Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot No. 1: Voter Skewers 'Revenant' ("Road Runner Movie"), 'Brooklyn' ("Sentimental Drivel")

2:36 PM 2/25/2016

by Anonymous, as told to Scott Feinberg

"I rule out Leonardo immediately because it’s a ridiculous performance," says this longtime voter in the executives branch. "They are running his campaign based on how hard it was to make the movie, right? I’m tired of hearing about it — that's what he gets paid for!"

Illustration By Sam Island

Each Oscar season, I speak to Academy members about their voting preferences: Whom and what they like and, most importantly, why. This year, as the #OscarsSoWhite controversy has put the Academy's choices under a global microscope, some of those voters are a bit defensive. Below is an edited tran­script of a conversation I had with a longtime voter in the 458-member executives branch who is not associated with any of this year's nominees. "I thought Idris Elba was brilliant in Beasts of No Nation," this voter volunteered before I could bring up the diversity question. "But whom would I have knocked off to make room for him, if I could even vote [to nominate] in the acting categories? I liked all of the performances that were nominated. Maybe we need to expand the size of the acting categories — who knows? What I do know is that the Academy mishandled the response. They should not have responded defensively. They've got to accept the vote of the people they approved as members. I'm sorry, but you cannot change the rules after the game has already begun just because you're unhappy with the results. That's what children do." (The Academy's efforts to diversify membership had been in the works before the nominations and did not impact this year's voting.)

  • Best Picture

    'The Big Short,' Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

    I haven't seen Mad Max: [Fury Road] — I just didn't get to it. I dislike The Revenant intensely — it's a beautifully shot Road Runner movie, in the sense that Leonardo DiCaprio keeps falling down and getting up, and who cares? I don't. Brooklyn and Bridge of Spies, apart from Mark Rylance's performance [in Spies], are not worthy of being picture nominees — both are overly sentimental and feel like movies made in the '50s, in the worst sense. I liked The Martian very much — Ridley Scott made a beautiful movie for all of us who have lost someone in our lives and tried to figure out how we could have saved them. Room is a brilliant movie — well shot and with beautiful performances — about the thing all parents fear as much as anything: losing a child and not knowing what's become of them. Spotlight I liked very much, even though it also deals with terribly upsetting subject matter, because it shows how authority figures often fail to live up to their responsibilities — and because it features wonderful performances. But my No. 1 vote goes to The Big Short, which is the most courageous film of the year. It deals with a subject that most people don't understand in a highly creative and entertaining way without using sentimentality as a crutch.

    My vote: (1) The Big Short; (2) Spotlight; (3) Room; (4) The Martian; (5) I abstain.

  • Best Director

    Courtesy of Jaap Buitendijk/Paramount Pictures

    I am always reluctant to break up picture and director, barring extraordinary circumstances. I don't see how you can separate them. But I must say that I think it's criminal that Ridley wasn't nominated in this category.

    My vote: Adam McKay (The Big Short)

  • Best Actor

    Courtesy of Focus Features

    I rule out Leonardo immediately because it's a ridiculous performance. They are running his campaign based on how hard it was to make the movie, right? I'm tired of hearing about it — that's what he gets paid for! I mean, this was not Nanook of the North [a 1922 docudrama shot in the Arctic], for Christ's sake. Give me a break. He got millions of dollars, and I would assume they had heaters. The fact that he's never won before? He's a young man, he still has time. [Steve Jobs'] Michael Fassbender is also out because he's in a dopey movie. [Trumbo's] Bryan Cranston was nominated because of whom he played, not how he played him. I liked [The Martian's] Matt [Damon] and [The Danish Girl's] Eddie [Redmayne] very much, but Eddie broke my heart with the way he showed how painful it must have been to know something about himself that no one else seemed able to understand.

    My vote: Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

  • Best Actress

    Courtesy of George Kraychyk/A24

    Forget Cate Blanchett — her film [Carol] is more about decor and what everyone wears than anything of substance. [Joy's] Jennifer Lawrence goes next — the film is not good. Then there's [45 Years'] Charlotte Rampling, who is a brilliant actress, but I didn't believe the conceit at the center of the drama. [Brooklyn's] Saoirse Ronan is a very sweet actress, but [Room's] Brie Larson had to play the hardest part imaginable — you can't even compare them. It wasn't close at all.

    My vote: Brie Larson (Room)

  • Best Supporting Actor


    Both Marks — [Mark] Rylance and [Mark] Ruffalo — gave wonderful performances [in Bridge of Spies and Spotlight, respectively], as did [The Big Short's] Christian Bale and [The Revenant's] Tom Hardy. However, I believe that [Creed's] Sylvester Stallone should win because he didn't win the last time [39 years ago, when he lost to Network's Peter Finch]. This is a character he invented, and that he gets to play him again in a quality sequel is wonderful. Sentiment matters in this instance. Everyone else will have another chance. He won't.

    My vote: Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

  • Best Supporting Actress


    I didn't see The Hateful Eight [so I can't vote for Jennifer Jason Leigh]. Kate Winslet is out because the movie [Steve Jobs] stunk. [Spotlight's] Rachel McAdams is very nice, and [Carol's] Rooney Mara played a very sweet girl, but their parts aren't meaty enough to deserve an Oscar. So I'm voting for Alicia Vikander, who I thought was wonderful in her film [The Danish Girl] with Eddie Redmayne.

    My vote: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)

  • Best Adapted Screenplay

    Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

    Brooklyn is out because I didn't really recognize drama in Saoirse's journey — her experience was actually much smoother than most immigrants', and she wound up having to choose between two great guys — what a dilemma! It's just sentimental drivel. Carol gets on my nerves because people who are revolutionary usually don't think of themselves as very revolutionary, and besides, I'm not especially interested in or sympathetic to the problems of a rich white woman. And while I loved The Martian and Room, they're both variations of the same story — people trying to survive nightmarish situations and get back to the real world. I voted for The Big Short because the courage it took to try to tell that story as a movie, and the effectiveness with which its script did so, is unmatched by any other nominee. Plus, one of the writers is also the director, which gets it bonus points with me.

    My vote: The Big Short

  • Best Original Screenplay

    'Straight Outta Compton,' Universal Pictures

    Inside Out is a very pretty soap opera. Bridge of Spies gets marked down for its old-fashioned ending — he comes home, kisses his wife and passes out? That leaves Spotlight and Straight Outta Compton. I loved Spotlight — it's a very well-written screenplay that reminds me of The Verdict — but I voted for Straight Outta Compton. No, I don't have white guilt. It was a visceral screenplay that laid out a complicated story with a lot of characters extraordinarily well.

    My vote: Straight Outta Compton

  • Best Foreign-Language Film

    Courtesy of The Toronto International Film Festival

    I didn't think there was anything in [Denmark's] A War that was especially great. The other four are fantastic. [Jordan's] Theeb is a modern Lawrence of Arabia, gorgeously shot with an incredible, touching story. [France's] Mustang is beautifully made and heartbreaking. [Colombia's] Embrace of the Serpent, which reminds me of Heart of Darkness, has a couple of scenes in it that I will never forget, and believe me, on this one they didn't have [The Revenant producer] Arnon Milchan writing a check — I think it cost two cents. And [Hungary's] Son of Saul is a Holocaust movie, the likes of which I had never seen, made by a first-time filmmaker about his own country, with not one obvious image and hardly any dialogue at all. Maybe it's because I'm Jewish, but I'm voting for Son of Saul — although I think Mustang might win.

    My vote: Son of Saul

  • Best Costume Design

    Venice Film Festival

    Forget The Revenant. The '50s look of Carol was superb — they really captured that world. But I thought the designer of The Danish Girl did such a fabulous job — I could really see Eddie Redmayne as a woman, and I think that's an extraordinary accomplishment.

    My vote: The Danish Girl

  • Best Film Editing

    Paramount Pictures/Photofest

    Eliminate Mad Max and The Revenant right off the bat. I'm voting for The Big Short. The editor's juxtaposition of scenes from the story and footage from the time, along with the way he weaves in scenes like the girl in the bathtub and the strippers, helped me to understand what the film was about. It made a big difference.

    My vote: The Big Short

  • Best Makeup and Hairstyling

    I didn't see two of them, and I hated the third. I am voting for Mad Max solely because I want to stop The Revenant.

    My vote: Mad Max: Fury Road

  • Best Sound Editing and Sound Mixing

    Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

    I don't know the difference between the two. Nobody does. I just vote for the movie in the category that I liked the best.

    My vote: The Martian

    *The member abstained from voting in the categories not listed above.

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