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My first foray into the realm of the Oscar blogger has yielded varied results. I have a sharper set of skills with which to run the metaphorical pool table, but a deeper sense of bemusement in regards to the AMPAS and the awards circuit.
The Oscars are a horse race. Or rather, the Oscars are a series of races on one grandiose and glitzy track. It represents millions of dollars in PR and marketing expenditures alone, a potential revenue increase for the nominated films, and is easily one the of the entertainment industry’s most significant events.
And yet, it remains its own unique niche. In general terms, there are public relations specialists who handle awards, there are marketing strategists who design and unveil awards campaigns. And then, there are Oscar bloggers, those whose business it is to track, judge, evaluate and predict the outcome of the awards season. But there are still people that have, and do, work in various capacities in this industry who do not have a full handle on how or why the season unfolds as it does.
I myself have spent time in various and sundry aspects of entertainment, acquired what was to become an Oscar nominated documentary at a small film festival in my acquisitions capacity for a distribution company, have worked for several years as a film journalist and yet I, too, am still familiarizing myself with the somewhat “Alice in Wonderland” logic of this business of Oscar.
Last night I attended an Oscar party with several film bloggers and industry professionals in attendance and, for the first time in my Oscar-viewing history, soundly crushed the competition in the Oscar pool with a 20/24 score (insert maniacal laughter here). I was later deemed a “ringer” and forced to relinquish my booty to the second place winner, but still, we all know who dominated.
I took a bookie’s approach to my selections and based the odds on what I had been able to track in the precursor season. That likely seems like a “yeah, duh” approach to most of the In Contention readership. But the truth is, one can have a strong understanding of the medium of film, and yet still be relatively naïve about how to place Oscar bets.
For example, I noticed that the lion’s share of my colleagues continued to refer to Jean Dujardin’s “potential” win over Clooney as an upset, when in my mind, it has been a foregone conclusion for at least the last few weeks. It was a perceived upset, I suppose, because Clooney was painted as a lock several months ago, before any of the "data" was really in, and for the most part, people stuck with that hype.
What is clear to me is that predicting an Academy Award win has little or nothing to do with perceived buzz or perceived merit, and it certainly has nothing to do with one’s personal preferences. It has to do with tracking the tide, with a closer eye than most are willing to devote. (But, of course, it's also about talking to Academy members and gauging the winds as closely to the source as possible.)
In general terms, watching the evolution of the awards season alone can make you an effective better. Sadly, you really don’t even need to see the films. Indeed, I fear the smaller festivals have become so focused on becoming accurate “Oscar predictors” that they have, to some degree, lost track of their true purpose. It becomes a cyclical relationship whereby the orginizations that ought to be serving films that the AMPAS inevitably will not, choose instead to be a part of the race, and then, in turn, become a part of said mainstream hunt, just another place for punditry to look to in order to pontificate on this or that horse’s chances.
My takeaway from last night is that the process of getting to know the process has, in a way, left me even more befuddled by the final selections. I feel as though I can track the wins, and yet, unlike a true athletic event, I cannot fully trace the logic behind them.
I’ve not seen “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” since its release, and though I am certain that the editing was strong, I don’t recall walking away with that element top of mind in quite the way I did with “The Social Network.” I’d like to screen the film again before I make a categorical assessment, but as it stands now, I legitimately believe that “Moneyball” represents the more skillfully crafted and challenging film from an editorial standpoint. Similarly, as we have said previously, it was a tremendous feat on the part of screenwriters Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin to take Michael Lewis’s book about statistics and transform it into a compelling, richly textured and deeply human story. Alas.
One field where the precursor season seemed to have it right was Best Actress. I will confess that I am slightly disappointed with Viola Davis’s loss, which is not to take anything away from Meryl Streep's win necessarily, but simply to mourn the Davis loss. She is a journeywoman. I had believed that she would win on merit, but it is also nice to see a real working actor (meaning someone who has dug in to deliver tremendous performances in large and small roles over an extended period of time in theater, television and film) reach the heights that Davis has this year. She was, in my mind, the working actor’s champion.
"Your job is to get material, good or bad, and make something of it," Davis said at the Santa Barbara film festival last month where she accepted the award for Outstanding Performer of the Year. "If we all waited for 'Sophie's Choice,' we'd be waiting a long time. It's about how you take a role that serves a function and humanize it."
As Kris noted in his post-show “Off the Carpet” column, Davis and Streep are friends, so, there is likely no bad blood between them as it were. Nor do I begrudge Streep formal recognition. As an outside observer, and circling back to a sports analogy one more time, I think it must be what it feels like for those outside of New York City when the Yankees win. As objectively speaking as is possible, I believe the Davis loss may become one of Oscar’s most lasting and heartbreaking misses.
Ultimately, though, what makes the Oscars unique is that they are a race, a game that is based in the artistic realm. Though I do believe that there are marketing, PR and frankly high school popularity contest elements at work, we are, at the end of the day, talking about a subjective arena where one person’s aesthetic simply may not match that of another’s, or even that of the viewing audience at large.
So, on to 2012, where I hope my horses will stand a better chance and I can place my final bets with my heart as well as my mind.
For year-round entertainment news and commentary follow @JRothC on Twitter.
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