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Awards Season: Emotional And Artificial Intetlligence

A friend of mine over on Twitter asked What do we think of the awards picks so far? There’s an obvious question, but a smart one. It accompanies the many, many thoughts swirling around my head at the enduring moment. Thoughts that indeed can answer that question in one way or another. A thousand ways. I’m restricting my infinite thought-process to three films. If I can. Those who live in the crystal palace of awards season see things closer, talk to voters, the pattern of success is in some of their blood-streams. Some of us, people like me, are right in the thick of the realm of awards season, but are standing outside the palace looking on. We are no less intelligent for this. Have I been extraordinarily busy or distracted, or is this all happening so fast? A bit of all of that I think. It’s like George Miller is directing the awards season’s kinetic pace, Todd Haynes monitors our loving, flourishing reactions to it, and then Alex Garland is crafting the composure, the etiquette of this new outlook. Awards season often tends to be a streamline, churning of recognition heading quickly to a front-runner. Sometimes on the path to Oscar we get a two-horse race. I prefer it the way things are turning out so far this season, not just because the movies shining resonate with me and many of us, but because it is a refreshingly delicious mixed bag.

That could all change of course, and likely will. Hopefully not too much. Part of me knows there’ll be huge disappointment (and likely some bitter backlash) should Mad Max: Fury Road now not go on to Oscar glory. By glory of course I mean a slew of nominations, not to mention a given that some of the techs are already in the bag, but also the status as a genuine competitor for the so-called big awards. Best Picture, Best Director, and we clench our fists with the buzz of a Best Actress nomination for Charlize Theron. We could well be looking at the movie with the most Oscar nominations in a couple of months. Further still, George Miller’s full-throttle, thundering effort could win the main prizes. Plural. Critics awards stamp assurances and doubts and hopes and fears in sporadic nature, making us believe this or that could be possible, or kicking us in the gut in lieu of our expectations. The upcoming Guilds pack an even bigger, accurate punch, given the branch votes. Anyone else nervous?

While a film like Spotlight sits back smugly on it’s couch, feet still perched on the Ottoman of awards season, hardly a care in the world, movie’s like Mad Max: Fury Road perhaps need the jolts and swings of the early season success. Likewise, Carol was in discussion as being forgotten or neglected or left in the cold by many, a road Haynes has been down before. I heard people asking in regard to the Oscars Best Picture list: “Will Carol get in?”. The same for Mad Max. Nothing is set in stone, but that question is not being asked as much of late. Other movies will now have to shift aside for these to get in. Both movies have been gliding through the film spectrum, ever since Cannes, not many films survive that kind of time-span. Not in this business. An audacious action flick with a legitimate female core, and a beautiful romance story of forbidden love between two women – flags now being raised for the abolishment of such genre and subject (dumb) prejudice in film (lack of) judgement. To some extent.

It is almost the stuff of dreams though, seeing such movies win award after award, while other talked about certainties barely pop their head above water. No offence. Mad Max: Fury Road and Carol could possibly have faded away already into the swarming dust of time, perception, most recent film releases, sheer stupidity, campaigning etc. Speaking of which, the term “category fraud”, having already outstayed its welcome in my view, is being thrown about more than any other year. It seems to have diluted some of the intellect. I wanted to write a piece myself, you know, one of those articles about a subject you publicly tell others you don’t want to talk about. Fickle aren’t we. I’m not going to trawl (troll?) through that subject too heavily here at the moment. However…

It seems to revolve around Rooney Mara (Carol) and Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) being campaigned for Support rather than Lead. A clever move or cheating? If only it was that black and white. There are a multitude of angles to look at this of course. We’ve been a little bit irked of late about the past when the likes of, for example, Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke (Training Day) or Frances McDormand and William H. Macy (Fargo) appeared to be nominated in the wrong categories. Not great examples in the fact both spawned very deserved, popular wins. We didn’t grumble about the more manufactured wins then, though. In fact we quite enjoyed the awards. We forget that. For the average Oscarwatcher like myself it is a little annoying as perhaps Brenda Blethyn and Russell Crowe would have won instead respectively. What if, what if. We are then delving into alternate realities territory, and the argument begins to wilt. It is not the end of the world.

Those are prime examples, now done to death in a few recent, compelling articles* on the subject, flipping your viewpoint this way then that. I started to question my own mind. Another angle would be to announce the term does not reflect actual fraud punishable by death, no, so it is a harsh term when talking about the medium of back-patting in the privileged film industry. And as I said before, on the odd bickering session on social media or comments boards, this is down to the campaigning more than the performers – Rooney and Alicia are getting a lot of unwarranted stick. Off the top of my head Paul Dano will be next when he is nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his (superb) supporting role – so good in that limited time he may well win. Good luck to him. And the way some out there are reacting to category fraud you would think death may well be the appropriate punishment after all. Get out of the fucking way my acting peers, I want that Oscar by any means necessary. Come on. So yes, another angle would be to stop crying about it.

As I wipe my own tears of joy away I have to keep that Vikander-train rolling. No, let me change that, keep that Vikander snowball rolling (more festive). That Supporting Actress win for Ex Machina (I repeat, not The Danish Girl) with the Los Angeles Film Critics Association is so far one of the most significant victories of the awards season (as I speak the same thing has happened with the Washington DC Area Film Critics – the joy). Could mean something more yet, it could mean nothing in the end. It’s going to be a bumpy, emotional ride. Vikander has had a terrific year (let’s not forget Testament of Youth) and could well be nominated with the help of her sheer presence in films – diverse, brilliant performances. Ex Machina was almost lost in the post, and we feared it had no chance come Oscar time. My own personal sentiments towards the movie are clear for anyone who has stepped in or around my own film critic arena. More to come on Ex Machina I assure you, from me as a writer for sure, but hopefully too for the film recognition point of view. Paths of glory are made and broken now, tomorrow, and for the next few months. The wind will shake the barley of the awards landscape and ruffle the feathers of many a film thinker. In the meantime, stay smart voters, it suits you.

* Those Category Fraud references:

The Hollywood Reporter
The Film Experience Pt 1
The Film Experience Pt 2


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