Brutally Honest Response to Brutally Honest Oscar Voters: "Watch the F—king Movies" (Guest Column)

Embrace of the Serpent Still - H 2016
Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival

Embrace of the Serpent Still - H 2016

Daniel Berger is the president of Oscilloscope Laboratories.

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Dear Academy members,

Okay, so I have a vested interest in this year's Oscar race. Last weekend we opened Ciro Guerra's Embrace of the Serpent, the Cannes prize-winning Colombian entry for best foreign language film. The film is a perceived underdog, but I can honestly say it's one we've had the privilege of wholeheartedly believing to be a masterpiece, and in yet another year of admonishing the Academy's lack of diverse nominees, this is actually the first time a Colombian entry has ever received a nomination.

Voting closed this past Tuesday, but yesterday I received a request from an Academy member's publicist asking for a link to the film so said Academy member could watch the film in advance of the Academy Awards. As I realize this is far from the only member who did not screen the film before voting ended, I've gotta get something off my chest.

I write to you first and foremost as a film lover, as a guy who not terribly long ago was a kid in high school staying up until six in the morning watching library-rented movies on VHS. I got to leave the suburbs and my shitty pizza delivery job by entering other worlds — I’ll never forget the first time I spent four-straight hours with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Egypt, and then some more hours with them in New England. (New England was definitely better.) That night, or some other similarly bleary-eyed one, I realized that whatever I did when I grew up, I wanted to keep watching a shitload of movies. And to give others the pleasure of doing that too.

I am fortunate to have spent the past eight years working at a company where that love of and desire for great cinema is something I get to call a job. And I take watching movies very seriously. They’re not always great. They’re not always rewarding. Sometimes I am extremely busy or tired or bored. But I watch movies to discover, to learn, to feel and ultimately to champion and share the best ones with you.

The Oscars are in three days. Throughout this week, The Hollywood Reporter is posting “Brutally Honest Oscar Ballots” in which Academy members explain their selection process. Several have noted that they voted in a bunch of categories without watching some of the nominees and/or voted for a film they didn’t see. And while I appreciate their candor about a rampant behavior that so often goes unacknowledged, it was really a bitch of a shame to read.

As a member of the Academy, you have a singular obligation to watch every film in the categories for which you vote. In the filmically derived words of a bottomless pit of internet memes: You Had One Job. I understand many of you are busy. You have jobs or families or Netflix. I get it. But for the sake of respecting industry colleagues, the body that has granted you voting privileges, and passionate cinephiles who may-or-may-not-deliver-pizza everywhere: just watch the f—king movies. You get them. All of them. For free. Delivered to your home. If you somehow cannot find the time to watch them, please abstain from voting in that category.

In the eyes of a film lover, your one job is one of the most amazing privileges on earth. And it’s your privilege to have a say in elevating and celebrating the work that moves us, the films that change our perspectives, the cinematography that takes us to new places, the performances that connect us, heal us, rip us apart — but you know, in a good way. It is a privilege to decide what has value, what has meaning and what matters — and pretty darn integral to that determination process is actually watching the thing.

Whether you like the movies or not, whether you think other films and filmmakers should have been nominated instead and so long as this voting process is in place, can we please respect these films and the people that worked so hard on them enough to simply watch them? I promise, forming an opinion on something you’ve actually seen can feel just as good as saying you heard it was good or bad or long. If you’re in this business, let alone in the Academy, or really just a human in general, my guess is that for you, the pleasure of liking, let alone loving a movie, is one of the best feelings in the world. And championing it really does a body good.

So please. Chase that high. Watch the movies. And have fun on Sunday. Because this is supposed to be fun. And if it’s not fun for you, by all means, take up dentistry.


Daniel Berger
President, Oscilloscope Laboratories