Four days down, four to go.
Final Oscar voting commenced on Monday and closes this coming Tuesday. The end has officially begun.
In essence, there are three days left in the “campaign.” Of course, this particular campaign was not nearly as painful as the one that immediately preceded it – the U.S. Presidential campaign – though, to be honest, certain elements of this season have begun to skew towards the kind of fractious torment that hovered over the election. The anti-La La Land contingent is out in force, and though every season finds its way to frontrunner backlash, it’s a little more vitriolic this time around, and much of that has to do with residual resentment, anger, and fear resulting from the U.S. morphing into a fascist regime. To call it an “election hangover” would be too cute a word – the anger and fear are all too real for such colloquial terminology. That this fallout has carried over into the Oscar race is unfortunate, but likely inevitable.
However, much of said backlash exists in the media sphere as opposed to the industry sphere. The din of La La loathing is approaching a fever pitch, but only inside the media bubble. As yet, there is no indication this has spilled over into the industry, and there isn’t much time left for it to break through. Contrary to past years, I frankly haven’t even been privy to any particularly nasty inter-category mud-slinging – the studios and filmmakers have largely been cordial-to-congratulatory throughout the race. Political statements have been made throughout this Oscar campaign, but usually coming from a studio seeking to prop up its own contender (see TWC’s ad highlighting Sunny Pawar’s visa status) rather than tear down another. While the U.S. political climate seems to have torn much of “Film Twitter” apart, it has brought much of Hollywood together, standing as one in opposition to tyranny.
So as we continue downhill, the finish line in sight, it feels as though inevitability has set in – but really, it’s more a feeling of industry consensus. From the onset of the season, La La Land has been that consensus choice, loved by many and held in high regard by most everyone else. Contrary to the notion some have floated, the film is not an Oscar show pony that was bred to win awards. It is merely a film about passion, made with passion, which has been embraced with the right combination of passion and esteem to succeed in this season. The degree to which the film dominates come next Sunday is still intriguing to ponder. Last Sunday, La La won Best Picture and took home the most trophies at the BAFTA Awards, as expected. However, its final haul was five total awards, which was less than expected. Whereas many pundits were bullish on the prospects of total Oscar dominance prior to the BAFTA ceremony, we’ve seen a lot of cautious backpedaling after.
Now, this year’s BAFTAs spread the wealth literally all over the place, so the notion of a similar result at the Oscars is specious. However, approaching the subject of La La Land dominance with caution is, frankly, wise. After all, even the shoo-in Best Picture winners in recent years haven’t typically resulted in multi-category domination. Birdman won four Oscars. Argo won three. The Artist won five. The King’s Speech won four. The Hurt Locker won six, fairly dominant given its category spread. You’d have to go back to Slumdog Millionaire in 2009 to find an across-the-board winner – it took home eight Oscars – that also won Best Picture. I add the “also won Best Picture” caveat since, in a few recent years, the film receiving the most Oscar wins hasn’t always won Best Picture. In 2014, Gravity won seven, but lost Best Picture to 12 Years a Slave (which won three total). Just last year, Mad Max: Fury Road won six total Oscars, but Spotlight won Best Picture, a win that represented precisely half of its two-Oscar haul. Basically, Best Picture and “Most Oscars” can be mutually exclusive.
Does that mean that somehow La La Land won’t go home as the most awarded film of the night on February 26th? No – it almost surely will be. But to automatically presume that just because it tied for the nomination record means that it will tie, or even break, the win record (11) would be a big leap. Possible? Yes. Probable? No.
It is intriguing, with voting in its final days, to ponder the various scenarios that could pan out simply as a result of the random decisiveness of ~7,000 industry professionals casting individual ballots. Remember that these categories, for which nominations were determined only by members of the individual branches, are now open to the entire Academy. So, even though it’s widely recognized that La La Land doesn’t feature the year’s best sound editing, it isn’t just the sound editors who vote for the win in that category. Even though films like Fantastic Beasts or Allied were not as widely celebrated as La La Land, their costuming is so profusely apparent that a win for either isn’t out of the question. The word “populist” has been tossed about quite often in the last year, and though its conventional definition doesn’t precisely correlate to the Oscar vote, it works in the sense that the options with the broadest appeal are likely to procure the most votes. While we’re on the subject of “broadest appeal,” that goes right to the heart of success on a preferential ballot, since a film that is able to muster not just plenty of number one votes, but lots of number two and number three votes as well, is most likely to succeed in the format.
Of course, there are also outlier issues, such as voters casting a ballot for categories in which they haven’t seen all the nominated films. That would put a film like O.J.: Made in America on thin ice in the Documentary Feature category, since its ungainly eight-hour length is a lot to take in, whereas fellow nominees 13th and I Am Not Your Negro cover similar terrain just as powerfully, and in less than a quarter of the running time. In the Foreign Language Feature category, Toni Erdmann suffers from its own length concerns (though nothing compared to O.J.), but it also now faces the political tide, since The Salesman director Asghar Farhadi was first prohibited, and then later refused, to attend the Oscar ceremony as a result of Donald Trump’s so-called “travel ban,” a hideously distracting false term for what is actually a nationalist ban based on race and religion. I spoke before about Hollywood unity in the face of political oppression, and voting for The Salesman would make a political statement.
Bottom line: in a voting body of nearly 7,000 individuals, there are plenty of scenarios to ponder. It’s not about groupthink, it’s about consensus. This year’s results will reflect that reality very similarly to any other year…albeit with a few extra intangible kinks to make it interesting.