Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Why this film fan gave up the honour of being a BAFTA voter

This time last year I was getting ready to vote in the third and final round of the annual BAFTA film awards.  I’d been a voting member for five years. This meant that I got to use the organisation’s excellent bar and restaurant in Piccadilly, and that, in early November every year, DVDs of recent movies – and many that hadn’t been released yet – would start arriving by post or van.

By the end of December, I’d normally have received between 70 and 80 films, sent by distributors gagging for an gong.  

For a life-long film fan who can no longer stand cinemas (mass mastication, sweetie-paper rustling, mobile phone conversations, iPhone-checking, deafening soundtracks, and the fact that so many morons think the cinema is the ideal place for a natter with their mates) being able to watch pretty much all the top films in the comfort of one’s own sitting room or study was an incredible treat.

I saw my role as an honour, and took it very seriously. This meant watching up to five films a day. Eventually, I started to cut corners, and began ejecting movies after a few minutes if it was blazingly obvious I’d hate them - especially films about sexual deviants, romcoms, lottery-funded British films glorifying teenage criminality, Bollywood movies, and anything with Jude Law in it. 

So, if it was all so wonderful, why am I no longer a BAFTA judge?

First, timing: when I started as a voter, we’d have about two months to get through 80 movies – taking rejections into account, that’s a manageable one and a half a day. Then the films started arriving later and later – December 2009 saw me trying to get through three a day, which is too much. There’s only so many times a man can stomach the “f” word in any 24-hour period without starting to feel depressed.  

Second, there was the prospect of yet another year of greeting every new film that popped up on Sky Movies with the cry, “Seen it!” 

Third, it put me out of sync with the rest of my family: because of having to watch a stack of films on the PC, viewing stopped being a communal experience.

Fourth, while I received several enjoyable films each year, and one or two great ones, there were too many featuring transexuals or transvestites or serial fornicators or alcoholics or drug-addicts or criminals or rich, sexually-liberated, middle-aged Americans, or noble savages or hilarious dysfunctional families or cute, infinitely wise children or smart-arsed teenagers or inarticulate, slobbish adults. (I simply couldn’t bring myself to watch Bruno or The Hangover.) And I never want to see another superhero film as long as I live – what is the bloody point?

Of course, I don’t just want to watch nice films about nice people – but neither do I really want to watch horrible films about ghastly peoplewhere the ghastly people are meant to be the heroes! 

As far as Hollywood’s liberal elite is concerned, decent priests simply don’t exist, or honest corporations, or businessmen who aren’t greedy, twisted scum, or policeman who aren’t alcoholic/divorced/violent/on the take: there is no such thing as a trustworthy, articulate right-winger or an admirable, old-fashioned, strait-laced parental authority figure who really does know better than their whacky, free-spirited kids. Monogamy sucks. Suburbia is full of desperate, miserable people living a lie. The American Dream is a sick joke, and anyone still pursuing it is deluded. Everyone we’re supposed to admire has a mouth like an open sewer and the sexual morals of a bitch in heat.

If anyone ever comes across a well-made, mainstream, non-blockbuster Hollywood film which questions the liberal consensus, and isn’t an animation, do give me a shout – I’d be amazed. (The odd thing is that their big summer blockbusters are often full of violent vigilantism and lone heroes behving in an extremely gung-ho, patriotic, right-wing fashion – but the films Hollywood feels proud of never feature these sorts of attitudes. Very odd.)

All I’ve really missed so far this year are foreign films – just so much less predictable than the standard Hollywood output. I’ve seen The King’s Speech (excellent) and Toy Story 3 (simply brilliant). As for everything else, I’m happy to wait for till it turns up on TV. 

Guess I’m just not cut out to be in with the in-crowd.


  1. Your remarks about your 80 or so Bafta candidate films arriving later and later and then mainly in December struck a chord with regard to the Academy Awards [27th Feb] and the other American critics' awards [Golden Globe, Satellite] that take place at this time of the year.
    There is an article in Time Magazine [17th Jan] headed "Small Films, Big Stars, Limited Runs? Must be Oscar Season." It high-lights the tactic of the Independent film maker of holding back exposure of their productions for as long as possible and then only releasing for a week [to gain eligibility for a nomination, dead-line New Year's Eve] in anticipation of a later re-release with maximum publicity post Kodak Theatre. Another important tactic in their strategy is to cast actors whom the Academy has already honoured - "the mainstream movie business relies on sequels, the indies rely on stars doing pro bono work." The Indie mini-moguls are convinced that both the Academy voting members and critics suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder so the later the fresher. Bafta obviously operates on the same principle and perhaps it also influences the Oscars [though I doubt it].
    The Indie release schedule this year is: Barney's Version 3rd Dec, The Tempest 10th Dec, The Company Men 10th Dec, Casino Jack 17th Dec, Blue Valentine 29th Dec, Biutiful 29th Dec. These films star Spacey, Mirren, Javier Bardem, Paul Giamatti, Tommy Lee Jones, Affleck and Chris Cooper. Another article in the London Times said that "The King's Speech" was a shoo-in for an Oscar until the late surge-release of the above and that it was on course to win by default because Hollywood had suffered a truly terrible year in terms of output [all the writing talent has migrated to HBO?]
    I don't know if this tactic is a good or bad thing. It is how "The Hurt Locker" beat "Avatar" for Best Film, but who has ever seen it [me]. Who remembers "Monster Ball", the Piaf biopic, Polanski's film about the Warsaw ghetto, "the Reader", Jeff Bridges as the C&W singer, "Milk" etc. Did it motivate Mel Gibson to make films about South American Indians or films with Arameic and Latin dialogue.
    So it is basically repetitive rubbish [the 16-24 demographic] versus worthy, but unwatchable and the solid middle ground has disappeared into the ether.
    80 films in a month! I struggle to get through my 4 films from LoveFilm plus their two freebie downloads every month.
    Thursday, February 3, 2011 - 08:36 AM

  2. SDG, I keep trying to respond to this - but it's such an interesting comment on an area that fascinates me, that I'll do it as a separate post.

    What I will say here is that I'm sure the BAFTAs don't have any effect whatsoever on Oscar voting patterns.
    Thursday, February 3, 2011 - 04:15 PM