Oscar Race: The Herd Mentality Syndrome
By ROBERT W. WELKOS
When the Producers Guild of America recently announced its 10 nominees for best produced motion picture of the year, the media’s attention immediately focused on the inclusion of science fiction blockbusters like “Avatar,” “District 9” and “Star Trek” among this year’s list.
Character-driven dramas like “An Education” “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire,” and “The Hurt Locker” also made the PGA cut as did the animated film “Up.”
But the producers gave the cold shoulder to director Rob Marshall?s glitzy, star-studded musical “Nine.”
Unless rescued by Academy Award nominations, “Nine” appears headed for best picture oblivion and forever labeled as one of the year?s bigger disappointments.
Why “Nine” has lost traction with awards voters isn’t hard to fathom. The film has struggled at the box office, taking in only $15 million worldwide as of Thursday. And reviews in the “New York Times” and “Los Angeles Times” were brutal, setting a tone that was hard to overcome. The film also suffered from a year of heightened expectations, instead of arriving with no expectations like “District 9.”
But could there be another key reason for producers turning their back on “Nine”? Did the film fall victim to the Oscar season’s herd mentality?
One would think that of all the awards shows that annually host extravagant, red-carpeted awards galas, the PGA Awards would have appreciated the production values in “Nine” from its lavish song-and-dance numbers to the difficulties inherent in dealing with a stable of ego-driven, Oscar-winning performers.
“You can spot a prestige production versus a tacky job pretty quickly,” said Scott Feinberg, who blogs regularly about the awards season at www.andthewinneris.blog.com and who is also a contributor at HollywoodNews.com. “Just the whole spectacle of it. I didn’t see much difference in terms of quality between (Marshall’s previous Oscar-winning musical) “Chicago” and “Nine.”
Feinberg argues that Hollywood awards voters too often follow conventional wisdom.
“I think it really is a regurgitation of what they hear and see from other groups,” Feinberg observed. “If they start picking choices that the Academy laughs at, their prestige goes away.”
And if the prestige goes away, then the studios and the celebrities could shun those awards shows and the media will follow suit.
Film critic Pete Hammond said this herd mentality “has been building for a few years.”
Why? “There’s more information, the (awards) season gets longer, there are more bloggers, everything gets reported,” he explained. “A movie like “The Hurt Locker” suddenly becomes a must-see for the Academy. It’s the herd. One after another, they seem to be copying each other.”
Hammond, for one, thought the production values in “‘Nine’ were ‘terrific’ across the board. They did a great job.” But he also believes that isn’t enough to rescue the film in the eyes of Oscar voters. “I think it’s dead for best picture.”
The Golden Globes gave “Nine” recognition, nominating it for best picture in the comedy/musical category. And the Globes also nominated several cast members, including Daniel Day-Lewis for best actor, Marion Cotillard for best actress and Penelope Cruz for best supporting actress–all in the best comedy/musical category.
Meanwhile, the Screen Actors Guild Awards nominated the entire cast of “Nine” for its top award while also nominating Cruz for best supporting actress.
But the herd mentality may already have set in, particularly because of the movie’s dismal box office and sometimes savage reviews.
“It’s a box office bust,” Hammond said. “That’s the main reason the producers won’t go for it. If it was critically acclaimed, maybe you’d forgive the money. But the fact it wasn’t critically acclaimed, and that it is losing money right and left, that was the death knell for producers, who understand money.”
Hammond added that the guilds pay close attention to the buzz surrounding a film.
“I don’t think the guilds are going to go out on a limb,” he said. “The way it is now, it’s who has the money, who’s campaigning.”
For the PGA, often a poor cousin to other Hollywood guilds (it isn’t a labor union like the guilds representing directors, actors and writers), the PGA Awards have given the organization a publicity shot in the arm.
The PGA is not alone is ignoring “Nine.”
The Directors Guild of America this year nominated Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker,” James Cameron for “Avatar,” Lee Daniels for “Precious,” Jason Reitman for “Up in the Air” and Quentin Tarantino for “Inglourious Basterds.”
The DGA nominations often mirror the Academy Awards’ best director nominations.
“Only six times since the DGA Awards began in 1948 has the feature film winner not gone on to win the correspondent Academy Award,” the DGA noted.
Feinberg said the DGA and other guilds want to be viewed as “solid predictors” of the Oscars and that is one reason “Nine” may not stand a chance.
“I think the pulse is clear,” he said. “‘Nine’ has been sort of thrown overboard. I don’t think it helps the brand of the PGA or any other guild to go against the grain.”