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The curse of the Oscars – when winning might mean losing in the end

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The curse of the Oscars – when winning might mean losing in the end

The yr is 2006. Competing for Greatest Image, the highest prize of the 78th Academy Awards, are 5 movies. Ang Lee’s wrenchingly unhappy queer cowboy love story Brokeback Mountain, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger is a crucial favorite.

Capote, a meaty biopic by Bennett Miller, stars the incomparable Philip Seymour Hoffman within the title position. George Clooney’s gripping Good Evening, and Good Luck celebrates CBS information reporter Edward R Murrow and an period of journalistic idealism and daring. Munich, directed by Steven Spielberg, is a propulsive historic thriller in regards to the aftermath of the Black Friday terror assault in the course of the Munich Olympics.

However the movie that wins is Paul Haggis’s Crash, a thuddingly unsubtle try to interact with US racial politics by way of a laboured, multi-stranded storyline. Preliminary evaluations have been comparatively optimistic: Rolling Stone describes it as “a knockout”; The Washington Put up lauds a “uncommon American movie actually about one thing”.

However after the Oscars win, notion of the movie begins to shift; it’s positioned someplace between a punching bag and a punchline for an ongoing joke in regards to the Academy’s voting habits. Crash earns a level of notoriety that it might in all probability by no means have achieved had it not gained.

In 2023, it’s in all probability not a query that’s foremost within the minds of the movie trade elite making ready themselves for this weekend’s ceremony. However is it generally higher not to win an Oscar?

Trawl by way of Oscar historical past and mythology, and it doesn’t take lengthy to discover a base layer of superstition, and the concept of an “Oscar curse”. This, proponents argue, strikes sometimes and randomly, and manifests in a profession which, as an alternative of receiving a lift from a win, founders or loses course. Examples cited embrace Louise Fletcher, whose win for her chilling efficiency as Nurse Ratched didn’t translate right into a high-profile movie profession, and F Murray Abraham, a winner for Amadeus, who languished for over a decade in supporting roles in a string of B films.

Tatum O’Neal in Paper Moon.
Tatum O’Neal gained an Oscar for Paper Moon, on the age of 10. {Photograph}: Paramount/Sportsphoto/Allstar

Whereas it’s just about unimaginable to determine a causative relationship between an Oscar win and a subsequent profession spiral, it does appear potential that the highlight falling on Tatum O’Neal, for instance – at 10, the youngest actor to win an Academy Award – may need contributed to her later issues.

Charles Gant, awards editor of Display screen Worldwide, takes a extra pragmatic view of the potential damaging penalties of a win. “What can occur is that voters reward somebody who could be very effectively solid in a selected position. However then Hollywood struggles to seek out the proper position for them. It may result in false expectations, to the actor turning down roles that they maybe ought to have accepted or to their agent demanding charges untethered to the business realities of {the marketplace}.” All of which may skew a profession trajectory after a win, however which hardly quantities to a curse. However that’s to not say that there aren’t darkish forces at work. Every award contender comes with a definite narrative that builds all through the marketing campaign season. A few of this grows organically (seemingly no less than) however a lot of it’s curated by awards strategists.

That is precision engineering of the broader notion of a movie or expertise, however in the end the intention is straightforward: to influence the voters that some contenders are extra deserving than others.

It’s a gruelling course of, argues Joe Utichi, awards editor of Deadline, which might be scarring for these sucked into the awards machine. “I’d draw a distinction between profitable the Oscar itself and the more and more protracted interval of Oscar campaigning – which now runs for greater than half of any given yr – and the slings and arrows thrown by the ‘awards dialog’. I’m unsure the Oscar itself can have as a lot of a damaging influence because the scrutiny contenders are positioned underneath within the run-up to the awards.

“Strategists whose job it’s to safe awards success – and also you’ll discover that lots of right now’s greatest gamers lower their tooth in the course of the Harvey Weinstein/Miramax period of awards, typically at his make use of – have turn into more and more relentless at choosing holes of their competitors. An award contender’s each transfer – in the course of the marketing campaign and earlier than it – is examined with a stage of scrutiny that even political campaigners may really feel goes too far. And there are few checks and balances in place to make sure these marketing campaign techniques are scrutinised as keenly because the contenders themselves. The human value of present underneath that microscopeis not often acknowledged. However it may be completely devastating for the people going through it.”

The vilification of unpopular contenders – and winners – is nothing new. The 1941 movie How Inexperienced Was My Valley, which defeated Citizen Kane to win Greatest Image, was booed in the course of the ceremony. However the backlash towards sure winners has been magnified by social media. Clips of notably clunky moments from Bohemian Rhapsody circulated broadly on the web following the 2019 Academy Awards, meant to name into query the movie’s win for Greatest Enhancing.

Andrea Riseborough, in To Leslie.
Andrea Riseborough, in To Leslie. Her nomination has proved controversial. {Photograph}: Everett Assortment Inc/Alamy

Social media may also be harnessed in a movie or an actor’s favour. A flood of clips showcasing Barry Keoghan’s performance in The Banshees of Inisherin won’t have ensured his nomination however definitely didn’t harm. And a focused marketing campaign by fellow actors, together with Kate Winslet, Edward Norton and Charlize Theron, supporting Andrea Riseborough’s remarkable performance within the low-budget indie movie To Leslie, led to her sudden nomination for Greatest Actress this yr. This induced ripples in sure sectors of the awards trade, an trade broadly invested within the continuation of the extra conventional – costly – marketing campaign strategy.

The backlash to her nomination was swift and emphatic. The marketing campaign was accused of breaking guidelines (an Academy investigation discovered that it had not) and Riseborough was, unfairly, deemed to have taken a slot earmarked by pundits for both Viola Davis or Danielle Deadwyler. A win for Riseborough at this level may very well be a double-edged sword, reigniting the controversy and distracting, as soon as once more, from the standard of her efficiency.

In the end, nevertheless, the consensus is that even an unpopular win remains to be an Oscar win, and the politics are largely unimportant to the punters exterior of what Gant describes because the “media-bubble perspective. Do the producers of Crash remorse being the poster youngsters for undeserving Greatest Image winners? I’m guessing not.”

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