“Why is it that we talk, and talk, and talk (well, at least I do), without somehow conveying what we’re really like?” – Michael Polley in Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell (2013)
In case you haven’t noticed, we are in the throes of awards season. We’ve already had some poo-flinging; the first batch of painstakingly edited puff pieces a’la “DALLAS BUYERS CLUB HAD A $5 MAKE UP BUDGET” have surfaced on the internet; Eddie Redmayne’s getting honoured Palm Springs Film Festival, which is now a major awards campaign stop; and every conceivable contender was at the Governor’s Ball over the weekend. But this has also lead to a true yearly phenomenon starting to happen – talking out of contention. What’s talking out of contention? It’s something we’ve all done. It’s headlining an Inherent Vice review with “cross this off your Oscar predictions right now”. It’s saying Inside Llewyn Davis is ‘too dark for the Oscars’. It’s saying that A Most Violent Year isn’t for the Oscars. It mostly happens when a film is still in its infancy of release. Few have seen it, its been at a festival or in limited release, or its an ‘easy target’, that is, not from an awards genius distributor like The Weinstein Company. The chatter starts – “it’s too dark”, “it’s too weird”, “it’s too unapologetic”, “it’s too slow” – and before a film can even begin to take flight, it’s shot down, crossed off the predictions, shoved out of the line before it even has a chance. It’s judged against its awards prospects from the get-go. Some, including Birdman thus far (which is currently in a slowly expanding limited release in the US), are able to dodge it, building up positive chatter all year that makes it nearly invincible, but if the ‘right’ story catches fire, all of that can change. In 2012, Zero Dark Thirty was a front runner, Kathryn Bigelow was a shoo-in for another nomination, and Jessica Chastain was primed to take Best Actress. But mix in some fake controversy, and all of that came crashing down. People don’t want to be associated with something that’s ‘tainted’. It’s the effect of what the entire awards season is built on – consensus. As Sasha Stone said a few weeks back:
“Really, though, where the Oscar race is concerned, there really is NO THERE THERE. It is built upon puffy clouds of perception that can be manipulated either on purpose or accidentally. If a film gets caught in the crossfire of a massive society debate it can be Zero Dark Thirty and it can go from the highest place to the lowest over a couple of weeks. It’s probable that Zero Dark Thirty wasn’t going to win anyway but still, had it come out a couple of months earlier that fervor might have died down and voters could have regained their like for the film. As it was, it fell at the same time as Affleck and Argo’s star was on the rise and the rest is Oscar history.”
What a film, what anyone needs to win an Oscar, is consensus. Your film may have detractors, but if you have a lot of passionate fans, if nearly anyone can like your film, you’re in. To put it simply, you need more people to be giving your film 10 than 0 on IMDB. It’s all about buzz, and sustaining it, feeding it, keeping the wolves away, and becoming so strong you’re unbeatable, waiting for the right moment to pounce. It’s talk, the smoke and mirrors. You talk into contention, get talked out of contention. Who cares what the real story is? The business is fiction, spin. Whoever tells the best story wins.
We’ve already had a few victims of talk this year so far – Inherent Vice – and it’s only November. Gone Girl, Foxcatcher, and even Birdman, a current hot favourite, could fall. There’s plenty more to come.
BEST PICTURE PREDICTIONS (November 10)
2. The Imitation Game
4. Gone Girl
7. The Theory of Everything
Unseen: Unbroken, American Sniper, Selma, Into the Woods
Possibilities: A Most Violent Year, Wild, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Mr. Turner, Whiplash (it would need to earn a lot more money though)