In case you haven’t noticed, the Oscar circuit has become downright frantic, if not chaotic. And there’s a movement afoot by traditionalists to introduce new rules and standards and thus bring things back under control.
If you’re an Oscar voter, this week you will face a frenetic social calendar, lifting drinks and dining with stars and star filmmakers in Los Angeles and New York. There are three or four parties per night. Veterans of Oscar campaigns testify they cannot recall a time when politicking has been as intense – hence igniting a movement within the Academy to drastically tighten rules once again and put a damper on the fierce campaigning.
I’ve been an Oscar voter since 1968 and candidly I enjoy being this popular. On the other hand, I agree with those who are asking: Does the frenzied campaigning really make a difference? I’ve talked to a number of fellow Oscar voters who insist that the hand-shaking is irrelevant, that how they vote is still determined by what they see, not whose hand they shake. Still other Oscar veterans and publicists resolutely believe that hitting the circuit is vitally important. The median age of the Oscar voting constituency is in the mid-60s, they note. “To retired and semi retired Academy members, the opportunity to shake hands with Leo or Matt is a game changer,” observes one prominent Academy member. So many voters are attending screenings that feature superstar Q&A sessions that there are massive turnaways.
The solution? A group within the Academy would like to impose a limit of two events per picture before nominations are announced – and none after. They’d also limit Q&A sessions to the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater, rather than staging them at virtually every screening room in town. Veteran Academy members note that they never witnessed a Bogart or a Brando campaigning for an award. Politicking was non-existent for that earlier generation. The major stars didn’t hustle votes, but studio chiefs often instructed their employees how to vote. If you worked for MGM, you voted for MGM films or you got the ax. By contrast, today’s Academy or guild members feel like primary voters in Iowa or New Hampshire; they can’t step outside without running into a candidate.
But again, does it work? The big stars have to believe it does. Some have made literally dozens of personal appearances, setting aside ongoing commitments. Matt Damon took a leave from Bourne to talk about The Martian, though the thrust of his campaign zeroes in on the overdue Oscar for his director, Ridley Scott.
“This is a business of narcissists,” one producer reminds me. “They want that trophy.” Apart from that, stars are profit participants in their movies and winning an award can spell bigger box office. As evidence, look no further than Harvey Weinstein’s classic triumphs with The English Patient or Shakespeare In Love. The campaigns were intense; so were the rewards.
A confession: There is much that I personally enjoy about the process. I like the fact that the media is subsidized by it – we all need the money. And I think the maze of Oscar and Globes ads serves as needed reminders about films that might otherwise disappear amid the onslaught. I like the screeners, covet the invitations and relish the conversations (well some of them anyway).
But am I, like others, forgetting the main reason why I’m filling out my ballot? Did I enjoy my last Matt Damon conversation or appreciate Cate Blanchett’s bon mots so much that I’ve overlooked the key issue: Did the picture work for me?
As I said earlier, things are out of control, folks. I think it’s time to do the unthinkable: Let quality do the talking.