I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t undertake this quest in part so I could definitively cast my vote for Best Actress. As a compulsive list maker (and completist), I’m also a compulsive ranker, and I get a little pleasure from checking off that last box in a category that makes me feel eligible to give my opinion. I’ve met a number of Academy voters (though a small percentage, overall) who valiantly try to watch every nominee in a category or not cast a vote at all. Would that more people did so; we might have more winners like Emmanuel Lubezki for Best Cinematography in Children of Men and The Tree of Life, or Jacki Weaver for Best Supporting Actress in Animal Kingdom.
Win or lose, though, what’s great about watching all the nominees—and why I prefer nominees to winners—is that you get exposed to such a wide range of taste, one that obliterates the worst stereotypes of the biopic & holocaust drama-addicted Academy. This is the group that’s granted Best Director nominations to Krzysztof Kieslowski once, Terrence Malick twice, David Lynch three times, Federico Fellini four, and Alfred Hitchcock five. They’ve acknowledged animated films as diverse as The Triplets of Belleville, Coraline, and Chico & Rita, and Best Picture nominees from District 9 and Beasts of the Southern Wild to The Wizard of Oz and The Ox-Bow Incident. I particularly admire the screenplay categories, where they’ve accepted some of the most feverishly unique productions (The Wild Bunch, Brazil, Do the Right Thing), the most sublime commercial products (The Band Wagon, North by Northwest, Back to the Future), and a cavalcade of international greats (Hiroshima mon amour, The Conformist, Trainspotting). And that’s not even mentioning the deeper craft categories, where films like Blade Runner and Seven Samurai, incredibly enough, found their place in Oscar history. I even found out recently that Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee’s sole Hollywood studio production was shortlisted (but sadly not nominated) for Best Original Score. Too cool!
Of course, these were all unsuccessful nominations. The truly inspired wins (Kevin Kline for A Fish Called Wanda, Best Picture/Director/Screenplay for The Apartment, Best Animated Feature for Spirited Away) are few and far between, since mass opinion will always gravitate toward the middle. But I love the difference that’s articulated in each raft of nominees every year, and I’m happy to cast my pretend vote in tribute to the amazing work enshrined in these films, and in this case, by these actresses. And while I’ll need a bit of a break for my own sanity, part of me can’t wait to go exploring deep in the nominees of another category!