Saturday, 12 January 2013

Where do we go from here…?; or, Looking Ahead from the Oscar nominations

Did you know the Oscar nominations are out? Of course you did.

The AMPAS is a fair encapsulation of the adage “with great power comes great responsibility” even as the “relative” power of the Academy is specious at best to its loudest criticisers. What role do the Academy Awards play? It’s a question I find myself asking every year as I anticipate the announcement of the nominees and then plan my schedule around the actual awards. It’s a question which grows more persistent as year after year more and more think-pieces are published censuring the Oscars for their irrelevance (sometimes, amusingly, by people who make their living writing about them). The best and worst thing about the Academy is, like with all award shows, their choices only represent the thoughts of a particular group so inasmuch as its interesting to see what films the members like in one year there’s also the potential disconnect when their choices don’t converge with yours. The situation always gets muddled, though, and then the Academy comes in for some troubling case of criticism. Because as one of the most significant film awards do they owe us the citation of important films or can they just choose what they think is best? And how to go about it...?

Like, for example, that ever problematic snub situation…in the conversation on all things words snub is, perhaps, the trickiest of words seeming to mean less and less as time goes by. The two biggest “snubs” this year were the absence of Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck from the best director ballot. The Affleck snub was harder to make sense of for prognosticators because there are no obvious avenues to explain why a film they love didn’t end up there. The Bigelow situation is easier – Zero Dark Thirty has come under scrutiny for its portrayal of torture in the Middle East, and more significant – Bigelow is a woman. She never stood a chance with the misogynistic Academy. Argumentative strands like these always give me pause because even without getting into the issue of what a “snub” is – assuming what voters think when they choose their ballots is an exercise is futility. We can never know why they voted for what, and what was #6, #8 and so on. Sometimes the only tact to take is to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they just voted for what they like….a ridiculous idea, I know.

The “snub” issue frustrates for more basic reasons, though. I’ll make an analogy. Last year when I was doing my Encore Awards my supporting actress ballot had the usual five nominees and six finalists. I loved each of them and I hated leaving any of them off the official list. But, I had to. So, Melissa McCarthy, Amy Ryan, Melanie Laurent – all performances I loved – weren’t nominated by me. By usual estimation, they were snubbed even though I loved them. That summarises the difficulty in using the “snub” word for me because there’s really no telling how close the ballots were. The waters get murkier because with the larger best picture field there are nine films nominated, but only five directors – they can’t all cross over. So, the snub seems more egregious because how can you love my film but not me? Did it direct itself? No….but all nine films can’t cross over to five slots. Something has to go. Did Bigelow go because was a woman or was it just chance?

The slate of nominees is hardly my ideal batch – there are some categories where I have scant affection for all the nominees. But, as much as I adore the concept of the Oscars, and as much as I tend to defend them more than impugn I’ve stopped getting completely emotional over their decisions. Mostly. What makes the situation this year even more amusing is the way that even by subverting their “usual” tact the AMPAS is still being lambasted on all ends. Usually, the criticism lodged is that voters get lazy and just tick what precursors remember this year with surprises in the director and acting categories it’s the opposite. And now the narrative goes, they couldn’t even be wise enough to take the precursors into consideration. The idea of the Academy is so gargantuan they will always remain an easy target for criticism, whichever road they decide to take.

With the nominations out….what now? As usual I’ll go through the categories day by day until the nominations come but I’m filled with a distinct sense of unease regarding this year’s ceremony. The prime reason? The extended period between the nominees and the winners. Six weeks truly feels like an eternity for this second phase and the nastiness beginning to emanate from various corners regarding various Oscar bound films seems destined to grow exponentially. Over time persons to get weary and there’s no telling what Oscar criticism will turn to over the next month and a half.

Still, if you are up for it come around this way for some Incoherent Oscar related musings over the next forty something days. Relevant or not, I do love talking about the Oscars…


Colin Biggs said...

I'm still surprised Haneke and Zeitlin managed into that titan of a Best Director field.

Amir said...

What I'm curious is whether these films, despite the "snub" for their director, still have a chance at winning best picture, especially in Argo's case since it was assumed to be a frontrunner before the nominations came out.

Sure, no film since Driving Miss Daisy hasn't won without a best director nod, but in the expanded field there's a lot more room for discrepancies between the director and picture lineups, but that might necessarily be indicative of how broad support is for a film under the new voting system.
I don't know. I mean, the experiment hasn't been going on for long enough, but it'd be interesting to see if it ever works that way.

Lights Camera Reaction said...

I'm personally rooting for Life of Pi!

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

colin as am i, but in ways they can be easily justified. we'll see how it all goes down in a month's time.

amir agreed. rules were meant to be broken, and also it's not as if it's never happened before either. because the experiment hasn't been going on long enough it's difficult to bring evidence to the table.

lights camera reaction it's great when the film you're rooting for has such a big spread of nominees!