Monday, January 19, 2015

My toxic relationship with the Oscars

There was a time when I loved the Academy Awards. Down to the point where I could (and still can) tell you what won Best Picture or Director during what year. I would run down the list of Best Picture winners and think to myself "I must go forth and watch all of these movies." Ignoring the films that were nominated that year and didn't win. Anyone who knows the Academy knows that if they do this, they are in for some poorly made pictures. That never really entered my head at the time. It's official. It says Best Picture. It says Best Director. Best Actor, Best Actress and so forth.

Or so I thought...

Let's go back to the 1999 Oscars. It's down to Best Picture. I had seen Saving Private Ryan in the theater and it was my favorite film of 1998. Knowing that Spielberg had secured a Best Director Oscar I was sure it would win. And the award goes to...

What the fuck? Shakespeare In Love? I was perplexed and angered. That is when things changed. As I would get older, I would learn how powerful Harvey Weinstein is and how he played a big role in making Shakespeare win. He spent a record amount of money. Jeffrey Katzenberg, head of DreamWorks said "True independents might spend $250,000 on an Oscar campaign; the majors, $2 million. Miramax is estimated by competitors to have spent $5 million on its campaign for Shakespeare"(1) His tactics would secure Streep an Oscar in 2011 and have The Artist and The King's Speech win Best Picture in their respective years.

Things would repeat at the 2001 awards when Gladiator took home Best Picture over Traffic. So I looked back and combed the winner lists and found trends and traditions that have not only started in 1999, they were there since the beginning.

In 1928, the top prize went to the traditional winner and a special film: Best Picture and Unique Artistic Picture. With the former going to Wings and the latter going to Sunrise. Now I'm not a gambler, but I am willing to do just that to see which one is recognized as a masterpiece.

Ever since then the Academy has chosen again and again to play it safe. It selects things based on a gut reaction. It doesn't necessarily mean that picture is the best and most artistically pleasing film released that year. It is based on how that voter was affected by that movie they just saw. That is ultimately why Pulp Fiction lost to Forrest Gump. (I love both films by the way but that is besides the point.)

Not only does promotion affect the outcome it affects the actors nominated long after they win. How many times have you seen trailers with the word "Oscar winner (insert name) or Oscar nominee (Insert name here) and then another extremely talented actor who wasn't even nominated have their name appear. It just feels awkward and sad.

Now, if you're going to be a card carrying member of the Academy, there should be a number of films people are forced to watch. Spread evenly throughout the year. When all of it is back loaded at the end of the year, the decisions end up being made by the advertising campaign and push to get your film recognized among all the others.

They must also think that the fall releases can still be helped at the box offices. No one can help the films released in the summer or the beginning of the year.

Here is a list of movies that one Best Picture:

Grand Hotel
How Green Was My Valley (over Citizen Kane; though William Hearst's vendetta against the film, going so far to ignore it in Hearst papers and suppressing it in theaters, definitely hurt its chances)
Going My Way (over Double Indemnity)
Hamlet (over Treasure of the Sierra Madre)
The Greatest Show On Earth (over High Noon)
Around the World In 80 Days
Tom Jones
Rocky (over Network and Taxi Driver)
Kramer Vs. Kramer (over Apocalypse Now)
Chariots of Fire (over Raiders of the Lost Ark)
Terms of Endearment (over The Right Stuff)
Out of Africa
Driving Miss Daisy
Dances With Wolves (over GoodFellas)
The English Patient (over Fargo)
Gladiator (over Traffic)
The King's Speech
Crash (over Brokeback Mountain)

Films That Were Not Even Nominated for Best Picture:

Some Like It Hot
The Third Man
Do the Right Thing
City Lights
Sweet Smell of Success
2001: A Space Odyssey
Singin' In the Rain
The Dark Knight
Rosemary's Baby
Rear Window
The Seven Samurai
The Empire Strikes Back
Once Upon A Time In America
Easy Rider
The Royal Tenenbaums
Mulholland Dr.
Boogie Nights
Night of the Hunter
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Eyes Wide Shut

Sometimes the Academy gets it right. Sometimes they award dark, gritty films like Midnight Cowboy (easily the most daring decision they have made), The Deer Hunter, The French Connection, The Silence of the Lambs, No Country For Old Men, The Godfather I and II, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Schindler's List and most recently 12 Years A Slave. Sometimes it's well deserved classics like The Apartment, Lawrence of Arabia, It Happened One Night, On the Waterfront and Casablanca.

For the Best Director category, my thought can be summed up in what Jon Stewart said in 2006: "For those keeping score, Martin Scorsese: zero. Three Six Mafia: one." Keep in mind Scorsese lost best director for Taxi Driver (to John G. Alvidsen), Raging Bull (to Redford) and GoodFellas (to Costner). Raging Bull would end up on many critics best of the decade lists for the 80's and the same would happen to GoodFellas in the 90's. He would later win for The Departed. Ending the conversation of Scorsese not having an Oscar.

Now I know that was a knife to the side of the Academy. But it is a much broader message. The directors who were not given a Best Director Oscar include Paul Thomas Anderson, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Robert Altman, Satjayit Ray, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, David Cronenberg, John Cassavetes, Terrence Malick, Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Otto Preminger, David Fincher, Fritz Lang, Howard Hawks, Spike Lee, Charlie Chaplin, Ernst Lubitsch, Christopher Nolan and Sidney Lumet.

Hitchcock would be awarded the Irving Thalberg award in 1968. Ingmar Bergman would be given one in 1971 and it would be accepted on his behalf by Liv Ullman. An award handed out to producers.(?)

Honorary Oscars would be given to Chaplin, Lubitsch, Welles, Hawks, Kurosawa, Ray, Fellini, Antonioni, Lumet, Altman and Godard. Which begs the question: Is the Honorary Oscar actually more legitimate than the Best Director Oscar? When handed out it signifies a supreme achievement in filmmaking and has been handed to directors, actors, producers composers and cinematographers for their contribution to cinema. Robert Altman even said he prefers that he was awarded for his body of work rather than one film.

So that leaves:

Terrence Malick (Nominated for Best Director 2 times; nominated once for screenplay)
David Fincher (Nominated for Best Director 2 times)
Otto Preminger (2 Best Director nominations and 1 nomination for producing)
Paul Thomas Anderson (nominated 4 times for screenplay; one for directing; one for producing)
John Cassavetes (one Best Director nomination; one Best Screenplay nomination; one Best Supporting Actor nomination)
Christopher Nolan (two nominations for screenplay; one for producing)
Spike Lee (Nominated once for screenplay)
David Cronenberg (Zero nominations; the Academy really dislikes genre films)
Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Zero nominations)
Fritz Lang (Zero nominations)

There are 8 Best Director nominations between all of these great directors. That's not counting other legendary directors I left out (Bresson, Tarkovsky, etc.). Though it could be argued that several of the foreign filmmakers like the ones mentioned above as well as the likes of Mizoguchi, Ozu and Dreyer receive honors at Cannes.

It is too late to honor the work of Fassbinder, Preminger, Lang and Cassavetes. But it's not too late to honor the work of PTA, Cronenberg, Malick, Fincher, Lee and Nolan. Given their style of work, I won't be surprised if they don't receive an Oscar. I know it's a sad and cynical thought to have. It's suppose to be about art, not politics. But the only time I think I will see these guys get an award is if they end up making a movie that caters to the voters or they are given the Honorary Oscar late in their career.

Sometimes the Academy has to correct a wrong and screws up again by doing so. In 1992, Denzel Washington was nominated for what is said to be his greatest performance as Malcolm X. In that same year, Al Pacino was nominated for Scent of A Woman. Now the Academy did not recognize him for The Godfather, Serpico, The Godfather Part II, Dog Day Afternoon or And Justice For All. Many will argue those performances are better than his turn in Scent of A Woman. But once again, old academy. In what should have been Denzel's time to shine, Pacino was given the Oscar.

Two years later, another infamous incident happened: Hoop Dreams was snubbed in the Best Documentary category. This video perfectly explains why the Best Documentary category is one of the most unreliable categories. Ignoring commercially accepted fare (The Thin Blue Line, Roger and Me, Paradise Lost, King of Kong) over lesser known documentaries.

I bring this up not just because of how frustrating it is, but because this year is a reminder of Steve James not getting nominated. His recent documentary on Roger Ebert, the beloved critic who fought for Hoop Dreams with tooth and nail, was snubbed. A "fuck you" if there ever was one.

All of these snubs are frustrating. So now comes the question: Why? Why is an awards ceremony that is suppose to be honoring achievement in cinema so frequently wrong? Well there's a couple reasons.

In 2012, the Times reported that hundreds of Academy voters who hadn't worked on a movie for decades were still able to cast their votes. Keeping this in mind, a study from 2012 revealed that Oscar voters are nearly 94% Caucasian and 77% male. 86% are over the age of 50. The resulting nominations are painfully obvious this year as far as what happens when you have that lack of diversity and youth on the voting committee. Until there are reforms, these frustrating oversights will continue to happen.

So here we are in 2015. Have things changed at all? Nope. Will I tune in to the ceremony? Sigh. Yes I will. Thus is the story of my toxic relationship with Oscar.

Here are my thoughts on the nominations.

Best Picture

American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

Most surprising: Whiplash. One of my favorite films of last year. How this got a nomination over Gone Girl is baffling. Nonetheless, it has the least chance of succeeding being that it was not released by a major studio.

What is missing: Interstellar, Nightcrawler, Gone Girl. It is painfully obvious that they would nominated Theory of Everything and Imitation Game. Those films are exactly the type of films the Academy loves to award. Also, their love affair with Clint Eastwood is well documented. Mystic River was a truly great film that earned the Best Picture Oscar that year. But I will not forgive their million dollar letters to him.

Who I want to win: Boyhood
Who will win: Boyhood

Best Director

Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

Who the fuck is Morten Tyldum? Apparently someone who is more worthy of a nomination than David Fincher and Christopher Nolan.

Who I want to win: Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Who will win: Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Best Actor

Steve Carrell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Who is missing: Jake Gyllenhaal for Nightcrawler. I can hear him yelling into a mirror and smashing it right about now.

Who I want to win: Michael Keaton, Birdman. His work as Riggan Thompson was truly remarkable.

Who will win: Don't even think about Eddie and Benedict. No. This needs to go to Michael. Don't. Wait. Your longstanding love of biopics is leaning toward them, Oscar? No. Please. AAAAAHHHHH!!!

Best Actress

Marion Cotilliard, Two Days One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Now think about if Moore was nominated for Maps to the Stars. The balls on the Academy for that move, right? Then again, the nomination for Marion Cotilliard is a delight.

Who I want to win: Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl. To have only one nomination for this movie is a joke. In other news, looking through my drawer, I can't seem to find my box cutter anywhere.

Who will win: Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

Julianne Moore won the Golden Globe. Pike will probably win the Oscar. Moore is my favorite actress but I was hard pressed finding another performance that matched that of Pike's Amy Dunne.

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
JK Simmons, Whiplash

Who is missing: Josh Brolin for his hilarious turn as Bigfoot Bjornsen in Inherent Vice.
Who I want to win: JK Simmons, Whiplash. Runner up is definitely Ruffalo. He was the best part of Foxcatcher and delivered stellar work. Just watch the scene where he talks into the camera for proof.

Who is going to win: JK Simmons, Whiplash

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Who I want to win: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Emma Stone is a runner up. She was excellent in Birdman and has proved she is just as capable of doing serious roles than her past work shows. I look forward to her stuff in the future.,

Who will win: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

I call bullshit on Streep getting nominated. She is in my top 5 favorite actresses and is an undeniable force of acting. But it is so obvious that the Academy is going for a record for how many times an actress is nominated as opposed to whether or not she actually deserves it. How about Kim, Dickens, Carrie Coon (Gone Girl) or Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer) getting nominated?

Best Cinematography

Emmanuelle Lubezki, Birdman
Robert Yeomen, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski, Ida
Dick Pope, Mr. Turner (or Dick Poop if I heard the nominations correctly)
Roger Deakins, Unbroken

Who is missing: Robert Elswit for Inherent Vice and Hoyte Von Hoytema's work for Interstellar

Who I want to win/who will win: Emmanuelle Lubezki, Birdman
He won last year for Gravity, but I have a feeling he will again this year. If he unzips his suit and his skin at the ceremony and it turns out he is an alien I won't be surprised. He is way too gifted to be a human.

Best Foreign Language Film

Weird Tales

No Force Majeure. A damn shame. I have only seen Ida and I still want to see Leviathan. Nice to see other countries recognized for the first time.

Who I want to win: ???
Who will win: Ida

Best Adapted Screenplay

American Sniper
The Imitation Game
Inherent Vice
The Theory of Everything

Who is missing: Seriously? You people can't even fucking nominate Gillian Flynn for adapting her own work to the screen?

Who I want to win: Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice
Seriously. This guy adapted a Thomas Pynchon novel. He deserves it.

Who will win: The Imitation Game

Best Original Screenplay

The Grand Budapest Hotel

A resounding YES! to the Nightcrawler nomination.

Who I want to win: Birdman
Who will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Original Score

The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Mr. Turner
The Theory of Everything

Who's missing: Mica Levi's Under the Skin score and Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross's score for Gone Girl.

Who I want to win: Interstellar. Hans Zimmer tops himself here.
Who will win: The Theory of Everything

Best Original Song

"Everything Is Awesome" from The Lego Movie
"Glory" from Selma
"Grateful" from Beyond the Lights
"I;m Not Gonna Miss You" from Glen Campbell,,,I'll Be Me
"Lost Stars" from Begin Again

Who I want to win: "Everything Is Awesome" from The Lego Movie
Who will win: "Glory" from Selma

They will try to make up for the media backlash by awarding Selma the Best Song Oscar.

Best Animated Film

Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Who is missing: The Lego Movie. Not awesome at all.
Who I want to win: The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Who will win: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Best Animated Short

The Bigger Picture
The Dam Keeper
Me and My Moulton
A Single Life

Who will win: I have no idea.

Best Documentary

Finding Vivian Maier
Last Days of Vietnam
The Salt of the Earth

What is missing: Life Itself. In the words of Lisbeth Salander's shirt, I would like to say this to the Academy: Fuck you, you fucking fuck.

Who I want to win: Citizenfour and Last Days of Vietnam are the most interesting docs on here. Virunga looks well shot. Vivan Maier looks forgettable. Salt of the Earth was co directed by Wim Wenders. A director I admire. Yet Maier and Salt are both about photographers. Citizenfour is the one I pick though.

I highly doubt Finding Vivian Maeier is a more compelling documentary than Life Itself.

Who will win: Citizenfour

Best Documentary- Short

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Our Curse
The Reaper
White Earth

Who will win: I have no idea.

Best Film Editing

Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach, American Sniper
Sandra Adair, Boyhood
Barney Pilling, The Grand Budapest Hotel
William Goldenberg, The Imitation Game
Tom Cross, Whiplash

Who I want to win: Tom Cross, Whiplash
That movie is cut like a diamond.

Who will win: Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach, American Sniper

Best Art Direction/Production Design

The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Who I want to win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Who will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Costume Design

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Who I want to win: Inherent Vice
Who will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Makeup

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy

Who I want to win: Guardians of the Galaxy
Who will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Sound Editing

American Sniper
The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

Who I want to win: Interstellar
Who will win: American Sniper

Best Sound Mixing

American Sniper

Who I want to win: Whiplash
Who will win: American Sniper

Best Visual Effects

Captain America: Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Who I want to win: Interstellar
Who will win: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


(1) Fox, David Jesse "A Brief History of Harvey Weinstein's Oscar Campaign Tactics" Vulture. New York Media LLC. 29 Jan. 2014. Web

1 comment:

  1. I love the Oscars, but they make some awful mistakes. Especially with Best Picture.