Thursday, February 23, 2012

Six Degrees of Oscar

Let me just start out by saying we need a better method for selecting Best Picture.  The criteria used by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for deciding which movie gets Best Picture are esoteric, at most.  Who are these guys, the Academy members, and how do they decide which picture is “best”? 

It’s a little too hush, hush for me.  According to NBC News’s stealth research team, 94% of Academy members are white, 77% are male, 2% are black, and less than 2% are Latino.  Who do they think they are, the United States Congress?! 

When you go to the Academy’s official website, they just shine you on.  For example, if you’d like to find out for yourself who comprises the 6,000 voting members of the Academy, the website cryptically offers “a short list of individuals from each branch.”   

Well!  I wonder why we all don’t step forward.  I just want to know who picked “Rocky” over “All the President’s Men” and “Taxi Driver.”  How did you decide on “How Green is My Valley” over “Citizen Kane”?  Really.  Come on!  Show yourselves!  

The Academy says of its members that they number among “the most gifted and skilled artists and craftsmen in the motion picture world.”  Isn’t that nice?  Their site goes on to say that “its Award stands alone as a symbol of superior achievement.” 

All right.  Maybe if we, the movie going public, the fans, the unskilled, uneducated out crowd could identify who the Academy’s in crowd is, we would be pestering them to vote for our favorite picture, the one we chose because it made us cry, or made us laugh and cry, or starred our pet actor, you know, that hunky guy who’s still single.  Of course, we have the People’s Choice Awards for this purpose.  They’re terrible.  Point taken. 

But the Academy acknowledges its own internal lobbying: “Each November, an election campaign commences that rivals, at least in Hollywood, the passions and sometimes the excesses of the quadrennial race for the nation’s presidency.  It’s the race for the Academy Award nomination.”  Imagine the hardships voting members must endure - special screenings of nominated films, free admission to commercial runs of films, and the mailing of DVDs. Oh, the humanity.   

All Academy members, whoever they are, can vote for Best Picture.  And what are their criteria for selecting the “best”?  No mention of this on the Academy’s website.  We can only assume that each member has his or her own private yardstick of cherished elements.  For example, I like a thought-provoking movie with a touch of the supernatural.  “Michael Clayton” comes to mind, or “Crash.”  With no stated standards of excellence, maybe Academy members are the ones who choose the movie that made them sniffle, or giggle ‘til they dampened their drawers.  In an information vacuum, we can only surmise. 

As it is we’re supposed to accept the wisdom of that elite cadre of shadowy figures who foisted “Shakespeare in Love” on us when “Saving Private Ryan” was in the mix.  These are the same folks who held up “Ordinary People” in place of “Raging Bull,” and “Chariots of Fire” over “On Golden Pond.”  Seriously.  Which of those “winners” have lived longer in your memory? 

Therefore, in the spirit of “Moneyball,” I propose another, more scientific method for determining Best Picture.  No more voter subjectivity.  No more gut feelings or sentimentality.  Be gone Academy politics!  Let’s just get down to the numbers: 

The Oscar for Best Picture goes to the movie that can get you to Kevin Bacon in the fewest steps.  

You know how it works, right, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?  For example, begin with Patrick Swayze in “Road House” and go to Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in “Ghost.”  Then from Demi in “Ghost” go to Demi in “A Few Good Men” - with Kevin Bacon.  Three degrees.  

Clean, transparent!  No funny business.  No hokey pokey.  Just connect the dots.  

The down side is that by this standard, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” wins with a direct link:  Tom Hanks in “EL&IC” straight to Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon in “Apollo 13.”  Voila!  Done and done.  The A’s win the pennant and a new Hollywood tradition is born. 

OK.  You’re right.  It’s not very romantic.  Yes, I do like a little romance in my movies.  And a little mystery in the process.   

Darn!