Considering the Split

For the films of 2013
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Re: Considering the Split

Postby OscarGuy » Fri Feb 21, 2014 4:54 pm

Argo was not "pushed into the winner's circle" by Ben Affleck's non-nomination. That statement needs to be retired. Evidence suggests from multiple groups that Argo was lining up to shift into leader position before the Oscar nominations were even announced. It was the failure of Ben to get nominated that got people to doubt that it even could win without a director nomination.
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Re: Considering the Split

Postby Sabin » Fri Feb 21, 2014 2:55 pm

Terrific read.

I think I've realized why I'm blanking on why this race directly reminds me of no other race. Not that it's that unique, not at all. All of the archetypes are here, but they're behaving a little differently. We have the Toronto crowd-pleaser. We have the auteur-helmed blockbuster. We have the critic's fave. And the movie that everybody waits all year for.

In order, they are 12 Years a Slave, which does not at all feel like this year's Argo, this year's The King's Speech, this year's Up in the Air. Perhaps it is Brokeback Mountain?

Next up is Gravity, which has resembled anything from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to Inception to Avatar to Hugo, and now more and more like The Departed, where nobody questions Alfonso Cuaron's achievement but whether or not its Oscar-worthy is another story.

And then the last two are American Hustle. It reminds me of The Social Network, a movie that critics loved and left audiences a bit cold. It also reminds me of every movie that everybody waits all year for (like Atonement, Les Miserables, and Dreamgirls) without really asking "What if people just don't love it?" Which is to say "What if ABSCAM isn't a recipe for a masterpiece?" It's a human comedy that won the Golden Globe for Comedy or Musical, but on the other hand, it's director was a contender twelve months ago. Is it Sideways and Million Dollar Baby?

What can we make of a race with Brokeback Mountain, The Departed, and a movie that's kinda Sideways and kinda Million Dollar Baby?

This is a silly game, I know. Intentionally silly. What I'm saying is last year with Argo, there was a story, there was a narrative, and I understood it. It was a rare one, a unique one, but it was interesting when it happened. The Academy didn't love the movies they accidentally lined up to win, and the shock over Ben Affleck getting snubbed for Argo pushed it into the winner's circle. In 2010, there was a story, there was a narrative. The Academy never quite got behind The Social Network and turned towards its retro alternative.

The story of this year is one that we've seen before, but it's not that interesting. It's a case of the Academy probably not loving the movie they end up honoring but liking it more than the rest. And there's one other comparison that nobody is talking about...

From 2007 and 2009, there was no nomination leader. From 2007, No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood both got eight nominations. I'm not sure what movie was most likely viewed as the nomination leader (Atonement) but it didn't happen. And from 2009, Avatar (likely viewed as the nominations leader) and The Hurt Locker both got nine. The eventual winners did not take home the Golden Globe. But the main reason I bring this up is these were years where I don't think the Academy was voting for a movie they loved but rather the one they liked the most. To me, that sounds like Gravity.
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Re: Considering the Split

Postby Big Magilla » Fri Feb 21, 2014 8:43 am

I don't think anyone who votes for Gravity for Best Picture would vote for anyone other than Cuaron for Best Director. The split, if there is one, will come from the voters of other films who pass on the director of their film pick. Even if everyone voted down the line for no split between Best Picture and Best Director, there could still be a split in the results as Best Director is based on who gets the most votes whereas Best Picture is based on preference down the line. That's what makes it impossible for anyone to predict the final outcome with anythign approaching absolute certainty.

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Re: Considering the Split

Postby OscarGuy » Fri Feb 21, 2014 7:26 am

I notice that Tee dismisses the early year splits and then the spate of splits in the 1950's before heading into his tract. This is done because he's less familiar with those, but I notice something. There is a trend in the last two decades towards splits. Sure, in the last few, it's died down, but from 1998 through 2005, there were 4. That's a pretty steep increase.

I think the reason many of us are calling the split this time (something I don't typically do...I think I predicted three in the last 20 years: last year, 2006 and 2000), is because Gravity never seemed like the kind of film that would be a Best Picture winner. Titanic and The Return of the King were juggernauts. There is no modern correlation to that type of film winning Best Picture. It's saving benefit is that it is a cross-generational hit. Having said that, there haven't been many years where the precursors have been so definitively set on a particular trend. Cuaron wins director. No one disputes that. His trajectory, for a film that hasn't been winning Best Picture prizes, is very strong. The strongest we've seen in a long time. People might highlight David Fincher, but he stumbled late in the season. Cuaron never has.

Having said that, Gravity just isn't dominating the Best Picture prizes either. When Fincher did his role, he did so paired with his film. I wouldn't call anyone crazy for predicting a unified ticket, but I wouldn't characterize those predicting the split as genuinely ignoring history. Whenever I write about the director race at the Oscars, especially in tandem with Best Picture, I reference the "don't bet the split" adage. Yet, this is one of those years that feels so unusual that a split seems natural, not abnormal.

I really do think that if there is no split, Gravity will win Best Picture as I cannot see a scenario where Cuaron loses Best Director. The Academy's makeup has changed enough where this seems wholly possible. 12 Years a Slave, in spite of its fading early in precursor season, has hung on incredibly strong. BAFTA makes the case stronger for a split. Yet, if you look at their history, they split far more frequently. David Fincher & The King's Speech in 2010; Paul Greengrass and Atonement in 2006, Mike Leigh and The Aviator in 2004, Peter Weir and The Return of the King (They gave Peter Jackson the award in 2001) in 2003; Ang Lee and Gladiator. Even last year, they called Ben Affleck/Argo, which makes me feel that 2012 is an anomaly, one in which if Affleck had been nominated, he would have won Best Director as well, thus no split.

When BAFTA picks splits, it generally goes to directors that aren't Oscar contenders. Fincher was the only one that was dominating that year. So, we could see a duplication of that. Steamroller Fincher wins Best Director, but the more historical film won Best Picture. At the Oscars, the more historical film won both Picture and Director. So BAFTA's guidelines seem to point more towards a 12 Years a Slave double victory than an actual split. If you twist the results a bit anyway.
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Re: Considering the Split

Postby ITALIANO » Fri Feb 21, 2014 4:41 am

This is the kind of post that we can't find on other Oscar boards. Informative and balanced.

What I find absurd this year is that those who DON'T predict a Film/Director split are considered crazy - as if this kind of split was the norm in Oscar history. I mean - it could happen, I know, but it could have happened, for the same reasons, in many other years when in the end it didn't. Simply. So I don't understand why thinking that the Academy will do as it has done almost always is suddenly a sacrilege, a heresy. It's a possibility, I'd say - and honestly not a remote one.

People are really strange.

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Considering the Split

Postby Mister Tee » Thu Feb 20, 2014 8:22 pm

The BAFTA thread drifted into a wide-ranging discussion of the film/director split. I decided the issue deserved its own thread, so here goes:

Start with the whole concept of the split. As we know, it’s mostly not been the Academy norm – altogether 63 of the 85 best picture winners (74%) have had a best director trophy attached. 7 of the exceptions took place in the first decade – when Louis B. Mayer was openly picking winners, studios had bloc voting, membership kept changing, and CPAs weren’t always checking the books. If you lop off that initial batch, correspondence jumps to 80%. And if you start in 1953 – just past that anomalous 4-splits-in-5-years period – it rises to 83 1/3%. So, a split is not the way a betting person should lean.

Yet we hear predictions of splits relatively often. You know how they say economists have predicted 12 of the last 5 recessions? Oscar geeks have predicted about 12 of the last five splits. Obviously when a film is rampaging through the prelims – whether A Man for All Seasons or Kramer vs. Kramer in the 60s/70s, or Schindler’s List and Slumdog Millionaire in later years – few will advocate that scenario. But any time the race seems close, or involves multiple films, someone starts raising the possibility. Once in a great while they’re right (though not always involving the films expected), but more often not. I thought it might be useful to take a stroll through splits predicted that failed, splits unforeseen, splits that occurred in unanticipated ways, and, the loneliest category, splits that happened about the way expected.

I unfortunately can only vouch for the period I’ve been following the Oscars… meaning I can’t speak about the ’48-’52 stretch, or even the ’56 Around the World/Giant tandem. (I’d love to know more how that one occurred – how Giant won its only prize under best director) But I can speak from observation about the 50-plus years I’ve been following the Oscars.

My first decade (I began with the 1962 awards), the split basically wasn’t raised as an issue. I was of course young, not tuned into all elements, but even I fairly quickly gleaned that picture and director went together. In 1968, something unthinkable happened -- the Directors’ Guild choice for the first time didn’t carry over to the Oscar -- but film/director congruence was maintained: where predictions had been for Lion in Winter/Anthony Harvey, Oliver!/Carol Reed won instead. Even in upsets, the awards stayed welded together.

There was of course one exception in this period, the 1967 result. Which I’ll get to later; promise. Right now, though, I want to stick with the Predicted Splits that Never Happened. (And, before anyone says anything: the years I’ll mention may not have been universally predicted to yield splits -- there are always dissenters (sometimes, I was one). But in all the examples I’ll cite, there was enough conversation to qualify for this category.)

The first time I heard people openly discuss a split was in the 1974 race. Chinatown had swept the Globes, and seemed the initial front-runner. Though it tied Godfather II in nominations, Polanski’s film was nominated in a greater number of categories (including the key editing, which Godfather missed). Coppola’s winning the DGA prize seemed to throw a wrench into this forecast. But a sizable number of people proposed an explanation: the directing trophy would be the Academy’s way of honoring Coppola’s rare two-film representation on the best picture list; Chinatown would still emerge as best picture. Sidney Skolsky (then, believe it or not, the top Oscar predictor) was the only person I saw who flat predicted Godfather II’s dominance in both categories. I was young/naive enough to buy into the split (especially since it advantaged my beloved Chinatown). Skolsky, we know, proved more prescient.

You’d think there might have been talk of a split two years later – the Rocky/Network/All the President’s Men pile-up – but Avildsen won the DGA prize, meaning he was in line for best director. And if anything was more depressing than that prospect, it was Avildsen winning that trophy and NOT having it be part of a best picture sweep.

The following year, though, sweep-talk was fierce. Woody Allen shockingly won the Guild prize – I almost dropped the newspaper when I read the news – and many couldn’t get their brains around the idea of a hipster NY movie like Annie Hall, a movie that MOCKED Los Angeles, taking Hollywood’s top award. So, in an early draft of the “crowd-pleaser for film/cool kid for director” paradigm we now all cite, people began to advocate for the year’s box-office phenomenon, Star Wars, to take best picture, leaving Woody alone under directing. I had learned my Godfather II lesson, though, and went with Annie for both – and was rewarded with not only winning the pool, but one of the most pleasing Oscar nights ever.

In 1985, as an offshoot of the “Poor Steven Spielberg” drama, a split was widely predicted – Spielberg’s perhaps-sympathy-aided DGA win persuaded many The Color Purple would win best film, but, since the directing award was an official impossibility, support grew for John Huston’s late hurrah film Prizzi’s Honor to win that category. I at that point believed missing a best director Academy nod was a kiss of death, and I thought Prizzi way too smarty-pants for Oscar voters, so I went with Out of Africa in both categories. This of course won me another year’s pool (and also may explain why I resisted Argo so deep into the season last year).

Six years later, Jonathan Demme’s DGA win startled the same crowd who’d resisted Woody Allen. Silence was a HORROR FILM, for Christ’s sake; they never won Oscars. As you might imagine, quite a few folk advocated for Beauty and the Beast under best picture – as an animated film, it hadn’t competed at DGA, so that made for a decent rationale. But there were also people who pushed for Bugsy to win the category, despite the fact it was clearly fading commercially, and the awkward matter of, if people wanted it for best picture, why wouldn’t they vote for Barry Levinson as well? Even many of the critics who ultimately picked Silence in both categories, like Jack Matthews, moaned and groaned about how reluctant they were, how easy it would be for a split to occur. Silence’s sweep of the top five categories may have been the least predicted of any such triumph in Oscar history.

1995 offered something of a replay of 1985 – once again, the alleged front-runner missed out on the directing nod, and once again that Hollywood-beloved favorite got a sympathy prize from the DGA. In fact, it did better: also winning the newly-minted SAG Ensemble prize, and the award from the Producers’ Guild. As in 1985, suspicion began to mount that, despite the Academy directing snub, the film might win best picture after all. Pickings under best director were fairly slim, as seeming runner-up film Sense and Sensibility had also failed to score that nomination, leaving as competitors two lone directors, a guy who wasn’t a DGA nominee (Chris Noonan of Babe), and a guy whose film was in Italian (Michael Radford of Il Postino). In that context, Globe winner Mel Gibson seemed the fallback selection – it was seen as a chance to honor a box-office giant in a competition no one much cared about, while Apollo 13 triumphed as best picture. I confess: the poor options available made me buy into that game-plan, as well (do remember: the Driving Miss Daisy win-without-director had happened in the years since Color Purple, so it wasn’t quite a walk off the cliff). I think, though, all along my lizard-brain had been whispering to me that the vile Braveheart was really the choice that best fit Academy precedent. Anyway, you know the outcome: Braveheart won; Meryl Streep was caught on camera with a look of horror that was repeated across America. And the film-director link triumphed again.

2001 probably shouldn’t have been a year split-advocates reigned. But because it followed the totally whacked-out results of 2000 – a DGA upset AND a split -- as well as the split of 1998, one had the sense all rules might be flying out the window; plus, for the second year in a row, the three major guilds (SAG, DGA, PGA) all chose different films (which had never happened in the 90s), and Robert Altman, a sentimental favorite for many of us, had won the Globe but hadn’t had a chance to compete for the DGA. So…a lot us passed over the standard DGA x 2 formula and came up with odd combinations (Beautiful Mind, Gosford or Fellowship of the Ring for film, with mismatched Altman or Howard for directing). But, in the end, DGA rule was restored, and Opie beat more than one of our finest directors.

2004, as BJ alluded to in the BAFTA thread, also provoked more split-advocacy than it maybe should have, again because of context: the wild outcomes of 2002 had further suggested traditions were coming loose from their moorings, and once again the three top guilds had chosen different, all best picture-hopeful winners. So we had Aviator/Eastwood, Million Dollar/Scorsese, even a few Sideways/one-or-the-other in predictions. But, once again, the DGA proved the north star for both categories.

2006 – with yet ANOTHER split in the immediate rear-view – also occasioned quite a bit of split-talk. Which in some ways made sense, what with Little Miss Sunshine winning both SAG and PGA, Babel taking the Globe, The Departed getting a mere 5 nominations, and the notion that a win for Scorsese might be career-centered, not connected to his film. But again the two categories went together.

And then 2010, which I daresay most here remember. Had The Social Network won DGA, it might have made sense to predict a split, given The King’s Speech clear strength at PGA and SAG. The clean sweep for Hooper’s film should have ended all discussion. But hope sprang eternal from Fincher fans – powered by the fact that every single directing prize EXCEPT DGA had gone to him – and a split was predicted by many who should have known better. We know how that one turned out.

So…that’s nine cases I can think of, over roughly 40 years, where a split was forecast by many, but it didn’t happen.

Now, the obverse: years where the split was by and large not forecast, but it came about (again with the caveat that there might have been SOME who saw it coming, but they weren’t dominant).

There was no reason whatever to expect a split in 1972. The Godfather was a critical and commercial juggernaut, and had been expected for over a year to storm through the Oscars. Coppola’s win at the Directors’ Guild only confirmed expectation. Yes, Cabaret was widely-admired, but its situation was viewed as impossible. (Fosse said every one of his friends pre-consoled him with “If it was ANY other year…”) Fosse’s win still ranks for me as one of the most astonishing moments at the Oscars. And The Godfather’s subsequent best picture win, causing the split, was nearly as startling, Cabaret having racked up 8 prizes going into the final envelope, to Godfather’s 2. That night made heads spin.

I don’t think any of the splits in the years since were quite as shocking as that – in all cases, there were at least hints the favored film was not fully beloved. But the makers of Reds in 1981, Born on the Fourth of July in 1989, Saving Private Ryan in 1998 and, yes, Brokeback Mountain in 2005 thought they had made it all the way to the finish line, only to be shockingly denied in the final moment.

Some might argue that Reds/1981 doesn’t really belong in this category; that some people WERE prescient enough to predict a split (a very intelligent friend with whom I annually bet did just that, even while acknowledging he knew he was predicting something very rare). But that would then move Reds to another category: a case where the split was predicted, but the predictors got the composition wrong. Because the split my friend predicted was On Golden Pond/Warren Beatty – Chariots of Fire, though obviously beloved by many, was seen as a distant long shot that year. (As far as I know, Andrew Sarris was the only one to predict it)

Since then, we’ve seen other split predictions that paid off but not in the way anticipated. After Ang Lee won the DGA prize in 2000, predictors who couldn’t see their way to a foreign-language best picture decided Gladiator would win the top award. They were right about that, and also right there’d be a split – but they didn’t foresee that it would be Steven Soderbergh winning the director undercard.

Two years later, there was more disagreement. After Rob Marshall won the DGA, everyone agreed Chicago would romp home in best picture, but a sizable number thought Harvey Weinstein would push Martin Scorsese through under director. DGA die-hards (me included) said, no, Marshall would win along with his film. We were of course both wrong, as the utterly unanticipated Roman Polanski took directing in another split-yet-not-THE-split.

Last year’s race doesn’t fully gibe with this trend, but let’s say that, while some correctly called the Argo/Ang Lee split, a majority of those I surveyed actually had Spielberg taking the directing prize.

My took-forever-to-get-to-it conclusion: pinpointing an Oscar split is something at which people have failed over the years to a massive degree. Given that, the conviction with which people are declaring 12 Years/Cuaron a done deal seems the height of arrogance – can we so blithely dismiss the more standard Gravity/Cuaron, 12 Years/McQueen, or even the more flaky American Hustle/Cuaron?

Yet, of course, it’s also possible it’ll turn out to be the exact correct call. And for that there would be precedent. ONE precedent.

I told you I’d get back to 1967.

1967 was the last time I can remember, till now, when a director was almost from the start of awards season designated prime to win his category irrespective of his film’s performance under best picture. Mike Nichols was something of a multi-discipline hero: routinely winning Tonys at the same time he was breaking into films and competing for Oscars. His front-runner status in ‘67 might have had something to do with his being passed over the year prior for probable-second-place Virginia Woolf?; there was also the feeling, as Magilla mentioned in the BAFTA thread, that in threading his film with Simon & Garfunkel tunes he was merging the rock culture into film. For whatever reason, he was the dominant directing choice in the smaller precursor world of the time – winning both the NY Film Critics’ prize and the Globe despite, in each case, In the Heat of the Night being the top overall choice (actually, they split at the Globes, with Heat winning under drama and The Graduate under comedy – but then, as now, drama was taken more seriously: cf. 12 Years vis-à-vis American Hustle). And, while Nichols’ winning the DGA award did foretell a directing Oscar, it meant nothing more for his film – the exact split that both NY and the Globes had gone with (Heat/Nichols) carried over to the Oscars. Which a good many people correctly predicted.

So…if you’re forecasting 12 Years to win best picture and Alfonso Cuaron for directing, 1967 is the slender reed of precedent on which you’re relying. Like Nichols, Cuaron has had his film singled out as a major achievement in directing. Like Nichols, he’s watched his film become a major blockbuster. He’s won directing prizes one after another, mostly without his film winning. Perhaps, like Nichols, he’s being partly rewarded for his previous, prize-denied film. And, like Nichols, he’s being predicted to win alone, with 12 Years a Slave playing the In the Heat of the Night role. All of this could happen.

But is it really the way to bet? I’ve offered the history. You make the checkmark.


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