Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Oscars

(Note: This blog was originally written and posted on my original blog, on another site, on February 23, 2013, PRIOR to the Oscar Awards.)

The Oscar Awards show is the equivalent of the Superbowl in our house. We love the Oscars. Both my wife and I are people of the arts--we were both theatre majors and worked in that medium for many years. We're avid movie-goers, and I'm a film historian and teach Film History at the College of DuPage. We admit it--we enjoy the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood Dream Factory. Frankly, it's fun. We like to see the stars all dolled up and either deliver eloquent and inspiring acceptance speeches or they make fools of themselves. We have our favorite films and like to see them honored--or not--and much of the enjoyment is in the shock and awe when a title or star is or is not nominated, or wins or not. A lot of folks poo-poo the Oscars; they say it's a long, boring self-indulgent show and that Hollywood is just patting itself on the back. Well, one could say the same thing about the Superbowl.

The world puts a lot of stock in the winning of an Oscar, but it's really just the result of the opinion of a little over 6,000 people. That's not very many, compared to the millions of viewers who go to see movies. But that's the membership of the Academy--roughly 6,000. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was founded by Louis B. Mayer in 1926, mostly to combat the rise of unions. He thought by forming the Academy, Hollywood would have its own happy family of producers, directors, actors, writers, and technicians, and they wouldn't need to organize. Well, we know how that turned out. The unions were formed anyway. The Academy was also created to recognize technical advancements in the motion picture industry, and the awards were an afterthought. The first Oscar Awards ceremony was held in early 1929, covering the years 1927-1928. The second ceremony was later in 1929, covering 1928-1929. From then on, it's been held once a year. The Academy is broken out into the various branches--the actors branch, the directors branch, the writers branch, and so on. Each branch selects the nominees for their particular discipline. The actors nominate the actors, the directors nominate the directors. Then, when all the nominations have been announced, the entire Academy votes on all the categories. The only exceptions are the various Short Film categories (animated short, live action short, documentary short), Documentary Feature, and Foreign Language Feature--these are designated to special committees that view the submissions privately, make the nominations, and vote on the winners.

So, the next time you get angry and frustrated that your favorite film didn't win or even get nominated, don't feel bad. It's only the opinion of around 6,000 people. Another thing--you always hear folks say, "Oh, they'll give it to so-and-so because it's a sympathy vote," or "They won't vote on that film because it made too much money," or "They snubbed so-and-so." Well, guess what. They don't get together as a group in one big room and decide these things. The voters are individuals and they vote in the privacy of their homes. The members of the directors branch don't assemble in a big meeting and collectively decide to snub Ben Affleck for the Best Director award. It doesn't work that way. The so-called "snubs" are accidents. Pure and simple. It's simply a tally of the votes. I have a feeling that the reason Affleck, or Kathryn Bigelow, weren't nominated for Best Director (they should have been) was because most of the voters figured, "Oh, they're shoo-ins to be nominated, so I'll tick off some of these other names and give them a chance." Maybe. Who knows.

This year it seems that the Oscars will be all over the map. There is no clear-cut front-runner. I predict that several films will be honored, and no one title will dominate the proceedings.
Lately, the Academy has allowed more than five films to be nominated for Best Picture. For 2009 and 2010, there were ten nominees. For 2011 and 2012, only nine. I'm not sure why there wasn't a tenth nominee this year or last, but there could have been. My favorite film of 2012 was Moonrise Kingdom, a beautifully-written and acted, charming story of young love. I was certain it would get a Best Picture nomination, but it didn't. It had to settle for an Original Screenplay nomination, and I'm afraid it won't win that because it's the only nomination the picture received. I also thought Skyfall might squeeze in to get a Best Picture nomination. Since 2012 was the 50th anniversary of the Bond films, and because Skyfall is the biggest money-maker of them all, and because it is such a crowd-pleaser, that it might get honored. But, no, it had to settle for five lesser-category nominations, although that's the most nominations a Bond film has ever received. Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to the big tribute to the 007 films that the ceremony has promised this year. The rumors were that all six Bond actors would appear on stage together. That ain't gonna happen, so we'll have to settle for hearing Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones sing old theme songs (and if Adele doesn't win Best Song for "Skyfall," there will be a lot of embarrassed people at the show.)

So here are my predictions and preferences, for anyone who cares.

Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables will win. This is perhaps the only sure bet of the whole ceremony. I wasn't a fan of the movie itself, but I admired the performances, and hers especially. When her character died, the movie ended for me.

Supporting Actor: Tough one to call. Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) won the SAG award and will probably take home the prize. I'm rooting for Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook) because I feel his was the more challenging role. De Niro hasn't been nominated since 1991, and his was a terrific, nuanced performance. In fact, all five nominees in this category deserve the award, but this is a battle between the two elder statesmen.

Actress: Another tough one to call. Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) appears to be the favorite, having won the SAG and other awards. I love Jennifer and think she's terrific, but I believe this role was a success mostly due to the snappy dialogue written for her by David O. Russell. It was practically a role that couldn't fail. I also love Jessica Chastain--she's going to be the next Meryl Streep, I think--but her role in Zero Dark Thirty, while good, is not an Oscar performance. I think the two most impressive performances were that of Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) and Naomi Watts (The Impossible), and I would be very happy if one of them gets it.

Actor: This is probably a sure bet, too. Daniel Day-Lewis will win his third Oscar for Lincoln, although I feel the best performance of the year was Joaquin Phoenix's eccentric, out-of-the-box characterization in The Master.

Director: Since Affleck and Bigelow weren't nominated (both of whom deserve the award over any of the five official nominees), the winner will probably be Steven Spielberg for Lincoln. But of the five who were nominated, I feel that Ang Lee deserves it more for the technically-challenging and inventive Life of Pi.

Picture: Since Moonrise Kingdom wasn't nominated, I have to settle on my second favorite film of the year, and it's the one I think will win-- Argo. Even though it's received some late criticism on historical accuracy (what? Hollywood doesn't always tell the truth when it makes a "factual" film???), it's a huge crowd-pleaser...and it gives Hollywood itself a positive role in the story. Ben Affleck will get his consolation prize by taking home the Best Picture award.

As always, there could be some upsets and surprises... and that's where the real fun of the Oscars lies. Many times I've had the inclination to throw my shoe at the television, and I hope I'll have that wonderful emotional reaction come Sunday night.

I can't wait.

Hooray for Hollywood.

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