As the critics awards and precursors have piled up this past month, I've begun to realize that I'm having one of my off-consensus years. Some of the frontrunners I'm very fond of (Tommy Lee Jones & Daniel Day-Lewis are both brilliant in Lincoln; I'm not going to pretend otherwise for the sake of shaking up the status quo) but I doubt my final five-wide shortlists in my own Film Bitch Awards will line up with Oscar ...or the general consensus.
The closest my own tastes will align with the masses will surely be within Best Actor. It's one of those years, like 2003, in which nearly all the men with any kind of Oscar buzz deserve to have it. That's such a rarity! Otherwise consensus just isn't happening. I can't see much likelihood of even 60% agreement in any other category. Some of that is due to my stubborn views on Category Fraud but a lot of it is just a matter of taste and refusing to be hemmed in by what is acceptably prestigious; Magic Mike is a way better movie than Argo !
A week ago when I charted the latest development in the critics prizes, I heard the usual round of complaints about my complaint which is, simply put, this: critics groups are just rubber stamping Oscar frontrunners rather than advocating for the unbuzzy but brilliant.
Shouldn't they vote on what they think is best even if that's already obviously what's going to win the gold?
...goes the question from readers. It's a valid one.
[More including my Supporting Actress Longlist after the jump]
My answer is yes if they must but why? And also my answer is no. The truth of it, as I said in the comments, is that though I deeply love both film criticism and awardage I actually don't think them compatible bedfellows. Naming someone "best" does not really say much about their work other than that you like it. So when critics groups line up one right after another to declare Daniel Day-Lewis the greatest living actor again... what service are they performing?
I know this: it is not film criticism.
How does this help us reconsider the movies or understand the magic pieces that build these moving puzzles? And that's why I think film critics NEED to step away from Oscar buzz and think a little harder about advocacy when they choose collective winners. If you hand Denis Lavant (no prizes), Matthias Schoenarts (no prizes), Jean Louis Trintignant (no prizes), or Bradley Cooper (1 prize) a "Best Actor" prize for Holy Motors, Rust & Bone, Amour or Silver Linings Playbook respectively aren't you actually making people think a little harder about their moviegoing and what Great Acting is than if you go "biopic + oscar frontrunner = we agree, he's awesome!"?
(For the record, yes, Daniel Day-Lewis is awesome.)
I thought I'd illustrated this with the Supporting Actress category.
I chose this one because I've clearly been advocating for Nicole Kidman in The Paperboy. Some people say they want "unbiased" coverage of awards and entertainment but I think that's absolutely the worst kind. What are we without our point of view? I'll tell you what: press release regurgitators. Hence, advocacy. I've prepared an animated gif to break down how I think voting usually goes (after the jump) and that it usually stops at "step 3"... which is only really half the battle for the conscientious voter.
This is how we do it...
I don't even want to think about how long the final step takes me! I'm crazy.
(Are you just as crazy? I'm dying to know what you think of every moment in this gif so chatter at me!)
Maybe it's uncharitable of me to assume that others don't think this hard over who they name as "Best". But I'm not the only one who worries about this kneejerk Oscar Buzz = Best trend in film critics organization prizes. I hear the complaint from friends in the business and strangers online, too, that a portion of the critics in these organizations seem to arrive at their awards day with Oscar tip sheets as ballots.
People should not be choosing "Bests" based on the very limited pool of "who might be nominated for an Oscar". It's a shame really because shouldn't film critics, professional or otherwise, pass out their own prizes based on careful consideration of what they thought was best and not the already carefully winnowed field that comes from months and months of conversation by tastemakers and pundits.
Tastemakers and Pundits...
These two groups are, I'm afraid, merging into one. That will sound odd coming from me since I think of myself as both a film critic and an Oscar pundit but they are EXTREMELY different jobs and should remain so. I just happen to like doing both.
It's a great pity that "tastemakers" (aka media voices whether that means critics or journalists or bloogers) no longer seem to value influencing taste above the "guessing" at the taste of others. If a performer has ZERO hope of an Oscar nomination and gives the sort of performance that others might judge you harshly for thinking kind of miraculous (usually because it is not housed within the safely acceptable genres of Social Message Movie, History, Biopic, Drama or Serious-Minded Comedy) shouldn't they still be very much in the running for our own prizes?
Two perfect example of this for me this year would be Michael Fassbender in Prometheus and Eva Green in Dark Shadows. Critics loved Fassbender's Prometheus work when the film arrived but abandoned him at the first sign of disabilities, true stories, and accents Green meanwhile never once had any kind of buzz for anything prize-like but isn't that star turn thrice as funny, imaginative, and interesting as half of the women who were talked up for prizes all throughout 2012? Yes, the movie is either okay/disposable or a piece of crap (depending on your generosity) but who cares? When we hand out prizes for "Best" we're supposed to be judging the actor's gift rather than the wrapping it comes in.
I realize I may sound Superior from my Soapbox but this is also a rebuke to myself. I'm preparing my "Best of" Lists and I'm realizing that I have barely talked about some movies that I really loved this year. Shouldn't I be advocating for them rather than posting the 10th thing about [Insert Future Oscar Nominated Film Here]?