Oscar Watch, charting the smiles, the frowns, the ups and downs of the awards season, comes to you every Monday from now through the end of February.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
Oscar voters -- they’re just like us! At the same time that lines were snaking around multiplexes nationwide, academy members crowded Wilshire Boulevard on Saturday afternoon outside the Samuel Goldwyn Theater to see “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
It wasn’t quite a full house. The crowd numbered about 850, nearly filling the Goldwyn’s 1,000 seats. To put the attendance in perspective: Only 300 people turned out for the Leonardo DiCaprio revenge western “The Revenant” later that evening. And the numbers were lower Sunday for “Anomalisa,” Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion animated picture.
You can spin the attendance figures for these movies a couple of ways. Both “The Revenant” and “Anomalisa” have been screening around town the past couple of weeks and academy members received their DVD screener for “The Revenant” Friday. And even though the latter film really should be seen on a big screen, most Oscar voters aren’t inclined to leave the comfort of their homes to make the effort. (Who cares if Leo was there, it was drizzling outside!)
There are no screeners for “The Force Awakens,” so the only way for Oscar voters to see Han and Luke and Leia and that new little rolly droid was to line up and
buy their tickets show their membership cards. That partially explains the strong Saturday turnout, plus the 700 or so who showed up for the extended family/friends/neighbors/acquaintances screening Sunday morning.
Their reaction once the movie started mirrored the excitement heard in theaters around the country. They cheered when John Williams’ score blasted out over the traditional opening scroll. They applauded each time one of the old characters first appeared. They roared their approval after big action sequences and groaned when [REDACTED]. When the movie ended, they gave it a sustained ovation that continued when J.J. Abrams and his crew came on stage and they went through the roof the moment Harrison Ford walked into the spotlight.
So ... Oscar nominations for everyone, right?
Before we answer that, a quick quiz:
Number of times a franchise movie has been nominated for best picture:
Number of times an actor from a franchise movie has been nominated:
The answer to both questions is “B.” One franchise movie: “Toy Story 3.” Zero franchise actors. And academy members nominated “Toy Story 3" in one of the two years their ballots sported 10 best picture slots. Since the academy shifted to a variable number of best picture nominees in 2011, voters have just five slots fo fill in.
Yes, all three “Lord of the Rings” movies were nominated. And so was “The Godfather Part III.” But those movies weren’t franchises so much as close-ended sagas, stories that had a beginning, middle and end broken up into separate parts.
And, yes, Alec Guiness received a supporting actor nomination for “Star Wars,” as did Burgess Meredith for the original “Rocky.” But when academy members voted for them, the forseeable future did not include countless sequels, Jar Jar Binks or Dolph Lundgren.
So there’s not much of a precedent for a “Force Awakens” best picture nomination or for the (rightfully) beloved Ford to break into the supporting actor ranks. (Pundits predicting a Sylvester Stallone nomination for the thrilling “Rocky” reboot “Creed” should also pay heed to history.)
Moreover, populist-minded voters have an abundance of choices this year. If you love imaginative franchise reboots, heavy on fan service, there’s “Creed” and “The Force Awakens.” Those inclined to reward an effort that’s raw, unrelenting and revolutionary in its action filmmaking can mark off “Mad Max: Fury Road.” And those disinclined to vote for sequels or reboots can feel good about rewarding inventive, original efforts like “Inside Out” and “The Martian.”
Oscar voters aren’t completely averse to sci-fi movies. They nominated the first “Star Wars” film for best picture, after all. But George Lucas’ initial effort broke new ground, changing the way movies looked and sounded and reverberated through the popular culture. One could argue “The Force Awakens” blazes its own trail in its casting, putting a young woman and a black man at the center of its new story.
How much weight will that carry with an academy membership comprised of mostly men in their 60s?
“I loved it!” an Oscar-nominated producer told me after the Saturday screening. “It’s everything a ‘Star Wars’ movie should be!”
That means you’re voting for it?
His answer: “No! It’s a ‘Star Wars’ movie.”