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.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Early Oscar Predictions

I had this teacher in high school who used to tell us that when in doubt, we should go with our first instincts, because we were smarter than we thought. He also told us that if we were curious about the effects of any drugs, we should just save our money and ask him. He had, after all, been at Woodstock. So, possibly dubious advice, but it's enough to introduce my first round of Oscar picks. These are based on past years' trends, and are subject to change as the mail-in deadline gets closer. And, of course, my Magic 8-Ball will have something to say as we get closer to the actual event.

Picture: Brokeback Mountain

Like they're going to give it to any of the other ones.

Then again... the voters do tend to like slightly quieter movies, like Crash and Good Night, And Good Luck. Munich packs quite a wallop. Heck, if the vote splits enough, Capote could sneak in there. I'm really only going with Brokeback Mountain at this point because the Academy likes cowboy movies.

Director: Steven Spielberg for Munich

The directors' branch tends to be a bit more adventurous with their choices than a lot of people give them credit for. They'll buck conventional wisdom if direction was enough of a factor in another movie. Much like past winner Traffic, Munich is a film whose impact is found largely in the direction. I just don't think that direction was as big a factor for Brokeback Mountain. Plus, Spielberg has really gone to bat for Munich, which has not gone unnoticed.

(I'm sure I'll end up posting something about the need for Spielberg to defend making Munich; for now, please see Tony Kushner's excellent piece on the subject.)

Anyway, it's Spielberg. He's money.

Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote

For the lead roles, always go with someone playing a real person. In the event that more than one nominee is playing a real person, go with the person who made themselves look less attractive. Hello, Truman!

Actress: Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line

Now, it could be argued that the fact that Felicity Huffman is playing a true-to-life character and took chances with hear appearance may allow her to triumph, but Reese Witherspoon hits back on two fronts: Some of the voters will doubtless feel bad about not voting for Joaquin Phoenix, and that Walk the Line isn't up for Best Picture, so this will be their attempt to make it up to the movie; and, as June, she sports some impressive hair. Also, let's face it: In a close call, the Academy would rather go with the under-30 winner than the over-40 one. Yes, it's a shame. But there you go.

Supporting Actor: Paul Giamatti in Cinderella Man

Supporting Actor tends to function as a career achievement award. Paul Giamatti will probably win this year for his work in Sideways. It's kind of like when Russell Crowe won the Lead Actor statuette for Gladiator a few years back, when the voters made up for not giving him the supporting Oscar for The Insider. (Come on, you really thought Russell Crowe won for his work in Gladiator? Have you ever SEEN Gladiator?)

Supporting Actress: Amy Adams in Junebug

Supporting Actress is where you're most likely to have an unexpected winner. We can eliminate Frances McDormand right off the bat, as she's too big a name. Playing the strong female sidekick to a quirky male lead is usually enough to get a supporting actress into contention -- see Jennifer Connolley in A Beautiful Mind -- but I just don't think that Catherine Keener's what they're looking for. Rachel Weisz has the momentum, which is the kiss of death in this category -- see Virginia Madsen. That leaves two young women who've been in the game for a while, and who are finally getting some much-deserved notice. This is exactly the sort of person the Academy loves giving stuff to -- think Marisa Tomei and Mira Sorvino. Unfortunately for Michelle Williams, she was on Dawson's Creek, and it'll be another few years before the voters forget. Amy Adams has done a lot of TV, which could be an issue. However, some of it is The Office, and none of it is Dawson's Creek.

All that said, I may end up going with Rachel Weisz in the end.

Original Screenplay: Good Night, And Good Luck George Clooney and Grant Heslov

Solid, thoughtful script co-written by Famous Actor. The people who've actually seen it tend to think quite highly of the script. Plus, we're about due for a Crash backlash. Yes, it was smart to send out screener copies to just about anyone who can vote for everything (something like 130,000 went out), but come Oscar voting time that won't be the only DVD the voters have lying around. I do think Crash is a good script -- I just don't think it's better than most of the other nominees.

Adapted Screenplay: Munich Tony Kushner and Eric Roth

Given half a chance, movie people will vote for theater people, and theater people will vote for movie people. Hey, didn't Tony Kushner win that whole "Pulitzer Prize" thing? I think he did. Anyway, Munich is both an interesting adaptation and a solid screenplay, and I'd like to think that the writers' branch will recognize that. (By the way, did you read that Tony Kushner op-ed I referenced 'way up there? Because you really should.)

Assorted thoughts on other awards:

Memoirs of a Geisha was a really pretty movie. It has to be; there's not much compelling story to which to pay attention. It will probably do well in costume design and art direction -- though I think it may face some costuming competition from Pride and Prejudice, because costumers have seen enough movies set in that place and time to have something to which to compare it. Geisha may eke out a win for score if the usual John Williams vote isn't too split.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room may just upset audience favorite March of the Penguins in the documentary feature category -- but you know what would totally kick ass? A win for Murderball.

Prediction I'm most likely to stick with over the next month: God Sleeps in Rwanda for documentary short.

Best title: Nominated animated short The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello. You know, there was a time when I would have seen all of the nominees in this category by now, and would have been able to make an educated prediction. That time was called "college".

Animated feature: If Corpse Bride wins, it's because the rest of the vote was split between the excellent Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and the excellent Howl's Moving Castle. And yet, I kind of hope that it happens, because Tim Burton's acceptance speech has the potential for greatness -- not for what he says, but for how confused he looks. Not that it matters; the voters will probably go for Wallace & Gromit, as well they should. I'm sure it doesn't hurt that the director has a history of showing up and making amusing speeches. Miyazaki? Not so much.

So, there you go. Predictions, Round 1. Heed them at your own risk.