The 5,783 members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences got their ballots this past Friday, and they have the next six days to get them in. Which means that as done a deal this year’s Oscar race seems in so many respects, it’s actually still technically up in the air. But it’s up to the voters — many of them filling out their ballots for the first time — to decide how much original thought might come out of this year’s winners. And frankly after a few years straight of very predictable and largely uninspired choices, I don’t have too much hope that things will change this time around. But we thought we might as well offer a few pleas to voters anyway. Not with respect to who to vote for, of course (though fair warning — there’s a little bias spread throughout), but how to vote in a moral and honest fashion that might help bring some unexpected choices on Oscars (and hey, Spirit Award voters still filling our ballots, this goes for you too!).
Don’t let anyone else fill out your ballot! First and foremost: There’s long been jokes about how so-and-so’s spouse or mother (Jennifer Lawrence!) or whomever else ended up filling out an Academy member’s ballot instead of themselves. Respect that having an Oscar ballot is about as privileged as it gets. Tell your husband to get his own Academy membership!
Try not to let sentiment or politics or popularity affect your judgement. I’d like to think if I somehow had the opportunity to fill out an Oscar ballot I wouldn’t do this, but I can only imagine it’s difficult to see past various manipulations pushing your pencil in a somewhat dishonest direction. Like if someone’s never won, or is really old, or wants to hire you for their next movie. But resist! I can’t believe I’m writing these words given my personal fear of this happening, but if you really want to vote for Jennifer Lawrence because you think her work in “American Hustle” was the best supporting performance by an actress in 2013, then do it. Don’t think “well, she won last year.” And don’t not vote for Michael Fassbender just because you didn’t see him at any of the 10,000 lunches or cocktails over awards season. That’s ridiculous. As is, in a different, albeit much more controversial vein: The mindset that voting for Cate Blanchett’s performance in “Blue Jasmine” is voting in approval of child molestation. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just voting for Cate Blanchett’s performance in “Blue Jasmine.”
Vote based on what you think, not what the Golden Globes or SAGs or BAFTAs tell you to do. Every year it seems like the same people are voting for every awards show because all their winners are usually 80% the same. Which actually makes the first two weeks of December the most sincerely excited part of awards season. That’s when the first groups and/or organizations announce, and its really the only time we go into something expecting to be — and often being — surprised. This is stealing your thunder, Oscar voters! By the time your nominations roll around, it’s pretty easy to predict the vast majority of them. And your winners are even more predictable. Which I suspect is in part because a lot of you are — whether consciously or not — just voting for whoever all the other groups have already awarded. I get the reasoning. Oh, well, if all these people picked Jared Leto, he must be the best, right? Not necessarily! Don’t second guess your vote because it’s not the norm. It might also help bring suspense back to the Oscars..
Don’t vote in a category if you haven’t seen all the movies. For the first time, the entire Academy can vote in every single category. Which poses a serious issue in that I’m sure in many cases there’s some Academy members that have not watched every single film. Especially the shorts, docs and foreign films. In that case, either use these last 6 days to pull out those screens, or do not vote in that category. Don’t vote for “20 Feet From Stardom” just because it’s the only doc you saw this year and you happened to love it. Don’t do it!
Seen all the movies but not sure what you think? Re-watch them! Especially if the one you’re slightly leaning toward is the one you saw most recently. Can’t decide between “Before Midnight” and “Philomena” in best adapted screenplay, for example? But also can’t quite recall some parts of “Before Midnight” because you saw it over a year ago at Sundance? Re-watch them both. Some films benefit so much from a second viewing anyway, and maybe there’s something you missed the first time around. Yes, that’s three hours out of your life. But it’s not exactly hard labor. It’s watching movies, which is suggestively the core use of your profession. And I promise you’ll probably feel really good when you hand in that ballot knowing that you used your remarkable Oscar voting privilege with the utmost honesty and morality.
Peter Knegt is Indiewire’s Senior Writer and awards columnist. Check out his Oscar predictions in all the categories here.