You Can’t Vote for What You Don’t See – An Awards Season Plea

Short Term 12 bikeI’m starting it early this year.  I’ve long championed some of the little guys but have admitted out loud, that I do fall into the consensus crowd more times than not.  I still agree with the rewarding of Slumdog Millionaire and am not offended by the rewarding of films like The King’s SpeechChicago, or even Crash.  With that being said, I also cry out loud for certain films and performances to be considered and watched among voters everywhere.  As screeners begin to pour in, I find myself pointing towards certain films for my counterparts to watch from the Broadcast Film Critics Association which hosts the Critics Choice Movie Awards.  Often deemed, “the Oscar predicting show,” since it’s a show by critics, them, and myself, have an opportunity to cite some wonderful films and performances that otherwise will get the shaft during the year.

I didn’t hesitate to place a film like Les Miserables on my ballot last year for Best Picture, when lots of critics and audience members were actively crucifying it but I knew a film like that didn’t need my help to make it into the mix.  Enough liked it and would edge it into the race.  It was the pleading and begging for voters to watch and consider two documentaries, Searching for Sugar Man and West of Memphis, and not just to classify them in their respective categories, but as two monumental works that deserved recognition as one of the best pictures of the year.  As movie lovers, critics, and pundits, we owe it to ourselves to constantly look for something outside our norm and seek something out that we wouldn’t normally get to see.  I don’t always abide by this rule because at the end of the day, I still have to watch the mainstream films to be able to actively weigh in on the films that are being talked about.

I come from a family that doesn’t seek out anything outside of the mainstream blockbuster unless I plea and beg them to watch something substantial.  I remember watching Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia with my brother and his wife for the very first time when I was about 19 years old.  As I was in awe what I was seeing, the moment the frogs starting falling from the sky, my sister-in-law abruptly said, “Are you fucking kidding me?  When is this shit going to be over?”

I couldn’t believe my ears.  I said to myself, please don’t ever end.  Not to put myself on a soapbox, but as critics and pundits, we have an opportunity to shine light on some of the “non-Oscar” films to be seen.  Large entities like Netflix and Hulu Plus help after the year is over but what about the film that is currently in the moment?   My family actively calls me a movie snob and I’ve come to just sigh and accept it.  Not accept that it’s the truth but accept I can’t change their mind.  If watching Amour makes me a snob, I guess that’s what I am.

Short Term 12 has had its champions since its release earlier this year.  Many that called it the very best of the year.  The only terms of Oscar potential that we are discussing are two long shot mentions for Brie Larson and Adapted Screenplay.  Richard Linklater‘s Before Midnight stands as one of the best films this year and the only place we can mention it without someone giving us the side-eye is Adapted Screenplay.  Not because people are on the notion that it REALLY deserves to be nominated but it’s because the Adapted race is a barren wasteland of high-profile contenders.  What can’t stop them from looking at something Ernest & Celestine for a writing nomination?  An animated film, not branded with Pixar, which is of old-school animation and is exquisitely written.  Is it also because it’s not in English?  Asghar Farhadi’The Past is in heavy consideration for Foreign Language Film and has some clout for Berenice Bejo but its Ali Mosaffa and Tahar Rahim that need the real citations.

At the top of the heap this year is 12 Years a SlaveGravity, and Captain Phillips, all three very deserving of all the praise that they have received.  I’m praying to the demigods that The Coen Brothers have enough popularity in the Academy to find love for Inside Llewyn Davis in Best Picture and Oscar Isaac in Best Actor and this is something considered semi-mainstream.  But people have already written it off as either “middle of the road Coens” or “too bleak” for members.  Who said that film is suppose to be just happy and chipper?

stevemcqueen.jpgThis isn’t dissing the mainstream.  Consensus is consensus because more than half think the same way.  I get that.  I dare and challenge all the critic groups this year to truly vote for what spoke to them.  Be daring in your choices.  It’s great if you want to get the first Black filmmaker a Best Director trophy IF you really think he’s the best.  I love Steve McQueen and he’s likely on my ballot for Best Director this year but I owe it to every black filmmaker that has come before him to judge him on the merits of his picture and not the color of his skin.  Kathryn Bigelow winning Best Director was monumental and it felt better when it was clear that she was the best of the bunch.  James CameronQuentin Tarantino, or Jason Reitman couldn’t hold a candle to her direction on The Hurt Locker.  Lee Daniels was the only one who came close and was probably #5 when it came down to votes.  If it’s McQueen’s time, I’m all for it.  Let’s do it for the right reasons.  And listen, I’m not padding myself on the back here.  My exact Director ballot for 2009 was the same as Oscar’s but I tend to think I watched a hell of a lot more films for consideration outside of the 20 that were being talked up.

I recall when Kris Tapley of In Contention, also a fellow BFCA member, said he was voting for Stephen Lang for Best Supporting Actor on his ballot for Avatar.  He said on his podcast with Anne Thompson of Thompson on Hollywood, “I know it’s a throw away vote but I don’t care.”  I wanted to hug him through the laptop.  I wish more of us had that same mentality.  I don’t agree with a choice like Lang but I would be okay with him being cited over someone like Matt Damon in Invictus who got in on pure name recognition, not the quality of his performance.

BFCA is a critics group.  Critics are supposed to champion the little guy.  Not just want to lineup with the big show at the end of the year.  My 2011 lineup for Best Actress only included should have been Oscar winner Viola Davis of the actual Oscar lineup.  They passed over outstanding works like Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May MarleneJuliette Binoche in Certified Copy, and Adepero Oduye in Pariah because either their films were “too small” or “too foreign” or “too uncomfortable” or is it simply, they don’t watch movies that there buddy friends aren’t in?  That last one sounds about right.  Would these make the cut in a major race?  Maybe if they were seen on a major level.  Meryl Streep said in her acceptance speech for The Devil Wears Prada at the Golden Globe awards about simply asking your theater manager why you can’t see something like Volver or Notes on a Scandal at your local theater.  I wish it was that easy.  Anything I don’t get to see from a press screening, which is deemed “indie” – I must travel by car, through the Lincoln Tunnel paying $14, and then paying another $25+ for parking in NYC, and then add the $13 movie ticket.  I can see why my wife hates me when we make the trips in, no matter how much she loves the movie.

Starting later this week following the Oscar Prediction updates in the rest of the technical categories, Circuit Considerations will begin.  These will shine a light on films and performances that may have “no shot” at recognition.  I think it’s important to start it earlier as Phase 1 begins to lift off.  Maybe we’ll be able to spark some excitement on some of these films.  And I still have A LOT more movies to see.  I’ll revisit this later.

Include your thoughts down below in the comments.

What do you think?


Written by Clayton Davis

Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of 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 also founded the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association, the first Latino-based critics’ organization in the United States. He’s also an active member of the African-American Film Critics Association, 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,, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.


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