'Twas the Night Before Nominations Were Due

Okay, it’s not the actual night before, but as the nomination ballots must be in by Wednesday at 5pm, today is the last weekend day before they are due and so most of the Academy will either have already submitted their nominations or will be using today to see a last film before making their decisions. 

What would you be doing if you were an AMPAS member? I know I’d be reviewing my Top 10 list and double or triple checking that that order is exactly what I would want to submit as my Best Picture nominations. Brian would probably have spent the weekend rewatching every single movie of at least his Top 10 and might be continually reordering his ballot until Wednesday morning. But what are the Academy members doing? A couple of things recently sparked me to really consider that.

A friend of mine, who is a well-known playwright, recently remarked on the oddity that the major film critics of both the NY Times and the LA Times (A.O. Scott and Kenneth Turan, respectively) mentioned in their reviews of the film version of August: Osage County that they had not seen it onstage. Let it be understood that the play did not have a brief run. It played in New York for more than a year and a half, garnering every top award, including the Pulitzer. In fact, most have heralded it as the greatest American play of recent decades.

Granted, a film critic who had no knowledge of the source material of an adaptation could potentially better judge the film as its own entity (though it’s doubtful that either critic decided not to see the play strictly so as not to be influenced if a movie version came out 6 years later). Still, the original comment (and the conversation it inspired) focused on two things. The major being: shouldn’t someone whose job revolves around an area of culture stay current on other incarnations of art in general? A secondary rationale for not seeing the play was offered up: as film critics, they weren’t offered comp tickets to the theatre.

In either case (and both or a combination of the two are perfectly plausible), it’s still astonishing to me that someone in that position would not expose themselves to at least the top tier of art forms available to them. At the very least to have a well-rounded view of the cultural world. But even more that they wouldn’t have a strong desire to do so.

It seemed an isolated conversation, though one that stayed with me. So, it was on my mind when Bryan Singer posted this Tweet:

I love movies. I love going to see them and I love writing about them. As a film blogger and SAG voter, I’m also able to see quite a few via screenings and/or DVD screeners. It’s an advantage, but it doesn’t stop me from seeing movies in the theater or by rental. It isn’t odd that by this time of year I’ve already seen more movies than the average person, but this is a major film and television director. Again, someone whose job is completely immersed in this field. That I had already seen roughly 2/3 of the movies Mr. Singer hasn’t yet viewed was a minor surprise; but more significantly, two of the films he hadn’t seen had been released MONTHS ago. And, again, we’re not talking small, indie films that didn’t have a major release, but ones with major Oscar credentials attached.

I don’t mean to single out Mr. Singer—I’m sure he’s not an exception. It seems many an industry person or the Academy member in general now waits until the end of the year when the screeners pour in and start binge watching the year in film. Or, as Awards Daily’s Sasha Stone puts it: “Since the Academy pushed back the date for Oscar we really have to decide Best Picture now as Best Picture to watch over the holidays.”

We assume that because WE love movies and want to see them all, surely the people that make movies want to see even more. But I’m feeling more and more that they’re not. Maybe they’re too busy. Maybe they’ve burned themselves out. I’m sure there are lots of reasons. Still, you wonder why your favorite small film, that so moved you or rocked your world, doesn’t ever seem to get a Oscar nomination? There’s a good chance it was at the bottom of the screener pile and no one ever got to it! It also means that features like Mud and Fruitvale Station that sent screeners out early in late summer/early fall may not have gotten a decent head start.

After thinking on this for a while I remember all the past Oscar conversations I’ve had: “It’s doubtful that _________ will win as most voters didn’t see that movie.” It always hurts to hear (or say) that, as Brian and I (and many others) strive to see all the Oscar nominated films; that someone in the Academy wouldn’t bother is incomprehensible to me. But I’ve never traced that mentality back further. These people, who don’t even see all the nominated films, themselves may have submitted a list of nominations (for their categories as well as Best Picture).

Suddenly, the disparity among Best Picture nominees, critics’ lists and online critics/bloggers’ lists makes so much more sense. There’s nothing for us to do, though, but continue to talk about our favorite films, hoping to get them enough buzz to encourage someone to pull their screener out from the bottom of the pile. And wait until January 16, when the Academy Award nominations will be announced.


  1. I do think that the early bird sometimes gets the worm. I am trying to remember the film that sent out screeners very early last year that did indeed get a surprise nomination. (I haven't had my coffee. Just woke up to this wonderful analysis!!!!) But I would like to think some...many Academy members take their job seriously. And perhaps SInger is getting ready to watch something for a second time? Doubtful, but maybe.

  2. I'm sure there are many members that take it seriously. I wish they'd publish something about what percentage participate in nominations vs. those that vote. That'd be interesting, too.

    And, again, apologies to Singer. I probably would have thought nothing of that photo had I not just had the earlier conversation.


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