Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot #3: 'BlacKkKlansman' Is "The Film We Need Now," 'Vice' "Kind of a Miss"

1:28 PM 2/23/2019

by Anonymous, as told to Scott Feinberg

A male PR branch member talks about being "so happy" for Richard E. Grant, the "elaborate and beautifully realized" costumes of 'Black Panther' and why his best supporting actress vote went to Emma Stone.

Illustration by Kyle Metcalf

A male member of the Academy's 455-person public relations branch with no connection to any 2018 film, granted a cloak of anonymity, reveals why he filled out his final Oscar ballot the way that he did.

  • Best Picture

    Courtesy of Focus Features

    I wish that Eighth Grade and Can You Ever Forgive Me? had made it in — I nominated both of them. Bohemian Rhapsody disappointed me on a lot of levels. It was too long; it was too safe; it felt like it was made by a committee, because it was; and it refused to engage on the darker sides of Freddie Mercury, his relationship with the other band members and the music business, in general. Green Book is a nice film, but very old-fashioned; it deserves to be nominated, but not to win. The focus was on the wrong character; I really wanted to know more about Dr. Shirley, who was such an interesting person. Vice had terrific performances, but Dick Cheney is not a particularly interesting or compelling personality, and tonally the film was a mess — is it a satire or a biopic or something else? I still have no idea. I really enjoyed A Star Is Born — it's entertaining and it's romantic and it's sexy — but I think it was overhyped a little bit. I don't know that it was really all that different from the last version of the film, and I was hoping that it would feel more contemporary than it did; the '54 one was actually the best of all of them, and that didn't win best picture, so this one shouldn't either. Roma was wonderful and she [Yalitza Aparicio] is a real find and I couldn't care less that it's a Netflix movie — but I think it was built up to be some sort of universal experience, and it wasn't that for me; it's just a lovely homage to one person's childhood. I'm not a big comic book or superhero kind of guy, but Black Panther elevated the genre to a whole different level. The Favourite is a terrific film on every level — it told a story I didn't know with great production value on every level and great acting; it was wildly entertaining and made me laugh, but it didn't really have anything to say. But BlacKkKlansman did and I couldn't stop thinking about it for months afterwards. It was so unexpected. It was refreshing to be told a true story that I didn't know. The writing and directing were so unexpected. And I never imagined that Spike [Lee] could pull off the comedic elements of it as well as the dramatic aspects, but he did. And I salute him for putting that bit at the end about Charlottesville — it was the absolute right thing to do. It's just the film of the year and, to use the old cliche, the film we need now. And you want to know something? Contrary to what everyone is predicting right now, I think it's going to win.

    My Vote: (1) BlacKkKlansman, (2) The Favourite, (3) Black Panther, (4) Roma, (5) A Star Is Born, (6) Vice, (7) Green Book, (8) Bohemian Rhapsody

  • Best Director

    David Lee/Focus Features

    I like Adam McKay's work, but Vice was not nearly as strong as The Big Short, and was kind of a miss. Pawel Pawlkowski made a film I loved, but there were some stylistic and thematic similarities between it and his previous film, Ida. I like Roma a lot, and I think Alfonso Cuaron is extraordinarily talented, but I don't think it's his best film; I liked Y Tu Mama Tambien better. I think Yorgos Lanthimos did a terrific job with The Favourite and is really growing as a filmmaker without, sort of, selling out. But I voted for Spike Lee. He's been deserving of this award for other pieces that he's done, but that didn't factor into my decision. I just think BlacKkKlansman was such a high-wire act on so many levels, it's so timely and he nailed it. This was a no-brianer for me.

    My Vote: Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)

  • Best Actor

    Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

    [Green Book's] Viggo Mortensen has given so many great performances, but I don't think this was one of his better ones — it was a little one-note for me. [At Eternity's Gate] Willem Dafoe? Love him, but I don't know if there was anything unexpected or new in this performance; a lot of great actors have played that role in different films. Rami Malek is such a brilliant actor, but I wanted him to go further in this [Bohemian Rhapsody]. There's no question about [Vice's] Christian Bale's talent or transformative abilities; playing Cheney, though, may have been limiting for him, because the character remains pretty even-keeled from start to finish and doesn't really change much. I went with Bradley Cooper because I felt that in this role he pulled off so many really complicated things — the joy of falling in love, the tragedy of addiction, what he did with his voice. I was just floored by what he did with his voice, lowering the register and whatever he did. There's a scene in the film when he's in a rehab center and she comes to visit him, and I was just weeping at the way he played it. And then to think that he directed himself!

    My Vote: Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)

  • Best Actress

    Sony Pictures Classics/Photofest

    I never seriously considered voting for [A Star Is Born's] Lady Gaga in this category — I really liked the film and it was a fine performance, but nothing that really surprised me; it didn't feel like a huge stretch to me. This version of the movie seemed to lean more towards his [Bradley Cooper's] character than hers, unlike previous versions. [Roma's] Yalitza Aparicio is a lovely discovery and thoroughly inhabited that role, but I need to see more from her. I'm in love with [Can You Ever Forgive Me?'s] Melissa McCarthy's performance, and I can't say that it surprised me — I've always felt that she was really versatile and talented, so it wasn't a surprise to me that she pulled this off — but I was so happy to witness it happen. It was so hard to pick between [The Wife's] Glenn Close and [The Favourite's] Olivia Colman. The Favourite felt to me like a three-hander, a triangular dance with her and her costars. For Glenn, that is her movie, from a character and acting perspective — she owns The Wife, which isn't the greatest film, but her performance towers above the rest of it.

    My Vote: Glenn Close (The Wife)

  • Best Supporting Actor

    Courtesy of Mary Cybulski/Twentieth Century Fox

    [Vice's] Sam Rockwell was fine, as always, but he wasn't in the film all that much. Then there's the other Sam, Sam Elliott — love him, great performance here [in A Star Is Born], but he also didn't have enough to do. Adam Driver is a really talented guy who gave a great performance in BlacKkKlansman. Mahershala was really great, but unfortunately in a film [Green Book] that wasn't. To me, [Can You Ever Forgive Me?'s] Richard E. Grant gave the best classic supporting performance — every scene he's in, he's doing what a supporting actor should be doing: supporting the lead, just as he always has. Even in [1992's] The Player, with its big ensemble cast, he just stood out. And in this one, he does so many things at the same time. He's funny, he's tragic, he's a drunk but he's also a human being. He brought such humanity to his character, especially in that last scene. I was so happy to see him in a great role.

    My Vote: Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

  • Best Supporting Actress

    Yorgos Lanthimos

    [Roma's] Marina de Tavira was really good, but wasn't as strong as the other four. [If Beale Street Could Talk's] Regina King, in general, I adore, and I think she can do anything, but this role was one straight line all the way through, which doesn't make for the most interesting viewing. Rachel Weisz was very good but not the stronger of the two in The Favourite. So it came down to [The Favourite's] Emma Stone and [Vice's] Amy Adams, who I thought were both fantastic. I asked myself who gave the most compelling performance. Amy Adams is always great and I love her, but hers wasn't the most interesting role in that movie. I went with Emma Stone. She just does so much with her eyes and her facial expressions — there's so much thinking going on in this character as she does her conspiring. Every scene she's in is a delight.

    My Vote: Emma Stone (The Favourite)

  • Best Adapted Screenplay

    David Lee/Focus Features

    In this category, I was never going to vote for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, A Star Is Born or If Beale Street Could Talk. I don't even know what The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was adapted from. A Star Is Born has been done so many times, and this one isn't all that different than the '76 version. And If Beale Street Could Talk was so ethereal, and I wanted a bit more character stuff. Can You Ever Forgive Me? was a beautifully written two-hander. But BlacKkKlansman was such a high-wire act on every level — so tricky, tonally — and it could have veered off track very easily, but they just completely nailed it.

    My Vote: BlacKkKlansman

  • Best Original Screenplay

    Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

    I nixed Green Book first — it's a nice film, but it's all very quaint and old-fashioned and felt like something that has been done before, and perhaps done better. Vice had tonal issues. I loved First Reformed and the way it deals with difficult subject matter, but it felt to me like it was paying tribute to some older filmmakers' work so to call it "original" is not entirely right. I really loved Roma. But I loved The Favourite more — terrific writing and character work, with great dialogue and character-development for not just the women but also the men. So witty.

    My Vote: The Favourite

  • Best Animated Feature

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures

    Two were really easy to rule out — Ralph Breaks the Internet and Incredibles 2. The animation work is great, but they both felt very similar to each other and to their earlier installments — just sensory overload. I'm also not a fan of Mirai — it felt like a very basic children's storybook with old-fashioned animation and it was all just a little dull. Isle of Dogs was really charming, but as far as the animation, not anything that was breaking new ground. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was one big wow — it almost felt like live-action.

    My Vote: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

  • Best Documentary Feature

    Courtesy of TIFF

    Hale County, This Morning, This Evening was haunting, but the experimental aspect of it worked against it, for me, because every time I started to get attached to a character they went on to someone else. Of Fathers and Sons was riveting and very sad, but I've seen a lot of documentaries set in war-torn Syria. I love the way that Minding the Gap director [Bing Liu] worked himself into his story, and I look forward to seeing what he does next. It was between Free Solo and RBG. They're both terrific. I went with Free Solo because I'm so inspired by him [subject Alex Honnold] and his determination to so fearlessly do something that meant so much to him. It also opened my eyes to what's possible with filmmaking, and specifically documentary filmmaking — I just couldn't believe that they were able to capture his climb the way that they did. My heart was beating hard the entire time. I was just blown away.

    My Vote: Free Solo

  • Best Foreign-Language Film

    Courtesy of Netflix

    This was a really strong field. Never Look Away was long and its lead character wasn't partiuclarly interesting. The kid in Capernaum was extraordinary, but I'm not sure that the courtroom drama framing of it worked for me. Shoplifters was really compelling, but started to feel a little long. For me, it was a very tough choice between Cold War and Roma. Joanna Kulig in Cold War was just a knockout — but the one that I was more emotionally affected by was Roma.

    My Vote: Roma

  • Best Cinematography

    Courtesy of Amazon Studios

    This was easy: Cold War. I'm not a technical person, so I can't articulate all the reasons why, but I felt like Cold War had more variety, in terms of its sets and settings and light, than Roma. The nightclub sequences were smoky, the outdoor scenes were gorgeous and I could go on and on.

    My Vote: Cold War

  • Best Costume Design

    Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

    The costumes of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs were period-accurate, but didn't wow me. Mary Poppins Returns was fine. The corset movies, The Favourite and Mary Queen of Scots, are intricate and detailed and beautiful — you can't take your eyes off of their costumes — but I don't know how to choose between the two. I chose Black Panther because it required such creativity. Each costume is so elaborate and beautifully realized. Watching the film, I thought, "These actors' performances must have been so informed by their costumes."

    My Vote: Black Panther

  • Best Film Editing

    Courtesy of Focus Features

    Green Book was fine, paced nicely for most of it, but started, at some point, to feel a little draggy. Vice was too choppy and all over the place and long. Some of the concert stuff in Bohemian Rhapsody was well done, but that one also felt like an unnecessarily long sit. So I had to choose between The Favourite and BlacKkKlansman. I went with BlacKkKlansman because there were multiple moments in that movie in which they cut back-and-forth between things happening seemingly simultaneously, and it was just so seamless and riveting. And there was not a minute of fat in that movie.

    My Vote: BlacKkKlansman

  • Best Makeup and Hairstyling

    Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures

    This was easy: Vice, for sure. Nothing is harder than nailing real people who are also contemporary and still alive without making it look like a caricature. They did a beautiful and naturalistic job — never once did I think, "That's just Christian Bale in heavy makeup!" Same with Sam Rockwell.

    My Vote: Vice

  • Best Original Score

    Annapurna Pictures

    Mary Poppins Returns was unnecessary — it felt more like a remake than a sequel, and that really bothered me. I wanted to love it. This category, to me, was easy. If Beale Street Could Talk was far from my favorite film of the year, but its score — sort of, New York-jazzy — elevated the emotion and romance of that film so much.

    My Vote: If Beale Street Could Talk

  • Best Original Song

    Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

    I immediately ruled out three, which didn't do anything for me: [Black Panther's] "All the Stars" I honestly don't remember; [RBG's] "I'll Fight" didn't stand out; and [The Ballad of Buster Scruggs'] "When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs" — no. So it was between "Shallow" and "The Place Where Lost Things Go," both lovely songs. I went with "Shallow" because it's not only a beautiful song that I love and can't stop singing, but it also supported the narrative of a film I really liked, which I can't really say about Mary Poppins Returns.

    My Vote: "Shallow" (A Star Is Born)

  • Best Production Design

    Atsushi Nishijima/Twentieth Century Fox

    This was a no-brainer for me: The Favourite was clearly the best. The design of the film is stunning — so elaborate, so detailed, so beautiful. It puts you right there in that period time and the luxuriousness of that place. It was eye-popping. There was no other choice.

    My Vote: The Favourite

  • Best Sound Editing

    Courtesy of Universal Pictures

    I eliminated Roma and Bohemian Rhapsody right off the bat. When I think of what this category is, those two just didn't quite strike me as that. I thought A Quiet Place was really strong work, but maybe not as much as this type of thing, either. Black Panther was big and epic, with a lot of interesting sound work going on in there. But, to me, the success of First Man relied in large part on this art form.

    My Vote: First Man

  • Best Sound Mixing

    Courtesy of Universal Pictures; Courtesy of Dreamworks Pictures

    I'm also voting for First Man here. The sound design of this film overall was very effective, even in the quieter moments, which made the bigger moments — the tests and the space travel and the landings — all the more powerful.

    My Vote: First Man

  • Best Visual Effects

    Courtesy of Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures

    All five were interesting — Christopher Robin, with its animatronic characters, was really sweet; and then there were three somewhat interchangeable sci-fi movies, Avengers: Infinity War, Ready Player One and Solo: A Star Wars Story. But, for me, there was no choice but First Man; its effects were astounding — I was on the edge of my seat, I really felt like they were on the moon — and I really loved the film overall.

    My Vote: First Man

  • Best Animated Short

    Courtesy of Trevor Jimenez

    I was a little disappointed with the category overall. They all seemed pretty similar. I went with Weekends because the animation style was a little different, it was clever and I thought the story was very touching.

    My Vote: Weekends

  • Best Documentary Short

    Courtesy of RYOT and Spin Films

    End Game felt invasive to me — there are some things that are too personal to make a film about, and it was uncomfortable to watch. A Night at the Garden was fascinating — don't judge me, but I didn't necessarily know that this bit of history even happened, so I watched it with shock — but it was almost too short; I wanted a little bit more information and context. Black Sheep was interesting, but felt like something I'd seen before. I salute the idea behind Period. End of Sentence, but there were a couple of different stories going on in there, all related to female empowerment, which I think is great, but I wasn't clear which story I should focus on. Lifeboat was a tragic story, beautifully told in a very humanistic way, and I think it's important to keep a spotlight on this subject.

    My Vote: Lifeboat

  • Best Live Action Short

    Courtesy of Caballo Films

    There have been better years for this category. I immediately ruled out Detainment — I'm aware that it's based on a real case, and I dont think this was the best treatment of that tragedy; it rubbed me the wrong way. Marguerite was nice, but felt like something I've seen before. Fauve, I don't know — it was interesting, but I wasn't sure if it was saying anything. So it was between Skin and Mother. Skin felt like someone's screenwriting thesis project that needed more work, even though there were some interesting ideas there, and Danielle Macdonald is really talented and I was excited to see her. I preferred Mother, which did so much in a single setting, creating a lot of tension and suspense over the course of a couple of phone calls.

    My Vote: Mother