OFF THE CARPET: Memo to the Academy

Posted by · 9:11 am · December 29th, 2008

The Academy Awards–MEMO–

TO: Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences
FROM: Kristopher Tapley

RE: The ballot you recently received

Ladies and gentleman,

As you sit to ponder the year’s best in your various fields of professional expertise, you might find yourself strong-armed into the consensus view 2008’s film product has been whittled down to over the last 30 days.  You might even find yourself at a loss, cramming as much as you can after a year of constantly working with nary a moment to spare a trip to the cinema.  Such last minute jitters can yield an unconsidered and, certainly, lackadaisical approach to your annual responsibilities as AMPAS members.  But I implore you to take your time with this, be measured, and above all, take pen to paper with a level of seriousness.

While I would never presume to tell you how to go about filling in your respective ballots, I hope you don’t find it too bold of me to offer a few closing words of encouragement and suggestion as we close the book on 2008.  The glut of film awards season fades into a numbing hum you’d perhaps rather ignore until the holidays have run their course, so come back to these words at a later date if you must.  They merely represent the humble opinion of one passionate film lover who believes in the potential of your organization and the ideals it stands for.

1) Give Bill Condon and Larry Mark something to work with
This is by no means a plea for you to compromise your honest opinions, but I don’t think anyone, anywhere, considers the five best films of the year to be “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Doubt,” “Frost/Nixon,” “Milk” and “Slumdog Millionaire.”  Have the gumption to mix it up.  Embrace the critically acclaimed populist titles of the year and perhaps find the answers to not only reinvigorating your annual telecast, but settling any debate over the film-going passion of your ranks.  Show the world you are willing to slap some dust off of your typically safe tastes and that you welcome the idea of evolution.  You’ve shown signs of that in the recent past, I’m sure you know.  But nominating “The Dark Knight” or “WALL-E” for Best Picture sends a much more enthused message than awarding “The Lord of the Rings” with a sweep.  It says “our passion runs broad and deep.”  You’ve already chosen a pair of smart, creative and dynamic producers for your show.  Now, give them the components to make their jobs all the more exciting.

2) Don’t be afraid of “Synecdoche, New York”
I know a favorite criticism from the cynical is that Charlie Kaufman’s latest is Philip Seymour Hoffman in Synecdoche New York“self-indulgent,” a response that misses the point that self-indulgence is indeed a theme of the piece.  You may feel compelled to eject the DVD when Philip Seymour Hoffman begins poking around at his own feces, but I beg you, don’t do it.  Disregard all pressing matters and let this film soak into your bones.  You may still hate it when all is said and done, but at least you’ll come from a place of knowledge rather than childish assumption when you decide to snub it.  If you pay close attention, you may even realize that Kaufman is telling your story.  Who in an academy of motion picture arts and sciences can’t relate to the pressing fear of leaving an empty legacy?  Who among you can’t understand the deep rivers of dread that flow in an artist desperate to make sense of his or her world through passion?  And certainly, who hasn’t come to the “eureka” point of view, however fleeting, that the purpose of creation is the process of creating?

3) Shine a light on Cate Blanchett in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
As David Fincher’s latest film racks up precursor mention after precursor mention, I find myself in something of a state of shock that Cate Blanchett’s career-best work has gone largely ignored this season.  Hers was the most compelling performance element of a film built around her character’s arc, an arc much more intriguing than the observational journey being played out by a lead that has certainly received his fair share of attention.  One can sense within the first two or three minutes that this will be a performance for the ages, one captured in the hues of a spectrum of ages, and ultimately constructing a character that conveys more truths than the bulk of Mr. Button’s fancy voice over.  See reason, voters of the Academy.  If you could nominate Ms. Blanchett for something as dreadful as “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” certainly you can cast your vote for something this powerful.

4) Remember the crafts of “Changeling”
Clint Eastwood’s October release hit a bit of a snag when the press at large (especially my online brethren) got a hold of it.  The Cannes honeymoon went away and suddenly the film was even in danger of losing steam for its best bet, a Best Actress bid for Angelina Jolie.  But this was a delightful little 2008 gem packed with impressive elements across the board, old-fashioned filmmaking that deserves commendation.  Tom Stern’s striking photography made for some of the most effective work of his career.  Deborah Hopper’s costumes and James Murakami’s set designs expertly recalled a Los Angeles that certainly no longer exists, the old red car system pushing along the streets of downtown and Pasadena.  Eastwood’s own score is his finest attempt at composing yet, perhaps worthy of a mention should you music branch members ever welcome him to the club.  Please don’t forget these classic hallmarks of a worthy period piece.

Sean Penn in Milk5) Make it about you
Too often I feel — and I don’t believe I’m alone — that your decisions as a collective seem to be representative of a desire to reflect the zeitgeist, or at the very least, short-sighted and, ultimately, softly remembered artistry.  It is a characteristic that haunts your 80-year legacy, each season’s ultimate slate of winners painfully resembling a time capsule rather than an impassioned vote of the year’s greatest achievements.  It is why films such as “Raging Bull,” “Citizen Kane,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “The Rules of the Game,” “Singin’ in the Rain” and the whole of Stanley Kubrick and Charlie Chaplin’s catalogs, true game-changers of your trade, were left without Best Picture honors.  So when you sit down to tick off five of the year’s best, do so with a sense of individualism.  Don’t set out to make a statement with “Milk” and/or “Doubt.”  Don’t steer toward “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” or even “The Dark Knight” (to contradict my first point) just because it seems like the thing you’re supposed to do.  Take a stand.  Be yourself.  That, my friends, is a much more compelling statement.

I hope you don’t mind my being so forward, but I believe in you and the task at hand.  I ask only that you prove to me that you do as well.


Kristopher Tapley

Kristopher Tapley

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42 responses so far

  • 1 12-29-2008 at 9:25 am

    Zac said...

    How about fill out the ballot yourself instead of letting your kids, groundskeeper, maid, or butler do it?

  • 2 12-29-2008 at 9:30 am

    Marvel said...

    I usually just read the articles & comments & stay content doing so, but I wanted to share my opinion on this particular article, if for only one reason:

    My favorite thing to do, perhaps in all awards season context, is to go back & watch other peoples’ performances, & try to understand how/why so & so is so & so’s pick for best in show.

    This year, it has to be Ms. Blanchett, whose performance I don’t find to be the best, & yet, am continually fascinated by, enough to go back to it a few years into the future & reflect:

    Maybe I was wrong. Or maybe it’s just another reason why the Oscars can never be truly fair, or truly unfair.

    Cheers. Great site. Love it to pieces, especially when we disagree.

    For a budding critic, that really is just the point.

  • 3 12-29-2008 at 9:35 am

    Davidraider88 said...

    Kris, you should have added “Don’t be afraid to award Heath Ledger a posthumous award”

  • 4 12-29-2008 at 9:56 am

    Davidraider88 said...

    Off topic: I watched “Revolutionary Road” and in it I couldn’t help but think that if god forbid they ever needed another Joker, Michael Shannon would do a good job. The way he spoke and all his mannerisms reminded me a little of the Joker in TDK

  • 5 12-29-2008 at 10:12 am

    Average Joe said...

    I have to disagree with you on the Changeling score. I liked that film quite a lot, but the score was easily the worst part. It was repetitive and intrusive. Between that and singing at the end of Gran Torino, I think maybe Clint should stay away from the music department for a while. Anybody else agree?

    Speaking of Synecdoche, it’s such a shame that Hoffman is all but assured of a nomination for Doubt when his work in Syncecdoche is much, much better.

  • 6 12-29-2008 at 10:39 am

    dan said...

    I loved Changeling. I have it ranked the 2nd best film of the year.

  • 7 12-29-2008 at 10:40 am

    Erin said...

    Great letter…and Changelling definately needs to be reminder as its an excellent film and one that trumps many of the latecomers.

  • 8 12-29-2008 at 10:59 am

    Beau said...

    Blanchett is strong in ‘Curious Case’, but career-best? Really?

    I’d be more inclined to provide her the statue for her take on Dylan last year, but to each their own. IMHO, it should go to Hathaway, Streep or Winslet (Road).

  • 9 12-29-2008 at 11:07 am

    Kokushi said...

    Great letter, fock, give something different, shock, surprise people, dont go for the typical (dramas are not favorite genre but i like them) picks, have the balls a nominate the TDK or Wall-E, maybe the old people that vote for the movies chossen still think that Shakespeare in Love is better than Saving Private Ryan or Dance with the Wolves is better than Goodfellas.

  • 10 12-29-2008 at 12:40 pm

    JAB said...

    i just saw doubt for a second time, and Frost/Nixon for the first time. I liked Doubt much more this time, and F/N was great, but if it came down to the two of them for a Best Picture slot, as i think it will, I’d say Doubt is leaps and bounds better than Frost/Nixon.

  • 11 12-29-2008 at 12:52 pm

    Markus said...

    Your letter to the academy is more flawed than your judgement of the academy’s lack of rewarding true excellence. Changeling was a truly poor movie in all aspects. Blanchett’s performance in no way worthy of an Oscar nomination. Streep should win best actress and Penn should win best actor based on excellence in 2008.

  • 12 12-29-2008 at 12:53 pm

    Adam G. said...

    I would add “feel free to admit that ‘Milk’ wasn’t anything special”. I saw it and, yes, Sean Penn is good. But that shouldn’t be enough to warrant calling it the best movie of the year, or even one of the top five.

    The number of people I’ve talked to who have seen it go on interminably about how stunning Sean Penn was, but when it comes time to talk about the movie built around his performance, there seems to be an undeniable lack of praise.

  • 13 12-29-2008 at 1:46 pm

    Jonathan Brown said...

    I really enjoyed this letter. I hope that AMPAS will choose the 5 films from their heart and not to go with the flow. The 5 films that I will choose if I’m an AMPAS member are:
    1. Australia
    2. The Dark Knight
    3. Happy-Go-Lucky
    4. Revolutionary Road
    5. Synecdoche, New York

  • 14 12-29-2008 at 2:12 pm

    Elva said...

    AMPAS, please do not forget Sally Hawkins in Happy Go Lucky, hard action, including comedy and drama. Delightful film.

    Sally Hawkins in one of the best female performances of the year, this year just gave us great performances leading female, without detracting from anyone, but Sally Hawkins should be among the five nominees.

  • 15 12-29-2008 at 4:45 pm

    michael mckay said...

    I have the feeling Revolutionary Road is going to play much better with the Academy, then it has shown so far with some of the other critics groups. In fact, I’m predicting it gets a Best Picture nomination. Like Atonement, and so many other films before it, it just seems to play to their particular taste.

    My Best Picture Predictions (Not what I would like to see happen, but what I think will):

    Slumdog Millionaire
    Benjamin Button
    The Dark Knight
    Revolutionary Road

  • 16 12-29-2008 at 6:25 pm

    Patrick said...

    I have admired Blanchett’s work since “Oscar and Lucinda,” and I believe her nominations were greatly deserved for her work in “Elizabeth,” “The Aviator,” “Notes on a Scandal,” and “I’m Not There.” However, her work in “Button” left me unimpressed. Hawkins, Winslet, Scott-Thomas, Streep and Leo should be the nominees.

  • 17 12-29-2008 at 7:55 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Adam, don’t badmouth “Milk” and pretend like anyone who likes the film only does so because of Sean Penn. It’s MY number 1 of the year, and that’s because it’s beautifully crafted, intelligent, timely, magnificently performed, and boasts a story that is so universal and so resoundingly human it will never grow old. Not to mention it packs an emotional wallop no other film this year or last was able to pull off.

  • 18 12-29-2008 at 9:20 pm

    Zan said...

    I agree that “Milk” was great, but I feel that it packs everything BUT the emotional wallop. I went with a large group of people to see it the second time I saw it, and afterward, talk seemed to be that it canonized Milk’s accomplishments, but it doesn’t humanize him the way it should have. I know it sounds terrible, but no one really cared when he died in the movie.

  • 19 12-29-2008 at 9:35 pm

    McGuff said...

    Agreed with Zan completely.

  • 20 12-29-2008 at 9:44 pm

    Mimi Rogers said...

    I agree that Australia should be in the Best Picture list. I don’t understand why this film is not in everyone’s top 10 list. Just because some critic doesn’t like it doesn’t mean everyone should follow suit. Personally I think Australia is so much more superior than Slumdog or Doubt.

  • 21 12-29-2008 at 10:23 pm

    Davidraider88 said...

    I wanted to love Milk but left underwhelmed. The epic trailer translated to a totally conventional ordinary biopic.

    Mimi, Australia was a manipulative Gone with the Wind wannabe except Jackman is no Clark Gable and Kidman is no Vivien Leigh

  • 22 12-29-2008 at 10:46 pm

    Glenn said...

    Davidraider, list some movies you like and we can nitpick them, okay? No? Oh, okay.

  • 23 12-29-2008 at 11:01 pm

    Davidraider88 said...

    i’m not the biggest fan of posting a top 10 list without seeing every movie you need to see. at this point im pretty close to finishing.

  • 24 12-30-2008 at 12:58 am

    Mimi Rogers said...

    Tell me why Australia is manipulative.

  • 25 12-30-2008 at 1:25 am

    Michel said...

    Great, great letter. I agree with all the points, especially the first two. But when it comes to point number five, well, I’m also concerned about the lack of relevance that the Best Picture Awards get, and how quickly dated they become. But I’m just not so sure that making it about one’s personal tastes is the way to go to overcome that problem. The members just have to get over their habit of trying to deliver the “right message for the right moment” with their picks, just that. If a movie rings closer to a member shouldn’t be reason enough to not notice its real virtues and flaws.

    The members just need to put every movie in equal grounds and consider their picks very well. That’s all. No extra subjectivity.

  • 26 12-30-2008 at 3:14 am

    McGuff said...

    After seeing Revolutionary Road tonight, I finally have been able to complete a list of 5 actors/actresses in each category that I’ve adored. Note that I’ve only seen 45 movies this year, and there’s still much to go (Gran Torino, Frost/Nixon, The Wrestler, Happy-Go-Lucky, Frozen River, etc.):

    Best Actor: 1. Sean Penn (Milk), 2. Leonardo DiCaprio (Revolutionary Road), 3. Josh Brolin (W.), 4. Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), 5. Richard Jenkins (The Visitor).

    Best Supporting Actor: 1. Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight), 2. Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road), 3. Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt), 4. James Cromwell (W.), 5. Emile Hirsch (Milk)

    Best Actress: 1. Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road), 2. Angelina Jolie (Changeling), 3. Julianne Moore (Blindness), 4. Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), 5. Merryl Streep (Doubt)

    Best Supporting Actress: 1. Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), 2. Penelope Cruz (Vicky Christina Barcelona), 3. Hiam Abbass (The Visitor), 4. Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married), 5. Amy Adams (Doubt)

  • 27 12-30-2008 at 7:10 am

    Davidraider88 said...

    Mimi Rogers,

    -Using “Over the Rainbow” like 367 times
    -cartoonish villain
    -cliche deaths and cattle droving scene
    -the whole King George walkabout and magic scene


  • 28 12-30-2008 at 7:38 am

    Casey F. said...

    do you really think Woody Allen is anywhere near a nomination here?

  • 29 12-30-2008 at 8:07 am

    Hugo said...

    Sally Hawkins , Best Actress

  • 30 12-30-2008 at 11:01 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Casey: Why not? Do we have any indication otherwise yet? No. Someone’s gonna get the “lone director” spot, and right now, I’m just putting my chips on Woody. It’s his most well-liked film in a long time. It’s doing well in the precursor circuit elsewhere. He’s the king of the lone director spot. So it could absolutely happen.

    Darren Aronofsky is another possibility. And if they really want to get crazy, Andrew Stanton. Or NOlan, if TDK doesn’t make it to best pic.

    Lots of conjecture still since only one guild has spoken up.

  • 31 12-30-2008 at 1:14 pm

    Speaking English said...

    David, none of that is manipulative at all. Those are just many of the devices the film uses in order to recreate a sort of 40s-era romantic epic. Some of it may be cheesy, but it all really works within the kitschy context of the movie’s playful, not-so-serious escapist tone. I love the film, and found it to be immensely successful in what it was trying to accomplish.

  • 32 12-30-2008 at 9:35 pm

    Joel said...

    AWESOME letter, dude. Just awesome. Great job.

    I agree with your first point the most, but the others are very valid arguments.

  • 33 12-31-2008 at 6:08 am

    Robert said...

    Great memo, Kris. I too was mesmerized by Blanchett’s performance. According to the way the Academy votes, I definitely see her getting more #1 or #2 votes over Jolie and possibly Streep. If Pitt is nominated and Blanchett is not, it’s unjustified.

  • 34 12-31-2008 at 7:36 am

    Joey said...

    I’m really hoping Milk doesn’t get the shaft here. Whether you like it or not, it is one of the best films of the year. Wonderful vision and beautifully crafted.

    I’m hoping the Best Actress race goes something like this: Anne Hathaway, Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep, Melissa Leo and Sally Hawkins.

    If there is any justice in the world!!!

  • 35 1-02-2009 at 10:16 pm

    Douglas said...

    you are absolutely correct.
    I think you raise extremely intriguing points and may I say that you are an amazing writer. You write with such passion and belief in your own opinion.
    Just a question:
    Is there any way the Members of the Academy will see this? (Other than read the blog) Because I seriously think that this should be read by each member.
    Well done.

  • 36 1-03-2009 at 1:05 am

    Ryan said...

    I love the letter, Kris, but your tone is fairly condescending throughout, not that the Academy doesn’t deserve to be condescended after some of their recent failures. I just think they would need to feel glorified for them to listen to you. They already have such a great stick up their butts.

    Anyway, I love points 1-3, and 5, but I have to take issue with your praise of Changeling. Really? Changeling? The score was nothing to write home about, Jolie gave a disappointingly blank performance lacking the heart of so many other contenders from this year, and in the last act Eastwood’s camera preferred to make the creepy kidnapper the main feature rather than Jolie’s mother.

    We should be lobbying for more forgotten yet deserving films like Rachel Getting Married. Anne Hathaway’s was not the only brilliant performance, just the loudest. Rosemarie DeWitt and Bill Irwin were just as fantastic. All three deserve nods, as well as Jonathan Demme for directing one of the most rewarding family tales of recent years. Chaotic yet cathartic, Rachel Getting Married was one of the year’s greatest.

    And I’m not quite sure Woody will get that last Director slot. I would be surprised if he got it over Sam Mendes for Revolutionary Road.

  • 37 1-04-2009 at 11:15 am

    sally p. said...

    Ryan, I agree . I want more Rachel Getting Married love!!

  • 38 1-04-2009 at 11:37 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Rachel Getting Married. Ugh.

  • 39 1-04-2009 at 11:59 am

    McGuff said...

    Double ugh.

  • 40 1-04-2009 at 12:05 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    “Rachel Getting Married” is my own pick for the year’s most overrated film. Looks and sounds great, Rosemarie DeWitt is wonderful, but it’s SO glib and self-admiring. I just don’t get it — not that I’m saying those who do are wrong.

  • 41 1-07-2009 at 12:45 pm

    Big Braveheart said...

    The Dark Knight was best film of 2008 hands
    down and it’s about time the Academy rewards
    a comic-book adaption as any of these other
    “serious” films. It should win a host of awards
    but will probably be ignored. Heath Ledger
    will most definitely win Best Supporting Actor
    as he gave the best acting display of the year
    hands down. I’d love The Dark Knight to win
    Best Picture and Chris Nolan to win Best Director but it should win for adapted screenplay and cinematography at very least.
    I’d like to see Mickey Rourke win, Penn’s already
    got his Oscar and should’ve won for Carlito’s
    Way before that!!

  • 42 9-22-2009 at 11:24 pm

    Работник said...

    Спасибо) есть что то интересное))