Jan 16, 2015

    Get set for an Oscars race of another sort


    THE Oscars is happening on Feb 22 and a few surprises may yet lie in store in the newly narrowed universe of possible outcomes.

    One thing is certain: Within days, if not hours, of the last statue passing hands, prognosticators will be drawing up lists - they probably already have - forecasting likely nominees for next year.

    Less than 72 hours after last year's ceremony, lists emerged for this year that were both on the mark and wildly off. They included what turned out to be the shoo-ins, Boyhood and The Imitation Game, as well as longer shots (Unbroken, Gone Girl and Interstellar - we'll know their fate on Thursday) and non-starters (Jersey Boys).

    How do these people know, do they really know and why the need to predict a year out, at a time when post-awards-season recovery will have barely begun? And who are these prognosticators anyway?

    Reader, they are Oscarologists, and they populate a small reportorial subuniverse that fully came into existence only a decade ago. Denizens of this world include, but are not limited to, a melange of former show business and music journalists, film enthusiasts and kooky pontificators, working at or running sites and outlets that include Awards Daily, Deadline Hollywood, Fandango, Gold Derby, Grantland, HitFix, Hollywood Elsewhere, The Hollywood Reporter, IndieWire, The Los Angeles Times, Movie City News, Variety, The Wrap, and, yes, The New York Times.

    Whether they - we - like it or not, all are more or less chasing the same news in the same new world, and the studios are paying attention.

    "I remember a decade ago, calling a studio publicist for an interview, and when I said I was an Oscar blogger, she essentially laughed in my face," said Scott Feinberg, who covers awards for the trade paper The Hollywood Reporter. "Meanwhile, 10 years later, for better or worse, we are quite valued."

    "Valued" is one way to describe the tricky and invariably incestuous relationship between Oscar bloggers, and the studios and awards news they ostensibly cover. Many awards sites are largely dependent on the "For Your Consideration" ads that court Academy voters, and on access to film stars, directors and the like.

    In this highly transactional world, ticking off the wrong person with less-than-laudatory reporting could mean getting cut off outright.

    "I don't confer with the Oscar campaigners that much," said Anne Thompson, a long-time show business journalist who now covers the awards season for IndieWire, which focuses on independent film. "My job isn't to carry water for them. My job is to really share with my readers what I think they need to know."

    Later, she added: "But IndieWire totally gets Oscar advertising, no question about it. I'm walking a very fine line."