The Oscars are over. (Or is Seth MacFarlane still singing? We turned off the TV.) “Argo” has its best picture trophy. Ben Affleck made his final self-deprecating acceptance speech. And the White House cashed in on its last awards season photo op.
What can Hollywood learn from the last six months? Five take-aways from this season of back-patting:
Emotion counts for something.
Number crunchers such as Nate Silver can bring their analytical skills to the Oscars, but statistics go only so far. “Lincoln” led the field with 12 nominations. However, unlike most nomination leaders, it couldn’t seal the deal and win best picture or director because, for whatever reason, it didn’t win voters’ hearts. Too many motion picture academy members carped to us that watching it felt like “homework” or a “duty.”
“Argo,” on the other hand, with its triumphant rescue story of American hostages, left voters feeling good, particularly because the film’s liberation scheme wouldn’t have worked without the involvement of ... wait for it ... Hollywood. Hooray, indeed! And that standing ovation for “Life of Pi” director Ang Lee told you all you needed to know about the depth of the academy’s feelings toward the filmmaker and his creation.
Get out front on the disclaimers.
The awards season is a long and grinding road, full of screenings, parties, glad-handing and opportunities for beat writers to delve into the nominated movies, examine their themes and nuances and then systematically pick them apart until what’s left is thinner than Russell Crowe’s singing voice.
This year, the truth police were out in force, compiling thick dossiers on fact-based films such as “Argo,” “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Lincoln.” Of the three, only “Argo’s” Affleck took early pains to preempt the fact-checkers, telling the press at its Telluride Film Festival premiere that its climactic airport chase was wholly invented.
Meanwhile, “Zero Dark Thirty” director Kathryn Bigelow touted her thriller, which methodically chronicled the CIA’s hunt for Osama bin Laden, as “attempting ... almost a journalistic approach to film.” It probably wasn’t the best choice of words, particularly since a long line of naysayers — some earnest, some opportunistic — was eager to pounce on the film. (Some couldn’t even wait until they actually saw it.)
So next year, when Tom Hanks talks about playing a real-life captain taken hostage by Somali pirates in Paul Greengrass’ “Captain Phillips,” or Steve Carell discusses “Foxcatcher,” Bennett Miller’s drama about paranoid chemical heir John du Pont, expect immediate briefings separating fact from fiction. Dictate the conversation on your terms, the thinking will go, before any self-serving Connecticut congressman can call a news conference.
Don’t sweat the calendar.
Chicken Littles looked at this year’s accelerated Oscar schedule — nomination ballots were due Jan. 3 (no, make that Jan. 4!) — and anxiously squawked that academy members couldn’t possibly have sufficient time to sample the fullness of this year’s cinematic banquet and reward the right movies.
And then the nominations were announced and, what do you know, voters made pretty great choices all around. Even the hyped snubs of Affleck and Bigelow by the directors branch couldn’t really be classified in any sort of sky-is-falling scenario since the five nominated directors were all equally deserving. (Whom would you lose? Michael Haneke?)
With the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics occupying all four February Sundays next year, it wouldn’t be surprising if the academy decides to push the 2014 Oscars to January. If that happens, expect more proclamations of doom and gloom — and for voters to keep on keepin’ on with the types of choices the academy has historically made.
You can’t kill the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.
Officially, the academy said it accelerated this year’s Oscar nomination schedule to give voters more time to watch the chosen films and performances. Unofficially: They wanted to stick it to the Golden Globes.
It didn’t work, and not just because the HFPA had the wisdom to hire Tina Fey and Amy Poehler instead of abysmal MacFarlane. Because the Globes telecast came a mere three days after the perceived snub of Affleck, the night’s awards for “Argo” and its director made for huge theater, arguably starting the motor on an awards-season juggernaut that didn’t lose anything on its triumphant road to the Dolby Theatre.
And, yes, as President Obama proved in November, you need a good ground game.
Of course, it helps to have a charismatic candidate, be it a sitting president (married to a movie-loving first lady!) or an A-list movie-star director willing to hit the campaign circuit, press the flesh, pose for pictures and talk a good game.
So hats off to Ben Affleck and “Argo.” And, based on all this evidence, may we be the first to congratulate the once and future mayor of Hollywood, Mr. Hanks, and the makers of “Captain Phillips” on their 2014 Oscar victories.
Until next year ...
Whipp writes the Gold Standard column for The Envelope.