The spectacular flame-out of Steve Jobs from this year’s Oscar race was depressing for once again illuminating the media complicity, mainly among those particularly susceptible full-time pundits who are perversely unaware of just how much their groupthink influences the industry’s own, that goes into turning this dog-and-pony show, year in and year out, into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once the frontrunner for best picture, the Danny Boyle film saw its Oscar ambitions stymied not so much by its underperformance at the box office, but instead by the million unnecessary think pieces debating the potential costs of said underperformance.
Rather than run with the narrative that Steve Jobs, like the Apple brand in its nascent years, was an underappreciated commodity, that it would not be hurt by its box-office failure any more than, say, Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker was, pundits stopped cheerleading for the film because they convinced themselves it was no longer fashionable to do so. (Being right, after all, is the modus operandi of the average pundit’s investment in any given year’s Oscar race.) And because the hearts and minds of the industry, at least its ears, are privy to how films go up like stocks on the countless charts published on sites like GoldDerby, a challenger quickly became an also-ran.
We mourn the killing of Steve Jobs’s Oscar ambitions in part because the hysterically extravagant dimensions of the film are missed in a category where more artlessly vulgar excesses, or lack thereof, were ultimately recognized. But I mostly mourn it for how it’s wrecked Michael Fassbender’s odds. Most pundits will acknowledge that he remains the most deserving performer here, and by a wide margin, but when you know that funds from a studio’s expensive FYC campaigns are allocated to sites on which prediction articles are published, it’s understandable why the only narrative being regurgitated about this particular race is the one that declares Leonardo DiCaprio worthy of vaping at the SAGs and shagging twentysomethings not because he’s human, but because he got cold for his art.
Yes, the reason why we’re not talking about Fassbender, or Eddie Redmayne, or Bryan Cranston, or Matt Damon, every single one for their rich character-driven work, is because we’re too busy submitting to the full onslaught of a brilliantly deployed, no doubt expensive, narrative devoted to hyping a film’s arduous shooting experience. As hyperbolic as The Revenant itself, the lengths Fox has gone to in order to misrepresent the perils of the film’s making on the wellbeing of a great actor who was just doing his job by, gasp, appearing on screen only trivializes DiCaprio’s work by bringing the fatuousness of the film that contains him into sharper focus. And when such hype combines with the more popular “overdue” narrative that’s also been utilized here to bolster DiCaprio’s chances, this becomes one of the surest bets for an actor and his attendant publicity machine in Hollywood history.
Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Could Win: Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Should Win: Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs