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Oscar Voter Reveals Brutally Honest Ballot

One cranky member of the Academy's directors branch talks THR's Scott Feinberg through his picks: "'Gravity'? I've seen better things at planetariums," while Julia Roberts "was horrendous" and Meryl Streep gave "a bottom-drawer performance" in "August: Osage County."

Oscar Ballot Illustration - P 2014
Illustration by: Iker Ayestaran

This story first appeared in the March 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. It is the first of five "brutally honest" Oscar ballots shared with THR by Academy members, one of which will post each day leading up to the Oscar ceremony on Sunday, March 2.

VOTER PROFILE: This Oscar voter is a longtime member of the Academy's 377-member directors branch.

➻ BEST PICTURE

Captain Phillips struck me as a slightly hokey, overacted, not particularly gripping action movie. Gravity pales in comparison with Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson's recent 13-part reboot of Carl Sagan's famous TV series about the universe. Philomena, which I've wanted to call Philomania ever since the Golden Globes, was an effective tearjerker -- I was moved by it -- but that doesn't make it a great film. Nebraska was skillfully done but limited by its limited ambitions and its overly measured pace. Her interested me because of my complete ignorance of everything in it -- it was like sitting through a class that I wasn't necessarily enjoying but that I knew was good for me. (And just because I fall asleep in a movie doesn't necessarily mean I don't admire and like it; I've actually occasionally fallen asleep in my own movies.) Dallas Buyers Club was very good, and I was engaged by it all the way through, but there were no real surprises in it. The Wolf of Wall Street has almost nothing to say, but I found it hysterically funny. Conversely, with 12 Years a Slave, you don't even crack a smile, but it was interesting, admirable and well done; I must say, though, that contrary to what some have asserted, it's not as if it required great courage to make that movie -- maybe if you made it in Mississippi in 1930. As for American Hustle, its ambition is not overwhelming, but it takes an interesting subject and very interesting characters and delivers 100 percent on what could be done with it in a very engaging, entertaining, interesting and truthful way. I would not put it in the legendary masterpiece category, but it doesn't fail on any level. 

MY PICK: (1) American Hustle; (2) 12 Years a Slave; (3) The Wolf of Wall Street

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➻ BEST DIRECTOR

David O. Russell, hands down. Steve McQueen made an admirable movie, but I don't think it's remotely as ambitious or good as his previous film, ShameWolf is like Casino and GoodFellas -- fun, bubble-gum Scorsese. Payne -- whatever. And Cuaron was part of a committee of technicians who made that movie, and I have seen things at the planetarium that were at least as impressive. 

MY PICK: David O. Russell (American Hustle)

➻ BEST ACTOR

Ejiofor was good. DiCaprio has been better; this is a popcorn performance. McConaughey was very good; he's really doing some great stuff now, and I would give it to him for True Detective. Dern is a great guy and a friend and is excellent in the movie, and if I were not as taken by Bale's performance as I am, I would have voted for him. But Bale had a much juicier role -- Dern's role is very contained, whereas Bale is all over the place -- so I had to go with him. It's the role of a lifetime. 

MY PICK: Christian Bale (American Hustle)

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➻ BEST ACTRESS

Blanchett has to win this. Bullock is the weak link -- she's just OK. For Streep, whom I love, this is a bottom-drawer performance. Dench is a terrific actress, and she's very good in this film. Adams I love. But you have to vote for who's truly the best, and to me, Blanchett -- whom I'm normally not that wild about, with the exception of Bandits -- is that. She was just a revelation; she was just spectacular. 

MY PICK: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

➻ BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Everyone was at least very good, but Cooper was the best. I think this is the best he's been in anything. If he wasn't in the category, I'd probably end up voting for Jonah Hill, only because I found him so funny. Jared Leto was good and will win, but he's getting tremendous points because of the person he's playing more than the way he played it, which is as close to pandering as you can get.

MY PICK: Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)

➻ BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Lawrence and Hawkins are the two obvious best of the five. Hawkins had a difficult part -- it's not an attractive role, and she's intentionally overshadowed constantly by Blanchett, but she registers strongly in each scene she's in. Jennifer was even better -- she has that extra level of excitement in every scene she's in. She just dazzles; she's always doing something original and bold and surprising and believable. June Squibb was fine. Julia Roberts was horrendous. And Lupita was very good, but a lot of the commotion over her is attributable to people's tremendous empathy with and sympathy for the role she's playing. 

MY PICK: Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)

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➻ BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

12 Years a Slave wins easily. Wolf is enjoyable, and if you were giving awards for most fun, it probably would be the biggest winner this year, along with American Hustle, which is a much better movie overall. On the other hand, by that logic, Step Brothers would have won. Philomena is an earnest and emotionally effective tearjerker, but that doesn't mean its script is great. Captain Phillips is one step above hokum. And Before Midnight is a travesty of ineptitude and dreadful writing, like the other two in that horrible trilogy -- if I was sitting next to those people, I would run in the opposite direction. 

MY PICK: 12 Years a Slave

➻ BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

All five scripts are extremely good. Her is a worthy contender, and what it has over the others is that it's completely original, but, even though I was impressed by the movie, I found myself nodding out periodically, so that meant I couldn't put it on the same level as American Hustle and Blue Jasmine. I often choose personal friendship when I am torn between two almost equally good options, but in this case I'm friends with both David and Woody, so that doesn't help. … I'm going for American Hustle because Woody has already been overwhelmingly rewarded. I feel very badly about the absurd bullshit that's flying Woody's way, but that can't intrude one way or the other on voting. Both films have literally not a single dead spot in them.

MY PICK: American Hustle

➻ BEST ANIMATED FEATURE 

I have seen none of them. I have no interest whatsoever. That ended when I was 6. My son dragged me to a few when he was 6; I would seat him and go outside and make phone calls. 

MY PICK: I abstain.

➻ BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

I actually liked several of the movies, especially 20 Feet From Stardom, but I refuse to dignify the category by voting in it. Even with its new rules, the documentary category has about as much claim to legitimacy as the Bush-Gore presidential election. It's an incestuous little club. 

MY PICK: I abstain.

➻ BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM

I immediately rule out Palestine for Omar because I saw it, and it's a bunch of f---ing anti-Semitic swine. The Hunt was the best, by far -- the performance, the writing, the boldness of the approach. The Great Beauty is unbelievably f---ing slow and dull; that's another movie where you can sit there and pass out five times and miss nothing. I stopped Broken Circle Breakdown halfway and Cambodia's after 20 minutes.

MY PICK: The Hunt

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➻ BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

There was some pretty impressive stuff in Gravity. I didn't think any of the other movies were shot on the level of the really great films -- Prisoners was excellent but a cut below Roger Deakins' best work, such as Andrew Dominik's film and the Coen brothers' films -- but Gravity was. 

MY PICK: Gravity

➻ BEST COSTUME DESIGN

American Hustle, unquestionably. Everything about the period is done not only accurately and believably but adds to the movie. I lived through that period, and it all rang true. 

MY PICK: American Hustle

➻ BEST FILM EDITING

American Hustle is light years better than anything else. There is nothing but sharp cuts and rhythm in the movie -- there is not a wasted frame. Captain Phillips is, to me, the chickenshit way of editing; it's usually done because you're terrified of boring the audience, so you keep cutting, and it actually becomes unbelievably tedious and headache-inducing, and it's not the way the mind perceives reality, either. And 12 Years a Slave had about 15 to 20 minutes of sluggish, boring stuff that I would have ripped out.

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MY PICK: American Hustle

➻ BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

To me, the only one is Dallas Buyers Club. It's the most prominent thing about the movie. It works unbelievably. I was aware of it, and ordinarily when you say you're aware of something it means it's not working very well, but I was aware of it as something that was done very skillfully and believably. I was shocked to hear it had a $250 budget for makeup.

MY PICK: Dallas Buyers Club

➻ BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

I found all five scores inferior. Desplat has done a number of exceptionally good scores, but Philomena is not one of them, so I'm not gonna vote for him this year.

MY PICK: I abstain.

➻ BEST ORIGINAL SONG

I didn't vote because I regard all four songs as utterly inferior and not worth voting for. To dignify any of them with a vote is to suggest that they're worthy of a nomination, and they're not; they're just bad songs. And, as for disqualifying the fifth nominee? The rules are so petty and stupid, these people should get a life -- it's embarrassing. They're like sub-basement, quasi-Talmudic scholars.

MY PICK: I abstain.

➻ BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

I would immediately eliminate 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. The other three would all be worthy winners -- Gatsby, for instance, was not a good movie, but it still popped and came alive, especially in 3D -- but I liked American Hustle the most overall so I voted for it. It was well-done and accurate, in terms of the period, and each set is done in a way that adds to the believability and the character of the scene.

MY PICK: American Hustle

➻ BEST SOUND EDITING

Most of the time, who knows what was recorded on the set, as opposed to what was added in post? I generally vote for the movie with the best overall sound in both sound categories.

MY PICK: Gravity

➻ BEST SOUND MIXING

Even though I thought Inside Llewyn Davis was an atrociously bad movie, the sound mixing was good. But the best sound mixing was for Gravity, by far. It had a very clean track. 

MY PICK: Gravity

➻ BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Four of them are completely without interest of any kind whatsoever on any level, and Gravity's effects, in 3D, anyway, are terrific. So this isn't even a contest.

MY PICK: Gravity

➻ BEST ANIMATED SHORT, BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT and BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT

I don't watch the shorts. And, if I don't know anybody who made one of them -- a friend or an enemy -- I just don't vote, which was the case this year.

MY PICK: I abstain.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg