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The Academy: on the losing side of history? 
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Post Re: The Academy: on the losing side of history?
There is probably a perfectly workable equation out there that defines exactly what film or kind of film will win the Oscar, and when exactly it will slide from public consciousness.

I will say this though, I was, and still am, a fan of American Beauty.

But I think its problem, so to speak, is that it’s too big for the kind of film it is. It’s a perfectly good indie film bloated to Blockbuster/Oscar winning proportions. A world-class cruiserweight who's been pumped up to compete in the heavyweight division. Still looks and moves great, but the whole scenario can appear too artificial.

15 years hindsight makes it a feasible target for critics to “reassess”.

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Tue Jan 28, 2014 6:45 am
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Post Re: The Academy: on the losing side of history?
IMO, American Beauty holds up. I still consider a masterpiece. One of my favorites and definitely one of the few times where the Academy got it right.


Tue Jan 28, 2014 7:15 am
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Post Re: The Academy: on the losing side of history?
Jeff Wilder wrote:
MGamesCook wrote:
And these films are arguably decent or good but they don't capture any sort of zeitgeist of their times. I wouldn't look to them to learn anything about the years in which they came out. The Oscars have never gone for zeitgeist films.


Right. That's likely why The Social Network lost. The only recent time I can recall them choosing a zeitgeist film was the aforementioned Crash. For the most part they prefer if the zeitgeist elements are subtly inserted through fiction (The Departed, No Country For Old Men) or in the realm of a genre film (The Hurt Locker).

This assumes that the zeitgeist exists at all, and I'm not a big fan of zeitgeist theory. I won't deny that it's possible for movies to be the product of a zeitgeist or even that it's probably happened a few times, but I'm skeptical. I think that when we observe a zeitgeist in movies, it's almost always the result of the limitations of our own cognitive biases. It's not because the movies that are out at the time are capturing anything particularly essential or consistent about the spirit of the times. We see a pattern because we look for patterns.

One thing movies are particularly good at is throwing in whatever shit will stick. That's what happens when you have to entertain a lot of people with differing points of view, and to sustain their interest for two hours at a time. If one thing doesn't work, the movie's already off to the next thing. This is probably most apparent in comedies and horror films, which rely more than any other genre on packing a string of incidences as densely as possible to get a gut reaction out of the audience.

When you throw in all the shit that will stick, a relevant pattern will emerge--an apparent shared set of characteristics with other current movies, with pop culture, with politics, etc. Therein lie the problems with our ability to find patterns. We mentally overlook the stuff that doesn't fit into the pattern and place exaggerated importance on the stuff that does, and the pattern that emerges for one observer might differ substantially from the one that emerges for another. Hardly a compelling sign that everyone and everything is on the same page in the same moment.

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Tue Jan 28, 2014 8:23 am
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Post Re: The Academy: on the losing side of history?
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We mentally overlook the stuff that doesn't fit into the pattern and place exaggerated importance on the stuff that does


Nothing wrong with that though. You have to accept a certain degree of prejudice in every viewer.

Quote:
It's not because the movies that are out at the time are capturing anything particularly essential or consistent about the spirit of the times. We see a pattern because we look for patterns.


I think it's the same difference, either way.


Tue Jan 28, 2014 12:15 pm
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Post Re: The Academy: on the losing side of history?
NotHughGrant wrote:
There is probably a perfectly workable equation out there that defines exactly what film or kind of film will win the Oscar, and when exactly it will slide from public consciousness.


I think perhaps some Oscar winners are fitting in their time and then no longer fitting when those ideas or themes are no longer at the front of the public awareness. History may well remember the films that transcend their time period, but, within that time period others have temporary attentions and acknowledgements. Not sure. Throwing spitballs here.

I think of the movie Wag the Dog and wonder if would've gotten any recognition if it wasn't released at a time when the Lewinski scandal was blowing up as we were dropping bombs in Yugoslavia.

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Tue Jan 28, 2014 1:17 pm
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Post Re: The Academy: on the losing side of history?
To me American Beauty feels very outdated today and i'm surprised it managed to win anything at the time.

I don't believe in the zeitgeist theory myself.

Comedies generally don't receive nominations, so even i'm Wag The Dog had been released at the time of the scandal, i'm not so sure it would've been nominated.


Tue Jan 28, 2014 2:14 pm
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Post Re: The Academy: on the losing side of history?
Vexer wrote:
Comedies generally don't receive nominations, so even i'm Wag The Dog had been released at the time of the scandal, i'm not so sure it would've been nominated.


http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120885/awards

The thing is, it was recognized. What I'm suggesting is that in, say, 2006, it may not have been because of the lack of art imitating life.

Ken wrote:
One thing movies are particularly good at is throwing in whatever shit will stick.


Agree with this somewhat, but I think the zeitgeist might suggest that some shit might stick better than others, given current events. A good example might be the evolution of the Bond villians over time, their goals, their backgrounds... Max Zorin blowing up silicon valley to take over the microchip market in View to a Kill... License to Kill combating drug trade -after how many years of "Miami Vice" on TV. Now, these weren't Oscar noms, but I believe they were part of the industry looking for shit that will stick and looking at life to find it.

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Tue Jan 28, 2014 2:36 pm
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Post Re: The Academy: on the losing side of history?
MGamesCook wrote:
The Oscars seem to make their decisions in the moment, but those rarely end up being the films people continue to talk about years later.


They "seem" to because they do. That's the nature of having a yearly awards show designed to pick the best movies from that year. The goal isn't to try to predict what movies will stand the test of time, so it makes sense that they fall on the "wrong" side of history fairly often.

So, to answer Ken's original question, this isn't an issue with the Academy, because it's not something they should even be striving towards. The goal is to pick the best movie from that year, every year. Not to place movies in a historical context. Only history can do that, and the Academy works in the present.


Tue Jan 28, 2014 3:20 pm
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Post Re: The Academy: on the losing side of history?
MGamesCook wrote:
Quote:
We mentally overlook the stuff that doesn't fit into the pattern and place exaggerated importance on the stuff that does


Nothing wrong with that though. You have to accept a certain degree of prejudice in every viewer.

Quote:
It's not because the movies that are out at the time are capturing anything particularly essential or consistent about the spirit of the times. We see a pattern because we look for patterns.


I think it's the same difference, either way.

If any recognizable pattern is a zeitgeist, then no recognizable pattern can a zeitgeist. There is simply more to a zeitgeist than that.

The problem with the prejudices of the viewer, vis a vis the zeitgeist, is that it's not different viewers making different observations of the same material in a unified piece of work. It's different viewers making observations of different pieces of material in the same work. What, then, is the zeitgeist? Does everybody get to have their own little mini-zeitgeist based on different pieces of the same movie?

Part of the problem, but not the only one, is that movies take a long time to make (i.e. the time they were written in is different from the time they're released in) and that movies are the product of a financing elite with their own specific set of concerns that are unlikely to reflect the concerns of the rest of the public.

If there was a zeitgeist in movies, I'd look to the new Hollywood generation. Probably not after, maybe not before, sure as shit not now.

Awf Hand wrote:
Agree with this somewhat, but I think the zeitgeist might suggest that some shit might stick better than others, given current events. A good example might be the evolution of the Bond villians over time, their goals, their backgrounds... Max Zorin blowing up silicon valley to take over the microchip market in View to a Kill... License to Kill combating drug trade -after how many years of "Miami Vice" on TV. Now, these weren't Oscar noms, but I believe they were part of the industry looking for shit that will stick and looking at life to find it.

Yes, but that's not a zeitgeist--not even close. The word for this is topical, and half the hacky crime shows on TV do it all the time. The popular phrase is "ripped from the headlines".

PeachyPete wrote:
So, to answer Ken's original question, this isn't an issue with the Academy, because it's not something they should even be striving towards. The goal is to pick the best movie from that year, every year. Not to place movies in a historical context. Only history can do that, and the Academy works in the present.

That's not really what I'm suggesting, though. I really am asking if the Academy's doing what you say they're doing.

As decades pass, perhaps we're gaining historical context that lets us reevaluate old movies with new knowledge and a new perspective, but surely there've been cases when we look back and simply realize that some movies were always better than others. Does it really take decades of hindsight before we figure out that Shakespeare In Love and The King's Speech are just decent at best?

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Tue Jan 28, 2014 8:43 pm
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Post Re: The Academy: on the losing side of history?
Ken wrote:
PeachyPete wrote:
So, to answer Ken's original question, this isn't an issue with the Academy, because it's not something they should even be striving towards. The goal is to pick the best movie from that year, every year. Not to place movies in a historical context. Only history can do that, and the Academy works in the present.

That's not really what I'm suggesting, though. I really am asking if the Academy's doing what you say they're doing.

As decades pass, perhaps we're gaining historical context that lets us reevaluate old movies with new knowledge and a new perspective, but surely there've been cases when we look back and simply realize that some movies were always better than others. Does it really take decades of hindsight before we figure out that Shakespeare In Love and The King's Speech are just decent at best?


In order to answer that you'd have to be able to judge intent, which is impossible because 1) we don't even know who the Academy is comprised of, and 2) even if we did, we'd have no real way of knowing if they voted based on what they perceived to be actual merit, or used some other criteria. Sure, it's easy to be skeptical of the process when you hear stories about how political it can become, or stories about certain voters not even watching certain films, but there's no way to be sure how true any of that is, how prevalent it is, if true, or how much it effects the voting, if true.

I think the furthest you can go is to say they make decisions in the moment because the entire reason of having an annual awards show is to pick the best movies of a specific year. Whether or not they actually do that? No one has any real clue, which is why I said that's what the goal is, not what they necessarily do.


Tue Jan 28, 2014 10:03 pm
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Post Re: The Academy: on the losing side of history?
There's also the issue that a majority of viewers don't care as much about a best picture type of film. The Academy goes for a specific type of movie for their prime award, which I think makes it easy for certain directors to try and make a sure-thing Oscar contender right off the bat. A director like Tom Hooper only has to make a couple movies to win an Oscar, whereas any action director could make 50 movies and never stand a chance at a nomination.

In a way, the Oscars are more about asserting an ideal for what the best film of any year should look like. The directors who specifically target that ideal are rewarded, those who don't are ignored. It's not necessarily a bad thing though. The Academy has their own rigid terms that they stick to, more or less. On their terms, King's Speech probably was the best choice for 2010. But if every director strived to make Oscar winners, we'd have a pretty damn boring selection of films to watch.

So it's like, the Oscars are generally on the right side of their own history, and there's a lot of other histories running through cinema that they have nothing much to do with.


Tue Jan 28, 2014 11:45 pm
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Post Re: The Academy: on the losing side of history?
Awf Hand wrote:
NotHughGrant wrote:
There is probably a perfectly workable equation out there that defines exactly what film or kind of film will win the Oscar, and when exactly it will slide from public consciousness.


I think perhaps some Oscar winners are fitting in their time and then no longer fitting when those ideas or themes are no longer at the front of the public awareness. History may well remember the films that transcend their time period, but, within that time period others have temporary attentions and acknowledgements. Not sure. Throwing spitballs here.

I think of the movie Wag the Dog and wonder if would've gotten any recognition if it wasn't released at a time when the Lewinski scandal was blowing up as we were dropping bombs in Yugoslavia.


Yeah maybe. I always though Crash must have cashed in on something relevant, because it was sublimely awful and completely dull, objectively.

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Wed Jan 29, 2014 6:46 am
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Post Re: The Academy: on the losing side of history?
PeachyPete wrote:
MGamesCook wrote:
The Oscars seem to make their decisions in the moment, but those rarely end up being the films people continue to talk about years later.


They "seem" to because they do. That's the nature of having a yearly awards show designed to pick the best movies from that year. The goal isn't to try to predict what movies will stand the test of time, so it makes sense that they fall on the "wrong" side of history fairly often.

So, to answer Ken's original question, this isn't an issue with the Academy, because it's not something they should even be striving towards. The goal is to pick the best movie from that year, every year. Not to place movies in a historical context. Only history can do that, and the Academy works in the present.


But the Oscars often fails in even this limited ambition. Even if we assume the academy has literally no foresight (despite 9 decades of precedent), they often enough ignore the best even by "current" standards.

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Wed Jan 29, 2014 6:49 am
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Post Re: The Academy: on the losing side of history?
NotHughGrant wrote:
But the Oscars often fails in even this limited ambition. Even if we assume the academy has literally no foresight (despite 9 decades of precedent), they often enough ignore the best even by "current" standards.

Indeed, they still largely pay lip service to indie films, nominating one two every year... which I suppose is still better than the Grammys, which has really only ever honored blatantly commercial music. :?


Wed Jan 29, 2014 9:24 am
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Post Re: The Academy: on the losing side of history?
MGamesCook wrote:
There's also the issue that a majority of viewers don't care as much about a best picture type of film. The Academy goes for a specific type of movie for their prime award, which I think makes it easy for certain directors to try and make a sure-thing Oscar contender right off the bat. A director like Tom Hooper only has to make a couple movies to win an Oscar, whereas any action director could make 50 movies and never stand a chance at a nomination.

In a way, the Oscars are more about asserting an ideal for what the best film of any year should look like. The directors who specifically target that ideal are rewarded, those who don't are ignored. It's not necessarily a bad thing though. The Academy has their own rigid terms that they stick to, more or less. On their terms, King's Speech probably was the best choice for 2010. But if every director strived to make Oscar winners, we'd have a pretty damn boring selection of films to watch.

So it's like, the Oscars are generally on the right side of their own history, and there's a lot of other histories running through cinema that they have nothing much to do with.


Indeed. That's the main problem with so many of the winners. So many (The English Patient, Out Of Africa, Gandhi, The King's Speech, Chariots Of Fire, My Fair Lady) come off as safe choices, ones that were picked because the Academy knows they will play in Peoria. Occasionally something edgy does get through (American Beauty, The Hurt Locker, Platoon, No Country For Old Men) or at least gets a nomination (The Social Network, Inglorious Basterds, Goodfellas, Django Unchained). But it's less likely to win than the safe choices. And many edgy films are often totally ignored for BP nominations (Boogie Nights, Do The Right Thing, Drive, The Sweet Hereafter). And they're also likely to overlook stuff that might be too popular (ET, Raiders, Aliens, Die Hard) for fear of coming off as too mainstream.

In some ways I suspect that their ideal film of the year is one that will have mass appeal. But can be targeted at the PBS crowd. To them, a film targeted primarily at the Tarantino/Anderson/Lee/Coen Crowd might be good once in a while. But do too many of those and you risk offending a certain part of the audience. No, what they want is a sort of prestige mass appeal picture, something that's neither Fight Club nor The Avengers. Something that can appeal to a huge audience yet still be seen as "important" (all the aforementioned ones as well as pap like The Blind Side).

NotHughGrant wrote:
I think of the movie Wag the Dog and wonder if would've gotten any recognition if it wasn't released at a time when the Lewinski scandal was blowing up as we were dropping bombs in Yugoslavia.




Yeah maybe. I always though Crash must have cashed in on something relevant, because it was sublimely awful and completely dull, objectively.


Wag The Dog has aged more than other satiric films. But it still works. Compare it to the GW Bush/American Idol skewering American Dreamz which was released more recently and already seems totally out of date.

Crash I always saw as a good not great movie. Not best picture (it wasn't even in my Top 10 for that year. Top 20). But it was one that won mainly because it tapped into the zeitgeist at that particular moment. If it had been released two years earlier or later it most likely would not have won. The fact that the film it beat (Brokeback Mountain) ended up on many end of the decade best of lists while Crash now seems to pop up on lists of least deserving winners with much frequency speaks volumes.

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Wed Jan 29, 2014 11:53 am
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Post Re: The Academy: on the losing side of history?
I'm actually going to agree somewhat with Zeitgeist theory. Not wholly, but it would be a mistake to dismiss outright its effect.

It's a long while (perhaps 13 years) since I watched Wag the Dog, but I remember enjoying it.

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Wed Jan 29, 2014 12:10 pm
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Post Re: The Academy: on the losing side of history?
NotHughGrant wrote:
PeachyPete wrote:
MGamesCook wrote:
The Oscars seem to make their decisions in the moment, but those rarely end up being the films people continue to talk about years later.


They "seem" to because they do. That's the nature of having a yearly awards show designed to pick the best movies from that year. The goal isn't to try to predict what movies will stand the test of time, so it makes sense that they fall on the "wrong" side of history fairly often.

So, to answer Ken's original question, this isn't an issue with the Academy, because it's not something they should even be striving towards. The goal is to pick the best movie from that year, every year. Not to place movies in a historical context. Only history can do that, and the Academy works in the present.


But the Oscars often fails in even this limited ambition. Even if we assume the academy has literally no foresight (despite 9 decades of precedent), they often enough ignore the best even by "current" standards.


But doesn't the debate become entirely too subjective at that point to say that? You and I may think that, but I'm not sure how you can argue the point that the Academy "ignores" the best by current standards just because they didn't pick a movie you liked/loved. I mean, maybe the people voting genuinely didn't like the movie as much as you or I. It gets back to intent, and I don't see how any argument can be made based on guessing at another person's intent.


Wed Jan 29, 2014 12:32 pm
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Post Re: The Academy: on the losing side of history?
PeachyPete wrote:
NotHughGrant wrote:
But the Oscars often fails in even this limited ambition. Even if we assume the academy has literally no foresight (despite 9 decades of precedent), they often enough ignore the best even by "current" standards.


But doesn't the debate become entirely too subjective at that point to say that? You and I may think that, but I'm not sure how you can argue the point that the Academy "ignores" the best by current standards just because they didn't pick a movie you liked/loved. I mean, maybe the people voting genuinely didn't like the movie as much as you or I. It gets back to intent, and I don't see how any argument can be made based on guessing at another person's intent.


I'm with Petey. I don't see how you can say that they ignore the best by current standards: again, the word "best" is the most subjective word we've created, and beyond that, the Academy has always picked films that are at the very least universally well-liked, Argo being a prime example last year. It's true that they've never really agree with Slate or Slant or the AV Club on the best movies of the year, but those aren't really judges of what is "current" as much as they reflect a generation that is younger and quite intentionally "hipper" than Academy voters.


Wed Jan 29, 2014 4:21 pm
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Post Re: The Academy: on the losing side of history?
Shade2 wrote:
PeachyPete wrote:
NotHughGrant wrote:
But the Oscars often fails in even this limited ambition. Even if we assume the academy has literally no foresight (despite 9 decades of precedent), they often enough ignore the best even by "current" standards.


But doesn't the debate become entirely too subjective at that point to say that? You and I may think that, but I'm not sure how you can argue the point that the Academy "ignores" the best by current standards just because they didn't pick a movie you liked/loved. I mean, maybe the people voting genuinely didn't like the movie as much as you or I. It gets back to intent, and I don't see how any argument can be made based on guessing at another person's intent.


I'm with Petey. I don't see how you can say that they ignore the best by current standards: again, the word "best" is the most subjective word we've created, and beyond that, the Academy has always picked films that are at the very least universally well-liked, Argo being a prime example last year. It's true that they've never really agree with Slate or Slant or the AV Club on the best movies of the year, but those aren't really judges of what is "current" as much as they reflect a generation that is younger and quite intentionally "hipper" than Academy voters.


Very good point.

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Post Re: The Academy: on the losing side of history?
Shade2 wrote:
PeachyPete wrote:
NotHughGrant wrote:
But the Oscars often fails in even this limited ambition. Even if we assume the academy has literally no foresight (despite 9 decades of precedent), they often enough ignore the best even by "current" standards.


But doesn't the debate become entirely too subjective at that point to say that? You and I may think that, but I'm not sure how you can argue the point that the Academy "ignores" the best by current standards just because they didn't pick a movie you liked/loved. I mean, maybe the people voting genuinely didn't like the movie as much as you or I. It gets back to intent, and I don't see how any argument can be made based on guessing at another person's intent.


I'm with Petey. I don't see how you can say that they ignore the best by current standards: again, the word "best" is the most subjective word we've created, and beyond that, the Academy has always picked films that are at the very least universally well-liked, Argo being a prime example last year. It's true that they've never really agree with Slate or Slant or the AV Club on the best movies of the year, but those aren't really judges of what is "current" as much as they reflect a generation that is younger and quite intentionally "hipper" than Academy voters.


Evidence suggests that the Oscars themselves are somewhat subjective. Shakespeare in Love better than Saving Private Ryan hardly reeks of objectivity.

This is why I somewhat buy into the Oscar-Zeitgeist idea. SiL came about at a time when British RomComs in the Richard Curtis vain were at their relative apex. What SiL did was give this genre just enough hint of classicism (the era, the fact it's old Bill, having Judi Dench, etc) and hey presto - an Oscar winning film is there to be had.

Did anyone at the academy seriously believe it was the best film of the year? I hope not. Because of they did the industry needs collectively lobotomizing.

Other examples aren't too difficult to locate. The Hurt Locker is pretty average IMO, but has the whole Iraq thing going for it. Argo even seems to capitalise on paranoia about Iran (although I am yet to see it). I can't fathom Crash whatsoever. It's the most ball-breakingly boring piece of cinema I've ever seen. The King's Speech, I'd put that outside the top 20 that year. No less than 5 films in that list (some will say more) are better than the King's Speech; Toy Story 3 included.

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