Thursday, August 09, 2018

voter fraud

Poor Oscar.

Like many pampered, overindulged children, Oscar has been something of a disappointment. Oscar is like the popular kid in high school who fails to live up to his/her potential later in life, subsequently overshadowed by its "lessers" - upstarts, wannabes and competitors. Like The Golden Globes.

While everything seems to go swimmingly for the Globes, poor Oscar has struggled desperately to hold on to its sense of entitlement and relevance, only to see its popularity wane a bit more with each passing year. The annual Golden Globes bash, hosted by The Hollywood Foreign Press, is the coolest movie party of the awards season, pulled off with ease, whereas the Oscarcast is largely viewed as self-important, elephantine and stiff.

And the turnout seems to dip a bit more every year. Ratings don't lie.

And so, a few years ago, Oscar's doting helicopter parent – The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences  – started to manipulate factors that would make its precious problem child appear more important and popular.

Yes, manipulate.

And to coin a currently popular word, obstruct.

For the past few years, the Academy has been busy rewriting its rule book to appease anyone who has voiced disappointment in the yearly nominees and ultimate winners. The most recent update, as detailed by Brooks Barnes in The New York Times, is the introduction of a new category called Best Popular Film. This is so that a franchise installment based on a Marvel or D.C. comic is assured that it will share the spotlight with those hoity-toity indie films that invariably win Best Picture seemingly every year.

It's pretty much a transparent attempt to control what wins an Oscar, which strikes me as something particularly dubious. And it isn't the first time that the Academy stepped in to control matters. It's simply another half-baked incarnation of an idea actually attempted several years ago.

For more than six decades, the Best Picture nominees were restricted to just five. But in the 1980s, with the full-on advent of the independent film - an event that can be traced back to the triumverate of Steven Soderberg's "Sex, Lies and Videotape," Harvey Weinstein's Miramax Pictures and the Sundance Festival - the contours of the Best Picture category changed.

Suddenly, monster films like "Ben-Hur," "Around the World in 80 Days" and "The Sound of Music" no longer had clout with the voters. The turning point was when "Shakespeare in Love" won over "Saving Private Ryan" in 1998.

Slowly, the independents overtook the Oscars and popular mainstream extravaganzas were being shut out, much to the chagrin of the big studios. There were complaints.  In 2009, after the franchise film “The Dark Knight” failed to get an expected Best Picture nomination, the Academy - a stage mother to end all stage mothers - stepped in to correct such slights in the future and to quell anticipated complaints from pesky industry malcontents. It elected to grease the squeaky wheels by expanding
and opening up the Best Picture category to include as many as 10 titles.

That way, action and comic-book movies had a chance to be included and honored.  You know, art.

But guess what. Right! Despite the revision, nothing changed.

Since that expansion, even more fringe titles have been nominated for Best Picture. Usually eight or nine. (For some reason, there have yet to be ten nominated films. I’ve no idea what the official cut-off point is.) 

Mainstream titles have remained a distinct minority. Case in Point: The 2017 Best Picture nominees. Most were largely fringe titles, specifically items that don't lend themselves to an IMAX presentation - "Lady Bird," "Phantom Thread," "Call Me by Your Name," "The Shape of Water," "Get Out," "Darkest Hour" and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri."

Steven Spielberg's "The Post" is the lone throwback to the kind of old-fashioned film that routinely snagged the top Oscar, and Christopher Nolan's "Dunkirk" is the only title that's broad-shouldered and Big.

Meanwhile, the Academy has been busy "updating" its membership, expelling antiquated voters unlikely to get behind a superhero movie for Best Picture and replacing them with newbies - 774 new faces invited to join in 2017 and another 928 invited this year. The 2018 potential inductees - listed in The Hollywood Reporter - are a tad embarrassing.

The other big news is that the Academy plans to make sure the next giveaway show doesn't exceed 180 minutes, including commercials - during which less popular awards (editing? cinematography?) will be doled out so as not the burden the average Oscar viewer with trivia. But I'm sure that ABC, which is televising the thing, will find room for god-awful production numbers and the coy bit where host Jimmy Kimmel invades a neighboring movie house to surprise the audience with his celebrity pals.

This unctuous routine seems to have become a yearly event.

Changes, changes.

But one element will remain the same. The Academy will continue to give more Awards to the wrong films and people than to the right ones.

Note in Passing: Regarding the wrong people/films winning and the right ones losing, the joint snub that still bothers me the most is the passing over of Judy Garland and Montgomery Clift for their deeply felt supporting performances in Stanley Kramer's "Judgment at Nuremberg" in 1961 in favor of Rita Moreno and George Chakiris in the Robert Wise-Jerome Robbins production of "West Side Story." Really? Closely following is Susannah York, whose Oscar for Sydney Pollack's "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" in 1969 went to Goldie Hawn for her work in Gene Saks' "Cactus Flower." Huh? And I still can't quite grasp that Jack Nicholson wasn't even nominated for Mike Nichols' "Carnal Knowledge" in 1971. Any Oscar snubs that bother you?  Share!     

Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you.

(from top)

~The Oscar
~photography: ©The Academy of Arts and Sciences

~Judy Garland and Montgomery Clift on the set of  "Judgment at Nuremberg"
~photography: United Artists 1961©


Mike Schlesinger said...

I won't live long enough to list all the people/pictures that should've been nominated or won, so I won't even try.

However, I would like to talk about the elephant in the room that no one addresses, and sadly, the one that nothing can be done about--

Back in the old days, the Oscars were a model of suspense. Who'd win? Who wouldn't? There were few clues to go on. But back then, there were only a thimbleful of critics and guild awards, and they weren't televised or even largely publicized outside the trades. But now, there are critics awards in almost every decent-sized city, the SAG Awards, BAFTAs and Golden Globes, among others, are presented as star-studded TV spectaculars, and ads are full of all those nominations and wins. By the time poor Oscar rolls around, it's not only predictable but downright anti-climactic. Did anyone think Oldman, McDormand, Rockwell, Janney and del Toro weren't going to win after collecting a warehouse full of awards each? Even Oscar pools are ending up with eight-way ties for first. But as I said, this is unfixable, so in the end, it really doesn't matter who wins--we already know well ahead of time.

Kevin Barry said...

The new Popular Oscar idiocy is obviously a transparent attempt to avoid another Oscar-So-White kerfuffle by loading the deck so Black Panther wins something. Also, I see Disney pulling the strings on this one. They own ABC which has aired The Oscars for decades and probably gave the Academy an ultimatum due to the show's huge drop in the ratings. It also assures that Disney can monopolize another category year-after-year the way they do Best Animated Feature. After watching every single Oscar telecast since I was a kid I think it's time I got off the bus and ignored this over-inflated event. I'll spend the night watching a movie instead - one that should have been nominated, like Vertigo. Seriously, we live in a world where George Chakiris has an Oscar and Hitchcock doesn't!

joe baltake said...

Mike & Kevin- One word applies to both of your astute views: Amen! And I ain't the least bit religious. Yes, Kevin, George Chakiris has an Oscar and Hitchcock doesn't. And Cary Grant! Unbelievable And, yes, Mike, we're experiencing Movie Awards overload. And don't forget the amateur, self-described "film historians" on the web. But I have to add that the industry is complicit in this overload. Studios, filmmakers and particularly actors have become insatiable when it comes to awards. They can't get enough applause and statuettes. Not good. Frankly, I became sick of McDormand, Rockwell, Janney and Oldman by the time they won their awards. Anti-climatic is the right word. -J

Kevin Deany said...

Great column as always, and I was anxious to read what your views on announcement.

A few thoughts. The length of the Oscar broadcast never bothered me. It’s only once a year. Heck, baseball games and football games generally run over three hours apiece. Soul-sucking tripe like THE BACHELOR or THE BACHELORETTE go three hours for their season finales. Having a show honoring the year’s movies run more than three hours once a year doesn’t seem so bad.

I was heartened last year by the Best Picture nominations for genre films THE SHAPE OF WATER and GET OUT. Steps in the right direction, and I think more commercial mainstream movies would be in the Best Picture running more frequently in the years ahead, especially since the Academy is recruiting younger and more diverse members, and those members may not have the prejudices of some older Academy members.

But it wasn’t always so. In years past, the Academy would often nominate the most popular film of the year. AIRPORT, THE TOWERING INFERNO, JAWS, STAR WARS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and E.T. all garnered Best Picture nominations. Sure, there was eye rolling at some of these nominations, but it was almost a gimme that an audience-pleasing movie would receive a nod of recognition from the Academy with a Best Picture nomination. Was there a great gnashing of teeth and a worry about the Academy’s artistic integrity over these nominations? If so, I suspect it was minimal.

That attitude changed over the last couple of decades, and I suspect the rise of independent film is to blame.

Also, with so many more viewing and entertainment options out there now, it’s only natural that viewership is down. That’s true of any network shows, including the Oscars. Why panic over such an obvious truth?

joe baltake said...

Great points, Kevin. What bothers me is (1) the Academy's/ABC's inconsistency when it comes to acceptance speeches and (2) the rude orchestra that plays winners off the stage. It's an awards show, for heaven's sake. One hands out awards and the recipients express their gratitude to the Academy and to whoever. Granted, the winning narcissists should try to control their narcissism when on the podium. But it seems that the important winners (actors and directors) get all the time in the world, while the "lesser talents" (cinematographers, documentarians, foreigners)are urged to move on. Of course, now those who are routinely played off the stage will receive their awards during the commercial breaks. Hopefully, the orchestra won't interrupt them. -J

Mike Schlesinger said...

But it's important to remember that in the old days, the studios would make all kinds of films: For every GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH or AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, there was a FROM HERE TO ETERNITY or BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. To quote another BP winner from that decade, the studios decided to go for the short money--selling their souls to children, teens and millennials with sci-fi and comic book movies to the exclusion of almost everything else, leaving it to the independents to make pictures like SPOTLIGHT or THE KING'S SPEECH that back then would have been studio productions. And with the Academy now flooded with millennials who're mainly interested in movies about themselves, we're going to see a lot more MOONLIGHTs winning instead of more traditional Oscar films like DUNKIRK and HIDDEN FIGURES.

Gary G. said...

What the Academy's proposing are some of the worst ideas in recent memory--and that's saying a lot since we're living in a world of terrible ideas! Good column, Joe!

Vanessa said...

The Academy as "the stage mother to end all stage mothers"? I LOVE it!

Joe Dante said...

As perplexing and borderline irrelevant as The Oscars have become, it's always best to filter our criticism (even of these latest desperate sounding ideas) through the fact that The Academy uses the funds from the Oscarcast to fund the essential Academy Library and The Academy Film Archive, both of which are far more important for posterity than the broadcast.

joe baltake said...

That's a definite Academy strength, Joe, to be sure. It would certainly help its reputation if the Academy communicated such relevant information, putting it out there to balance the criticism that it often receives. Film preservation is far more important - and lasting - than a self-congratulating annual broadcast that seems to please no one.

Walt said...

I totally disagree with this new idea......screw the's an insider's acknowledgement ceremony, and most of us who are not Academy members like to live vicariously through the awards ceremony... as for topping it at 3 hrS. MAX, I agree......

Bill said...

I'm with Joe Dante--- but I would also point out that the Oscar award shows, television AND radio, were better under the studio system when stars were expected to attend--- not just the nominees. Now 90 percent of the faces in the audience are unknown to people watching. (They had faces then!) Also it's difficult to get a broad range of public support when the demographics of the people who actually buy tickets to see movies is the way it is. Am I getting old?

joe baltake said...

I feel the exact same way, Bill, and I'm not getting old at all. -J

Brian Lucas said...

I'm curious who in the Academy came up with the idea and how many people approved it. Was it the Academy president? Its board of directors? Did the membership at large vote on it. I get the impression that it wasn't up for a vote, that it was a unilateral decision. I think Kevin Barry's theory that a studio - most likely Disney - was behind it explains everything. It's the only thing that makes sense, given the utter senselessness of the idea.

Billy from Philly said...

Apparently, Mark Whalberg has given the idea a big thumbs up, his logic being that it would be nice if movies like "Ted" and "Transformers" (in other words, his movies) won an Oscar. Give me a break!

Charlotte said...

I'd like to think that Goldie Hawn won mostly for her personality rather than for her performance. She was charming and just off "Laugh-In." People found her irresistible. And I guess the Academy did, too. It just couldn't help itself. But I agree: Susannah York's was the more accomplished performance in that category in that year.

Daryl Chin said...

Oscar snubs or oversights are too common in terms of complaints. It is what it is. People never look at the actual politics of the situation. For example: the Best Actress award was always a little "fishy" from the start. It was the award given to industry wives/mistresses or bigwigs. So the first Best Actress was Janet Gaynor, who (it was rumored) was "the" Winifred Sheehan (production head of Fox) star (i.e., supposedly his mistress, which is why it is said that she turned to lesbianism once she was free from her contract); then you had Mary Pickford for COQUETTE i.e., a studio head herself. Then you had Norma Shearer (the wife of Irving Thalberg, production head of MGM). Does anyone start to see a pattern? The Academy desperately wanted "respectability", so they awarded an Oscar to one of the "great ladies of the American Theater", Helen Hayes, and they also wanted to acknowledge "veterans", so they threw an Oscar to Marie Dressler. That's why Katharine Hepburn's win for MORNING GLORY was so significant: as far as anyone knew, she wasn't anyone's mistress, she really didn't have a reputation in the theater (she's only done a few shows) and she certainly wasn't a veteran. Katharine Hepburn's win meant that the Academy members (it was a very closed shop in those days) must have actually thought she was good! (And as anyone who knows Hepburn knows, she certainly didn't campaign!) (And the Academy showed how capricious it was, because in 1933, Hepburn was in three movies, CHRISTOPHER STRONG, MORNING GLORY and LITTLE WOMEN, and her best performance was in LITTLE WOMEN, but the Oscar was given to her performance in MORNING GLORY.)

Until the proliferation of awards, people forget that there was only the Oscars, there was the National Board of Review, and in 1935, there was the New York Film Critics Circle. And that was mostly it! But i want to take exception to one comment: Susannah York didn't have a chance in hell in 1969. She went around badmouthing the idea of awards (especially the Oscars), and so even though she was nominated, people were so angry, if there had been a way to take away a nomination, she would have been left without a nomination. And she admitted this, and admitted that this did a lot to damage her career in Hollywood. People avoided her like the plague! But in 1969, one actress who had won some critics awards was not nominated (that was Sian Phillips for GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS) and one actress who did win several critics awards had the misfortune to have been in a movie produced by Mike Frankovich, and that would be Dyan Cannon for BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE. The reason that was a misfortune was that Mike Frankovich also produced CACTUS FLOWER, and he had signed Goldie Hawn to a contract, and he mounted an Oscar campaign for Hawn, including ads, several parties, etc. And Dyan Cannon was also in the throes of her "nasty" divorce from Cary Grant. (Peter Bogdanovich and others have always claimed that Dyan Cannon was at fault, but the actual fact was that Grant was seeking full custody of their daughter Jennifer, and Cannon was not going to give up her baby. So Cannon decided to fight, and the proceedings got protracted and ugly. But Cannon didn't care, she wasn't going to give up custody. I notice how all these male film critics sided with Cary Grant, as if the idea of a mother giving up her baby just because the father was a famous movie star was perfectly natural.)

Teddi said...

the whole thing is bizarre - the categories, the many many "voters" and the concept itself. And yet, the reason I watch is to SEE the bizarre -- the outfits, the hair, the comments -- which has ironically become less and less bizarre to the point of utterly boring. Bring back Barbra Streisand and Cher in their revealing getups and Sasheen Littlefeather.