As someone who participates in polls for the Online Film Critics Society, the Central Ohio Film Critics Association, and the Muriel Awards, I can say that it's a fun way of synthesizing a year at the movies even when it can be a frustrating process. Consider it a way for us film writers and movie lovers to engage in imaginary play as Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members in the same way that fantasy sports owners manage teams. The difference is that the outcomes of our games come with internationally distributed press releases whose results may be employed in ads.
I see a lot of movies, so I enjoy putting my knowledge to use in these polls. The exercises aren't without their aggravations. I get irritated when it seems like my colleagues nominate exclusively from awards season openers and readers assume we're trying to predict Golden Globe and Oscar nominees. I would prefer to nominate what I feel is the best from the previous twelve months and leave it at that rather than filling out my sheet with gamesmanship in mind. I don't intend this as a swipe at anyone specifically or the groups in general. Everyone is free to vote as they see fit. I just wish my tastes could be expressed more in the winners.
That's where the Muriels is a salvation for me and my purist's ballot. The group of professional and amateur writers--or maybe paid and unpaid writers is the better phrasing--takes a more expansive view of the year in film. (It helps that the later deadline grants needed time to catch up on year-end platform releases.) Performances and films that wouldn't muster any consideration in awards season coverage aren't necessarily lost causes among Muriels voters.
This goes for overlooked and underappreciated work in mainstream films as well as arthouse and foreign titles. For example, my 2009 nomination ballot included EXTRACT'S Dustin Milligan in Best Supporting Performance, Male and TETRO for Best Cinematography. I could feel free to include both because I knew that such nominations didn't automatically equate to wasting those slots. As it turns out, I was on my own in nominating Milligan and one of seven supporting TETRO.
Whether my favorites come out on top or not, it's gratifying to see the thought put into the nominations--yes, even the head scratchers--and the essays that Muriels voters write about the winners. It's very satisfying for me to see the group recognize deserving work that, for whatever reason, never gains traction among the ad blitzes and campaigns. For instance, my two favorite supporting actress performances of 2010 also snagged the top two spots in Muriels voting, which somewhat remedies their near absence in the awards conversation. Such wins also confirm that these awards reflect a passion for cinema, something that gets lost too often in the incresasingly industry-dominated, year-long chatter.
As the season comes to a close with tomorrow night's Academy Awards ceremony, I encourage you to check out the slow roll-out of this year's Muriels. They're not to be treated as alternative Oscars--in fact, some category winners may be in agreement--but the results and idiosyncratic nominations ought to give cinephiles plenty of suggestions for films to search out. And isn't that the whole reason for doing this anyway?