THE LONG SHOT: Don’t let ’em catch you caring

Posted by · 12:35 pm · January 20th, 2011

(Updated Oscar predictions here. They’ll likely be tweaked once more before Tuesday.)

Following the Academy Award season is a little like watching a particularly low-rent TV soap: just as the mindlessness and predictability of the enterprise escalates to a point where quitting seems the only credible option, some or other narrative curveball will lure you back in.

So it was with me this week: after my column last week expressed a weary indifference to the race two weeks ahead of nomination day, along came the Academy to throw me a bone and re-pique my interest.

The bone was, admittedly, a small one — a wishbone, if you will — but it did the job. By shortlisting Greece’s disturbing, tar-black adult fable “Dogtooth” for Best Foreign Language Film, the Academy sent out a reminder to bleary-eyed awards watchers not only that it is still capable of surprising us, but that good films can sometimes endure on their own merits — even if some of them do need an executive committee vote to help them along. (Hey, anyone else starting to think an executive committee for the Best Picture category would be a fine idea?)

“Dogtooth” likely won’t be one of the five films nominated on Tuesday, and it won’t have a cat-in-hell’s chance of winning if it is, but no matter: by planting that seed of hope, the Academy has once more earned my attention by giving me something to invest in for the next few days. Either joy or disappointment awaits. So goes the cycle.

Why do we care about such outcomes? Whether it’s “Dogtooth” or any other dark-horse film or individual in the hunt, failure to achieve Oscar recognition won’t diminish your affection for your favorite contender — indeed, awards snubs only make us more fiercely protective of the movies and performances we love. (That doesn’t just apply to long shots, either: I maintain that “Brokeback Mountain”‘s shock Best Picture loss five years ago is the best thing that could have happened for that film’s long-term reputation.)

We routinely knock the aesthetic judgment of awards-giving bodies, yet get curiously thrilled on those occasions when their collective taste aligns with ours — an inversion, of sorts, of Groucho Marx’s classic “I wouldn’t be part of any club that would have me as a member” quip. On Sunday night, I found myself drunkenly whooping when Olivier Assayas’s “Carlos” took the Golden Globe for Best TV Film or Miniseries, beating competition so far below its league as to resemble Frank Sinatra winning your average season of American Idol.

Why was I so pleased that the film had the approval of a group of voters who also liked “The Tourist?” What did the award, a puny TV honor for a professed work of cinema, even mean? None of these questions entered my head in the heat of the moment — I was too jazzed by the surreal sight of Olivier Assayas sharing the spangly stage with Miss Golden Globe 2011.

That very visibility, however, is part of the reason we care. “Carlos” will no doubt draw a few more eyeballs in the next few weeks than it would have had it lost, just as a nomination next week would send more curious movie buffs on a mission to seek out “Dogtooth.” We may feel possessive of our favorite films, but not selfishly so: we want them to be seen and appreciated by others, both for the professional benefit of the artists involved, and for the chance to extend and expand our conversation about them. If awards attention aids that sharing process — and in the case of foreign films, it can even be the deciding factor in securing distribution — then we’re not inclined to complain about where it comes from.

The same applies to the actors and artists that we’ve long treasured without any recognition from the Academy or similar: when awards voters finally catch up with us on them, we’re glad not because our affection suddenly feels validated, but because the career-enhancing opportunities enabled by such a break make it that much easier to sell others on their work.

Tilda Swinton may have recently claimed that winning an Oscar three years ago made no difference to her career, but that’s not strictly true: it may not have affected the choices she made, but it ensured more viewers are paying attention to her riskier ventures. Would “I Am Love” have become the Stateside arthouse hit it was if not for Swinton’s Oscar-abetted morphosis from underground indie queen to ubiquitous magazine presence and movie star? We can’t say for sure, but I do know some friends who could identify her only as “that creepy witch from the Narnia movie” prior to 2008.

Whenever I feel silly or shallow for getting concerned over a film’s (or person’s) Oscar fate, then, it’s worth remembering what’s in it for them beyond a fun night out and a free ballgown or two: they wouldn’t be on the campaign trail themselves if one meager nomination didn’t make a substantial difference to the ways and numbers in which their work (present, future and past too) might be seen.

So, as fundamentally uncool as it is to admit this — and as little as it matters in any artistic sense — I will mind if “The Illusionist” is frozen out of the Best Animated Feature race on Tuesday. I will mind if Ryan Gosling loses out to five performances less remarkable than his in the Best Actor crush, and not just out of critical principle. Rather, a snubbed contender isn’t merely denied an Oscar nomination, but a chance to cultivate new audience members — a loss we annually try to counteract by clasping our awards-season orphans a little tighter to our chests.

[Photos: Kino International, Getty, The Weinstein Company]




→ 28 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , | Filed in: The Long Shot

28 responses so far

  • 1 1-20-2011 at 12:50 pm

    billybil said...

    Wow I LOVE this articles! Love, LOVE, LOVE!! it! Thanks so much for putting things in a POSITIVE perspective. It’s true – I love for the things I love to get a little more attention, not to validate me (I’m way past that in my old age) but for the joy of imagining others enjoying what I’ve enjoyed. So I’ll hold my breath for THE ILLUSIONIST and MARK RUFFALO and ferret out DOGTOOTH myself.

    Thanks

  • 2 1-20-2011 at 12:54 pm

    Aaron said...

    Really great article. I wouldn’t count out Dogtooth’s chances yet. I think it could make it to the final five. But I agree–movies like Blue Valentine, The Illusionist, and Winter’s Bone really benefit the most from Oscar cause it gives them a much higher platform than they would have had…wider audience, more mainstream commercial recognition…which is a great thing…

    …and you have no Nicole Kidman for best actress :( ….really unfair, but sadly I could see that happening too. I hope not, though.

  • 3 1-20-2011 at 12:59 pm

    Alex in Movieland said...

    “Rather, a snubbed contender isn’t merely denied an Oscar nomination, but a chance to cultivate new audience members”

    true.

    I’ve watched Blue Valentine last night and considering I know how people adore it, I won’t comment on the film as a whole – even though it was definitely on the good side, for me too, just not year’s best, nor close.

    I fell in love with Ryan while watching the film (as I previously did with him in Half Nelson and Lars) and I can see the work put in the performance, but him not getting nominated wouldn’t surprise me. The performance is very subtle, their acting is very subtle, the screenplay has a very subtle charm.

    i don’t see it getting any Oscar nominations.

  • 4 1-20-2011 at 1:01 pm

    Maxim said...

    Tall Dark Stranger for Best movie/Screenplay/Supporting Actor

    Josh Brolin gave the best performance in True Grit

    Five best visual effects nods is far too many

    Same for animation, even though there’s only three this year

    Art Design should have a percentage requirement for the work being practical and not digital

  • 5 1-20-2011 at 1:15 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    Best thing you’ve written since…’Categorical Denial,’ maybe?

    You’ve just spelled out exactly why I get so invested in one or two dark horses in every Oscar race. As “cool” as it is to champion a little-known indie or a relative unknown, at the end of the day I want to see artists like John Hawkes and David Michôd get more work and more fans, because they deserve it!

  • 6 1-20-2011 at 1:21 pm

    eurocheese said...

    I disagree on Brokeback, Kris – I think the BP win is always a big deal in the history books, but I think true Oscar fans will be seeking it out thanks to Ang Lee’s (well deserved) Director win. The scandal is a big deal to us now, but I think other snubs will be better remembered (like moving to 10 nominees after The Dark Knight missed out, which really annoyed me, though for different reasons).

    I’m trying not to get my hopes up for Julianne Moore and Barbara Hershey. If Nolan or Aronofsky miss, I must admit I’ll be pretty upset. I find my tastes are fairly different from the Oscars on a regular basis, though – the acting categories will match my picks 3/5 at most, and unless Hershey sneaks in, Supporting Actress will be 0/5. As much as I love the Oscar game, I think following it the last few years has made the snubs less dramatic. With that said… yeah, it’s Nolan and Aronofsky you need to notice, AMPAS. Get to it. ;)

  • 7 1-20-2011 at 1:29 pm

    eurocheese said...

    Oops, sorry Guy. I thought this came from Kris.

  • 8 1-20-2011 at 1:45 pm

    Andrej said...

    I dunno about the best picture/screenplay difference you have there. I think it’s likely for all top 11 films to score a writing nod (5 original likely nominees and 6 adapted likely nominees). The one miss I could see coming is for The Town, though.

    What made you pick Black Swan for an original screenplay snub instead of the other sure candidates?

  • 9 1-20-2011 at 1:48 pm

    Andrej said...

    Also, what about 127 Hours?

    Initially I didn’t want to ask about this one because Beaufoy had already won and the Polanski lovers could strike at the last minute, but still, I think it’s hard not to consider it.

  • 10 1-20-2011 at 2:07 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    What made you pick Black Swan for an original screenplay snub instead of the other sure candidates?

    The screenplay itself. Nothing wrong with it, but the film isn’t as writer-led as the others. It could easily score a nomination — but the writers always stick up for one or two neglected indies. Think of “The Messenger” last year.

  • 11 1-20-2011 at 3:33 pm

    daveylow said...

    I am so happy to read Guy Lodge’s defense of Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine. I will be upset if he and/or Williams miss the Oscar top five this year.

    Any Oscar nominations blue Valentine will get are deserved, like the ones The Messenger got last year or the ones Children of Men received a few years ago.

    I really must see Dogtooth.

  • 12 1-20-2011 at 3:40 pm

    Carson Dyle said...

    If The Illusionist is snubbed, I’ll be mightily pissed. Sadly, it’s going to happen.

  • 13 1-20-2011 at 3:52 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    What makes you so sure? That third slot is wild.

  • 14 1-20-2011 at 4:33 pm

    jrmoviedude said...

    These won’t happen, but I’d love these nominations:

    “The Ghost Writer” for Best Art Direction
    “The American” for Best Cinematography
    “I Am Love” for Best Costume Design

  • 15 1-20-2011 at 4:46 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    Guy could you write an article concerning your favorite Oscar wins?

  • 16 1-20-2011 at 5:17 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Of all time? That’d be a long article. But I’ll give it some thought.

  • 17 1-20-2011 at 6:10 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    I was thinking along the lines of your personal favorite Oscar wins so far.

  • 18 1-20-2011 at 6:19 pm

    Hero said...

    That was really lovely. Thanks Guy.

    And while were one the topic of personal hopes, even though I’ve never really given a flying frak about Best Documentary in the past, I will officially perform a happy dance should Restrepo pop up Tuesday.

  • 19 1-20-2011 at 7:54 pm

    Jack said...

    I don’t have anything particularly insightful to add, but I just wanted to agree that this is a really fantastic article; it’s one of the best I’ve ever read about the Oscars (which, granted, is not a hugely competitive field). It just reminds me why I love this site so much.

  • 20 1-20-2011 at 8:09 pm

    Silencio said...

    What’s funny is that in this generation of music, I doubt Sinatra would actually win American Idol. But your point is made.

    I’m already expecting the sting of a Best Actor shortlist without Gosling’s name on it. I just don’t want to believe.

  • 21 1-21-2011 at 12:46 am

    julian said...

    Great article! I like the whole sentiment of your thoughts on this matter.
    On another note: I wholly agree on the merits of the wonderful ryan gosling (an actor who so effortlessly inhabits everything a star like leo di caprio try so hard, and therefore fails, to achieve). If there’s any justice, he will be among the nominees come tuesday (and I think that coveted fifth spot is wide open, so sneaking in should be a real possibility)

  • 22 1-21-2011 at 3:14 am

    Paul Outlaw said...

    My fondest wish for January 25:

    The Illusionist
    Tangled
    Toy Story 3

    (This category and Best Supporting Actress are the only ones whose nominees could make me really happy or angry this year.)

  • 23 1-21-2011 at 4:17 am

    Chris said...

    This is a beautifully written piece, I absolutely love it and I wholeheartedly agree with pretty much everything you said.

    I know I’ll be upset if “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” doesn’t get that visual effects nomination. I don’t think the film is great, butthe effects were so brilliantly done that it should be nominated. The VFX shortlist was my ‘Dogtooth” moment.

  • 24 1-21-2011 at 6:30 am

    Anita said...

    Fantastic article, as always, Guy. I thought it was a crime for Gosling not to get a nomination for Lars, but I keep holding out hope for both him and Williams this year. His chances are much, much better than that of any love for Aaron Eckhart, though, which really makes me sad. It’s a stacked category.

  • 25 1-21-2011 at 10:33 am

    Michael said...

    Wow. Finally caught up with this article and it was a doozy. Beautiful work Guy. That last line was a fantastic ending and brought it all home for the awards-season-obsessed. It is impossible not to get emotionally invested in works of art that inspire us – and to want to see the people responsible for making them receive the same level of adoration that we feel towards them, but on a massive scale. Even though she didn’t win (and was not nominated as Best Actress) – I have never been happier about a nomination more than when Bjork was nominated for Best Song in 2000. The fact that she stole the thunder from everyone else nominated by wearing that iconic dress only makes me even happier. Moments like that are totally rare, but when they do happen there is nothing better :^)

  • 26 1-21-2011 at 11:38 am

    Ivan said...

    I would love this ballot…

    Best Motion Picture
    BLACK SWAN
    THE FIGHTER
    THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
    THE KING´S SPEECH
    INCEPTION
    127 HOURS
    THE SOCIAL NETWORK
    THE TOWN
    TOY STORY 3
    TRUE GRIT

    Best Director
    DARREN ARONOFSKY/BLACK SWAN
    DAVID FINCHER/THE SOCIAL NETWORK
    TOM HOOPER/THE KING´S SPEECH
    CHRISTOPHER NOLAN/INCEPTION
    ROMAN POLANSKI/THE GHOST WRITER

    Best Actor
    ROBERT DUVALL/GET LOW
    JESSE EISENBERG/THE SOCIAL NETWORK
    COLIN FIRTH/THE KING´S SPEECH
    JAMES FRANCO/127 HOURS
    RYAN GOSLING/BLUE VALENTINE

    Best Actress
    ANNETTE BENING/THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
    NICOLE KIDMAN/RABBIT HOLE
    JENNIFER LAWRENCE/WINTER´S BONE
    NATALIE PORTMAN/BLACK SWAN
    HAILEE STEINFELD/TRUE GRIT

    Supporting Actor
    CHRISTIAN BALE/THE FIGHTER
    ANDREW GARFIELD/THE SOCIAL NETWORK
    JOHN HAWKES/WINTER´S BONE
    JEREMY RENNER/THE TOWN
    GEOFFREY RUSH/THE KING´S SPEECH

    Supporting Actress
    AMY ADAMS/THE FIGHTER
    BARBARA HERSHEY/BLACK SWAN
    MELISSA LEO/THE FIGHTER
    LESLEY MANVILLE/ANOTHER YEAR
    JACKI WEAVER/ANIMAL KINGDOM

    Original Screenplay
    ANOTHER YEAR
    BLUE VALENTINE
    THE FIGHTER
    THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
    INCEPTION

    Adapted Screenplay
    THE GHOST WRITER
    127 HOURS
    THE SOCIAL NETWORK
    TOY STORY 3
    WINTER´S BONE

    Cinematography
    BLACK SWAN
    INCEPTION
    127 HOURS
    TRUE GRIT
    THE WAY BACK

    Film Editing
    BLACK SWAN
    INCEPTION
    127 HOURS
    THE SOCIAL NETWORK
    THE TOWN

    Art Direction
    BLACK SWAN
    THE GHOST WRITER
    INCEPTION
    THE KING´S SPEECH
    TRUE GRIT

    Foreign Film
    BIUTIFUL
    DOGTOOTH
    IN A BETTER WORLD
    INCENDIES
    LIFE ABOVE ALL