ve likely seen some of these places pop up around big cities – for anyone who works at home, this affords you kind of mixed experience between a library and high end coffee shop.
The subject of the discussion was “do Oscar predictions matter?” It was moderated by Mike Hogan Digital Director at Vanity Fair and included Anne Thompson, Dave Karger, Pete Hammond, Kyle Buchanan, and Krista Smith. Peggy Siegel also joined the group, giving the majority slightly to the women. While we bloggers and journalists can give insights on the race itself, Siegel is the one who really knows the voters best considering she is at almost every major gathering in town. Siegel was the one, I thought, who could offer the best insights into what the buzz was. Sure, Pete Hammond talks to voters, so does Anne Thompson, Dave Karger and Scott Feinberg. But Siegel talks to them not from the perspective of a journalist, but from the perspective of someone they see and know socially.
There was an Academy member there, Bruce Feldman, known to Anne, Pete and Peggy. Feldman really does appear as you’d imagine any Academy member would: middle-aged, white male. He was not liking anything I said, being that I was the only member of the panel critical of the Academy’s choices. We did start with Citizen Kane, after all. He kept rolling his eyes and shaking his head, so much so that everyone on the panel noticed. After a while we started to make jokes about him. “I’m an Academy member,” he said to me at one point. “I don’t agree with anything you’re saying.” “I am not surprised that you don’t,” I said back.
The screeners Peggy Siegel is holding are representations of the DVDs sent out to voters.
Pete, Kyle, Anne…
He most certainly did not like the things that were being said about “them,” the generalizations, the second-guessing. It was clearly irritating. He did say at one point that he knew “some” Academy members that were like the ones we were all describing. Then he said there were some that actually were critical and did think about things other than what they “like.”
The discussion opened with the King’s Speech vs. The Social Network. Siegel said that Harvey Weinstein always knew that the “noise” online was in direct conflict with what the Academy voters would respond to. Thus, he bypassed the blogs and websites and critics and went straight to the Academy with parties (I recall a big one thrown by Arianna Huffington — at which point it dawned on me how we didn’t get television; television got us). The Academy was wowed by The King’s Speech and the rest is history. The panelists, specifically Anne and Pete chimed in with Dave, reminding us that they’d also predicted The King’s Speech. But of course, you all know me. You know how I earn a living. I wasn’t going to let that one go. I took the mic and announced that the Social Network should have won and that the King’s Speech was a perfectly fine, but not a great, movie.
The Academy member visibly flinched at that one, as you can imagine. “But you’re not an Academy member,” Siegel reminded me. She was right. The conflict between the “noise” and what voters will do, who voters are, what they respond to, endures. Vive la difference, I say. Siegel was telling me what they likely think throughout the Academy, and have always thought when they are criticized for their eternally bland choices. They shrug. It doesn’t matter to them. Why doesn’t it matter? Because they have the vote.
So why pay any attention at all? This question was brought up. The Oscars are still the “gold standard,” it was agreed. They are still, for better or worse, the most respected film awards in the world. Cough cough cough.
It was clear that the Academy member and I weren’t going to be breaking bread any time soon.
But the bombshell of the day came when Peggy Siegel said that voters she spoke with (and remember, she goes to EVERYTHING) could not even bring themselves to watch 12 Years a Slave. You have to watch it, she would urge them. But they would hold up their hands and say — I can’t.
This opinion was countered somewhat by Pete Hammond, and later on Twitter, Scott Feinberg, but Siegel isn’t a journalist nor Oscar blogger. She doesn’t have an immediate stake in the game at this point. She was sharing her experience with those people and this movie.
Other things I learned:
Pete said that he could detect no strong buzz for one film or the other but that it really was split between the three — Gravity, American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave. He said that the below the line people he talked to were ALL voting for American Hustle.
Pete is predicting Gravity to win after doing his own preliminary math on the preferential ballot. It will have a lot of number 2s, he concluded, which is how he formed his prediction for best Picture.
Dave Karger, Kyle Buchanan (of course) and Anne Thompson were still sticking with 12 Years a Slave, at least for now.
I told the crowd I was hoping for Steve McQueen to pull it out, but that comment was met with resistance by both Peggy Siegel and Krista Smith who talked about Alfonso Cuaron’s 4-year journey to bring the film, and the visual effects, to the big screen. I know, I know, I thought. But…no one is ever going to get me to agree that Gravity and Cuaron should win over 12 Years and McQueen. I can live with that decision, however. Gravity is a monumental work.
Bruce Dern seems to be picking up some buzz around town, him being the most “overdue” of the pack of actors. When asked why Redford did not get a nod, Siegel and others agreed that he just didn’t want to campaign for it. I tried to add that Redford doesn’t much care for the Oscars anyway, which also pissed off Academy member dude. Oh well.