Why Don’t Voters Choose The Best?
As a long-term member of the British Film Academy I applaud its rigorous voting system, which I think works fairly for everyone, but it doesn’t mean that I always agree with the members’ choice. I’m staggered that the distinctly average ‘Bridge of Spies’ comes out top of this year’s nominations, just as I’m shocked by the absence of ‘White God’, surprised by the low presence of ‘Steve Jobs’ and staggered that anyone could nominate ‘The Hateful 8’ for, of all things, best screenplay.
There are no scripting nods to ‘The Martian’ or ‘Ant-Man’ – funny rarely gets nominations – and the first round of voting ended before I could see brutal wilderness adventure ‘The Revenant’ or Todd Haynes’ ‘Carol’. I wonder if that’s what skews voting; ‘Bridge of Spies’ may well have benefitted from plentiful early screenings and Q&As with the star and director. I went to many of the Q&A screenings this year and have to say forget streaming – the big screen is the only way to see these films (all of the main contenders are extremely cinematic). But the biggest films were first off the blocks as usual. Smaller movies with lower marketing budgets were streamed or made available via different online systems.
I’m surprised by the presence of ‘Spotlight’ in the Best Film category – the flat direction gave it the look and feel of a midweek TV movie, despite the incendiary subject matter. Voters often seem to confuse subject and style. Best Costume usually goes to something historical, or with an extremely noticeable wardrobe, whereas the best costumes are often those so which are so right that they go unnoticed. Hair and Makeup nods go to over-the-top creations, production design goes to SF, and so on. If it’s splashy it’s in with a chance – which doesn’t say much for our sophistication.
For me, the puzzle is, why don’t voters think a bit harder? Why does a perfectly acceptable but mediocre film like ‘Bridge of Spies’ need any awards? Everyone involved is highly experienced and awarded to the hilt already – they were never going to turn in an inferior product. Yet a film like ‘Tangerine’, although it lacked the confidence to broaden the implications of its subject matter – surviving on the streets with humour and a semblance of dignity – deserves to be awarded because it is innovative, a game-changer, in fact. And ‘Beasts Of No Nation’, with an all-black cast and a story I have never seen told on the screen before, comes nowhere near the top. Likewise, the amazing ‘Timbuktu’, with its topical horrors and astounding cinematography, barely places, although it won big in France.
My five nominations for best overall film this year would read very differently. I’d pick ‘White God’, ‘Tangerine’, ‘Beasts of No Nation’, ‘Timbuktu’ and ‘The Big Short’. But there’s the rub – only the last picture is from a Hollywood studio.