Yes, the Academy Is As Ignorant As You Think

Holy dark thirty, Batman.

In an astounding coup, The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg got to sit down with an Academy voter as said voter filled out his ballot, recording his remarks category-by-category on the condition of anonymity. All we know about this voter is that he is one of the 371 members of the director’s branch – one of the most influential groups, as we saw with the Affleck/Bigelow brouhaha at the nominations stage.

I’ll put a few choice highlights below, but seriously, read this entire thing. Read it again. This is probably the most in-depth, specific look we’ve ever had into the mind of an average Oscar voter, and my god, it confirms nearly every terrible suspicion we’ve ever had.

On Best Documentary Feature, we have the secret to Oscar success:

I think that Searching for Sugar Manis going to win, and I’m going to vote for it because I just felt like a million bucks after watching it — and I bought Rodriguez’s album.

Note that it doesn’t matter that said voter actually thought “The Gatekeepers” was the most powerful of the bunch – “Searching for Sugar Man” made him feel good, dammit.

On Best Sound Mixing, we see the blatant ignorance of one branch as to what their fellow craftsmen do:

This is the award for sound that is mixed on the set on the day. I’m going to dismiss Life of Pi because it seems like very much of a postproduction movie.

Apparently, this director has never heard of re-recording mixers, who do all of their work in postproduction and are ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY to the sound mixing process. Yes, PART of sound mixing involves the mix on the set, and yes, “Les Mis” is an absolutely solid choice for this category either way. But I can’t emphasize enough that this is a DIRECTOR who apparently doesn’t even totally understand the processes his own films go through.

On Best Production Design, we see the overall shape of the ballot influencing individual decisions:

I’m not gonna vote for Lincoln for best picture, but I have a lot of personal respect for Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy and I want to help the film, so when I can throw it a vote, like here, I will.

Not a word about the actual production and set designers and their work; apparently Spielberg and Kennedy designed, built and dressed a 19th-century White House themselves.

On Best Makeup & Hairstyling, a total tone-deafness to the creepy misogyny in one’s own voice:

So I guess I’m going to vote for Les Miserables here, only because of how well they aged Hugh Jackman. And I think they did a good job beating the shit out of Anne Hathaway, as well.

I get what he’s trying to say there, but really. Word choice, people.

On Best Film Editing, some more craft confusion:

Lincoln? There really isn’t much editing to speak of. Life of Pi is interesting because it was mostly computer-generated, I think there were not that many decisions to be made with editing, as opposed to when you get a shitload of stuff and have to figure out what you’re going to use.

Yes, because Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee both shot exactly two and a half hours of footage and decided that was good enough. I can get criticisms of CGI affecting cinematography, but linking it to editing baffles me – since when do VFX people decide a film’s pacing? And I don’t know of any film ever made (except maybe “Russian Ark”) that didn’t have “much editing to speak of.” Sifting through massive amounts of footage is impressive enough, to be sure, but it’s half the battle – you’ve still got to arrange the pieces in a fitting manner.

On Best Supporting Actress, they like you, they really like you:

Which leaves Anne Hathaway, who’s going to win because she makes you cry and because I find her charming.


On Best Actress, you better watch out, you better think twice, because Oscar Santa is watching you while you sleep:

Jennifer Lawrence I was on the fence about, but she lost me with that Saturday Night Live bit; I thought it was mean-spirited and shows a lack of maturity on her part.

So a comedy sketch that SOMEONE ELSE WROTE FOR HER is determining your opinion of the worthiness of Lawrence’s performance in “Silver Linings Playbook.” Because that makes sense.

On Best Animated Feature, whatever this bullshit is:

So I guess it’s between ParaNorman and Wreck-It Ralph. So… [At this time he assigned the screen side of his iPhone to the former and the back side of it to the latter, and spun it on his desk.]

I have no words.

There are many other horrors to be found in the article: his feelings towards Michael Haneke, “Amour,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” Quvanzhané Wallis’ name, Tommy Lee Jones’ Golden Globes meme-face, John Williams’ late-stage career. But a lot of them, while infuriating, are personal opinions and I suppose he has a right to them.

Still, this article reveals the brokenness of a system where every branch votes on every category. Either this is a ceremony dedicated to awarded the best achievements in film or it’s not. Now, we could debate with the Academy and with each other over what determines the “best” until the cows come home. That would be fine, and I’ve been happily doing that for years.

But this inside glimpse confirms that this is not what’s going on at all. A director, theoretically one of the most informed voters in the entire organization, is making decisions based not on consideration of craft but likability, misinformation and FLIPPING A FREAKING COIN. A serious discussion needs to be had about eliminating the broad, everyone-votes-on-everything system and limiting both the selection of nominees and winners to individual branches. This is flat-out embarrassing.

Oh, and after four years, voters apparently still can’t figure out the preferential system for Best Picture. It’s probably about time to end that “noble – but failed” experiment.

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