Jul 022011
 




For Your Consideration

So the Oscars have changed their rules again. Up until two years ago there were five nominees for best picture. A change meant the number increased from five to ten. Now, there might not be 10 best pictures a year. There could be anywhere between five and ten. Big deal, right? The Oscars are nothing more than a bloated display of Hollywood slapping itself on the back, usually missing out the most interesting films of the year in favour of the most middle-of-the-road nominations possible. All this is true. But at the same time, the Oscars can have great importance, for a nominee it can mean more work, more money, etc. The idea of the Oscars as a badge of merit is just silly. It’s a popularity contest, it’s a show of appreciation, it’s fun. Voters aren’t trying to find some objective best of the year, regardless of what is claimed. I fully admit I get caught up in the Oscars, because there’s always someone I want to see win one. This year I really wanted Firth, Portman, Hawkes and Weaver to take awards. The year before I really wanted Bridges (or Firth), Bigelow, Mulligan, Waltz and Gyllenhaal to win. But beyond that moment, it’s meaningless. I know that, I accept it. I just have fun with it and I actually enjoy figuring out the most likely winners based on statistics, etc. But I know it’s not about who is the best. People vote because they like the nominee, they vote because the nominee has heat, they vote to block a performer they dislike, they vote because a previous performance brought the actor to their attention. Melissa Leo didn’t win for The Fighter because of that performance. She won because she didn’t win for Frozen River. She didn’t actually  win for Frozen River because Kate Winslet had never won an Oscar and the Academy finally realised how stupid they were making themselves look by not rewarding the greatest actress of her generation. The Reader isn’t even top five Winslet, but it was a deserved win for a long overdue performer. What the Oscars most definitely is not is a list of the best performers, writers, directors or films in cinema. Sometimes names can cross over, but when the winners list includes names like Kevin Costner, Ron Howard, Mo’Nique, you can’t say it’s a roll call of the Cinema Gods.

So why do I have such a problem with the new change? Because it’s just idiocy and it’ll hurt the image of the Academy. Ok, maybe I’m not that opposed to their image being hurt. Part of me finds it kind of funny to see the pomposity pricked of an organisation that thinks finding time for a series of endless montages about the glory of montages was more important than allowing Lauren Bacall, Roger Corman, Jean-luc Godard, etc to collect their lifetime achievement awards on the Oscar stage. But it’s not just about the winner, it’s about the effect it can have on the careers of everyone who gets that nomination. Someone like Brad Pitt doesn’t need an Oscar nomination, but someone like John Hawkes? That incredible performance in Winter’s Bone could act as a launching pad for more roles of that quality. Same goes for Jennifer Lawrence, who could use the acclaim for her performance to avoid the rom-com path most pretty young actresses are forced down. Over the past few three years alone, attention has been given to Hawkes, Lawrence, Michelle Williams, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Jacki Weaver, Christoph Waltz, Carey Mulligan, Richard Jenkins, Frank Langella, Melissa Leo, Michael Shannon and others, who may not be household names, but are damn good actors who deserve the boost this has brought to their careers. The rules for acting nominations isn’t changing, so these kind of performers will be unaffected to an extent. But let’s go back to Winter’s Bone a minute. A film getting two acting nominations is obviously going to gain some interest, but they can still be easily overlooked. A film gets a best picture nomination and it gets more people talking. It prompts the general public to want to know more about this film, why did the Academy select it as one of their best of the year? It’s the films like this that will miss out on the exposure the nomination could give them and that’s the biggest problem with the changes system.

To understand how the changes will affect the nominations, it’s important to understand how the voting used to work. Judging by the comments every year when a favourite film misses out on a nomination, a lot of people don’t understand how the ballots work. The Academy is split into branches – writing, acting, so on. Members of the acting branch nominate for the acting categories, writers nominate in the writing categories. All branches nominate for best picture. Take 2010 as an example, if I was an Academy voter, my ballot for best picture could have looked something like this.

Best Picture

1. Winter’s Bone
2. Black Swan
3. Blue Valentine
4. True Grit
5. The Illusionist
6. Skeletons
7. The Town
8. Scott Pilgrim vs the World
9. Never Let Me Go
10. Shutter Island

Only one of those ten films would actually be counted as my choice. Same for director, same for actor. For everyone upset that Chris Nolan wasn’t nominated for best director and complaining that the Academy members didn’t vote for him, you’re complaining that someone’s personal favourite for the year wasn’t the same as your own. There’s not some mysterious board that looks at the possible nominees and makes a group decision to choose the five. Each person gets one vote that counts and the five with the majority of votes become the nominees. Every voter could have Nolan second or third on their lists, if he wasn’t number one on enough ballots then he wouldn’t be nominated.

The way the counting works is this. In every round, the first choices on ballots are counted and placed into piles. The actual nominations for 2010 for best picture were

Black Swan
The Fighter
Inception
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

In addition to those, there would have been other films that got first place choices in ballots. Let’s assume that some of them could have been The Town, Shutter Island, Blue Valentine, Rabbit Hole, Another Year, How to Train Your Dragon. In this hypothetical situation, sixteen films got first place votes. Let’s say they ranked in order something like this

The King’s Speech
The Social Network
The Fighter
True Grit
Black Swan
Inception
Toy Story 3
Winter’s Bone
The Town
The Kids Are All Right
How to Train Your Dragon
127 Hours
Blue Valentine
Rabbit Hole
Shutter Island
Another Year

If a film gets a certain percentage of votes in the first round (determined by the number of votes), it’s an automatic nominee. So let’s say in this situation The King’s Speech and The Social Network both hit that magic number, they’d be automatic nominations, leaving eight free spots. Any votes for either of those films that are in excess of the required number are redistributed. Another Year would have had the lowest number of first placed votes and that would have been eliminated. The ballots that voted for Another Year would then be looked at again, with the second place choice coming into play. The ballots would then be redistributed to piles based on their second place choice. Any that had a film that didn’t get first place votes, or that has already been assured a nomination, in second place, would be checked for third place, or fourth, and so on, until all the ballots are now placed in piles for films still in the running for a slot. The totals are then recounted. So after this second round of counting, the ballots could look like this.

The King’s Speech – Automatic nominee
The Social Network – Automatic nominee

The Fighter
Black Swan
True Grit
Toy Story 3
Inception
Winter’s Bone
The Town
127 Hours
The Kids Are All Right
How to Train Your Dragon
Blue Valentine
Rabbit Hole
Shutter Island

Let’s say at the end of the second round, The Fighter now has enough ballots to make it an automatic nominee. Shutter Island being bottom would eliminate it. So in this situation, three films would be now guaranteed a slot, leaving 11 films battling for the remaining 7 places. This process of elimination would continue until there were ten nominees, either by films getting enough ballots to guarantee their spots, or by eliminating the bottom placed film until only 10 remained. This is how it works in nearly every category of the Oscars.

The advantage of this system is that it allows voters to place smaller films at number one, safe in the knowledge that even if that film didn’t get enough support for a nomination, their second place vote would still be counted. It helps films that haven’t been seen by a wider audience as yet. It helps the Oscar line-up actually be interesting from time to time.

The change means that there won’t be ten nominees every year. Instead, films will have to get 5% of the votes in order to be nominated. The range of films could then run between five and ten nominees. According to the Academy press release, some years between 2000 – 2008 only saw as little as 5 films getting the 5%. That could easily happen again in any other year from now on. There will still be a redistribution of ballots. In order to move on to the second round of voting, a film has to have received 1% of first placed votes. So with a voting body of 6000, that would mean that a film needed 60 first placed votes to move into the second round. Anything that got under 1% of the votes would be redistributed based on their next vote for anything still in the competition. How would this work for this year’s example? Using the same body of films

The King’s Speech
The Social Network
The Fighter
True Grit
Black Swan
Inception
Toy Story 3
Winter’s Bone
The Town
The Kids Are All Right
How to Train Your Dragon
127 Hours
Blue Valentine
Rabbit Hole
Shutter Island
Another Year

The rules for automatic nominees have changed. To be an automatic nominee a film would now need roughly 10% of the votes in this round. Before any ballots get redistributed, a film needs to have at least 20% more votes than it requires, so there’ll be less ballots redistributed from the big hitters in the first round. At the bottom end, let’s say everything above Blue Valentine had at least 1% of the number one votes. That means Blue Valentine, Rabbit Hole, Shutter Island and Another Year would have their ballots redistributed. Then we get the second round, where the votes are counted again. Any film that gets at least 5% of the ballots is a nominee, so let’s assume the top eight films all get at least 5%, leaving The Town, The Kids Are All Right, How to Train Your Dragon and 127 Hours with somewhere between 1 and 5%. The votes for those films will basically be ignored. The eventual best picture nominees will be based on a smaller range of votes than in the past. Again, who cares, right? But that means that voters who wanted to vote for something smaller that they’re passionate about would have two choices.

A. Risk having your vote not count by placing the smaller film in first place.

B. Stand more chance of having your vote counted by going for a bigger film. One you may love, but one that’s more likely to be locked for nomination.

This punishes smaller films for not having the budget to get their films seen by the same number of people. You know why there are sometimes surprise winners? Someone like Marcia Gay Harden? Because enough people are passionate about the performance to get it nominated, then when it’s seen by a wider variety of voters they realise how incredible the work is. It’s rare that the upset extends to best picture, but the nomination alone can mean a lot. Both in terms of prestige for the career and in terms of money, allowing the people involved to get more chances to make more films of that quality.

Academy president Bruce Davis compared the system to political races. Which is, of course, nonsense of the highest order. In a political race you may be voting for one candidate while despising the values of the other. What we’re talking about here is art. An individual may hate certain films, but they can also certainly love more than one. Most years the gap between my number one and two choices would be minimal at best. My sole vote for 2009 would have gone to Where the Wild Things Are, a film that didn’t make the cut. My second choice? A Single Man, again, a film that didn’t make the cut. You’d have to go to my number 6 for 2009 – Pixar’s Up, to get a film that actually matched with the Academy choices. But at least a voter like me would still have been assured a say under the old rules, under the new ones, I might have missed out completely. If Wild Things had got less than 1% of the first placed votes I would have got a second chance. But A Single Man is a film that would likely have fallen under the 1 – 5% rule.

This feels almost like a punishment for the prevalence of smaller films in the Academy line-up; the fact that The Hurt Locker triumphed over Avatar and The King’s Speech over The Social Network. There certainly seems to have been an attempt to drag in more mainstream voters in the last year or two; the idiotic idea to have Franco and Hathaway host this year (although I think the blame for that disaster lay far more with the atrocious script than with them), the disaster that was the Shankman ceremony the year before. If the issue is assuring more spots for more widely seen films, then it could backfire. The general consensus seemed to be that the extension from 5 to 10 nominations was because of The Dark Knight failing to get a nomination. But Inception wasn’t exactly lapped up by the Academy. No acting nominations, no directing nomination. A film like that could easily have missed out on the needed votes. For all we know it was bottom of the 10 nominees this year. Either way it smacks of the Academy passing judgement, as if they think the ten nominees the voters chose weren’t quite up to grade. Personally I agree, but I think the wrong films will end up being hurt by this new system.

Here’s a suggestion, if making changes to the Oscar rules is really all about ensuring the best pictures actually get nominated, how about changing the things that really are broken about the system? Like the eligibility rules. Take Let the Right One In as an example. It gained huge amounts of acclaim from fans and critics alike, yet it was overlooked in the Oscar line-up. Actually, not it wasn’t. It wasn’t overlooked, because it was never eligible in the first place. The Academy have certain rules about films having had to have been given a theatrical release in L.A. for a certain amount of time during a certain period of time. If a film doesn’t meet that requirement, it can’t be nominated for any Oscars. So how about allowing write-in ballots? If a film really is that popular, it’ll get enough support to make the nominations list, if it’s not, no problem. What’s really more important? Sticking to the letter of the Academy law or actually nominating the films voters love? This new ruling helps nobody and risks hurting the people who actually do benefit from an Oscar nomination.

Leave a comment using:

 Leave a Reply

(required)

(required)

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current ye@r *

:wink: :-| :-x :twisted: :) 8-O :( :roll: :-P :oops: :-o :mrgreen: :lol: :idea: :-D :evil: :cry: 8) :arrow: :-? :?: :!:
Loading Facebook Comments ...