I’ve been watching the Oscars since I was a kid, and writing about them for decades, but this year I did something I never dreamt of during all that time: I cast a vote.
Last year, I was admitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in the At-Large category. (There is no branch representing authors, critics, or preservationists.) As awards season began it dawned on me that I was actually going to participate in this year’s Oscars.
My invitation to vote came about two weeks ago, with a deadline of January 17. As I continued to catch up with foreign-language films, indies, and documentaries I put off voting until Monday, one full day before deadline. The deed didn’t take long, as I was only qualified to cast one vote: for Best Picture.
In the first stage of the awards process, members of the Academy’s branches determine the nominees in each specialized category. Only writers nominate writers, only makeup artists nominate makeup artists, and so on.
That’s why today’s punditry amuses me, as observers who should know better talk about “they” as if the Academy were a monolith. Don’t blame the Academy as a whole for not nominating such worthy filmmakers as Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Woman King) or Sarah Polley (Women Talking) in the Best Director category. The directors’ branch is notorious for going its own way. The same is true of the writers’ branch, which recognized that one reason the popular hit Top Gun: Maverick was so good was that it had a solid screenplay. And the music branch selected two first-timers (Volker Bertelmann for All Quiet on the Western Front and Son Lux for Everything Everywhere All At Once) as well as 90-year-old John Williams for The Fabelmans.
The Actors’ branch of the Academy is the largest and the most welcoming to newcomers. That’s reflected once again in this year’s lineup, which deviated from many predictions I read. I was disappointed that Danielle Deadwyler’s knock-out performance in Till didn’t earn her a nomination.
When Cate Blanchett called out Andrea Riseborough at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association dinner I knew there was a groundswell of support for her among her peers, even though To Leslie has yet to be released in the U.S. Mainstream moviegoers may not know her yet, and even savvier audiences have to admit that she looks different in every part she plays, but she’s been working pretty steadily for more than fifteen years onscreen. If you caught Happy-go-Lucky, Never Let Me Go, Brighton Rock, Oblivion, Birdman, Battle of the Sexes, Mandy, or Amsterdam, you’ve seen her. She’s a chameleon and a major talent.
I can’t pretend not to have rooting interest for Ke Huy Quan in the supporting actor category. I thought he was terrific in Everything Everywhere All At Once and I asked to present his award at our LAFCA event. Only then did I learn that he had taken my class at USC some 25 years ago! He even paid tribute to me during his acceptance speech, which was humbling and unexpected.
I still maintain that the year 2022 was not a banner one for cinema. In fact, I couldn’t fill my ballot for Best Picture and only cited nine instead of ten. I am not a particular fan of Elvis and—dare I say it—didn’t care for The Banshees of Inisherin. I would have preferred showing some love for James Gray’s Armageddon Time.
Excuse me now. I still have to see a handful of films in order to cast an informed vote when the final ballot arrives in my email inbox. I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence