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Dame Jane Campion's feature film the Power of the Dog seemed to be charging toward Oscars glory this afternoon until her comments at the Critics' Choice Awards attracted headlines for the wrong reasons.
Campion was criticised heavily across mainstream and social media for an award acceptance speech, in which referred to Venus and Serena Williams, saying: "You are such marvels. However, you do not play against the guys like I have to."
New York Times awards correspondent Kyle Buchanan was in the room during the speech and says there was a clear change in the mood the moment those comments were made.
"It was a white knuckle ride," Buchanan told the Front Page podcast.
Buchanan says that Campion has a reputation as someone who's quite a bit of fun on stage, sometimes taking the opportunity to make a few jokes.
"She's a more spirited person than I think people expect from her movies.
"I think she was trying to go for something funny and a little bit edgy [with her comments on the Williams sisters]. But that's a tricky line to walk. With acceptance speeches, if we're just sort of pulling back and looking at them holistically, you should have something in mind.
"If you go up there and wing it, it could be the moment of the night, or it could be something that you're issuing an apology for the next day."
Campion did end up apologising for those comments, but the question remains of how likely they are to still have an impact on who wins the biggest awards on the night.
Buchanan said the comments "definitely don't aid her case", but that not all controversies have the sticking power to push results one way or the other.
"The academy has taken great pains to diversify its membership, but it is still a membership that skews older that is not predominantly on social media.
"Sometimes these controversies pass people right by, as they did when Greenbook won best picture, despite a lot of faux pas along the way.
"Within the Academy, it's a much slower awards body. They go more on emotion and feeling than Twitter conflagrations, so I don't think it does affect her too much with the Academy."
Power of the Dog is up for 12 Academy Awards across a number of categories, including best picture and best director.
The film's main competition in the best picture category appears to be coming from Coda and Belfast. While Belfast has performed well locally, Coda is relatively unknown among New Zealand audiences.
Buchanan says the relative obscurity of Coda isn't unique to Kiwi audiences.
"Not a lot of people in America had seen it either.
"This was a big crowd-pleasing film that the crowds weren't there for when it came out. It was sold at the Sundance film festival last January for a record US$25 million and there were a lot of expectations. Apple put it on its service in August this past year to absolutely no buzz. I didn't hear anyone talking about it. Nobody asked me about it. I usually use my parents as a barometer and they didn't know a single thing about this movie."
Buchanan says that while the movie may not have been the biggest hit, it has elements that generally appeal to the Academy.
"The movie does have the sort of things that the people who do see it respond to.
"Enough voters saw it that it was always a little bit in contention. But what's happening now is that it's kind of being treated like a new movie.
"[Viewers] are now catching up to it. It's the last thing they saw and it's making a real emotional impression on them."
This all does pose the question of whether the Oscars should be taking the popularity of films into greater consideration when making its decisions. For something to move or influence culture, it does, after all, need to be seen by enough people. However, Buchanan has a different view on this matter.
"I differ from the Oscars and certainly the broadcasting partners that want the show to be more mainstream," he says.
"I think the Oscars are popular because they are elite and because they are sometimes introducing you to things you don't know about.
"If you look at other industry award shows like the Emmys, which consistently awarded Game of Thrones or the Grammys, which have the most popular artists in music perform and nominated for best album just about every year. Those shows don't get nearly the ratings that the Oscars do, even if the Oscars do have more esoteric nominees, there's just something about it.
"There's a certain level of prestige with the Oscars, and I think you have to own that about yourself. If you continue watering that down in pursuit of something that is too cravenly mainstream, then you'll misplace of locus of respect that you still do possess."
The Herald will be keeping an eye on both the popular and the obscure as the results start coming in this afternoon, so be sure to stay tuned.
And for those doing Oscars ballots in their workplace today, it might pay to listen to the end of today's podcast for Buchanan's picks on a few of the key categories.
The Front Page is a new daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald, that will be available to listen to every weekday from 5am.