Saturday, June 27, 2009

Two More Grouchy Notes...

...about the expanded Best Picture category and its epidemic debates and discourses around the Oscar blogosphere, including here. I have already made clear that a movie getting nominated for Best Picture and no other award seems eminently likely and perfectly fine: when that very thing recently almost happened, the nominee in question may not have been top-drawer artistry but it was a welcome breath of fresh air in the category and a much-beloved movie. Earlier single-nom Best Picture nominees like Trader Horn, Five Star Final, Grand Hotel, The Smiling Lieutenant, She Done Him Wrong, The Ox-Bow Incident, and Libeled Lady were sometimes among the best movies included in those line-ups, and even at worst offer some valuable time-capsule glimpses of what Hollywood felt boastful or proud of in those years, besides its standard fare. Snatching lead acting noms for the legendary Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt back when those categories only admitted three names apiece probably "should," in some Oscar bloggers' minds, have made The Guardsman a shoo-in for Best Picture, but I think the single-nom Lubitsch movies that bested it are at least as good, and certainly more historically interesting. So please, let's worry less about this possibility. For a film to pull off this trick in the 00s or after, if it even happens, will hopefully require that the film be something special to a lot of people, or something different from the rest of the pack. All things considered, that could be good, right?

More worryingly, I'm reading some commenters who are dismayed that a movie without a "major" nomination for directing, acting, or writing could "sneak in," no matter what other, presumably "minor" nods it scores. Even a movie that had one acting nomination, as The Dark Knight did, has been mentioned on one blog as a possible "sneak" in the new system. I.e., a movie that has plenty of nods, but not in the "right" categories, might trespass into a category where, by Oscar logic, it has no business.

Surely it is high time for Oscar bloggers to acknowledge (and we all need to) that Editing, Sound, Cinematography, Score, Art Direction, and Visual Effects are "major" crafts, and if you take either the industry or the art of filmmaking seriously, there's nothing less "major" about them than about acting or writing. Believe me, I understand what you mean, and as we know, I idolize great actors as much as anyone. But I'd also venture, in the abstract, that a film with some of the best editing of the year and some of the best sound work of the year is on average a better film than a film with one of the best performances by a leading actress and one of the best adapted screenplays. Or at least as good, anyway. We're not helping Oscar stay more "relevant" by perpetuating these lame shorthands for what "counts" as film art and what doesn't. Some of the same folks who claim to want to see Oscar broaden its horizons into less parochial "genre" fare turn around and slag off exactly the categories where these "genre" films often cop the most recognition, and make their most earnest stabs at lasting popular or artistic value.

Someone is bound to say, "But what about Best Director? Certainly that's major," to which I will reply, we all know films have been scoring Picture nods without reinforcing Director nods forever. The new change doesn't structurally change that, it just creates more films without (heavily politicized and genre-influenced) director nods. I suspect that Apollo 13, Sense and Sensibility, and Moulin Rouge!, lacking Director nods, still got more Best Picture votes in their years than did Il Postino or Gosford Park, which had them. It's not an absolute test of being in or out of contention, and as we've all been discussing, the new size of the Best Picture race, which only requires 10.1% of the general vote to win, might redraw all those rules anyway. Let's wait and see.

It will be pointed out, more than fairly, that my sidebar keeps readers up to speed about what I've seen most recently in the Picture, Director, and Acting categories, and no others. Guilty as charged, but believe you me, if Editing weren't quite possibly the most egregiously misunderstood category in Oscar history, and if Cinematography and Sound hadn't had a dozen or more nominees for so many years—many of them harder to find these days than almost any Picture or Acting nominee, because DVD and video distributors buy right into, and even create, the same "major category" discourse that we too often perpetuate—I'd have them right up there, too. But still, egg on my face. I'm grumbling at myself, not just at you.

In the meantime, "high-profile" and "most publicized" are great synonyms for what people mean by "major" or "important" categories. Let's try to use them, but let's also try to raise the profile and increase the publicity for these other categories while we're at it. While this news, off season, has suddenly got everyone talking Oscar and people are paying attention, let's seize the opportunity to be thoughtful and disciplined about how those of us who are silly and misguided enough to still give a rat's a** about the Oscars actually go about characterizing the awards we purport to love, and the artistic labor of important filmmakers, marquee names and otherwise, that they ostensibly honor.

P.S. I'll return to a better mood tomorrow.
P.P.S. Or maybe I won't, because look at this. If you need to know why this is a problem, Nathaniel can tell you.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Encore Entertainment said...

I've never heard the argument that a film must have major nominations to warrant a BP nod. It sounds kind of ridiculous actually. And the recent news about the Honorary awards is most ridiculous. Why are ratings so important to these old fops. I have always had a vested interest in the Oscars for the last six years, thereabouts, but I think it's going...going...might be gone soon.

12:39 AM, June 27, 2009  
Blogger tim r said...

Obviously that "sneaking in" argument is ridiculous, and I'm amazed that any serious Oscar thinkers are advancing it. Personally speaking, I'd be as happy to see the kind of "major" award bump-up happen (when it's something like The Wrestler) as the so-called "minor" one (when it's something like Wall-E). In both cases it's going to lead to some egregious nonsense once in a while -- 4 technical nods + dark-horse best actor nom = a BP nod for Pirates of the Caribbean, I very much fear, where we'd presumbly rather see one for the same year's In America (with its three "major" nods: I know you've called that over Pirates, but I have to say I'd be worried). Plus, for the argument that a "technical" best picture with multiple "minor" nominations can make for a hollow, undeserving candidate -- even a win -- we need look no further than Slumdog, right? But I'm almost more bothered by any notion that Ben Button's acting and screenplay nods qualify it as more deserving, when they seem like the weirdest ones of all. I'll take The Dark Knight over it in a flash.

6:23 AM, June 27, 2009  
Blogger John T said...

And, see, Tim, I would have nominated Pirates in 2003-I think it deserved the Top 5, much less the Top 10. Which, I suppose, is the point of the Oscars-not everyone's going to agree since it's a divergent number of opinions. I'd agree with TDK over BB, though.

I 110% agree with Nick here-I think that if a film manages to land Cinematography, Editing, Sound nomination, but can't land an acting award, it certainly may be in contention for Best Picture, and this will lend more to the populist films (like The Matrix).

9:55 AM, June 27, 2009  
Blogger tim r said...

Music to Nick's ears! By the same logic, he may be bracing himself for Star Trek, too, but I'm with the masses on that one.

10:27 AM, June 27, 2009  

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