Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot No. 3: 'Sniper' Attacks "Not Legitimate," Eddie Redmayne "Transformative"

An anonymous male Academy member also says 'Inherent Vice' was a "disaster," 'Whiplash' "blew my mind" and he backed 'Virunga' because "I'm just a sucker for the gorilla."
Keith Bernstein
'American Sniper'

This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation with an Academy member who is not associated with any of this year's nominees about his ballot. A conversation with a different member will post each day leading up to the Oscars ceremony on Feb. 22. Needless to say, their views are not necessarily endorsed by Scott Feinberg or THR.

VOTER PROFILE: A member of the Academy's 386-member writers branch who was nominated for an Oscar within the last decade.

➻ BEST PICTURE

I thought that the attacks on American Sniper were not legitimate. As a screenwriter, I feel like it has always been the case, throughout the history of films, that in order to dramatize someone's life, artistic liberties are taken. If you don't like that, that's why there are documentaries. This is one interpretation of Chris Kyle's journey. I admire it for having a carefully constructed screenplay, a performance so minimalist and nuanced that you could hardly see it, and direction and editing that were phenomenal, particularly in the war scenes.

Birdman I just thought was incredibly ambitious on all levels: directing, acting, the editing of those "continuous" shots. It's not like anything I have seen. It just stood for everything that I love about film.

I wasn't blown away by Boyhood, but I liked its simplicity and, more than anything, I loved experiencing Patricia Arquette's point-of-view as a mother, which was very moving.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a textbook example of what's great about Wes Anderson. His stuff is always amazing.

I thought The Imitation Game was one of the most complete films that I saw this year. It tells a historical story I knew very little about, as well as the personal story of Alan Turing that was just heartbreaking, moving and inspiring. I just thought it was fantastic.

Selma, to me, was an incredibly inspiring piece of history. What [director] Ava [DuVernay] did with it and [star] David [Oyelowo]'s performance were both incredible.

I thought that Eddie Redmayne gave the most transformative performance of the year in The Theory of Everything, and its love story was beautiful.

And Whiplash just blew my mind. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. Both of those characters were incredible. I believed them. I don't know, it just spoke to me on every level — it was so ambitious and new and raw and revolutionary. MY VOTE: (1) The Imitation Game, (2) Birdman, (3) Whiplash, (4) The Theory of Everything, (5) American Sniper

➻ BEST DIRECTOR

I don't feel that the best director must be the director of the best picture. I'm open to the split because some directors deserve to be celebrated for their ambition and vision. Look at somebody like [Boyhood's Richard] Linklater: You might say, "Is that really an Oscar movie?" But when you think about how ambitious it was, what he set out to do and tell, you're like, "Yeah, I could see voting for him." This year, though, I just thought [Alejandro G. Inarritu]'s film was so ambitious and was such a great journey and so challenging that I felt like he deserved best director. MY VOTE: Alejandro G. Inarritu (Birdman)

➻ BEST ACTOR

Although every one of the nominated performances were incredible, this one is kind of easy for me because I always think in terms of what was the most transformative, and it seemed to me that Eddie Redmayne was clearly that. It just was so real. MY VOTE: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

➻ BEST ACTRESS

Again, [Still Alice] Julianne Moore's was the most transformative. She nailed it. MY VOTE: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

➻ BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

This was a tough one because I thought [Foxcatcher's Mark] Ruffalo was so nuanced and understated. But I don't know if he had as much screen time as [Whiplash's] J.K. [Simmons] — and J.K. was just unreal. His performance is in a category by itself. MY VOTE: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

➻ BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

None of them blew my mind, but [Boyhood's] Patricia Arquette stuck out the most. She captured this single mother raising children while trying to keep it all together so well. MY VOTE: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

➻ BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Inherent Vice I thought was a disaster, an embarrassment almost. I don't know, I was just so disappointed because [writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson] is one of my favorite filmmakers and it just felt lazy, incoherent and a waste of such talent and money. And Theory, I felt, was more about the performances than the dialogue or characterization. The others are all great in their own ways. Sniper is an incredibly difficult story to tell and [Jason Hall] pulled it off and I thought it was great, but, all-around, it had some problems; that third act was problematic. Whiplash was fantastic and introduces a great new voice [writer-director Damien Chazelle]. But when I look at all the factors — character, plot, story, dialogue — Imitation Game just stood out. MY VOTE: The Imitation Game

Read more Oscars: Who Will Win, Who Should Win

➻ BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

This is a tough category. Budapest just didn't grab me. Nightcrawler was more performance-driven than script-driven. Boyhood was a little simplistic. I loved Foxcatcher, but I just thought Birdman was so original and interesting and deserves to be awarded. MY VOTE: Birdman

➻ BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

I never got a chance to watch those screeners. There were so many films to watch and I just had to pick and choose. MY VOTE: I abstain.

➻ BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

I saw Last Days in Vietnam, Virunga and Citizenfour. For me, it was between Citizenfour, which is excellent, and Virunga. The makers of both films took huge risks to get them made, but I had to go with Virunga — which I watched on Netflix before I got the screener — because I just feel that the plight of the gorillas, matched with what's going on in the Congo, matched with what we do for oil, impacted me more. That was a really hard one, but I think more people need to know about what's going on over there, and I think if it wins then more people will. I guess I'm just a sucker for the gorilla. MY VOTE: Virunga

➻ BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM

I saw one film and I thought it was excellent: Ida. Everything about it was fantastic. MY VOTE: Ida

➻ BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

I voted for Ida because it was black-and-white, there were these incredible contrasts and the cinematography completely fed the mood of the film and felt like a character within the film. The way they shot it was just gorgeous and added so much gravitas to it. MY VOTE: Ida

➻ BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Unfortunately, I didn't see Maleficent or Mr. Turner. I went with BudapestMY VOTE: The Grand Budapest Hotel

➻ BEST FILM EDITING

I thought the editing was superb on Sniper, but I went with Whiplash because I felt it was a character in the film, those sequences of him drumming, you know? MY VOTE: Whiplash

➻ BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING

I went with Guardians of the Galaxy just because I loved the film, I love Nicole [Perelman, its co-writer] and I thought the hair and makeup on Zoe Saldana and the tree was great. MY VOTE: Guardians of the Galaxy

➻ BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

I just remember [the score of] The Theory of Everything, which I thought was beautiful and moving, and I don't really remember [the scores of] any of the others except The Imitation GameMY VOTE: The Theory of Everything

➻ BEST ORIGINAL SONG

I thought The Lego Movie [in which "Everything Is Awesome" is featured] was horrible. It was whack and I just did not like it at all — I mean, I couldn't even get through the film. But "Glory" I thought was fantastic — an inspiring song from an inspiring film. MY VOTE: "Glory" (Selma)

➻ BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

I didn't see Into the Woods or Mr. Turner. Budapest revolved so much around its production design — they created a whole world with this fantasy-land, fairy-tale hotel. Interstellar I just thought was an abomination — like, I just didn't get it on any level and I thought it was so boring and awful and fucking indulgent and stupid — and although the design was interesting, I just can't vote for it. I have a feeling, as I'm talking to you, that I may have misvoted because, from the trailer, the production design of Into the Woods looked pretty cool. MY VOTE: The Grand Budapest Hotel

➻ BEST SOUND EDITING

In all honesty, I don't understand the distinction between sound editing and sound mixing. My guess, though, is that sound editing was probably crucial to Sniper. MY VOTE: American Sniper

➻ BEST SOUND MIXING

And my guess is that the sound mixing was probably crucial to WhiplashMY VOTE: Whiplash

➻ BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

I went again with Guardians of the Galaxy, just to kind of recognize it. MY VOTE: Guardians of the Galaxy

➻ BEST ANIMATED SHORT

➻ BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT

I didn't get around to seeing them.

MY VOTE FOR BOTH: I abstain.

➻ BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT

I saw The Phone Call at a film festival and I thought it was great. That was the only one I saw, unfortunately. MY VOTE: The Phone Call

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg

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