So much to say…where to begin?
Honestly, I feel as though this will be a total thought-cluster, a stream-of-consciousness rant like no other…and for me, that’s saying something. There are lots of disparate thoughts floating around in terms of reaction to the 88th Academy Awards – both the ceremony and the awards themselves – that it’s hard to make them all coalesce. So let’s divide this beast into more digestible chunks.
First, the results themselves…
These results were fairly indicative of the kind of season it’s been – spread among a handful of top films, with Mad Max leading the way in the craft categories, and a Best Picture result that no one could firmly predict but that no one should be surprised about. Really, that’s the season in a nutshell – uncertain and widespread, with no clear frontrunner…except for the undeniable craft showcase, which still couldn’t wrangle the big above-the-line categories.
Spotlight was the evening’s big winner, claiming the Best Picture prize after a six-month stretch in which it went from obvious frontrunner to sudden also-ran to potential spoiler to Best Picture winner. It was a crazy path, but only crazy because we made it seem as such. From the beginning of this season, one of my chief points of emphasis has been how we, the media/pundit class, feel such a combination of love and ownership over the Oscar race that we sometimes overstep and, in so doing, threaten to dictate the race as opposed to merely tracking it. This result is something of an example of that – for all the statistics that were exploded this year (chiefly that the Producers Guild was the chief Oscar predictor by virtue of its preferential ballot), the one stat that remains is that no film that opened in December has won Best Picture since Million Dollar Baby in 2005. I’ve discussed the power of the fall festival circuit, namely the Venice/Telluride/Toronto triad, throughout the season, up to and including Sunday’s pre-show reflection. Spotlight confirms that power and sustains that statistic, one that we will be clinging to more firmly next year, as we start to question the merits of PGA’s correlation…which, to be fair, remains strong nevertheless.
Plus, in fairness to myself and a great many of my sisters and brothers in this Oscar prediction game, the typical industry indications provided us with information that could’ve led in three different directions, therefore reminding us all that we really can’t dictate anything. Our clearest seasonal indicators come from the big three guilds – PGA, DGA, and SAG. And this year we had that magical chaotic scenario where each of them picked a different winner. So it was a literal Pick ‘Em scenario – your guess was as good as mine, so long as you opted for one of the top three. And anyone who responded with “shock” at the final Best Picture result was either kidding themselves or not paying attention, because there was writing all over the wall for all three of the top BP contenders (reserve all Sam Smith jokes for later, please).
I – and plenty of other bloggers and pundits, many of whom with much more knowledge and experience than me – opted for the PGA’s preferential stat by picking The Big Short. And here’s the truth: that logic was sound. What unifies those of us who picked either Big Short or Spotlight was the notion of recognizing and respecting the preferential ballot. Both Spotlight and Big Short fall naturally within the guidelines for what can most easily win under a preferential system – they are accessible and widely agreeable, likely to earn many number one votes but also land as the number two and three spots on several other ballots. Not a lot of variation, just clear respect hovering near the top of the majority of ballots cast. The Revenant, demonstrably, was not a preferential type of movie; the folks who loved it surely put it at number one, but many others who were put off by its brutality or nonplussed by the simplicity of its narrative likely placed it very low on their preferential listing. It was a valid reading of the preferential system to understand that Revenant, regardless of any perceived “momentum” it had (which was, as I’ve explained in the past few weeks, somewhat specious anyway), was not a likely Best Picture winner. Once you eliminate it, however, you’re still left with two films to choose from…such is the devil of the season. And one of those two films – The Big Short – was already a proven entity in a preferential vote tally. So that was the most logical pick for me and many others, in spite of the fact that we readily acknowledged the seeming illogic to Big Short’s standing as a “generally agreeable” choice. On Sunday I wrote about its confounding nature:
“What’s odd, though, is that Big Short is brasher and more risky than Spotlight, which could prove it to be somewhat divisive in its own right. And if it is, then that would appear to open the door for Spotlight to win Best Picture. I feel that wave…it could very well happen. Part of me – a big part of me – wants to go that route.”
I proceeded to follow that up with a statement to the effect of “but that PGA stat is just too damn glaring for me to ignore.” Yay, me. But the bottom line is, the PGA logic is and will remain valid. Just because PGA is no longer batting 1.000 in terms of matching Oscar on preferential doesn’t mean it isn’t a valid indicator – it just means that, in these ridiculously close years, we can’t lean on it as our sole guide to The Truth. It was never a 1:1 situation anyway, lest we forget – not like AMPAS is made up solely of producers.
By the way, we don’t really know how close that final PGA vote was – in spite of some rumors of it being “incredibly close,” no such data is released. But, hell, maybe it was. And if Spotlight had won PGA, no professional on the planet would’ve picked against it, and the year would’ve turned into another one of those foregone conclusions…frankly, just like it seemed it would be when Spotlight jumped out in front in September after its festival debut (hey, remember when I had Spotlight as my number one for five months? I AM A MORON).
So maybe Spotlight was inevitable. Ya know, that old yarn about the inevitable Best Picture winner that only wins one (1) other Oscar on the night? First film to do that since The Greatest Show on Earth in 1953. Exclusive club, there. History-making, indeed.
We’re in that space now. It’s no longer “Best Picture Sweep Culture” at the Academy. Ask Mad Max. Ask Gravity. It’s also no longer an environment in which Picture and Director are inextricably tied to one another. The plates are shifting a bit in the Oscarsphere, and we’re here to witness it.
What a damn year.