Awards Season Thoughts

The Oscar Horse Race

Oscar Horse Race

With the most interesting and unpredictable awards season in years drawing to a close, it seems like a good time to reflect and speculate on what might win on Sunday at the 85th Academy Awards.

How are Oscars won and why exactly do some films become frontrunners early on only to triumph (or not) on the big night?

The simple answer is that the 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences are balloted and then vote for what they think is ‘the best achievement’ in a particular category.

By this point, contenders will have emerged and then nominees are announced.

It all culminates in a globally televised ceremony in which the winners are announced and the famous gold statuettes are handed out and the arguments begin over who deserved what.

But how are they really won?

The months leading up to the ceremony are often more interesting than who wins and also provide a useful snapshot of a particular year – the book ‘Scenes from a Revolution’ by Mark Harris examining the 1967 Oscar race is fascinating and one of the best film books in recent years.

A lot of words get written about famous snubs, such as when Ordinary People beat Raging Bull for Best Picture in 1980, why the Academy took so long to honour Martin Scorsese and the lack of Best Director trophies awarded to cinematic giants like Welles, Kubrick and Hitchcock.

But there can be interesting years like 1974 (when The Godfather II was up against Chinatown and The Conversation) and 2007 (when No Country For Old Men was competing with There Will Be Blood and Michael Clayton) when an unfortunate surfeit of quality leads to classics losing out.

Amidst all the glamour and hoopla, it isn’t just the perceived quality of the films that determines winners.

Perhaps the biggest change since around the early 90s has been the aggressive behind-the-scenes campaigning, which is filled with the kind of stuff you’d expect to see on-screen: suspicion, intrigue, heroes and villains.

Of course the latter depends on who is campaigning for you and whether or not you win.

Generally speaking, the ‘awards season’ really heats up with the Telluride, Toronto and Venice film festivals at the end of August and beginning of September, although other major festivals can be important – Beasts broke out at Sundance 2012 and  Amour won the the Palme d’Or at Cannes in May.

Plenty of factors have distinguished winners since the late 1920s: box office, how an actor or director was (or is) perceived by the Hollywood community, PRs, awards consultants, and (lest we forget!) excellence in a particular category.

It doesn’t always work out, and there have been some infamous snubs, but generally when the nominations come around each year there is a lot to chew on in terms of quality, unless it is a really bad year.

How is the buzz then channelled into Oscar victory?

It often starts when a movie is green lit by a studio or financier as they assemble the package, although at this stage and during production, it would be foolish to assume anything.

Other features of a potential Oscar winner might include: a period setting, heavyweight acting talent, a name director trying to make a serious or issue film, often featuring a major character with some kind of disability.

As the films go through the cogs of the awards cycle, the various critics groups and guild awards give their verdicts, and this is where the punditry and guessing games kick in.

Traditionally, this was a more restrained affair, with the studios taking out ‘For Your Consideration’ ads in the two major trade journals: Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

But as both publications have lost their influence in the rapidly advancing online world, the vacuum has subsequently been lost to websites such as Deadline, Awards Daily, Hollywood Elsewhere, IndieWIRE, The Wrap, Gold Derby, Movie City News and In Contention which offer more in-depth and often better coverage via social media, podcasts and long-form video interviews.

Some of these sites measure the Oscar odds through statistics, getting out in the real world and talking anonymously to voters, and just generally gauging what they think is the pulse of the Academy mind.

There are also a raft of people with years of experience at schmoozing voters such as Harvey Weinstein (arguably the king of Oscar campaigning, first at Miramax and now at The Weinstein Company) and Cynthia Swartz (the awards strategist behind The Hurt Locker and The Social Network).

What makes this year’s race interesting is the spread of nominees in the major categories and the way in which the introduction of online voting may have affected the process – even though BAFTA have been doing it since 2003 – and members still had the option to mail them instead.

Voting opened on December 17th and the fifteen branches that make up the Academy (actors, directors, costume designers etc.) are then asked to vote for members of their particular branch, from which the final nominees are then selected.

Argo is currently the favourite for Best Picture, but Lincoln and Life of Pi are very strong contenders, and there could be a three-way split amongst the vote, mainly due to Ben Affleck’s weird absence from Best Director, which has only happened a handful of times in Oscar history.

Affleck’s omission is not the only anomaly.

It is very rare for the director of a foreign language film to get nominated, let alone his leading actress, but Michael Haneke and Emmanuelle Riva have managed to achieve recognition for their outstanding work in Amour.

The presence of 85-year old Riva and 9-year old Quvenzhané Wallis (for Beasts of the Southern Wild) in the Best Actress race is mind-blowing and testament to both their work and the unusual nature of this year, which could be the result of the change in the balloting date or just chance.

Ah, yes. Chance.

That factor we like to forget because we can’t quantify the unknown and it can make us look ignorant of things we might have missed, underlying trends and the basic fact that each year is a different collection of films voted on by 6,000 human beings with their own unique tastes and quirks.

Given the new online voting system introduced this year and the insanely eclectic list of nominees, this year’s lineup is harder to call than ever.

With that in mind here’s my take on the three frontrunners and the rest of the pack:

  • Lincoln: Daniel Day Lewis gives a remarkable performance as the iconic US president and the film marks a big return to form for Steven Spielberg, with a lucid script by Tony Kushner. For whatever reasons, The Academy has had mixed feelings about Spielberg down the years, but this is his best work since Minority Report (2002) and Munich (2005).
  • Life of Pi: Yann Martel’s novel about an Indian teenager stranded in the Ocean with a tiger was considered unfilmable until visual effects reached a certain level. That day has now come and the resulting adaptation an extraordinary technical achievement for Ang Lee and his crew. Featuring no big stars, it has been a big hit at the global box office. A definite dark horse.
  • Argo: An extremely well-constructed thriller about an unlikely true life tale, Ben Affleck’s third film as director was set against a tricky subject (the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis). Produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov, Affleck also stars and despite some uneasy comedy in places, the pacing, tension and Affleck’s awards campaigning make it a well liked film.

And for the rest:

  • Amour: Michael Haneke’s outstanding drama about an elderly Parisien couple is a surprising but welcome addition to the Best Picture category. It is rare for a foreign language film to get recognition in a major category but since winning the Palme d’Or in May, has ridden a wave of richly deserved acclaim. Look out for Emmanuelle Riva to cause an upset in Best Actress on her 86th birthday even though Jennifer Lawrence is favourite for Silver Linings Playbook.
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild: Another remarkable achievement with young director Benh Zeitlin becoming the toast of Sundance with his debut film. It won’t win anything but its four nominations (including director, actress, screenplay and adapted screenplay) are a stunning achievement for both the film and Fox Searchlight, who acquired it back in January 2012.
  • Django Unchained: Tarantino’s ‘slavery spaghetti western’ may get a screenplay nod and Christoph Waltz is definitely a possibility in Best Supporting Actor, but a combination of the violence (extreme even by the director’s standards) and unnecessary last 25 minutes is likely to have put voters off.
  • Les Misérables: Working Title teamed up with Cameron Mackintosh to finally bring his blockbuster musical to cinemas with mixed results. Director Tom Hooper assembled an impressive cast (Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway) but musicals are a divisive genre (generally speaking, I can’t stand them) and early on this lost momentum. However, Hathaway is red hot favourite for Best Supporting Actress.
  • Silver Linings Playbook: A romantic comedy about bipolar disorder might seem an unlikely contender but David O’Russell’s film shouldn’t be counted out. Not only does it contain two contemporary stars (Cooper and Lawrence) and a former legend (De Niro), but it features in all the major categories and has had the formidable machinery of The Weinstein Company behind it.
  • Zero Dark Thirty: Just three years after winning Best Picture, screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow teamed up for their second ‘war on terror’ movie. Arguably superior to The Hurt Locker, this focused on the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, but it’s awards season chances were damaged by the ‘torture controversy’ that blew up before its wide release. It could get a screenwriting award for Boal as a counter blast to all its critics.

There is a strange duality to the Oscars that mirrors Hollywood’s wider mix of commerce and art: red carpet glamour is mixed with backstage whispers; careers can be boosted (or even strangely derailed) by wins, people are snubbed for years and sometimes the planets align for no particular reason.

Some years a large portion of the global TV audience is wondering why they haven’t even heard of the nominees, let alone seen the films.

Whilst all the media attention will be on who does win, remember not to take any awards ceremony too seriously.

The Academy Awards can be a useful snapshot of a particular year, but the ultimate judge of any film’s importance is time.

> Official site
> More on the 85th Academy Awards at Wikipedia

Awards Season

84th Academy Awards Categories

This is the first in a series of posts looking at every category in the upcoming 84th Academy Awards.

Final polls close on Tuesday 21st, so now seems like a good time to examine this year’s crop of films before the prizes are awarded on Sunday 26th.

Not being a member of the Academy, it can be hard to see all the foreign films or shorts, but when that is the case I’ll do my best to post relevant links.

Over the next few days, I’ll be looking at the following and updating each link when it goes live.

UPDATED 26/02/12 13:16. The links below to all the relevant posts are now live.

> Official Oscars site & Facebook page
> Wikipedia entry for the 84th Academy Awards
> Awards Daily and In Contention at Hitfix

Awards Season News

Oscar Nominations Live Stream

The 84th Academy Awards Nominations Announcement is being streamed on YouTube.

You can also watch it on BBC News and the official ABC Oscar site.

Because of the recent voting changes no-one is sure how many Best Picture nominees there will be this year.

For the last two years the Academy have increased the number of films nominated for Best Picture to 10.

The new rules mean this year there could potentially be anything from 5 to 10 Best Picture nominees.

> Official Oscars site
> The 84th Academy Awards at Wikipedia
> Analysis at Awards Daily and Hitfix

Awards Season Interesting

Oscar Twitter Chart

Twitter reaction to the 83rd Oscars didn’t prove as popular as The Grammys or the Superbowl but there were some surprising trends.

The online social network was gauged last night by the firms Mass Relevance and TweetReach, and Techcrunch posted a data map of what was being said on the popular micro-blogging service.

Unsurprisingly, the most mentioned accounts were @TheAcademy, @JamesFranco (who was busy posting backstage all night long) but people who won such as @Trent_Reznor and @LeeUnkrich also rated highly.

Surprisingly, amongst the most re-tweeted accounts were @TheOnion and @KeithObermann, which suggests online satirical news sites and former MSNBC presenters wield a lot of clout in the online Oscar world.

It is also interesting to note that the tweets spiked when Inside Job won Best Documentary, which could have been because of the reaction to the auto-tune montage sequence, the presence of Oprah Winfrey, the anticipation of Banksy appearing on stage or Charles Ferguson’s comments about Wall Street getting away with criminal activity.

Techcrunch report that the Oscar ceremony didn’t spark anywhere near the same level of interest as comparable televised events like the Superbowl or The Grammys:

Davis told me that the event paled in comparison to the Super Bowl and The Grammy, where TweetReach saw 17,000 tweets in a single minute. In contrast, the spikes topped out at 12,000 at the Oscars.

Twenty Oscar-related terms (e.g. Oscars, #Oscars, Academy) were tracked as the show went out live and there were 1,269,970 tweets, 1,663,458,778 potential impressions, and 388,717 users tweeting.

Here is the data map:

Awards Season News

Oscar Winners

Here are tonight’s winners:

THE KING’S SPEECH (The Weinstein Co)
A See-Saw Films and Bedlam Production Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, Producers

COLIN FIRTH – THE KING’S SPEECH (The Weinstein Company)




TOY STORY 3 (Walt Disney)


THE KING’S SPEECH, David Seidler (The Weinstein Co)

THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Aaron Sorkin (Sony Pictures)

Denmark, In a Better World (Sony Pictures Classics) – A Zentropa Production

Inception (Warner Bros.) – Wally Pfister

Inside Job (Sony Pictures Classics) – A Representational Pictures Production Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs

Strangers No More – A Simon & Goodman Picture Company Production Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon

The Social Network (Sony Pictures Releasing) Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter

Inception (Warner Bros) – Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb

Alice in Wonderland (Walt Disney) – Production Design: Robert Stromberg, Set Decoration: Karen O’Hara

Alice in Wonderland (Walt Disney) – Colleen Atwood

The Wolfman (Universal) Rick Baker and Dave Elsey

The Social Network (Sony Pictures Releasing) – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

“We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3 (Walt Disney) – Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

The Lost Thing (Nick Batzias for Madman Entertainment) – A Passion Pictures Australia Production Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann

God Of Love – A Luke Matheny Production – Luke Matheny

Inception (Warner Bros) – Richard King

Inception (Warner Bros) – Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick