Last Monday I tapped out a piece called “Brand Name Preferences,” and the next day I wrote some of my journalist pallies looking for responses. The two best responses came from Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson and Gold Derby‘s Tom O’Neil. But first a portion of my letter to these guys:
“What I wrote on Monday is a description of the essence of what’s wrong if not malignant concerning the Hollywood awards-following community — when faced with a choice between STANDING UP FOR THE REALLY WOWSER EXCEPTIONAL PERFORMANCE THAT DESERVES AWARDS ATTENTION (at least in the early stages between now and, say, late November or better yet December) and hanging back and going “YEAH, OKAY, BUT IT WON’T WIN OR EVEN GET NOMINATED BECAUSE A FEW BRAND-NAME ACTRESSES HAVE A BETTER SHOT”, too many of you guys almost ALWAYS choose the latter. You’re birds sitting on the fence going “caw! caw! caw!”
“Am I blame-free in this regard? No, but at least I occasionally hang my ass over the side and wave my love flag for some smaller, lesser-known, not-so-flush indie actor who’s done something really amazing.
“HE reader Lazarus put it thusly: “I’ll say it again: movie bloggers who place a priority on predicting over advocacy are a growing cancer of awards season. Apparently being right (with no legitimate reward, or a penalty for failing) is more important than championing lesser-known artists.”
Thompson’s response: “This is complicated. We have discussed before that there is a spectrum of awards coverage. Anyone who accepts Oscar ads is ‘in bed’ with the studios to a degree but there’s a range of ways to go, from outright advocacy to clear-eyed prognostication.
1. It’s important to make clear the difference between passionate love for a movie and journalistic acumen.
2. At this early stage, we are presenting all the possibilities based on our perception of merit. IT IS PATENTLY ABSURD TO PREDICT NOMINATIONS ON GOLDDERBY NOW! [Although] I did give my list of 15 suspects to David Poland.
3. And then, later on, we can recognize — because, guys, we are still pre-Toronto here so most of us haven’t seen very much — what the critical consensus, Academy tastes, marketplace, awards groups recognition and guilds will make real.
4. There’s a timeline.
5. Here’s a question. How appropriate is it for an awards blogger who accepts payment for Oscar ads to throw an enthusiastic screening on behalf of, say, Silver Linings Playbook?
Wells response: Anne is referring to me, of course, as I hosted a Silver Linings Playbook screening at Bad Robot last November. But I don’t give a shit about “journalistic impartiality” and even-steven and all that fence-sitting crap which nobody believes is sincere in the first place. I stand up for what I love and I play favorites like a sonuvabitch and I also take huge dumps on movies that I hate or find tedious. That’s my game, take it or leave it. And it comes with a price, believe me. Do you know how much money I lost last year because I was seen as an enemy of Steven Spielberg‘s Lincoln? A significant amount, trust me. What dispassionate, political-minded, chess-playing columnist can stand up and say the same thing? That they lost big money because of their views? That’s one of the differences between that kind of columnist and myself.
O’Neil’s response: “First off, I take issue with what [Jeff] wrote the other day about early Oscarology, which is that ‘it’s a bit silly to do this before Telluride/Toronto/New York.’ Wrong. It’s perfectly legit to start crystal-ballling the Oscars in late August. We’re just days away from the official start of the race as the film festivals kick everything off. We know what movies voters tend to like. We know the awards pedigree of the directors, writers, producers and stars. We know which films are riding big-budget Oscar campaigns. That’s enough to come up with an initial appraisal of the derby ahead.
“Hell, right now the screaming heads on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News are projecting who’s ahead to win the GOP presidential nomination in 2016 — Rubio or Christie, etc. Even before the start of the college football season, those pop-eyed ESPN wags are predicting where Notre Dame will end up in the rankings next January. Somehow all that is okay, but we’re supposed to be offended by those hack Oscar pundits soiling the sanctity of the Silver Screen by acknowledging it as the horse race it’s always been? Horseshit, literally. That’s just typical, absurd film snobbery.
“As for the issue of Oscar predictions over advocacy, I think that Lazarus should crawl back into his grave and hush. He’s confusing two things. Yes, movie bloggers should rah-rah for great film work to win trophies, but they should ditch their private agenda when assuming the role of kudos seer. Who the hell wants to hear Nate Silver say, ‘Oh, let’s forgot all these silly stats about whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney is ahead to win the White House. I feel it’s my ethical duty to focus our discussion on who is best to lead America into the future: Michele Bachmann!’”
Wells response: It’s fine to Nate Silver your way through the final stretch of award season, which is to say from Thanksgiving to the nominations six weeks later. But now is the time to throw the lettuce leaves in the air and be free-thinking and accepting of all comers and contenders. I was bitching about a couple of pundits trying to elbow aside Blue Is The Warmest Color‘s Adele Exarchopoulos before the conversation has even begun with the fall festivals yet to happen. Why? Because she’s not famous enough and IFC Films/Sundance Selects doesn’t have a big enough bankroll behind her campaign.