Thursday, 3 February 2011

Whatever gets the Best Picture Oscar this year - it won’t be because it actually is!

In 1939, Oscar voters had an interesting selection of films to choose “Best Picture” from, including Gone with the Wind, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninotchka, Of Mice and Men, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz and Wuthering Heights(Films that didn’t even get on the 10-strong short-list included The Hunchback of Notre Dame (!), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Young Mr. Lincoln, Beau Geste, Gunga Din, Drums Along the Mohawk, The Roaring Twenties, Le Jour se Lève, The Rules of the Game, The Stars Look Down, Only Angels Have Wings, andBabes in Arms (not to mention a cartoon called “Hunky and Spunky”, which we’d better pass over quickly). 


Today’s academy members have a somewhat easier choice, given that it’s a rare year when any of the nominated movies match any one of the films on that extraordinary 1939 short-list. And yet, it’s probably less easy to predict what’s going to win this year than 71 years ago (Gone with the Wind, in case there’s any doubt).

In a comment on my previous post, SDG had some inriguing comments to make about the practice of releasing films as close as possible to Oscar-voting time on the basis that Academy members will vote for whatever they’ve just seen. I’m convinced that is the reason for the end of year flood of releases – but I’m equally convinced that this strategy has no effect whatsoever.

In Adventures in the Screen-Writing Trade, the multi-Oscar-winning screenwriter, William Goldman, famously said of the movie business, “Nobody knows anything”. I’m sure all those marketing folk and studio heads and producers who devise the release strategies for films so they’ll do well at the Oscars are utterly clueless – just trying to justify their bloated salaries, I expect. 

I’m pretty sure that if they just released the films when they were ready, there’d hardly be any difference – because the voters usually aren’t voting for what they think is the best film: they’re actually rewarding old people for having survived so long, or making up for having done the dirty on a director’s previous, far more deserving film, or because the obvious choice is by someone they loathe or involves subject matter that makes them queasy. Hollywood’s big names are almost all Obama-worshipping liberals, but many Academy voters are craft types who aren’t multimillionaires, don’t do high-grade coke, adopt Third World babies or regularly appear on Letterman for a dose of mutual ego-masturbation – they’re regular(ish) Joes who have to meet bills and don’t want to see their hard-earned money squandered on useless people. What unites them is their sentimentality and their desire to feel good about the sordid business they’re in – hence the lack of Best Picture thrillers, comedies, horror movies, fantasy films or animations, and the preponderance of safe, middle-of-the-road, “serious” movies, with lashings of traditional production values.

Here’s a list of winners from the last few years, with my guess as to what was going through the voters’ heads as they plumped for them:

2009 The Hurt Locker – because voters hated James Cameron and couldn’t bring themselves to vote for the splendid Up (animation).        

2008 Slumdog Millionaire  - because nothing else stood out, and it was so damned heart-warming (although Wall-E - an animated picture - was equally heart-warming).

2007 No Country for Old Men – because they’d been stupid enough not to vote for the Coen Brother’s superb Fargo, giving the Oscar to the execrable The English patient instead (could have been There Will Be Blood or The Lives of Others).

2006 The Departed – because they ignored Scorsese when he really was brilliant (Taxi Driver and Raging Bull) and because Casino Royale was a thriller and The Devil Wears Prada was a comedy.

2005 Crash – because it was the best film, and because Brokeback Mountain featured cowboys committing acts of sordid frightfulness.

2004 Million Dollar Baby - because Clint Eastwood was already VERY OLD and because Shrek 2 and The Incredibles were animations and The Bourne Supremacy was a thriller  

2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – because, although it was fantasy, it would have been embarrassing to overlook it for the third time running (when, of course, Master & Commander should have got it)

2002 Chicago - when it should have been the second Lord of the Ringsmovie (fantasy), or the superb The Bourne Identity (thriller)

2001 A Beautiful Mind - when it should have been the first Lord of the Rings movie (fantasy) or Shrek (animation)

2000 Gladiator - at last, they got it right!

1999 American Beauty – which was about “serious issues” and attacked middle class suburbanites (always a favourite target in La-La Land, because they like to feel that everyone else is as miserable as they are) when it should have been The Sixth Sense (horror) or The Blair Witch Project (horror) or the wonderful Toy Story 2 (animation)

The truth is, nobody knows which film the Academy’s members will choose this time round – but it’s unlikely to have much to do with merit, and, if it turns out to actually be the Best Picture, it’ll be by accident rather than design: I’d be happy with The King’s Speech of Toy Story 3, but they’re the only two I’ve actually seen. 


  1. From the Department of You Couldn't Make It Up, the Independent newspaper neatly make the link between the two 3 February Gronposts:

    The Oscars are all white
    Why are there no black contenders among the nominees for this year's Academy Awards? Guy Adams lifts the lid on the failure of the film industry to represent people of colour
    Friday, February 4, 2011 - 10:47 AM

  2. I think the Obama administration should set up a publicly-subsidised film-making and distribution operation run by a central planning committee setting quotas for films directed by and starring blacks, Hispanics, females, Muslims and Native Americans, and that, in these films, all "ethnic" roles must go to actors from the correct ethnic background. When these films all flop, leftists will conclude that the problem is that not enough tax money is being spent on them (even though they will, on average, cost twice as much as private sector movies), and ticket prices in their state-run cinemas will be slashed and, eventually, entry will be free.

    When even that doesn’t work, they will make the private film industry pay for the public sector equivalent. At the same time, they’ll ban old-fashioned Box Office Gross charts and replace them with a “Viewer Satisfaction Index” – as no one will be going to see public sector films, and even the administrators can’t be bothered sitting through them, they’ll ask everyone who worked on the film to assess it. When even they give it a zero rating, they’ll ban any form of list based on any sort of criteria, because they don’t reflect reality, and ban independent film criticism, because it’s the critics’ fault no one wants to see the films. Finally, they’ll blame the existence of a thriving private sector movie industry for the failure of the public sector equivalent, and force private studios to make only public sector films. When the studios go bust, they will be kept going with public money.

    Then - and only then – will left-wing journalists be able to sleep easily in their beds: and what could be more important than that?
    Friday, February 4, 2011 - 11:47 AM