Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Oscar Symposium Day 1: 'I'm an Oscar Winner, Get Me Outta Here'

Nathaniel: Welcome to the 5th annual Oscar Symposium. Each year I invite a handful of smart movie types into my virtual home to decipher, debate and occassionally defenstrate the choices made by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. This year's illustrious panel unintentionally mimics the general geography of AMPAS (Los Angeles / New York / London) if not, one feels free to assume, their psychology. Please welcome: Peter Knegt, Guy Lodge, Karina Longworth, Tim Robey and Sasha Stone.

But we aren't hear to predict.

Who doesn't know that Jeff Bridges, Mo'Nique, Kathryn Bigelow, and Christoph Waltz are taking Oscar to bed on March 7th? The Academy received its Bachelor of Arts And Sciences from The School of Redundancy School.

We're here to gab.

Here's a kick off. Adam Shankman of Hairspray, So You Think You Can Dance and Bringing Down the House fame, who is producing the show this year, has promised to play up the horse race aspect of the show, declaring that the Oscars are really "the best dressed reality show competition on the air". Never mind my distaste for the ubiquity of reality television... if we're really going to play it like that, let's play it like that. Shouldn't they have started filming the potential nominees months before the show, sending cameras to invade their every private moment (er, wait. that's called "paparazzi") and watch the triumph or heartbreak when they do or don't make the finals? A So You Think You Can Act? face/off might be the only way Meryl Streep can ever win a third Oscar, so let's do it. And if we're playing it like this, why can't we vote people off? You're the judging panel... so who are you jettisoning in the first episode, and who gets a "raise your game or go home" stern warning?

Guy Lodge: You break my heart with your talk of sure things, Mr. Rogers. Does this mean that I should withdraw my bet on a Lovely Bones write-in sweep of every category, including a Gordon E. Sawyer Award for the technological achievement of Susan Sarandon’s wig collection? Clearly, I haven’t been keeping up. It’s hard, after all, what with the dearth of film awards reporting on the web. Someone should really create a site for it. I’m sure it’d do quite well.

"how'd I get dragged into this?!?"

Read the rest of DAY ONE
Topics include but are not limited to: nominees we're not comfortable with, the soulless campaign machine, what the Oscars are *about* and potshots at Nine, James Cameron, The Blind Side and Invictus.


Andrew K. said...

It goes without saying that The Blind Side would be off, so I'm not wasting a vote. I'd vote off the entire cast and crew of Up in the Air first...even Vera whom I adore. Kendrick's airport breakdown still me makes me cringe thinking about it and I'm still nonplussed how people continue to hate James Cameron for the same douchebaggery of Reiteman and Lee Daniels. It's so weird people are giving Lee a pass because even if his film isn't perfect it's different. Different=good? Mais, non.

I can't agree with Tim. Pe and MoNique are the only of the two nominees worth being there as far as I'm concerned...not that either is my favourite.

Good read though, Nat (and everyone involved). So much to think about...

Jude said...

Can we get rid of Morgan Freeman? Please please please?

And, when you really think about it, I guess the middlebrow is more honored than the extraordinary. If you were to watch a marathon of the Best Picture winners (oh boy) you'd most likely be bored to tears by 1944. To watch them all in a marathon would probably mean to see a bunch of above-average movies in rapid succession (save for the occassional extraordinary movie like From Here to Eternity or West Side Story).

Lev Lewis said...

"The Blind Side"'s picture and actress nominations seem an obvious choice; ditto the "Invictus" boys. But the biggest what the fuck, for me, is Joe Klotz's editing citation for "Precious". The film has it's virtues (acting-wise mainly), but the sloppy, schizo, painful editing is in no way among them.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

I loved James Cameron more when I heard that. Of course he wants Best Picture. He deserves Best Picture. And he keeps repeating how he feels Kathryn Bigelow really deserves it. Clever reverse psychology? Maybe, but at least he's not doing the dishonest Oh, I'm Not Gonna Win, Tee-Hee Campaign that Bullock's working.

Now, as for jettisoning some nominees: Morgan Freeman is hereby banned from being nominated for Clint Eastwood movies. These last two were just too dull. Stanley Tucci, alas, must leave as well, along with Maggie Gyllenhaal. I'm fine with the others, but for Gyllenhaal to be nominated for her least challenging performance when there was much more deserving work by Moore, Morton and Scott Thomas is infuriating. As for Tucci...wrong movie. Wrong. Movie.

Robert Hamer said...

I wouldn't vote off Stanley Tucci. He's the friggin' man. No, who I'd vote off is Peter Jackson for making a movie so horrible he almost made me forget how much I loved The Lord of the Rings trilogy. That way, all the "Oh my God, you mean we've never nominated THE Stanley Tucci?!? What is wrong with us?" sentiment would have centered around his deserving performance in Julie & Julia.

While I understand the argument in favor of giving Avatar a Best Picture nomination in recognition of its impact on the industry and our culture in general, Cameron's use of hundreds of millions of dollars to create a sci-fi universe so...lacking in imagination (both visually and narratively) does not deserve a Best Director nomination over the creative strides of Jane Campion and the Coen Brothers.

Morgan Freeman is out without a second thought. An actor having a guaranteed nomination for a performance that ends up being "meh," is there anything more irritating.

Finally, I would banish Michael Medved for his hyperbolic review blurb about Sandra Bullock's "Oscar-worthy" performance. I firmly believe that had the TV spots not run that quote, she would not have even factored in the awards conversation.

Glenn said...

Just chuck out the majority of the Best Supporting Actor category and Freeman and I'd be happy.

Great first part, Nathaniel. LOVE the Symposium every year!

Rob T. said...

Of course Oscar is more middlebrow than extraordinary, and always has been. Something's happened to middlebrow cinema lately, though. I'm fascinated by how Oscar, over the last decade, seems to have turned away from beautifully photographed literary/theatrical adaptations and biopics (e.g. Out of Africa, The English Patient) in favor of visually flashy, tightly edited spectacles that test the ordinary viewer's ability to follow the plot (e.g. Crash, Slumdog Millionaire).

Obviously films of the "old middlebrow" type still get made and promoted for Oscars. In particular, biopics seem destined to be a prime source of acting showcases for some time to come. (About half the acting Oscars in the last ten years have gone to people playing real people, and seven of the current acting nominees portray real or "based-on-real" people.)

It's been hard going for such movies over the last few years in the "best picture" category, though, even when they get nominated. Several such turn up among this year's ten nominees, but not even Precious or Up in the Air--both of which, not coincidentally, show off considerable editing expertise even if only one got an Oscar nod for it--has attracted as much buzz as the three very different visual treats Avatar, The Hurt Locker or Inglourious Basterds, none of which would have been considered a frontrunner had they gone up against The English Patient back in the day.

Abra said...

Oh god, just like last year, Karina proves to be nearly unreadable in her snobbishness! But press on... every symposium needs a villain!

I'd definitely be voting out the likes of Damon, for essentially shouting THIS IS OUR DISTINY and getting paid a zillion dollars for it. I think Streep's Julie and Julia is an exercise in mediocrity but it's A) not as bad as Doubt and B) she seems like such a good time that I suppose she can stay.

I don't understand the collective starletgasm over Mulligan's performance, and she seems like a stick in the mud, so she can join Damon. There. That's my top 2.

Fernando Moss said...

I would vote off every Best Actress nominee, except Gabby Sidibe... No one in that category deserved a nomination (again, just Gabby), no when there were the likes of Abbie Cornish, Tilda Swinton, Julia Roberts, Catalina Saavedra, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kim Ok Bin, Penélope Cruz, Maya Rudolph and Ellen Page...

Fernando Moss said...

and I have to agree with Andrew: Penélope deserves her spot in the Supp Actress category, if anyone is to be evicted from that set of nominees should be Kendrick or Gyllenhaal...

Agustin said...

In keeping with the reality tv theme, Karina is this symposium's Omarosa, and I LOVE Omarosa
Being serious, though, Karina is a great inclusion this year as well.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Hey, now, despite dismissing Grand Hotel, Karina makes a logical point about the Oscars celebrating "flashy mediocrity" more than "the legitimately extraordinary". The Greatest Show on Earth, anyone? I don't really know what makes her a villain. She brings the sex appeal, offense, Nat ;)

Lucky said...

I haven't read the entire Symposium yet but I thought of something really pointless that I wanted to share:

Doesn't this race feel like a Hollywood romantic comedy? With James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow as leads, of course. They were married years ago and now they have to face each other again, in countless ceremonies. Their films are the frontrunners, it's a two-horse race. Hers is a small indie, his is the highest grossing film of all time.

Of course that in this movie they would have to hate each other at the beginning of the season, only to end up in love again, thanking each other in their acceptance speeches when she wins Best Director and he wins Best Picture.

Ok, it would suck, but tell me it isn't something that could totally happen in an alternate universe (Bigelow is too refined to make a good character, she should be more media hungry for this to work).

Well that was it, I'm off to read the Symposium now.

NoNo said...

Really looking forward to this and the podcast!

Say what you will about Cameron, he doesn't fake the funk. He and Mo'nique have been polarizing this season on opposite ends of the spectrum. Her for not caring and him for caring too much.

Is it me or does this season seem calmer than previous years? I think it's because Blanchett and Winslet didn't have a movie out.

Wow, Sasha Stone really did an about face on Avatar! She was so passionate about that movie until there was a big possibility that Cameron would beat Bigelow. You would think she hated it from the beginning!

amir_uk said...

Please tell me we're all joking about Maggie Gyllenhaal. It was a gorgeous, soulful little performance -- out of that lot she'd be my pick. Mo'Nique was great -- but a touch too much of the pantomime villain for my liking. No one did it better than Julianne Moore this year -- but it seems it's harder for four-time nominees to be recognised for One Incredible Scene than it is for relative newbies to the circus (Straight; Dench; Davis etc.). So Gyllenhaal it is then.

But seriously, I'm feeling really sick of the Oscar race this year. This has never happened to me before. Is it because of the Winter Olympics (and the drawn-out nature of the season as a result)? I fear I may have to take a break from it...

Jim T said...

First day was great! Kudos to everyone involved. Sasha was hilarious!

I would like Mirren out because she took Tilda's spot. (Not that it would ever go to her)


I finally saw The Hurt Locker and I have a silly question


That "one thing" was serving his country right?

end of SPOILER


Jim T -- i think it's more complicated than that. the one thing being: near death adrenaline fixes and more symbolically, war. There's a thin line between love/addiction there.

but i do like that it's not explicitly stated and open for debate.

Jim T said...

Thank you :)

I have to think about this movie. It makes me want to think about it.

Unknown said...

My votes off the island:

Best Picture: A Serious Man - Blah! Only enjoyment I received while watching this was when the rabbi quoted Jefferson Airplane. Even then it wasn't but the crack of a smile. Not even a full-hearted chuckle

Best Director: Lee Daniels (Precious) - Love the film, but my love comes from the screenplay and acting. The directing... not so much

Best Actor: Morgan Freeman (Invictus) - Apparently being old and having the best narration voice EVER merits an Oscar nomination. Tsk tsk! (I'm not happy about Clooney's nomination either - "Hi. I'm George Clooney, I mean, Ryan Bingham"; on the fence concerning Renner)

Best Actress: Meryl Streep (Julie and Julia) - If she wins a third Oscar for flitting around and saying "Bon appetit," I will not be very happy

Best Supporting Actor: Matt Damon (Invictus) - What did he do in this movie again?

Best Supporting Actress: Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air) - Fine but Farmiga was the real knockout performance in the film... well, that's assuming there was a knockout performance

Best Original Screenplay: The Messenger) - I tried to go to sleep while watching this movie. No lie

Best Adapted Screenplay: District 9) - Sure. It wasn't bad, but what was so special about it? Only nominee I haven't seen here is In the Loop, but I've heard nothing but raves for it, so it's safe on my island... for now...

Oh, and Nathaniel, for what it's worth, I tried watching Julia the other night. I stopped at about 45 minutes. Definitely right about Tilda Swinton; I can't believe she missed out on most of the precursor awards or at least nominations! And that's only from the 45 minutes (give or take) that I saw!

Jim T said...

Julian Stark, hey, Ian McKellen has the best narration voice ever!

BillBill said...

Which nominees would you vote off the island and which get your stern warnings to quickly up their game?

Well, where to start? Supporting actress is the category that really irks me for what could have been. Marion Cotillard should have replaced Penelope Cruz (thanks a whole hella lot, Harvey). Either of the "Basterds" girls would have been worthy (and as blasphemous as it might be ["I don't care"], could have taken Vermiga's slot). Samantha Morton, Paula Patton, Mimi Kennedy, JULIANNE MOORE, or Sigourney Weaver all could have taken Maggie Gyllenhaal's slot. Just blah. But Mo'Nique's winning in my favorite performance of the year, so I'm good.

I'll leave all of "The Blind Side" hate for others (it's not that serious, people). I liked Stanley Tucci better in "The Lovely Bones" than "Julie & Julia", so I was fine with his nod. But Matt Damon? Lazy. Should have gone to Alfred Molina or Peter Capaldi instead.

Lead actor's pretty spot on.

Actress should have made some room for Abbie Cornish, Emily Blunt, or especially Tilda Swinton.

Lee Daniels should be tossed out on his ass in best director. I'd throw "A Serious Man" out of best picture too.

Do you think the Academy celebrates the extraordinary or the middlebrow?

Depends on the year. I thought that they nailed it wholly in 2007 (my God, what a year that was, but I'll always say that voters lucked up that year b/c of the writers strike and they had nothing better to do with their time than actually do their damn jobs and watch what they nominated and pick the cream of the crop). But then there's crap like "A Beautiful Mind" stinking up the aughts too, and you think, "These same people voted on both of these?" I hate the word "middlebrow." They're centrist. A voting body of 6K have to be that. It doesn't mean they have poor tastes. It's just what film the most people can rally around in a given year. Extraordinary? I'd say they're not that really either. The work would need to be to compel them to do the right then, and even then, who knows?

Are you put off by the way that anyone (besides James Cameron) campaigns for gold?

JC takes the cake (oh, voters have your "permission" to award your ex best director, huh James? F-off.), but I like that the rest have either stayed low-key or focused on the work itself. Mo'Nique should be applauded for not falling into the begging for awards game instead of being villified for it. I find Sandra's "aww-shucks" approach endearing, though I get how people could be just as cynical about that. Kathryn Bigelow hasn't been all "Let's make history you guys! Don't forget that I have a vag!" on the circuit. Meryl isn't begging for her third like her obnoxious fanboys/girls are doing for her. Jeff Bridges is like, "I'm the fucking DUDE, whatever."

We all know things could be much worse in that regard.

Andrew R. said...

Here's the 11 major categories for the voting off the island thing. (For the record, Survivor is my favorite TV show.)

For every 2 Best Picture nominees eliminated, one nominee in the other 10 categories goes home.

ROUND 1: Blind Side and And Education are out, Cameron is out, Freeman, Bullock, Damon, and Gyleenhaal are out, The Messenger and In the Loop are out, Princess and the Frog, Milk of Sorrow, Which Way Home are out.

ROUND 2: Up and District 9 are out, Reitman is out, Firth, Mirren, Tucci, and Cruz are out, Up and An Education are out, Secret of Kells, Most Dangerous Man in America, and Secreto de sus Ojos are out.

ROUND 3: Avatar and Up in the Air are out, Daniels is out, Renner, Streep, Plummer, and Kendrick are out. A Serious Man and District 9 are out, Coraline, Burma VJ, and Ajami are out.

ROUND 3.5: Only one Best Picture nominee goes home-A Serious Man.

ROUND 4: Inglourious Basterds and Precious are out, Tarantino is out, Sibide, Clooney, Farmiga, and Harrelson are out, Hurt Locker and Up in the Air are out, Fantastic Mr. Fox, A Prophet, and Food Inc are out.

WINNERS: Hurt Locker, Bigelow, Bridges, Mulligan, Waltz, Mo'nique, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, Up, White Ribbon, and The Cove win.

Questions 2 and 3 will be answered.

Andrew R. said...

For Question 2, it depends on the Academy's mood and what's released. For 1943 and 1972, the extraordinary. For 1997 and 1965, the overrated. For the middlebrow, lots of years. For the bad, some of the earlier years.

Generally, they nominate good-not-great films and pick the best nominee. If the best film of the year actually won every year, we would have had foreign and animated winners already.

3. I don't mind the campaigning, because the performance DOES come into play. I mean, 3/4 of the acting categories this year are the best performances-Bridges, Waltz, and Mo'nique are winning for the performance alone. Mo'nique didn't campaign, remember?

Mike M said...

Off the island: Anna Kendrick (I will never understand the praise for this performance), Sandra Bullock, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, and Stanley Tucci. I of course realize that the Oscars are notoriously unfair, but the exclusion of gourmet prospects such as Moore, Morton, Mortensen, and McKay in favor of the uninspired work aforementioned is very disappointing.

I echo the sentiment that the Academy is much more middle-brow than extraordinary. It's no revelation that the films and performances they choose to reward are rarely the best of the year, and, in fact, are generally uninspired mediocrity.

Samuel said...

With ten nominees, voting off the island is a lot of fun. For everyone who isn't an Academy member, clearly The Blind Side has to go. What a trite, saccharine, poorly written pile of shit that movie was (and i'm usually a sucker for some inspiration). But that opinion is nothing new.

Morgan Freeman should go for his 'acting' that involved a slight accent and a lot of monologues. Viggo Mortensen was way ahead of half of the eventual nominees.

Anyone who stops Carey Mulligan from winning best actress should go.

Best Supporting Actor is adequate, though Alfred Molina is worthy. As an aside, what is with villains always winning this one? That's not to say they haven't deserved it, but still, if you can be seedy and slightly evil you can get yourself a nomination in your sleep.

Thomas said...

This post is going to be kinda bitchy, but oh well.

If you personally believe that the actress with the highest quality performance should win the Oscar, raise your hand.

Did everyone raise their hand? That's what I thought.

So why is everyone unashamedly backing Meryl? I love her just as much as the next Oscarphile, but you all just agreed that charisma and general awesomeness alone shouldn't win people awards (you raised your hands, remember?).

So please. Champion someone else. Gabby, Carey, someone. And if you decide to stick with Meryl, at least make it be because you genuinely believe that her performance was better than Bullock's, Mirren's, Mulligan's, and Sidibe's. To do anything else would be fine, I suppose, as long as you never again require others to take you seriously when you bemoan the popularity race that is the Oscars.

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