Monday, January 20, 2014

The Oscar Narrative: The Tie Heard 'Round the World

Excuse my language, but what the hell just happened? That is the question that I have been pondering all day, since I read on Twitter the shocking news that when Ben Affleck presented Best Picture at the Producers Guild of America, it was a tie between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. I'm pretty sure that all of you out there who closely follow the Oscar race have had the same thought: how the hell did this happen? I am, by no means, upset or disappointed, although the previous question  may make it seem that way. I am just simply bewildered. I am also incredibly excited. For the first time in years, we really have an Oscar race on our hands. In fact, you have to go back to 2000 (I was a ripe ten years old), to see a race this close, so for me, this particularly exciting because it is the first I have covered as a blogger.

So we once again go back to the question: how did this happen? Ties are an occurrence at awards shows. Sometimes you have the same amount of voters supporting two different nominees. We saw it last year with Best Sound Editing, which ended in a tie between Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall.  But a tie in a preferential voting system is extremely rare. You have to go through all those rounds, and manage to get similar voting tallies in those 2-4 slots, plus enough passion votes, all combined to an equal amount as another film. So a tie at the PGA, the first in its history, has been treated as a jaw-dropper by Oscarologists, as it should be.

After the shock and awe of the moment finally wears off (it may be awhile), we now have to examine the pieces of this incredibly complicated puzzle leading up to the Best Picture Oscar. Since the film festivals, it has been Gravity versus 12 Years a Slave. The PGA confirmed that this probably is the matchup to look out for. And the final vote tally will be incredibly close. The next big step is the DGA. Some people (mostly fans of 12 Years a Slave), are trying to view Best Director and Best Picture as two different tracts this Oscar season. All the splits so far between the two categories has helped their cause. While a split is definitely possible, especially if voters want to give both films reward, we really cannot think of these two categories as separate. They are connected, and will continue to be connected, particularly the DGA. Remember, the Directors Guild vote is a good predictor of Best Director, but more importantly, it is an even better predictor of Best Picture. So next week's DGA is incredibly important, even more important considering that right now three films have split the the last two major guild prizes.

Which leads me to an important sidebar. As soon as it was announced, gleeful, anonymous readers posted comments across the web that American Hustle was finished. First of all, there is still a month for ballots to go out, and American Hustle was popular with the critics, the industry, and is making a lot of money. People are already writing off its SAG win as an anomaly, or something like The Help or Inglourious Basterds. I get that the film snobs don't like it. It threatens their self-importance when an entertaining film does well. But all of that hate that you are pouring on it only helps it. You have given the team at Sony the narrative of the underdog. And the Oscars love an underdog. It did take a hit at PGA, being such a populist film, but I'm sure it was a close second place after the tie, and do not discount the populist DGA going for Russell (it's not my predictions, but in this race, anything can happen). And do not discount the SAG Ensemble award .The actors are the biggest branch, and by winning on Saturday, it is already one step ahead of last year's Silver Linings. This is very much still a three-way race, whether people want to admit it or not, and even the DGA, or BAFTA to a lesser extent, may not help us sort out the mess, until the envelope is opened.

So I have been on the Gravity train since day one. I am still banking on the DGA win for Cuaron, plus now a PGA win to give it Best Picture. If McQueen wins, 12 Years is taking the prize. If Russell wins, I have no idea, although it looks good for Hustle to swoop in. The other thing Gravity has going for it is the next six weeks, the craft guilds will be holding their ceremonies, and Gravity will be getting tons of free press and positive headlines as it mostly likely takes the MPSE, CAS, ASC, VES, and most likely the Eddie, another key guild to watch for. With that kind of broad support, I think it really does have what it takes to go the distance. But as always, we'll just have to wait and see..

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