I haven’t seen America Hustle yet; I foolishly promised a friend I’d see it with her, and then she cancelled on me, with reschedule up in the air (if it’s not soon, she’ll be out of luck). I also haven’t yet got to Philomena, Saving Mr. Banks or August: Osage County because they’re geographically inconvenient -- I’m spoiled in having most major movies play within 15 or so blocks of my apartment, and when one doesn’t, I tend to blow it off (in these cases, till I see how necessary they become in Oscar terms).
But I’ve seen pretty much everything else, and my feeling is, if the critics overstepped in proclaiming it a year of multi-masterpieces, they were certainly correct in saying it’s a year with a lot of damn good movies. I can’t really single out any movie as The One for which I’ll always remember 2014, but I can come up with a half dozen or so whose choice as best picture would please me more than the past few.
This, paradoxically, makes the year’s nominations fraught with peril. Not only do I have to deal with the standard paranoia that voters will select sentimental hogwash over vital work (even now I fear The Butler), I have to acknowledge there are so many films and performances I admire that even the best outcome is going to leave something aside. As Mark Harris quotes Anthony Breznican today on the best actor slate: “"There's no way to end this that doesn't hurt." You could give me absolute power to choose the original screenplay nominees, and I don’t know I could work Nicole Holofcener in without omitting something else I desperately want. Same under best director, where there are upwards of half a dozen I’d emphatically hope to see turn up. It’s the first year since the expansion that I’m actually grateful for the possibility of more than five best picture nominees – for this year alone, limiting it to five wouldn’t seem remotely adequate to expressing how much good work was turned out.
So, in that context, what do I most want on Thursday morning? The sense that voters have really thought about their choices…that they’re looking at the whole field, not arbitrarily limiting their sights, based on early elimination rounds, and then signing off on what others have prescribed for them. That they looked at the late arrivals – American Hustle, Her, Wolf of Wall Street, Inside Llewyn Davis – and didn’t see them as tardy entries who have to justify elbowing someone else aside, but as candidates on a field level with anyone else (which is to say, I’d like to think Bale, DiCaprio and Phoenix are being judged as whether they’re good enough to be cited, not whether they’re worth tossing Redford or Hanks aside).
Is there any reason to hope for this? Well, remember last year. Yes, in the end, the Oscars went Argo like everyone else told them to. But don’t forget the jolt we all got on nominations morning, when surprises seemed to pop in every major category – when it was clear voters didn’t feel they needed to stick within bounds; that they not only made changes at the margins, they were willing – under directing -- to upend what seemed the bedrock of the race.
Can this happen again? Well, first we’d need to understand WHY it happened last year. I see three possibilities:
1) Weinstein. This is the most dispiriting of the options, but it must be pointed out that a lot of the late-and-surprising news – the three acting nods for The Master; Silver Linings Playbook’s invasion of the best picture category without DGA endorsement; Waltz’s ascent to not only nomination but the win, and Django’s best picture mention -- were to Harvey's benefit. If it turns out it’s mainly he who can make the voters reverse course, I’ll feel much less optimism about what might happen tomorrow. (The counter to this is, Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild also made unexpected inroads, and Harvey had nothing to do with them)
2) The late deadline. One of the big things that happened last year was, while everyone else who set up slates (SAG/Globes/BFCA) did it in basically the first 10 days of December, AMPAS had about a month longer, giving them more time to weigh everything. It didn’t necessarily mean they chose late openers (Django clearly benefitted, Zero Dark Thirty not so much). But it meant they didn’t make their choices in a rush, barely registering some candidates. This year, the year end brought some of the year’s best stuff, stuff SAG ignored (Wolf of Wall Street, Her, Llewyn Davis) or maybe short-changed (Hustle), and AMPAS had even longer to look them over. At least we can have the hope Oscar voters have given them more of a shot than a SAG which seemed locked into the November consensus.
3) The expanding membership. One reason BFCA, in particular, has done so well in predicting the Oscar nominees is they had a pretty good notion of what sorts of films AMPAS favored. Last year’s Oscar batch, however, while it wasn’t exactly cutting-edge, was beyond the usual bland – choosing Riva and Wallis instead of Mirren, putting all the Master actors in, selecting both Haneke and Zeitlin under directing. The Academy has been beefing up its membership in the past few years, making a point of going for new voters who (by chronology, ethnicity and areas of interest) don’t match the studio profile. Is it possible they've changed, if only to a degree, the electorate -- and that this new electorate was responsible for last year’s surprises, and might offer us more tomorrow?
So, I’m hoping for unexpected stuff…or at least the outer edges of what is expected. I’m still pushing for Blue is the Warmest under screenplay – Sally Hawkins in support – Great Beauty for costumes? Mainly, not the same old same old.
We’ll reconvene tomorrow to see how it all went.
For the films of 2013
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