The final Oscar votes can't tell the whole story
With the kudo campaigns finally winding down, the inevitable debate is poised to begin: Were minds changed by the frenzy of meet-and-greets and Q&As or by the blizzard of ads? Did any of it matter?Given the absence of runaway favorites this year, a case could be made that the awards campaign served a valuable purpose. Films that were headed for limbo — “A Better Life,” “Beginners” and “Albert Nobbs” — earned their moments in the spotlight. Unknowns like Demian Bichir, Jean Dujardin and Rooney Mara got their chances to take center stage. In gaining wider exposure, films like “The Artist” and “Tree of Life” triggered intriguing debates: Would “The Artist” have benefited from a couple of dialogue scenes and would “The Tree of Life” have played better as a silent movie? In truth, several of the ritualistic award events would have floundered without the superstar presence of the Brad-and-George show. Pitt and Clooney consistently acquitted themselves with self-deprecating humor and style while still doing the “sell” for their passion projects. Academy voters love to see superstars with passion projects. The subtle maneuverings in the best director category provided a fascinating microcosm of contrasting tactics and attitudes. Martin Scorsese and Michel Hazanavicius were both intensely committed to the rigors of the awards circuit and both were received with enthusiasm bordering on veneration. Then there are the other three. The inscrutable Alexander Payne seemed to show up only when his star, Clooney, asked him to stand by and smile while Clooney fielded the tough questions. Terrence Malick, who in person is gracious if somewhat pedantic, has never been seen at an awards function or a Q&A, perhaps because someone might ask him to explain the meaning of “The Tree of Life.” My instinct is that Malick wouldn’t respond for one of two reasons: First, he might not know. Second, he doesn’t like to deal with pedestrian issues like storylines. Then there’s Woody, The perennial answer of Woody Allen to invitations of any sort is that he’s in pre-production. Indeed, he always is, faithfully turning out a movie a year. Given the fact that his “Midnight in Paris” grossed well over $150 million worldwide, one would think Woody would have reason to drop by the Oscar show to remind Hollywood that he’s big business once again. But I remember a conversation with Woody years ago in which he explained that he simply didn’t understand awards. There’s no such thing as a “best picture” or a “best screenplay,” he argued. “Is it best of its type? Best of its location? — What’s best?” he argued persuasively. Actually, the 76-year old Allen did turn up at the post-9/11 Oscar show to remind fellow filmmakers that New York was still — indeed, more than ever — a great place to work. He promptly went overseas. So which side is right? Is it worth it to launch a vigorous awards campaign? Does it bring awards, build careers and sell tickets? In a couple of weeks we will learn the answer — except we won’t. We will just learn who got the most votes. If it’s Woody Allen, someone will have to explain to him why it matters. And if it’s Terrence Malick, someone will actually have to find him.