Please feel free to factor this as me overthinking every angle of the awards season, but I’m starting to notice a distinct swell towards 12 Years a Slave over Gravity. Mind you, the season thus far is making that race feel very much like a split, with the PGA tie and Alfonso Cuaron’s DGA win situating a pretty intense heat between the two. Every small nudge of the season matters, and while watching the live-action shorts program playing in theaters for public audiences, I felt a noticeable nudge.
The shorts programs are weaved together with a series of transitioning vignettes. In the case of the animation program, it’s a CG ostrich and giraffe talking about their past gigs filling in for Disney animation stars. Cute, and perhaps vaguely swaying favor over to whatever Disney has, but that holds less discernible weight than the transitions for live-action program. They are held together by interviews with a handful of directors ranging from Girl with a Pearl Earring‘s Peter Webber to What Happened in Vegas‘ Tom Vaughan.
The most insightful words of these interludes, naturally, come from 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen, whom I wouldn’t dare call self-indulgent, even less a publicity hog. His advice for aspiring filmmakers is, well, often inspiring, advocating for experimentation when you’re in the beginnings of your career. Unfortunately his bits of wisdom is often sandwiched between tidbits from last year’s winner Shawn Christensen of Curfew and Matthew Modine, whom contributes the slightest bit of flack for Gravity.
At one time Modine says Gravity is great, but when he looks at 2001: A Space Odyssey, he still sees that as the future. Again, I hardly think anything he says is insincere or crudely biased. In fact I wholeheartedly agree with him, partly because Gravity isn’t really futuristic or science-fiction. Still, as an audience member or an Academy voter, I imagine some could walk out of the theater with their favor swaying towards 12 Years a Slave. Of course McQueen being chosen for these transitions doesn’t necessarily show favor, particularly given McQueen’s impressive history of short films, more openly prolific than most of his competitors (Spike Jonze aside, who would’ve been a joy to see onscreen instead of Modine or Vaughan.
As for this post’s title question, no, I don’t think the editors of the short program are necessarily casting favor in this race, but I walked out of the shorts program feeling concerned that it had a possibl unintentional effect on an Oscar race it wasn’t covering. I’m not sure how we’d know for sure, but the live-action shorts race may be one to look at for signs of who will win Best Picture. We’ll get more in depth into the contenders on a later date, but Aquel no era yo (That Wasn’t Me) winning could feasibly cast things in 12 Years a Slave‘s favor, the film being about child soldiers in a Uganda-like country torn by war. Likewise, I could also see a win for Helium, a CG-fueled film about terminally-ill boy finding hope after death, signaling some favor towards the similarly themed Gravity.
But again, this is me just theorizing on something odd that I consciously noticed and felt disruptive enough to openly question. Even if it’s true, it wouldn’t be the most heinous example of Academy-swaying campaign practices.