Friday, June 20, 2008

Pollackathon: Out of Africa and The Oscar Formula

In conjunction with my Pollackathon, I watched Out of Africa, which won the 1985 Best Picture and Best Director Oscars. And yeah, as I said in my Pollack retrospective, it was good, very good, although I wouldn't call it great. I know the Oscars are like 11 months away or something, but I thought it'd be fun to review the characteristics which destine a film to be loved by the Oscars, and then see how Out of Africa stacks up. But I'm gonna also take a look at the two most recent winners, The Departed and No Country for Old Men, since those seem to not fit the formula at all. Let's go.

1. The Academy Loves: Period Pieces
The Academy Hates: The Future

  • Out of Africa: Set in British East Africa (Kenya), Out of Africa is the epitome of a period piece: costumes, horses, antique cars galore. 1 point.
  • The Departed: Present Day. Nada.
  • No Country: Technically a period piece set in the 80s, but that ain't periody enough for the Oscars. No points.

2. The Academy Loves: Big name stars that are also great actors
The Academy Hates: Really good actors they've never heard of
Wildcard: Hot young newcomers

  • Out of Africa: Streep. Check. Redford. Check. 1 point
  • The Departed: Nicholson, Sheen, and Wahlberg give us some love. Most people also seem to put DiCaprio and Damon here. 1 point.
  • No Country: One Tommy Lee Jones does not a big star cast make. 0.

3. The Academy Loves: Long Movies
The Academy Hates: Anything under 90 minutes

  • Out of Africa: 2 hrs, 40 min. Count it. 1 point
  • The Departed: 2.5 hrs. 1 for Departed.
  • No Country: 2 hrs, 3 min. Nope

4. The Academy Loves: Love
The Academy Hates: When the principals don't inexplicably fall in love

  • Out of Africa: Love, love, love. 1 point
  • The Departed: Half a point. There is a love triangle in the film. It just doesn't really matter.
  • No Country: Not even close. 0.

5. The Academy Loves: War

  • Out of Africa: Yep, albeit tangentially. WWI breaks out - we don't see any fighting, but our principals participate. 1 point
  • The Departed: The war on crime doesn't count. 0.
  • No Country: Ditto. 0

6. The Academy Loves: Political or Social Issues

  • Out of Africa: Kinda light on this for most of the movie, but then the local Kikuyu are going to get kicked off their land, and must be saved from the evil imperialists. Count it. 1 point.
  • The Departed: Violent nihilism is kinda the opposite of this. 0.
  • No Country: Even more nihilistic violence. 0.

7. The Academy Loves: Movies that made good, but not massive, money - say $50-150 mil
The Academy Hates: Movies that did no business
Wild Card: A blockbuster with sufficient prestige

  • Out of Africa: $87 mil. Pretty high adjusted for inflation, but less than half of Back to the Future. 1.
  • The Departed: $132 mil. Just what we want. 1 point.
  • No Country for Old Men: $74 mil. Comfortably in our range. No Country's finally got a point!!

8. The Academy Loves: Literary Adaptations
The Academy Hates: Comics Adaptations
Wild Card: True Stories. Or at least, real people involved

  • Out of Africa: Based on a famous memoir. Also a true story. No matter what category I come up with, Out of Africa has it. 1 pt
  • The Departed: Last I checked, Hong Kong cop thrillers weren't books. 0.
  • No Country: It was a novel first. 1 more!!

So, eight categories, which gives us a possibility of 8 points. How they did:
Out of Africa: 8/8 Oscar perfection
The Departed: 3.5/8 Less of an upset than I would have thought, but fairly surprising
No Country: 2/8 How did this win again?

In case you were wondering, here's a quick rundown of some previous Oscar winners, giving half points for the Wildcard attributes:
  • Crash: 2.5, unless there's a love story (I haven't seen it), in which case 3.5.
  • Million Dollar Baby: 5.5
  • Lord of the Rings:6
  • Chicago:4
  • A Beautiful Mind:5
  • Gladiator:6.5
  • American Beauty:4
  • Shakespeare in Love: 5.5
  • Titanic: 5.5

That's as far back as I'm gonna go. This tells me a few things: The Departed is a bit out of the ordinary, but not too far from the formula; same with Crash. No Country totally destroys the formula. And the fact that those are the last three films to win the award (especially when more conventional offerings like Atonement(6.5) , The Queen (4.5), and Capote (4.5) were available) makes me wonder if the formula is changing.

The second thing it tells me is that the formula seems to be working pretty well. Most of the movies to win the award in the last 10 years have a score of at least 4. I'd like to refine the formula, so I'm wondering if any of you can tell me:
a.If the formula should be weighted towards some categories?
b. What categories should be added?

Finally, the formula tells me this: Out of Africa was seriously primed to win this award. Seriously.

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