A Letter to the Academy as Ballots Are Due

Dear Academy Voter,

By now, you may have already turned in your ballots for the upcoming 89th annual Academy Awards. Nominations will be announced on Tuesday, Jan. 24, and once again, film lovers and enthusiasts will look to you to reflect on a year that has needed an outlet more than ever.

To be perfectly honest, it’s been quite difficult to reflect on the “awards” and “prestige” of Hollywood when you’re desperately aching for a sense of normalcy in your own government officials. There’s a weight that has been sitting on the shoulders of many Americans, and perhaps, without really knowing, people of the world. There are so many important things at stake, and while we feverishly obsess over the choices you make, there’s a sense of opportunity that you have to contribute to it all.

On the heels of two consecutive years where the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag has fluttered the internet, I have been continually impressed with the leadership that your president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, has taken to make the Academy more inclusive and relevant in today’s changing cinematic climate. Isaacs, as well as the Board of Governors, seems eager to have the face of the Academy reflect not only a changing American culture, but what should be its principal values. This is our last year with Cheryl Boone Isaacs at the helm, and whoever succeeds her I hope can expand upon her legacy, mission and dream, to have Hollywood reflect the true and wondrous world of film.

With that said, we move into the final hours to submit your ballots for nominations. Some of you have likely already done this, but for those that are still holding on to it, I wanted to shine a light on a few things you can do to start this year spectacularly:

For the Actors Branch, you are led by three master thespians: Annette Bening, Laura Dern and Tom Hanks. Those three all delivered strong, brilliant performances this year. Bening in “20th Century Women,” Dern in “Certain Women” and Hanks in “Sully.” Being passed over for much of this awards season, I hope you give those three a second thought before casting your ballots. But those aren’t the only ones worth noting.

Often, AMPAS can treat the acting categories like a popularity contest rather than a true assessment of the work at hand. This, of course, is subjective. But what Joel Edgerton from “Loving” and Dave Johns from “I, Daniel Blake” achieve is quite impressive. The unsung heroes are in full force this year. We know many of you enjoy David Mackenzie’s “Hell or High Water,” and while some of us may not share in your praise of the film, many are in agreement that the absence of Ben Foster and Chris Pine would be ill-advised.

It was a banner year for women, and there are so many directions you can go. I hope you took the time to sit through Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle” and took in the work of a foreign treasure in the form of Isabelle Huppert. I’m sure enough critics have told you at length about it, but it’s worth highlighting nonetheless. In a time of political uncertainty, Jessica Chastain’s powerhouse performance in “Miss Sloane” also hits straight through the heart.

As a war is waged on media, free press and the First Amendment, something like Rebecca Hall’s turn in “Christine” seems pretty apt to consider.

ALSO CHECK OUT:   19 Animated Features Submitted for the 2013 Oscar Race

For the Directors Branch, led by Michael Mann, Steven Spielberg and Edward Zwick, you have the opportunity to embrace a new generation of filmmakers, many of which will evolve and continue the legacy so many of you started for us. The baton can be passed, so to speak.

You are sure to embrace the likes of Damien Chazelle from “La La Land,” but I also implore you to not take for granted the works of Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”) and Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”). Never assume someone is safe. They need your support constantly. There’s also opportunity to think outside the box. A documentary presents itself as not only one of the best films of the year, but another towering example of how you can organically helm a film with assurance and strength. With that, consider Ava DuVernay for driving “13th” in a passionate and profound manner.

For the Cinematographers Branch, helmed by John Bailey, Caleb Deschanel and Daryn Okada, you all know who the greats are because you recognize them often. There are familiar faces among you that are surely worth your vote, but there’s a new wave of talent that could use this platform to evolve the medium. Don’t overlook Bradford Young from “Arrival” or James Laxton from “Moonlight.” Don’t be afraid of the uncomfortable, unconventional nature of “Jackie” and how Stéphane Fontaine frames each scene with intensity. It’s well worth your vote.

For the Costume Designers Branch, led by Sharen K. Davis, Jeffrey Kurland and Deborah Nadoolman Landis, you love the past, but let’s look at the present. Just because it didn’t take place in the 1800s, doesn’t mean there wasn’t just as much thought or work put in the assembling. Courtney Hoffman of “Captain Fantastic” should be commended for such a feat, while “Nocturnal Animals” costumer designer Arianne Phillips brings style to an untypical revenge thriller.

For the Designers Branch, run by Jim Bissell, Rick Carter and Jan Pascale, you know what it takes to build the worlds around you. Relish in the fact that animation is more than colored eyes and a smile. “Kubo and the Two Strings” and “The Little Prince” both bring world building to a new, innovative level. Let’s embrace that world and bridge the gaps between life and fantasy.

For the Film Editors branch, led by Mark Goldblatt, Carol Littleton and Michael Tronick, there’s so much for you to do. One of them is NOT just mirroring the Best Picture nominees, though you can’t be faulted for not placing “Moonlight” at the top of your ballot in order to recognize the first female African-American editor. With that said, please consider how a film is assembled and constructed. Take into account the pace, the feelings that are exposed to the audience, and in return, the feelings that are held for moments, even days after a film is finished. Colby Parker, Jr.’s dedication and respect to Boston is felt in every frame of “Patriots Day.” Consider the decisions that Yorgos Mavropsaridis made in what not to show versus what he did show in “The Lobster.”

For the Makeup Branch, run by Kathryn Blondell, Lois Burwell and Leonard Engelman, you’re down to your list of contenders so there’s not much else I can do. I will say, it’s time for you to expand your list to five nominees, and possibly, just be done with the whole “bake-off” process. Trust your people to make an informed, sound decision.

ALSO CHECK OUT:   Awards Circuit Power Hour Episode 110: Emmy Predictions, Festival Goers, and ACCA TV Winners

Same goes for the Visual Effects Branch, run by Craig Barron, John Knoll and Bill Taylor. You are on the heels of recognizing a truly outstanding work in “Kubo and the Two Strings.” Don’t pass this opportunity up.

To the Sound Branch, helmed by Kevin Collier, Mark Mangini and Scott Millian: You have done a fantastic job thus far in appreciating all aspects of sound and teaching the world the real differences between the mixing and editing aspects. You should not be afraid of the “little guys” – such as “Sing Street” – or the “unpopular” – such as “Passengers” or “Jason Bourne.”

To the Writers Branch, led by Billy Ray, Phil Robinson and Robin Swicord. You know what you like. Typically, we love you for that. Often, we feel you are on the cusp of making a truly remarkable choice that reflects the people. Past examples include “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” or “Mean Girls.” This year, more than ever, people want to see a reflection of themselves. “Deadpool” shows itself as an evolving medium where superhero movies make the leap from conventional fodder, to awards enthusiasts, to a beacon of hope that these films will not only try new and different things, but include the audience for the journey. This is coming from someone that doesn’t fully embrace “Deadpool.” But I would be pleased to see you extend your hand to a genre that feels ignored by you because you don’t see the value of what they assemble year after year. Same goes for foreign cinema where “The Handmaiden,” “Toni Erdmann” and “Elle” remain admirable choices.

To the Shorts and Feature Animation Branch leaders, Jon Bloom, Bill Kroyer and Bob Rogers: We actually think you’re doing just fine at the moment. Keep embracing GKIDS and its wonderful ideas, along with other smaller studios aching for a shot at the plate like Shout Factory.

And to the entire Academy membership, lead by yourself! Vote for what’s in your heart. Remember why you got into the movies in the first place. Remember what it was like to watch these movies on the big screen. Remember what it looked like when Debbie Reynolds sang and danced in “Singin’ in the Rain” or when Al Pacino screamed “Attica!” in “Dog Day Afternoon” or when Hannibal Lecter saw Clarice for the first time in “The Silence of the Lambs.” Remember those movies and what they mean to you.

I wish you much luck this year, and all years moving forward. We respect you and we NEED you now, more than ever. More than you know.

Sincerely and with Love,

Clayton Davis
Editor-in-Chief and Owner,
The Awards Circuit

About Clayton Davis

Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of AwardsCircuit.com. Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He’s also an active member of New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times, CNN.com, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.
  • MovieAwardsPlus

    Great letter to the Academy. Hopefully some of it will be heard and they will think outside of the box this year.

  • Joey Magidson

    Well said.

  • Mangesh Gaikwad

    A superb message at the right time. Well said… ??✌

  • michaeldal65

    Beautifully written but I have to say, you must have seen something in Joel Edgerton’s work in Loving I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I think he was marvellous in Black Mass, Warrior, The Gift, Felony, Wish You Were Here, and even in a minor role in Zero Dark Thirty, but I’m just not seeing that here.

    But, bravo for urging the Academy to have a look at Patriots Day. A technically dazzling film and it deserves a place in the line for Cinematography, Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and, dare I say it, even for Directing. Berg’s work here should be acknowledged. Can this be the same guy who delivered the hysterical Battleship?

  • Zoilo Pimentel

    Well written Clayton!