BFCA’s Star Wars Controversy – Another Opinion

It’s no secret that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is obliterating every box office record and rewriting the rules as it goes. On Monday, the Broadcast Film Critics Association asked it’s 300+ membership a very simple question via email: “If you had seen The Force Awakens before casting your Critics’ Choice Awards ballot, would you have included it in your five choices for Best Picture?”

Totally valid question. The movie didn’t even have its world premiere – much less, critics screenings – until days after the nominations were announced, and nobody got screener DVDs. As a result of the internal survey, The Force Awakens became BFCA’s 11th Best Picture nomination.

Many have called the BFCA out over this maneuver. It has been said the organization has jumped the shark. It’s just in it for the ratings. How can we take an organization seriously who rewrites the rules as they go? Variety’s Kristopher Tapley penned a commentary for Variety, calling the move “sweaty opportunism.” Several critics have quit the association.

As far as I’m concerned, the problem isn’t the BFCA jumping the shark. This post-nominations move – and the fact that the American Film Institute (AFI) delayed their Top Ten announcement a full week to consider Star Wars – illustrates the systemic problem with all of award season.

san_francisco_film_critics_circleI am a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association as well as the San Francisco Film Critics Circle, and every year it is the same race: in order to assemble the most complete and responsible list of contenders, one has to make sure to catch every last screening or watch every screener that shows up at your house. Now granted, the closer you get to voting, the less of a chance of discovery there is. By mid-November, it becomes apparent that the list of contenders is down to 10 to 20 films and it’s vitally important to have an opinion on those.

The reviewing masses who make up the scores of national and regional voting groups are completely beholden to how and when a movie will be shown to us. That’s the nature of the beast. But what happens when a great film is released after we vote? In the case of the Grammys, which sees its nomination process cut off on September 30th, anything released on October 1st just gets added to the next year. Movies are a different story.

The Force Awakens – or any film for that matter – would not simply qualify the next year, as only 2015 films are considered in 2015.

21st-critics-choice-awards-logoIt’s low-hanging fruit to point to the BFCA and accuse the organization of shilling for ratings. That’s way too easy. I suppose it would be a different conversation if this were a tiny art-house movie, but it’s Star Wars, so of course it’s going to get accused of “sweaty opportunism.” But let’s not let the title of the movie get in the way of the point here.

All of this stems back to the Academy’s decision to move the Oscars from the end of March (where it had been for 60+ years) to the end of February so it would land during Sweeps Week. Consequently, every guild award show and critic group got pushed back as well.

Adding Star Wars after the fact may seem like an attention grab – but as a critic and voting member, I totally get it.

rottentomatoes__130916181837The Force Awakens currently holds a 95% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, right alongside Spotlight, Carol, and Creed, and a 93/100 rating on the BFCA’s own internal review meter. Proposed Oscar contenders The Revenant and The Hateful Eight only come in around 82% on either chart.

So tell me again why The Force Awakens shouldn’t be considered for Best Picture?

Because it breaks the rules that were put in place as a reaction to everything being back into the first part of December? What if Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese had released a brilliant film and screened it on December 15th?

Would we even be having the same conversation?

January should be the month the critics groups vote, not the beginning of December.

This isn’t the first time it’s happened and it won’t be the last. Until everyone concerned (studios, critics groups, award show producers) realize that the calendar year ends on December 31st and that everything released up until then is in play, this will happen again.

And I’m all for it.

Author: Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, TV host, producer, director, editor (he preferred Avid until a torrid affair with Adobe Premiere, and the rest is history), author and film critic (print and radio). Dennis produced and hosted the TV programs Reel Life, FilmTrip, Soundwaves (1983-2008) and produces the annual Soundwaves Xmas program. He is currently the film critic on KGO Radio in San Francisco, and a member of both the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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