Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot #3: Denzel Washington "Talks Too Much," 'La La Land' "Transported Me"

12:03 PM 2/23/2017

by Anonymous, as told to Scott Feinberg

An anonymous member of the producers branch reveals Oscar picks.

James Steinberg

Each year around this time, I sit down with several Oscar voters who, under the warm cloak of anonymity, spill their true feelings about the current season's crop of contenders. Not just what or whom they voted for, but exactly why and how they came to those decisions.

It's not a scientific survey; it's just the candid, unsugarcoated opinions of a handful of members (out of 6,687) of the most important and powerful movie club in the world.

For Brutally Honest Ballot #3, below, here are the views of a member of the 504-member producers branch who — this season, anyway — is not associated with any of the nominees.

Earlier: Brutally Honest Ballot #1 I Brutally Honest Ballot #2

  • Best Picture

    Dale Robinette

    I hated Hacksaw Ridge: it's dated; it's two movies — the beginning is like a Norman Rockwell painting and the end is this gore-fest. I didn't like Hidden Figures — it was a great story, but the director [Ted Melfi] made really dopey choices, from the blocking, where they walk down the hall like they're a gang, to the tone. I just hated it.

    I liked Fences, but it felt too much like the play to me; the most special moment in that movie was when the light actually shined down at the funeral — but then the guy with the disability [played by Mykelti Williamson] comments on it, which just ruined it.

    Arrival was a rock solid movie. I was engrossed by Manchester — walking into somebody's life just as something really shitty happened — but there was no takeaway for me. Lion first half is terrific, but its second half drags. Hell or High Water I loved, but it's not a best picture.

    I really admire Moonlight — the look of it and the story, which left me feeling like I was really f---ing there, and brilliant Marsala [Mahershala Ali] — but it was a tad inconsistent, with the first two thirds much better than the last third, and I was distracted by having characters played by multiple actors who look nothing alike.

    I normally go for sort of heavy films like Life of Pi, and I normally don't like musicals, but because everything's so f---ing miserable in the world, La La Land — even though it doesn't end on a positive note — took me out of the moment and found a place in my heart. It was a good distraction.

    I actually saw it, for the first time, on Thanksgiving Day — I've seen it three times — all by myself, which I don't normally do, but my wife was out of town and I went there and I left with a skip in my step. It made me happy that I live in town. It was wonderful.

    My vote 
    (1) La La Land
    (2) Moonlight
    (3) Hell or High Water
    (4) Lion
    (5) Manchester by the Sea

  • Best Director

    Dale Robinette

    Hacksaw Ridge would be my first one out. I'm not a huge fan of [Hacksaw Ridge's] Mel Gibson, as a person, but setting aside his politics and how vile he is, which is hard to do, he's still lacking as a filmmaker and needs to update his style. He was acting pretty nuts at the official Academy Q&A, playing with his beard and everything; you can take the alcohol away, but that's when the insanity really starts. I'm over him.

    Kenneth [Lonergan, of Manchester by the Sea] is probably a pretty good director, but again, there was no takeaway from that movie for me — maybe there's not supposed to be one, but I just left that movie deflated, which didn't get him into my number one position.

    Arrival is not great and it's not terrible, it's just kind of in the middle, so I can't vote for him [Denis Villeneuve]. That leaves [Moonlight's] Barry Jenkins and [La La Land's] Damien. It was close for me. Moonlight is a mini epic, Barry is a real talent and I hope to have other chances to vote for him, but I realize that I may not because this was his personal story — they say everybody's got one story in them, and this may have been his.

    But the directing was uneven, particularly with the last act of the film. The part with the little kid [Alex Hibbert] and then the part with slightly older kid with the big ears [Ashton Sanders] were both great, but the third part was not. Is that Barry's fault or the casting person's? I don't know, I guess everything ultimately is the director's fault. But f---, I had a really good time with La La Land, so that's why Damien got my vote.

    My vote
    Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

  • Best Actor

    Erik Simkins/Bleeker Street

    Denzel [Washington] talks too much and he talks all the time [in Fences] — I hated his character and it was even harder for me to like him. There's never a moment of silence. Sometimes it's all about that silence, that break, that pause that let's you breathe — just ask any good musician.

    [Hacksaw Ridge's] Andrew Garfield was good, but he's in a movie that I felt was very inconsistent — and I'm glad I saw Hacksaw before I saw Silence or I wouldn't have even watched it at all.

    [Manchester by the Sea's] Casey Affleck didn't play someone I could feel much empathy for — I felt like he was doing scenes in acting class and, in his scene with Michelle Williams on the street, that they were just trying to out-act each other.

    [La La Land's] Ryan Gosling was fine. But [Captain Fantastic's] Viggo Mortensen f---ing ruled! It's a fresh part, he's a really good actor and he's come so far — it was transformative, and he feels f---ing nuts! I loved him.

    My vote
    Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)

  • Best Actress

    Ben Rothstein/FOCUS FEATURES

    I'm surprised Meryl Streep even got a nomination, because the whole movie [Florence Foster Jenkins] was a huge let-down. That left four performances I really like. Natalie [Portman, of Jackie] did a wonderful job.

    Then, despite her infinite bravery and uninhibited self, I have to knock off Isabelle [Huppert, of Elle], even though I loved the movie. And I loved, loved, loved Emma Stone — she's not the best singer or dancer, but in those scenes where she auditions she's just brilliant.

    I couldn't even talk to her when she sat down next to me at the Chateau Marmont party — I was like, "Uh, uh, uh —" But I voted for [Loving's] Ruth Negga.

    [Loving's writer/director] Jeff Nichols is my favorite director right now, and she does more saying nothing than the others do with words — and so did [Negga's costar] Joel Edgerton, who got f---ing burned. It is so hard to emote and not talk. I've been in love with her since I saw Breakfast on Pluto — my wife loved Cillian Murphy and I just fell for her.

    My vote
    Ruth Negga (Loving)

  • Best Supporting Actor


    I loved [Tom Ford's first film] A Single Man, but Nocturnal Animals did not work for me — it just made me uncomfortable, and if I want to feel uncomfortable I'll just drive around LA for a while — so no Michael Shannon, even though that wasn't really his fault.

    [Manchester by the Sea's] Lucas Hedges was next to go — I don't really think he's the discovery of the century, sorry. Then [Lion's Dev] Patel. He really seems like he's needy as an actor and just wants you to like him, but he shouldn't be that needy — he's grown up to be a really handsome, sexy dude, with this mid-range brown color, so everyone loves him.

    Then it was really tough between [Moonlight's Mahershala Ali] and Jeff Bridges [for Hell or High Water]. I gave it to Ali because I've seen Jeff Bridges do this before — it wasn't out of the wheelhouse for him — but Ali transforms. I mean, he looks like a motherf---er on the street, and he really sets the whole movie in motion. He's good in whatever he does — he's just a really present actor, so honest, with a great look, and you believe everything about him. I can see why a young boy would want to be like him. I love him.

    My vote
    Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)

  • Best Supporting Actress

    Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

    [Hidden Figures] Octavia Spencer is very talented, but she kind of plays the same character all the time. I'm having a problem with what's-her-name — [Lion's Nicole] Kidman — and not only because she wasn't the strongest thing in that movie, but because she opened her mouth politically and pissed me off. Her husband [Keith Urban] is a right-wing country music guy and so is his audience, she basically said, "Get over it, he [Donald Trump] is president and we have to work with him." I don't like to hear the words "Get over it."

    I love Michelle Williams' work, but her accent [in Manchester by the Sea] shifted as we got further into the movie — she said at a Q&A that she didn't have much prep time before this movie, and I'm afraid it showed there. And Naomie Harris was terrific [in Moonlight]. But I just love Viola [Davis]. She has no business being in the supporting category [for Fences], but I voted for her anyway because she was incredible.

    Despite how many times she's played that part, she was totally in it. I mean, that scene where there's snot falling out of her nose? If that isn't incredible acting then I don't know what is. It was touching. To me, that film doesn't just speak about black relationships and how black men go on and have child after child; it was a film about the men in America and the women who support them. I had a troubled childhood with my father and it spoke to me at a very neutral level.

    My vote
    Viola Davis (Fences)

  • Adapted Screenplay

    Courtesy of Mark Rogers/ Long Way Home Productions/The Weinstein Company

    I really didn't like the approach that they took with the Hidden Figures script. Arrival was based on a very, very short story, is my understanding, so this was less an adaptation than an original screenplay. Fences wasn't really changed from its play form. Moonlight, to me, is a better screenplay than it is a realized movie, but that was my runner-up. Lion, despite its flaws in the second-half, gets my vote because, I guess, it follows my theme for the year: it left me with hope.

    My vote

  • Original Screenplay

    Courtesy of Lionsgate

    The Lobster was too esoteric and lost me when the dog was killed — it freaked me out. Manchester by the Sea was a bit meandering. Hell or High Water is a script that, if I'd have read it, I'd have wanted to make it. But I really loved 20th Century Women and La La Land. I lived 20th Century Women — I was going to the Talking Heads concerts when they were just breaking out, I was seeing Iggy Pop in San Francisco, I was very much a part of that punk music scene — but I still came back to La La Land.

    My vote
    La La Land

  • Best Animated Feature

    I'm not big on animation or animators. I know a girl who only has sex with animators — she works over at Disney. In any event, my least favorite was Moana — just typical Disney fare. I really, really liked Kubo and the Two Strings, My Life As a Zucchini and Zootopia. But I loved The Red Turtle — it was so simple and it spoke about life and it looked like a watercolor painting to me. Plus I have a fetish for turtles — I've just written a project about a turtle.

    My vote
    The Red Turtle

  • Best Documentary Feature

    Courtesy of TIFF

    I didn't need a movie about O.J. — I watched it all, but lived through it the first time! I mean, we stopped all the action on my f---ing movie set when he was in his Bronco! The biggest mistake was calling it "O.J." because it's really about blacks in America. But there are better options, anyway. With Life, Animated, I loved that the kid learned about life through animated films, even though the animated Oscar categories are my least favorite. The other three are all extremely important. Fire at Sea humanizes the refugee situation. 13th taught me a lot, even though it felt a bit like a documentary made for television, which of course it was — I must say that Norman Jewison [he means Norman Lear] had a spectacular party for it, which didn't buy my vote. But I Am Not Your Negro is f---ing brilliant — I loved everything about it and I left it more enlightened than ever before about the black plight in America.

    My vote
    I Am Not Your Negro

  • Best Foreign Language Film

    Christian Geisnæs/Sony Pictures Classics

    I couldn't connect with Tanna. The other four were really, really good, and I took something away from each of them. The Salesman, Toni Erdmann and A Man Called Ove were great — I know that they're remaking Toni Erdmann with Jack Nicholson, and it might even be better with him, but if I had the money, I'd be buying the rights to A Man Called Ove to remake it, because that speaks to every man and how we can become redundant in our life when, in fact, we're really relevant. That leaves Land of Mine, which spoke to how we're all just people. Very powerful movie.

    My vote
    Land of Mine (Denmark)

  • Best Cinematography


    I hated Silence — there were 85 really good minutes in a three hour movie. He [director Martin Scorsese] is so wonderful, but he has got to get over his Catholic guilt. I know it's not the cinematographer's fault, but damn. Then Arrival — Bradford Young is a great d.p., but this is not his best work. I liked the aerial shots in Lion, but not enough to call it the best cinematography of the year. I loved how, with Moonlight, shots always started out soft and then pulled into focus, which is sort of like your sensory memory. But the cinematography of La La Land perfectly matched the story — it looks like the LA of our dreams.

    My vote
    La La Land

  • Best Costume Design


    I know Florence Foster Jenkins' costumes are probably great, but I just didn't like anything about the movie. The costumes in Allied were too perfect, like they just took them off the designer rack. La La Land's costumes weren't all that complex, sorry. And Jackie's costumes are all recreations, unlike Fantastic Beasts [and Where to Find Them], which is what I voted for — I don't even like films like that, but Colleen Atwood is kind of a genius.

    My vote
    Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

  • Best Film Editing


    Hacksaw Ridge was inconsistent — it felt like two separate movies, which is more the director's fault than the editor's, but I can't reward that. Moonlight was not special because of its editing. I really liked Arrival, but I'm surprised it got as many nominations as it did, including this one. Hell or High Water was brilliantly edited. But damn if La La Land doesn't play out seamlessly, just like his [Damien Chazelle's] drummer movie [Whiplash].

    My vote
    La La Land

  • Best Makeup & Hairstyling

    Warner Bros./Photofest

    I really loved A Man Called Ove, and I can't say anything bad about Star Trek Beyond. But as a heterosexual male, it's hard not to vote for Harley Quinn [the character played by Margot Robbie in Suicide Squad] — plus, the makeup was really, really good. I'm surprised it didn't get other tech credits, as well, but I guess it's not really an Academy movie — it was way too much fun.

    My vote
    Suicide Squad

  • Best Original Score

    Courtesy of Lionsgate

    Passengers is the first one out — it's Thomas Newman and it sounded like Thomas Newman to me, just another big studio score. The scores for Jackie and Lion didn't really stand out to me. But the scores for La La Land and Moonlight both had very strong scores, and it was hard for me to pick. La La Land was very simplistic and simple, but it worked perfectly with the movie. It was the perfect blend for a guy who doesn't even like musicals, and I liked it even better the third time than the first time.

    My vote
    La La Land

  • Best Original Song

    Dale Robinette/Lionsgate

    As much as I loved Trolls [featuring "Can't Stop the Feeling"] — joking — this was a no-brainer for me. I love that corny [La La Land] song "City of Stars." The song from Moana ["How Far I'll Go"] was f---ing typical Disney and they did it over and over and over — I was done. "The Empty Chair" [from Jim: The James Foley Story] I didn't dig. Trolls was cute. And "Here's to the Fools Who Dream" [aka "Audition," from La La Land] was really good. But I listen to the La La Land soundtrack all the time now and "City of Stars" is what worked about the movie for me — it transported me out of the bitter reality of 2017.

    My vote
    "City of Stars" (La La Land)

  • Best Production Design

    Jaimie Trueblood/Columbia Pictures

    I didn't like anything about Hail, Caesar!. La La Land looked nice enough, but that was more because of its cinematography than its production design. I liked Arrival, but I don't think aliens show up in those spacecraft. Fantastic Beasts [and Where to Find Them] looked great, but not as great as Passengers. The movie sucks, but it looked f---ing cool — I mean, that's the cruise I want to go on, without the hell they had to experience. I want to be able to get off at some point.

    My vote

  • Best Sound Editing

    Mark Rogers/Summit Entertainment

    Sully? Out. TV movie at every level. No to Deepwater Horizon for the same reason. Then Arrival — I don't think that was rocket science and there was not a lot of sound in that, period. Then it got down to Hacksaw Ridge and La La Land. The second half of Hacksaw Ridge was a monumental task, so that's what I voted for even though I liked La La Land so much more.

    My vote
    Hacksaw Ridge

  • Best Sound Mixing

    Mark Rogers/Summit Entertainment

    My least favorite is Rogue One — I just don't give a shit about Star Wars, never have, never will. Arrival and La La Land were fine. It was between Hacksaw Ridge and 13 Hours for me — it's so hard to make the dialogue pop out in movies like these that have so many effects — and I voted for 13 Hours [The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi] because Greg Russell's a f---ing genius. We worked together early in his career and I just think he's really brilliant.

    My vote
    13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

  • Best Visual Effects

    Courtesy of Disney

    The first one I knocked out was Rogue One. Then Deepwater Horizon — run of the mill, sorry. The director [Peter Berg] is a really talented guy, but he should be careful or he's gonna end up being the Oliver Stone of less important films. Kubo [and the Two Strings] was brilliant animation, but I just didn't buy into it. Doctor Strange was my first runner-up. But because I was a softie this year, I loved The Jungle Book, which I also nominated for best picture.

    My vote
    The Jungle Book

  • Best Animated Short

    Courtesy of Pixar

    I really didn't like Borrowed Time — there was no point and the whole Western theme didn't work for me, period. I did not like Blind Vaysha — I couldn't figure it out. Pearl was really sweet and I liked it — that message about what we pass on to our children. And then it was between Pear Cider [and Cigarettes] and Piper. I have a bunch of years sober from my drug of choice, so watching Pear Cider hit a little bit close to home for me. Plus, it was much too long, and also, while I like the graphic novel approach, the movie was so infrequently animated that it's hard to vote for it.

    But, even setting all that aside — oh, man, I'm embarrassed about this one — I really liked that silly little Piper. I had to ignore that it was Pixar because that's like the anti-Viagra: you see Pixar's name and you know it's all gonna be the same — probably great, but just the same. But that little bird? I could have spent an hour-and-a-half watching that f---ing bird. I really loved his energy. I guess I'm just mushier than normal this year.

    My vote

  • Best Documentary Short

    Courtesy of ITN Productions

    These were so powerful they killed me. It was a very tough call. I eliminated Extremis first — it's too f---ing real and I don't want to think of this end-of-life stuff, although after watching all the other ones about refugees I kind of wanted to die. Joe's Violin is about the last Holocaust but the other three are about the next one, so it was between them for me. The White Helmets was great, but it wasn't as put-together as 4.1. Miles, which was brilliant, but Watani [My Homeland] was a complete story — it made me cry thinking about Donald Trump and how we're treating people like this like the enemy, when these people are not the enemy. These girls put a face to it for me. Someone needs to make Donald Trump sit down and watch those three — keep his eyes open, like they did in [A] Clockwork Orange.

    My vote
    Watani: My Homeland

  • Best Live-Action Short

    Courtesy of SND Films

    This was a really tough one, my God! I immediately eliminated Timecode because it was just a long music video and didn't tell me a complete story. I loved Silent Nights, but it made me a bit uncomfortable. It was really down to two films for me, Ennemis [interieurs] and La Femme [et le TGV], which was a very hard call. I voted for La Femme, because it offered a complete journey, and because the still photos at the end of Ennemis — of the people he's ratted on — really took me out of it.

    My vote
    La Femme et le TGV