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Happy Holidays! If you're a civilian (that's Hollywood speak for non-showbiz types), this time of year undoubtedly means turkey, shopping, cooking, hosting dinners or traveling to them. If you're a voting member of the Academy or any of the guilds or major Oscar precursor awards groups (full disclosure: I'm a member of the BFCA, the Broadcast Film Critics Association), this time of year also means lots of packages in the mail. "For Your Consideration" screeners have been arriving virtually every day for a couple of weeks now. The Oscar campaigns are hoping that voters watch these screeners over the holiday break, and that the films in question will then show up on those corresponding ballots.
Pardon the interruption into the best-laid plans, but what holiday break?
Whether you're traveling to a family member or friend’s place—but especially if you're hosting family or friends for the holidays—how much free time are you really going to have? Sure, you'll have a touch more if you're traveling. You can watch a movie on your laptop on the plane. But which one of dozens to choose?
It's an open secret that not all Academy members watch all of the movies and performances fighting for their coveted votes. This is true of other groups too—even critics groups. Contrary to popular belief, critics do not see every movie. Though I can’t name names, I was horrified to hear from a peer in a major critics groups last season that Tilda Swinton lost their Best Actress prize for Julia by only a small margin. Why? Several of the voters who were blocking her deserved coronation freely admitted they hadn’t seen Julia. Several of this year’s hopefuls might also have that small movie problem. Paprika Steen is sensational as an alcoholic actress in the Danish film Applause, but what hope does a foreign film have with only one week of theatrical distribution in LA? Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling sing a heartbreaking duet (metaphorically… though Ryan also sings literally) in Blue Valentine, but it’s a rough film emotionally. Will voters want to put themselves through it? Will the unjust NC-17 rating it received turn voters away from it or make them more curious?
Purists protest about the notion that awards voters aren’t required to see the films—especially when they have a beloved underdog in the race—but in some ways this is inevitable. More movies are released each year than anyone can see, and the rarely questioned “truth” that last-to-be-screened is an enviable awards position means that only the brave or more strategic players think about starting early. So each year, Thanksgiving and Christmas become blinding traffic jams of Very Special Movies—even though this is also the time when everyone, civilian and industry player alike, are absolutely swamped with work, family obligations and holiday festivities.
Fox Searchlight, who have Conviction (Best in Show: Sam Rockwell), Never Let Me Go (Best in Show: Andrew Garfield), 127 Hours (127 Hours: Simon Beaufoy) and Black Swan to push seem to have thought this through; they have smartly packaged their campaign screeners like gifts. The discs have a cute little "For Your Consideration" film logo seal that you have to break in order to open the movie. It may seem like a small detail, but details are everything. If you have to interact with an ad (and aren’t the screeners both the advertisement and the product, delivered simultaneously?), there's a better chance that you'll remember it. Opening these screeners does feel akin to opening a gift... or, dating myself here, how it used to feel as a kid to open a new vinyl record with a fold-out photo. What would the inside look like?
Whether or not you have to do any work to "open" a DVD or blu-ray, inside the package two hours of pleasure await. (If you love that movie, that is.) Great movies always feel like gifts.
But the gifts pile up. This same confusing embarrassment of riches—so many films to see, so little time—also awaits civilians. Just this week alone, people will have to choose between the new Harry Potter film (unless they were there for its big money opening weekend), the new Disney musical Tangled (much stronger than its bratty ad campaign implies), the return of the iconic Cher in Burlesque, Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal getting funny (and naked) in Love and Other Drugs, the Peruvian Oscar submission Undertow, and the arguable Oscar frontrunner The King’s Speech, which focuses on the friendship between King George VI and his speech therapist during the lead up to World War II.
That’s a lot to choose from. Which movie will you see this week? Academy voters have quadruple those choices (at least). Which movie will they choose? Everyone needs to choose quickly. It only gets crazier in December when Black Swan (December 3), The Fighter (December 10), Rabbit Hole (December 17), True Grit (DDecember 22) and many lesser Oscar hopefuls rush into limited or wide release.
The conscientious awards voter will try to see as many films as possible. The conscientious awards voters will experience sleep deprivation and eyestrain. Studios bunch all the “important” movies into theaters only in the last few months of the year, and they employ the same tactic for For Your Consideration screeners. One mustn’t complain about having too many good movies to see, but one can’t help but wish there were more hours in the day, or at least more actual break time during holiday breaks.
More in our 2010 Oscars series: