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Monday, December 24, 2012
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How Will The Academy’s Older Members Treat ‘Amour’ In This Year’s Oscars Voting?

By Joey Magidson
Film Contributor

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It’s no secret that the average age of an Academy member is up there. The running joke of the ceremony, in fact, is that the Oscars are solely voted on by older white men — while that’s not completely true, it’s not far off, either.

Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Times did an exposé of sorts that revealed just how much of the Academy is in this particular bracket. The piece found that Oscar voters are overwhelmingly white and male, with the average age of an Academy member at around 62 years old.

This begs the question of how voters deal with films that speak directly to them. Michael Haneke’s Amour will certainly be a litmus test of sorts this year in regard to this potential bias. The subject matter is admittedly tough, though, which complicates things a bit.

If the Academy wants an “easier” film about their own age group to embrace, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel could be a more palatable option. But honestly, as long as they don’t embrace Hope Springs, I’ll be happy.

That said, the Academy does have an odd history with movies focused on older folks.

You can’t talk about Oscar and movies about older people without beginning with Driving Miss Daisy. A Best Picture winner, the film was obviously geared towards older folks and is among the most honored of any film of that ilk. Besides the top prize, it also took home Oscars for Adapted Screenplay, Makeup, and Actress, which also made Jessica Tandy then the oldest winner of an acting prize.

Driving Miss Daisy was clearly a movie that appealed to the older majority, even if it may not have stood the test of time as a top-tier Oscar winner. For me, it’s the starting point for any conversation about what the older members of the Academy like. Having scored nine Oscar nods, it’s clear that they loved it.

Beginners is another work that a certain section of the Academy gravitated toward. Though it ultimately only got one nomination, it was a nod for Christopher Plummer, who won Best Supporting Actor. Plummer also managed to surpass Tandy as the oldest winner of an acting award to date.

It wasn’t the most competitive Supporting Actor field ever, but the appealing and heartwarming nature of the film’s material helped to put Plummer over the top with older folks. It made them feel good, and with the Academy that’s always an important factor.

The Savages happens to be a good example of material perhaps being a little too “real” for Oscar voters. Though it received a Best Actress nod for Laura Linney and a Best Original Screenplay citation as well, it missed for Supporting Actor (which would have honored the oldest member of the cast) and Best Picture.

Oscar voters liked this flick, but they didn’t love it enough to fully embrace it like they did with Driving Miss Daisy. A slightly happier ending, and my bet is that it would have been a Best Picture nominee.

Away From Her falls into that “too real” category as well (ironically coming out the same year as The Savages), though in this case it merely prevented Julie Christie from winning the Best Actress prize. Filmmaker Sarah Polley also came up short with Adapted Screenplay, though her nomination seemed the actual reward. Christie was the frontrunner much of the season, but she came up short on Oscar night.

The Academy definitely admired this movie, but they couldn’t see fit to honor it with any wins. And as a somewhat kindred spirit to Amour, Away From Her is an interesting comparison to note.

Wins seem hard to come by for this type of flick, as Peter O’Toole can attest to with his film Venus. Something like Make Way for Tomorrow didn’t even manage any nominations. Older voters liked Cocoon, but that was hardly an Oscar hit — it won two awards, with one for visual effects. Yes, Don Ameche won Best Supporting Actor, but he mostly benefitted from a weak category.

The last film to make note of in terms of Oscar’s history with older-skewing films is On Golden Pond. No film (not even Driving Miss Daisy) of this nature ever did better with the Academy then this one did. It received double-digit nominations and took home three statues, all in major categories (Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay). The Academy really liked this one.

As much as this makes the case for majority voters embracing films aimed at themselves, it’s important to note that it wasn’t exactly a film steeped in deep realism. There wasn’t much reflecting necessary after a viewing, unlike with Amour this year. While that film can look to this one and hope, it may not be the most relevant comparison ever.

So what do we do with Haneke’s film this year? When it comes to Amour, there are two schools of thought about its chances. One suggests that old folks will strongly identify with it and be able to push it towards a Best Picture nomination. If so, that could also mean a possible Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, or Best Original Screenplay nod as well.

On the flip-side, if that identification leads to discomfort (the film is about being old and watching your partner slowly die, after all) then Academy members in the upper-age brackets could hesitate to nominate it anywhere above Best Foreign Language Feature. Some could even downright dislike it.

With The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, as said earlier in this article, it really is going to depend on what happens with Haneke’s flick. If Amour is too wrenching for this block of voters, they could turn to this one as a sort of security blanket. If they embrace Amour, though, that means a stay at John Madden’s hotel is unlikely.

I’m of the inclination that some voters will undoubtedly findAmour too depressing to handle, while others will embrace it for its relatable story. The film should become an indicator for more harshly real and older-skewing films going forward, so lets all stay tuned and see how it turns out on nomination morning.

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