Like many, my young person’s love and unwavering respect for the Academy Awards died on March 5, 2006, when Jack Nicholson opened the evening’s last envelope and announced that the voters had decided, in a year that included Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck, and Munich, that the Best Picture prize was going to Crash, Paul Haggis’ drippy, hackneyed, sledgehammer-subtle examination of race. “But, but… how?” I (and many others, it seemed) asked, befuddled as to what kind of human being could look at those films and choose that one as the cream of the crop.
And we might’ve never known, had decrepit actors like Ernest Borgnine and Tony Curtis not crawled out of the Old Actors’ Home to make sure everyone knew that they took great pains to vote against Brokeback Mountain (because GAY COWBOYS EWWW), and suddenly we were reminded that for all the hip, beautiful people on the stage and in the audience on Oscar night, the awards themselves are bestowed by a giant body that is filled to the brim with mouth-breathing troglodytes. And if you’d like a fresher confirmation of that fact, I direct you to this interview with an anonymous Oscar voter, courtesy of the great Michael Musto.
Here’s just a few pearls of wisdom from our thoughtful, insightful insider:
- There was “too much torture” in 12 Years a Slave. “Enough already, we got it, we got it.”
- Wolf of Wall Street was “a soulless movie. There was nobody to root for.”
- Woody Allen’s chances for Best Screenplay are endangered less by the Dylan Farrow scandal than the fact that he’s “the most unpleasant person to work for. The assistant director tells you, ‘You are not to talk to Woody Allen.’ Except for the major stars. One woman actor I know tried to approach Woody on the set and she was fired.”
- According to the voter, promotional luncheons and other campaign strategies have “zero” effect on how they vote — “Unless somebody’s really nasty. You know who was really nasty? Hugh Jackman.” Oh, and this voter chose Best Director and Best Supporting Actor based on how “down to earth and wonderful” Barkhad Abdi and Alfonso Cuarón were at the Academy Q&A: “[Cuarón] was so wonderful, gave each person a lot of time, and was so authentic. I love going to the lunches because I go to places I could never afford, but the important thing is the opportunity to talk to them. It’s the meet and greet, not the food. If they’re nasty, it does affect me.”
- “By the way, Amy [Adams] had no boobs in that dress. A beautiful dress, but she’s flat chested.”
In other words, pretty much everything out of this numbskull’s mouth confirms your worst suspicions about Oscar voting: defined by stunningly old-fashioned notions of what film art is, a giant swath of the Academy’s aging voting bloc bases their votes instead on gossip, glad-handing, and peripheral bullshit. Seriously, what on earth does the size of Amy Adams’ bust have to do with whether you vote for her? Aside from that, this tangent is woefully ill informed: pardon my leering, but, well, look at her in that dress.
Yet the ostensible business of the organization, to recognize and laud fine filmmaking and acting, is clearly a second-tier concern. The idea that there was “too much torture” in a movie about slavery is ignorant; the dismissive “enough already” response is insulting. The idea that movies require “somebody to root for” went out, oh, around about the time Bonnie & Clyde was released — and based on what we know about Oscar voters, there’s a good chance this one hasn’t made a movie since before that anyway. That was certainly the case with the well-reported story of Hope Holiday, an actress inactive for a quarter of a century, who called Wolf “three hours of torture” and joined other members in telling Scorsese “you ought to be ashamed of yourself” after an Academy screening.
The Academy is full of these people. And look, I don’t want to presumptuously classify the entirety of their membership based on this anonymous interview — after all, one must ask what kind of person wants to give that interview, and how enlightened they might be on other matters. Nor is it fair to presume that all Voters Of A Certain Age are immune to the power of daring, difficult pictures.
But the demographics are worth noting. It’s an incredibly homogenous organization; according to the LA Times, Oscar voters are about 94% Caucasian and 77% male. And it skews, well, old. “Oscar voters have a median age of 62,” the paper reports. “People younger than 50 constitute just 14% of the membership… The academy is primarily a group of working professionals, and nearly 50% of the academy’s actors have appeared on screen in the last two years. But membership is generally for life, and hundreds of academy voters haven’t worked on a movie in decades.”
The Academy Awards ceremony is a week from Sunday, and we’ll get just as wrapped up in the glitz and glam as anyone. We’ll gawk at the fashions and laugh at Ellen’s jokes. We’ll enjoy the memes and comment on the controversies. But give this interview a good, hard read, and reflect that this is the mindset of the people bestowing these increasingly overvalued prizes. Here’s an idea: instead of getting worked up about who gets the statues, hash out the categories with the folks at your Oscar party, and vote on them yourselves. You’ll almost certainly make better choices than this sycophantic group of insular, disconnected lunatics.