Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Layman's Oscar Briefing

Even if, like me, you enjoy politics, sometimes we all just need a freaking break to go to the movies or something. And with the 88th Academy Awards coming up, there are lots of good ones out there. Here are some random thoughts on this year's Oscar season so far (yes, another election!).


When the nominees were announced last month, it was the second straight year that the Oscars were seen as unfriendly to diversity. All 20 nominated actors and actresses were white, and strong diverse contenders, like Straight Outta Compton for Best Picture and Idris Elba for Best Supporting Actor, were snubbed. Last year when this happened, I compared the Oscars' stodgy voters to the BBWAA's in the Baseball Hall of Fame election—an analogy that carried forward into this year. Like the Hall of Fame did, the Oscars eventually relented to the criticism this year and announced a series of voting reforms. The Academy (whose president, it should be noted, is a black woman) went farther than the Hall of Fame, though—much farther. It set a goal of doubling its number of women and minority members by 2020—just four short years.

Most interestingly, though, the Academy made the exact same change as the Hall of Fame did. Whereas both organizations used to allow members, once they earned the right to vote for the Oscars/Hall of Fame, to remain eligible for life, both have now changed to let only active members vote. Furthermore, "active" is defined the same way: after 10 years of inactivity, you are purged from the electorate. I really wonder if someone at AMPAS is a baseball fan.

This Year's Bridesmaids

One thing that fascinates me about the Oscars is how someone can be universally respected enough to rack up nomination after nomination but not universally beloved enough ever to win. I maintain a list of all individuals with five or more career Oscar nominations, and it reveals that some people have been nominated over a dozen times without a win. The "bridesmaids" who could walk away with their first statuette this year include:

Person Occupation Nominations
Roger Deakins Cinematographer 13
Thomas Newman Composer 13
Diane Warren Songwriter 8
Frank A. Montaño Sound Mixer 8
Paul Massey Sound Mixer 7
Ennio Morricone Composer 6
Leonardo DiCaprio Actor/Producer 6

DiCaprio may be the only name on that list you've heard of, but his suffering is mild in comparison—only five failed nominations so far, and strong odds to win this year for The Revenant. Deakins has been a criminal omission by the Academy since his first loss for The Shawshank Redemption. Two bridesmaids face off in this year's race for Best Original Score: the prolific Newsman and the legendary Morricone (although Morricone has won an honorary Oscar). However, they go up against John Williams, who now has a career 50 Oscar nominations—second-most all time. I love Williams, but he's won five times; hopefully this year's trophy goes to one of the veterans without an award.

Also facing off will be Montaño, for mixing The Revenant, and Massey, for mixing The Martian. They'll probably both lose again, though, as Mad Max's sound mixing is heavily favored. This is sad but probably makes sense; the idea that the Academy will vote for you if you're "due" for an award is largely a myth. One bridesmaid who does stand a good chance this year, though, is Warren, who has the good fortune to be nominated alongside Lady Gaga for the song "Til It Happens To You."

My Early Predictions

This is another close, unpredictable Oscar year. Spotlight is seen as the nominal frontrunner, but I think it's weak. It lost at the Golden Globes and Producers Guild of America Awards; it wasn't even nominated by the American Cinema Editors, an important below-the-line constituency. I'd watch out for a The Big Short or even Mad Max: Fury Road upset. More on that later...

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