DG Roundtable: The Oscars


Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

allisonhrabar (Allison Hrabar ’16, Editor-in-Chief) [4:05 PM]  The DG roundtable is tackling a slightly different topic this week. Rather than debate campus issues or politics, we’ve decided to have four film majors talk about this year’s Academy Awards.

allisonhrabar [4:10 PM] There’s a lot to talk about here — the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, critical favorites snubbed for nominations, if the Oscars should matter at all — but let’s start simple: what’s your pick for Best Picture? And what do you wish would win?

cschrei (Casey Schreiner ’16) [4:19] I have seen disturbingly few of these movies, but I think no matter what I would be thrilled if Mad Max won. It was a fantastic mixture of beautiful+entertaining+unexpected.

torre.grant (Grant Torre ’17) [4:19 PM] I’d like to start off by saying how frustrated I am with the eight nominated films as a group, but there are some real gems. My prediction for Best Picture goes to ​Spotlight ​after coming out of a big SAG Awards win but my vote would go to the brilliant, emotional powerhouse, ​Room​. While ​Room​ will likely be acknowledged in the Best Actress category for Brie Larson, the film itself is a tremendous adaptation and director Lenny Abrahamson finds a way to make such a small space that dominates the first half of the film seem dynamic and infinite.

tfeldma1 (Tobin Feldman-Fitzthum ’19) [4:19 PM] I think it’s hard to predict what will actually win this year. ​The Revenant​ and ​Spotlight​ are probably the frontrunners, but maybe ​The Big Short​ should go in that category too. As far as what I hope will win, I liked all three of those movies (and Room is great too), but ​Spotlight​ comes out as my favorite. For me the movie really gets its power from a lot of the smaller roles. The scenes of survivors sharing their stories show not only terrific acting, but great directing. It’s these scenes that take the movie to the next level for me.

allisonhrabar [4:25 PM] My bet is on Spotlight as well: it’s built up momentum at previous award shows and is stacked with great performances. But I have to agree with Casey that my vote would go to Mad Max. I like the majority of the nominees (Room and Brooklyn were personal favorites) but Mad Max is entertaining *and* well-crafted. It’s the only nominated film I’ve rewatched so far, and I’ll definitely be going back to it after awards season is over.

torre.grant [4:25 PM] I agree, Tobin and Allison. ​Spotlight​ manages to turn an incredibly complicated story into a cohesive narrative, which is a feat in itself. Combine that with a great cast of actors and some really solid choices that create moving moments through understated direction, and I feel like it would be a deserving winner. But to me, it just seems a bit status quo and typical Academy fodder. ​Spotlight​ doesn’t feel new or like it pushes boundaries… so that makes me wonder whether the Academy should reward forward-thinking films or ones that feed into the  Academy’s stuffy reputation?

cschrei [4:28 PM] I think my choice really reflects what your saying about being frustrated though, Grant – I just don’t really see in the nominations anything really exciting besides Mad Max. Tobin, I want forward-thinking films! And I want everyone to want them, too, but I don’t see that happening right now.

allisonhrabar [4:28 PM] I hate to be the one defending The Hollywood Establishment, but I think ​Spotlight​ is “typical Academy fodder” for a reason: it’s really really good.  I have a tendency to mock the Academy’s more self-congratulatory moments  too (usually their “Salute to…The Movies!” montages) but I don’t think awarding Spotlight necessarily would be one. It’s got an all-star cast who doesn’t showboat, and, like the journalists it portrays, never pats itself on the back for doing “good” work.

tfeldma1 [4:31 PM] This is an interesting year in terms of forward thinking movies. I would argue that in some ways all of the films nominated are forward thinking. ​The Big Short​ is stylistically adventurous. ​The Revenant​ is at least somewhat groundbreaking and somewhat artful. ​Spotlight​ follows a fairly odd plot structure (the climax seems to come somewhat in the middle). On the other hand none of the films are really that different. ​The Big Short​ is kind of just a dramatic rehash of ​Inside Job, ​The Revenant​ isn’t so far from other adventure or revenge films, and ​Spotlight​ is just another ripped from the headlines narrative.

torre.grant [4:37 PM] But if we look beyond the three movies you mentioned, I think we have a lot of films that took big chances that paid off. Not to beat a dead horse, but ​Room​ lets a relative unknown actress and eight-year-old boy dominate the entire movie. ​The Martian​ could have been another typical space adventure thriller that manages to find a bit of humanity and emotion amongst all the CGI. I’ve yet to see the entire ​Mad Max​ but from what I have seen, it defies the odd by creating a compelling narrative from the “typical” action flick. Basically, there are films that have taken bigger chances within film itself than ​Spotlight​. But then again, there is no Oscar for “Best Chance Taken.”

allisonhrabar [4:38 PM] So, some of the Best Picture candidates are edgier than others. Were there any nominations that surprised you? Were there any glaring omissions?

cschrei [4:39 PM] Carol (just saw it)

tfeldma1 [4:40 PM] I suppose ​Room​ was a pleasant surprise. It’s the sort of movie that we often see overlooked. It definitely deserves the nod, though. I agree fully with what Grant said above.

cschrei [4:41 PM] I know that’s very much a go-to for everybody, but there is something to be said for a female-romance driven movie–which has the Academy pedigree of Todd Haynes behind it even–not getting a nod. It was a big surprise to me that it was omitted even before I saw it.(edited)

torre.grant [4:43 PM] AGREED. ​Carol​ is terrific. Truly terrific. How Haynes didn’t get a Best Director nod and the film itself escaped the 5-10 films that could be nominated for Best Picture is beyond me (though it got a much deserved Cinematography nomination). Otherwise, I think Tarantino’s ​The Hateful Eight​ should have got an original screenplay nomination over The Coen Bro’s for ​Bridge of Spies​ and that Jacob Tremblay should have received a Best Supporting Actor over Rylance (​Bridge of Spies​) or Bale (​The Big Short​). Oooo, and Emily Blunt for her gripping character in ​Sicario​ over JLaw in the awful ​Joy​. I would have also loved if Disney/Pixar’s ​Inside Out​ broke into the top 10 to score a Best Picture nomination, but it’ll be a surefire win for Best Animated Film.

cschrei [4:46 PM] The whole 5-10 nomination thing is baffling to me every year. Each time slots are left open it just seems even more pointed to me that The Academy has a very specific view of who makes or who is in an Oscar Nominated Film.

torre.grant [4:46 PM] Also – let’s talk about ​Straight Outta Compton​’s omission from virtually everything. Personally, I wasn’t a fan of the film but the fact that it escaped every single category despite being critically acclaimed surprised me and might bring us to talking about #OscarsSoWhite soon…

allisonhrabar [4:54 PM] In that case: we are, admittedly, not the most diverse group, but #OscarsSoWhite is something we can’t ignore. Do we think The Academy will step up their game and start nominating more diverse artists next year, or are we in for more of the same?

(This is also a great time to shout out snubbed favorites: I can’t recommend ​Creed​ highly enough. Stallone’s performance deserves the nomination, but Coogler and Jordan were clearly the force behind the film)

tfeldma1 [4:57 PM] I think that at the end of the day it’s about the people who vote and the people who cast movies. Maybe a boycott will make people think about their prejudices. Maybe changing the membership requirements will diversify the pool. Maybe studios will prioritize diversity as well. But it’s possible that none of those things will happen. What I would see as real progress would be the casting of minority actors in rolls that could go to any actor (not just historical films). Unfortunately I think that it will be a number of years before this really starts to happen. Even when you get the occasional minority character like Michael B. Jordan’s in ​Creed​, though, he still doesn’t get the nod. There are many facets to the issue.

torre.grant [5:00 PM] I agree with Tobin, I think we need to look back at what the studios are making and distributing. Next year we’ll have ​Birth of a Nation​ (which shattered the previous Sundance acquisition record with Fox Searchlight’s $17 million purchase) which will certainly make waves. If that film has a weak showing in terms of nominations, I think there really is a fundamental problem. But other than that, there is a surprising lack of diversity in the current 2016 studio slate. We’ll have to wait to see what turns up from the indie market at festivals later this year, but on the big studio side 2016 is looking grim…

cschrei [5:00 PM] I also think it’s about who makes the movies and what kind of vision they have.  This will definitely start changing with enough pressure from the public – and will happen over time as well, in my optimistic opinion–and hopefully we will have a more diverse pool.

​Birth of A Nation​ I think was developed as a Sundance Lab project, so I’m excited to see what other stuff will be coming down from major festival workshops and independent studios.

torre.grant [5:06 PM] Yeah, but also let’s look at commercial success. I think studios and distributors pigeonhole themselves when marketing movies featuring minority leads. Let’s look at ​Dope​from this year who had HUGE momentum coming out of Sundance but fell short at the box office and basically escaped all awards talk. A similar narrative could come from ​Sleight​, a favorite from Sundance this year that focuses on a black teen street magician turned drug dealer, but it seems like a longshot with its 89min runtime.

cschrei [5:07 PM] Oh man I totally forgot about ​Dope​ (proving your point)

torre.grant [5:09 PM] Exactly! This summer people were looking towards ​Dope​ as a potential film to bring “diversity” to awards season but it quickly disappeared because it didn’t “find its audience”—so how much does commercial success factor into Oscar noms? All the Best Picture contenders found commercial success before nominations, except maybe ​Room ​depending on your definition of box office success.

tfeldma1 [5:10 PM] I think this is showing why the Oscars are so important. There are great movies out there with minorities in them, but they haven’t yet been able to break into mainstream domain as is represented by the Oscars. The problem, of course, isn’t that the movies aren’t good.

cschrei [5:11 PM] I think there is absolutely incentive for nominations to be interesting for a TV audience, though, so who really knows how much commercial success is factored into these decisions – though, sadly, I would bet it is A LOT.

(as in there is probably a disconcerting amount of financial incentive for certain things to happen)

allisonhrabar [5:15 PM] Let’s not forget the reverse: Oscar noms can also really boost a film’s commercial success. Box Office Mojo has some great data showing what the award can do for smaller films (imagine, if we could, a world where The Danish Girl got no Oscar buzz and we could have safely ignored it).

It’s getting time for us to wrap up: is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to during the broadcast this year?

tfeldma1 [5:22 PM] It will be interesting to see what Chris Rock says about #OscarsSoWhite

allisonhrabar [5:22 PM] Damn, I forgot he was hosting! I’m sure that will come up in the opening monologue

cschrei [5:23 PM] I hope it’s like, uncomfortably funny. isn’t some nice awkward silence what we all need these days ?

allisonhrabar [5:31 PM] On that note: thanks for coming in to talk today guys, and I will see you all on the 28th (because we are scholars, and required to watch The Oscars for class)

Image courtesy of screenrelish.com

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