Every time I consider the Oscar handicapper faves, I’m reminded that I’m constitutionally incapable of standing completely off to the sidelines and trying to guess which films and filmmakers that Academy members are favoring at the moment. I try to ask around and listen and “read the town” as much as the next guy but I can’t keep my own convictions out of it. The mindset of the dispassionate handicapper-statistician is too bloodless and clinical. I don’t know how anyone in this game can go 100% dispassionate and still sleep at night.
You’ve got to go personal these days. Or at least half-personal. Dispassionate reporting and sage analysis are so…print. We are all advocates. A columnist or critic is nothing without convictions and cojones that he/she is willing to lay on the line.
One of the things I love about Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone is that she predicts from two places — an industry-savvy, ear-to-the-rails perspective and from personal passion. She knows whereof she speaks, but at the end of the day she can’t seem to keep her favorites out of the equation. That’s me also, but I’m also listening to the Godz.
When I insist that this or that film or performance or screenwriter deserves award-season acclaim, I’m not just offering opinion; I’m also to some extent channeling. I honestly believe there are ghosts who are looking down upon our culture and doing what they can to nudge us along, and at the risk of sounding like an eccentric I am, I feel, a kind of instrument in their service. Because — this is key — I am willing to be that. Go ahead and chortle, but all creativity is about letting in the spirits.
But it’s late December now and the divine-guidance, spirit-mingling phase is over. Which means that it’s time to submit to the mainstream consensus favorites and abandon my Tom Hardy for Best Actor convictions. I can stand alone in the chill wind for only so long, but the Hardy thing is still bothering me somewhat.
I’ve nothing but admiration for the performances of Birdman‘s Michael Keaton, The Theory of Everything‘s Steve Carell, Selma‘s David Oyelowo, Nightcrawler‘s Jake Gyllenhaal and The Imitation Game‘s Benedict Cumberbatch. But I also know that Hardy’s performances in Locke and The Drop are regarded by the Godz as more noble and beloved than those of Foxcatcher‘s Steve Carell, Mr. Turner‘s Timothy Spall (too guttural), Inherent Vice‘s Joaquin Phoenix and American Sniper‘s Bradley Cooper, which are currently ranked fifth, seventh, ninth and tenth. I know this, or “they” do rather.
It’s all well and good to pass along what is connecting and what isn’t with industry audiences, but if these alleged favorites don’t correspond on some deep-down level with what an observer knows to be genuinely commendable or artful on some level, a columnist-observer is obliged, at the very least, to ask questions. Or, if he/she chooses, argue against the prospective nominee. You can’t just be a lamb in the field and go “baaah.”
The bottom line is not that I haven’t agreed with many of the calls made by the Motion Picture Academy over the years, but that I don’t respect the myopic and provincial and always political thinking that have so often led to these calls. The only thing I really and truly respect about this racket is the advertising money that comes in during Oscar season.
Confession: This piece was inspired by and in fact uses some of the content of a piece I wrote seven years ago.