Welcome to the third year of “Video Evidence,” a video essay series that looks closely at the major categories of the Academy Awards to determine which films and performances truly deserve to win.
Those familiar with this series know that it was inspired by a desire to break free from the typical Oscar coverage and gossip that seems solely interested in predicting the winners. Caught up in all the industry speculation and hype, too often we lose track of the movies themselves. The beauty of the video essay is that it allows us to look directly at those films and re-engage that question: what exactly is on screen that deserves our praise? And how exactly does it work its wonders? The Oscars are dismissed by many as little more than Hollywood’s giant act of self-congratulation, with no real bearing on the issue of what is truly deserving. But I take the event as an opportunity to take hold of the hype and put it in the service of understanding movies better.
There’s no question that assessing the quality of a film is highly subjective; this is doubly true when it comes to performances, where our responses to a person’s presence on screen could be tied to any number of conditional reactions to how we relate to different personalities and behaviors. All the same, it is worth trying to understand this alchemical process for what it may reveal about how each of us metabolize movies, and what particular qualities each of us values more than others.
In these video essays, I employ a basic technique called cinemetrics, in which I try to find objective measurements for understanding the elements of movies, particularly with performances. For the past three years I’ve been measuring the total minutes that the nominated actors and actresses appear on screen as a way of comparing our subjective impressions of a performance with objective facts. Of course this approach doesn’t determine whether a performance is good or not, but it can often provoke some interesting questions about how a performance is constructed as measures of time and how it fits in a film. It can also expose some deeper underlying tendencies in the movies: my cinemetric analysis of the Oscars last year showed that there was a significant gender gap between the screentimes of male and female nominated actors. I hope the specific examples of cinemetrics in the video essays this year will continue to demonstrate its value.
Oscars 2015: Who Should Win?
For more Academy Award-winning and -nominated films, see Fandor’s Academy Awards page.
Kevin B. Lee is a filmmaker, critic, video essayist and founding editor of Keyframe. His video essay Transformers: The Premake will screen at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and the Berlinale International Film Festival Critics’ Week. He tweets at @alsolikelife.