Editorial: The Challenge Of Choosing The Best

Cannes Film Festival

GP Productions

The clock is ticking.  The countdown has turned from months to days before the ballot is due and I still have fifteen feature length movies to watch.  It’s my first foray into being a voting member of an upcoming awards show, and I must confess: it’s difficult.

The first unforeseen challenge is in viewing the films.  I’ve followed debates over the last few years regarding screeners and I now understand the challenge a voter has when the material is not easily accessible, particularly those films no longer in wide release.  While screening dates are arranged for voters, the dates are limited, and, unlike a movie unspooling at a Cineplex, the screening times are limited as well.  Additionally, unlike a major release that will be at theaters all over town, the sites for award season viewings are minimal.  Need to see "Puss in Boots” at your official voting time of 2:00pm and you live in Burbank?  Make sure you leave enough time to drive to Harmony Gold on Sunset!  Mix in multiple movies that you are required to see on this limited schedule and you are now reserving hours out of your week for commuting to and from the screenings in addition to the movies’ running times. 

With seven of the fifteen films on my "yet to see" list not available as screeners, I’ve come to value the idea of having this material available as an iTunes download.  Unlike the DVD which requires a specific player, the movie could be watched anywhere, anytime, providing one has an iPad, iPod or iPhone. Catch up on the documentaries during a cross country flight?  Certainly!  Watch an animated flick during my lunch break?  Don’t mind if I do!  

The second challenge is deciding which nominee has the edge.  I knew this would be difficult but with the quantity of films and categories, it’s even more overwhelming than expected. 

Take cinematography, for example. I can easily pick out shots I love, but in the words of Roger Deakins, "I don’t create shots, I shoot movies."  I can find movies that have poor cinematography, but when it comes to choosing the best cinematography out of the top nominees, what’s the hallmark that pushes one in front of the other?  I’m looking at lighting, mood, framing, focus, color balance, composition, emotion, and all the top players are delivering all these goods.  I have the sense that for some voters, it does come down to shots; a scene that stands out in your head and just completely blows you away.  Please forgive us Mr. Deakins!

If you are selecting more than one category, such as acting, directing, screenplay and so on, the voter must watch a plethora of films and keep in mind what stands out from each.  Do the seasoned voters keep notes, I wonder?  How else could one possibly remember the performance they saw in a film a week ago after consuming nine other movies since, each with a different request of the viewer’s focus?   To further complicate matters, when you have a movie such as "The Artist" which is nominated in multiple categories, do you watch it once and focus on every nuance of every category, or do you watch it several times with a critical eye turned to each specific category you’re voting on?

Several years ago I was a judge for a short-lived film festival in Boston, reviewing the animation category.  To this day I can still remember the movie I gave the highest grade to – a black and white hand-drawn short that focused on a factory operated by time-clock punching magpies.  The film had a snappy boogie woogie piano tune, a great graphic style, and a clever narrative.   I watched it a few times because it was brilliant.   I do not recall any of the other films I watched for the festival.  I remember at the time wondering if I was really qualified to cast my vote.  Now, I see clearly that the proof was in the pudding.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to become part of the voting process this year for it really has been a valuable education. To all the nominees, and all my fellow voters, this year I say, "Good Luck!’  I truly hope the best in your category wins!