Sunday night's Oscars will include a Best Picture race that's apparently narrowed to three films: "12 Years A Slave," "Gravity," and maybe "American Hustle." Matthew McConaughey for Best Actor? Maybe. Or Leonardo DiCaprio? What about Cate Blanchett, a seeming shoo-in despite Meryl Streep delivering, in "August Osage County," the biggest, chewiest, most Oscar-friendly performance of all time?
Sure, some of these things are still mysteries. But that doesn't mean we don't know anything about the winners. We actually know a lot about the winners. Contrary to the myth of a wide-open field, by the time you get to Oscar night, the focus has narrowed, relative to the larger world of filmmaking, until it is the size of the head of a pin.
We know, for instance, that the Best Director winner will be a man. The Best Adapted and Best Original Screenplay winners will be either men or teams that include both women and men. Men will win the Oscars for Best Score, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Design, Visual Effects, and Cinematography. Most of those men, in all likelihood, will be white.
If the chosen Best Picture is a story about a woman ("Gravity," "Philomena"), it will be the story of a woman as written by a group of men.
Women, on the other hand are locks only in the categories of Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.
We know from reading Oscar ballots explained by anonymous voters to The Hollywood Reporter that Lupita Nyong'o is getting at least one vote from an Oscar-winning screenwriter who hasn't bothered to learn her name, one from a member of the public relations branch who appreciates how she behaves herself at parties, and another from a member of the sound branch who also hasn't learned her name (or Chiwetel Ejiofor's) and who thinks "Philomena" was called "Willamina."
We know from reading those same ballots that of the two (out of the five THR spoke to) who referred to the transgender woman Jared Leto played in "Dallas Buyers Club" as a "transvestite," only one of them is voting for him. (It's the one who also referred to that same woman as a "take-charge guy," not the one who called her a "drag queen.")
If you were to play the percentages and not just the certainties, you'd know even more. And honestly, if "12 Years a Slave" weren't around, you'd have several more categories entirely made up of white people.
The point of all of this is not "don't watch the Oscars." Not at all. The point is to watch the Oscars as frivolous piece of television full of people in beautiful clothes who gamble in the moment on what to say and who sometimes fall down or move you unexpectedly. Most of the people who will be honored are very, very good at what they do. It takes nothing away from them to point out that what we are looking at on Oscar night is not the world of film, but the world of well-funded, pre-sorted, mostly male-driven, mostly white-driven, mostly English-language, mostly American-made movies judged by people who don't always know the names of the people they're voting for and are trying to judge Jared Leto's performance (and the appropriateness of his casting, in all honesty) without knowing enough not to call his character a "transvestite."
The Oscars are fun, and sometimes funny, and diverting, and I (@nprmonkeysee) will be live-tweeting the heck out of them with Bob Mondello (@Bob_Mondello) and some other folks at #NPROscars, and I hope you will, too. But they're a lot easier to take if you keep in mind the folly at the core of them and take them as an artifact of where Hollywood is and where it sees itself.
After all, one of those anonymous voters said he was voting for "Philomena" "because it's the kind of film that I approve of." I could not have said it better myself. The Oscars: Given By Hollywood To The Kinds Of Films It Approves Of.