By: Daniel Reynolds
As we all know, the most important element of the annual event known as the Oscars is not the awards themselves, or the films involved, or, good lord, even the fashion choices of the people at the event. No, the most important thing: the outrage.
Every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences goes through its arcane process of nominating dozens of people to represent what it views as the chief ideals of the film art form. And every year, wouldn’t you know it, they get all kinds of stuff crazy wrong.
It is infuriating.
This year, instead of leading the Oscar discussion with the usual batch of predictions, I’ve decided to sort out this outrage issue. To that end I’ve developed what I call the Oscar Nomination Outrage Scale (or ONOS; pronounced O NOOOOOOOS).
By the time of the actual broadcast, with the fatigue of “award season” completely set in, the winners of the actual Oscars are almost entirely easy to predict anyway. Hence, we focus our outrage on the broader nomination stage; who is in, who is out, and who… wait, really, they nominated that?!
The ONOS is based on a very scientific 20-point gradient. The scale is broken down into four categories, each with its own mini 5-point scale. You still with me? We grade the nominations on each 5-point scale, add up the values to get a total out of 20, and this determines the requisite amount of outrage we should (re: need to) produce. What are the four categories? Read on:
Merit: The definite starting point. Does the nomination make sense? Was the work done of a significant quality to be recognized? A low ranking here means a good performance, a high ranking means: outrageous! This is both the most obvious and, therefore, least important consideration.
Novelty: This applies more to the performance Oscars, but it can still be considered for other categories. e.g. First time director? Period piece costumes? Song by big name artist? Dead nominee?
Past History: This one rears its ugly head any time someone has been nominated more than a few times. There are records to be considered and a certain narrative, rightly or wrongly, emerges. We hate this.
Politics: The most insider-y of the rankings. This is where we consider the background machinations of the Academy itself. Who is campaigning the most, what is the overall show tone the organization is striving for this year, how prominent is Harvey Weinstein, etc.
So now that we understand the rankings and considerations, let’s rev our engines a little bit and get catty. We are prepared for Oscar Outrage 2014. Let’s use the scale to evaluate a couple of the categories.
To show you how it works, let’s start with some low watt outrage.
Best Supporting Actor – Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”
Merit: 1. A solid performance, not a lot of outrage here. Abdi plays the Somali pirate Muse in Captain Phillips and, even standing across from noted thespian Tom Hanks, he holds his own.
Novelty: 1. That being said, there is a touch of novelty to his nomination seeing as Abdi is a first time actor who could not be further from the Hollywood star system. I’ll only give this a 1 though because it is still a nice story and I’m not a complete cynic.
History: 0. Abdi is a total, fresh faced newcomer. First film, first nomination.
Politics: 3. The Supporting Actor/Actress categories have long been home to some of the more “non-traditional” (e.g. non-movie stars, non-white, really young or super old) nominations. Abdi falls a bit in this category.
Total score: 5. Everybody chill.
Helpful Alternative Nomination: N/A. I’m fine with Abdi getting nominated. I would have like to see Daniel Bruhl get recognized for his work in Rush but it is all rather moot now: everyone loses to Jared Leto’s hair bob ponytail thing.
OK, time to crank it up a notch and start getting unruly.
Best Original Score – John Williams, “The Book Thief”
Merit: 2. So full disclosure, I haven’t see The Book Thief. Please raise your hand if you have. It got mostly middling reviews and, truthfully, seems designed to be a typical Oscar bait film. That deserves a bit of outrage, but not enough to get too worked up.
Novelty: 1. Not a lot of novelty left to be squeezed out of a WWII/Holocaust era movie with a score from the legendary John Williams.
History: 5. But good God, the history! John Williams has been nominated 49 times. That’s not a typo. Forty-Nine. 49. He’s won five times. This is absurd. Haven’t you done enough, John Williams?
Politics: 2. Interesting fact: Williams has won Oscars for some of the most iconic scores ever (Jaws, Star Wars, E.T.), but he’s also won for movies telling stories about Jewish people (Schindler’s List, Fiddler on the Roof). The Book Thief has got that going for it, I guess.
Total Score: 10. Williams is a legend, and he did do the Star Wars music, so I think we can still just keep our outrage at a low simmer here.
Helpful Alternative Nomination: Alexander Ebert, All is Lost. Sorry, I am a total homer for this film. Ebert’s work consists of great moody, whale-like tones that feels both classical and brand new, like the best music should.
Best Original Song – “Alone But Not Alone”, Alone But Not Alone
Merit: 5. First off, can we just watch the trailer for this movie? Here. You watch it? This is an actual movie, not a parody. What kind of song would come from such a film? I can link you to it, but I’m sure you’ve already guessed what it would sound like.
Novelty: 4. Totally out of nowhere, this nomination. It’s a film that few had even heard of, and a song that no one really wants to listen to.
History: 1. I can’t get too outraged about history here, I guess. I mean, this film came out of nowhere. Nothing fishy about it…
Politics: 5. Oh, but here’s something, the song was composed by Bruce Broughton who just happens to be on the Academy’s Board of Governors. Riiiiiiiiight.
Total Score: 15. I would be more thoroughly outraged if this category still meant anything anymore. It does not.
Helpful Alternative Nomination: Literally any other song from almost any movie that came out in 2013. Go ahead, you can pick.
Best Visual Effects – “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”
Merit: 2. That dragon is cool, I guess.
Novelty: 4. Is there still novelty in medieval fantasy battles? Dwarves bouncing down a river in barrels? All those swooping camera shots with dudes running along perilous walkways in caves? The outrage here is fueled by the fact that we’ve already seen that in four (4!) other films made by Peter Jackson. Enough is enough.
History: 4. Ditto. Hobbits get nominations now. I get it.
Politics: 3. It feels strange to somehow think that a fantasy film could become an Oscar lock (given the Academy’s general anathema towards genre stuff), but when you make one of the biggest trilogies of all time, you suddenly get a pass. No matter how repetitive or dull your film is. Kudos to Jackson for his lifetime pass.
Total Score: 13. I’d be more upset about this but I just feel asleep while watching Smaug. It’s a great siesta movie.
Helpful Alternative Nomination: Guillermo Del Toro was supposed to direct The Hobbit. He dropped out to focus on Pacific Rim. Pacific Rim feels fun and inventive, The Hobbit does not. Come on Academy, get it together.
Best Actor – Christian Bale, “American Hustle”
Merit: 3. Since we’re talking Christian Bale we know the performance will at least be reasonably effective. Bale does not go for half-measures (see The Fighter, The Machinist, The Dark Knight, etc.). But I can’t help but feel that this performance was aided by just a slight bit of gimmickry. Join me in our next section.
Novelty: 5. Come on now, between the hair, the weight gain and the accent, the case is there that Bale’s performance is really just all gimmick. He goes for it all with typical gusto, but I’d be lying if I said I actually cared.
History: 4. This Bale nomination, more so than his previous one, feels a tad more automatic, especially with some of the interesting new challengers (Michael B. Jordan, Oscar Isaac) around or even another crafty vet (Robert Redford) available.
Politics: 4. American Hustle is a showy film with a lot of flair and energy. Somehow director David O. Russell has become an Oscar golden boy. It’s the type of film that the Academy will nominate just because it feels too big to ignore. And no way is the Academy going to waste one second celebrating Joaquin Phoenix.
Total Score: 16. In a tremendously stacked category, this nomination feels significantly disappointing.
Best Actress – Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”
Merit: 1. I haven’t see August: Osage County (hey, get off my back, I’ve got a life) but it feels weird to get too outraged, merit-wise, at a Meryl Streep performance. A 1 ranking is as high as I’ll go.
Novelty: 4. Still, having played a bunch of nicer old lady roles (a stolid nun, Julia Childs, Margaret Thatcher sort of) as of late, there is definitely novelty to be had with this latest nomination. In August: Osage County, Streep gets to play a drug-addled southern matriarch who oozes venom at everyone within reach. It’s a real curve ball.
History: 5. Um, she’s got 18 nominations now, easily the most of any acting nominee. Clearly, history plays a factor in Streep’s continued dominance at this point. It feels like every one of her performances is getting something, somehow.
Politics: 4. Harvey Weinstein alert!
Total Score: 14. This number may be high. It is a punishable offense in Hollywood to get outraged at Meryl Streep. I’ll tread lightly here.
Helpful Alternative Nomination: Won’t someone think of Brie Larson? Anyone? No? Just me? Go watch Short Term 12. You’re welcome.
Best Picture – “American Hustle” and “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Before we get started I should mention that I’m actually not tremendously outraged with the Best Picture nominations this year. Unlike in recent years, there are no obvious clunkers (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) or films nominated out of what feels like obligation (Les Miserables). The only nominee I haven’t seen yet is Philomena, which should be rectified soon. To me, the movies most closely on the edge of nomination are The Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle. Now, the face-off:
Merit: 2 for American Hustle. 1 for The Wolf of Wall Street. The former is filled with energy and subplots, but feels too long and eventually ends on the expected note. The latter is absolutely buzzing with energy, and has an admittedly great ending (even if it feels like it takes way too long to get there).
Novelty: 3 for American Hustle. 2 for The Wolf of Wall Street. The former is Russell aping vintage Martin Scorcese. The latter is actual Scorcese aping vintage Scorcese.
History: 3 for American Hustle. 5 for The Wolf of Wall Street. The former nomination is a great comeback story (“Thanks David for making the films we always knew you could make.”). The latter nomination feels like it’s part of a bizarre decade-long apology. (“Sorry Marty for all those years we didn’t acknowledge your genius.”)
Politics: 2 for American Hustle. 1 for The Wolf of Wall Street. The former feels like it just had to get nominated. The latter got nominated despite being a deeply disturbing… comedy?
Total Score: 10 for American Hustle. 9 for The Wolf of Wall Street. I know by this point I’m supposed to be furious, but the former has Louis C.K. as a frustrated FBI man, and the latter has Leo DiCaprio high on quaaludes.
Helpful Alternative Nomination: While the Coen brothers get enough love from the Academy, I have a soft spot for Inside Llewyn Davis. And of course, my #1 film of the year was All is Lost. I’m about as alone and adrift here as Redford was in that movie. Let’s wrap this up.
So there you have it. I hope all of my math checks out. I’m glad to have frothed up some immense (and useless) rage among the people. Now, set it to stew for another few weeks and then, on March 2nd, we can do it all over again and get upset about the winners. Won’t that be fun?