The Annotated Oscar Logic (2002)

So, how did Oscar Logic work for Cleo at the 2001/02  Oscars? Well, she (just bare-ly) won the Digest Oscar pool (although technically, as editor, she doesn't count). So let's see how it turned out, shall we?












































Yeah,
The Shipping News went down hard last year, despite ballyhooed performances, once critics saw it and the public refused to.








Miramax actually wound up getting mostly shut out of last year's race, and thus when "someone" started a smear campaign against the biographical in accuracies of A Beautiful Mind--personally, I believe to this day that BM 's own studio started it to get sympathy votes--Miramax was the first one to get blamed, given its rep for playing dirty.




























"Canceling each other out", below: Witness what happened to
Gosford Park ladies Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith, who lost to Jennifer Connelly.


In the case of the Fellowship/McKellen campaign, New Line eventually--and wisely
--switched McKellen over to Best Support-ing. He had a lot of Oscar Logic on his side
--a great "death" scene, a previous nomi-nation in the bank--but wound up losing to Jim Broadbent for
Iris, illustrating a rule I had not thought of, a sort of corollary to the Hunter/Thompson nominations cited below: Anytime you have multiple roles you could have been nominated for, the goodwill generated by  the ones you weren't nomi-nated for may trickle over to help you out with the one for which you were. I perso-nally thought Broadbent should have been nominated for his role in Moulin Rouge, for example. On the other hand, Billy Bob Thornton and Cate Blanchett had so many roles last year that they were nominated for none of them--they split their own vote, as it were. Nor did Nicole Kidman's work in The Others (added to her nomination for Moulin Rouge)  help her beat Halle Berry. So it's a tricky rule to keep in mind.


Speaking of Berry and Kidman, that was a very hot race last year, between them and Sissy Spacek, and this time last year, Spa-cek looked like a lock to win, and indeed did win the Golden Globe. Jennifer Connelly was, in fact, nominated as Best Actress at the SAG awards last year, leading Nicole Kidman as the odd (wo)man out. (See my explanation of this at our
Yahoo Group.) Turns out it was a clerical error, but that right there shows you which actress was considered the stronger; it was essentially a Berry-Spacek race at that point. But why was Connelly being pushed for Supporting anyway, when she was clearly a viable Best Actress candidate? For this simple reason: because they could. You know kids who are held back a year before starting school so they'll be stronger or smarter or more mature or whatever? It's a little like that: Connelly would be a big fish in a small(er) pond. And, in truth, she did win the Oscar.










Bless her heart--since she was nominated for Best Supporting (
In the Bedroom) again last year, I'm personally hoping that the To-mei rumor fades into obsolescence.













Well, Crowe would have had this one tied up if he hadn't thrown so many nasty hissy-fits (although, to be fair, Denzel Washington had a bit of the Insider Rule working for him here as well, since he also lost that same year for
The Hurricane to Spacey. Not to mention the fact that "historic black  Best Actor and Actress wins" fever swept the Academy late in the game. (Oscar Logic can be so fickle, in fact, that it's often a relief when they arbitrarily settle on perfor-mances that are nonetheless superlative, as in this case.)

Anyway. Russell. Hissyfits.  Which brings up another rule I hadn't really considered before:
One's public behavior can affect one's career, particularly at awards, but also after them as well. Just when I thought nothing could kill Titanic-mania, James Cameron gets up there for Best Director and shouts, "I'm King of the World!" Yup, that did it.










See discussion of Insider Rule above. Also: Nope, didn't work for McKellen this year. Let it be noted, however, that he now has two
losses under his belt and the "Lifetime Achievement" rule could rear its head on a subsequent nomination.


Hmmm. Crowe lost, but Broadbent (
Iris) and Jennifer Connelly (Beautiful Mind) did win Supporting awards for playing real people. Interesting.




































This is the kind of "rule"--perhaps theory is a better word-- that you would expect to benefit a film like Fellowship of the Ring; it certainly showed up on the nomination level (thirteen all told). However, FOTR wound up winning "only" Score, Makeup, Visual Effects and Cinematography. You will notice, how-wever, that these are typical "I have no idea what this award is for, I will check off the big dog for this year" categories.
















You saw this in effect last year as well, with the Beautiful Mind / Ron Howard win. In my personal opinion, given that he was nomi-nated against Robert Altman, David Lynch, Ridley Scott, and Peter Jackson (but not Baz Luhrmann! Grrr!)--Howard was the weakest nominee among them. This would have been a perfect year to pull what we'll call the
Soderbergh Split--but no, Best Picture and Director fell to the same production.







You know what I just realized? Yeah, Con-nelly won for Supporting, but if Crowe had won,
Beautiful Mind would have basically pulled off something very like the Big Five, since it won Director, Picture, and (Adapted) Screenplay.














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Ah, the Oscars. That wonderful, nonsensical, epic award ceremony. It's the Super Bowl of movies, which is a good way to look at it, really: when at all possible, it should involve score cards, chips 'n' dip, betting pools, and booze. And it's a great tradition for movie critics large and small to put out their lists of who they think ought to win--and who they think will. For the first--but not last--time on this page we will say it: OUGHT and WILL are NOT THE SAME THING.

Because that's the thing: the reason the Oscars are more like a horse race--or the stock market--is because you're not guessing which movie was the best; you're really guessing what a select group of people, who are often a bit... older, sometimes... out of touch, and often not even required to see all the films... will vote for. They can be swayed by scree-ner tapes (and now DVDs) sent to their homes to make sure that they don't forget this or that film in their voting processes; in fact, the Academy has a hard and fast ban on send-ing out anything more bribe-worthy than screeners, because it has been done in the past. You are also dealing with a group of studios who would kill to see their "horses" win (hence the $5000 fruit baskets and God knows what else of the past), and who often play the game with "For Your Consideration" ads and theatrical rereleases as if it were a personal skirmish. Because often, it is. And if you wanna play and not end up bitter that the Oscars, like life, ain't fair, you might want to read the following insights from Cleolinda, an avid follower of the Oscars since she was thirteen.

Note: Unless a source for the information/speculation is given, all natterings are courtesy Cleolinda's memory of Oscar races past. As such, feel free to chime in or correct her by email.

A full breakdown of the awards by year can be found at the always-useful IMDB or at oscar.org.

Herewith, what she's learned over the last few years:


The Lifetime Achievement Award.
No, we're not talking about the actual award they give out that then results in twenty-minute speech (and a mass exodus to the bathroom and/or kitchen across the nation). We're talking about the theory under which a legendary actor, mysteriously having never received an Oscar, is suddenly nominated for a long overdue award--in many cases, for what may be perceived to be the last such role they'll have. The nominations usually have merit; the wins, well... we're just sayin'. Example: Al Pacino's win for 1992's Scent of a Woman ("Hoo-ah!!"). Exception that proves the rule: Lauren Bacall was nominated for the insipid Barbra Streisand movie The Mirror Has Two Faces, since the Academy had neglected to give the legend an award for, let's say, any of the classics she made with Bogie. Juliette Binoche took home the statuette, however, in a surprise win for The English Patient.

You Gotta Dance with Them What Brung You: The Guilt by Associaton Rule.
The overall reception of the movie can tarnish (or polish, even) an individual's hopes as time passes. Example: When A.I. first came out, many critics who were otherwise on the fence about the hit-and-miss film (personally, Cleolinda loved it) pegged young Haley Joel Osment as a lock for a Best Actor nom. In the cold light of December, as of this writing, we somehow doubt it'll happen now; despite inspiring heated message board throwdowns for weeks, the movie has largely faded from audiences' minds as one of the big event films of the year, despite an online murder mystery game that deserves an award by itself (here's a shout-out to the Cloudmakers!). Inverse: Nicole Kidman is riding the surprise-hit status of The Others to a Best Actress nomination; in fact, Miramax's Harvey Weinstein has made comments to the effect that he will get her nominated or die trying.

The Miramax Factor.
And trust us, he will. Miramax, the indie studio-cum-power player, essentially made its name on the sweeping Oscar wins of The English Patient. We can remember in 1996-97 how all the Oscar articles touted "The Year of the Indie," with Fargo and The English Patient going head to head, and no real major studio film in sight. This was terribly, terribly vexing to the mainstream studios, who seemed a bit frightened until the inevitable happened: Miramax basically became one of them, and the line between low-budget indie and big budget blockbuster was forever smeared. All that aside, Miramax's calling card is the spare-no-expenses multimedia advertising campaign. Example: While many people legitimately loved last year's Chocolat, there were many others who resented the way Miramax crammed it down the public throat as a cure for all that ails ye. But was it nominated for Best Picture, despite critics who called it "lightweight fluff"? Why yes, yes it was. Example #2: There are many people who claim Miramax, with its crafty campaign, convinced people to vote for Shakespeare in Love because, ostensibly, Saving Private Ryan was going to win anyway, right? Cast a vote for the little movie you loved, etc. We all saw how that one turned out. This year's big Miramax gun: The Shipping News. Be afraid.

The Oscars as Miramax-Dreamworks Steel Cage Death Match. Ever since Saving Private Ryan got wiped by Shakespeare in Love, the Oscars have seemed to seem to boil down to a two-studio beatdown. TO THE DEATH. So far, Dreamworks has avenged itself with the back-to-back Best Picture wins of American Beauty and Gladiator. Miramax would like to put the hurt on Dreamworks again, so watch out. Oh, and if they beat other studios, that is also good.

For Your Consideration. Consider, then, if you will, the keystone of the beloved ad campaign, the main weapon in the smackdown. Usually these FYCs are seen in trade papers and magazines, but you can open your average December/January copies of USAToday and see them as well. What's the point, you ask? Because, after all, the cream will rise, right? If you forgot the movie, doesn't that say something in and of itself? Not always. FYC ads are also great for independent and/or low budget movies that got little attention upon release. Example: Laura Linney can probably thank such a campaign for her well-deserved Best Actress nomination for You Can Count on Me. Counter-example: Many big-name stars require, when signing the contract to star in a film, that they will be FYC'd by the studio when Oscar season hits no matter HOW bad the film turns out to be. However, we wish they'd realize that this usually just pours salt in the wound of an already bad movie; trust us, there really was a Battlefield Earth FYC ad.

For Your Consideration 2: Electric Boogaloo. TheOneRing.net posted two FYCs for The Fellowship of the Ring, illustrating another key use of the ad: to give certain actors a fighting shot by spotlighting them over the others, since actors nominated from the same film in the same category often "cancel each other out" in voting logic. (Example: John Travolta for Best Actor and Samuel L. Jackson for Best Supporting from Pulp Fiction, although Travolta only had a few scenes without Jackson; however, Jackson was not yet the big name he is now, and Travolta was given the Best Actor slot. Both lost.)

At the same time, the ad basically suggests anyone on two legs who was in the movie, with a few notable exceptions (where is Christopher Lee?), but more interestingly, positions Ian McKellen alone for the Best Actor slot. What this says is that the Supporting Actor suggestions, as meritorious as they may be (Newsweek's David Ansen, for example, particularly lauds Elijah Wood and Viggo Mortensen, both of whom have enough screentime to make them viable Best Actor choices in the collective Academy mind) are not really where New Line's hopes lie. They're really thinking Ian McKellen is the actor to beat in this case--but in order to understand why, you have to know more about the acting categories themselves. The bottom line, however, is that if Ian McKellen gets enough nomination votes and they're in the Supporting Actor category, that's where he'd be nominated. (Don't believe us?) FYC ads are in no way any kind of official submission or binding entry form. They're simply reminders and suggestions--expensive ones, at that.

What's the difference between Best and Best Supporting Actor/Actress? Damn if we know. And we're not sure the Academy knows, either. Fact is, it's proven to be a very subjective category; in fact, Oscars.org says, "A performance by an actor or actress in any role shall be eligible for nomination either for the Best Performance in a Leading Role or for the Best Performance in a Supporting Role." We looked up some Oscar cri-teria at IMDB, and while it had some very enlightening rules for the brand new Animated Feature Films category, it didn't say jack about the acting categories. (However, we do know that you cannot be nominated against yourself in the same category. You can, how-ever, oppose yourself with one nom in Best and another in Best Supporting. Not only has it been done, but by two women in the same year: 1994, with Holly Hunter for The Piano (she won Best Actress) and The Firm, and Emma Thompson for The Remains of the Day and In the Name of the Father (she lost both, the latter to The Piano's Anna Paquin, but to her credit had only just won Best Actress the year before for Howards End).

The thing is, it ought to follow logic: the awards are actually called Best Actor/Actress in a Leading Role and Best Actor/Actress in a Supporting Role. But that logic has been circumvented in interesting ways over the years: For 1996's
Fargo, Frances McDormand was positioned (by those FYC ads) the Best Actress slot (and won), while William H. Macy was suggested for (and nominated in) the Best Supporting Actor slot, although he had more screen time than she did. (She won; he lost. Maybe the studio knew something we don't.) A similar case is that of The Silence of the Lambs, in which Jodie Foster is in nearly every scene, and won Best Actress for it (her second); on the other hand, Anthony Hopkins was in a quarter of the film (someone once clocked his scenes at something like 20-odd minutes--in a 2-1/2 hour movie) and also won Best Actor. The bottom line is that there seems to be something to be said for the size of the role in the viewer's (and Academy member's) mind, not just the literal length of time on-screen, and FYC ads take advantage of this.

Best Actor. Or Not.
Remember--a lot of very deserving and wonderful people win Oscars (counter-example to rule: see last year's surprise win for Pollock's excellent Marcia Gay Harden, which, quite honestly, broke all the rules of Oscar logic). And then there are some head-scratchers. (Example: To this day, there's a deathless urban legend that, for whatever reason, Jack Palance just walked up to the podium in 1993 and said "Marisa Tomei," even though the paper in his hand read "Vanessa Redgrave," or whoever seems more reasonable to the teller of the story. As if those Price-Waterhouse employees with the bulletproof briefcases wouldn't have leapt across that stage and taken Palance's ancient one-armed-push-uppin' ass down.)

The point is, you have to remember that the real name of the award ought to be "Actor Selected by a Small Group of People as Ostensibly Being the Best This Year." And there's several rules of logic to keep in mind, the
Lifetime Achievement Award rule (see above) being one of them. Other rules include (with examples that are by no means a complete listing)...

**Play crazy, drunk, physically deformed, and/or mentally disturbed (The Damaged Goods Rule). Actors it worked for (in no particular order): Jack Nicholson (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest AND As Good As It Gets), Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump), Geoffrey Rush (Shine), Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas), Kevin Spacey (to an extent in in both American Beauty and The Usual Suspects, if you like), Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs), Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man), Fredric March (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, 1931), Cliff Robertson (Charly), Kathy Bates (Misery), Jessica Lange (Blue Sky), Holly Hunter (The Piano--hey, she was mute and lost a finger, whaddya want?), Angelina Jolie (Girl, Interrupted), Viven Leigh (A Streetcar Named Desire).

Actors it nearly worked for:
Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient); John Hurt (The Elephant Man); Jodie Foster (Nell, though it's not a delicate way to describe the character). Actors who may wish it will work this year: Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind), Sean Penn (I Am Sam--which Cleolinda always wants to call "Sam I Am"); Gary Oldman (Hannibal, though somehow we doubt it'll be nominated...Makeup, maybe). Clearly, sheer numbers indicate that, as an actor, a "Damaged Goods" role is the way to go.

**Gender-bend. Examples: Linda Hunt (The Year of Living Dangerously: Her character was actually a man, straight-forward, no Crying Game twist or anything); Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare in Love, with Viola's double life as an actor); Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry); Dustin Hoffman (Tootsie).

**Die tragically.
(Spoilers, sorry.) Examples (see also "The Damaged Goods Rule," in which death is often the result for the character): Kevin Spacey (American Beauty), Russell Crowe (Gladiator), Tom Hanks (Philadelphia). Never, ever, ever underestimate the power of a good death scene.

**Get the shaft a previous year. Call this "The Insider Rule," in which it is widely acknowledged that the Academy gave Russell Crowe an Oscar for Gladiator because they felt so guilty they didn't give him one for The Insider, but they had to give it to Kevin Spacey that year because his character both was somewhat crazy and died. But it's happened before; consider it a subset of the "Lifetime Achievement Award" rule, and it could work in Ian McKellen's favor come March.

**Play a real person. Examples: Martin Landau (Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood); George C. Scott (Patton); F. Murray Abraham (Salieri in Amadeus); Daniel Day-Lewis (My Left Foot); Jeremy Irons (Reversal of Fortune), Ben Kingsley (Gandhi); Anne Bancroft (The Miracle Worker). See also "Royalty," below--and note a few overlaps with the "Damaged Goods" rule (as we're sure A Beautiful Mind's Russell Crowe might in a couple of months), not to mention the "Tragic Death" rule.

**Play royalty (real or fictionalized). Examples: Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love); Katharine Hepburn (The Lion in Winter); Yul Brynner (The King and I).

**Sell yourself.
Like you don't already--no, we mean play a prostitute. Hey, it worked for Elizabeth Taylor (Butterfield 8), Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite), and Kim Basinger (L.A. Confidential).

**Turn in a really excellent performance and defy easy categorization. Yeah, but that's hard... (Just kidding.)


Legends of the Fall. Why do studios release "Oscar movies" in the autumn? So you'll remember them two months later at voting time, stupid. The sad by-product of this is that you get Oscar Films with a capital Film clogging up the end of the theatrical schedule that are such blatant bids for award booty that half the scenes practically have subtitles reading, LOOK HOW HARD I'M ACTING! ISN'T THIS PLOT TWIST TRAGIC?? AND AREN'T I GREAT IN IT??? Example: Pay It Forward, a movie that wound up being widely spanked by critics, including our own Mr. Typo, despite featuring Damaged Goods and Tragic Death roles. Directors ARE often the guiltiest parties, however. Counter-example: In a prime example of wanting to be a fall-worthy Oscar film and eat his summer blockbuster cake too, Michael Bay unleashed Pearl Harbor upon an unsuspecting populace (okay, well, actually, they were kind of looking forward to it at the time) last June, a film that Cleolinda deemed to have "masturbatory" direction, suspecting that Bay sat in the editing room admiring his own slo-mo handiwork ("Yeah, baby, that'll get me the Oscar!"). Many people said the film would still be a shoo-in for technical awards...and then Moulin Rouge, Harry Potter, and LOTR came along. Oops.

Winner Takes All.
Speaking of technical awards, this is a good place to explain how the voting process works, though even we are a little fuzzy on it. Basically, Costume Designers nominate Costume Designers, and so on all the way up and down the food chain, with Best Picture open to everyone to nominate (and correct Cleolinda if she's on crack here). Everyone then gets to choose among the final five nominations in the final round of voting. What happens then is--and you know this is you've ever tried to fill out that handy "scorecard" your newspaper will helpfully provide--if you're not a technical insider, you tend to just check off the movie you liked the best. Now, categories like Costume, Set, and even Song, Score, and Makeup are easier to judge, since you could see (or hear) those. (Well, score's a little arcane unless you're really into scores anyway, or you're viewing the movie again with the Oscars in mind.) The result is that a contender with a really mind-blowing achievement in, let's say, Sound Effects Editing may go unnoticed, because, as with all truly good things, it didn't draw undue attention to itself in the movie per se. Sometimes a movie will sweep technical awards because it really deserves them, in addition to winning Best Picture (example: Titanic). And sometimes a movie wins just because--well, the Academy just checked off that title down the line for lack of knowing what else to do. What you then have is what we like to call "The English Patient Effect," after the (damn fine! but not exactly state-of-the-art!) film that won all its categories except Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay, for a total of 9 out of 12. It got so bad that when Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice got up to accept Best Song for Evita, one of them actually blurted out, no kidding, "Thank God The English Patient didn't have a song!"

Winner Takes All, The Next Generation:
It is widely held that Best Director and Best Picture are often inseparable--that is to say, you don't have one without the other. Therefore, Best Director is often kind of the award that says, well, folks, you can go to bed now, because we've just told you who won Best Picture anyway; don't forget to tip your waitress on the way out. Exceptions that heat up the race: Last year, Steven Soderbergh (Traffic... and Erin Brockovich;) became the first director to break this rule in eleven years by our count--the last split vote was when Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture, but Oliver Stone won Best Director for Born on the Fourth of July. (Both Stone and Soderbergh are good example of directors who show you what a director is really capable of in terms of visual flair, and why Best Director truly isn't the same as "the guy who directed the Best Picture," but rather an award recognizing the contribution of one, if major, player to the overall film.) On top of that, Soderbergh also lost the award--to himself. Best Director, indeed. Soderbergh and Stone aside, this has happened so very rarely that it's a good rule to keep in mind when you chip in to the office pool.

The Big Five.
Speaking of winners taking all, there are five awards that are called "the Big Five," for the sake of trivia: Only three films have won them all, those awards being Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay (be it Original or Adapted). In case you've forgotten--and how could you, since this is one of the hoariest Oscar trivia questions--those three films are (with winners in order by categories): It Happened One Night (1934: Frank Capra, Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Robert Riskin); One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975: Milos Forman, Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman); The Silence of the Lambs (1991: Jonathan Demme, Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, Ted Tally). (Coincidentally, all the films won for Adapted Screenplay.) The film that probably came closest to joining this elite club was American Beauty two years back, after the film, Sam Mendes, Kevin Spacey, and Alan Ball (for his original script) won for their categories--and then Annette Bening lost, albeit to Hilary Swank's searing performance in Boys Don't Cry. Ah, well--c'est la vie.

(For those of you keeping score, TCM's Robert Osborne notes in
70 Years of the Oscar that no film has yet won all four of the acting categories. Only two have won three of the categories: A Streetcar Named Desire and Network.)



Feel up to the challenge now? Well, we're working on ways to create our own Oscar "pool," in which you can set your winner predictions alongside our other faithful readers' (yeah, both of 'em). The winner of the pool will get...the intense satisfaction of feeling superior and all the free copies of the Daily Digest that they can handle. (Yeah, you heard us.)
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