Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Award Shows: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

oscar digital vote Oscar Votes to Be Done ElectronicallyAt the moment we are the middle of the busiest season for award shows.  This week the nominations for three major film awards are announced: the Broadcast Film Critics, Screen Actor's Guild (SAG), and the Golden Globes.  Starting January 15th the Globes will kick this off.  Mixed in the month of January and the winter months is the People's Choice Awards, and the Grammy Awards.  Most of the time people who do not follow award shows ask the question, "How do they pick the nominees?"  Each Academy or group has their own process, and some award shows are better than others.

I have always been a competitive person, and I usually jockey for my favorite films, performers, TV shows to be nominated, or win.  I would prefer win, but I can't always get what I want.  Many critics and award show experts state within their respective area of experience that there are some years when these Academies or group get it right, and other when they get it wrong.  I think award shows are incredibly interesting for several reasons 1) they highlight some of the best work in music, film, television etc (most of the time) and I love the arts 2) competition is fun! In the end the reward for the people involved should be intrinsic, and when actors or musicians feels as though they do their best they are motivated to do more and continue their "best" work or advance themselves further.  The reality is that award shows exist and here is what some of them do well and not so well.

This past year at 2011 Emmy Awards I was both pleasantly surprised with the Emmy nominees and the winners.  The role of an award show should be too honor the best, not the shows with the highest ratings like NCIS, but quality programming.  There were a few people who should have made the cut, but overall this was a solid list.  The Emmy's have continued to uphold this strength within the last few years.  How do they do it? According to the Emmy website "The members are divided into peer groups, determined by specific areas of expertise within the industry. For example, performers are in one peer group, makeup artists and hair stylists are in another, and camera and videotape operators are in another."  Once these groups narrow down the nominees the people in the major categories submit tapes and people watch and vote for the winners.  Seems simple, people watch the material and vote on it, thus providing everyone insight into both television shows and performances.  Sounds simple, right?  Well sometimes thing do not work out that way.

The Emmy Awards have continued to peak in terms of honoring quality material.  Television actors and shows are honored at both the SAG Awards and Golden Globes, but the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (ATAS) has never relied on these nominations to determine who should become a nominee.  People like Margo Martindale from Justified and Archie Panjabi from The Good Wife never received  SAG or Globe nominations but went on to win their respective category for quality work.  The Emmy Awards are also held in September while SAG and the Globes are now both typically in January.

The Academy Awards have a similar process to the Emmy awards to determine their nominees.  According to the Academy website In late December ballots and copies of the Reminder List of Eligible Releases are mailed to around 6000 active members. For most categories, members from each of the branches vote to determine the nominees only in their respective categories (i.e. only directors vote for directors, writers for writers, actors for actors, etc.); there are some exceptions though in the case of certain categories, like Foreign Film, Documentary and Animated Feature Film in which movies are selected by special screening committees made up of members from all branches. In the special case of Best Picture, all voting members are eligible to select the nominees for that category. Foreign films must include English subtitles, and each country can only submit one film per year." The Academy Awards have done a good job honoring the "best" films" and "best" work for a film, but unlike the Emmy's that have improved  throughout the last couple of years the Academy Awards have had good and bad cycles.

One thing I have notices that hangs in the balance every year within the film industry is that each precursor tends to have an effect on the Academy Awards.  Adam Waldowski at stated " The only film to win Best Picture at the Oscars without at least contending for Best Ensemble at SAG was "Braveheart" in 1995 (the first year for this guild award). Of the 16 SAG champs, eight went on to win the Oscar, including "The King's Speech" last year. Among this year's leading contenders, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," "Hugo" and "War Horse" were shut out by SAG.  This statistic may mean the Best Picture winner is almost predetermined now.   Adam stated "SAG also does a good job predicting acting nominees as well.  Last year 17 out of 20 SAG contenders lined up with the Oscars -- only Robert Duvall ("Get Low"),Hilary Swank ("Conviction") and Mila Kunis ("Black Swan") missed out on Oscar bids -- while in 2009 all of the SAG nominees but Diana Kruger ("Inglorious Basterds") vied for Oscars."  The critics award set the stage for some films to gain traction, while the Globes, and the guild awards seem to help guide and rubber stamp some nominees.  

The problematic part of this is that it appears as though voters are less likely to determine their own nominees, and they will likely vote with a trend.  I see this happening with Jessica Chatain.  Chastain is great in all of her films, but I think she is going to be nominated for her weakest performance in The Help.  I think she deserves a nomination for Take Shelter.  This process of so many awards before the actual Oscars appears to have made voters lazy.   This has also made them more rebellious, and not in a good way.

An example of being more rebellious was last year's Best Picture winner The King's Speech.  While Speech is not a bad film, it was not the best film of 2010.  The Social Network was honored by many critics groups, some guilds, and the Globes as the best film of the year.  The older voting Academy members seemed tired of rubber stamping the critics winner and played it safe last year.  2010 was also the year of Inception, The Black Swan, and many other daring films that made a statement.  The King's Speech's win seemed to say we have the power to honor what we want (this is both a good and a bad thing).  I respect the Academy to a point because they have gone against the grain in good ways, like within the writing, acting, and technical categories.  I also think honoring films like No Country for Old Men shows progression.  I think this year will an interesting year which will define this award show for a few years to come.  At least the Oscars are not hitting bottom like the Grammy Awards.

The Grammy Awards feel lost.  This year's Album of Year nominations help to prove there is something missing. The nominees are Adele for "21",much deserved, and the rest are Rihanna's "Loud," Bruno Mars' "Doo Woops and Hooligans," Lady Gaga's "Born this Way" and The Foo Fighter "Wasting Light."  This category is supposed to represent the Best Albums not the biggest album sales.  Adele, Rihanna, Bruno Mars, and Lady Gaga albums were among the top ten highest grossing albums.  This could be a coincidence, it could be the recording Academy trying to stay with the times and compete with the Video Music Awards, or even catering to mainly younger viewers. 

According to the Grammy website nominations are determined through through this process: "record companies and individuals may submit recordings to be nominated. Nominations are made online and a physical copy of the work is sent to the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Once a work is entered, reviewing sessions are held, by more than 150 experts from the recording industry, to determine whether the work is eligible and entered in the correct category for official nomination.The resulting list is circulated to all NARAS members, each of whom may vote to nominate in the general field (Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist) and in no more than nine out of 30 other fields on their ballots. The five recordings that earn the most votes in each category become the nominees. There may be more than five nominees if there is a tie in the nomination process.Whereas members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are generally invited to screenings or are sent DVDs of movies nominated for Oscars, NARAS members do not receive nominated recordings."

Since people are not sent recordings it seems as though this system is the most flawed, and makes sense that most of the highest selling albums are nominated instead of lesser known artists or albums.  My main problem with this year's nominees is that not only are they not the five best albums, but they only reflect two genres of music rock and pop (and maybe some dance).  The Grammy's usually do a job of honoring the best of different genres, but this throughout the 2000s this award show has become a glorified concert with awards tacked on.  Of the major three major award shows this one is in the worst condition, and needs more than just quick fixes, like combining the male and female vocal categories in each genre.

Nothing can be perfect, there are flaws in every system.  Some worse than others.  Look at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and their nominating The Tourist for three awards, that's bad!  The problem is award shows become political either people win for wrong reasons, or they spend large amounts of money to achieve that win (that's another subject all on it's own).  As the beginning of the award season begins all I can hope for is some fun and excitement.

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