OFF THE CARPET: Memo to the Academy

Posted by · 3:07 pm · January 12th, 2010

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 2009’s film product has been whittled down to over the last several months.  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 you sit down to award the cream of the crop as you see it.  The glut of the film awards season can fade into a numbing hum, so you’d perhaps rather ignore for a bit, 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) Make a decent case for “the 10.”
You have an opportunity.  In the craven interest of a ratings boost, AMPAS brass made the decision to expand the Best Picture field to 10 nominees in order to make room for blockbuster entertainments.  But while it might be true that exceptional popcorn entertainment has been wrongfully snubbed in the past, those films don’t need, and in some cases, don’t deserve the boost of exposure one of your nominations would afford.  Please see this as an opportunity to expand the playing field to modest, quality works that can’t afford the budget it apparently takes to show up on your radar.  The titles are endless, but allow me to point you to a few: “The Messenger,” “Moon,” “Sugar,” “Goodbye Solo,” “Bronson” and “Mary and Max” ought to get you started.

Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker2) There are other performances in “The Hurt Locker.”
As happy as I am to see a talented actor like Jeremy Renner spotlighted for a compelling performance in Kathryn Bigelow’s riveting war drama “The Hurt Locker,” I can’t help but feel Renner’s co-stars Brian Geraughty and, most especially, Anthony Mackie are receiving the short end of the stick.  It is often easy to build campaigns around a central, recognizable figure, and as a result, Renner has (against a fair amount of odds, it should be said) managed to win laurel after laurel this season.  But when you think of this film, how can you not recall the emotional punch of Mackie’s final on-screen moments?  How can you forget the delicate balance Geraughty maintains throughout?  Indeed, can you imagine Renner’s performance being half as compelling without his co-stars doing heavy lifting right along side him throughout?  And can you imagine the film’s central thematic statements having half the impact without these supporting characters being fully and expertly realized by the actors portraying them?

3) Don’t let the critics tell you what to do.
This can work both ways, and of course, I know you get prickly at the thought of ANYONE telling you what to do.  But critics manage to direct the conversation year in and year out.  So if, perhaps, you don’t think “The Hurt Locker” is all it’s cracked up to be, don’t feel shamed into including it on your list.  Conversely, if “The Lovely Bones” or “Nine” appealed to you on any profound level, don’t be shamed into excluding it from your list.

4) Remember the crafts of “A Serious Man.”
This will perhaps seem somewhat self-serving given that the Coen brothers’ latest effort is my personal favorite film of the year, but spinning off of (and somewhat contradicting) point number three somewhat, it is a film that did not get the added boost of critics’ awards many felt it would.  But whatever your feelings of the narrative, the film is, as always with the Coens, an expertly crafted piece with glowing below-the-line achievements across the board.  So to those in the crafts branches, try to keep Carter Burwell, Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh, Roger Deakins, Mary Zophres and the Coens (aka Roderick Jaynes) in mind.

(from left) Amy Landecker and Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man5) Make it about you
This final note may seem familiar.  It mirrors my closing sentiments to you last year and is forever my humble advice to 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 “The Hurt Locker” and/or “Precious.” Don’t steer toward “Avatar,” “Up in the Air” or “Inglourious Basterds” 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

→ 49 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Off the Carpet

49 responses so far

  • 1 1-12-2010 at 3:11 pm

    Milan said...

    *Orson Welles Clap*

  • 2 1-12-2010 at 3:12 pm

    Baxter said...

    6) And don’t, for the love of God don’t, forget Abbie Cornish!

  • 3 1-12-2010 at 3:14 pm

    Andrew said...

    Someone is taking the Oscars too seriously!

  • 4 1-12-2010 at 3:15 pm

    Benito Delicias said...

    Agree with all of it.

    Mary and Max should really be in the Top10…And win Animated Feature.

  • 5 1-12-2010 at 3:16 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Not too seriously, Andrew. Just tapping into a time when I thought they actually meant something, and hoping they can mean something once more.

  • 6 1-12-2010 at 3:20 pm

    JJ said...

    In all seriousness, don’t forget Abbie Cornish.

  • 7 1-12-2010 at 3:24 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I should have added a note at the bottom, but yeah, feel free to offer up your memo bullet points here if you like.

  • 8 1-12-2010 at 3:27 pm

    Yogsam said...

    BRAVO!! just BRAVO!!!

  • 9 1-12-2010 at 3:29 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    YES to #2. I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s been really disappointed in the lack of momentum for Mackie. Fingers crossed that he slips in somehow.

  • 10 1-12-2010 at 3:34 pm

    tim said...

    Don’t just nominate performances because they’ve been the nominated performances all year or because of someone’s star power. How about some love for Matt Damon in the Informant!, Michael Stuhlbarg, Sharlto Copley, Sam Rockwell, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Schneider, Anthony Mackie, Melanie Laurent, Abbie Cornish, Emily Blunt, Tilda Swinton, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Zooey Deschanel, Rosamund Pike, Samantha Morton, etc, etc, etc.

  • 11 1-12-2010 at 3:34 pm

    Yogsam said...

    You should seriously send that memo to the ACADEMY, i love it!!
    And please, old chump of the academy, show more love to the Coens and “A Serious Man”!!!
    is too much to ask!? I love the Coens and the movie is just fantastic, Hands down MY Best Picture of ’09

  • 12 1-12-2010 at 3:40 pm

    Maxim said...

    But, but by telling them what to do you…

    Ah, why bother.

  • 13 1-12-2010 at 3:43 pm

    Conor said...

    The Academy reading too much into #3 would be a little frightening, actually. I would hate to see Avatar best The Hurt Locker or Up in the Air for Best Picture.

  • 14 1-12-2010 at 3:47 pm

    DCIJB said...

    “Don’t let the critics tell you what to do.”

    But absolutly let Kristopher Tapley what to do?

  • 15 1-12-2010 at 3:53 pm

    Matt said...

    1) More importantly, there are other, and better, films than The Hurt Locker. Don’t let critical opinion strong-arm you into nominating an inferior film.

  • 16 1-12-2010 at 3:55 pm

    Yogsam said...

    @Matt (15)
    Totally agreed with that!!!

  • 17 1-12-2010 at 4:00 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Ay, ay, ay Maxim and DCIJB.

  • 18 1-12-2010 at 4:04 pm

    JeremytheCritic said...

    Excellent piece Kris. I see where you’re coming from but the skeptic in me can’t help but think if the Academy actually followed this advice we’d have the lowest rated Oscar telecast in history.

    Granted, the purpose of the show shouldn’t primarily be to grab ratings (at least from our perspective) but your suggestions for Best Pic noms don’t exactly strike a middle ground between art and commerce. And picking them would be doing EXACTLY what the critics say and nothing else. I would never argue against their worthiness, just saying that no one’s seen any of them and it would likely cement the Academy’s already “elitist” reputation, turning off viewers as much as The Reader’s nod did last year.

    Like you though, I’d also hate for them to fill the ballot with big blockbuster popcorn entertainment just for the sake of doing so and righting past wrongs. You’re right, those films don’t need it and some (like Star Trek in my opinion) are flat-out undeserving even in a field of ten.

    As for The Hurt Locker, making a plea for that movie to get MORE nominations than it already will seems pointless because it’s practically certain to rack enough up no matter what. I’m sure we’ll all survive if Mackie and Geraughty aren’t short listed in a competitive supporting field. Don’t get me wrong, those are great performances but it seems like that film will get all the attention it deserves (if not more). Same with A Serious Man which seems to skew directly toward the Academy’s tastes anyway. It should do well…I think.

    The movies most in need of help right now are District 9, Inglourious Basterds and (500) Days of Summer (which I know you hated). I think those actually make the best case for the expansion to ten, as divisive as they may be. In total agreement on your final piece of advice. The Academy’s misguided desire to make some kind of cultural point rather than reward the best films has long been their worst offense.

  • 19 1-12-2010 at 4:10 pm

    Douglas said...

    6) Sharlto Copley!

    7) Forget about the visual effects of Avatar and focus on Zoe Saldana!

    8) Samson and Delilah in Best Foreign Film category!

  • 20 1-12-2010 at 5:14 pm

    Joel said...

    Douglas: “7) Forget about the visual effects of Avatar and focus on Zoe Saldana!” Um…it’s kinda hard to do that. :P

    Fantastic write-up, Kris, as usual. The AMPAS needs to grow a backbone this year.

  • 21 1-12-2010 at 5:17 pm

    Joel said...

    Douglas: Or should I say, it’s hard to do the first part of that statement. They are the pinnacle achievement of visual effects work so far. Focusing on Zoe Saldana isn’t hard, though, LOL. She was incredible.

  • 22 1-12-2010 at 5:28 pm

    Filmoholic said...

    Nice write-up, Kris. But you know that the nominations are going to be just as predictable and “autopilot” as they were every year.

    Seriously, what’s the point of this?

    You know it’s not going to change anything.

  • 23 1-12-2010 at 5:53 pm

    Silencio said...

    One can hope. So I will.

  • 24 1-12-2010 at 6:25 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    What’s the point? What a silly question. Just expressing myself, “Filmoholic.”

  • 25 1-12-2010 at 6:32 pm

    Megan said...

    I think it’s an honest and genuine effort, Kris, and I applaud your candor. I know I’m usually a smartass, but I mean that. This is, overall, a great message you send, and it’s certainly a sentiment that a lot of us echo. Thanks for articulating what a lot of us are thinking.

    At the same time, anyone who follows this page frequently might see that a lot of your personal preferences and biases–hey, we all have them, and that inherently isn’t a bad thing–are a bit transparent in this. There’s just too many references to individual films, when I think this may’ve been more effective if you spoke in general terms. Just make each of those points as generally as you can, then move on to the next.

    Just thought I’d give you some [unsolicited] criticism, but I think it bears repeating that this is a great message you’re sending to a group that has long needed an earnest eye-opener of sorts.

  • 26 1-12-2010 at 6:38 pm

    Douglas said...

    Joel I should have worded it better. I meant focus on the performance behind the visual effects because it too is just as worthy as any other female contender.

  • 27 1-12-2010 at 7:34 pm

    Andrew2 said...

    Just wish you had added a Bright Star mention

  • 28 1-12-2010 at 8:31 pm

    Chris138 said...

    Thank you for the mention of Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker. I’m all for him getting a supporting actor nod.

  • 29 1-12-2010 at 8:40 pm

    Derek 8-Track said...

    Hey Kris,
    I’m curious to know when the last time you “thought they actually meant something”

  • 30 1-12-2010 at 9:16 pm

    Adam M. said...

    Maybe I’m completely off-base (and feel free to correct me if I am), but do you really think that a significant amount– even an insignificant amount of Academy members follow this, or any Oscar-oriented blog?

    This is well intentioned, Mr. Tapley (if not self-contradicting), but where is the humility? Will this– SHOULD this– actually reach (m)any Academy members? Is this any different from a kid’s Christmas list to Santa?

  • 31 1-12-2010 at 9:20 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Your signature looks like “Kenny” =P.

    I agree with much of this, particularly for Anthony Mackie/Brian Geraghty and A Serious Man. I’m shocked Mackie hasn’t pulled off a surprise win here or there. I mean, Rosemarie DeWitt was ignored (wrongfully) by the majors, but at least four “lesser” groups gave her a win. Is there such a huge agenda this year that Mackie can’t be afforded that as well? Every group seems too worried about what the other one thinks.

    This is not to detract from the amazing Waltz, but just because he was magnificent doesn’t mean he’s the only one worth mentioning. For example, it’s possible to love two on a near-equal level, which is why if I were a body of 12 critics, either The Hurt Locker or ASM would win BP–or they would tie, 6-6.

    But since THL garnered that ensemble nod, perhaps Mackie will slide into Damon’s spot? I can see it happening. It’s between Mackie and Molina, although I’ll stick with Damon because as mediocre as he was in this mediocre flick, this is the perfect consolation nod to make up for the lack of attention for the other movie.

  • 32 1-12-2010 at 9:28 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Adam M.–Why so fucking serious? It’s just in jest.

  • 33 1-12-2010 at 9:54 pm

    Glenn said...

    Dear Academy,

    There were more than five good performances by actress in 2009. Tilda Swinton in “Julia” being one of them. Remember them.

    “Up” shouldn’t be Pixar’s first BP nomination. Nor should it be their upteenth Animated Feature winner. There are plenty of other worthy candidates, so please tick the box of something like “Fantastic Mr Fox”, “Mary and Max” or “Coraline”.

    The Best Supporting Actor category doesn’t need to look like a collection of names you feel bad about not nominating in the past.

    Please don’t fall for “Star Trek”. PLEASE.

    Best regards,


  • 34 1-13-2010 at 12:49 am

    Rob said...

    Dude, Brian Geraughty? Just because you all love “The Hurt Locker” doesn’t mean EVERYTHING about it is good.

    Also, in Leading Actor, would love to see Freeman bumped for Damon or Stuhlbarg.

  • 35 1-13-2010 at 1:40 am

    Andrew said...

    I would add: If you’re going to nominate Meryl Streep again this year for her overly deserving turn in Julie & Julia, could you also give her win? It’s becoming a joke to nominate her for everything and never winning.

    Also, you members of the Academy, can you include films of different genres in your ballot? It seems that sci-fi, comedy and fantasy films never get nominated for anything. Suggestions: 500 Days of Summer, District 9, Star Trek, Moon… And don’t forget Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the Best Actor category. Bring some new blood to the Academy!

    Finally, NEVER pay attention to what Harvey Weinstein says to you or vote for his films -they’re usually rubbish- so this year instead of wasting nominations with the dreadful Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Diane Kruger and even Melanie Laurent, could you please watch more movies and discover other deserving performances out there? Yes, I know Penelope deserves another Oscar nomination for showing her vagina in Nine, but you can always vote for her next year in any of her upcoming films. Don’t waste a beautiful spot with a vulgar performance!

  • 36 1-13-2010 at 5:20 am

    Megan said...

    Hey, it’s great you’re all jotting down your wishlists, but like I suggested to Kris, what’s the main objective, here: Proposing that the Academy shift its paradigm (or even better, perhaps, eliminate the need to even HAVE a paradigm), or convince them of the merits of certain films?

    To do both would be counter-intuitive. It doesn’t make sense to encourage the Academy members to think individually and avoid group-think, only to sit there and try to sway their votes?

  • 37 1-13-2010 at 5:36 am

    Lance said...

    My memo – Just because you like the movie and the character doesn’t mean it’s a great performance; Just because you didn’t like the movie doesn’t mean that there weren’t any great performances in it.

    Also, take another look at Ben Affleck in “State of Play” and Imelda Staunten in “Taking Woodstock”

  • 38 1-13-2010 at 6:18 am

    revoir said...

    Bruno Delbonnel and Stuart Craig…

    Coraline and Ponyo…

    The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus…

    Hope to see them come Febuary 2 on their respected fields…

  • 39 1-13-2010 at 6:58 am

    Tom said...

    Thank you, Megan. I don’t think that an Academy member reading this in five years (although I doubt any will) will think to themselves “these are timeless words to live by: vote for Abbie Cornish in Bright Star.” More likely they will think “what the heck is an Abbie Cornish? Is that an art direction term?” This list is about changing the way the Academy votes, not convincing them that your pet film is the best.
    I totally agree with number three. I think that The Lovely Bones and Nine were very underrated, and it’s sad that they’re being ignored just because the first three critics that saw them trashed them.
    I’d also like to add to that rule, so:
    3b. Don’t be influenced by box office. I don’t care how much money they made, The Hangover is an average guy comedy, not nearly as good as Anchorman or The 40 Year-Old Virgin; The Blind Side is a mediocre melodrama featuring an average performance by Sandra Bullock; Avatar was bad. Just because these movies made hundreds of millions of dollars doesn’t make them good. Many of the best movies of the year made less than a million dollars at the box office. Hell, Loren Cass made just over $8,000 and was way better than any of the movies I just mentioned. Expand your mind, Academy members.

  • 40 1-13-2010 at 8:01 am

    billbil said...

    Hey Kris – after reading your words these last few days…I think I’m in love. XO

  • 41 1-13-2010 at 8:15 am

    ninja said...

    Nine and Bones were terrible and should top Razzie list,not Oscars. I know that Kris loved Bones so it pains me to say that the movie is abysmal and deserved critical trashing it got. Why paramount thought it was Oscar material is beyond me. I`m convinced it would`ve been panned even with March release when expectations are much lower. That and Nine wasted so much money and talent, it`s ridiculous.

  • 42 1-13-2010 at 8:15 am

    Paul Outlaw said...

    FYC: Viggo Mortensen and THE ROAD…

  • 43 1-13-2010 at 10:36 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Megan: As it pertains to my motives, you’re reaching. Offering humble suggestions of films that haven’t been on the radar is hardly attempting to sway votes. The message is, quite plainly, “venture outside of your comfort zone.” And do you think that I’m trying to sway votes by stating that, if they like “Nine” (a film that I’ve been vocal about since day one as being a dud), they should vote for it? I’m playing the middle more than you want to admit.

    I think you’re being a bit argumentative for its own sake.

  • 44 1-13-2010 at 11:18 am

    Megan said...

    Balderdash, Kris. I’m not as combative as you want to think. I was being honest.

    I just think that, in this memo of yours, your motives–whatever they may be–seem to conflict with one another.

    As for the “swaying votes” issue, that was directed more at other posters in this comment thread who started penning out their wish lists.

    If you think I was writing those comments above simply to argue with you, then you’ve been grossly misled.

  • 45 1-13-2010 at 12:05 pm

    Kevin Klawitter said...

    1. Fix the damn musica categories

    2. Recognize Performance Capture as acting

    3. Remember that movies are an art form first and entertainment second.

  • 46 1-13-2010 at 1:19 pm

    Andrew F said...

    Kris –

    Articles like these are why I’ve been following In Contention for years. A great read, full of passion and insight.

  • 47 1-13-2010 at 3:37 pm

    Ivan said...

    Please members!!! recognize the truly masterwork

  • 48 1-13-2010 at 7:42 pm

    Rob said...

    “Also, take another look at Ben Affleck in “State of Play” and Imelda Staunten in “Taking Woodstock”

    As someone who likes both movies (and both actors, in fact), I can’t say there was anything special about Affleck’s performance, and Staunton was outright irritating.

  • 49 1-14-2010 at 3:43 am

    Glenn said...

    Megan, why must everything Kris writes have a “motive”? Maybe he just wanted to highlight some things from the past year of cinema and if an Academy member or two reads it and heeds the advice then so be it. Not everything needs to be taken so bloody seriously.