The 87th Academy Awards will take place on Feb. 22, 33 days from today.
People are angry about the Oscar nominations this year. Specifically, they are angry about the lack of diversity. No women were nominated in seven categories — Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Visual Effects and Best Sound Mixing — and women made up under 20 percent of nominees in non-acting categories. Adding insult to injury, the acting nominees were all white for the first time in years. This led to Buzzfeed posts like this, headlines like this and trending Twitter hashtags (#OscarsSoWhite). Al Sharpton and Spike Lee get involved. Vox puts out an informative video. And suddenly everyone knows the key takeaways from an obscure 2013 LA Times article: Oscar voters are 93% white and 76% male and have an average age of 63.
The focal point for this uproar is Selma, a film which has a 99% approval on Rotten Tomatoes but emerged last Thursday with just two Oscar nominations. Given the timing of Oscar nominations (right before Martin Luther King Day) and the social context this year (the year of Ferguson and Eric Garner), it is particularly noteworthy that one of the best-reviewed films of the year failed to get nominations for Best Director (Ava DuVernay) and Best Actor (David Oyelowo).
I have three gripes.
First of all, there is some disagreement about the last time there was an all-white acting crew. Many websites cite the year 1998. Others use 2011. There is obviously a big difference between the two. As a 2011 CNN articlecommented on the lack of diversity at that year’s Oscars, I’m going to go with the latter. I think the debate is over how to classify Spanish actor Javier Bardem in Biutiful, since everyone else on the nominations list looks pretty white.
Next, this Oscar snub did not come out of nowhere. In fact, given the awards announced in the weeks before the Oscars, it came as a surprise to some that Selma got a Best Picture nomination at all. Selma received no love at the Director’s Guild, Producer’s Guild or BAFTA, three strong predictors of Oscar success. Maybe it means that the film was not as well-loved by voters as everyone imagined.
Finally, Selma was nominated for Best Picture. That is the most impressive achievement for a film in a given year second only to winning Best Picture. From the sidelines, it’s frustrating for me that people don’t seem to realize this. For example, according to CriticsTop10, Selma was the 10th most cited film of the year. But five films ranked above it (Under the Skin, Nightcrawler, Gone Girl, Guardians of the Galaxy and Ida) got little to no Oscar love and no Best Picture nomination. The film I was rooting for this year was Into the Woods. If Into the Woods were nominated for Best Picture and nothing else, I would have gotten up and cha-chaed.
Still, it’s worth looking into why the snub happened. Many people blame the film’s late release, which led to patchy distribution of screeners by Paramount. (According to one thing I read, Foxcatcher moved its release date forward a year to avoid this issue.) If Oscar voters don’t see the movie, then they won’t vote for it. I think one of the biggest reasons is the controversy over whether the film was historically accurate. Any controversies around Oscar time can doom a film’s nominations prospects. Saving Mr. Banks was a Best Picture and Best Actress favorite in 2013 that only received a Best Original Score nod from the Academy after historical griping and Meryl Streep calling Walt Disney a “gender bigot.” In 2012, Zero Dark Thirty lost its Best Director lock for supporting torture and Argo was not nominated for Best Director after the movie was torn apart historically.But in the last week, many are blaming racism, or at least indifference by the Academy. (“Many would say that it should suffice that 12 Years a Slave, a film by a black director about black history, won best picture last year, andSelma was nominated this year, and that any grievance is a conjured one. I disagree,” wrote David Carr in the New York times.) But it’s much more nuanced than that. So writes Gary Susman:
“It’s a little too easy to blame this year’s awards slate on old-fashioned racism. After all, this is the same Academy that, last year, named 12 Years a Slave Best Picture, nominated Steve McQueen for Best Director, nominated Chiwetel Ejiofor for Best Actor, nominated Barkhad Abdi for Best Supporting Actor, and named Lupita Nyong’o Best Supporting Actress. And Alfonso Cuaron became the first Latino to win Best Director. And this year, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu could become the second; his film Birdman tied with The Grand Budapest Hotel for most nominations this year (nine each), including Best Picture. Conversely, Clint Eastwood failed to score a nomination for himself for directing American Sniper, even though the film was cited for Best Picture and several other categories. Did he not get the nomination because he’s white?”
Snubs happen. They are the unfortunate consequence of a small group choosing the “best” movies, performances and film work of the year. It’s how you deal with it that makes a difference. While the ultimate solution is to increase the diversity within Academy membership (as the Academy has been doing) and then wait for the old white men to die, Sasha Stone has two ideas that can help bring attention to those who deserve it. First, the Academy can shift the voting deadline back to increase exposure to new films. Second, it can expand its Best Picture slate back to 10 nomination slots. When the Academy nominated 10 movies a year, rather than “five through ten,” Stone argues the films included were more diverse and representative. (Think The Kids Are Alright and Winter’s Bone and Up.)
It’s great that people are worked up and raising awareness about the lack of diversity in Hollywood, but they have the chance to do so in a more aware and productive way. One African American being nominated for Best Actor does not get anywhere close to solving the problem — a host of films from different cultures and viewpoints are never made and never seen. Those interested in reforming the Oscars process can become active in making movies that tell the stories they want told and promoting movies often overlooked by critics and the Academy. We all can hope that great films are not bogged down by controversy. And Paramount can not to fuck up its awards campaign next time.
The Critics Choice Awards took place on the night of the Oscars nominations. This led to awkward situations where people passed over by the Academy in the morning won the highest prize of the Broadcast Film Critics Association several hours later. Gillian Flynn, who wrote and adapted Gone Girl, won Best Adapted Screenplay, The Lego Movietook Best Animated Film and Birdman won Best Original Score, though none of the three earned an Oscar nomination in their respective categories.
In recent years, the Critics Choice Awards have been fairly accurate predictors of the Oscars. In the past five years, Best Picture has aligned four times (the BFCA chose The Social Network over The King’s Speech), Best Director has aligned three (with Ben Affleck over Ang Lee in 2012 and David Fincher over Tom Hooper in 2010), Best Actor has aligned four times (with George Clooney over Jean Dujardin in 2011), Best Actress has aligned three times (with Jessica Chastain over Jennifer Lawrence in 2012 and Viola Davis over Meryl Streep in 2011), Best Supporting Actor has aligned four times (with Philip Seymour Hoffman over Christoph Waltz in 2012) and Best Supporting actress has aligned for each of the past five years. Odds are that many of Thursday’s winners will repeat on Feb. 22.
There were very few surprises. Boyhood took home another Best Picture win, with director Richard Linklater and supporting actress Patricia Arquette nabbing awards as well. Julianne Moore and J.K. Simmons continued to build their paths toward inevitability with wins for Still Alice and Whiplash, respectively. And in his first real head-to-head with Eddie Redmayne, Michael Keaton emerged victorious, winning Best Actor for Birdman. The consensus is building, and it’s safe to say all the winners are the presumptive Oscar favorites.
Spotlight on American Sniper
American Sniper made $105.3 million over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, breaking a number of records and doubling down on its popularity. According to the Hollywood Reporter, “American Sniper marks the biggest launch ever for a non-tentpole Hollywood title, as well as for a movie opening in January — much less an R-rated modern-day war film (the previous best for a drama was The Passion of the Christ with $83.8 million).” Some are going so far as to say that the blockbuster is the biggest threat to Boyhood for the top prize and that star Bradley Cooper may be the dark horse in the Best Actor fight between Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton. (Sasha Stone calls it the film for the “steak eaters” and warns that “Sniper’s surge is going to turn this Oscar season into a bloodbath.”) Despite all this, the film only has a 73% on Rotten Tomatoes and has seen its fair share of controversy over its more right-wing point of view. Seth Rogen tweeted, “American Sniper kind of reminds me of the movie that’s showing in the third act of Inglorious Basterds,” and he is not the only one that feels that way.
Spotlight on Gillian Flynn
Gillian Flynn wrote bestseller Gone Girl in 2012 and was chosen by director David Fincher to adapt her novel into the film. Flynn won a number of awards (including the Critics Choice last Thursday) and gained nominations at five big Oscar precursors: the WGA, USC Scripter, Critics Choice, BAFTA and Golden Globes. Since 2010, eight other films — The Social Network, 127 Hours, The Descendants, Moneyball, Silver Linings Playbook, Argo, Lincoln andThe Imitation Game — were in the same position; all earned Oscar nominations. Had she been nominated, she would have been just the second female writer in that position.
Spotlight on money
We don’t usually think of the Academy as a moneymaking organization, but in 2014 it earned $151.5 million, more than a $15 million jump from the previous year. $97.3 million of this total came from the Oscars. According to theHollywood Reporter, the Oscar figure largely “comes from the sale of broadcast rights — ABC has domestic rights to the show through 2020, while Disney’s Buena Vista International has the foreign TV rights through 2020.” Expenses were high — $105.1 million — partly driven, in all likelihood, by a new museum of motion pictures set to open in 2017.
- Eddie and Jen: Jennifer Lawrence interviewed Eddie Redmayne and the two geeked out over each other. The transcript is as great as you’d imagine.
- Where to see: Glamour explains how to see the eight Best Picture nominees before Feb. 22.
- Oscar stats: Stephen Follows reported on some anecdotal but shocking Oscar statistics. Three choice ones include that the cost of a Best-Picture-winning Oscar campaign is around $10 million, that a page 1 advert in The Hollywood Reporter during Oscar season costs $72,000 and that Academy PR consultants make a ton of money. (Apparently they are paid $10,000 – $15,000 per film, plus $20,000 if the film gains a Best Picture nomination, $20,000 for a Best Picture win and $10,000 for nominations and/or wins for Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director. I need a new line of work.)
- Seeded nominations: Adam Sternbergh claims that the Oscar season would be more entertaining if there were only five Best Picture nominees drawn from each season of the year (which he dubs Frost Season, Blossom Season, Blockbuster Season and Prestige Season). His argument is dumb. (Most egregiously, he makes fun of Life of Pi as a plausible Best Picture when the film won Best Director last year.)
- Humor: What would happen “if 2015’s Oscar-nominated movie posters told the truth“
- Fashion: For those with more style than me (read: everyone), check out this NYTimes fashion article. It tries to argue that risks are great, that 1950s dresses are boring and that Emma Stone and Lorde were “the uncontested best-dressed at this year’s Golden Globes.”
- Julianne Moore: Vulture examines the eight roles Moore should have won Oscars for, which I think is gross exaggeration. (I don’t think any actor alive “should have” won eight Oscars for anything. Give me a break.) Regardless, they highlight her overlooked performances in Boogie Nights and The Kids Are Alright.
- Meryl Streep: In a less preposterous list, Vulture looks at which of Meryl Streep’s Oscar noms were well deserved.
- Golden Globes membership: Vulture did what I could not and dug up information about all of the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Their favorite member? Alexander Nevsky of Russia. He is “a bodybuilder who moved to Hollywood, starred in B-movies, and somehow found himself in the HFPA.” This is journalism.
- Oscarologists: The NYTimes discusses the rise of Academy Awards prognosticating and criticizes Oscar bloggers for their dependence on “For Your Consideration” ads and responsibility for setting unreasonably high expectations on movies. (See Unbroken.) Steve Pond summarizes the life of an Oscarologist: “It’s crazy. You spend all this time writing about what essentially is going to be three and a half hours of television and 24 people getting statues. And you think: ‘Wow. That’s six months of my life.’ ” I feel you bro.