Movies - The Oscars postsThursday January 29, 2015
SAG/Oscar Differences: What Do They Say About Race, Sex?
Earlier this month, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (the Oscars to you and me) was blasted when it released its 2014 nominations and “Selma” barely made the cut—just picture and song. Director Ava DuVernay didn't become the first black female director ever nominated, and David Oyelowo was passed over for his performance as Martin Luther King, Jr. All 20 acting nominees were white for the first time since 1998, and #OscarsSoWhite became a popular Twitter hashtag.
I shrugged. Surely there were greater Academy insults over the years: the excusion of “Do the Right Thing,” for example, or the inclusion of “Crash.” I'd also heard the “Selma” people didn't get screeners to the Academy members in time, so it all seemed less a matter of racism than a marketing SNAFU. But the outrage machine needs its outrage.
Once upon a time, sure, the Academy, along with Hollywood, wasn't exactly to black actors. Still not, but there's been improvement. These are the number of black actors who have been nominated in the four acting categories:
- 1927-2000: 37 nominations/ 6 Oscars
- 2001-2013: 29 nominations/ 9 Oscars
For the first 73 years of the Academy, black actors averaged a nomination every two years and an Oscar every 12 years. But since 2001, black actors average 2.4 nominations a year and an Oscar almost every year. For all the racism that still exists in Hollywood, the Academy, at least, seems to be making a step in the right direction.
Then I compared Oscar with SAG.
First, the Academy and the Screen Actors Guild are amazingly in sync. In the last five years, they've agreed on 18 of 20 choices. If you go back 10 years, there's a little more disagreement—but not in lead actor, where Oscar and SAG match exactly.
Here's a list of the SAG winners from the last 10 years, with the eight differences with the Academy highlighted:
|Year||Lead Actor||Lead Actress||Supporting Actor||Supporting Actress|
|2013||Matthew McConaughey||Cate Blanchett||Jared Leto||Lupita Nyong'o|
|2012||Daniel Day-Lewis||Jennifer Lawrence||Tommy Lee Jones||Anne Hathaway|
|2011||Jean Dujardin||Viola Davis||Christopher Plummer||Octavia Spencer|
|2010||Colin Firth||Natalie Portman||Christian Bale||Melissa Leo|
|2009||Jeff Bridges||Sandra Bullock||Christoph Waltz||No'Nique|
|2008||Sean Penn||Meryl Streep*||Heath Ledger||Kate Winslet*|
|2007||Daniel Day-Lewis||Julie Christie||Javier Bardem||Ruby Dee|
|2006||Forrest Whitaker||Helen Mirren||Eddie Murphy||Jennifer Hudson|
|2005||Phillip Seymour Hoffman||Reese Witherspoon||Paul Giamatti||Rachel Weisz|
|2004||Jamie Foxx||Hilary Swank||Morgan Freeman||Cate Blanchett|
*In 2008, SAG awarded Winslet best supporting for “The Reader” while she won the Oscar for best lead.
You see a pattern? In three of the eight differences, SAG chose a black actor and the Academy didn't. Davis, Dee and Murphy were thrown over for Streep (“The Iron Lady”), Tilda Swinton (“Michael Clayton”), and Alan Arkin (“Little Miss Sunshine”).
You see another pattern? This is an old one, to be sure. With actresses, the Academy has a tendency to go young and hot. For the men, it's a wash: Jim Broadbent instead of Ian McKellen, James Coburn instead of Robert Duvall. But here's a list of women who won Oscars but not SAG statuettes: Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Connelly, Juliette Binoche. It's like a Who's Who of my fantasies.
But do these patterns mean anything? I'd probably go Arkin over Murphy, too, or Swinton over Dee. With the women, are Oscar voters horny or are SAG voters xenophobic, since three of the four mentioned above are foreign actresses?
The Academy does skew old and white. You have to be asked to join the Academy. You simply have to be working to join SAG. But does this difference lead to racism and sexism? Does it ever lead to, I don't know, wisdom?
We'll see if the patterns continue into the future. In race matters, at least, they won't this year. The Academy got all the flack but in 2014 SAG didn't bother to nominate an actor of color, either. #SAGSoWhite? Or #ScreenersSoLate?
No SAG on these Oscar winners.
The Remarkable Symmetry of Bennett Miller's Films, Nominations
I was thinking about this as I lay in bed this morning. Yeah, I know. I used to think about better things in bed.
But there is a remarkable symmetry to Bennett Miller's films/Oscar nominations:
- Miller has made three feature-length films in his career.
- Each title is one word with three syllables: Capote, Moneyball, Foxcatcher.
- Each has received a nomination for best film (Moneyball) best director (Foxcatcher) or both (Capote).
- Each has received a nomination for lead actor (Hoffman, Pitt, Carell).
- Each has received a nomination in a supporting acting category (Keener, Hill, Ruffalo).
- Each has been nominated for screenplay.
Here's the chart:
“Moneyball” also got nominated for editing and sound mix, “Foxcatcher” for makeup.
The final similarity? Save Hoffman in 2005, nobody wins. Which, yes, fits with his movies, in which his leads win but lose (Capote), lose but win (Moneyball), or try to buy winning and lose everything (Foxcatcher).
Unsurprisingly, the middle one had the best box office.
The Best Picture Nominees by Rotten Tomatoes Score
Via Rotten Tomatoes:
|The Grand Budapest Hotel||92%||9|
|The Imitation Game||90%||8|
|The Theory of Everything||79%||5|
The worst rated best picture nominee I can remember is “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” from two years ago. It was rotten at 46%.
Every best picture winner in recent years has been ranked 92-98%. The last best picture winner to rank below 90% was “Crash” in 2005: 75%.
“Selma”: highest rated, least nominations.
The Bad Box Office of the Best Picture Nominees
There are a lot of stories making the rounds about this year's Oscar nominations. Both “American Sniper” and “Mr. Turner” did surprisingly well while “Selma” was all but denied. As was “The LEGO Movie.” As was “Life Itself,” the documentary about the life and death of film critic Roger Ebert. But then its director Steve James also directed the hugely acclaimed “Hoop Dreams,” which went unnominated in the documentary category in 1994. So ... fool me twice, I guess.
But for me, the big story is still the box office. Its lack.
Here are your eight best picture candidates, their domestic box office totals, and their widest distributions:
|The Grand Budapest Hotel||$59.1||1,467|
|The Imitation Game||$42.0||1,566|
|The Theory of Everything||$26.0||1,220|
Reminder: in 2009 the Academy broke a 60-plus-year tradition and expanded its best picture candidates from five to 10 mostly because popular movies weren't getting nominated and people were turning away from the Oscar broadcast. The Academy didn't want to become marginalized. Thus: 10 nominees. Then five to 10.
And it seemed to work.
In 2009, the Academy nominated five pictures that grossed more than $100 million domestic, including Nos. 1, 5 and 8 on the year (“Avatar,” “Up” and “The Blind Side”). In 2010, five more with more than $100 mil, including Nos. 1 and 6 on the year (“Toy Story 3” and “Inception”). 2011 was a step back: just one with > $100 mil domestic, “The Help,” which was the 13th most popular movie of the year. In 2012, six movies breached $100 million, but none higher than 13th: Spielberg's “Lincoln.” Last year? Four, including the sixth-highest-grossing film, “Gravity.”
And this year? The highest-grossing film topped out at $59 million and 53rd place for the year.
It's actually worse in the acting categories. The highest-grossing film in Best Actor is “Imitation Game” at $42 million; in Best Supporting Actor, it's “The Judge” at $47. Rosamund Pike's “Gone Girl” ($167) and Meryl Streep's “In the Woods” ($106 and climbing) at least get us over the $100 million mark, but they're the only two among the 20 acting candidates. Everythign else is below $50 million.
This will change, obviously, but by how much? “Into the Woods” will do better but not because of Oscar. I could see “Imitation Game” gaining some moviegoers. Will they expand “Birdman”? Will they re-release “Whiplash”? Are people psyched to see “American Sniper” now? Will its distributor let folks outside NYC and LA see it?
It's a bit worrisome. In 2009, when the Academy expanded its best picture category, I created the following to chart to indicate why it had done so:
The Annual Box Office Rankings for Best Picture Nominees, 1991-2008*
||BPN BO rank
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* Best picture winner represented in red.
Then for comparison's sake, I added this one.
||BPN BO rank
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Here's this year's nominees:
Yes, I'm concerned that the stories we share these days tend to be cartoonish; that there are fewer and fewer serious stories that we all know and care about. I think this is helping an increasingly fragmented and polarized society become more so.
But mostly I'm worried about what the Academy might do to rectify the situation. Particularly if the ratings tank on Feb. 22.
Among the nominees, Wes Anderson was most popular at the box office. It's a position he's never been in before.
Hurriedly Handicapping Best Picture: Are We Down to 4, 3 or 2?
The likeliest candidates. But one of these things is not like the others.
Before the nominations came out, I thought we were down to four candidates for best picture: “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Imitation Game.” So where are we now that the Academy has released the Kraken?
Here are the Academy's eight nominees for best picture, along with nominations in other relevant categories:
|The Grand Budapest Hotel||x||x||x||9|
|The Imitation Game||x||x||x||2||8|
|The Theory of Everything||x||2||5|
It's rare when a movie wins best picture without its director being nominated (although it happened two years ago with Ben Affleck and “Argo”), so we do seem down to those four.
However, it's even rarer when a movie wins best picture without its editor being nominated (last time: “Ordinary People” in 1980). So if that's the case, then we're down to three.
Screenplay is a wash. It eliminates nothing save “Selma,” which is nominated nowhere else but song. Acting matters since the Academy is mostly made up of actors, and that favors “Birdman,” with three, over “Grand Budapest” with zero. (Although two films this century, “Slumdog Millionaire” in 2008 and “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” in 2003, won best pic without an acting nomination.)
Let's look at that recent history. These are the nominations for each year's best picture winner this century:
|Year||Movie||Director||Edit||Scrnply||Acting||Total noms||Most noms?|
|2013||12 Years a Slave||x||x||x||3||9|
|2010||The King's Speech||x||x||x||3||12||x|
|2009||The Hurt Locker||x||x||x||1||9||x|
|2007||No Country for Old Men||x||x||x||1||8||x|
|2004||Million Dollar Baby||x||x||x||3||7|
|2003||Lord of the Rings: Return of the King||x||x||x||0||11||x|
|2001||A Beautiful Mind||x||x||x||2||8|
I was surprised that “Most noms” is a meaningless category—just six of 14 this century—but it helps to be at least near the top. Last year, both “Gravity” and “American Hustle” had 10 noms, one more than “12 Years.” “Lincoln” had 12 in 2012 (not a bad slogan, actually), while “The Artist” was only one off of “Hugo”'s total of 11 nominations in 2011.
So what does it all mean?
Under normal circumstances, the lack of an editing nomination should end “Birdman”'s chances. Except voters may give it a pass since it's essentially one long single shot. It's an actors' movie, almost like a play (hence the three acting nominations), and the Academy's acting body should appreciate that.
“Boyhood” has fewer overall noms, but it's got director, editing, two acting, and, perhaps most importantly, heart.
“The Imitation Game” has all its nominations in a nice, neat row. It's just not a very good movie. It's also the most conventional among the four. “Grand Budapest” is two-dimensional, Andersony and funny, “Boyhood” is episodic and took 12 years to make, “Birdman” is pungent, attacks Hollywood for giving awards “for cartoons and pornography” and ends with a question mark.
My thought? We're down to three. “Birdman,” “Boyhood” and “Imitation Game.”
My hope? That 12 years of work, and a lot of heart, give “Boyhood” the win.
My fear? The unconventional voters will split among the American indies, allowing the lesser film, “Imitation Game,” to win.
We'll find out Feb. 22.