Dear Santa: Can you also make sure the poor Oscar voters watch all the movies in time?
This is the time of the year to make a list and check it twice. And it’s also the time to take a (very brief) break and get ready for the homestretch of film awards, culminating all too soon with the 92nd Academy Awards.
So to combine the two, I’ve got my own list of Christmas wishes for this awards season. Here are eight of them — one, I suppose, for each reindeer.
Wish No. 1: That Oscar voters watch the movies in time.
The Academy says that 344 movies qualified for the Oscars this year. How many have you seen, voters? The problem is that with this season’s accelerated schedule, with the earliest-ever Oscars taking place on Feb. 9, voters don’t have a lot of time to see everything before voting. Nomination voting begins on Jan. 2 and lasts for only six days, ending on Jan. 7. Voters who haven’t already seen at least a few dozen contenders are way behind.
This is not the earliest voting has ever started, by the way: You only have to go back four years to find that it used to start in late December. But back then, the voting period was at least 10 days, usually more. The Jan. 7 date is the earliest ballots have ever been due, which puts Academy members in a real crunch. Please make them hurry, Santa.
Wish No. 2: That “Uncut Gems” and “A Hidden Life” receive nominations.
In my perfect world, they’d both get Best Picture nominations, since they’re my two favorite films of the year. (If I had a vote, which I don’t, my other three choices on the Best Picture ballot would probably be “Pain and Glory,” “Parasite” and “1917.”)
Now, I know that “Uncut Gems” is a real longshot for best picture, and “A Hidden Life” even more so. So while a guy can dream, I’m just wishing that those two films get nominated for something.
Wish No. 3: That “Glasgow” gets a song nomination.
The Best Original Song shortlist is chock full of songs from big movies and ones from Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning songwriters and performers: Alan Menken, Elton John, Robert Lopez and Kristin Anderson-Lopez, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Randy Newman, Paul Williams, Charles Fox Pharrell Williams, Beyonce, Diane Warren, Thom Yorke …
But I remember when a little song from a little British indie, “Falling Slowly” from “Once,” went up against lots of big songs and landed a nomination (and then a win), so I have hopes (and wishes) for “Glasgow” from “Wild Rose,” a terrific song that serves as the climax of a terrific indie about a young Scottish mother who wants to be a country singer.
And hey, one of the songwriters is an Oscar winner, though not for songwriting – it’s Mary Steenburgen, who won Best Supporting Actress for “Melvin and Howard” back in 1981 and now has a side career as a songwriter.
Subsidiary wish: That all the nominees, whatever they are, are performed on the Oscar show, or that none of them are. Playing favorites, as some producers have tried to do and others have done, is insulting to the nominees and is a recipe for disaster.
Wish No. 4: That the international Oscar voters pick at least one challenging film.
The Best International Feature Film shortlist is made up of seven films selected by the general committee, voters from all branches of the Academy who saw at least 12 of the 91 eligible films and scored them; and three from the executive committee, a small group deputized to add worthy films that might have been overlooked by the general committee. The Academy will never admit which films are which, but it’s widely suspected that the films saved by the executive committee tend to be darker and more challenging than the general committee choices – and some of the likely saves, including “Son of Saul,” went on to be nominated and to win the Oscar.
(This year, the three films that seem likeliest to have been saves are probably “Beanpole,” “The Painted Bird” and “Atlantics.”)
Last year, though, voting in the second round was opened up to more members, and it’s quite possible, maybe even probable, that none of the saves were nominated. Voting expanded even more this year, which means the five nominees could well come from the seven general committee choices, with the saves left out again. To me, it’d be a shame if the rule changes have reduced the role of the executive committee to putting challenging films on a shortlist from which they won’t be nominated – so my wish is that the voters in the second round really consider the more adventurous and difficult movies … once they’ve voted for “Parasite,” “Pain and Glory” and “Les Miserables,” of course.
Wish No. 5: That Antonio Banderas, Adam Sandler and Eddie Murphy get in.
The Best Actor race is very crowded this year, as it is most years. The leading contenders seem to be Adam Driver for “Marriage Story,” Joaquin Phoenix for “Joker,” Leonardo DiCaprio for “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” and Robert De Niro for “The Irishman,” even though De Niro was bypassed by both SAG and Golden Globe voters. And then you’ve got Jonathan Pryce for “The Two Popes,” Taron Egerton for “Rocketman,” Christian Bale for “Ford v Ferrari,” George MacKay for “1917” …
It leaves precious little room for three of my favorite performances of the year: Antonio Banderas’ quiet but enormously affecting director in “Pain and Glory,” Adam Sandler’s manic, desperate Everyman in “Uncut Gems” and Eddie Murphy’s uproarious but poignant hustler in “Dolemite Is My Name.” I want to see them all be nominated, and I know it won’t happen, but I’m wishing for the best.
Wish No. 6: That voters remember Tom Hanks.
The Academy was once really fond of Hanks, who was nominated for Best Actor five times in 12 years between 1989 and 2001, and became only the second person (after Spencer Tracy) to win that award in back-to-back years when he did it for “Philadelphia” in 1995 and “Forrest Gump” in 1996. But it’s now been 18 years since Hanks’ last nomination, even though he has been recognized by other awards bodies for “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “Captain Phillips,” “Saving Mr. Banks” and “The Post” in the interim. (He’s also been nominated for a Tony and won six Emmys and a Kennedy Center Honor in that time.)
You might figure that Hanks is a Best Supporting Actor shoo-in for his uncanny performance as Mr. Rogers in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” but I figured he was a shoo-in at least once before and I was wrong. So as a big fan of “A Beautiful Day” and Hanks’ performance, I’m resorting to wishing that Oscar voters remember that they used to like the guy.
Wish No. 7: That we survive January.
By we, I mean everybody involved in awards season: voters, campaigners, studios, caterers, pundits … It’s going to be brutal, folks: I mean, the first week of January alone will include the Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala, the AFI Awards Luncheon, the Film Independent Spirit Awards Nominees Brunch, the BAFTA Los Angeles Awards Season Tea Party, the Golden Globes, the Cinema Eye Honors, the announcement of winners from the National Society of Film Critics and the announcement of nominations from the Writers Guild, the Directors Guild, the Producers Guild, the American Society of Cinematographers, the Visual Effects Society and BAFTA. Plus more parties and screenings than you want to know about.
And it won’t get easier from there, with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and Sundance thrown in the middle of the month in case we don’t have enough to do in L.A.
Wish No. 8: That the Academy and the Oscar producers get on with it and don’t play games.
If they’re going to hire a host, they should hire one ASAP and announce it. If they plan to go hostless, they should admit that. They don’t have time to stall, and secrecy will do nothing to help them at a time when everybody’s going to be too distracted by the accelerated season to spend much time thinking about the Oscar show.
And stretching out the guessing games definitely won’t bump up the ratings: The only thing that really does that is the movies that are nominated, which could be a problem this year. Last year’s ratings were up because three movies with domestic grosses of more than $200 million were nominated for Best Picture, but this year “Joker” is the only film in that category with a real best-pic shot. (Maybe you could argue that “Avengers: Endgame” and “Toy Story 4” belong in the category, but this is the Academy we’re talking about.)
The Academy and producers Stephanie Allain and Lynette Howell Taylor will likely be given a slate of nominees in which “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” and maybe “Joker” are the most successful films. They need to realize what that means, put together a well-paced and entertaining show (yes, it will last more than three hours, and they should accept that now) and get on with it.