First thing that jumps out – and consider this a place-setter for all that is to follow because so much of Oscar fussbudgetry springs out of social media – but no film this year encountered a bigger blowback than The Joker. For a thousand different reasons, up to and including predictions of mass murder that follow it’s release, the social media mobs all but demanded Warners burn the film before inflicting it on a fragile world, In These Troubled Times (ITTT).
Actually it wasn’t just social media on this one. The flames burn highest on social of course and without it, the Joker wars wouldn’t have gone far. But traditional media did their part to egg on or amplify (depending on your perspective) the social media outcry.
A release so problematic, Warners was called insane not to cancel it entirely. And the result: the highest-grossing R-Rated release of all time and the most Oscar nominations of any film this year.
As ever, Hollywood listens to ignore social media at its own risk.
• Fear a Netflix on the ropes. Forget about the nominations by company number. That’s wonderful for your corporate boilerplate, but apart from that, who cares or remembers that ten seconds from now? As with the 2019 Dodgers, after all the money and time spent, nothing short of victory is going to count as victory.
I don’t know the final outcome, but after tens or hundreds of millions spent, Netflix is staring into the void of losing in the final stretch once again. It certainly feels like that’s the way it’s going. And you’ve got to wonder, if that happens, with growth finally stalled, whether they are going to be able to come back to this well in this way again.
• As I noted post-Globes, if you run into OUATIH or 1917 on the sidewalk, watch your head for falling pianos. There’s a lot of money riding on this race and the specter of it all slipping away is going to start to make some folks out there very antsy.
And no sooner than this morning, did this little piece of home furnishing come tumbling down on Sony’s head:
Which not only recaps QT’s long relationship with Harvey but throws in for good measure:
Then there’s Brad Pitt. When his former fiancée Gwyneth Paltrow came forward to accuse Weinstein of trying to assault her, Pitt confessed to the Times that he knew of the attack, and had gotten in the predatory producer’s face over it.
I have no idea what instigated this catalog of OUATIH’s Harvey ties past, but this is dangerous ground for Hollywood. If we’re going to start going through all the past ties everyone involved with all the nominees has to Harvey (not a terrible idea, and don’t forget to include the agencies while you’re at it), it’s going to be a very quiet Oscar race before we’re done.
• Then there’s the snubocracy that rules nomination days.
The madness starts with the insane notion of a snub: when Oscar fails to agree with the critics it is a snub. . . Not a snub of the critics, but of the film itself. Because the fact that it has made so many top ten lists and won critics circle awards proves that it is one of the best movies or performances of the year. Scientifically.
If the Oscars fail to honor such consensus certified film, it couldn’t be because they have a different opinion of what was good or just like something else or woke up on the wrong side of the bed that morning. Because it has been scientifically proven to them – by critics! who scientifically know – that this was the best movie or performance of the year out of the hundreds of releases. So if they go in another direction, it can only be because they have chosen to ignore, that is to demean snub, something that they know is the great. That essentially is the logic of “snubs.”
And there’s no possibility here that the critics are working with other agendas apart from artistic accomplishment: axes to grind, political hobbyhorses, pack mentalities, chumminess with the candidates, payoffs or anything like that for instance.
• Oscars works a particular way, Campaign, play the stupid game., spend a fortune, work the precursor groups – whatever the merits of any film, no one, and I mean No. One. wins without the game.
There might be 1000 minority-helmed Citizen Kanes this year but none of them count if they aren’t working the buffet circuit – and the studios aren’t spending for it.
Which is why pundits can predict just about all of it, with the few exceptions of the stand out snubs.
You might Oscar should overlook that…Oscars should be wise and pure and above the chaos. Might as well say Monster Truck rallies should focus on contestants’ penmanship.
• Which is also why the notion that these are the Real Awards and others are the Fake Awards is ridiculous. They are the real sentiments of a group of people who have a lot of time to come get free buffets courtesy of some poor distributor and vote on the basis of how the aspiring nominee reacted when the voter in question tried to force a script into their hand.
And also on the basis of what everyone else at the reception said they are voting for, and what the general drift of things indicated was what they were supposed to vote for. Because why waste your vote on something that's not the thing everyone else is voting for!
• Which brings us to the Elephant of the Day in the Room. Oscars still so white!
It’s that most wonderful time of the year, when social media (and now regular unsocial media) relive the eternal misconception that the Oscars are the problem with Hollywood and changing the Oscars will fix the industry…Which would be like if we ignored Presidential elections and devoted all our attention and energy instead to whom was invited to the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, thinking if there were better speakers at the dinner, the Presidency would be instantly transformed.
There should indeed be more diverse Oscar nominees, and a healthy Hollywood would have more. But the problem isn’t per se that the Oscar electorate is ignoring great nominees that it would otherwise nominate. Oscar is behaving as Oscar behaves, as dumbly and predictably as it does on all films.
The problem is that Hollywood isn’t telling more diverse stories by a more diverse group of people. There were a lot of very good films by women this year, but as has been noted, they were still a tiny percent of the total films released. The number of Oscary (serious dramas) helmed by minorities telling non-white male stories remains, despite strides, a tiny sliver.
And this is not now just an Oscars problem, but an existential industry problem. At a moment when it’s an open question whether people will still be seeng movies in 10 years, Hollywood should be desperately racing to bring in any under-served audiences it can. New customers, imagine that! Instead of dragging our feet, still. In 2020.
When you look at these movies considered snubs - Hustlers, Farewell, Dolamite - all movies I enjoyed myself, but what in recent history is the Oscar comp for any of them? Hustlers is too genrey, Farewell too small. Dolamite feels like a HBO movie. Yes, movies with those issues sometimes slip through, but usually they don’t.
So when you’ve only got a couple minority-centric movies in the Oscar range, it doesn’t take much for them to fall short, if neither of them is a knockout. Likewise for female-helmed movies.
• All that said, it’s time to declare martial law on the directing branch and strip the current membership of its voting rights. In the vast herd of bovine pack mentality that is AMPAS, the directing branch still distinguishes itself in its insularity. There is no group of people more likely to be threatened by anyone new, anyone who doesn’t seem like one of them.
Going further, as a general principle, if you had to decide which group in Hollywood was the greatest set of insecure psychopaths, I think you’d have to go with directors. Executives at least have normal hours, bosses to report to, HR reps to keep their homicidal urges somewhat in check. Until they make it to the very top at least. Producers need to make friends, raise money, turn on the charm.. Actors are nuts but in the end are pawns in other people’s games. Writers are too committed to seeing themselves as downtrodden wretched of the earth to unleash the tyrants within.
And every year, they manage to confirm these worst suspicions at nomination time. Again, it being 2020 and all, it’s time to break them up, shut them down and try again.
• AMPAS tried to transform by doubling its membership but the fact is that, again, the Academy being the symptom not the cause, Hollywood didn’t employ enough experienced people of diverse backgrounds to let them do that. So they went abroad looking to diversify. Not a bad goal in itself, to internationalize the Academy in these times.
But those folks on foreign shores aren’t necessarily going to be able to keep abreast of social media demands and know that Jennifer Lopez’s turn in Hustle has been declared a serious performance by a serious actress and not a star turn in a frothy quasi-thriller (nothing wrong with that).
• When all’s said and done, however, if you put aside the shortcomings, we ended up with a pretty good mix of broadly popular and smaller artistic pieces nominated this year. I don’t think it’s any kind of epic year for film, but it’s an interesting, worthy bunch that made it. There’s nothing on the list that you would say snuck in because of a devious consultant or anything like that.
There’s also movies with real movie stars, whom got nominated for their roles. Lest we forget its still stars smiles that sell so much of this whole enterprise and are why there’s still two percent of the world that leaves their homes and plunks down their hard-earned money for the movies instead of staying in and watching unwrapping videos on YouTube.
• That said, with all these stars, they still can’t find a host? Or have given up trying?
• In the end, and in keeping with the bovine nature of this race, thanks to preferential voting, the winner will be not the movie most people like, but the movie the least people hate.
Which is going to make the coming bombshells particularly interesting to see what sticks.
Problem for the Social Justice in Oscar Nominations forces is that there are too many films they are declared against already. Joker, Hollywood, 1917 have all been declared anathema at various points, and somewhat The Irishman. At least last year, they could focus the ire on Green Book, ineffectively as it turned out. But this year, it’s hard to see anyone of them standing out as beyond the pale.
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