A voter from the Academy's actors branch says she "learned more about 'Dunkirk' from five minutes of 'Darkest Hour' than I did from the whole movie 'Dunkirk,'" and was tempted to put 'Darkest Hour' atop her ballot but "didn’t think it would have a chance of winning."
Each year around this time, THR sits down with a few Oscar voters who, under the warm cloak of anonymity, spill their true feelings about the current season’s crop of contenders — not just who or what they voted for, but exactly why and how they 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 with a female member of the 1,218-member actors branch who — this season, anyway — is not associated with any of the nominees.
I eliminated The Post first. To me, it was the most boring movie. I remember that era, and that Kay Graham flew in to LBJ’s parties every weekend down on his ranch — that I would have liked to have seen! I give it nine yawns out of ten. Then Three Billboards — there were a lot of things about it that bothered me. I heard the writer-director [Martin McDonagh] talk, and he seems like a very nice guy, but his film offered an awful take on what middle America is like. It was pretentious and false. If it was meant to be a farce, I didn’t find it funny — I don’t find bigotry funny, I don’t find a grownup hitting children funny, I don’t find someone blowing up a police station funny. These people were just caricatures.
Then I eliminated Get Out. It’s a good B-movie and I enjoyed it, but what bothered me afterwards was that instead of focusing on the fact that this was an entertaining little horror movie that made quite a bit of money, they started trying to suggest it had deeper meaning than it does, and, as far as I’m concerned, they played the race card, and that really turned me off. In fact, at one of the luncheons, the lead actor [Daniel Kaluuya], who is not from the United States [he’s British], was giving us a lecture on racism in America and how black lives matter, and I thought, “What does this have to do with Get Out? They’re trying to make me think that if I don’t vote for this movie, I’m a racist.” I was really offended. That sealed it for me.
[In Call Me by Your Name,] one guy [Armie Hammer] comes off as a 35-year-old hitting on a 17-year-old [22-year-old Timothee Chalamet], and that just bothered me — although I loved the cinematography and that house in Italy, which I understand is up for sale now. Then came Dunkirk. It was impressively made, but there was no heart or humanity in it, and I learned more about Dunkirk from five minutes of Darkest Hour than I did from the whole movie Dunkirk. Next out was Phantom Thread, which was beautifully made, but there was no one to like in the film. Lady Bird I liked quite a lot, but not enough to vote for it at number one.
That left it down to Darkest Hour and The Shape of Water. Darkest Hour was pretty much a perfect movie to me — well, maybe not the subway scene, but it was really well done overall, and you really understood from it the courage that it took from Churchill to save that country. I wish we had more politicians today who were as courageous. While I thought it was the best movie of the year, I didn’t think it would have a chance of winning, so I put The Shape of Water, which I also liked a lot, at number one. It’s a beautiful film with a good story well told — horror meets love — and I’ll be very happy if it wins.
2. Darkest Hour
3. Lady Bird
I eliminated Dunkirk [Christopher Nolan] first. He’s not into actors or acting, apparently, and I didn’t feel any kind of compassion for his characters. Get Out was next — not Oscar-worthy direction. Then Paul Thomas Anderson [Phantom Thread] — he did a good job, but again, I didn’t care for anybody in the movie. So it was between Lady Bird [Greta Gerwig] and The Shape of Water [Guillermo del Toro]. I thought Lady Bird had lovely direction and writing by Greta, but The Shape of Water was more complex and he put it together really well.
My Vote: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
I eliminated the guy from Get Out [Daniel Kaluuya] first — it was a very entertaining movie and he did a good job, but it wasn’t Oscar-worthy. Then I eliminated [Call Me by Your Name’s] Timothee Chalamet. He’s a charming young man — I met him at one of these luncheons — but he’s so much like he is in that movie that I don’t think his acting was that stretched. Then I eliminated Denzel [Washington, of Roman J. Israel, Esq.] — I thought his work was really good, but the movie was not. Next out was [Phantom Thread’s] Daniel Day-Lewis, who I absolutely adore, but God, did I hate his character — there wasn’t one thing likable about the guy, which isn’t Daniel's fault, but I couldn’t get past it. I found him more romantic in There Will Be Blood. [Darkest Hour’s] Gary Oldman was simply superb. For me, nothing beats this performance. He really hit a home run.
My Vote: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Annette Bening was absolutely marvelous in Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool and lovely Michelle Williams was terrific in All the Money in the World and the girl that played the white rapper [Danielle Macdonald in Patti Cake$] was wonderful and Rachel Weisz was amazing in My Cousin Rachel — and they weren't even nominated! Instead, they forced Meryl [Streep, of The Post] on us again. I'm just sick of her. To me, it was the most boring performance that was nominated, because I'm just so aware of her technique after the last few years, and I never care for the human being she's playing. Saoirse [Ronan, of Lady Bird] is very sweet and lovable, but she was much better in Brooklyn. I thought Frances McDormand's performance [in Three Billboards] was absolutely awful. The easiest thing for an actor to portray is anger, but to portray what's underneath the anger — pain or guilt or whatever — is harder, and I felt like she didn't do that at all. I loved her in Fargo, but in this one, to me, her performance was one-note and inauthentic. At one of the talkbacks that I went to, she said that she based her performance on John Wayne, but John Wayne had charm. Sally [Hawkins, of The Shape of Water] is absolutely wonderful — I love her, I think she's great in this part, and I think she was also great in that Maudie movie. This is a phenomenal actress. But in the end, I chose Margot Robbie [for I, Tonya] because she had an even harder challenge that she conquered: playing her character through her teens and twenties and beyond, and evolving physically and mentally along the way. That was the best performance of the year.
My Vote: Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
[Three Billboards’] Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell were fine, but the whole movie bothered me. Playing a bigot [Rockwell] is easy. And I mean, how, in the middle of Missouri, did Woody’s character wind up married to this Australian woman who’s, like, 20 years younger? It just didn’t make sense. [The Florida Project’s] Willem Dafoe probably is going to get the Oscar, and I think he’s a wonderful actor, but there’s something kind of fake about a character who never really gets upset; he played the guy like a saint. No matter how good a guy you are, those kids were annoying — they turn off the electricity and everything — but he barely flinched. [All the Money in the World’s] Christopher Plummer was just wonderful, and to do that remarkable performance in just a short amount of time confirmed what a great actor he is. But I ultimately chose [The Shape of Water’s] Richard Jenkins because his performance was so truthful — he really captured what it was like to be a gay man in the fifties better than any other actor I’ve ever seen. And he did it was such simplicity, it was just superb. It really touched me.
My Vote: Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
[The Shape of Water’s] Octavia Spencer keeps doing the same thing over and over again. I liked Mary J. Blige in Mudbound, but I wish she had more to do. Lesley [Manville, of Phantom Thread] is a wonderful actress, but again, there was no character who I liked in that movie. So it was between [I, Tonya’s] Allison Janney and [Lady Bird’s] Laurie Metcalf. Both were great, but Laurie brought more layers to her performance. Nobody is one thing all the time — you’re not mean and horrible all the time. I think they missed an opportunity with the bird [in I, Tonya]. Sometimes people who are really mean to humans are really loving towards animals, and it would have been nice to see some of that.
My Vote: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
I eliminated Logan first because I really hated that movie — I like a good comic book movie, but they made this one so dark that it wasn’t fun. Then Molly’s Game because Aaron Sorkin is so wordy — I wish he would just give his characters a chance to breathe, but I think when he doesn’t know what to do he just overwrites. Mudbound was really good, but it doesn’t deserve to win. Call Me by Your Name was next — he [James Ivory] did write a good screenplay, but I have major issues with the film. I surprised myself by how much I liked The Disaster Artist — I’m not a big fan of James Franco, even before the recent stuff, but I thought he was just terrific, and his movie surprised me so much. It was so funny and, on a certain level, deep and profound. A great adaptation. Who knows what happened with James? I’m kind of sorry that he’s not able to enjoy this moment.
My Vote: The Disaster Artist
There are a lot of things about the Three Billboards script that I find offensive, and others that just didn’t make sense. Frances' character is not a rich woman, but she throws the $5,000 down to buy those billboards that nobody has bought in years without even trying to negotiate the price? Also, how could she assault those teenagers and not get arrested? Those kids' parents would be knocking down her door. As Judge Judy says, “If it doesn’t make sense, it’s not true.” And this script doesn’t make sense. The Big Sick was sweet and cute, but I didn’t think it worked for the whole two hours — after a while, it got a little bit monotone. I thought Get Out was a B-movie. I used to watch B-movies on Saturday afternoons and they were great — a lot of fun. I think this guy [Jordan Peele] saw Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and thought he would turn it into a horror movie, with white people as the villains, because horror movies make money, and it sure did. As much as I liked Lady Bird — I found it thoroughly entertaining as a teenage angst movie — I thought its script was not as good as The Shape of Water’s. The Shape of Water was a lot more challenging to do. At a talkback, he [del Toro] said, “I wrote a love story because I really think that if we love each other more, it will solve a lot of the problems in the world today.” I hadn’t thought about things that way and I liked that.
My pick: The Shape of Water
I just couldn’t get that involved in The Boss Baby. Ferdinand, the one about the bull, wasn’t really involving either. Then there was The Breadwinner, which was a really interesting movie, sort of similar to a foreign film I saw about 15 years ago, [2003's] Osama — it wasn’t about Osama bin Laden, it was about a little girl who turns into a boy in order to try to make a living. Anyway, that left me with Coco and Loving Vincent. I was going to vote for Coco, but I saw it in a movie theater with kids, and those kids were crying and wanted to get out of there because they got so scared with the skeletons and everything, and that kind of shocked me. Loving Vincent isn’t for kids either, but it never claimed to be, and it really is superb in the way that they turned the live images into animation.
My Vote: Loving Vincent
I eliminated Strong Island first. I felt really bad for the family, but I also felt that I’d seen that story before. Then I eliminated Last Men from Aleppo, the Saudi one [she means Syrian], because I’ve seen The White Helmets and other documentaries about the same thing, plus it was kind of confusing at the end who died. Abacus [Small Enough to Jail] was an interesting story, but it got drawn out too much. I loved Faces Places because it was so charming — you can’t help but love Agnes Varda and the photographer [Varda’s co-director JR] and the people who they meet and honor — but I went for Icarus because it was just amazing. I was somewhat aware of the story, but it played like a thriller — I was totally caught up in it — and it’s stunning that they got that Russian guy [Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov] to talk. It should have gotten an editing nomination, too.
My Vote: Icarus
I eliminated the Russian film [Loveless] first — it was interminable. Then I eliminated [Hungary’s] Of Body and Soul because, honestly, of the animal killing stuff; it got better after that, and you didn’t really need that stuff before. I then eliminated The Square — the lead actor in it was fantastic, but it kind of bothered me that he would ruin his whole career because he lost a cell phone. Can’t he just buy another cell phone and just hire a detective to search for the first one? It didn’t work for me. So it was between [Chile’s] A Fantastic Woman and [Lebanon’s] The Insult. With A Fantastic Woman, I loved the idea and the theme of it, but I felt that the lead actress played it one-note. I’m not sure that she’s an actress; I think they hired this person because she fit the part so well. The Insult, to me, was brilliant. It illuminated the Middle East conflict for me in a great way, and really any conflict — it kind of applies universally. It was riveting, the acting was superb and I just loved it.
My Vote: The Insult, Lebanon
Boy, the cinematography in all five of these was just terrific. I eliminated Mudbound first because it was the least impressive. Then Blade Runner , even though I know he [Roger Deakins] will probably win — I just thought it was very grey all of the time. The best thing about Dunkirk was the cinematography. Darkest Hour’s cinematography was brilliant, especially considering how confined the spaces often were. But I went with The Shape of Water because I thought the cinematography really helped to tell the story, and some of that underwater stuff was particularly impressive.
My Vote: The Shape of Water
This was a hard choice, because there were no bad options. I eliminated The Shape of Water first because I thought the costumes were fine, but nothing that couldn’t have been bought in a store, so to speak, which was correct for the movie. Then Darkest Hour, because it was mostly a matter of replicating Winston Churchill’s suits, and Victoria and Abdul, because I felt like I’ve seen those English costumes before. For me, it was between Phantom Thread and Beauty and the Beast, and it was close, but I chose Phantom Thread because I thought everything looked so meticulously crafted.
My Vote: Phantom Thread
I thought all of these editors did a great job. But I first eliminated Three Billboards, of course. Then Dunkirk because it was sometimes confusing — it made it seem like Mark Rylance’s boat was the only one out there until the very end of the movie. Then The Shape of Water and I, Tonya, even though they were excellent, because I kept thinking about Baby Driver. I think that film's editor [Jonathan Amos] made that movie.
My Vote: Baby Driver
There was no contest here. The work on Wonder and Victoria and Abdul was fine, but the guy [Kazuhiro Tsuji] on Darkest Hour took it to another level, which helped Gary Oldman do the incredible job that he did. Two minutes into it, you forget that you’re looking at Gary Oldman. When I saw it the second time, I looked for him under all of that makeup, and he was hard to find.
My Vote: Darkest Hour
I eliminated Three Billboards, then the Jedi movie [Star Wars: The Last Jedi] and Dunkirk, which I thought were just kind of loud. The Shape of Water's score was good, but I just thought that the music in Phantom Thread — even though I didn’t like the movie that much — was incredible. When I got the disc, I listened to it again, and I thought he [Jonny Greenwood] really captured that whole era in his music.
My Vote: Phantom Thread
I liked [Mudbound’s] “Mighty River” and [Call Me by Your Name’s] “Mystery of Love” when I heard them, but I couldn’t really remember them afterwards. I do like [Marshall’s] “Stand Up for Something.” But it was between “Remember Me” from Coco and “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman. I loved both of those, but ultimately I went for “This Is Me” because it was a catchy song and, honestly, I loved that movie — I know it wasn’t an Oscar movie, but there something wonderful about it. It was such a feel-good movie, and I know people who have been seeing it over and over again.
My Vote: “This Is Me” (The Greatest Showman)
I don’t know how you compare one against the other in this category. I eliminated Blade Runner  first — they did a great job, but it just didn’t resonate with me. Then Darkest Hour — it was a brilliant movie, with fine production design. Then Dunkirk — it was basically a beach, a boat and a plane. So it was between The Shape of Water and Beauty and the Beast. I loved the production design of The Shape of Water, but Beauty and the Beast perfectly captured what a fairy tale should look like. I wanted to go and spend some time in that space.
My Vote: Beauty and the Beast
I really don’t understand the difference between the two, so I pass.
My Vote: I abstain.
I got rid of the Skull one [Kong: Skull Island] first — it just didn't interest me. I'm tired of Star Wars [and its most recent installment, The Last Jedi]. Blade Runner  was great, but it was all the same kind of grey, grey, grey. I loved Guardians of the Galaxy [Vol. 2], and it was hard for me to choose between that and War for the Planet of the Apes. The visuals on War for the Planet of the Apes were not just stunning, but because of them the film was moving, so that's why I chose it.
My Vote: War for the Planet of the Apes
I eliminated the basketball thing [Dear Basketball] first — it was just a piece of narcissism, it didn’t reveal anything about Kobe [Bryant, the subject and producer] and I just hated it. I can’t even remember what Revolting Rhymes was about — oh, yeah, it was the fairy tale thing, and it was kind of predictable. I loved Negative Space. But I loved Lou better. And ultimately I loved Garden Party best, because I thought the animation was absolutely incredible, the story was interesting and I didn’t know where it was going.
My Vote: Garden Party
I eliminated Traffic Stop first. It’s a good subject for a short, but that woman [Breaion King] was the wrong vehicle for it. Everybody knows — and I taught my kids this — that if you’re pulled over by the cops, you put your hands on the steering wheel and you follow directions. You certainly don’t get out and you don’t do anything until they tell you to. It’s just common sense to me. She’s a smart woman, she’s not a dumb woman, so it just irritated me that she did absolutely everything wrong — she was hysterical and she was belligerent. If she had just behaved intelligently, she probably would have gotten, at most, a speeding ticket for $50, or maybe not gotten a ticket at all. Next I eliminated Knife Skills. I agree with its message about finding creative ways to rehabilitate prisoners, but it didn’t quite work as a movie. Then Heroin(e) — it was interesting, but nothing that I hadn’t seen on the news. Edith+Eddie was just heartbreaking. Ultimately, I went for Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405 because this woman [Mindy Alper] reveals her soul in such an interesting way. I know that something is not right with her, but she has the most amazing spirit, and what a great artist! I was riveted. They couldn’t have found a better subject.
My Vote: Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405
I’ve got to say, I thought they were all really excellent. I eliminated My Nephew Emmett, the Watu thing [Watu Wote/All of Us] after that, and then the one about the elementary school shooting [DeKalb Elementary]. So it was between the psychiatrist one [The Eleven O’clock] and The Silent Child. I chose The Silent Child because I thought it told its story more clearly and was the most moving. I thought it was very relevant to today’s society, in terms of parenting choices.
My Vote: The Silent Child