Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Awards overkill

The 77th annual Academy Awards nominations were announced today. Yippee.

If you detect a lack of enthusiasm, chalk it up to the incessant horse race monitoring and prognosticating that kicks awards season into gear come September. In tomorrow's New York Times Stephen Holden wonders "if I'm the only moviegoer who was suffering from Oscar fatigue even before the Academy Awards nominations were announced yesterday morning."


My less than enthusiastic attitude derives from the almost total lack of surprise in the nomination announcements. Sure, Mike Leigh's Best Director nom for VERA DRAKE, Paul Giamatti's SIDEWAYS performance being left out of the Best Actor race, and the woefully inferior SHARK TALE'S inclusion in the Best Animated Film category over THE POLAR EXPRESS could be classified as mildly unexpected, but that's as exciting as it gets? I could have predicted thirty of the forty nominations in the eight major categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Adapted Screenplay) without breaking a sweat. I probably could have done better than 75%--and proved it--if I felt like it was a worthwhile pre-announcement exercise. (I was going to post my predictions last night but decided it wasn't worth the effort.)

"But Mark, you are plugged into the scene more than the average moviegoer," you say. Fair enough. I expect a goodly portion of the people who will see the nominations and watch the awards telecast won't know who MARIA FULL OF GRACE Best Actress nominee Catalina Sandino Moreno is. For that matter, many won't have seen SIDEWAYS or MILLION DOLLAR BABY, although withholding these films from wide release has been part of Oscar campaigning strategies. Still, even without seeing the films or being unable to pick some of the acting nominees out of a lineup, Joe Average Moviegoer could have made solid guesses based on the inordinate amount of space newspapers, periodicals, and websites devote to Oscar speculation. Either there's a voracious appetite for this information or editors are grossly overestimating the interest.

As Holden says:
After the Golden Globes, the People's Choice awards, the critics' awards and the guild nominations, any savvy handicapper could have boiled down the information and come up with a list of 95 percent of the nominees in the major categories.

The sheer amount of data is suggested by the ads for "Million Dollar Baby," which boast of the movie's being on the top-10 lists of 200 critics. That's an exhausting number to contemplate, and it suggests that the Academy Awards are becoming as overrun with statistical calculation as baseball.
How does the Academy get the sizzle back? If I knew, I'm sure the ceremony's TV producers would pay handsomely for the answer. Moving the telecast from late March to late February has helped, although the result has been that various groups and guilds have also pushed up their announcements earlier and earlier, like department stores trying to declare the start of the Christmas shopping season before Thanksgiving. I suppose that the only thing to do is enjoy the good movies that many will finally get a chance to see and not give the rest of it much thought.

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