As long as we’re comparing big-time Presidential politics to Oscar campaigning, allow me to resurrect an idea I floated last year that everyone ignored: holding Great Oscar Debates.
“Nobody disagrees with the notion that Oscar campaigning has become a lot like running for the White House,” I began, “so why not accept this and stage a special annual series of Academy-sponsored debates at the Academy theatres in Beverly Hills and New York?
“Not so much in the manner of the big-candidate debates that (usually) happen in a Presidential election year, but those sometimes stirring speeches that are given at the Republican and Democratic nominating conventions by party leaders, political allies and friends. Well-known filmmakers, industry figures, esteemed film critics and Academy members could get up in front of a mike and explain why they believe this film or that nominee is especially deserving.
“The speakers would offer impressions, career histories, political considerations… whatever. The same views that are routinely shared after screenings and at parties, only with more people listening and with a bit more sobriety all around.
The idea would be to cut through the mental-cobweb impressions, through the party chit-chat and the DVDs and the trade ads and the hate rants. It seems to me that specific, impassioned, thought-out reasons to vote for this person or that film would sharpen the focus.
“Presidential debates are about candidates trying to tell it straight and cut through impressions created by TV ads and prejudices thrown at the voters. Why shouldn’t the same goal at least be attempted in the Oscar realm? The town obsesses over this darn thing for three or four months out of the year and millions are spent on campaigns, so why the hell not?
“The Academy could stage the debates over a two- or three-day weekend at the Academy theatre right after the nominations are announced. It could be a weekend-long festival atmosphere type of thing — food, mingling, film clips, and discussion groups along with the various speakers.
“Every nominated person or film would be examined and toasted in some detail, and nominees would be forbidden from attending — only friends, colleagues and publicists could do the pitching. And no negative stuff.
“Oscar arguments happen left and right online, of course, but there’s something about live dialogue that cuts through the crap. Every time I get into a friendly dust-up with friends about this or that Oscar contender, I come away with a clearer head.
“The whispering campaigns (like the one mounted against Paradise Now, or the one that went around a few years back about John Nash, the protagonist-hero of A Beautiful Mind) would almost certainly make less of an impression if the “issues” could be fully aired in a live setting.
“People don’t fill out their Academy ballots after thinking things through to the bottom like a Yale mathematician — Oscar favorites are usually emotional gut calls. But perspective and examination can’t hurt the process, and a weekend of Great Oscar Debates would shed light on the short films and the sound-editing nominees and other low-profile contenders.”