Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot: '1917' Is "Gimmicky," Renée Zellweger "Nailed It"

4:20 PM 2/6/2020

by Anonymous, as told to Scott Feinberg

A male member of the Academy's producers branch, granted anonymity to speak freely, shares which films earned his precious vote (and why).

Nishant Choksi

Throughout awards season, The Hollywood Reporter checks in with select members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Their insights are valuable not so much because they are representative of the overall Academy — one would have to speak with hundreds to get a scientifically significant sample of the 8,469-member voting body — but because they offer a sense of the sorts of things Academy members are thinking about. Here, a male producer weighs in.

  • Best Picture

    Andrew Cooper/Sony Pictures

    My favorite film of the year didn't even get a nomination — I'm embarrassed to admit it because a lot of people hated it, but it was Yesterday. That movie made me feel fucking great. Two movies that I really hated were Ford v Ferrari and Little Women. The director [of Ford, James Mangold] knows nothing about racing, and admitted as much at the Q&A after it screened at the Academy — you don't have someone putting on their goggles once they're already driving or staring longingly at the guy in the next car as he passes him! [The 1966 film] Grand Prix had class and style and knew what it was about. With Little Women, the timeline was ridiculous — I was really confused sometimes, and I know I'm not the only one. Thank God she [star Saoirse Ronan] cut her hair, because that at least gave me a bit of a reference point. As for Marriage Story, I needed to care for the kid, and I didn't. And I know that those two actors [Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson] poured their souls into those roles, but it's getting harder and harder for me to care about entitled people's marital relationships. It wouldn't have been that hard to say, "I'll stay in New York, you go to LA and work for a while," stay married, hook-up when you can and be bicoastal. The rest of the nominees I really liked. The Irishman, as much as I loved it and its performances, is not [the 1995 film also directed by Martin Scorsese] Casino — after Hoffa was dead, the movie was done for me, my ass was sore and I wanted to get the fuck out of there. I love Parasite — super-smart, brilliant director [Bong Joon Ho], the movie looks great and the whole look into class struggle was terrific — but once the murdering started happening they lost me. Joker was excellent, but it's not a best picture. 1917 was great but gimmicky, and rang a little hollow for me in the same way that Dunkirk rang a little hollow for me. Once it got down to Jojo Rabbit and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, it was hard for me. I wish I could have voted for them both. Once I realized it was okay to laugh at Jojo, it was great — so funny and so applicable to where we are today. But Once Upon a Time in Hollywood gave me real escape at a time when I wanted nothing more. I don't jump up and down for [Quentin] Tarantino movies — the last movie of his that I liked before this one was [the 1997 film] Jackie Brown — but this movie made me feel good. We all have our ups and downs in this business — I'm not at the high-point of my career right now, so I could identify very much with the characters, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood gave me hope. And it leaves you thinking about what could have been in a better world: What would Sharon Tate's life have been if this hadn't happened? What would [Roman] Polanski's life have been?! It puts tears in my eyes when I think about it.

    MY VOTE (1) Once Upon a Time in Hollywood; (2) Jojo Rabbit; (3) 1917; (4) Joker; (5) Parasite; (6) The Irishman; (7) Marriage Story; (8) Little Women; (9) Ford v Ferrari

  • Best Director

    Andrew Cooper/Sony Pictures

    1917 was more about the visuals than the direction [of Sam Mendes]. Joker was more about the acting than the direction [of Todd Phillips]. [The Irishman's] Martin Scorsese has done this a lot, and often better. Listen, I've seen Casino, in its entirety, start to finish, 20 times — that movie makes you want to be a gangster; this one was depressing; I'm watching my wise-guy heroes for decades as old men. The Parasite guy [Bong Joon Ho] is so smart and talented. But this was an easy one: Quentin did a first-class job with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

    MY VOTE Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

  • Best Actor

    Niko Tavernise/ Warner Bros.

    The Two Popes wasn't the movie for me, so no Jonathan Pryce. Adam Driver? I didn't respond to the movie [Marriage Story], although I felt bad for him [his character] — his wife didn't have enough compassion for him. He brought her back from the dead, not vice-versa, and there should have been a little more love there. Leo [Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's Leonardo DiCaprio] was great. I loved Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory — it was the best thing he has ever done. But Joaquin [Phoenix] was just so off-the-charts — in a movie I didn't want to like, this guy just killed it. There was no contest.

    MY VOTE Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

  • Best Actress

    Roadside Attractions/Pathé Productions

    I just didn't mesh with Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story at all — she has a great woe-is-me speech in the beginning of the third act, but the movie just didn't do it for me. I love Saoirse [Ronan of Little Women], but the movie was just a nothing — I actually don't want to use that phrase anymore because that's a Trump phrase — it just didn't do it for me. And it makes me sick when they [Ronan and writer/director Greta Gerwig, who previously collaborated on 2017's Lady Bird] say they're going to work together forever — they'll work together for a while and then something else will happen, a studio will get tired of one of them and that's it. Cynthia [Erivo] was really, really good, but Harriet didn't really have the guts that 12 Years a Slave had — it was like the glossy Disney version of what slavery was. Charlize [Theron, of Bombshell] was brilliant, as always. But Renee [Zellweger, of Judy] was transformational — she just really nailed it, and bravo for her: She's worked really hard, she's not a quitter and she's had a lot of fucking haters after her ass, but she dominated with that role.

    MY VOTE Renée Zellweger, Judy

  • Best Supporting Actor

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment

    [A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood's] Tom Hanks wasn't Mister Rogers, sorry. The rest of them were so great it was hard to choose. I guess [The Irishman's] Al Pacino didn't feel that fresh to me, I've seen him do that sort of thing before, and Joe Pesci was stellar, but not the best. [The Two Popes' Anthony] Hopkins was great. But I voted for [Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's] Brad Pitt because he nailed it — the buddy that everyone wants, who doesn't have as good a life as you but who is there for you every fucking minute, that loyal friend who all of us want but most of us don't have. I never had a man-crush on Brad Pitt, but after that movie? He's so smooth and likable that I want nothing but the best for him.

    MY VOTE Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

  • Best Supporting Actress

    Courtesy of Hilary Bronwyn Gayle SMPSP

    Everyone is going on about the "snub" of J. Lo [Hustlers' Jennifer Lopez] — fuck J.Lo. I'm allergic to that movie. It isn't a movie about "empowering" women; it's a movie about slipping asshole men roofies and fucking jacking them. Roger Corman made better stripper films — they had some meaning. Florence Pugh was fine, but I didn't like Little Women. [Marriage Story's] Laura Dern is so lovable in real life, but she was so over the top compared to the rest of the movie that it just didn't make sense. [Jojo Rabbit's] Scarlett Johansson was good, but it wasn't a command performance. [Richard Jewell's] Kathy Bates just phoned in her performance, and it was still better than almost anybody else's. But my choice is [Bombshell's] Margot Robbie because I believed her character — sure I have a crush on her, but she is also so accessible as an actress. I truly felt for her after she [her character] had done the deed in the movie.

    MY VOTE Margot Robbie, Bombshell

  • Best Adapted Screenplay

    Kimberley French/Twentieth Century Fox

    I think Greta Gerwig is really great, but I shouldn't need a scorecard to keep track of a movie's timeline, so I ruled out Little Women first. I wasn't big on The Two Popes, although it was beautiful to look at the Catholic Church in that way. The Irishman was fine. But it was between Joker and Jojo Rabbit for me. Joker was great, but Jojo was an adapted screenplay but an original story, man — the humor and everything was so smart. It was hard for me at first because I thought, "I can't laugh at this!" But then it became clear that I could, and it came close to being my favorite film of the year.

    MY VOTE Jojo Rabbit

  • Best Original Screenplay

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment

    I hated Marriage Story. Knives Out was okay — it was really just a vehicle for stars to do silly shit. 1917 was sort of one-note. Parasite was excellent. But Once Upon a Time in Hollywood definitely gets my vote — it's a Hollywood insider's movie that everyone can like. It's a story about living in Hollywood and how our lives are so in flux — from minute to minute they can change, for better or worse, at the drop of a hat, over one meeting or one handshake or one diss. Your whole career can be made or fucked. I loved it.

    MY VOTE Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

  • Best Animated Feature

    Courtesy of Laika Studios/Annapurna Pictures

    Oh, boy, what a letdown [of a category] — just so fucking boring. The Lion King should have been in here — it's an animated movie. [The voter is made aware that the film was never submitted for consideration in this category.] The first How to Train Your Dragon was kind of cute and wonderful, but the second and third [How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World] don't stand on their own. Toy Story 4? I'm so tired of franchise fuckin' Campbell's Soup movies. Klaus was unwatchable. I Lost My Body would have been better as a live-action film — it could have been done with special effects and would have been more dynamic. I chose The Missing Link because at least it was hopeful.

    MY VOTE The Missing Link

  • Best Documentary Feature

    Courtesy of National Geographic

    Honeyland just wasn't for me. For Sama I can't really remember. The Edge of Democracy — oy, I loved it, it was powerful, but we [Americans] are now the ones who are living it. American Factory was another reminder that we [Americans] are fucked — it's so sad because these people are working their asses off and still not making a livable wage. The Cave was my favorite because it reminded me that there is still some good in the world, even in the face of unimaginable evil. It's epic. How do we continue to reject these people [Syrian refugees] when they want to get away from that hellhole? The same filmmaker [Feras Fayyad] made another amazing movie a couple of years ago [2017's Last Men in Aleppo].

    MY VOTE The Cave

  • Best International Feature

    Courtesy of Amazon Studios

    Once again, I just knocked [North Macedonia's] Honeyland off the list. [Spain's] Pain and Glory was the next weakest, although he [Antonio Banderas] gave a brilliant performance in it. I really liked Parasite, but it lost me at the end, and I find it bizarre that they are now going to do a longform, limited-run dramatic series of it. So, for me, it really got down to [Poland's] Corpus Christi and [France's] Les Mis [Les Miserables] — I loved both of those. Corpus Christi makes men seem sexy even to a straight guy, just like [Danny] Boyle did with Trainspotting. But Les Mis? Fuckin' A, man. It was like Bad Lieutenant — just so visceral and real, and has a really big message that you reap what you sow. I didn't even want to see it because I assumed it was a musical, but it blew my mind and I felt alive after seeing it. I loved the non-actors in it and everything about it that made it feel so real.

    MY VOTE Les Miserables, France

  • Best Cinematography

    Francois Duhamel/Universal Pictures

    The Irishman is the least visually exciting one, to me — it didn't have anything cool like the dice flying in the air in Casino. The Lighthouse has beautiful black-and-white photography, but the movie was too depressing. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was solid, but the movie was less about the visuals than the story and the acting. Joker looked great. But 1917 just overshadows everything — it looked great, it was wild and kinetic, and a movie that I didn't want to like I ended up loving. Yes, it [the one-shot appearance of the film] is a gimmick, ultimately, but it's a gimmick that is going to win him an Academy Award, and deservedly.

    MY VOTE 1917

  • Best Costume Design

    Netflix

    Ironically, the costumes in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood were the least fabulous, even though they included actual pieces that she [Sharon Tate] wore — sunglasses and stuff — from what I heard at a Q&A. I hated Little Women, but the costumes were really good. Jojo Rabbit was great, but they didn't exactly reinvent the wheel with their Nazi costumes, did they? Joker had some good stuff. But to me it was clearly The Irishman. They had to come up with costumes for a three-and-a-half-hour movie that required a lot of wardrobe changes. And they had the best Rayon and Ban-Lon wise-guy shirts ever — I wanted every shirt in that collection.

    MY VOTE The Irishman

  • Best Film Editing

    Kimberley French/Twentieth Century Fox

    The Irishman needed some fucking editing — 30 minutes, at least. Ford v Ferrari was whatever. Parasite was good. I could easily have voted for Joker in another year. But, to me, it was clearly Jojo Rabbit — the timing of the cuts was central to the humor.

    MY VOTE Jojo Rabbit

  • Best Makeup and Hairstyling

    David Hindley/Courtesy of LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions

    I hated Maleficent [Mistress of Evil] — that's one I had to force myself to watch at home. To me, it came down to Bombshell and Judy. Both made them [their respective stars] look just like the real people. But Judy was a better movie; Bombshell was like a TV movie with big stars.

    MY VOTE Judy

  • Best Production Design

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment

    The Irishman? Been there, done that. 1917 was a bunch of tunnels. Jojo Rabbit was great. Parasite was close. But Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was easily my favorite — I mean, they made Hollywood look like it was. I remember coming here when I was a kid and it looked like that. They did a big restoration job to make that happen. And Spahn Ranch was super-creepy.

    MY VOTE Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

  • Best Original Score

    Warner Bros. Pictures

    This one was such a no-brainer. [Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker's] John Williams? Just a big yawn. [The Alexandre Desplat score for] Little Women was nothing special. Marriage Story? I've heard it a lot. 1917? Thomas Newman. Dynamic. Powerful. Drives the picture along really nice. But the Joker score [by Hildur Guðnadóttir] is fucking amazing. It was fresh. It was new. It was young. It was alive. It was scary. It was creepy. It made you get into his [Joker's] character. You know, oftentimes when I hear Q&As it makes me less interested in a movie, but I heard her on NPR doing an interview and I was fucking floored. And that TV series that she did [the HBO limited series Chernobyl] also has a fucking amazing score. But Joker has the freshest score in years.

    MY VOTE Joker

  • Best Original Song

    Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

    I listened to all of the songs. I didn't see Breakthrough, but I listened to "I'm Standing With You" — Diane Warren is a great songwriter. I can't stand the Frozen series [including Frozen 2, for which Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez's tune "Into the Unknown" is nominated]. The Toy Story series [including Toy Story 4, for which Randy Newman's tune "I Can't Let You Throw Yourself Away" is nominated] needs to be freshened up a bit, too. "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again" from Rocketman felt like a real song that I would actually listen to if it came on the radio. The Harriet song [Cynthia Erivo and Joshuah Brian Campbell's "Stand Up"] was really good, too, but I didn't really like the movie.

    MY VOTE "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again," Rocketman

  • Best Sound Editing

    Courtesy of Universal Pictures

    For me, it was easily 1917. Cutting the effects for that film must have been a major effort — a movie like this, with all of those explosions, must have had layers and layers of edits.

    MY VOTE 1917

  • Best Sound Mixing

    Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

    Once Upon a Time in Hollywood gets my vote over 1917 in this one because of the way they blended the music with all of the other audio of the film. It was smooth and cohesive.

    MY VOTE Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

  • Best Visual Effects

    Walt Disney Studios

    I immediately knocked off Avengers: Endgame — I just don't like the whole franchise — although if I were making money on it I guess I'd love it. I'm not a Star Wars [The Rise of Skywalker] fan, either. The Irishman's [reverse-aging] makeup effects were great. 1917 was fine. But The Lion King! I mean, whatever they did to make it look the way they did was fantastic. I'm a big animal lover, so it was what dreams are made of for me. I loved it.

    MY VOTE The Lion King

  • Best Animated Short

    Courtesy of Disney+

    Hair Love, to me, was shallow — I didn't get it. Sister was very good. But Kitbull was my favorite — a sweet story, an outsider dog finds love with a cat, how bad can it be? I was looking for happiness this season.

    MY VOTE Kitbull

  • Best Documentary Short

    Courtesy of Concordia Studio

    All of them were good. But at a time when everything is really sad and depressing, two really stood out to me. I really liked Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone [If You're a Girl]. But I'll tell you, Walk Run Cha-Cha put tears in my eyes — I started out not giving a shit about these people, but by the time I was done with this film I cared about them and what they've done and their family. It just spoke to me.

    MY VOTE Walk Run Cha-Cha

  • Best Live Action Short

    Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

    It was really between Nefta Football Club and The Neighbor's Window. Nefta Football Club was so fun and super-smart — I wish I'd made that film myself. But The Neighbors' Window was better. It makes my hair stand on end, it was so sweet. The grass always seems greener on the other side, but it's not always greener. I loved that movie. You could make a feature out of that movie. They probably will.

    MY VOTE The Neighbors' Window