Quondam Dreams

Friday, February 10, 2006

Next Round Of Oscar Musings, or: Oscars and Grammys and Emmys, Oy Vey

My picks from last week still stand, but barely. While Reese Witherspoon won the SAG award, I'm thinking the Oscar voters might be less like the SAG voters than they are like my parents. The folks aren't actors, but they're Los Angeles-based movie consumers in their fifties (Mom) and sixties (Dad), which probably gives them at least as much in common with the actors' branch of the academy as does the voting membership of SAG. Dad thought Felicity Huffman was fabulous in Transamerica -- she "owned the role" in a "restrained" performance; there was "no campiness" to it. Mom thought the movie did a good job of showing how universal the story is, and she particularly liked the dedication: "For all people of trans experience -- For all people of any experience". The numbers still point to Witherspoon, but the momentum may just be shifting to Huffman.

Last time around, Leemer asked why Grizzly Man didn't get a documentary nomination. I replied that the nominating process has some serious issues, and I'd post a link to a coherent explanation if I could find one. The best rundown I've been able to find is here on the LA Times’ The Envelope.

If you don't feel like wading through, here's the rundown: The documentary filmmakers' branch chooses a screening committee from among its members. The committee watches the eligible docs and releases a list of their top 15 or so. This is the list from which the final nominees are chosen. If a documentary -- say, Grizzly Man, or The Aristocrats, or Protocols of Zion -- doesn't make that list, then they're out of the running. The end.

Wait, it gets better. Try and make sense of the Academy’s Special Rules for The Documentary Awards.

Eligibility is a tricky thing to begin with. The Academy adds another set of criteria for documentaries. Though there are a couple of loopholes, a documentary that's been shown on TV or online is going to have a really hard time qualifying. If it shows up on TV or online before the "qualifying exhibition," they're screwed. (I can't find any mention of what happens if the documentary shows up online in a form that's not officially sanctioned by the distributor -- though something tells me that this particular branch of the academy isn't terribly hip to that whole "file sharing" thing.) The exhibition requirements are downright bizarre. I'd try to explain them, but I had to take a break somewhere around section 5, paragraph 3. The whole process seems to be a scheme to keep documentaries to traditional channels of distribution, in such a way that it's going to be hard for a documentary without serious financial backing to qualify.

As nutty as all this is, it's a vast improvement over the old system. I'm still digging for a good explanation of it, but I seem to remember that it involved mandatory screenings and the ability of a few voters to pull films from contention in the first 15 minutes.

It's always interesting to see what happens when an awards-giving organization tries to improve their nomination process. The recent Grammy practice of having a blue-ribbon panel narrow down the list of potential nominees has arguably been more successful than the documentary filmmakers', if only because they have more to work with. Of course, the voting membership at large will still go with the safest choice, but at least there's a theoretical chance for albums that never made the Adult Contemporary top 10.

As it happens, this year's Daytime Emmy award nominations were announced the morning after the Grammys were handed out. If you really want to see how a change in a nominating process can play you, take a look at the soap opera categories. The final winner is still determined by a blue-ribbon panel (there's that phrase again), but getting there is no longer a straight-out popularity contest. Now, it's a popularity contest with a merit filter: Each show can put forth a certain number of pre-nominees in each category, which are then narrowed down by panels of their peers. Limiting the pre-noms going in inevitably shuts out some great performers, but it goes a long way towards cutting down on bloat. (Yeah, Lucci, I'm looking at you.) No, it's not a perfect system, and no one pretends that it is. But I think it's markedly less flawed than the documentary branch of the Academy's latest scheme.

And that, I'm sure, was more than you wanted to know about stuff you never wanted to know about.

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