Earlier this afternoon I got into an email argument with a guy who’s heavily into predicting award-season favorites. Yes, this again. He hasn’t seen The Birth of a Nation or Manchester by the Sea, but he was saying that my views about these two films (both of which I saw at last January’s Sundance Film Festival) are overly passionate and biased in terms of foreseeing how they’ll be received when they open in the fall.
Me: People are going to think what they think, but there’s really nothing lower in the universe than people who turn away from obviously well written, superbly acted, reality-reflecting, fully-rooted films by muttering that they’re not feel-goody enough.
Awards guy: Not being able to see that a group can’t, won’t or doesn’t appreciate a film that you admire is exactly what I’m talking about. You have an inability to check your own bias. Plus you don’t respond well when people disagree with you and so instead of trying to convince them to your side, you get aggressive and insulting.
Me: It’s not “an inability to check my own bias.” It’s an absolute refusal to show respect for the opinions of people who want a certain kind of drug when they go to a film. Good stuff is good stuff, and I know the properties. I always have. It’s not an opinion — I know the difference between pyrite (fool’s gold) and the real material. And I couldn’t care less about predicting what the middle-of-the-road crowd is going to like or not like.
Awards guy: Oscar predicting is always a combination of zeitgeist, politics and good reviews vs. good press. Since the last two years of #OscarsSoWhite have generated some really bad press for the Academy there’s a strong chance that we’ll see an anomaly of black-centered films nominated next year. That would affect something like Manchester by the Sea vs. The Birth of a Nation.
Me: Have you seen Birth or Manchester?
Awards guy: I haven’t seen either of them so my opinions on them are unsullied by my own bias at this point. I’m only looking at elements objectively. The processing of buzz, studio, importance of subject, etc.
Me: I know that “I’m just looking at awards chances objectively” line. It usually means that the speaker has heard from contrarians.
Awards guy: I’m mainly saying that a film having done well at Sundance is not empirical evidence that it’s going to sweep the table when it opens. Tell me why it’s going to do as well when it plays before the guilds, the Academy and the public.
Me: All right, I’ll try. I’m talking about the kind of film that passes along the truth of things. A film that passes along portions of human experience in an artful and ground-touching way. As much as this may not synch with your awards-predicting algorithm, films of this sort tend to sink in with people of some experience and character. If a film is passing along certain truths about human behavior…about situations that you’ve tasted personally and can recognize from having lived through them, it tends to sink in. And you’re nodding and saying to yourself, “Yup, this is what it’s like, how people are, what they sound like, how they respond when things get heavy and hard.”
This is what good movies always do. They bring it all home to those who’ve done a little bit of living and struggling and suffering and loving. Serious, well-written drama is life condensed, refined, re-fried and served in three acts. Gold-bar films are never angled at straights or gays, young or old, blacks or whites or whomever. They’re made for people who’ve lived a little bit and can recognize when a film is dealing straight cards.