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Tim Grierson on the Six Ways That the Oscars Are Actually Better Than Political Campaigns

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Now that the presidential election is finally over, we can turn our attention to another never-ending campaign: Academy Award season. As we move closer to Thanksgiving, some of the potential Oscar front-runners have already been released — “Argo,” “Lincoln,” “The Master” — with a bunch more coming very soon. I’ve mentioned before that, despite the many reasonable objections to the contrary, I remain a fan of Oscar season, and as I reflect back on the political campaigns that have been waging over the last several months, I’ve noticed several instances in which Oscar campaigns are far more tolerable than the buildup to elections.

Let’s be clear: I’m not trying to minimize the importance of elections. As opposed to Oscar handicapping, they’re actually a meaningful part of our democracy that can shape the future of our country. But after enduring months of political ads and televised debates, I recognize that certain elements of awards season aren’t nearly as toxic. For that, we can be grateful.

Here are six ways in which the Oscars are better than elections:

1. They almost never go negative.

Most political campaigns, presidential or otherwise, spend a fair amount of time attacking the other candidate’s positions. You and I can grumble all we want about the mudslinging, but there’s a simple reason why both Democrats and Republicans keep doing it: Going negative works.

By comparison, Oscar campaigns almost entirely are based on the merit of a particular film or performance. The Academy Awards may be a tiresome parade of self-congratulatory fluff, but at least the trades and Oscar sites aren’t filled with ads where, say, Warner Bros. tries to pump up Ben Affleck’s Best Director credentials for “Argo” by bashing “Life of Pi” filmmaker Ang Lee. At least on the surface, there’s an appearance of civility about the whole thing. (And the times that there hasn’t, it’s been a bit ugly. The backers of “A Beautiful Mind” had to confront a whisper campaign that alleged that their movie wasn’t a worthy contender because its subject, mathematician John Nash, wasn’t the heroic figure that he was portrayed in the film. It ended up not working: “A Beautiful Mind” won four Oscars, including Best Picture.)

2. There’s not a two-party system.

Every election cycle, observers wonder if there will ever be a time when a viable third-party candidate challenges the two major, deep-pocketed political parties. But aside from the stray independent — like Angus King, who won a Senate seat in Maine — you’re normally stuck with just two choices when it comes to President of the United States.

Money matters in Oscar campaigning as well, of course — studios can spend much more than small indie companies — but at least the little guys have a chance in the major categories. In 2011, “Winter’s Bone” (from Roadside Attractions) benefited from there being 10 Best Picture slots, just like “Precious” (from Lions Gate) and eventually winner “The Hurt Locker” (from Summit) benefited in 2010. Granted, these smaller companies are still competing with the big boys — even so-called indies like Fox Searchlight and Focus Features are part of larger studios — but at least their movies get to be part of the conversation. If movies were like presidential elections, those smaller films would all be Gary Johnson, a third-party candidate who ran for president and got almost no attention.

Not that the Academy Awards aren’t narrow-minded in their own way. While Pixar has helped break the bias against animated movies for Best Picture, it’s still incredibly rare to see an action movie or a comedy in the running for the big prizes.

3. They don’t make you hate the thing they’re supposed to be covering.

Despite the importance of presidential elections, the ceaseless campaigning can’t help but foster a cynical attitude toward politics and politicians. That doesn’t happen with the Oscars. Like I’ve argued before, the Academy Awards may be little more than a popularity contest, but they still do stir debate about what constitutes great films. You may end up hating who wins the Oscars, but it doesn’t turn you off from the art form as a whole. (If anything, it maybe just makes you hate the Oscars.) But even then, there’s still a place for you: Perhaps you’re someone more closely aligned with the Spirit Awards or the different critics’ prizes. Political elections can inspire people to turn apathetic and become disinterested in the democratic process. By comparison, if you’re mad that the Academy loved “The Artist” so much, you’re not going to stop watching movies because of it.

4. They don’t reward the same people over and over again. (Well, maybe not quite as much.)

Like a lot of fields, politics definitely has a bias toward name recognition: George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush; Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton; Ron Paul and Rand Paul. It doesn’t guarantee you victory, but it definitely doesn’t hurt your chances. And it goes beyond famous families: Members of Congress are voted in again and again because their constituents are familiar with them, even if Congress gets abysmal approval ratings.

This familiarity goes on in Hollywood as well. A respected actress like Meryl Streep and an acclaimed screenwriter such as Woody Allen have been nominated plenty over the years. And being the daughter (Sofia Coppola) of a celebrated filmmaker (Francis Ford Coppola) has its advantages. But I’d argue that there’s more turnover in Oscar nominations and wins than there is at the polls. For one thing, once an actor or director wins an Oscar, they tend not to win ever again. Sure, Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, and Kevin Spacey and others have two for acting. And, granted, Steven Spielberg has two for directing. But when Oscar prognosticators start making their predictions, they tend to factor out nominees who have previously won, figuring that Academy members might want to reward a new face.

With that said, though, the Academy can still be a pretty complacent bunch, especially when it comes to technical fields. Sandy Powell and Colleen Atwood have each won three Oscars for Best Costume Design, and they’ve won all theirs within the last 13 years. Rick Baker has won seven Best Makeup Oscars in 30 years.

5. You can’t Nate Silver-ize them.

This year, one of the biggest stories in the presidential campaign was about Nate Silver, whose FiveThirtyEight blog had been stunningly accurate in predicting 49 of the 50 state outcomes in the 2008 election. Using a sophisticated mathematical analysis that took in to consideration different state polls, weighing their party bias and polling methods, Silver gave Barack Obama the edge to win this year’s election, despite considerable pushback from conservative commentators who argued that he was relying too much on statistics rather than intangibles such as gut feelings about each campaign’s momentum. (Additionally, they argued, polls don’t matter.)

Silver’s model was ultimately vindicated, but those who dismissed the statistician would probably love the Oscar horse race. Because the Academy doesn’t publish a list of its almost 5,800 members, it’s hard for news agencies to poll these individuals to see who they’re voting for. (Around the time of the broadcast, Entertainment Weekly will ask members of different branches of the Academy to reveal their ballot anonymously.) So, unlike Silver’s rigorous approach to crunching data, a lot of Oscar handicapping is an absolute crapshoot. Sure, there are patterns you can follow to make informed guesses — Silver did that himself a few years ago — but without much information about who these members even are, you can’t be sure exactly which way they’re leaning. (Plus, we never find out what the final vote total is.) We’re all going with our gut when it comes to picking the Oscars, and it does make for an exciting evening. Even if we think we know which performances and films will be crowned, there are always surprises.

6. In the end, the outcome doesn’t have any bearing on the real world.

When politicians run for office (or reelection), we the people decide who wins. (If we vote, that is.) That brings with it a responsibility that none of us should take lightly. You could argue, in fact, that it’s the most important thing we do as citizens.

By comparison, we have no control over the Oscars at all — unless, of course, you’re an Academy member who’s reading this. With a presidential election, you have a certain stake in the outcome, but when it comes to the Academy Awards, it’s all sport. That powerlessness is something of a relief, frankly. When the winners are announced on February 24, 2013, your and my life won’t change in any significant way. We’ll wake up the next morning and go about our day as we normally would. Having just gone through a contentious presidential election will hopefully give us all some perspective as Oscar season starts ramping up: There are bigger, more important contests going on in the world, and while art absolutely has its place, the handing out of little gold trinkets doesn’t mean all that much. Honestly, we’re lucky to live in a society that allows us the luxury of obsessing over such things as Oscars for months at a time. We should never take it for granted.

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The Breakfast Club Everett Collection

Join the Club

10 Things You Didn’t Know About The Breakfast Club

Catch The Breakfast Club during IFC's '80s Weekend.

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Catch The Breakfast Club during IFC's '80s Weekend.

The Breakfast Club is the king of all teen films, proving that a movie centered around high school angst can be funny, touching, and relatable to all ages. 31 years later, it is the high water mark of teenage drama. Before you spend detention with The Breakfast Club during IFC’s ’80s Weekend, check out a few facts about the making of this teen movie classic.

1. A racy scene was cut from the film.

Breakfast Club
Universal Pictures

Originally, there was a scene in the script where the boys snuck out and found a peephole into the women’s locker room where they spied on a naked P.E. teacher. Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy told writer/director John Hughes that the scene seemed gratuitous and he agreed, making The Breakfast Club a rare ’80s teen film with no needless boob shots. Thanks, Molly and Ally!


2. Rick Moranis almost played the janitor.

Rick Moranis Ghostbusters
Columbia Pictures

Carl the Janitor has some memorable scenes in The Breakfast Club, like when he tells the group about the perks of going through their trash and his bonding moment with Principal Vernon. Rick Moranis was originally cast as Carl, but the Ghostbusters star had a very different vision for the role. He came in with gold caps on his teeth and did a cartoon-y Russian accent, which Hughes felt clashed with the more serious tone of the film. So, Moranis was fired and John Kapelos eventually got the part.


3. John Hughes wrote the script faster than Allison eating Pixie Stix.

Anthony Michael Hall Breakfast Club
Universal Pictures

It only took Hughes two days to write the screenplay for The Breakfast Club. He later said that keeping the story in mostly one location made it easier to write and film.


4. Judd Nelson really got into character.

Judd Nelson Breakfast Club
Universal Pictures

For the role of John Bender, Judd Nelson stayed in character for the entirety of his time on set. The outfit he wore in the film was the same as what he wore to the audition, and Nelson even provided his own switchblade. Apparently, he kept the blade on him for protection on the mean streets of Hollywood. Hey, it was the ’80s.


5. Parmesan cheese was used for Allison’s dandruff.

Ally Sheedy Breakfast Club
Universal Pictures

Ally Sheedy didn’t go fully Method for the scene where she adds her own dandruff to her drawing. Instead of real flakes, the crew used Parmesan cheese as a substitute.


6. Black Eyes won Ally Sheedy the part of Allison.

Ally Sheedy Breakfast Club
Universal Pictures

Sheedy had met John Hughes when she auditioned for Samantha (the role that eventually went to Molly Ringwald) in Sixteen Candles. At her audition, she had two black eyes from a set building accident. Hughes remembered her as having a “Gothic look” and called Sheedy to audition for The Breakfast Club. So, if you get terribly beat up on the way to an audition, it might be your ticket to fame!


7. The Breakfast Club Wasn’t the Only Possible Title.

Lunch Bunch Breakfast Club
Universal Pictures/Imgur

Before Hughes settled on The Breakfast Club, other titles bandied about were “Library Revolution” and “Lunch Bunch.” “Library Revolution” seems like a hard sell for the teen crowd and “Lunch Bunch” sounds like some kind of Brady Bunch prequel. Plus, the embarrassment of saying “I love the Lunch Bunch” would have kept a lot of fans silent.


8. John Cusack Was Originally Cast as John Bender.

Better Off Dead
Warner Bros.

The Better Off Dead and Say Anything… star auditioned many times and was initially cast as Bender. But Hughes wanted the character to have a more threatening demeanor, which led to Cusack getting dropped for Judd Nelson. Just as well. It’s hard to imagine ultimate ’80s nice guy John Cusack calling anyone a “neo maxi zoom dweebie.”


9. Molly Ringwald almost played Allison.

Molly Ringwald Breakfast Club
Universal Pictures

Hughes wanted his Sixteen Candles stars to work with him again on his next film, and offered Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall parts in The Breakfast Club. Geeky Brian was a perfect fit for Hall, but Ringwald was initially offered the role of outsider Allison. Ringwald wanted to play Claire, and eventually convinced Hughes she was right for the snobby girl-with-a-heart-of-gold role.


10. Ferris Bueller Shares a high school with The Breakfast Club.

Ferris Bueller Breakfast Club
Universal Pictures/Warner Bros./Pinterest

Maine North High School in Des Plaines, Illinois was used during the filming of The Breakfast Club. (The library scenes were actually filmed in the gymnasium on a constructed set.) The school was also used for interior filming on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, though nearby Glenbrook North High doubled as the exterior of the school Ferris ditched. In fact, some posters on the Maine North High walls can be seen in both Ferris and The Breakfast Club. Do the movies exist in the same universe???

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The Mean Team

The 10 Biggest Jerks From ’80s Teen Movies

Catch Footloose and The Breakfast Club during IFC's '80s Weekend.

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Photo Credit: Universal Pictures/Everett Collection

The ’80s gifted us with many glorious things like “Thriller,” dance aerobics, and Tab, but none quite as glorious as the teen movie jerk. Often a gentleman, but occasionally a lady, these deliciously douche-y antagonists sauntered around the halls of our favorite cinematic high schools with perfectly feathered hair, popped collars, and a general air of smugness. Before you travel back in time to the Reagan Era for IFC’s ’80s Weekend, check out our list of the biggest jerks from ’80s teen movies. Shoulder pads and Aquanet are totally optional.

1. Steff, Pretty in Pink

No man rocked a linen suit and loafers in the ’80s (or really SINCE the ’80s) quite as well as James Spader’s hunky, “richie” bad guy from Pretty in Pink. Steff looks old enough to be in grad school, which may explain why he’s always seen idling in the halls with a cigarette coolly hanging off his lips instead of actually going to class. He’s also the kind of guy who has house parties where he roams around in open silk robes, rolling joints, and condescending to pretty much everyone including his supposed best friend Blane. Steff may harbor a secret crush on polar opposite Andie, but we’ve always had a love/hate crush on him and his ridiculously great hair.


2. Troy, The Goonies

Yes, the Fratellis are the real villains in our favorite flick about a ragtag group of teens searching for pirate treasure, but without number one tool, Troy (Steve Antin), and his equally terrible father trying to turn The Goondocks into a country club expansion, there’d be no reason for the pirate treasure search in the first place. Troy is the epitome of the Letterman jacket-wearing, convertible-driving preppy jerk we’ve come to know and hate from ’80s films. His sole aim is to “make it” with girl-next-door Andy (Kerri Green) so when she refuses to ride up his wishing well bucket (in more ways than one) and sends up his embroidered cardigan instead, he angrily yells, “ANDY, YOU GOONIE!” At least he has his sweater back to keep him warm from the cold shoulder Andy just gave him.


3. Hardy, Some Kind of Wonderful

The highly attractive Hardy Jenns (Craig Sheffer) has many less-than-attractive traits including being cruel, misogynistic (“She’s gonna have to beg!”), cheating on girlfriend Amanda (Lea Thompson), and being a total rich snob. Like fellow John Hughes movie tool, Steff, Mr. Jenns also loves a beautifully cut suit and perfect hair, which may be the only thing bigger than his oversized ego. But none of that is enough to keep him from losing two things he can’t just buy back with his gobs of money: his pride and ex Amanda. Looks like THIS Hardy boy has more than a few mysteries to solve, starting with how to become a less terrible person.


4. Heather Chandler, Heathers

New World Pictures
New World Pictures

Lunchtime poll: would you rather be Heather Chandler or kill Heather Chandler? Such is the dilemma faced by frenemy Veronica (Winona Ryder) whose life (and everyone else’s for that matter) is made a living hell by the resident queen bee of the Heathers clique. Ever stylish, Heather Chandler (Kim Walker) favors violently red power suits with huge shoulder pads and matching hair scrunchies. She’s as ruthless about tormenting anyone who gets in her way or barfs on her designer shoes (ahem, Veronica) as she is her croquet game, and frankly, her acid-tongued, NSFW comebacks (some involving chainsaws) are totally legendary. What’s her damage? Oh, just ruling Westerberg like she’s the queen of Westeros. How very.


5. Biff, Back to the Future

Universal
Universal Studios

Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) is basically your typical school bully: pushy, a little dumb, and egged on by a gang of equally pushy, dimwit friends in Converse sneakers and 3D glasses. He also can’t take a hint from pretty Lorraine (Lea Thompson) who clearly wants nothing to do with him either inside or outside of a car. Like most bullies, Biff’s main target is resident school nerd, George “HEY McFly!” McFly (Crispin Glover), whom he forces to do all his homework and beats the crap out of on a regular basis. Speaking of crap, though, Biff gets a truckload dumped on him during a game of chicken with George’s son, Marty (Michael J. Fox). Hey, Biff — if you need us to help you clean up, we’re gonna make like a tree, and get out of here.


6. Johnny Lawrence, The Karate Kid

Columbia
Columbia Pictures

No list of ’80s teen movie villains would be complete without mentioning the weirdly prolific William “Billy” Zabka. Johnny Lawrence is, without question, the greatest of his bad guy personas. A top karate student at Cobra Kai, blond jerk Johnny immediately dislikes grasshopper Daniel (Ralph Macchio) after he notices him getting a little too chummy with ex-girlfriend Ali (Elisabeth Shue) at a party. Naturally, this is the catalyst for the showdown to end all karate showdowns, and Johnny will do anything to win; even an illegal move against an already injured Daniel. In his leather jackets and karate bandanas, Johnny is the ultimate dreamy bad boy you love to hate and hate to love. Sweep the leg? More like he swept us all off our feet.


7. Principal Vernon, The Breakfast Club

Universal
Universal Studios

Good ol’ Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason) — or Dick, as Bender (Judd Nelson) would call him — and his 1,000-word essay during Saturday detention are all that stand between our Brain (Anthony Michael Hall), Athlete (Emilio Estevez), Basket Case (Ally Sheedy), Princess (Molly Ringwald), and Criminal (Nelson) and freedom. With a wardrobe possibly raided from Barry Manilow, Vernon is overly stern and harsh, especially to John Bender, whom he locks in a closet and gives detentions to as freely as Oprah gives away cars. Hey, you mess with the bull, you get the horns, right? (Click here to see all airings of The Breakfast Club on IFC.)


8. Reverend Moore, Footloose

There are overly-protective fathers and then there is Reverend Shaw Moore (John Lithgow). Stubborn and pious, Moore refuses to lift the ban on dancing and rock music in Bomont, putting an even bigger wedge between himself and wild daughter Ariel (Lori Singer). Moore is all fire and brimstone in the pulpit, preaching against the very things — like sex, drugs, dancing, and alcohol — he believes led to son Bobby’s death in a car accident. When Ren (Kevin Bacon) stands up to him during a town council meeting and quotes joyful passages about dancing from the Bible, Moore’s demeanor begins to change. Come on, Reverend. No one can resist a slice of Bacon! (Click here to see all airings of Footloose on IFC.)


9. Jeanie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Paramount
Paramount Pictures

Much like Principal Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), Jeanie (Jennifer Grey) is less-than-amused by brother Ferris’ (Matthew Broderick) shenanigans, especially considering he never seems to get in trouble for anything with either their parents or school. But Jeanie’s attempts to catch her brother in the act wind up landing her in the police station where she finds time to make out with a drug dealer and throw some serious shade before speeding off with her mother to try to beat Ferris home. Jeanie Bueller’s day off is decidedly not quite as fun as Ferris’.


10. Stan Gable, Revenge of the Nerds

26 year-old Ted McGinley was cast as cardigan-wearing jock Stan Gable partially based on a calendar-modeling gig he’d had, which explains a lot about what you need to know about Stan. The alpha male of the Alpha Beta fraternity pretty much coasts by on his good looks and athletic abilities while delegating all his dirty work to doofus best friend Ogre (Donald Gibb). But make no mistake, Stan has it out for any and all nerds who try to steal both his spot as big man on campus and his girl. Never cross a man in a cardigan.

Flashback with IFC’s ’80s Weekend July 29-31st!

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