Behind the curtain.

Live blogging the Oscars.

It isn’t something I do, as a habit…I’m more of a Grammy’s kind of girl…but accepting an invitation to a Pahtay (and therefore, being forced to watch the thing) turned my head. Moreover, it is an interesting year for the Oscars. As Gabriel has reported, there are sociological things afoot.

Essentially, the awards have been redesigned to produce 10 nominees for best picture, rather than the usual 6. The history of this stretches back to 1999, when Shakespeare in Love won after an aggressive Miramax campaign, and Saving Private Ryan did not (and people thought it was (marginally) better?). Then, in 2008, The Dark Knight wasn’t nominated although it both earned $530 million (domestically, in 2009, if Gabriel is to be believed), and was considered by many to be an “important” film. The end result of all this was a feeling that smaller “serious” films were overtaking the awards, and blockbusters weren’t keeping apace.

Why do we need to award blockbuster films any Oscars? As some have argued of The Dark Knight, some of them exhibit high levels of craftsmanship. They include many of your favorite actors and actresses, including the ones winning awards for their art house pictures. Their box office receipts indicate public approval. Awards give studios and artists opportunities for future employment that may be closed without such a credential. And finally, because blockbuster films garner big audiences, the Oscars want to attract that mass audience to the telecast.

Why do we need to worry about art house films capturing all the Oscars? They earn awards at other prestigious award ceremonies, including Sundance, the Independent Spirit Awards, Cannes, etc. They capture a minority of audiences. They are just as much a product of a closed social network as any award system, and thus reflect coordinated peers acting on each others’ behalf (and not some other measure of quality).

How does the new system work? Instead of asking voters to select one “best picture”, they are asked to rank order all nominated films. During the tallying process, accountants will select the film with a clear majority, even if that is achieved through using voters’ #2-10th selection.

So what should we expect will happen in the new system? Simply put, most people think that The Hurt Locker will win. Although Avatar is expected to pull in voters, many people disliked the film enough to rank it way below others. The negative press on The Hurt Locker was nearly invisible, and it has many active supporters, so the expectation is that it will win by being #2 on Avatar-lovers’ lists.

What does this mean for us, as Americans? Not much. Except that we learn about the differences between “simple plurality” voting and an “instant runoff” system. More of us may watch the stunningly boring awards ceremony. The massive campaigns to sway Academy voters may dwindle, and we may no longer see the push to release films right before awards season.

So, buckle yourselves into that couch seat and get ready. Live blogging in 2 hours.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Behind the curtain.

  1. i got the figure from the IMDB page on Dark Knight’s finances.

    having watched the awards last night i think the future Oscars research agenda should center on two questions:
    a) what cabal of fashion designers decided that shins (but not calves) are the new cleavage?
    b) how was it possible to write such a wretched opening monologue (duologue?) with the “oh there’s so and so, i can mispronounce their name” shtick

  2. Jenn Lena

    Of course, I was just teasing about your stats. You’re the person I trust most on such matters!

    I agree that Bruce Vilanch’s role as the de facto award ceremony joke writer is called into question after last night. I also think it is clear that Tina Fey re-wrote her award intro. Question: why isn’t she writing the whole show?

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