By Martin Grove, ZAMM.com
The Oscars are about 11 months away, so why is Hollywood paying attention to them right now?
That's because the Motion Picture Academy's scheduled a highly unusual general membership meeting for May 4 in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The group's roughly 6,000 members are being asked to participate in a discussion labeled Future of Our Academy.
No agenda was originally announced, prompting much speculation among Oscar observers that the Academy leadership wants members' input about the long troubled Oscar show, whose network license fees driven by ad sales are the Academy's principal source of income.
Every year's Oscar show seems to bring its own widespread criticism from Academy members as well as the media. The 83rd annual Oscars hosted in 2011 by Anne Hathaway and James Franco is widely regarded as the show's lowest approval point in recent years. While this year's 85th annual Oscars hosted by Seth MacFarlane gave the Academy a much needed ratings boost, it was panned for running very long (3 hours 35 minutes), for an opening number with MacFarlane singing about actresses' boobs we've seen on screen, a tasteless joke by MacFarlane about Lincoln's assassination, and for telecast producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan having celebrated way too generously their hit musical Chicago
, which won the best picture Oscar about 10 years ago.
After the media began speculating about what topics the membership meeting might focus on, the Academy said one of the items on its agenda would be its new online voting system that many members found frustrating when it was introduced last year, but which the Academy considers quite successful. The Academy also announced it would ask members for their opinions about the new movie museum it's building at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
The Academy didn't say anything about asking members to (as some media people thought they might or, at least, should) vote on whether their membership should continue to be a lifetime deal or shift to non-Oscar voting status at a certain advanced age, which many members have already attained. The Academy's graying membership is regarded by many observers as being way out of tune with what today's moviegoers are voting to see at the box office.
Another key topic of conversation among Oscarologists is whether the Academy should revert to having 10 Best Picture nominees as it began doing at the 82nd annual Oscars in 2010 or continue with the less structured system it adopted at the 84th annual Oscars in 2012 of having between five and 10 Best Picture noms depending on how the voting goes. Perhaps members will get to voice their opinions on the subject.
Most Best Picture nominees tend to arrive in theatres late in the year when Academy members are starting to catch up on films to nominate. One possible exception this year could be this weekend's opening of the biographical drama 42
, directed by Brian Helgeland and starring Chadwick Boseman as legendary Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman Jackie Robinson. Robinson broke major league baseball's color barrier when the Dodgers and their general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) signed him in 1947.
's been generating an early Oscar buzz that's been helped by the film's screening last week at the White House by President Obama. On hand were Robinson's widow, Rachel Robinson, stars Boseman and Ford and, of course, First Lady Michelle Obama. The Obamas had actually already watched 42 the previous weekend so this was their second time seeing it and that speaks volumes about how good they think it is.
A similar White House showing last year for Steven Spielberg's biographical drama Lincoln
was widely regarded as having enhanced its Oscar prospects. 42
should benefit the same way now from its Presidential screening and from being the kind of serious drama about an important subject that typically resonates with Academy members.
's tracking best with men over 25 and next best and equally well with men under 25 and women over 25.
While the Academy's two approaches to deciding how many best picture nominees it designates seem similar, the results from each have been dramatically different. The idea of going from five to 10 Best Picture noms stemmed from criticism that the Academy ignores Hollywood's big commercial hit movies when it comes to the best picture race.
The films that typically get nominated are those driven by reviews and recognition by other awards givers like leading critics' associations, groups such as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (Golden Globes) and the National Board of Review (NBR Awards) and Hollywood guilds like the Directors Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild. These films generally aren't the summer blockbusters Hollywood usually dismisses as popcorn pictures.
By going to 10 Best Picture noms, the Academy felt it would make room for members to throw in a nomination for especially worthy big commercial movies. The example cited at the time was Christopher Nolan's 2008 blockbuster The Dark Knight
, which didn't get a Best Picture or Best Directing nod despite widespread media support for such recognition. The benefit of having films the public's spent big money to see is that viewers of the Oscar telecast then have a rooting interest in who wins and that's the best way to boost the show's critically important ratings. As soon as the Academy opened up the Best Picture race to 10 noms it was clear that the new system was working as intended. Among the 10 Best Picture nominees for 2010's 82nd annual Oscars was the low budget, low profile sci-fi hit District 9
. Directed in faux documentary style by first time feature director Neill Blomkamp, it featured an unknown cast headed by Sharlto Copley, David James and Jason Cope.
Besides its best picture nomination, District 9
also was nominated for best film editing, adapted screenplay and visual effects. Oscar pundits were in agreement that a popular low profile sci-fi hit like this would never have gotten into a best picture race that was limited to five films.
Last year's switch to having between five and 10 Best Picture nominees reflected the Academy's decision that such noms should now require a film to receive at least 5 percent of the first place votes cast by members. That, in turn, meant that members no longer felt they had five additional slots--the original five plus five extras from upping the total to 10--and could now afford the luxury of rewarding a well made commercial hit with a Best Picture nod.
The result was a more traditional mix of nine Best Picture nominees for the 85th annual Oscars that included small art-driven films and high profile serious dramas. Although the best picture winner, Argo
, was a box office success when it was nominated, it was definitely not the kind of popcorn picture the Academy wanted to make room for through its previous 10 slots plan. Argo
's roots weren't in a comic book, but in a serious non-fiction book about how covert CIA work had rescued Americans trapped in Iran at the time of the 1979 hostage crisis.
With the sliding scale of best picture noms still in effect, this year's Oscar race is likely to remain tilted in favor of small specialty films and bigger studio releases with Oscar contender written all over them. As always, it helps to be a well known filmmaker with previous Oscar success in order to get Academy members to make time to see a film with best picture hopes.
There's no shortage of high profile potential Best Picture contenders to watch for this year. Besides the already noted 42
, here are a dozen more possibilities:
Martin Scorsese's biographical drama The Wolf of Wall Street
stars Leonardo DiCaprio, P.J. Byrne and Jon Favreau. Scorsese won the Best Directing Oscar in 2007 for The Departed
Joel & Ethan Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis
stars Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan and John Goodman. The Coen Brothers have won four Oscars--in 1997 for co-directing Fargo
and in 2008 for co-directing, co-writing the original screenplay for and co-producing No Country For Old Men
Alexander Payne's drama Nebraska
stars Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach and Bruce Dern. Payne won Oscars in 2005 for co-writing the adapted screenplay for Sideways
and in 2011 for co-writing the adapted screenplay for The Descendants
George Clooney's drama The Monuments Men
stars Clooney, Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon.
Clooney won Oscars in 2006 for supporting actor for Syriana
and in 2013 for co-producing Argo
Sofia Coppola's crime drama The Bling Ring
stars Emma Watson, Israel Broussard and Taissa Farmiga. Coppola won the Oscar in 2003 for writing the original screenplay for Lost in Translation
, for which she also received nominations for directing and as the Best Picture nominee's co-producer.
Wes Anderson's comedy drama The Grand Budapest Hotel
stars Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes. Anderson is a three-time Oscar nominee--in 2002 for co-writing the original screenplay for The Royal Tenenbaums
, in 2010 for Best Animated Feature as a producer of Fantastic Mr. Fox
and in 2013 for co-writing the original screenplay for Moonrise Kingdom
Danny Boyle's crime thriller Trance
stars James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel. Boyle won the Best Directing Oscar in 2009 for Slumdog Millionaire
Baz Luhrman's romantic drama The Great Gatsby
stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton. Luhrman was Oscar nominated in 2002 as a producer of Moulin Rouge
(Jason Reitman's drama Labor Day
stars Josh Brolin, Kate Winslet and Tobey Maguire. Reitman has received four Oscar nominations – in 2008 for directing Juno and in 2010 for directing, co-producing and co-writing the adapted screenplay for Up in the Air
Roman Polanski's drama Venus in Fur
stars Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric. Polanski won the best directing Oscar in 2003 for The Pianist
Bennett Miller's drama Foxcatcher
stars Channing Tatum, Steve Carell and Sienna Miller. Bennett Miller was Oscar nominated in 2006 for directing Capote
Woody Allen's drama Blue Jasmine
stars Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin and Peter Sarsgaard. Allen has won four Oscars--in 1978 for directing and co-writing the original screenplay for Annie Hall
, in 1987 for writing the original screenplay for Hannah and Her Sisters
and in 2012 for writing the original screenplay for Midnight in Paris