Wednesday, January 22, 2014

SAG and PGA split among 3 Films, Tight Oscar Race with 3 Films-Do the other 7 Matter?

Mark Harris from Entertainment Weekly wrote an interesting and thought provoking piece for this past week entitled "The Nolan Effect: Why the Larger Best Picture Pool is Shrinking the Number of Oscar Contenders."  The summation of the article to some extent is that the Academy wants to pick a bigger, flashier set of nominations that "matter" or "feel important."  To some extent this makes sense, but Harris has many interesting points.
Let's start with the expansion of the the Best Picture race, and the "why."  In 2008 The Dark Knight changed the game, a comic book based film was taken seriously.  The Dark Knight was nominated at PGA, DGA, WGA, and had a sizeable number of nominations at BAFTA, but no Picture or Director there, that should have been telling looking back, but the Guilds embraced this film. On Oscar nomination morning The Dark Knight received 8 nominations including one for Heath Ledger in the Supporting Actor category, but nothing in Screenplay, Directing, and no Picture nomination.   There is no way of telling exactly which film took the fifth spot, but many argue it was The Reader, which was nominated in all 3 categories.  I think if you asked many insiders they would say of course The Reader was nominated it had two posthumous nominees as producers, who were also past Oscar winners, Anthony Minghella (The English Patient), and Sydney Pollock (Out of Africa).

Magically the year after, the academy changed the rule, and there were 10 nominees, some like Mark Harris, refer to this as "The Nolan Effect."  While the statistics do not lie in the Harris piece the truth of the matter is the expanded nomination pool has led to films being nominated which may not have been nominated in years past with five nominees.

I always like to play "what would the five have been" so let's go year by year"

What would they be: 2009
The Hurt Locker
Ingorious Basterds
Up in the Air

This would have left out nominees, A Serious Man, An Education, District 9, Up, and The Blind Side (this one could have been left out).  A Serious Man is one of those small films the Oscars helped, along with An Education.  This goes along with "I should check this out theory."  Even with a Best Picture nomination Man only grossed 9 million, and Education 12.  Now these films were never meant to huge, or light the box office on fire, but these numbers are small.

Here's the rub, The Dark Knight snub helps genre films, for the most part, District 9, and Up would not have gotten nominations in Picture in an expanded field, Up would have been regulated to the animated category, and 9 would have gotten the action award nominations of sound, and visual effects.  9 was actually taken even more seriously and got screenplay and film editing nominations, impressive.

What would they be: 2010
Black Swan
The Fighter
The King's Speech
The Social Network
True Grit

You can argue with me on this one, but the Academy loved the re imagining of the classic True Grit.  The Coens were nominated for Director, and the film had 10 nominations, while Inception had 8 and its only major nomination besides Picture was screenplay, which it lost.  The Nolan Effect benefited Nolan in this case, he was once again snubbed for Best Director and his film would not have the top five this year.  The other missing nominees would have The Kids are Alright, a small film about a lesbian couple, Winter's Bone, the film that launched Jennifer Lawrence into the stratosphere, Toy Story 3 an animated feature, and 127 Hours another smaller film.

What would they be in 2011:
The Artist
The Descendants
Midnight in Paris

This is the hardest year to pick a top five, but those are my best guess.  This is where the nomination process changed and now the nominees could be anywhere from 5 to 10 on a preferential ballot.  There were 9 this year, the four that would have "missed the cut" would be The Tree of Life, The Help, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and War Horse.  This is a year where the Mark Harris argument starts to take shape.  Beyond The Tree of Life garnering some attention the rest of these nominees were middle of the rad contenders.

What would they have been in 2012:
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty is a guess, but they look about right.  I will say that the other four nominees were exceptional and speak to the recognition of great film that might not have otherwise with Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, and well maybe maybe not Les Miserables.  Yet this is where there is a partially a point to the argument, what is the point of the nine nominees, is it to not piss off a fan base?  Why not just nominate the five best films.

I personally think there should be 10 film nominees every year, and 6 acting nominees in every category like at the Critics Choice awards, plain and simple, none of this well if this then that type stuff.  Harris argues that these expanded films have no impact; he's right with regard to especially if you look at Best Picture this year. The three main contenders are American Hustle, Gravity and 12 Years a Slave.  Dallas Buyers Club may win two awards, and Blue Jasmine will win one, but these three have a strangle hold on almost every award, so why even have the other seven nominees does it serve a point?  Yes and no.

Tangentially, from my own perspective the 10 nominees makes sense, but do these 10 this year?  What happened to a screenplay nomination for something like Enough Said, or Short Term 12?  Was Inside Llewyn Davis really only worth a sound and cinematography nomination?  Daniel Bruhl was around for the Globes, and SAG, but knocked out Jonah Hill or Bradley Cooper because they were in Best Picture contenders?  There some films that made the cut with few nominations like The Invisible Woman, and The Book Thief, but in Costume Design with a well known costumer, and John Williams behind your score that makes sense.

At the end I do not blame the "Nolan Effect" I blame the studio system, and machine behind campaigning today.  When the Academy lifted the ban on parties specifically for films this nominations process took a turn, and made these 10 or fewer films targets because they control the most nominations, the strangle hold on wins has never changed, but the campaigning helps there too.

As the Oscars draw closer the Best Picture race is between the three films listed above with each of them winning a major award, rendering the other seven nominees left in the dust in this category. This is the most competitive race in years, but it would nice to hear people talk more about Prisoners, Short Term 12, Fruitvale Station, Upstream Color, and on and on.  Mark Harris has a point, but I am not sure I blame Nolan, whose films still mainly only receive technical nominations.  Harris states with a smaller nomination tally list the Academy "fails to respect and to represent the year in movies." While I do disagree this is a great list of nine films, the challenge needs to issued to rest of the Academy to not go with the flow.  Last year was a great example with the Director category.  My challenge is not to avoid the structure of 10, but to avoid the rubber stamp, and then you will get a great representation of everything.  This was one of the best year's of film, there should be a more diverse set of nominees.

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