Oscar statues are lined up backstage during the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre, March 2, 2014. (AP/Matt Sayles)

Hollywood journalist Anne Thompson on the Oscars: "Inside the Academy, they know Mia Farrow's a sophisticated media operator"

The author on Mia, Woody, Lupita and the "12 Years a Slave" victory


Daniel D'Addario
March 4, 2014 5:00AM (UTC)

Anne Thompson knows the Oscars.

The veteran journalist, now affiliated with Indiewire, has been covering the Academy Awards for years; her new book, "The $11 Billion Year," runs through the events of 2012, culminating in the Oscar campaign that saw Ben Affleck's "Argo" take the 2012 best picture trophy. (Was it just last year?)

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Reached by phone at LAX as she prepared to leave Los Angeles, post-Oscars, Thompson discussed the "12 Years a Slave" Oscar win, which had come to seem something of a surprise after widespread predictions that its themes made it a less-than-ideal movie for a stodgy, largely white group to honor. "I wouldn't say this year was ugly," said Thompson, noting that the arguments that academy members wouldn't watch the film were overblown.

As for the future of "Slave" star Lupita Nyong'o, who became a red-carpet icon before picking up the best supporting actress Oscar, Thompson nodded to Gabourey Sidibe and Viola Davis, both of whom have worked consistently since their Oscar nominations despite a paucity of roles for black women, as potential role models. As for Cate Blanchett's best actress win -- despite her appearing in a film by Woody Allen, recently the subject of great controversy over allegations raised by his daughter, Thompson said: "The scandal was a long time ago. You have this very noisy media vortex that takes on a life of its own." As her book documents, she's been at the center of that vortex through good and bad for quite some time.

Your book describes the opponents of "Zero Dark Thirty," whose opposition arguably led to that film underperforming at the Oscars. Did you see any ugly campaigns this year?

Well, it isn't so much ugly. I wouldn't say this year was ugly. What you saw were memes. Working with such a small group of about 6,000 academy members, it's very easy to plant an idea. That's why the trades are so powerful; you can plant things in the conversation. There was a lot of talk that people weren't going to watch "12 Years a Slave." I knew that since it was one of the top contenders people would still be watching it, they'd be obligated to watch it. I don't believe anybody voted for it without seeing the film. The academy -- they're all guilty of working on crap a lot of the time, but they believe in art. They want to do the right thing, they're all pretty liberal.

What does the future hold for Lupita Nyong'o? Actresses have often had trouble finding great roles after Oscar wins.

She'll get a lot of offers. Gabourey Sidibe works a lot. They made a concerted effort to put people of color on the show. I think the industry is very aware it has a diversity problem. It's very hard for black women -- it's hard for women! Because there aren't many roles. There aren't many good roles for women, period. My guess is she's going to do well in theater, Viola Davis' universe.

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It's funny that there are so few roles for women, and yet Jennifer Lawrence has gotten two Oscar nominations in two years for playing roles that seem too old for her.

When you're hot, you get every role. If you were a casting agent and you saw "Winter's Bone," you'd cast her! She carried it and it worked. And now she has a franchise and she's won an Oscar. She's going to be fine. What was great about the show last night was Cate Blanchett talking about women's-interest movies. "Frozen" just crossed a billion dollars worldwide. It was a nice antidote, too, to Seth MacFarlane to have Ellen being fantastic.

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Cate Blanchett's speech was a great moment -- but it also raised my eyebrow that she thanked Woody Allen.

The scandal was a long time ago. You have this very noisy media vortex that takes on a life of its own. Inside the academy, they know Mia Farrow's a sophisticated media operator, and Woody is too. They know it's a family feud. Woody Allen was never indicted or charged with anything. He's milquetoast compared to Roman Polanski who raped a 13-year-old and gave her drugs, and he won best director for "The Pianist." The academy takes care of its resident artists.

What surprised you at the Oscars? 

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I got 20 out of 24 correct. People who follow me for their Oscar pools were happy, but that wasn't nearly enough to come out on top. Spike Jonze winning [best original screenplay, for "Her"] surprised me -- and I think they did the right thing. Even voting for "The Great Gatsby" with its gaudy costumes. I was surprised "American Hustle" was shut out. It probably means David O. Russell is somebody that they don't like! Or it's a comedy thing. They don't take sci-fi films seriously enough, either, to give it best picture. But it was all about the story. That's why Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey won, too -- it's a great story.


Daniel D'Addario

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