Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot #1: 'Roma' Just an "Expensive Home Movie," "About F—ing Time" for Spike Lee

7:00 AM 2/20/2019

by Anonymous, as told to Scott Feinberg

A director casts his vote for 'BlacKkKlansman' and its "genius" helmer, but doesn't buy Lady Gaga for "a single moment" — and by the way, he's not watching ABC's hostless, "idiotic" show.

Illustration by Kyle Metcalf

A male member of the Academy's 519-person directors branch, granted a cloak of anonymity, reveals why he filled out his final Oscar ballot the way that he did. "I'm not going to watch the Oscars this year," he volunteers, saying the idea of a hostless ceremony has turned him off. "I'm just anticipating a very boring show. One of the best things about the show is the opening monologue, which is usually pretty good — it's what happens after that that's not great."

As for the Academy's plan to hand out four awards during commercial breaks (which it rescinded after outcry): "It's an abomination," he says. "If ABC, which I'm sure was pushing for this, thought that dumping cinematography and film editing was going to bring back any of the viewers the show has lost in recent years, they're idiotic. Cinematography and editing are so important. For fuck's sake, man, a movie director [Roma's Alfonso Cuarón] is going to win the cinematography award this year for the first time ever, and we weren't going to see it live? I don't fucking get it."

  • Best Picture

    Courtesy of Focus Features

    Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born are films whose adulation I can't even begin to fathom — I found them to be ordinary. Bohemian Rhapsody is a standard-issue biopic with a really nice last 10 minutes; had it been a great film, I probably still wouldn't have voted for it, because I don't want to do anything to reward Bryan Singer, who is a pariah now and needs to stay that way. A Star Is Born is a fourth remake with nothing new to say — it was massively overhyped. 

    Green Book also misses my top five. People describe it as a redux of Driving Miss Daisy, and that's not terribly far off — it's more sophisticated and has a better sense of humor, but there is not one interesting shot in the whole film, there's a giant plot twist right in the middle that is never discussed again, and the performances are very expected. The controversy around it didn't affect me at all — I don't think that Viggo [Mortensen], who's a friend, necessarily did anything wrong using [the N]-word in the context that he used it, and his contrition for it is fine with me.

    My No. 5 is Vice — it would be higher on my list, but it stands no chance whatsoever, so if you're trying to vote strategically for what you'd like to see honored, you have to drop some of your darlings.

    After that is Roma. It's beautifully crafted and looks fantastic, but ultimately, I was wondering where the entertainment or even intellectual value is in this movie. To me, it's a very slow and rather indulgent film — the most expensive home movie ever made. As far as the Netflix thing, what is our job as Academy members? We are trying to promote great films for audiences to see. When we gave our award to The Hurt Locker or Moonlight, we were getting people to go to theaters to see them; Roma is this brilliant work, visually speaking, on a big screen, but it becomes greatly diminished when you watch it on television, which is what 95 percent of the people that want to watch it have to do. I've spoken to several of my peers who watched it at home, and they were out after 20 minutes.

    No. 3 is Black Panther. Look, it's a Marvel comic book movie, and it's not much better than any of the others, but you have to applaud it for its massive social impact and the pride it has given to so many people. I know that's not a reason to vote for a movie, so that's why it's in third place rather than second or first. For those spots, I was torn between The Favourite and BlacKkKlansman. The Favourite is an unbelievably delicious film, and I was completely entertained from beginning to end — its humor and sexuality turned me on. It's a better movie than BlacKkKlansman, but I have no idea what it was trying to say. I prefer to reward a movie that is solid and has something of social importance to say, like BlacKkKlansman. The Charlottesville footage at the end of it sealed the deal for me — it reminds us that things really haven't gotten better.

    My Vote:

    1. BlacKkKlansman 

    2. The Favourite

    3. Black Panther

    4. Roma

    5. Vice

  • Best Director

    David Lee/Focus Features

    I did not nominate Pawel [Pawlikowski of Cold War] — to be honest with you, it never even crossed my mind. The guy I nominated instead, who I might have voted to give the award to if I had the chance, was Bo Burnham, who did Eighth Grade. To get performances like that from kids, and to have it be so fucking honest, is just astonishing. Everyone expects [Roma's Alfonso] Cuarón to win, and that's likely to happen because people have an appreciation for the sweat and emotional equity that he put into this film. But the greatest wrong in the history of the Oscars was Spike Lee not being nominated for Do the Right Thing, and BlacKkKlansman is like the other end of Do the Right Thing. I've admired this guy's work so much over the years. Until now, the Academy has almost completely ignored this genius, and it's about fucking time to correct that. I don't know that it's the best directing job of the year — I think that [The Favourite's] Yorgos Lanthimos' decisions were more creative, interesting and daring — but I don't know that I'll have another opportunity to vote for Spike, so I'm going to take this one.

    My Vote: Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)

  • Best Actor

    Annapurna Pictures

    I've not seen the [Willem] Dafoe performance [in At Eternity's Gate], it's one of those movies that I just can't bring myself to watch — I'm not interested. Bradley Cooper is doing an impersonation of either Kris Kristofferson or Sam Elliott, I can't quite figure it out, but I'm just not a fan of A Star Is Born. There's a general feeling that some people have it all, and you don't want to give them more, and that is going to affect Bradley Cooper for a long time, just like it affected Leo DiCaprio. Viggo was fine — it's a performance I've seen before, but nothing special; that's a role that [Robert] De Niro would have played 20 years ago. [Bohemian Rhapsody's] Rami Malek is going to win — everywhere I've gone, Rami Malek was there; he's a very charming fellow. I've now spent more time with him than I have with my dog. I've not seen [Vice's] Christian Bale anywhere, but that is the performance of the year. His playing Dick Cheney, it's not just an impersonation; it's a channeling. If you dumped Dick Cheney into the movie, you couldn't tell the difference between the two. I think he reached into this guy's humanity, or lack thereof.

    My Vote: Christian Bale (Vice)

  • Best Actress

    Yorgos Lanthimos/Fox Searchlight

    I'm going to tell you something that's going to shock you: Many people vote for their friends. I have worked with [The Favourite's] Olivia Colman and had a wonderful experience with her — I remember saying to her, "At some point, you're going to be up on a stage accepting an Academy Award," and I want to help make that happen. What I don't understand is what she's doing in this category, or what the other two [Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz] are doing in supporting — all three should be the same.

    Melissa McCarthy gives a fantastic performance in a very slight movie [Can You Ever Forgive Me?]. I just don't see it with [A Star Is Born's] Lady Gaga — I mean, she shines like a goddess when she's onstage and singing, but I don't think I bought her in a single moment beyond that. Glenn Close is fantastic in The Wife, and I think she's going to win easily — I personally don't know anybody who's not voting for her.

    But if I didn't know Olivia, I'd have voted for Yalitza [Aparicio of Roma], not because she gave a great performance — she didn't even give a performance, she existed onscreen — but because I can't imagine a more heartwarming moment in the history of the Academy Awards than if this woman went up there to get it.

    My Vote: Olivia Colman (The Favourite)

  • Best Supporting Actor

    Courtesy of Mary Cybulski/Twentieth Century Fox

    I didn't feel that Sam Rockwell should have been nominated for Vice, but he's in "the club" now [having won this Oscar in 2018]; I would have preferred the dude from If Beale Street Could Talk [Brian Tyree Henry] or the gold prospector from Buster Scruggs who sounds like Cookie Monster when he sings [Tom Waits]. [A Star Is Born's] Sam Elliott is nominated for a role that I didn't buy for one second — he's playing Bradley Cooper's brother?! I'm not voting for Adam Driver — yes, I voted for BlacKkKlansman for best picture, but I didn't find any of its performances to be that special. It should be a scandal that [Green Book's] Mahershala Ali is in this category — he's no more a supporting player than Tom Cruise was in Rain Man.

    I voted for [Can You Ever Forgive Me?'s] Richard E. Grant because of that scene at the end of the movie when he's obviously sick, knows he's going to be written about and begs for her to treat him with respect and dignity. It's the most beautifully acted moment of the year.

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

  • Best Supporting Actress

    Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

    I was surprised to see Marina [de Tavira of Roma] even get nominated. I didn't even know who she was in the movie, she could have been the grandmother. [If Beale Street Could Talk's] Regina King is one of the best actresses in the country, but there wasn't anything remarkable about this performance except one scene when she's trying to convince the woman who was raped to come forward. Amy Adams is terrific, as always, in Vice, but her performance didn't have the same weight as the two from The Favourite, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, who added such extraordinary depth to their characters; those parts could have been played in the old days by Bette Davis and Marilyn Monroe. They've both won Academy Awards, so you can't say, "OK, whose turn is it?" I went with Emma because she was able to play a foreigner with such authenticity, but I really could have gone either way.

    My Vote: Emma Stone (The Favourite)

  • Best Adapted Screenplay

    David Lee/Focus Features

    It was between [The Ballad ofBuster Scruggs and BlacKkKlansman. Usually, with anthology films, you like one or two episodes and then really dislike the others, but with Buster Scruggs they're all really terrific and different. I thought that BlacKkKlansman had a rather silly ending — the stuff before the Charlottesville footage — but I'm willing to overlook that because some of the other choices were pretty extraordinary, like the Harry Belafonte lecture.

    My Vote: BlacKkKlansman

  • Best Original Screenplay

    A24/Photofest

    For me, a screenplay has to involve a story of some kind, so that eliminated Roma. I also counted out Vice because, while it's unbelievably original, it's a director's and actors' movie from beginning to end. And Green Book was a lot of "been there, done that." It's simply wrong that Paul Schrader has never seen an Oscar nomination before — the guy wrote two of the greatest films of the past century [Taxi Driver and Raging Bull] and wasn't even nominated, which is patently ludicrous. First Reformed is a very good film with a fantastic central performance [by Ethan Hawke] — but to be honest with you, the screenplay gets a little hippie and a little preachy, no pun intended. I loved The Favourite, but I'm going to vote for Paul Schrader, not First Reformed.

    My Vote: First Reformed

  • Best Animated Feature

    Courtesy of CTMG

    Is there any doubt about what's going to win? I swore I'd never vote for a superhero film, but how can you not vote for Spider-Man? The last time I was this excited by the creativity in an animated film was when I saw [2001's] Shrek. It is a complete work of art and the other nominees aren't even in the same hemisphere: Incredibles 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet are the same old stuff; Isle of Dogs is what Wes Anderson has done before; and I’ve not seen the other one [Mirai].

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

  • Best Documentary Feature

    Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

    I almost went with Free Solo because that is bravura filmmaking, to climb up along with [Alex Honnold]. But the movie, oddly enough, failed to create any tension — if he had died, we would have known about it, so we know what the result is. I voted for RBG. I cannot say that I'm happy with Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a person — I'm really upset that she didn't retire when Obama was still around, and if she steps down or dies now, this country is fucked forever — but the story that they tell in that film is compelling and taught me so much and left me talking about it with my wife for hours afterward. For a documentary biopic, I found it to be fabulously entrancing.

    My Vote: RBG

  • Best Foreign-Language Film

    Courtesy of Netflix

    I found all of them to be very slow. At the end of [Germany's] Never Look Away, I was dead asleep. Cold War is a very cold film, expertly made and probably better than anything I've ever done, but it just didn't do it for me. But I'm voting for Roma because it's such a personal project to Cuarón, and I respect him for making it on what, for him, must have been a very low budget; hiring indigenous Mexicans; re-creating part of Mexico City; and the designs for some of the shots.

    My Vote: Roma

  • Best Cinematography

    Yorgos Lanthimos/Twentieth Century Fox

    To me, the film that got fucked here was Buster Scruggs, which has however many — I think five — movies within it, and every one of them has a different and interesting visual style. I also thought the cinematography of Vice was wonderful. I don't understand the nomination for A Star Is Born. I'm not going to vote for Roma or Cold War, the two black-and-white films — they're very beautiful, and there are some really nice one-ers in Cold War and some really nice camera moves in Roma. But cinematography, to me, is about two things: it's about an aesthetic, but it’s also about creativity. From that point of view, I think that Robbie Ryan, the cinematographer of The Favourite, made — along with the director, of course — some unbelievable choices. I was initially put off by that odd fisheye lens effect, but then I realized it was meant to put us into this extreme world, and it does it very effectively. And the color-timing of the film, another aspect of the cinematography, is absolutely perfect.

    My Vote: The Favourite

  • Best Costume Design

    Courtesy of Netflix

    People tend to vote for extravagant, futuristic costumes or costumes from movies set long ago in the past, the more Elizabethan the better, so I suspect that the winner will be The Favourite, which certainly has the most costumes. But I’m voting for Buster Scruggs because what Mary Zophres was able to do was very difficult: five unique costume designs. Yes, each of those episodes are set in the West, but in very different settings.

    My Vote: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

  • Best Film Editing

    Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

    I eliminated Green Book right away — I don't even know why it's a nominee; there's not an ounce of creativity to the editing. As for Bohemian Rhapsody, there's nothing special about the editing; it's just mired in mediocrity. BlacKkKlansman, as much as I love it, had rather forced editing — its primary editing moment is the duel between The Birth of a Nation and the Harry Belafonte speech, and I felt that could have been handled a little better; it was too heavy-handed and long. The most obvious choice in this category is Vice, but I really feel that it was all [writer-director Adam] McKay, and I bet you’ll find many of the editing choices in the script itself, just like with Oliver Stone's JFK or Adam's own The Big Short. I went with The Favourite, which has sublime editing, mostly to position Olivia's character as the movie's anchor, even though the performances and roles have equal screen-time and heft.

    My Vote: The Favourite

  • Best Makeup and Hairstyling

    Greig Fraser/Annapurna Pictures

    To be honest, I've not seen all three — I saw Vice and Mary Queen of Scots, but I don’t even know what the third one [Border] is. This is a slam-dunk for Vice. What they did with Christian Bale is beyond belief. I don’t think I've ever seen a film where the character so perfectly resembles somebody so different from the actor playing it. They did a nice job with Gary Oldman as Churchill last year [in Darkest Hour, which won this Oscar], but it's not even close to this — it's almost child's play in comparison. They did such a good job that I wanted to strangle him, you know?

    My Vote: Vice

  • Best Original Score

    Courtesy of Focus Features

    It's a bafflement that First Man didn't get nominated — the [Justin Hurwitz] score is so gorgeous, and coming out of the movie I thought it was a lock. Of what did get nominated, it was between two for me: If Beale Street Could Talk, which is Nick Britell, and BlacKkKlansman, which is Terence Blanchard. Beale Street is a very flourish-y score and it's actually reminiscent of many of Terence Blanchard's scores, especially 25th Hour. The Beale Street score is maybe slightly better than the Klansman score, but this is one of those cases where it's close enough that I want to make it a career achievement award and give it to Blanchard, who has done some of the greatest work in the history of film scoring and was never even nominated before this. That's idiotic. I believe, in my heart of hearts, that the Academy, even before the last few years, was not racist at all, but that its members just cared about certain issues more than others. They might give awards to a movie like 12 Years a Slave or In the Heat of the Night because they could feel good about themselves by saying, "Look, we recognize the bad thing that we've done," but they might never put in the DVD for Straight Outta Compton because it's so foreign to their experience, and you can't vote for something that you haven't watched. I think they didn't watch a lot of Spike Lee films, so Terence Blanchard has not gotten his due as a result. Cheryl Boone Isaacs changed the entire fabric of the Academy, not necessarily by increasing racial diversity, but by bringing in younger people who are more accepting of different stuff, hence this year's nominations.

    My Vote: BlacKkKlansman

  • Best Original Song

    Neal Preston/Warner Bros.

    I feel sorry for Diane Warren [the writer of RBG's "I'll Fight," who is nominated for the 10th time in this category and has yet to win], the Susan Lucci of songwriters; she absolutely will win one day. But this is the no-brainer of no-brainers. Although I'm unbelievably sick of this fucking thing at this point, the song from A Star Is Born, "Shallow," is definitely the best of the year, and probably the nominee that is most integral to its movie. I have to say, when Lady Gaga performed it at the Grammys, she somehow turned into Axl Rose — the performance was so hair-band crazy that it made no sense whatsoever. I think what happened is she knows she's going to be in a nice gown at the Academy Awards and it's going to be a classy performance, so she unloaded all the crazy shit at the Grammys.

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

  • Best Production Design

    Courtesy of Netflix

    This often goes to the movie that seems to have spent the most money on production design, like Black Panther or Mary Poppins Returns. But it's hard to know what's CGI and what's not — that fucks with the cinematography and production design awards, because you don't know what's what. I've not seen Mary Poppins [Returns]. Black Panther, to me, has very fake-looking sets, which seem like stages, almost like what you would have if you were doing a Broadway version. First Man is my second choice because of the re-creation of NASA. But you've gotta give Roma credit here because my understanding is they re-created that whole area and era of Mexico City. It's like going back in time, and I really appreciate that.

    My Vote: Roma

  • Best Sound Editing

    Courtesy of Universal Pictures; Courtesy of Dreamworks Pictures

    Sound editing is the creation of sounds, like the bullets flying in Saving Private Ryan or the light sabers igniting in Star Wars, which is why war films do so well here. I'm going with First Man, because the re-creation of sounds there — especially the rockets and the crash — is pretty fantastic.

    My Vote: First Man

  • Best Sound Mixing

    Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

    Sound mixing is taking sounds and blending them together; incorporated in the sound mixing is also additional dialogue replacement and the music and how they are coordinated. In the case of Bohemian Rhapsody, it's well known that the singing is a mixture of Freddie Mercury and Rami Malek, which is very interesting, and then you also have to mix in the lip-smacking and the audience. The ADR there is really important. So this is the one time I'm voting for Bohemian Rhapsody.

    My Vote: Bohemian Rhapsody

  • Best Visual Effects

    Courtesy of Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures

    First Man should have been nominated for best picture — it probably came in ninth or tenth — and its visual effects are pretty amazing. I think they were produced more on a stage — with models and old-school stuff — than the other nominees', which relied more on CGI, and I really respect that. There's just no way on earth that I will ever vote for anything with the word Avengers in the title; like a lot of people in the Academy, I don't respect money-grabs. Ready Player One is different because it at least is the start of a franchise. I didn't see Christopher Robin.

    My Vote: First Man

  • Best Animated Short

    I personally have a rule that applies to all the shorts categories: I'm not going to vote for anything that is supported in any way by a corporation like Netflix or Amazon or Pixar, because these are supposed to be categories to help little people break through and finally succeed. Even if it's not financed and is just distributed by one of them, they have money to campaign in a way that gives them an unfair advantage. So I will not vote for [Pixar's] Bao because there's just too much fucking money behind it, and the only reason they made it was to win an Academy Award. My problem with this category is Bao is the best of them, and I didn't like any of the other four, so in this category I’m passing.

    My Vote: I abstain.

  • Best Documentary Short

    Courtesy of RYOT and Spin Films

    Coming back to my "rule," End Game, which is a Netflix film, is good, but I'm not going to vote for it, no way. Also Period. End of Sentence — it's well done, but it's about women getting their period, and I don't think any man is voting for this film because it's just icky for men. The best film here, by a long shot, is Black Sheep, but it has a major problem: I don't think it’s a documentary. You have the subject staring into the camera telling a little portion of the story every few minutes, but the rest of the movie is acted out. If this movie had been up for best live-action short I might have voted for it; I'm just baffled by the inclusion of it here. The other movie that grabbed me was Lifeboat, a wonderful story of heroism that seems like a complex and dangerous movie to have made.

    My Vote: Lifeboat

  • Best Live-Action Short

    Courtesy of New Native Pictures

    I want to encourage everybody to see these five films because I think this is the strongest category of any, and they're all really deserving for different reasons. Mother was shot in a breathtaking way. Marguerite is very slight, but the only feel-good movie of the bunch; the others all deal with bad things happening to kids. But Skin is different because it's dark without being depressing, and it's by far the best written and directed of the nominees.

    My Vote: Skin

    A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.