Take a Wild Guess

Well we’re still approximately a month away from the Oscars – the ceremony will be held on the evening of March 2nd, pushed back by a week or two from its normal slot to avoid viewership conflict with the Winter Olympics. If it were perhaps any other season, that extra time would honestly be agony, waiting and waiting for the inevitable victory of a steamroller “King’s Speech” or “Artist”-style campaign. Thankfully, the year we have some unexpected time on our hands also happens to be the most competitive and unpredictable year I’ve ever covered. The comparison going around out there is to 2000, when “Gladiator,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Traffic” took a three-way dogfight all the way to a heavily divided ceremony (in which “Gladiator” ultimately triumphed without winning a corresponding Director, Screenplay, OR Film Editing award).

And after the major guild awards, it certainly seems like we’re headed towards that kind of oddball result. The three major bodies ended up going with either a three-way, or even four-way split, depending on how you look at it: SAG unsurprisingly went with actors’ showcase “American Hustle,” the Directors opted for Alfonso Cuarón’s visionary work on “Gravity,” and the Producers couldn’t even make up their minds, splitting their top award between “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” in the organization’s first tie.

That latter result is particularly fascinating, since the PGA is the only guild that uses the same preferential voting system that the Oscars have used since expanding their Best Picture field – a system that, in theory, makes such a tie all but mathematically impossible. But there it is. Many bloggers are claiming that these past few weeks have put “Gravity” in the solid lead because it essentially got two mentions to one each for its competitors, but I’m not so sure. I’m just looking at that PGA tie and thinking it shows how divided and close this race is; there’s basically three camps in the industry (as well as those brave souls who are going to throw some votes the way of “Her”), and they seem to be about equal in size and passion.

So what does that mean? It means in the top categories this year, including Picture, Director and the Screenplay races in particular, your guess is as good as mine. The permutations are endless: do we have two years of Picture/Director split in a row? Or can McQueen and Cuarón end up sweeping their way to victory? Will the massive love in the acting categories (and a likely Original Screenplay win) leapfrog “American Hustle” over the auteurists? Or will Russell’s bullshit-and-glamor-fest walk away empty-handed, even in the acting races? It seems baffling for a film to get four nominations and no wins, but you wouldn’t call anyone from “Hustle” the front-runner in their respective category at the moment. This means there’s a lot of attention on the Brits – whoever walks away with the BAFTA on Feb. 16 (a few days before Oscar voting closes) will probably end up being my pick for Oscar as well. Right now I’d say both “12 Years” and “Gravity” have an equal shot at it, since both directors have the hometown advantage. Stay tuned!

Of course, one can’t check in on Oscar and not mention the past week’s kerfuffle in Original Song. Yes, “Alone Yet Not Alone,” that most unlikely of Oscar nominees, is now nominated yet not nominated. After one of the opposing campaigns that lost out on a nod reportedly hired a private investigator to peek into the tactics of Bruce Broughton’s obscure Christian tune, Cheryl Boone Isaacs and the Academy Board of Governors took the unexpected route of disqualifying “Alone Yet Not Alone” from the Original Song race. There have been a few examples of the Academy rescinding nominations in the past, but they were all based on eligibility requirements (most famously, Nino Rota’s score for “The Godfather” was DQ’ed after it was found Rota recycled the film’s love theme from an earlier, obscure Italian film that he had also scored), making this the first case of campaign malfeasance to merit such drastic consequences.

The story is, Broughton indeed wrote personal e-mails to a large portion of Music Branch members on behalf of his entry, pointing out its number on the mix CD of clips from all eligible songs sent out to everyone in the branch (yes, Academy voting includes mix CDs as part of the official process). You might ask how this is different from “The Hurt Locker” producer Nicholas Chartier, who sent out similar e-mails on behalf of his film in early 2010, and was reprimanded simply by having his tickets to the Oscar ceremony revoked. Well, the problem is the Music Branch’s former representative on the Academy Board of Governors and a current member of its executive committee. Isaacs and the Board determined that this constituted an unfair advantage; presumably, if some third party had sent the e-mail on behalf of Broughton, everything would be hunky dory. C’est la vie.

You can talk about how “unfair” this really was compared to the inequity of studios with millions and millions of monies campaigning against a minuscule indie film that was released for about two weeks in three “Christian” markets; but really this just looks embarrassing for the Academy, considering cronyism is apparently so rampant in the Music Branch that they’ll just vote for their fearless leader’s entry because he asked. Just bad news all around, and it really seems like it’s time to either a) rehaul the Best Original Song category significantly, b) clarify campaigning rules, or c) ditch the category altogether. I would aim for a combination of a) and b) personally; perplexing as it’s been at times, looking back over the past decade, they’ve generally got it right when it mattered most. “Falling Slowly,” “The Weary Kind,” “Skyfall,” “Man or Muppet;” like it or not, those were pretty much the best options available in their respective years, and the weakness of the category overall is equal parts Academy staleness and shifts in the industry.

Plus, I mean, what are the ceremony directors going to do without song performances? Just have random tributes to whatever musical is having an anniversary this year? Oh, wait.

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