Sunday, March 07, 2010

Oscars 2010 - Analysis, part 1 (Picture, Director)

Oscar Day is upon us and, as has been happening more often in recent years, I have had no time to read up or prepare for my predictions... which will make them as accurate as always. Sadly, I have seen one or two of the nominated films, which naturally biases my analysis. Maybe, after my planned success at the super-Lotto, I will have the time and means to watch all the films, but until then, I will continue my flawed merry way.


The baseline, so far as I've seen, is that the voters are truly trying to choose the best but (a) because most people in Hollywood are high-school dropouts, it's not clear that my criteria are anywhere near theirs, and (b) the voters are swayed by a number of crazy biases that put predictions into the random category. Big biases are: (a) the producer voters, often in their 70s and 80s, are not only stupid and uneducated, they are prejudiced with archaic stereotypes about life and meaning (see below for applications of this), (b) many of the awards are given to make up for last year's Oscar mistakes, e.g. Sean Penn wins for "Milk" because "Brokeback Mountain" was rejected a 2 years before aaaand (c) [current events' issues] California had just rejected gay marriage.

To be honest, I used to think that the voters were sympathetic to (d) 'lifetime achievement' candidates, but I think that it's just the fourth prong of the general computation - that a majority of voters will choose lifetime achievement if (a) there's no clear standout candidate, plus (b) no mistakes or (c) politics. Again, see below for applications.

As such, I need to analyze the candidate's (a) history of past work, concentrating on the past 3 years and then lifetime, (b) general murmuring of the quality of performance, (c) the zeitgeist of Hollywood-idiot politics, and (d) commercial success (which I've discussed before, but basically since the Oscars are simply put an industry awarding it's top employees, success is going to be rewarded - this can be called the Titanic effect).

This year, I'm also going to Odds from here - because there's some social-psychological merit in the collective wisdom of crowds. My basic ballot (and links) are from IMDb. Predicted winner is marked with a star (*).

Best Picture -- Odds; Nominees:
Now remember that this year they've expanded to 10 movies and revamped the voting system - which will make predictions harder than ever. Yet, even then, almost everyone thinks that this is a battle between two powerhouses: Avatar and The Hurt Locker. I'll give pros/cons for those 2 alone because I don't have time to eliminate all the other movies, except for some quick comments:

Inglourious Basterds - the more time since I've seen the film, the more I feel that it's a masterpiece; both of Tarantino and of Borges-like meta-fiction. If there were no other strong contenders, then this would win - it would be like No Country for Old Men or The Departed - which were OK movies from great directors who got the top prize because the competition was weak. I happen to hate "No Country" and compared to O Brother, Where Art Thou? (which wasn't even nominated!!) it's just plain bad. But compared to puppy-dogs like
Atonement and Juno , or good-but-not-spectacular Michael Clayton or There Will Be Blood then the Coens were given their lifetime achievement award. Same can be said for Departed (vs. Babel; Letters from Iwo Jima; Little Miss Sunshine ; or The Queen) none of those four were quality enough to overpower the lifetime achievement of Scorcese... even though it was not his best film by a long-shot.

So sorry Tarantino; I hope you're still creative enough to make another brilliant epic like Inglorious.

Pros for Avatar:
  1. It's one of the most lucrative movies in history - as of this week, it has grossed 2.6 billion dollars and it's still in theaters.
  2. It has advanced film technology to the next level, just on it's own
  3. It has restored the glory of the movie theater experience - and this is a big deal. Ya see, movies have been in competition with TV ever since the latter was born (e.g. it's why movies are 'letterbox' - to compete with TV's square screen). Personally, I avoid the theater because I enjoy movies 100x more at home. But my popularizing digital-3D, Cameron may have just saved the entire movie theater industry.
  4. I've heard from others that it is derivative but fun. It's "Dances with Wolves" but with better explosions. And remember, Dances won.
  1. I've heard people grumble that it's derivative and dumb. Note, this really hasn't hurt a movie's Oscar chances in my memory. See, uh, Titanic.
  2. I've heard people grumble that it's racist. This *really* hasn't hurt any movie. I was just thinking about this the other day: two of the biggest movies in Hollywood history are racist as hell: The Birth of a Nation (1915) - which glorified the KKK, and The Jazz Singer (1927) whose movie posters have a guy in black-face for goodness sake!
Pros for The Hurt Locker:
  1. It depicts the Iraq War with "realism" (defined here as "it looks scary for people who've never been to war but has been derided by actual veterans"). As such, this movie can benefit from the Platoon - Deer Hunter effect. Not too shabby.
  2. As above with 'Nam, many people in Hollywood want to be seen as 'serious' about a terrible current-event, and war is the best event to be current on. Most of the Iraq War movies have been turkeys. This is the best one yet (sez many many people). And that helps.
  3. This is a war movie directed by a woman. That gets some votes, for a double glass-ceiling breaking (directing itself, and a war movie nukh).
  4. This may be too weird vis-a-vis Hollywood politics, but Bigelow's cult classic Point Break (1991) starred Patrick Swayze who just died tragically, and that also could help.
After all has been said and done, I think that Avatar has too many pros, not enough cons. It's too freakin' huge and it did 3 things that nobody has done before (2 billion sales, grounbreaking new movie tech, saving movie theaters). Would Hurt Locker have beaten Inglorious without Avatar, dunno, but this one seems to be Avatar's win.

Best Director -Nominees:

  1. Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker (2008)
  2. James Cameron for Avatar (2009)
  3. Lee Daniels for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009)
  4. Jason Reitman for Up in the Air (2009/I)
  5. Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds (2009)
These two categories go together - and in an uncontested year they'll share winners, as the Wiki sez:
Invariably, the Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Picture have been very closely linked throughout their history. Of the 80 films that have been awarded Best Picture, 59 have also been awarded Best Director. Only three films have won Best Picture without their directors being nominated (though only one since the early 1930s): Wings (1927/28), Grand Hotel (1931/32), and Driving Miss Daisy (1989). The only two Best Director winners to win for films which did not receive a Best Picture nomination are likewise in the early years
And according to this fun stat site it's very rare for Best Picture and Director to be separated:
  1. 1972 (45th) Picture: The Godfather (director Francis Ford Coppola was nominated).
    Directing: Cabaret (Bob Fosse).
  2. 1981 (54th) Picture: Chariots of Fire (director Hugh Hudson was nominated).
    Directing: Reds (Warren Beatty).
  3. 1989 (62nd) Picture: Driving Miss Daisy (director Bruce Beresford was NOT nominated).
    Directing: Born on the Fourth of July (Oliver Stone).
  4. 1998 (71st) Picture: Shakespeare in Love (director John Madden was nominated).
    Directing: Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg).
  5. 2000 (73rd) Picture: Gladiator (director Ridley Scott was nominated).
    Directing: Traffic (Steven Soderbergh).
  6. 2002 (75th) Picture: Chicago (director Rob Marshall was nominated).
    Directing: The Pianist (Roman Polanski).
  7. 2005 (78th) Picture: Crash (director Paul Haggis was nominated).
    Directing: Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee).
Given that, I think it's probable that they will be separated this year with Avatar as best picture and Bigelow as best director. Mainly because all the pros (above) for Avatar winning 'picture' are about its production and not its direction/art. Hence, I believe the voters will intentionally split the difference. Then again, like with Peter Jackson's win for the Lord of the Frodo trilogy, they could just bow down to Cameron's expertise... but since he won for the same honors for Titanic, I feel Bigelow's strong candidacy will pay off in this.

Part 2+ will be for the other awards.

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