Surfing ESPN.com for news on my beloved but injury-ravaged Red Sox yesterday, I was surprised to discover that there seems to now be an Oscar-watch sort of column featured on Bill Simmons’ highly entertaining and insightful sports/pop culture web site, Grantland. The column’s author, Mark Harris, has only written a couple of posts so far, but already that’s been enough to rocket him to somewhere around the top of my favorite Oscar bloggers; in a fairly brief post yesterday, he cut right through the ridiculousness of awards season buzz and the hypocrisies surrounding the blogging community, particularly when it comes to the major festivals:
If you’re like most moviegoers, or most Academy voters, you don’t attend any of these festivals. So “buzz” is really code for a two-way conversation conducted between a handful of awards handicappers eager to anoint or dismiss potential contenders, and a handful of studio publicists and independent firms who are listening for the dog-whistle frequency that tells them that somebody thinks their movie might be in the running.
I must admit that Harris’ incisive commentary hit rather close to home: since the Oscar race really does seem to be a self-perpetuating machine set up by the bloggers and publicists themselves, what does that make me, a bottom-tier blogger simply passing along information from those higher-up handicappers as gospel? When I talk about “Tinker, Tailor” receiving great buzz or George Clooney’s Best Director hopes fading, what the hell am I talking about, really? I know literally nothing: at least those professional bloggers have at least had the chance to see the films, and might be in SOME position to predict the Academy’s reaction, even if they might actually have more sway in guiding campaigns than they even realize. My own blatherings on the topic signify absolutely nothing.
So why do I do it? It amuses me, I suppose. I’ll take any excuse to discuss or read about movies, and the forum of the Oscar-watching community is a prolific one, providing plenty of opportunities for news, interviews and debates about the relative merits of dozens of current films, all at once. This blog gives me a place to process and distill everything else that I’m looking at into one convenient location. And I agree with Harris that much of the fascination with the Oscar race lies in examining exactly what the film community itself feels is its best work in any given year. What does it really say about the industry when “The King’s Speech” beats “The Social Network,” or when “Crash” beats “Brokeback Mountain?”
Why any of you might actually bother listening to me is another question altogether, and one that I don’t even feel like contemplating too hard. So let me just take the opportunity right now, before the festivals end and the Oscar race begins in earnest: I KNOW NOTHING. Seriously, you can just follow the links on the right side of the page and find all the same stuff that I’m spouting. I just find ways to re-phrase the information, maybe sometimes with a more clever title. If that’s all you want, I’m happy to have you here.
Anyway, Harris goes on to make one more very nice point about the current awards season: for the first time since 2006, the festival season is winding down and we have no frontrunner(s). Sure, I went on about “War Horse” in my first predictions column, but that’s still sight-unseen guess work. It is a juggernaut in theory, but not practice. Compare that to last year at this point, where the Toronto Festival had already narrowed things down to “The Social Network” vs. “The King’s Speech,” a narrow narrative that would ultimately dominate the next FIVE MONTHS. Or the year before that, when “The Hurt Locker” had already gained the mantle of the critics’ darling and the “little-indie-that-could” attitude. Or the two years before that, where “Slumdog Millionaire” and “No Country for Old Men,” respectively, were already poised to take down all comers. We’ve got nothing like that this year, which should hopefully make for a remarkably intriguing season. The festivals changed absolutely nothing: the most anticipated titles of the year before TIFF/Venice/Telluride are still the most anticipated titles post-TIFF/Venice/Telluride.
So, if you’re looking for a lot of “who the fuck knows?” kind of back-and-forth regarding the awards season, keep your eyes on bloggers like Mark Harris in the coming weeks. Oscar watching is as much about keeping tabs on the bloggers as on the movies.