THE LONG SHOT: The next best thing

Posted by · 3:11 pm · December 16th, 2009

Diane Kruger in Inglourious BasterdsAs the season hits its stride, and precursors turn murky perceptions of pack leaders and stragglers into harder realities, I find myself wondering how I would fill out my ballot if I were an Academy member.

That’s not the same as wondering what I would fill my ballot with – as Kris just did today. Unlike many voters in the Academy and precursor ranks alike, who seemingly run out of ideas two slots in (“Hmm, did I see ten movies this year?”) and then reach for the names they’ve heard everyone else mention, I have no shortage of worthy suggestions for inclusion, whether people are talking about them or not.

No, I’m referring to the how, the method, the strategy. Is it as simple as jotting down the films and individual achievements one admired most over the past 12 months? In a perfect world, yes. But do considerations of which of one’s favorites – and, indeed, least favorites – pose a threat in the race necessitate some compromise?

Were I an Academy voter, in other words, would I give “35 Shots of Rum” one of my Best Picture slots, knowing full well it doesn’t having a snowball’s chance of a nomination? Or would I be a little craftier, and give the slot to “The Messenger” – a fine film that I love less, but that has slightly more hope of knocking something truly undeserving from the Oscar lineup?

Such hypothetical debates factor in winner voting, too. Would I vote for my favourite nominee – or my preferred choice of the contenders who could win? Jackie Earle Haley was my Best Supporting Actor of 2006, but could I have cast a vote for Alan Arkin to prevent an especially undesired win for Eddie Murphy? I’ve spent altogether too much time mulling such imaginary moral quandaries.

As indicative as this is of the imperfect world, I suspect a lot of voters approach their ballot this way. (As do critics, and indeed festival juries, in their voting: oddities like Cameron Diaz’s 1998 Best Actress win from the NYFCC happen when rival factions reach stalemate, and an alternate winner is selected.)

Emily Blunt in The Young VictoriaIt’s this defeatist attitude that leads to the ever-dwindling pool of viable contenders – at the precursor stage, people are reluctant to “waste” votes on names thought to have no heat, thus denying them the heat they need to enter the race in the first place.

It’s a nasty catch-22 of sorts – and the reason why my hypothetical debates always conclude that one should vote for one’s favorites regardless. After all, on the rare occasions that the Academy disregards the buzz, and simply considers the work, miracles occur like Marcia Gay Harden’s out-of-nowhere win for “Pollock” in 2000.

That said, if you continue to despair every time your personal favorites get the shaft (most of the time, in my case), awards season can be a miserable few months. What’s preferable is to take a step back, breathe, and look at it as a chance to develop a different, more sanguine, relationship with certain contenders.

This morning, for example, a commenter asked me if the continued strength of “Inglourious Basterds” on the precursor circuit had had any effect on my resistance to the film. To which the immediate answer is no: however many critics and awards bodies tell me otherwise, I still think it’s a beautiful, broken toy done in by its brilliant maker’s incapacity for self-editing.

At the same time, I’m glad – excited, even – that it’s probably going to be in the Oscar race.

Why? Because when I put aside my own concerns over the film, it remains the kind of ballsy, eccentric, sporadically thrilling auteur piece that I invariably give the Academy stick for not honoring often enough. I’ll take one interesting misfire like “Basterds” over ten drearily beige awards-chasers like “Invictus” or last year’s “Frost/Nixon” – and if the spoiler happens to come in the shape of a film I don’t personally like, that’s fair enough.

I’m facing a grimmer task of making lemonade from lemons in the Best Actress race. In one of the bigger surprises of the season, the HFPA and the BFCA have both backed Emily Blunt in “The Young Victoria” – uncharacteristically dull work from a dynamic actress, in a film that few have seen, and fewer have liked.

Anthony Mackie and Jeremy Renner in The Hurt LockerIt’s hard not to speculate that Apparition’s other, more acclaimed Best Actress pony, Abbie Cornish, would be in Blunt’s position if “Bright Star” and “Victoria” had swapped U.S. release dates – another example of how voters diminish their own pool of choices by tuning into late buzz alone. In the process, the wholly untrue chatter of 2009 being a weak year for actresses is lent credence by autopilot voting.

Alas, there’s no wacky, well-liked dark horse à la “Basterds” making strides in the Best Actress race, so I must make do with slimmer pickings. If it means having to cheer on Sandra Bullock — who has more to work with in the “Blind Side” trailer alone than Blunt gets in her whole film – then so be it. To quote Nathaniel Rogers, himself quoting Meryl Streep in “Postcards from the Edge”: “These are my choices?!”

Tongue back out of cheek, however, I’m happier than usual this season. My favorite American film of the year is storming the critics’ award circuit, and looks set to feature prominently in the Oscar lineup. After only a few days, some people already claim to be bored by its success. I’ve had enough Oscar years of settling for second (or third, or thirtieth) best to be enjoying every minute of “The Hurt Locker”‘s success.

Of course, it might not last. Until then, QT, you’re on the reserve bench.

Guy’s Oscar Predictions

→ 8 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: The Long Shot

8 responses so far

  • 1 12-16-2009 at 3:43 pm

    Chris said...

    Nice piece. Actually I do ask myself the same thing and actually in this year’s general elections in my home country I voted for a party only to solidify its positon in Parliament, and not because the party I would have preferred. I went for the one for which my vote could make an impact. So I think I would certainly apply that behaviour to my Oscar ballot (oh, how I wish I could).

  • 2 12-16-2009 at 3:46 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    As a Liberal Democrat here in the UK, I know exactly how you feel!

  • 3 12-16-2009 at 5:06 pm

    Paul Outlaw said...

    The mere presence of Sidibe and Mo’Nique in this year’s race packs even more of a punch for me than Inglourious Basterds (which happens to be, after Jackie Brown, my second favorite Tarantino film). So I’m really enjoying this–so far. But if Bullock is nominated and Gabby is left out, I am going to be mighty pissed.

  • 4 12-16-2009 at 7:23 pm

    Scott said...

    In one sentence the Guy’s Lib Dem analogy nails this problem succinctly. It’s a tough situation.

  • 5 12-16-2009 at 11:24 pm

    Zac said...

    If I was a member of the Academy, I would try to take as much time off between when the ballot arrives at my house and when it’s due back and watch as many films as I can, either in theaters and via screeners. That way, I can fill out my ballot however I damn well please! :)

  • 6 12-17-2009 at 1:31 am

    Andrew said...

    Guy, I have been reading the Guardian and the British are so upset because of the lack of Brits being nominated so I guess Blunt, Mirren and Mulligan will get tons of votes from the British. Sadly, Cornish is Australian.

    It looks like the final five will be: Streep, Bullock, Mirren, Blunt and Mulligan, or no Blunt for Sibide.

  • 7 12-17-2009 at 7:16 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Ha, how funny is it that you have Diane Kruger up there at the top of the page, after this morning’s big surprise nomination? Maybe you were subconsciously seeing the future…

  • 8 12-18-2009 at 4:16 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I know! John Malkovich and Tilda Swinton will be illustrating all my articles from this moment on.