A voter from the Academy's producers branch thinks 'The Florida Project' "got f---in' screwed," wishes he'd seen the Kevin Spacey version of 'All the Money in the World’ and says Gary Oldman gets his vote even "if he hit his wife with a telephone" (he denied the claim and was cleared).
Each year around this time, THR sits down with an Oscar voter who, under the warm cloak of anonymity, spills his or her true feelings about the current season’s crop of contenders. Not just who or what got his or her votes, but also exactly why and how he or she came to those decisions. It’s not meant to be a scientific analysis; it’s just the candid, unsugarcoated opinions of one voting member (out of 7,258) of the most important and powerful movie club in the world. Below is a lightly edited transcript of one such conversation. This year it was with a male member of the 524-member producers branch who — this season, anyway — is not associated with any of the nominees.
I didn't like Call Me by Your Name. From what I understand, there was less of a difference between the ages of the young boy and his lover in the book, but I have to tell you, in the movie version it looked like a 35- or 40-year-old guy was hitting on a 16- or 17-year-old boy, and it just seemed wrong. It would have been wrong if they were heterosexuals.
With The Post, Spielberg couldn't get out of his own fucking way. He gave every actor business. ["Business" meaning physical actions beyond delivering lines.] I felt like he saw Birdman and said, "Let's do that, only I'm gonna make everybody fiddle about with something in their pocket or a cigarette or whatever." It killed me. It was a great story with a great cast that got over-Spielberg-ized.
Three Billboards [Outside Ebbing, Missouri]? Nothing was honest about that movie. The acting was superb, but the characters didn't seem real and the story seemed exactly like what it was: a Brit's version of America. I don't feel that if I went to Ebbing, Missouri, that is how it would be. Get Out was a great, fun, entertaining genre film, but I don't read as much into it as others do.
Dunkirk looked great, but it was a little confusing, there wasn't enough of an emotional thread, and the drone of the airplane through the whole fucking movie just drove me crazy. For me it just didn't fully work.
I liked Lady Bird — even though it's about a mother and daughter, and even though I'm a guy, there were actually elements that reminded me of me and my parents — but I grew to dislike Lady Bird because of its fucking social media campaign. They pounded the drum too much. They put a magnifying glass on everything — like, how they shot the scene at the airport in one take. They shot the scene at the airport in one take because they fucking stole it! ["Stealing a shot" means filming on location without permission.]
I loved everything about Phantom Thread — it created a world, it looked wonderful, and Daniel Day-Lewis is always just so commanding to watch. In some years it might have been my favorite picture, but not this year. It's funny, "best picture" is not what it was when I was a kid, or even 15 years ago. It used to be about the subject matter, and a movie like The Shape of Water wouldn't have come within a mile of winning — it would have been dismissed as an exploitation-genre film or something.
But we look for different things now. That's kind of why I didn't vote for Darkest Hour or Dunkirk for best picture [in my No. 1 spot]. Part of the reason why I liked The Shape of Water more than the others is it's only "topical" in that it deals with outsiders, not racism or sexism or anything else. [Sally Hawkins' character] is in love with something different. Good for her. I was gobsmacked by the film.
2. Darkest Hour
4. Lady Bird
Christopher Nolan got involved with a huge undertaking [Dunkirk], but he made a confusing film, so he failed. [Jordan Peele's] Get Out is well done, but let's not get carried away. Paul Thomas Anderson made a really good movie [Phantom Thread], but the story is limited in scope. [Lady Bird's] Greta Gerwig is a great writer and director, and I can't wait to see what she does next. But Guillermo del Toro just ruled by making a genre film into a movie that speaks on every fucking level — and he did it with a limited amount of words, which is the most impressive kind of filmmaking.
My Vote: Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)
I don't understand why everyone's so crazy for [Get Out's] Daniel Kaluuya. Timothee [Chalamet, of Call Me by Your Name] is a brave little actor — I can't say I liked the movie, but he's a huge talent. Straight or gay — I don't know his orientation [ed. note: he's straight] — he did a great job. I happened to really like Denzel Washington in Roman J. Israel, Esq. — it was one of the freshest things I've seen him do in years — but the movie itself just didn't stand out. Daniel Day-Lewis was brilliant, but not Oscar-winning brilliant.
This one was easy: [Darkest Hour's] Gary Oldman was so good that I don't care if he hit his wife with a telephone. [In 2001, the actor's then-spouse alleged that he beat her with one; he denied the allegations and was never charged.] I hate when people use words like "transformative," but what they did to make him look like Churchill and what he did in that role can only be described as that. He blew it out of the water.
My Vote: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Really tough. I didn't like The Post [with Meryl Streep], but the other four all deserve to win. [Three Billboards'] Frances McDormand is terrific. [I, Tonya's] Margot Robbie is such a movie star at every level. [Lady Bird's] Saoirse Ronan was so good — she was even better in Brooklyn. But I voted for Sally Hawkins. She was fucking brilliant in Shape of Water — I mean, to not say a word, but only emote? And, on top of that, she was great in another movie, Maudie, which was one of my top five movies of the year, but nobody else saw.
My Vote: Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water)
Christopher Plummer didn't break any new ground in All the Money in the World. I'd be really curious to see [Kevin] Spacey's performance. Richard Jenkins was so good in Shape of Water. [Three Billboards'] Woody Harrelson is always good, and Sam Rockwell — bravo to him, I can't say anything against him.
But [The Florida Project's] Willem Dafoe was my favorite. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is just be a guy, without any bells or whistles, and he felt like the guy who took care of stuff at that motel, who was the yes-man for the owner, who dealt with that goofy fucking whacked-out bitch [the mother of the child protagonist, played by Bria Vinaite] and all of that. Man, that movie got fucking screwed. Little Brooklynn [Prince] is so brilliant, I would have nominated her. A lot of people just found it too sad, but I didn't feel that way myself.
My Vote: Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)
Octavia [Spencer, of The Shape of Water] and Mary [J. Blige, of Mudbound] were good, but they were sort of one-dimensional and were the first to come off my list. [Lady Bird's] Laurie Metcalf was really good, with a razor-sharp edge. [Phantom Thread's] Lesley Manville was fantastic and felt super-real. But Allison Janney was on a slightly different level. I saw I, Tonya three times, and I know it was kind of campy, but the fact that I have even one ounce of empathy for her character is a testament to her performance.
My Vote: Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
As you know, I didn't like Call Me by Your Name. I couldn't really laugh at The Disaster Artist because I've encountered too many of these fuckers in the business — these guys [Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero, played by James Franco and Dave Franco, respectively] wasted people's time and got famous because of it. Mudbound was fine. I loved Logan — to me, it's the best Marvel adaptation yet. Most Marvel things don't keep my interest too well unless they've got Margot Robbie. [Suicide Squad is actually a DC Comics film.] But I voted for Molly's Game [by Aaron Sorkin] because I loved the character and her story, which I was totally unfamiliar with, and I loved the whole milieu.
My Vote: Molly's Game
I liked something about all of them. Even though it had a big heart and was entertaining, The Big Sick was my least favorite. I then eliminated Three Billboards. After that it was hard. Get Out was the best genre script you could imagine, and Lady Bird was really good, but I don't see either as a best screenplay. They don't stand up to Shape of Water, which is so imaginative. The director of Delicatessen says it ripped him off, but that didn't deter me. I loved Delicatessen, but more than one person can have the same idea. There are only so many thoughts to go around, you know.
My Vote: The Shape of Water
My least favorite was The Boss Baby. Ferdinand was uninteresting. I didn't like the style of The Breadwinner. The coolest-looking animation was Loving Vincent. But Coco ticked all the boxes: It was well made, and it was just goddamn good entertainment. There's a movie that addresses social issues in a way that didn't feel heavy-handed: I didn't mind a lesson about how to be good to my Latino neighbors and how to deal with death.
My Vote: Coco
I just couldn't take Last Men in Aleppo — it's so sad it becomes unwatchable. I wasn't blown away by Abacus [Small Enough to Jail]. I don't think they made a strong enough case with Strong Island. I'm sorry the filmmaker's brother was killed, but I'm not sure there was a miscarriage of justice. I hate to say it, but the brother trespassed and was clearly coming after the other guy.
Faces Places is inspirational. But Icarus is on another level. [Filmmaker Bryan Fogel] fucking lucked out, stumbling onto that story [the Russian doping scandal] a year into trying to tell another one. Still, I'm not totally comfortable with what's happening with Netflix [which is behind Icarus and Strong Island] — their films don't really play properly in movie theaters, and that bothers me because I never thought I was in the business of making movies for television, or laptops, or tablets or smartphones.
My Vote: Icarus
Loveless [from Russia], On Body and Soul [Hungary] and The Square [Sweden] didn't really grab me in any way. The Insult [Lebanon] was brilliant. What The Insult did was it showed, in an entertaining way, with great acting, how little it takes to make hatred run amok.
But I fell totally in love with [Chile's] A Fantastic Woman. I didn't know anything about it going in. This will make me sound completely daft, but I didn't know it was about a transgender guy [actually, a transgender woman] until very far into that film. It helped me, a straight guy who's pretty open-minded, to really understand what it must be like in the LGBTQ world. It was honest. I loved it. To me, that was one of the most powerful movies I saw all year. I'm surprised someone's not trying to remake it in English.
My Vote: A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
Rachel [Morrison, of Mudbound, the first female nominee in the history of this category] is a brilliant cinematographer — God bless her. How do you say Darkest Hour or Dunkirk didn’t look good? They did, and the lighting in The Shape of Water looked great.
I’m not voting for Blade Runner because [Roger Deakins] is an older cat who’s gotten screwed before [Deakins has been nominated 13 times prior to this one, but has never won]. I’m voting for it because even though the movie may have been a little boring, it goddamn looked good.
My Vote: Blade Runner 2049
They must have gone to huge lengths to make the costumes in Beauty and the Beast. Darkest Hour, The Shape of Water and Victoria & Abdul looked like what they should have looked like. But man, Phantom Thread? I mean, the clothes they made for that were gorgeous — the tailoring, the detail. Everything was impeccable and looked so good.
My Vote: Phantom Thread
This was a hard category. Dunkirk was my least favorite — the editing was confusing, maybe because there were too many stories going on and everyone but Harry Styles looked the fucking same to me. Three Billboards wasn’t edited badly, it just wasn’t my movie. I loved The Shape of Water, but there was nothing extraordinary about its editing. There was complexity to the editing of Baby Driver and I, Tonya, and I just liked I, Tonya more — they took a lot of risks, like cutting in people speaking to the camera and breaking other rules, and it fucking worked.
My Vote: I, Tonya
Victoria & Abdul and Wonder were very good, but Darkest Hour was true artistry. If someone hadn’t told you that it was Gary Oldman under all of that, you would have never even imagined it. It was just amazing.
My Vote: Darkest Hour
Knock The Last Jedi off the list — same old shit, nothing new there. Then Dunkirk — the score and the drone of the airplane seemed interchangeable to me, just relentless. Carter Burwell is great, but I wasn’t in love with Three Billboards. Phantom Thread was great and probably the score I’d most want to listen to apart from a movie. But The Shape of Water’s score was a seamless part of it and helped me to feel transported into its world.
My Vote: The Shape of Water
I was so down the middle on this one. “Mystery of Love,” forget about — anything from Call Me by Your Name didn’t really make my list. But the Mudbound song [“Mighty River”] was good. “Stand Up for Something” was actually really good — I love Diane Warren, and Marshall could have been a really great movie, but it was less about [Thurgood] Marshall and more about the attorney that he helped, and it was a little bit like Disney’s version of racism. “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman — I secretly liked that film, even though I hate circuses, but it was kind of on-the-nose. I saw Coco at an early-morning screening — like, 11 o’clock or something, which is early for me to watch a movie — and I left with that fucking song [“Remember Me”] in my head. I was like, “Oh God, don’t do this to me,” but it was catchy! I’ve gotta think a lot of people were humming that after they saw the movie.
My Vote: "Remember Me" (Coco)
Beauty and the Beast was the least interesting. Darkest Hour and Dunkirk looked great — I know that they shot in some real locations and then other sets were built, and I couldn’t tell the difference. But it was really down to The Shape of Water and Blade Runner for me. The look of Blade Runner just impressed me more — it created a whole world of the future. Although the first Blade Runner was even more impressive.
My Vote: Blade Runner 2049
The sound design of Dunkirk, with the airplane and the music, was all just a fucking drone and drove me batty. Star Wars’ time has come — to go away; they’re just doing the same thing over and over again at this point. I mean, they’ve got the best people in the world working on them, but enough already. Blade Runner and Baby Driver sounded fucking brilliant. But the sound of The Shape of Water helped to create a complete environment for me.
My Vote for Both: The Shape of Water
War for the Planet of the Apes? Listen, they’ve done this same thing before. Star Wars? I’m just not a Star Wars fan. Kong: Skull Island? Bad movie, looked good. Blade Runner? OK movie, looked good. But Guardians of the Galaxy was the one. I love the personification of animals. These ones are just so perfectly drawn.
My Vote: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
I immediately ruled out Dear Basketball. My God, that was weird. It was really well done but, to me, it was just a self-serving love letter — what a narcissistic thing for Kobe Bryant to make a Valentine to himself. All of the others had kind of a dark vibe to them. I really loved Garden Party — the animation was so good — but fuck, I didn't expect El Chapo to show up at the end. Negative Space I liked until it gets to the coffin. Lou was a bit too much of a morality play. I voted for Revolting Rhymes. I liked the pig running the piggy bank. I mean, that guy was such a pig.
My Vote: Revolting Rhymes
I had major issues with Traffic Stop — the black gal that was pulled over got out of the car, did not obey police orders and got aggressive, so that movie is completely unconvincing. She’s a really smart woman who, on that day, made really bad choices. Heroin(e)? I get it, we have an opioid crisis. Netflix has a social issue thing that they’re doing and it’s starting to look kind of cookie-cutter to me — although I liked [2016’s Oscar-nominated documentary feature from the streaming service] 13th. As far as Knife Skills, I’m glad the restaurant exists, but I didn’t think it was a special film, and I think the attempt to title it with this double-entendre is questionable at best. Edith+Eddie is such a sweet, sad story — just tragic. But Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405? I love idiot savants. I was surprised they let her drive, but her art — oh my God, she’s fucking brilliant! Her work should be at MoMA. That just knocked me out.
My Vote: Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Watu Wote/All of Us and My Nephew Emmett and DeKalb Elementary — none of them were bad, but they were all about causes, and there are so many films that are about causes that it gets exhausting. The Eleven O’clock was really smart, but a gimmick. The only one that stood out to me as an actual movie was The Silent Child. It’s beautiful and it’s a real little movie. I loved it, even though it felt a bit WASPy.
My Vote: The Silent Child
This story first appeared in the Feb. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.