Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot #6: "Fell In Love With" Taraji P. Henson, "Turned Off" '20th Century Women'

2:32 PM 2/26/2017

by Anonymous, as told to Scott Feinberg

An anonymous member of the directors branch shares Oscar picks.

Christopher Patey

Each year around this time, I sit down with several Oscar voters who, under the warm cloak of anonymity, spill their true feelings about the current season's crop of contenders. Not just what or whom they voted for, but exactly why and how they came to those decisions.

It's not a scientific survey; it's just the candid, unsugarcoated opinions of a handful of members (out of 6,687) of the most important and powerful movie club in the world.

For Brutally Honest Ballot #5, below, here are the views of a member of the 473-member directors branch who — this season, anyway — is not associated with any of the nominees.

Earlier: Brutally Honest Ballot #1 I Brutally Honest Ballot #2 I Brutally Honest Ballot #3 I Brutally Honest Ballot #4 I Brutally Honest Ballot #5

  • Best Picture

    Courtesy of Photofest

    I am really pissed that we have nine nominees. You know, people are sitting at a restaurant on Sunset Plaza or someplace and one says to his friends, "Hey, I was nominated for best picture!" And then a guy at the next table says, "I was nominated for best picture!"

    And then the waiter says, "I was nominated for best picture!" Everybody's f---ing nominated for best picture! It should be a contest — that's what this is about! My feeling is that there should be three to five nominees, tops. Fences was great, but I don't think it was a movie, I felt it was a play. I wasn't crazy about Hell or High Water or Arrival. La La Land was mediocre — it didn't do anything for me. Hacksaw Ridge was really well done, although I had some problems with because I'm not a fan of the star [Andrew Garfield] — he looks like a turtle with a long neck and I just don't get him — and, being Jewish, it's not easy voting for an anti-Semite, but he did do a good job.

    Manchester by the Sea I thought was excellent. Hidden Figures I loved. That black woman in Hidden Figures — she does a lot of television — it begins with a T? [Taraji P. Henson.] That's the name — I can never remember her name for some reason. I always had this sort of animosity towards her because every time I'd see a picture of her she was always posing — you know, like, "I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille." [A reference to the 1950 film Sunset Blvd.] So I had this thing against her, but when I watched this movie I fell in love with her — she did a really good job, and I liked the movie very much.

    For me, Lion was even better — especially the first three-quarters or whatever where the kid [Sunny Pawar] is the star, before Dev Patel comes in. I thought the kid deserved the Oscar nomination more than he did. My favorite, though, was Moonlight. I thought it was absolutely terrific — they constantly surprised me and I thought it was so, so well done.

    My vote
    (1) Moonlight
    (2) Lion
    (3) Hidden Figures
    (4) Manchester by the Sea
    (5) Hacksaw Ridge

  • Best Director

    Courtesy of A24

    Even though he [Damien Chazelle] tried to pull off something new and unique, I wasn't a big fan of La La Land. I thought the guy [Denis Villeneuve] did a very good job with Arrival, but I was more taken by the special effects.

    Kenneth Lonergan's direction [of Manchester by the Sea] was excellent. Divorcing Mel Gibson from his politics and belief systems or whatever you want to call it, I thought he did a really great job as a director with Hacksaw Ridge.

    That was a big movie with tons of action — there's always a lot of blood with Mel's movies, I don't know why — but it was a really good movie and you can't take that away from him. But I thought Moonlight [directed by Barry Jenkins] was just extraordinary. His choices were superb throughout the three chapters. That was a feat.

    My vote
    Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

  • Best Actor

    Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

    I don't like [Hacksaw Ridge's] Andrew Garfield — I find him a little annoying and he didn't pop out for me in that movie, even though the whole movie was pretty good. I don't know about Viggo Mortensen because I didn't watch the whole film [Captain Fantastic] — I turned it [its screener] off because I got bored.

    I didn't care for La La Land or Ryan Gosling — I don't know how you give an actor in a musical best actor when it's more about singing and dancing, which he did very well. I didn't think Casey Affleck gave a great performance [in Manchester by the Sea] — I just thought he walked through it. But I thought [Fences'] Denzel was terrific, even though it's really a play.

    My vote
    Denzel Washington (Fences)

  • Best Actress

    Guy Ferrandis/SBS Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

    I didn't see Loving [featuring Ruth Negga], but I saw the others, and there was no doubt about it for me: [Elle's] Isabelle Huppert was it. That was such a truthful, riveting and surprising performance — you never knew what was coming next, and she didn't really telegraph it either. I've seen her in a million other movies, but this one just sort of stood out and I was blown away. You can never fault a Meryl Streep's performance [she's nominated for Florence Foster Jenkins], but the whole thing with Elle moved me more. I wasn't taken by [La La Land's] Emma Stone, nor was I knocked out by [Jackie's] Natalie Portman as Jackie [Kennedy] — I found that a bad impersonation, because I didn't get past seeing Natalie Portman.

    My vote
    Isabelle Huppert (Elle)

  • Best Supporting Actor

    Courtesy of Photofest

    I eliminated Dev Patel because I didn't think he was as good as the kid [Sunny Pawar] and he has this thing that he does with his eyebrows that gets on my nerves — he just didn't do it for me. I couldn't vote for Michael Shannon because I thought Nocturnal Animals was a failure, unlike Tom Ford's earlier movie [2009's A Single Man], which I thought was terrific. I liked Jeff Bridges [in Hell or High Water], but he's been terrific for a hundred years, and there was nothing new that I saw there. I thought this kid Lucas Hedges did a terrific job [in Manchester by the Sea]. But I gave my vote to [Moonlight's] Mahershala Ali. I just couldn't stop watching him. He was magnetic.

    My vote
    Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)

  • Best Supporting Actress

    Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

    There was very little of Michelle Williams in the movie [Manchester by the Sea]. Nicole Kidman changed her hair a few times, but to say it was a great supporting role? No. I thought Octavia Spencer was great in Hidden Figures and Naomie Harris was terrific in Moonlight, but obviously [Fences'] Viola Davis is probably going to walk away with this, and I think she should.

    My vote
    Viola Davis (Fences)

  • Adapted Screenplay

    Courtesy of Photofest

    I thought they were all really good screenplays. That being said, Arrival didn't have much dialogue and I'm not a sci-fi person. Fences is brilliant writing. Hidden Figures kept revealing something to me I knew nothing about. I was tempted by Lion and Moonlight, but I went with Moonlight because it's also my best picture, and I don't think a best picture comes without a great script.

    My vote
    Moonlight

  • Original Screenplay

    Courtesy of K Period Media

    I didn't see The Lobster. I turned off [the screener of] 20th Century Women because it bored me. Hell or High Water was a good movie. I was less impressed with La La Land. So I had to go with Manchester by the Sea, although I think it owes more to the acting and directing than to the screenplay.

    My vote
    Manchester by the Sea

  • Best Animated Feature

    I don't watch the animated movies.

    My vote
    [Abstain]

  • Best Documentary Feature

    I didn't see 13th, I didn't see Life, Animated and I didn't see I Am Not Your Negro, so I didn't vote. It wouldn't have been fair.

    My vote
    [Abstain]

  • Best Foreign-Language Film

    Philippe Penel

    I'm very into the foreign language films — to me, they're always better, and all five were really good this year. How could they have passed over Elle, though? It didn't even make the shortlist! Anyway, I thought The Salesman wasn't anywhere near as good as his [Asghar Farhadi's] first movie [that was nominated — and won — in this category five years ago, A Separation], and I hope from the bottom of my heart that the Academy doesn't choose that movie because of what's going on with Trump, because then it's no longer about making the best movie. Land of Mine was superb — a little hard to watch because of the tension, since defusing bombs definitely puts you on edge. I loved Toni Erdmann — actors should study the sequence when she actress [Sandra Huller] is alone and trying to put on her dress to get ready for the party, because it's hysterical and a master class in pantomime. I absolutely loved A Man Called Ove, which made me laugh and was poignant and was just so well done. But I voted for Tanna because everything about it was special. I just love the backstory about these two filmmakers who went to live on this island in Vanuatu and discovered this tribe and lived with them for nine months and taught them everything and then they made the movie. To get them to emote and portray these people with such passion and such believability? I was very impressed. Plus, the cinematography was breathtaking.

    My vote 
    Tanna

  • Best Cinematography

    Mark Rogers/The Weinstein Company

    I saw about an hour and 10 minutes of Silence — it was beautiful to look at, but eventually I said, "I can't do this anymore." It's probably the best cinematography out of all of them, but I didn't vote for it. I don't think La La Land or Moonlight had particularly great cinematography. Arrival looked great. I voted for Lion because the beginning, with the flashbacks, was beautifully photographed.

    My vote
    Lion

  • Best Costume Design

    Paramount Pictures/Photofest

    I didn't see Fantastic Beasts [and Where to Find Them]. Jackie was just copying what she [Jackie Kennedy] wore, so that didn't really knock me out. La La Land, as I say, didn't nothing for me. I don't really think of Allied for its costumes. I went with Florence Foster Jenkins because of how Meryl [Streep] looked in it.

    My vote
    Florence Foster Jenkins

  • Best Film Editing

    Courtesy of Photofest

    The editing was excellent on all of them, but I went with Moonlight because its my best picture.

    My vote
    Moonlight

  • Best Makeup & Hairstyling

    Of the three, I only saw A Man Called Ove, and I was really impressed with what they did to this poor guy, but I couldn't vote without having seen the other two.

    My vote
    [Abstain]

  • Best Original Score

    Again, I didn't see Passengers, and the music in the others didn't particularly stand out to me, so I didn't vote in this category.

    My vote
    [Abstain]

  • Best Original Song

    I didn't see Jim: The James Foley Story, Moana or Trolls, but I listened to all of the nominated songs, and I can't think of singing one of them — none of them were memorable. I'm from the old school where, if you come out humming something, then you know you've heard a song, but I did not come away from any of these singing.

    My vote
    [Abstain]

  • Best Production Design

    Paramount Pictures

    I didn't see Passengers or Fantastic Beasts [and Where to Find Them]. Hail, Caesar! was such a mediocre movie, but it looked good. La La Land looked pretty good. But Arrival was really good.

    My vote
    Arrival

  • Best Sound Editing & Best Sound Mixing

    I know the distinction between the two, but I didn't see all the movies so I didn't vote. I didn't see Rogue One [A Star Wars Story] or 13 Hours [The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi] in sound mixing and I missed Sully in sound editing — although I saw the TV show about him [Chesley Sullenberger].

    My vote
    [Abstain]

  • Best Visual Effects

    I saw Deepwater Horizon, but I didn't see the other four nominees. So I only saw one out of the five, and I wasn't impressed, so I didn't vote. Deepwater Horizon was directed by Peter Berg, right? I thought his other movie this year, Patriots Day, was much better.

    My vote
    [Abstain]

  • Best Animated Short, Best Documentary Short & Best Live Action Short

    I saw them all, but they all blurred together in my memory, so I abstained.

    My vote for all three
    [Abstain]
     

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