It’s now the fourth quarter of the year, which means that pundits are talking about the Oscar race. More and more, there are people saying “Oscars? Pff? Why should I care about a bunch of rich snobs congratulating themselves?”, I guess as opposed to things like the Superbowl, which is completely absent of things like greed and ego. In short, the Oscar race is a game in and of itself. There are quite a few rules, although, much like with the normal audiences, awarding movies can be a game of “It is except when it’s not”.
Now, what does one need to make it as an Oscar contender?
There are several things to keep in mind.
I think the biggest one is much like the politics of well, politics politics. Project the image that only a select few have a chance. Much like citizens voters have this fear that voting outside the two party system is a wasted vote, Oscar campaigning is about saying “Hey, you might not really think Brad Pitt gave one of the performances of the year, but do you really think that bald character actor from the Croation dark comedy has a chance?”
The fact of the matter is, voters are working professionals, and don’t have time to see every film available, (and to be honest, they might even hand the ballot to family, or even staff members) so at the end of the day, they rely on a few external factors to make their choices.
Critical response is a good opening salvo. It’s not always the case (Look at Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Or better yet, don’t, for your own good.)
Commercial success can also come into play. This isn’t always a factor. Famous flops like The Shawshank Redemption and It’s a Wonderful Life actually did manage to be best picture nominees, before endless replayings on TV turned them into complacency classics. But it helps a lot. Not because the voters consciously keep some kind of odometer over how much a movie has to make before they decide to recognize it. But a hit movie means that people have seen the movies, and kept them in the conversation. It also just gives the movie the sense of being a winner, so you’re feel reasonable backing it up. (Though conversely, being too obvious a choice could mean “Hey, everyone else backing that horse, I see no need to.” Which is how I justify to myself my sparsely attended birthday parties.)
They also just like to reward movies (or the people who made them) for being successful, and making sure their industry is around to make smaller movies they may be more passionate about. Some theorize that it’s possible to be “too successful”, and that engenders resentment, or the sense of “making money is its reward”. I don’t believe that at all, because if people thought like that, Titanic would not have won 11 Oscars. No, the blockbusters usually don’t win because they tend not be in genres the Academy prefers, like superheroes, and sequels to movies about superheroes.
Being the “right kind” of movie
That’s another big thing about awards consideration, is if you’re the right “kind” of movie. Voters like to vote for something that screams “art!” Often, a very middling attempt at art, but definitely something that feels important. So we’re talking films about social issues–racism, homophobia, disease, and how they’re viewed through the perspective of an upper-middle class white person. (Dallas Buyer’s Club was a little more blue collar, but who could resist McCounaghey’s hybrid southern-surfer drawl.)
Movies about people with afflictions tend to be very popular in the acting categories, but are too “small” to get best picture nominations, unless the actor is a frontrunner. Nominating it for picture then tends to be a way to cement it. They also tend to skew heavily (though not as much lately) toward period pieces. This is largely because the voting body is incredibly nostalgic, and also because having to come up with all those costumes makes it seem like you’re working a little harder. Period pieces may sometimes mean British accents too, but sometimes those tend to be a little niche in their appeal.
The Academy’s favorite, I mean absolute favorite period is World War II. This is for several reasons. The first is, World War II has the perception of being the most morally uncomplicated war in the history of Western Civilization (as long as you’re not of Japanese descent). Even Germany isn’t prone to calling concentration camps a “peculiar institution” or something like that. Secondly, it manages to engender patriotism without jingoism, bringing left and (what’s left of Hollywood’s) right together in unison. Finally, that was the period of Hollywood’s “Golden Age”, so seeing men wear hats and women wear pearls everywhere make them feel like the movie oozed from the pores of Robert Osborn himself. Of course, now we’re at the point where the 1970’s is an appropriate Oscarbait period, which means artisans lovingly crafting an era of polyester and shag rugs.Of course, there’s some subject matter the Academy won’t touch, or if they do, reluctantly. Some genres they do to pass over.
One thing you have to keep in mind is the Academy members are old. Really old. Creepy old. And with all the spas and mild California weather, they’re able to stay preserved for much longer than nature normally allows. Not only that, but these are Hollywood types who never managed to succumb to the temptations of hard living, so they were probably old even when they weren’t. Basically, think of your grandparents, if your grandparents were multiple divorcees and still bitter about McCarthyism.
Anyway, this means they tend to wrestle with genres that young audiences like. The first I’ll mention, is comedy, seeing as this is a comedy website. I don’t think the Academy is, in theory, biased against comedy. I’m sure if you ask an Academy board member, they’ll talk about how they love “Some Like it Hot” and Doris Day and stuff like that. But comedies have a couple of obstacles. The first is that comedy is highly subjective, which is a huge weakness for a by-definition consensus like the Oscars. The second is that comedy can very much be “in the moment”, and voters are often concerned that by the time nominations come out, people will already be sick of it. (See, Borat) It can also take time for the Academy to recognize you, which isn’t good for people like Judd Apatow or the Farellys, who only have one or two classics in them before audiences move on.
There’s of course, the Oscars’ reluctance towards sci-fi films, and especially superhero movies. For basically a century, superheroes were a scant presence in cinema, and then, once the new millenium hit, they were much more ubiquitous. They’re basically anemia for the “good old day” crowds, and their blockbuster status mean the iconoclasts that sometimes sneak into Academy membership isn’t fond of them either. This is actually a huge dilemma, because, as much as some people may resent them, movie based on comic book heroes are actually amongst only the few films that are both huge successes and critically praised.
This has led to the Oscars digging in deeper, and recognizing films like The Reader, which neither audiences or cinephiles are fond of. Actually, The Reader is a huge catalyst on why we have up to ten nominations each year. You see, the people who are in charge of the Oscars have to deal with the declining ratings, as less and less people care about them. They tend to be bigger draws when huge audience favorites are in the running, like Titanic or Lord of the Rings. The Dark Knight came out, and it was a monstrous success a critical darling, and it even had a frontrunner in the acting categories. When it was snubbed for Best Picture, and once again the ratings took a dip, they basically felt the had to expand the field or see telecasts become irrelevant as the voting choices became a parody of themselves.
So keeping all of this in mind, what movies are on the
Oscar radar right now?
For a cranky, plainspoken guy, Clint Eastwood really likes Oscar attention. Usually he’ll release one movie that’s absolute crap, and then a second movie later in the year that’s decent, leading people to think “Hey, Clint’s back!” It’s a formula that works because he’s able to crank films out at a rate usually only found in the porn industry. He’s been in a slump for the last few years, however people are really liking the trailer, and Bradley Cooper is as in as one can be right now.
No, this has nothing to do with the Harvey Birdman shorts that aired Adult Swim! This is what we call “Meta”. Former Batman Michael Keaton plays an actor most famous for playing a superhero, trying to revive his career. (And for extra in-jokiness, Ed Norton plays a talented actor plagued by personality problems) This is movie is directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, who’s known for making movies nobody really likes but feel compelled to recognize like 21 Grams and Babel. The movie is supposedly very dark and bizarre, which is a turn-off, but it can also be called “Actor People Problems”, and as actors make up the largest branch, it will really speak to them at the expense of people of any other profession. Also, the trick of making Birdman feel like it’s being shot in real time makes it feel more than just an acting showcase.
Richard Linklater was the voice of independent cinema back when it really meant something, not a means for movie stars in a rut to escape into the shadows and try to make a comeback in a low-stakes scenario. The film has been the talk of the town, both as being an arthouse sensation, but also that Linklater filmed this movie over the course of a decade. That means the coming of age story focuses on the same actors–no recasting for puberty, no bad make-up to create the illusion of aging. This is the kind of patience and commitment people like to give kudos to.
Bennet Miller has directed two best picture nominee before. It also has Steve Carell and Channing Tatum, two very popular movie stars, displaying their range. Carell gets to show he’s more than a funnyman, and Tatum gets to show he’s more than just a matinee idol. However, the Academy likes their sports movies nice and inspiring, not chilly psychological profiles. Carell is also not the kind of guy to ham it up at shows and junkets, (Like previous funnymen winners like Robin Williams and Jaimie Foxx) and while it only takes an ingenue one or two movies for the Academy to say “Hey, they she can act!”, it often takes male actors much longer to pull that off.
Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson is a rather polarizing figure for someone who’s movies aren’t even that edgey–they’ve kind of become known as hipster fare. But this isn’t a movie about about wealthy people living like poor people while playing vinyl records and feeling arbitrary malaise. It’s something of a period epic, with a very Prisoner of Zenda/Merchant Ivory feel. This could mean it has crossover appeal, (as its box-office displayed) and could get both its older and younger viewers rallying behind it. Its major problem is that it was released in the first half of the year. That’s like the equivalent to carving a Jack O’Lantern in Easter and hoping it will keep.
David Fincher is considered one of the finest working filmmakers today, and the movie is getting a lot of attention as a big “adult movie” hit. Articles come out everyday, examining everything from its gender politics to Ben Affleck’s schlong. However, some are nervous that Fincher’s snub for Girl With the Daragon tattoo meant something other than nobody was really into Girl With the Dragoon tattoo. There’s belief the Academy s biased against “adult thrillers”, and while I’m not sure that’s the case, this pedigree of movie does often find itself in the fish-nor-fowl zone. That is, movies like this often aren’t big enough to be undeniable, but too “studio” to get a passionate bloc of voters. Also, there’s arguments about whether people are dismissing the movie because of misogyny, or supporting the movie because of it’s feminist credo. I guess when women like something, it has to mean it’s political, not simply that women like it.
It’s a British World War II biopic about a man who’s gay, or autistic, or both, or something. If that wasn’t enough, it’s the main gun from producer Harvey Weinstein, who’s like, the Boss Tweed of the Oscars. (Whenever you read something about “Oscars get ugly”, it’s most likely because of something Harvey Weinstein did) It also won the “audience choice” at the Telluride Film Festival. In short, this is the sort of thing that Oscars dream of. However, its cast is also relatively young for this sort of movie, and star Benedict Cumberbatch is the platonic ideal of “Tumblr Popular”. Also, the thing about being the frontrunner too long is, everybody starts to paint a target on your back. Also, it’ll require a lot of lot of campaigning, and it’s unsure how much money Harv has for that after Sin City 2 lost more cash than a vault with a silverfish nest.
This will be interesting. On hand, it has a lot of pedigree. Nolan has been snubbed quite a few times at the Oscars, but that his snubbing gets so much press says a lot. ( I always have mixed feelings. On one hand, I don’t much care for the cult of Christopher Nolan. On the other, it kind of annoys me when he gets looked over all the time. In short, everybody’s opinion about Christopher Nolan is wrong but mine) It has a very fine pedigree, including last year’s winner Matthew McConaughey, recent winner Anne Hathaway, and new hotness capital A actress Jessica Chastain. Likewise, after last year’s Gravity proved to be a big Oscar mover and shaker, people are wondering if space movies are in. However, the movie will have to be a big, big commercial success to get recognized. And there’s comparisons to 2001, which is not kind of the shorthand for populist crowd-pleasers.
Into the Woods
This is based on a very popular Broadway musical which deconstructs fairy tales–well after people have been deconstructing fairy tales for fifteen years. Meryl Streep isn’t so much an Oscar favorite, so much as their Queen Ant from which the Academy draws their sustenance. Sondheim is considered one of the great Broadway authors, and Broadway adaptations are kind of the Michael Bay movies of the Oscar season, where whenever one comes out, all eyes are upon it. Broadway adaptations are also kind of the Michael Bay movies of the Oscar season, where they fill its viewers with a bloated sense of buyer’s remorse. For every Chicago, there’s, well, everything else. Also, people are concerned Disney is going to chop up what made fans of the show love it in the first place. If it goes wrong, reviews will say “You’re better off watching Once Upon a Time”, which would be damning, indeed.
The story of Martin Luther King and his wife, and directed by a woman of color! This is a movie that is considered very important, and even kind of trendy in the Shonda Rhimes era. Its biggest hurdle though, is it’s a very unknown cast, coming during the glut of December. Nobody’s going to be on the cover of magazines, and the appearance on talks shows will be contingent on how successful the movie is. It probably should have been released earlier, when it could get “only game in town” press.
Hollywood is not great at giving out roles for women, which is why, up until the fall, the category seemed so open. Until Still Alice started screening, and people were thinking “This is it! This is Julianne Moore’s chance” Julianne Moore is considered one of the finest, if not finest actress of her generation. However, it seemed like she was always doomed to be in the Glenn Close zone, as she just wasn’t a big enough star to get that prom queen designation. However, with her being overdue, and the closest competitor, (Reese Witherspoon) already a winner, this could be her chance. And as the frontrunner, the film could get a few other other nominations just to “validate” it.
The Theory of Everything
This film has a lot of the elements that made A Beautiful Mind such a sensation, excep about the even more well-known and even more disabled Stephen Hawking, except for one major problem: Everybody in the movie is so fresh-faced. This isn’t Opie’s magnum opus, this isn’t Russell Crowe’s follow-up to a starmaking turn, this isn’t a chance to thank Jennifer Connelly for riding on a mechanical horse in Career Opportunities. If Eddie Redmayne was past 35, he would be a shoe-in, but as I mentioned before, the Academy has a weird, Utah Fringe Cult outlook on younger male actors, and there are lots of young British biopic movies out this year. And with Redmayne, the centerpiece, having a tough time getting traction, the movie could follow suit.
Another World War II biopic. Now, it won’t necessarily split the vote, especially as the Oscar people can’t get enough of it. Especially because it’s also an uplifting sports biopic! It’s directed by Angelina Jolie, Oscar royalty, and the Academy usually loves it when movie stars try their hand at directing. (See, Braveheart, Dances With Wolves, and even though Affleck wasn’t nominated, Argo) However, Jolie can hardly be bothered to appear in a Best Picture nominee, so one would wonder where she learned to make one. Also some of it’s Awards-friendly aspects feel rather calculated, which sometimes feels like that creepy guy who tries to pick women up by saying he’s a feminist and playing Bon Iver songs.
Last year Matthew McConaughey had what was called a “McConaissance”, a phenomenon where a movie star decided to briefly stop doing bewilderingly crappy movies, and was rewarded over the moon for it. This year, Reese Witherspoon is giving it a shot with her own “Reesurgence”, teaming up with Dallas Buyer’s Club directorJean-Marc vallee. It’s a redemption story both on and off camera. Witherspoon would be a hard frontrunner, except, she already won an Oscar for Walk the Line. It’s not out-of-the-question to win a second award, but she’ll probably have to show she’s consistent, not taking a short break from fallow romantic comedies.
This movie’s a little bit under the radar right now, but it’s getting a lot more passion for it than the multitude of period pieces and biopics. It’s pretty harrowing, but it is making people feel. Also, I’m going to come out and say J.K. Simmons is the frontrunner for Supporting Actor. I think this could surprise a lot of folks.
Predictions (As Of October 18)
Clint Eastwood, American Sniper
David Fincher, Gone Girl
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman
RIchard Linklater, Boyhood
Morten Tydlum, Imitation Game
Benedict Cumberbacth, The Imitation Game
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, Theory of Everything
David Oyelowo, Selma
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Felicity Jones, Theory of Everything
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Shailene Woodley, A Fault in Our Stars
Alec Baldwin, Still Alice
Benecio Del Toro, Inherent Vice
Ed Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Carmen Ojogo, Selma
Keira Knightley, Imitation Game
Imelda Staunton, Pride
Emma Stone, Birdman
Theory of Everything
Grand Budapest Hotel