Oscar Postmortem: First Names, Freaky Nominees, Flexible Deadlines

Dinner with “Dogtooth,” the Js have it, and a status report on the Academy's executive search

In the aftermath of the Oscar nominations, a few random observations:

DINNER WITH 'DOGTOOTH'

One of Tuesday's more startling nominations was in the Best Foreign-Language Film category – where the daring, thoroughly unconventional Greek film "Dogtooth," a movie known to have been hated by the category's general voters, landed a nomination.

DogtoothThe film is a divisive, violent, deadpan, bizarre tale of a family that indoctrinates its children into a thoroughly twisted worldview; it can be read as vicious social satire, deadpan comedy or political allegory, but according to all reports it offended and was dismissed by the voters who first saw it at its Academy screening.

But it made it onto the shortlist as one of three additions from the Foreign-Language Film Award Executive Committee (nobody will admit that officially, but there's no doubt about it), and now it's quite possibly the strangest Oscar nominee ever.

So what happened? According to one witness, it might have come down to timing.

The final Foreign-Language nominees are selected by two special committees, most of their members chosen by longtime chair Mark Johnson. The committees, one in Los Angeles and one in New York, screened three movies a day last Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with a dinner break after the first two films.

In New York, "Dogtooth" was reportedly the second film shown on Saturday. One person who attended the screening said reaction to the film seemed quite negative when the film ended: "At that point, I wouldn't have given much for its chances. But they kept talking about it over dinner – and the more they talked, the more they realized that the movie had given them a lot to think about."

Would "Dogtooth" have made the list if it had been the first screening of the day, with a shorter intermission afterwards? Or if It had been the last film of the night, when the voters would head home afterwards rather than eating dinner together? There's no way to tell, but the implications are intriguing.

THE 4J CLUB

The Academy supplies lots of statistics with its nominations ("five performers have won Academy Awards for roles using spoken languages other than English"), and others have chimed in with more analysis of how the numbers break down and what it all means. But here's a stat I haven't seen anywhere: with four of the Best Actor nominations going to Javier Bardem, Jeff Bridges, Jesse Eisenberg and James Franco, this marks the first time in history that four of the five nominees in a lead acting category have had first names starting with the same letter.

James FrancoAccording to my quick trip through the Academy Awards database, all those names are a first. In the Best Actor category, the Oscars had three years where three of the five nominees had first names starting with the same letter: Anthony Franciosa, Alec Guinness and Anthony Quinn in 1957; Art Carney, Albert Finney and Al Pacino in 1974; and James Garner, Jack Nicholson and Jon Voight in 1985.

On the Best Actress side, meanwhile, a trifecta has also happened three times – and every time with J names. Jean Arthur, Joan Fontaine and Jennifer Jones in '43; Julie Christie, Jane Fonda and Janet Suzman in '71; and Joan Allen, Juliette Binoche and Julia Roberts in '00.

But never before have a quartet of lead acting nominees coincided like they do this year.

And that's why they call it trivia: because it's trivial.

SEARCH PARTY

After the nominations were announced, Academy executive director Bruce Davis stood near the back of the Samuel Goldwyn Theater, looking over what is scheduled to be his last nominations announcement as the Academy's top salaried employee.

Bruce DavisLast year, Davis announced his plans to retire at the end of June 2011, after three decades at AMPAS and two in his current position. In October, AMPAS president Tom Sherak told theWrap that the search for a new executive director had already begun, and that he hoped to have a replacement chosen in the first quarter of 2011 so that the new person could "spend time with Bruce" during the runup to the Oscar show.

But with a month go to before the Oscars, there's no replacement in place. As Sherak said three months ago, "I learned a long time ago that you set a deadline, and then you extend it."

Asked Tuesday how the search was going, Davis laughed and said he had no idea.

"I know that when they decided to do a big search, they said they wanted to have somebody by now," he said. "And they tell me they've got some great candidates in mind."

He laughed. "But so far, they haven’t given me any names."

One longtime Academy member privately said that he was worried about AMPAS reaching outside the organization for a replacement. "The problem is that if you bring in somebody new, they're not going to have the power to stand up to that board [of directors]," he said. 

"That is a very powerful board, and Bruce was great about standing up to them when he needed to. I can't see a new person doing that, which is why they need somebody who's been around and knows where the bodies are buried."

If the Academy were to pick a replacement from inside its ranks, the obvious choice is longtime executive administrator Ric Robertson, who holds the position that Davis held before he became executive director.

But Davis, who controls the purse strings that are funding the search, said he's in the dark. "I'm paying for it," he said, "but they haven't told me a thing."

ONE IS THE LONELIEST NUMBER

Finally, a tip of the hat to the most individualistic category of all: Best Achievement in Makeup.

Three films were nominated: "Barney's Version," "The Way Back" and "The Wolfman."

All three received a single nomination — so if you leave out the shorts and Documentary Feature, this is the only Oscar category made up exclusively of films that weren't nominated anywhere else.

  • Sharon Iris

    Bardem and Bridges have the same first and last initials. I saw Dogtooth on DVD yesterday. I like unusual films but this one is not my cup of tea. I really can't see this one winning.

  • mheister

    The King’s Speech is chock-full of historical inaccuracies:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2282194/pagenum/all/

    The film entirely ignores George VI’s (Colin Firth in the movie) years as a Nazi appeaser.

    No film that is so blatant a piece of historical revisionism deserves a Best Picture Oscar.

    • Nicholas

      Hey Michael, slow your role. BTW: Who's payroll you on?