Why the entire Academy should not be allowed to vote on every category
In case you needed reminding that there are those in the Academy ignorant to the various crafts and trades recognized at the Oscars, I direct you to this Hollywood Reporter piece built around one brave soul's ballot and open reasoning about his vote.
The voter is a member of the Academy's directors branch and, quite frankly, is a perfect case study for why the Academy should not be allowed to vote for the winners in every category. This is my opinion, of course, but maybe this will be a bit of illumination as to why I have that opinion. Because there are guys like this throughout the organization. There are plenty who are astute and get the nuance in this or that category. But many simply don't.
Take Best Sound Mixing, for instance. It's a shame to me that a member of an esteemed branch such as the directors apparently has no clue whatsoever as to what a re-recording mixer does. "This is the award for sound that is mixed on the set on the day," he says, clueless, getting it dead wrong.
Yes, production mixers -- sound mixers who, you guessed it, mix the sound during physical production -- are recognized in the Best Sound Mixing category. But equally if not more important are the re-recording mixers, who are responsible for bringing in all the sound elements -- score, sound effects, foley, dialogue, etc. -- into a final mix for the film. Of course, In Contention readers are well aware of this. I think we've done a decent job of educating along the way.
But this guy doesn't get it. "I’m going to dismiss 'Life of Pi' because it seems like very much of a postproduction movie," he says. You have got to be kidding me. A film director. In the Academy's directors branch. Doesn't understand that post-production is ABSOLUTELY VITAL to sound mixing.
His vote ultimately went to "Les Misérables" because of the difficulty of wrangling the sound track on set, and that's fair. But to not only dismiss but be wholly unaware of the importance of post-production in this category is just sad and unfortunate. And again, this guy is a director, so if anyone should be aware of all facets of film production…
At least he has some understanding of what sound editing is. Though it's not just about sound effects.
Why is he voting for "Lincoln" for Best Production Design? Is it because of the acute attention to period detail? The immaculate design work of Rick Carter and his team? The lived-in quality of the sets that made them feel like real environments? Nope. "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." Politics.
Also, I'm listening to the "Lincoln" score again right now. John Williams has certainly been guilty of "self-plagiarism" in the past. I don't think that was the case here, though, and trotting out that old criticism seems to indicate the voter isn't really aware of Williams' subtle work in the film and what it really is.
How about some staggeringly profound reasoning on the Best Makeup and Hairstyling category? "'The Hobbit?' You know, whatever—it’s what they do every time." Whatever that means.
How about this doozy on Best Film Editing: "'Life of Pi' is interesting because it was mostly computer-generated; I think there were not that many decisions to be made with editing." What, do you think they sat in a room and drew this movie, pal? You think Claudio Miranda and his camera department didn't deliver plenty of coverage in that tank over in Taichung that editor Tim Squyres and director Ang Lee had to dig through to decide on the best construction for the movie?
This gets right around to the other unfortunate ignorance I've noticed this year about "Life of Pi," as if it were some cartoon fully crafted in the computer. There was a tangible workmanship to the photography in this film. This voter says he is "suspect" of CGI productions in the Best Cinematography category because of the amount of manipulation that can be done in post, and that's fair enough. Perhaps a bit rigidly traditional, but it's fair. Nevertheless, it points to the lingering absurdity that some feel the film doesn't deserve recognition in this category because, in their uneducated opinion, the photography was purely a result of CGI. False.
Some would argue (and many have) that having just the Academy's branches vote on their own category would be too akin to the guild awards circuit, which is a silly reason in and of itself. The Academy should be about awarding expertise, so why not do so with expert opinions? And why make decisions based on a circuit that has been built up to ride your coattails? Also, it's not like everyone in these guilds is also in the Academy. The Academy is still an exclusive group and that can yield exclusive opinions on the year's best work that differ from those of the wider voting bodies in the guilds and various industry societies.
Additionally, this voter doesn't quite grasp the preferential ballot. "Do we have to put a film in every slot? Because what I want is for my best picture choice to have the best possible shot, so why even give any support to the others?" You're not giving support to others. Your vote goes to your number one film, period. If the film you voted number one doesn't have enough number one votes to continue through the rounds of voting, only then would your number two become your number one. But if you want your vote counted, do all you can do: put your number one film in the number one slot. Stop playing games.
Truly, this is one of a number of reasons the Academy should go back to five nominees as soon as possible. The entire process is becoming a mockery, and people who don't even understand the system are trying to rig it. It's embarrassing.
Then there's flipping an iPhone to make his Best Animated Feature Film vote. There's poor Quvenzhané Wallis not getting his vote because he can't pronounce her name. It also feels like this person is regurgitating press talking points, which happens every year ("Lincoln" is a "history lesson," Christoph Waltz is a "co-lead" so that's a "fake nomination," etc.). And he's "heard good things" about "Paperman," so that gets his animated short vote (open to the entire Academy for the first time this year).
But while there's no accounting for taste, surely there's accounting for intent and understanding of a fellow filmmaker's process, right? This person's personal opinions on various nominees, I'm not going to argue those. He's free to them. Even if I smacked my forehead reading the bit about "Amour"'s original screenplay, it's his right to feel that way. But one ought to be free to one's educated opinion on these categories, or else, what is one's vote really worth?
Look, I'm sorry. It riles me up. I truly believe that the film industry thrives on the back of craftsmen and women on a daily basis. So sue me if I think they deserve a little more consideration than they get when it comes to what is supposed to be the most prestigious film award in the game. Also, that hand up there in the photo, tweaking the sound mixer? That belongs to sound re-recording mixer Kevin O'Connell, who has been nominated for an Oscar 20 times. At least know what his job is.
And to circle back around to the THR piece, this isn't "brutal honesty." Let's not treat it with kid gloves. It's brutal ignorance. And don't get mad at me for saying so. No one asked this voter to trot out that ignorance for the world to see.