In a surprise twist, a new poll released indicates that Generation Z does not approve of “cancel culture.”
If that is true, and if the lurch towards social justice by Big Corporate and Hollywood is designed to appeal to the future generation, something has quietly and silently flown off the rails.
The corporations, Hollywood, and the media tend to draw its information from Twitter. But Twitter is comprised of 15% of users who dominate 80% of its content. That is not representative of the majority. It could very well be that the industry that seeks to appeal to Gen-Z is, in fact, alienating them.
What does this have to do with Best Picture? Well, Hollywood and the Oscars can’t function in the grips of such intense paranoia, hysteria, and fear. If every film is scrutinized, as Amazon indicates it should be, for “flaws” in its storytelling or in its crew or in its cast, only the blandest will survive. Or the most “woke.” But there is no indication so far that audiences want that, especially if it means subverting expectations or mistaking art for activism and/or propaganda.
Here is what we know: this will either be the worst year the Oscars have ever had in terms of the “cancel culture” movement climaxing and then collapsing in a sweaty heap, or it will be indicative that we’ve already moved through the worst of it.
A while back, I wrote about the “pendulum” theory, which proposes that every 80 years or so whole generations cycle through in a process that first favors the collective (“we”) and then favors the individual (“me”). For most of my life the film industry and the Oscars have been in the “me” cycle, wherein they favored the hero, they favored the popular film, the majority vote. But as we’ve moved into the “we” cycle, we’ve seen the preferential ballot implemented, just like it was 80 or so years in the last “we” cycle.
The Academy used to, for instance, accept the votes from the “crafts and guilds” up to 1946. That meant you had some 9,000 people voting on the awards. But in 1946 they only allowed members to vote, or roughly the 1,000 who were in the Academy. At roughly the same time, give or take a few years, the Academy shrank down their Best Picture lineup from ten films or sometimes more being nominated for Best Picture. The last film to win, presumably on a preferential ballot since they had so many people voting, was Casablanca in 1943. This clip is from the NY Times archives:
But strangely enough, in the book Pendulum, the height of the last “We” movement was 1943. What Howe and Drew layout in their book is that as the “we” movement begins to break down there are often long periods of witch hunts. Here is what they wrote in their book published in 2012:
The second half of the Upswing of “We” and the first half of the Downswing from it (2013–2023) bring an ideological “righteousness” that seems to spring from any group gathered around a cause. The inevitable result is judgmental legalism and witch hunts. The origin of the term witch hunt was the Salem witch trials, a series of hearings before county court officials to prosecute people accused of witchcraft in the counties of Essex, Suffolk, and Middlesex in colonial Massachusetts, between February 1692 and May 1693 exactly at the beginning of the second half of the Upswing toward the “We” Zenith of 1703.
Senator Joseph McCarthy was an American promoter of this witch-hunt attitude at America’s most recent “We” Zenith of 1943 (see the “House Un-American Activities Committee,” 1937–1953); Adolf Hitler was the German promoter (see the Holocaust, 1933–1945); and Joseph Stalin was the Soviet promoter (see the Great Purge, 1936–1938). Our hope is that we might collectively choose to skip this development as we approach the “We” Zenith of 2023. If enough of us are aware of this trend toward judgmental self-righteousness, perhaps we can resist demonizing those who disagree with us and avoid the societal polarization that results from it. A truly great society is one in which being unpopular can be safe.
We are most definitely in the “witch hunt” phase right now, without any doubt, and have been for a while. It makes sense when you think about what a “we” cycle means. It means everyone should get a seat at the table and that we value the collective more than we value the individual’s success. In fact, if the Left continues to dominate our culture, and the film industry, they will be moving towards “equity,” which is “equality of outcome” as opposed to “equality of opportunity,” as a corrective to the assumption that not everyone has an equal shot at success in a country that is built on white male patriarchy. That is about as textbook “we” as you can get.
The Oscars shifted towards individualism as America did, coming out of 1943, as McCarthyism shifted public sentiment away from the fear of communists towards the fear of those who hunted communists, who saw communism everywhere and in everything. Now, we’ve kind of reversed that dynamic where Capitalism is representative of the individual which is representative of oppression.
From 1943 through to 2008 the Best Picture award was comprised of five nominees. It was led by the director who reigned as king throughout that time. The majority ruled, and the dominant films were those considered the biggest success by both the public and those in the elite circles of intellectualism. But as the pendulum began to swing away from individualism and towards the collective we saw complaints that not enough women and people of color were being awarded, or being given the opportunity to make the kinds of films that win awards. That is at least partly why they expanded Best Picture.
But they only expanded it to ten for 2009 and 2010. By the following year disgruntled voters were given the option to shrink it back down to five, or if they so chose they could list more than five. That just meant the Academy pretty much stuck to its old way of listing only five — and that is why there was less diversity in their nominations after 2010, and why there were so many protests, like #oscarssowhite, against the Academy until they eventually mandated inclusivity in both the kinds of films that get chosen and the crews that make films that get nominated, and eventually they agreed to expand the race back to ten slots for nominees rather than give members the option.
To the Academy, and to activists who have been pushing for change, this is their way of dragging the Academy towards the “equality of outcome” endgame rather than “equality of opportunity.”
But there is a problem.
The problem is that activist-based entertainment, and film awards, are starting to wear out their welcome. When I talk to people about the Oscars they always say the same thing. They see them as not really representing the “best” of a given year but rather whatever makes the voters look good. This has probably always been true, or at least I’ve been hearing it for as long as I’ve been covering the Oscars. Most people have always criticized the Oscars – whether it was saying they were old and out of touch, like this hilarious piece from 1972, the year The Godfather won, with the Academy being taken to task for having too members over 50.
Activism or “wokeness” or whatever you want to call it is everywhere all of the time simply because there is an arena for public shame, and it’s one that PR and marketing executives cannot abide even for five minutes. They will buckle under public pressure, even if that public pressure is coming from a small but vocal minority on Twitter. Once that part is over with, once people are no longer easily shamed, the whole dynamic will fall apart and eventually it will be the stuff of parody on down the road.
What we don’t know, what we can’t know, is what this year will represent in terms of that shifting arc. The book Pendulum says the worst of it will be in 2023, which means we will be heading into the penultimate in 2022. Hey, they canceled the Golden Globes brpadcast, Lin-Manuel Miranda had to apologize for In the Heights not being diverse enough and now, this Generation-Z poll tells us that we are probably nearing the height of the “witch hunt” phase and will soon be heading back into the era of individualism.
I bring this up because we are still very much in the era of “firsts.” And there are still many “firsts” yet to be accomplished. We’ve had the first female win Best Director in 2009, and again this past year in 2020. We’ve had directors from Mexico and Europe dominate the Best Director race. We’ve yet to have a transgender person nominated for Actor or Actress or Director. We’ve yet to have an openly gay director win. We’ve yet to have a Black director win. If that is the direction the Oscars are going to head in, that will require we regard the coming Best Picture race with an eye on activism, as we did last year. This will be especially true considering Film Twitter dominates so much of the discussion around the film awards. They want to be seen as progressive and “woke” and thus, their choices might reflect that.
Most people who cover the Oscars are not going to see it this way. In fact, it isn’t something people like to talk about at all. It is a subject that is off-limits because it doesn’t seem like progress if the awards aren’t based on “worth.” We’ve bobbed back and forth on this discussion over the past ten years. Believe it or not there was a time when it was considered wrong to think a movie like 12 Years a Slave should win because it was directed by a non-white director. It had to be because the movie was good enough to win. I think and thought it was. But I don’t know if we are in a place to really ask that question or even have that conversation anymore. It will be something people think about, maybe go along with or rebel against, but you’re not going to find many Oscar bloggers writing about it.
While last year, Nomadland took Picture and Director, and the year before Parasite took Best Picture and Best Director, that could signal this year we might be looking at a split.
In 2009 and 2010, when there were an even ten nomination slots and an even ten nominees, Picture and Director went to the same person, The Hurt Locker, and The King’s Speech.
But after that, things got a little sketchy:
2012-Argo/Ang Lee Life of Pi
2013-12 Years a Slave/Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
2015-Spotlight, Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant
2016-Moonlight, Damien Chazelle, La La Land
2017-The Shape of Water
2018-Green Book/Alfonso Cuaron, Roma
The only white American male that has won Best Director since 2009 has been Damien Chazelle. That should tell you something about how dramatically things have changed in the Oscar race. Especially if you look at the previous ten years:
2007-No Country for Old Men
2005-Crash/Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
2004-Million Dollar Baby
2003-Return of the King
2002-Chicago/Roman Polanski, The Pianist
2001-A Beautiful Mind
2000-Gladiator/Steven Soderbergh, Traffic
That’s 5/10 white American males winning Best Director. Obviously, movies have changed too. The Academy has changed. Everything has changed. We can’t expect things to be as they always have been. The pendulum swings back and forth. That doesn’t mean, by the way, that when it swings back it will favor white American males – it just means that it did when things were dependent upon the market and the culture valued “individualism.” I could see a scenario at some point in the next ten years when things shift. But at the moment it is hard to predict how all of this will land.
Visionary directors tend to drive the Best Director race now, where the safer films tend to drive Best Picture. That is why the preferential ballot has made Best Picture, and by association, the Oscars, seem so weak compared to the past. It isn’t a film that has rousing support that wins (sometimes it is – Argo, Parasite) but much of the time it is the film that people can agree on as best rather than the films that take the most risks and is the most memorable. The winners of the past ten years will be difficult to even remember, I imagine. People will remember that history was made with the wins but will they remember the movies themselves? I do not know.
Erik Anderson at AwardsWatch has his fresh picks for Best Director for July, as follows:
1. Guillermo del Toro – Nightmare Alley (Searchlight Pictures)
2. Jane Campion – The Power of the Dog (Netflix)
3. Joel Coen – The Tragedy of Macbeth (Apple/A24)
4. Ridley Scott – House of Gucci (MGM/UA)
5. Asghar Farhadi – A Hero (Amazon Studios)
6. Denis Villeneuve – Dune (Warner Bros)
7. Kenneth Branagh – Belfast (Focus Features)
8. Steven Spielberg – West Side Story (20th Century Studios)
9. Jonas Poher Rasmussen – Flee (NEON)
10. Joachim Trier – The Worst Person in the World (NEON)
Other contenders: Leos Carax – Annette (Amazon Studios), Siân Heder – CODA (Apple), Joe Wright – Cyrano(MGM/UA), Adam McKay – Don’t Look Up (Netflix), Wes Anderson – The French Dispatch (Searchlight Pictures), Paolo Sorrentino – The Hand of God (Netflix), Denzel Washington – A Journal for Jordan (Sony Pictures), Ridley Scott – The Last Duel (20th Century Studios), Taika Waititi – Next Goal Wins (Searchlight Pictures), Pedro Almodóvar – Parallel Mothers (Sony Pictures Classics), Rebecca Hall – Passing (Netflix), Julia Ducournau – Titane (NEON), David O. Russell – Untitled David O. Russell aka Canterbury Glass (20th Century Studios), Paul Thomas Anderson – Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson aka Soggy Bottom (MGM/UA) ↓
Will it be out this year?: Alejandro González Iñárritu – Limbo (TBA), Park Chan-wook – Decision to Leave (TBD), Maggie Gyllenhaal – The Lost Daughter (TBD)
And here are Clayton Davis’ predictions for Best Director from Variety:
- Ridley Scott, House of Gucci — Picture
- Jane Campion, Power of the Dog –Picture
- Adam McKay, Don’t Look Up –Picture
- Guillermo del Toro, Nightmare Alley — Picture
- Joel Coen, The Tragedy of Macbeth — Picture
- Steven Spielberg, West Side Story
- Paolo Sorrentino, Hand of God
- Justin Chon, Blue Bayou — Picture
- Sian Heder, Coda — Picture
- Aaron Sorkin, Being the Ricardos — Picture
- King Richard, Reinaldo Marcus Green
- Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tick, Tick…Boom!
- Denzel Washington, A Journal for Jordan
- Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Flee
- Pablo Larrain, Spencer
- Joe Wright, Cyrano
- Asghar Farhadi, A Hero
- Chloe Zhao, The Eternals
- Denis Villeneuve, Dune
- Paul Thomas Anderson, Soggy Bottom
Films with Best Picture predicted but not Director:
Encanto, Jared Bush & Byron Howard, Charise Castro Smith
King Richard, Reinaldo Marcus Green
So right off the bat, there is probably no chance Spielberg gets in for Best Director but West Side Story does not get in for Best Picture. In fact, in recent years, only Foxcatcher, Cold War, and Another Round have been Best Director nominees without a Best Picture nomination. A big-budget movie like West Side Story would have a corresponding BD nom.
In both 2009 and 2010, all five Best Directors had their films nominated for Best Picture. It makes sense when you consider they have more slots to put down movies. So why wouldn’t it make the cut?
Moreover, both Erik and Clayton are, I think, not factoring in the “popular” movie and are still looking at how the Oscars have always been. One of the reasons to expand the ballot is to allow for popular movies, along with more inclusive films. Thus, I would keep my eye on the big-budget movies and even animated films to see what might land. I’d give at least one slot to a popcorn movie.
So, are there any popcorn movies on the horizon? Both of them have Denis Villeneuve not getting in for Dune. I guess that’s possible if the movie is truly terrible but otherwise, that would go on my list. I’m also bullish on The Last Duel over House of Gucci for the same reason. Unless that movie sucks big time it will be a monster Oscar movie. It might suck, that’s true, but in general, I would think bigger, especially after this past year which many viewed as a complete disaster. Hollywood MIGHT want to fight for Hollywood to come “back” and one of the ways to do that is the big-budget films.
Clayton has Encanto on his list, which I think is super smart.
To that end, here are my way-too-early predictions.
Best Director (in alpha order):
Paul Thomas Anderson, Soggy Bottom
Guillermo del Toro, Nightmare Alley
Ridley Scott, The Last Duel
Denis Villenueve, Dune
Steven Spielberg, West Side Story
Alts – Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog, Miguel Sapochnik, Finch, Joel Coen, the Tragedy of Macbeth
Best Picture (in alpha order)
House of Gucci
In the Heights
The Power of the Dog
The Tragedy of Macbeth
West Side Story
Alts — Encanto, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, Spencer, The Many Saints of Newark
To bring it all back home to the beginning – “Cancel Culture” will be coming for Steven Spielberg and West Side Story. I can just feel it in my bones. But I also sense — and I could be wrong — that it’s going to be a major player in the Oscar race. So — this will be a chance to test the waters.
Bottom line – any Best Picture lineup that has movies like The Last Duel, West Side Story, Dune, In the Heights — that’s going to be bananas.