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An Oscar-nominated male member of the Academy’s 614-person producers branch, granted a cloak of anonymity, reveals why he filled out his final Oscar ballot the way he did. His opinions are not necessarily representative of his fellow members’, but are shared to illustrate the sorts of things that voters think about when considering their options.
This Oscars deserves an asterisk — because of the nature of the past year, with many movies moving off of their dates, it feels like a competition of the best Sundance movies. The fact that The Trial of the Chicago 7 has a chance of winning, given how mediocre and “television” it is, is all the evidence you need for this, and that’s why I’m putting it in my last-place slot. Aaron Sorkin is maybe my favorite writer of all time, but he is not a good director. I liked Promising Young Woman quite a bit — it’s maybe the most entertaining of these, and I like what it has to say — but it doesn’t feel like a great achievement. I fucking love David Fincher as a filmmaker, but Mank is boring and indulgent and too clever for its own good. Minari is beautiful, and one of the best shot of these, but I found it excruciatingly slow. Sound of Metal was also a bit slow, but it’s unbelievably important as an empathy machine, and the performances are great. The Father was a complete movie, versus some of these others that only have elements that are strong. Judas [and the Black Messiah] is a messier movie than some of these — I think Shaka King is still growing as a filmmaker — but it’s raw, compelling and beautifully made. And that brings us to Nomadland. They did not have a lot of money, but they made a movie that never apologizes or feels defensive in its scope, scale, pacing, deliberativeness or performances. It’s a fully realized movie that is compelling and emotional and cinematic, despite its naturalness. It tells these people’s story in a way that invites empathy without saying, “You should feel shitty about your gilded, privileged life.” And it is also reflective of the past year, showing how challenging life can be, and reminding us how much we have to be grateful for.
MY VOTE (1) Nomadland, (2) Judas and the Black Messiah, (3) The Father, (4) Sound of Metal, (5) Minari, (6) Mank, (7) Promising Young Woman, (8) The Trial of the Chicago 7
I’m never going to push back on Fincher getting a nomination, even for a movie that didn’t resonate with me, because he’s just operating at such a high level. Promising Young Woman is a great debut for Emerald Fennell. [Minari‘s Lee Isaac] Chung really deserved his nomination — using fewer resources than a lot of these other movies, he made an impeccable movie. [Nomadland‘s] Chloé Zhao is going to win, and that’s fantastic. But I voted for [Thomas] Vinterberg. I was thrilled he was nominated — honestly, it was the biggest highlight of nominations morning for me. I’ve always been a huge Vinterberg fan, and Another Round is just perfect, especially after a year in which many of us developed a different relationship with alcohol. (Laughs.)
MY VOTE Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round
It’s an exceptionally strong category. Gary Oldman is an extraordinary actor, but he just won recently, and Mank isn’t great. Anthony Hopkins was fantastic in The Father, but performances like that lose a couple of points with me because they feel a little Oscar-grabby. [Minari‘s] Steven Yeun feels like he is one of the major actors to watch — his face is so compelling, he’s so subtle, he has real power. He will win an Oscar, but not this year. [Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom‘s] Chadwick [Boseman] is going to win — every performance he ever gave was amazing, and he was, by all accounts, one of the most incredible, generous gentlemen our industry has seen. But I just didn’t connect to Ma Rainey’s. Riz Ahmed’s performance is naturalistic, romantic and heartbreaking. I have a bucket list of actors I want to work with in my life, and he has been on it for a long time.
MY VOTE Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
The nomination feels like the win for Andra [Day, of The United States vs. Billie Holiday]. Carey [Mulligan] was excellent in Promising Young Woman, but not in a way that felt distinct from her other work. Viola [Davis, of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom] is always great, but everything about that movie felt too theatrical. Had Frances [McDormand, of Nomadland] not won before, she would definitely win this year. I’m voting for Vanessa Kirby — she’s a remarkable actor who had been underappreciated, but her two films at Venice [Pieces of a Woman, for which she’s nominated, and The World to Come] really broke through.
MY VOTE Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
Best Supporting Actor
Sacha [Baron Cohen of Chicago 7] wasn’t well served by his director and, like most of his co-stars, took me out of the movie. Leslie [Odom Jr.] is someone I love, but that movie [One Night in Miami] also felt too theatrical — it took me three times to get through it. [Sound of Metal‘s] Paul Raci is incredibly natural. I hear why people are saying [Judas‘] Daniel Kaluuya should be nominated for lead, but I’m not moved because category fraud is so embedded in the system at this point, and Daniel stood out more than LaKeith [Stanfield, his co-star], so I’m voting for him.
MY VOTE Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
Best Supporting Actress
This was a really hard one. Amanda Seyfried was totally fine in Mank, but not winner-level. Yuh-Jung Youn in Minari was excellent, but kind of playing a familiar, slightly reductive, comic-relief/stern tiger grandma. [The Father‘s] Olivia Colman is always brilliant, but give someone else a chance. Speaking of which, I think [Hillbilly Elegy‘s] Glenn Close will win, but the role just felt like caricature. I voted for [Borat Subsequent Moviefilm‘s Maria] Bakalova because this is her first time on camera in a significant movie; she kept up with Sacha; and she even did some impressive improv dealing with [Rudy] Giuliani. Comedies are underserved in the awards conversation. Let’s have a little fun.
MY VOTE Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Best Adapted Screenplay
I don’t know why Borat is in here; I give them a huge amount of credit for not sticking too much to the script. One Night in Miami felt like a play. A lot of Nomadland was found in the moment, and that’s Chloé’s genius, but I like to vote in this category for films with more of a narrative arc. I really liked The White Tiger, but I went with The Father, a compelling, emotional, classic movie that finds story within a challenging world.
MY VOTE The Father
Best Original Screenplay
You know I’m not a Chicago 7 fan — it’s not up to Sorkin’s other stuff. I really admired Judas, Minari, Promising Young Woman and Sound of Metal, but Promising Young Woman was a little thin, Minari is all episodic and Sound of Metal was more about the performances. So I went with Judas. I just really dug that movie. It’s not “perfect,” but from start to finish I was in.
MY VOTE Judas and the Black Messiah
Best Animated Movie
I didn’t see Over the Moon. I skipped [A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon]. Onward was fun but isn’t sophisticated. Wolfwalkers was beautiful. But Soul is a masterpiece — it’s unequivocally my favorite movie of the year. I put it at No. 1 for best picture on my nominations ballot — that obviously didn’t work out, which is annoying because I think animated and international films aren’t considered enough for that category.
MY VOTE Soul
Best Documentary Feature
I didn’t get to Collective or The Mole Agent. I thought Time was really beautiful. The same with My Octopus Teacher, although it was a bit emotionally manipulative. But I voted for Crip Camp in part because I know people involved with the disability rights movement who it means a lot to; in part because it’s about important subject matter; and in part because it’s well done.
MY VOTE Crip Camp
Best International Feature
As I said, I love Vinterberg, and Another Round is one of my favorite movies of the year. It was the first movie I watched on the Academy app. I didn’t see any of the others in this category.
MY VOTE Another Round (Denmark)
Chicago 7 looked like an HBO movie; period should be shot on film or made to look like it was. News of the World must have been challenging with those candlelit dark exteriors. I can feel the digital in Mank. Nomadland is beautifully done, with a lot of natural light. But I thought that the colors and richness and shadows of Judas were gorgeous. Lighting Black faces is extraordinarily challenging — it’s hard to light them without overlighting the environment — and it’s also fucking hard to shoot the late ’60s, but they did a beautiful job.
MY VOTE Judas and the Black Messiah
Best Costume Design
I didn’t see Pinocchio or Mulan. Ma Rainey’s overdid it. Emma was lovely. I went with Mank, which just had a beautiful amount of detail and authenticity. Designing for black-and-white is an art unto itself.
MY VOTE Mank
Best Film Editing
It’s disheartening that the flashiest movie — the one with the most cuts — tends to win. I saw Sound of Metal at Toronto, before they cut out 20 minutes, so I can’t imagine voting for it, and Trial couldn’t be messier. I went with The Father because it’s a really complex but well-told story.
MY VOTE The Father
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
I didn’t see all of Hillbilly Elegy because it was condescending to its subjects. It felt like a lot of privileged people painting a pejorative picture of a community that I think was much better respected in Nomadland. They did an elegant, exceptional job with Mank without any obvious prosthetics or anything.
Best Original Score
News of the World‘s score was totally forgettable. Mank‘s was fine. Minari‘s was beautiful. I love [Da 5 Bloods‘] Terence Blanchard’s work — but this was easy: Soul.
MY VOTE Soul
Best Original Song
“Husavik” is amazing, the composer is great, and it would be so fun for Eurovision to win something. The others were all cheesy. Fuck the serious movies.
MY VOTE “Husavik,” Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Best Production Design
This was between Tenet and Mank for me. Mank must have taken a ton of work to get that period right, and there are so many different rooms. Tenet, as a movie, is almost incomprehensible, but one of the highlights of watching it is its production design.
MY VOTE Tenet
I’ve been a big advocate of a unified sound category for a long time, so I’m glad they’ve finally done it this year — not because editing and mixing are the same, but because almost no one in the industry understands the difference. I picked Soul because it’s my favorite movie of the year and they had to construct an entire soundscape — every single sound in the movie is constructed and blended with a really great score, as well as diegetic music.
MY VOTE Soul
Best Visual Effects
I went with Tenet. Who cares about these other movies? I didn’t watch Love and Monsters, Mulan or The One and Only Ivan. The Midnight Sky, I think everyone agrees, is unwatchable. For people who make movies, the one movie this year that is impossible to think about making is Tenet — no matter how unemotional and digressive it is, having to do everything backward and also forward within the same scene is unimaginable. I can’t even compute how they pulled that off.
MY VOTE Tenet
Best Animated Short
I watch an enormous number of animated shorts because my kid has a limited attention span and loves them — they alone are worth every penny of Disney+ — and Burrow is both a word he loves to say and a short that he has enjoyed, so I went with that. I have not seen any of the others.
MY VOTE Burrow
Best Documentary Short
I will admit that I haven’t seen the nominees this year. I normally do, even though I don’t think any of the shorts categories should be on the Oscars — certainly not three of them. But I like to vote for every category, so I looked them up and saw that Kris Bowers is involved in A Concerto Is a Conversation, and I’m a huge fan of his, so I threw a vote Kris’ way.
MY VOTE A Concerto Is a Conversation
Best Live-Action Short
I didn’t get to this category either this year, but my friend told me that she had seen and loved The Letter Room, so I trusted her and went with that.
MY VOTE The Letter Room
A version of this story first appeared in the April 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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