We all know that the internet is a double-edged sword. It has brought worlds of information to our fingertips, to the point where if there’s something known by our species, it can be disseminated and taught to you in a matter of clicks. The flipside is that it’s given rise to copious amounts of misinformation, dangerous and violent rhetoric, and the absolute removal of a good chunk of the mystery and romance of life.
Such is the case with the Oscars, to a much, much, much smaller extent. As fun as it is, and as exciting as it can be to track down all of these movies and parse through all the information, there’s a good deal of the ceremony that has lost its appeal because there’s no suspense anymore. Back in the analog age, you had to legitimately wonder what the best films would be, who would be nominated, and ultimately who would win.
That is very much not the case anymore. Marketing and business strategies are such that the vast majority of contenders are released in the final two to three months of the year, rendering almost everything that came before as a cultural footnote unless it broke some kind of box office record. A slew of minor and niche awards ceremonies decided by sectors of the entertainment industry that constantly overlap spells out most of the results well in advance. As long as you pay attention and check Wikipedia and news sites, you can fairly easily predict at least 15-20 winners each year. A few years ago I came second in the Laemmle theatre chain’s annual Oscar contest only because I missed the winners in the Short categories, which are the only ones that have any consistent uncertainty anymore. Everything else was just that easy to call, with my quasi-victory coming by a tie-breaker predicting how long the broadcast would take.
Even worse, there are some categories that are decided simply by the reveal of nominations. That is the case this year with International Feature. This is normally one of the most intriguing races because the attentive viewer gets to engage with the process for several months. Various committees in foreign countries start putting forward what they feel is their nation’s best film as early as July, with the official deadline coming in October. You can watch the submissions trickle in and start hunting them down almost in real time, then see them online or in the theatres as they become available. If you happen to live in a major city (or can afford to travel), then film festivals become another potential outlet. And then, of course, in December the final list of eligible movies is narrowed down to the shortlist of 15. That’s when things kick into high gear, as the lucky semifinalists tend to get high-profile theatrical runs, sometimes repeat engagements, and at minimum the ones who don’t already have North American distribution can quickly secure it, because the countries and the production companies want as many eyes on their work as possible in hopes of a nomination and win.
This is why I endeavor to see as much as I possibly can, because you will almost never see the same story twice, and there are opportunities for deep intellectual debates weighing the various pros and cons of each piece of cinematic art. You can discuss the various candidates for hours, learn perspectives you never even considered, expose yourself to new filmmaking techniques, and even pick up some words and phrases in languages you wouldn’t otherwise know.
All of that is out the window this year, as the Academy has made it crystal clear that Germany’s version of All Quiet on the Western Front is going to win. It is quite literally no contest. The voters took all the fun out of this in one fell swoop by heaping all their favor on the one entry that was on Netflix, the one they could watch with no effort. While it’s true that those members wishing to participate in preliminary voting had to volunteer to rate about a dozen random entries, and then watch all 15 shortlisted films to nominate, it’s pretty clear they just didn’t care. And then to justify their choice, they overcompensated and nominated it in eight other categories, tying it for second in this ceremony (with The Banshees of Inisherin) as well as second all-time for any foreign film (behind Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Roma). Hell, they probably think they’re doing audiences a favor by ensuring that a film you can watch on your phone is going to get at least one Oscar, meaning you don’t have to go out of your way to see it.
Getting multiple nominations at all for an International Feature nominee is typically a surefire win except in vary rare cases, most of them in that pre-digital era (Crouching Tiger and Pan’s Labyrinth come to mind). In modern times, you only see a multi-nominee foreign entry denied this prize if there are more than one competing against each other, like Never Look Away going up against Roma for both this category and Cinematography, with the latter winning out because it had even more nods than the former, or cases like Flee and Honeyland, which were up in other specialty feature categories, so the multiple nominations didn’t focus on particular production elements.
But it’s even more of a lock this year because the nominating members took active steps to remove competition. Going into Awards Season, Decision to Leave looked like the front-runner, being named to several year-end Top 10 lists from critics the world over. It wasn’t even nominated. There was also a push for Bardo, False Chronicles of a Handful of Truths thanks to the clout that Alejandro G. Iñárritu has behind him. It was ultimately relegated to Cinematography, where it will compete with, you guessed it, All Quiet on the Western Front. Even the normal penchant for box checks and political grandstanding was cast aside, with potentially controversial and provocative entries like Joyland – a film banned in its home country for having a trans lead (when just a few years ago the Academy bent over backwards to give this prize to A Fantastic Woman, a film about a trans person) – thrown completely out to clear the way for what is objectively just a serviceable, Hollywood-style war movie.
You want to know how in the bag this is? Check the Las Vegas betting lines. This is such a slam dunk that the line on All Quiet is -3300! That means if you bet on this film to win, in order to make a profit of $100, you have to put down $3,300, or to put it another way, if you bet $100 on this movie, your winnings will be $103.03 (your original hundred plus a profit of three bucks). That’s it. The next smallest odds are for Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio to win Animated Feature at -1400, and a tie between Ke Huy Quan for Supporting Actor and Avatar: The Way of Water for Visual Effects at -1000.
That’s how laughable this contest is this year, and it pisses me off. You want to know why people don’t watch the Oscars anymore? Crap like this is a decent chunk of it. Everyone already knows how a lot of these races will finish, and they sure as fuck don’t care about whatever pandering padding AMPAS and ABC/Disney want to put into the ceremony itself, so they skip it entirely in favor of checking the results on Twitter to confirm that which they already knew. When we’re robbed of suspense, we’re robbed of the satisfaction of the moment, and of the desire to tune in. Plus, from where I sit, it makes all that effort I put in over the last six months feel like a waste of time, because clearly the voters didn’t give a crap.
But unlike them, I am a man of integrity, so as promised, here is this week’s video breakdown, taking a look at the winner and the four who really are being told to feel “honored just to be nominated.” I still like All Quiet. That’s not the point. It’s the fact that it pales in comparison to the other four nominees, and a good chunk of the rest of the submissions I saw, including the shortlist.
Speaking of that shortlist, I teased it in the video, and I don’t make promises I can’t keep. Here are my rankings for the entire International Feature shortlist.
1) Decision to Leave
3) Holy Spider
6) Return to Seoul
7) The Quiet Girl
8) Argentina, 1985
9) Cairo Conspiracy
10) Last Film Show
11) Saint Omer
13) All Quiet on the Western Front
14) The Blue Caftan
15) Bardo, False Chronicles of a Handful of Truths
Who do you think should win? Vote now in the poll below!
Up Next, the weekend will be spent clearing the last few items off my watchlist for this Blitz, as well as reviews of two new movies currently in theatres. Then, on Monday, I’ll celebrate Presidents Day the way most businesses do, by doing something that has absolutely nothing to do with American Presidents! Instead, it’ll be time to begin my favorite portion of this entire process, the Short Film Program. It’s Animated Short!
Join the conversation in the comments below! Do you agree with the nominees and presumptive winner? Should there be rules in place to bring back some of the uncertainty in these categories? Will you put down a C-note to get that sweet, sweet, $3.03? Let me know!
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