At the end of a week when we’ve seen the first major awards handed out and the nominations for the gold shiny bald men unleashed upon an expectant world, it’s a good time to reflect on how well the voters of the various awards bodies have done in providing recognition for the films that deserved it. The Golden Globes and the Oscars represent opposite ends of the spectrum: the Globes voted for by 100 obscure journalists in a ceremony that has taken on an importance inversely proportional to its voting body. While you might knock the Oscars – and I have, repeatedly, during my time writing this blog – everyone wants to put some semblance of order into what’s been released and to reward those who’ve achieved in their fields, and given my plethora of year-end lists each year I’d be a touch hypocritical if I were to dismiss completely the opportunity for others to do likewise.
But the Oscars are the culmination of a season that has become as much of a campaign for votes as any political election, maybe more so given that only around 6,000 people are eligible to vote. Words such as journey, importance and momentum will get bandied about repeatedly over the next six weeks, and every single lesser award ceremony will be pored over by showbiz journalists with nothing better to do than to speculate on the outcome. There have already been casualties – step forward Tom Hanks, this year’s Ben Affleck (and that’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d say) – but while for some it’s too late, for the lucky few the real campaign starts in earnest, with a prize of up to $30 million at the US Box Office alone for those getting the “Oscar bump” of extra recognition through a nomination or a win.
I’ve written before about the main failings of the Oscars: they tend to skew away from the films that sit too close to the mainstream, they generally segregate foreign language films and animation to the margins and they have notoriously short term memories. Partly, the last of those points must be down to the need to get that bump while a film is still in cinemas and not released on DVD, which means a release in the last month of the year gives a distinct edge, but some will also quote the benefits of momentum which is crucially lost if your film was released six months ago. These days, the most prominent campaigns start with films released around the festival season in September / October, that ride a wave of acclaim across Toronto, Venice or London and then are unleashed on the general public just in time to start picking up awards nominations.
Is this year any better, then? Three guesses, but you’ll only need one.
Listed on the left are this year’s nine Best Picture nominations. The Academy will select anything between five and ten, as long as they achieved at least 5% of the vote (hence only having nine nominations for the past three years). I’ve then also assembled the top ten lists from film sites Letterboxd and the Internet Movie Database, which anyone can vote for, and Metacritic which aggregates critic reviews. (Letterboxd tends to skew more middle class while the IMDb typically has a more mainstream slant, so I’ve included them both for balance.) Three films – 12 Years A Slave, Her and Gravity – manage to appear on all four lists, so logic would suggest that they should be the front runners, yet many are considering this a two horse race between 12 Years and American Hustle. American Hustle appears to have in its favour the fact that it’s secured acting nominations in all four categories for the second David O. Russell film in a row and that it picked up the Golden Globe for best comedy, as well as a handful of critical awards prior to that. It overlooks the fact that the general public haven’t taken to it at all, so it would seem to be this year’s film reliant heavily on the actors that make up a decent chunk of the 6,000 members.
What the Academy voters have then done follows their usual pattern: firstly, no populist films, so no Hobbit or Hunger Games which the general public loved. They’ve also not picked any animations, although that may be fairer this year as while Frozen and The Wind Rises sat just outside the other three lists, none gained enough of a consensus to feel hard done by. Those films released earlier in the year, such as Before Midnight, get just a handful of nominations in smaller categories. But the biggest injustice remains that of the exclusion of foreign films, with The Hunt hit by the double whammy of actually being released in 2012.
Yes, the Oscars continue to be The World Championships Of American And British Film And Occasionally Something Australian Or Foreign If You’re Lucky. But don’t take my work for it on just being this year: here’s the same breakdown for the previous four years, since the Best Picture Oscar expanded from five to ten films, and once again with the comparable lists from Letterboxd, IMDb and Metacritic. I’ve highlighted any films not primarily in English, and it’s just the Academy voters that can’t find a way to embrace films not in English.
Only once in five years has a film not in English cracked the Best Picture nominations. While the Academy award nominations are in alphabetical order the other lists are in vote order, so the top pick of both the general public and critics in 2011 (A Separation) failed to crack the Oscar nominations. (About Elly also got neglected, and his latest effort The Past didn’t even make the Foreign Language category this year.) In fact, only nine foreign films have ever managed a nomination for the big prize: Grand Illusion (1938), Z (1969), The Emigrants (1972), Cries And Whispers (1973), Il Postino (1995), Life Is Beautiful (1998), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Letters From Iwo Jima (2006) and Amour (2012). That’s a rate of less than 2% of the nominations over the lifetime of the Oscars, and when you consider that the top film lists on the other sites all have a rate in double figures, it’s Oscars ought to be taking a long, hard look at themselves.
If you’re a film in a non-English language, the odds are stacked against you from the start of even winning the Best Foreign Language award. The qualifying window runs from October to September – the reason we’ve got The Hunt in the Best Foreign Language category this year, and not Blue Is The Warmest Color), and having a three month longer lead time will put a dent in the hopes of the best films, even before you consider the marketing budget needed to compete on a level playing field. If you’re being considered for the award, then first you’ll need to secure your country’s nomination – as each country is only allowed to put forward one film per year – and then you’ll need to make the initial shortlist of nine. From there, a thirty member committee whittles the list down to five by watching the nominees, and then you can vote for the final winner if you’re an Academy member and are willing to see all five of the nominations in a cinema. Good luck to anyone trying to navigate through that process, you’re going to need it.
The only way I can see to end this farce would be to scrap the Foreign Language Oscar completely, and to do away with the October to September window. If foreign language films were allowed to compete on a level playing field, and if they could secure enough backing to get a campaign off the ground, then maybe we’d see more rounded lists. In a parallel universe somewhere, the Academy did this five years ago when they expanded from five films, and the Best Picture nominee lists have looked like this for the past five years (based on the best performers across the current Oscar nominations and the Letterboxd, IMDb and Metacritic lists). I’ll leave it to you to work out whether or not you prefer these lists to the actual nominations; the films in green are in both the actual Oscar list and these, and the mauve are once again the foreign language films. Let me know what you think; for now we can only dream of a world as well rounded as this one.
Well, just a quick note to wish anyone staying up to watch the Oscars tonight good luck; I have a horrible feeling you’re going to need it, as I said last night. But let’s not forget that the Academy Awards are just that: a bunch of awards picked by people who make the films, or who at least used to, and consequently who should know better. But if the general public had their say, and by that I mean those committed enough to log their votes on The Internet Movie Database, then this is how the top nine films of the year would look:
Those sitting up tonight will be cheering Drive to the big prize. Forget Picture, Director (Nicolas Winding Refn), Actor (Ryan Gosling), Actress (Carey Mulligan) or Supporting Actor (Albert Brooks) – Drive could walk away with Best Achievement in Sound Editing (Lon Bender / Victor Ray Ennis). Surely some consolation?
Four nominations for this one: as well as Best Piccy, Viola Davis, Octavia Spenser and Jessica Chastain are all up for acting statues and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if at least one, if not two, of them, picked up those statues before the night’s out.
Eleven nominations, but chances are that Scorcese has the best outside shot of a win, being the most likely person to upset Michael
Hava Havinac that French bloke. Sadly I’ve still not seen it, thanks to sold out showings in December.
Five nods for the American remake of the Swedish film that still felt the need to put on Swedish accents. Rooney Mara is the biggest name to get a shout, but both Fincher and the film itself missed out on the big prize. It’s not as good as the original – there, I’ve said it.
No Lord Of The Rings-style love-in for the end of Potter, which rattled off with eleven awards. Sadly Potter will have to be content with making Warner Brothers and J.K. Rowling filthy stinking rich.
Hitting UK screens in March, this Turkish effort was one of over five dozen films submitted on the one per country basis for Best Foreign Language Oscar. Sadly the committee didn’t even put it on their nine film longlist – I look forward to see what Oscar overlooked.
Nolte got a nod, but will likely lose out to Christopher Plummer in the career sympathy award. Sadly Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton and the film, a totally unexpected crowd-pleaser with dramatic weight, didn’t charm the Academy.
Lots of awards, cute dog, French winner, black and white, blah, blah, blah. Next!
(Yes, it’s extremely good and the most deserving nominated film. But…)
If the American Academy could overcome its foreign bias (only eight foreign language films have ever been nominated for Best Picture, and the last of those was directed by Clint Eastwood), then A Separation should be celebrating success. Hopefully it can pick up some glory in the condescending foreign appeasement category.
There you have it – all that’s left is to wish everyone concerned the best of American luck. I’m off to bed, to sleep, perchance to dream of Drive or Shame winning Best Picture…
In a little over 24 hours, the eyes of the world will be on the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles for the handing out of this year’s two dozen tiny shiny bald gold men. Once upon a time, I would take the day off work the Monday after the Oscars so that I could be up all night, often in those days being glued to a tiny stream off the internet with a picture four inches wide, which was all my primitive internet connection could deal with, and watching with expectation and fascination while the awards were handed out. Then about four years ago I actually began watching enough films to have seen the majority of nominees, and quickly came to realise that a group of donkeys with pins tied to their hooves could do a better job of picking the best films and performances of the year than the Academy.
This article clearly breaks down the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences (AMPAS) membership: the overall vote for Best Picture is voted for by the whole Academy, which if you’ve not clicked on the link is made up of a membership that’s 94% white, 77% male and 54% over 60 (and a crippling 98% over 40). I’m white, male and much too close to being over 40 for my liking, but my typical movie choices couldn’t be further from the conservative choices typically favoured by Academy voters. Consequently, looking back at the twenty years since I left school and went to university and started to get bitten by the film bug, I’ve been disappointed more often than not by the Academy’s picks. Take Best Picture for example.
Three columns. The first is the film which won Best Picture that year; the second column is, of the five or ten nominated films, the one I’d call my favourite, and the last column is my actual favourite film of that year, regardless of whether it’s in the nominated films or not. As you can see, there are only eight years of the last 20 when my favourite film has even made the nomination list, and only five when the film I enjoyed most of the nominees picked up the top award. Only in one year, 2007, did my top film of the year actually pick up the top prize of the year. One year in twenty, and that year There Will Be Blood lost out, so as many people will have disagreed with me as will have agreed.
Now, I’m not saying that I should be replacing Oscar as the definitive authority on what’s good and who’s worthy, although I probably couldn’t do any worse. No, the issue here is that there are three possible sources of enjoyment from watching the Oscar ceremony itself: to enjoy the ceremony itself, to marvel in the frippery of red carpets, fashion choices and Ryan Seacrests and to see what’s won. The last of these is undoubtedly the main purpose, the awards themselves being the Christmas cake to the icing of the ceremony and the strange marzipan that no-one ever eats on anything other than a Christmas cake that’s the red carpet. So if you’re not feeling the love for what actually wins the awards, is there any point in watching the Oscars, or at the very least sitting up all night to watch them?
Consequently Oscar night is more than likely to be a crushing disappointment for me, and this year is no exception. No Drive, Shame, Tinker Tailor or Take Shelter in Best Picture, no Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling or Tom Hardy in Best Actor or Olivia Coleman, Tilda Swinton or Kirsten Dunst in Best Actress, and the four big acting awards – which should go to the big names of George Clooney and Meryl Streep, and the talents of Jessica Chastain and Nick Nolte if justice is to be done – could well end up in the hands of Jean Dujardin and Viola Davis, Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer. Don’t get me wrong, I loved all four of those latter performances – even if the film I saw two of them in occasionally made me want to throw things at the screen – but for me they’re not the right choices, and the odds of all four prizes going to the names I’d like are about as high as Jack Nicholson turning feral and chasing the rest of the front row out of the auditorium. When all the awards ceremony itself can offer up is rehashing Billy Crystal and excluding the performances of Best Original Song (“I’m a maaaan, I’m a MUPPEEEEEETTTTT!”), I’ll be heading for my bed at a normal time and picking out the bones from the latest fine mess in the morning. If you are staying up, best of luck, but I just hope you’re not in it for the winners; trust me, you’re going to be disappointed somewhere.
Oscar nominations were announced today. Most of the film industry has gone absolutely mad over them. I’m left wondering if the people who voted have actually seen half of these films. So here’s a little exercise. Listed below are the nine films nominated for Best Picture this year. I’ve seen the first five, and have ranked them in order, the other four are somewhat random.
- The Artist
- Midnight In Paris
- The Help
- The Tree Of Life
- The Descendents
- War Horse
- Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close
Now here’s a list of eighteen films which weren’t nominated for Best Picture. Your task is to count how many films on the bottom list should have been on the top list, and consequently vice versa. If you can’t find at least four films to swap over, you’re doing it wrong.
- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
- Take Shelter
- Super 8
- We Need To Talk About Kevin
- A Separation
- Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes
- The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
- The Ides Of March
Excellent. If you’re not weeping into your cocoa at the sheer injustice of it all by now, then you have my pity.
Brett Ratner has today been announced as the co-producer for the 2012 Oscars telecast. The man that brought us Rush Hour, X-Men: The Last Stand and Red Dragon will be bringing comedy (apparently) to the shiny gold man fest in Hollywood next February. In other Oscar news, Oprah Winfrey is getting one, seemingly for being a nice person. Anyone else want to book a holiday for late February?
There are two events that booked February in the worldwide calendar, and there is a striking similarity between both. At the beginning of February each year, over 150 million viewers tune in to watch one of the most viewed events in the sporting calendar, the Super Bowl, in which two teams fight for the title of world champion. Except all of the teams involved come from America, of course, so it’s not much of a “world” championship. But it would be hard to argue that there’s a team better at the sport anywhere else in the world, although it would also be hard to argue that there’s much interest elsewhere in the world, when that audience is composed over 100 million people in America watching, and barely half that across the rest of the planet.
At the end of February, there’s an event that’s a different story. Typically getting a US audience in only the 30-40 million range (still enough to beat top rated shows like American Idol), but getting a worldwide audience higher than the shoulder-pad wearing ball-throwers, the Academy Awards have a much bigger reach, with audiences genuinely around the world tuning in. But sadly, there’s not much more chance of something non-American winning than there is at the Super Bowl.
Yesterday the countdown began to the biggest night in movie self-aggrandisement of the year, the 83rd Academy Awards. The cycle of the modern era is thus: everyone from top print critics to plebs such as myself produces end of year lists, then spends the next couple of months being repeatedly and increasingly disappointed when their favourites are overlooked. I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with the Oscars for just that reason, but old age and boredom have led me to realise that while I may not enjoy them as much as I once did, I still have an opinion on them. In that respect they’re like the weather or The X Factor – you may not really enjoy them, but it’s good to have an opinion on them.
So between now and the big night in a little over a month, I will, whenever I get bored of talking about other things, give my view on some of the big issues surrounding the Oscars. The biggest talking point after the nominations is
couldn’t they have found anyone more interesting than Mo’Nique and that old guy to announce them why your own personal favourite didn’t make the cut, of course. As much as I was pleasantly surprised that Dogtooth made it into Best Foreign Language or that The Illusionist made the final cut for Best Animated, my disappointment at such exclusions as Christopher Nolan for Best Director, Andrew Garfield for Best Supporting Actor, Tron: Legacy for Best Soundtrack and especially Lesley Manville for anything at all just increases my frustration with the whole process.