Oscar Voter Reveals Brutally Honest Ballot: "There's No Art to 'Selma,'" 'Boyhood' "Uneven"

Oscar Vote Illo - P 2015
Illustration by: Skip Sterling

Oscar Vote Illo - P 2015

This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation with an Academy member — who is not associated with any of this year's nominees — about her ballot. A conversation with a different member will post each day leading up to the Oscars ceremony on Feb. 22. Needless to say, their views are not necessarily endorsed by Scott Feinberg or THR.

VOTER PROFILE: A longtime member of the Academy's 378-member public relations branch.


First, let me say that I'm tired of all of this talk about "snubs" — I thought for every one of [the snubs] there was a justifiable reason. What no one wants to say out loud is that Selma is a well-crafted movie, but there's no art to it. If the movie had been directed by a 60-year-old white male, I don't think that people would have been carrying on about it to the level that they were. And as far as the accusations about the Academy being racist? Yes, most members are white males, but they are not the cast of Deliverance — they had to get into the Academy to begin with, so they're not cretinous, snaggletoothed hillbillies. When a movie about black people is good, members vote for it. But if the movie isn't that good, am I supposed to vote for it just because it has black people in it? I've got to tell you, having the cast show up in T-shirts saying "I can't breathe" [at their New York premiere] — I thought that stuff was offensive. Did they want to be known for making the best movie of the year or for stirring up shit?

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American Sniper is the winner of the year, whether or not it gets a single statuette, because for all of us in the movie industry — I don't care what your politics are — it is literally the answer to a prayer for a midrange budget movie directed by an 84-year-old guy [Clint Eastwood] to do this kind of business. It shows that a movie can galvanize America and shows that people will go if you put something out that they want to see. With regard to what it did or didn't leave out, it's a movie, not a documentary. I enjoyed it, I thought it was well done, and I can separate out the politics from the filmmaking.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, like American Sniper, is a big hero this year because it shows that people can and will remember how much they loved a movie, even if it comes out in March. I am not a Wes Anderson fan, but as his movies go, I liked it.

Birdman is a great job by Fox Searchlight — it's a weird, quirky movie that they did a really good job of selling. I never thought that it would make it all the way to the finish line like it has — but then I remember that it's about a tortured actor, and when you think about who is doing the voting, at SAG and the Academy, it's a lot of other tortured actors. I just don't know how much it's resonating out in the world. I mean, American Sniper made more in its third weekend in wide release than Birdman has made in its entirety.

If you told me when I saw Boyhood that it would win best picture — or even be in the running — I would have told you that you were insane. Watching it, I thought it was ambitious and a directorial triumph, but the kid was uneven and Patricia Arquette probably was sorry she agreed to let them film her age over 12 years. I never thought, "Wow, this is the one!"

The funny thing about Whiplash is that while the rest of the world thinks that the J.K. Simmons character is an overbearing, horrible monster, there are many people in Hollywood who would model themselves on that character. As for the film itself, it's a very traditional story, in some ways, about mentoring and excellence — that kind of movie has existed since [the 1933 film] 42nd Street. "You're gonna go out there, and I'm gonna yell at you that you can do better, and you're not gonna like me for it but then you will."

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The Theory of Everything is, to me, the Merchant-Ivory movie of the year — that and The Imitation Game both occupy that kind of Britishy slot. I liked it, but I didn't love it. They got a good start in Toronto, and [Eddie Redmayne's] performance is very strong. But it's what I call a "filler" nominee: It's one of those movies that people write in but that doesn't stand a chance of winning.

On paper, The Imitation Game seemed to be the one to me. It's a great story, well-crafted, [Benedict Cumberbatch] is really good and it's been a big success. It's what you call "prestige filmmaking." So why isn't it receiving more recognition? I'd like to believe it's karma for Harvey [Weinstein]. But I'm going to hold my nose and vote for it anyway because when you vote for best picture, what you should try to do is vote for the movie that, years from now, people will still watch and talk about. For some years, it's like, "Huh?! Around the World in 80 Days [the winner for 1956] won best picture? Are you kidding me?" So I try to vote in a way so that, in 50 years, people aren't going to go, "Huh?!" MY VOTE: (1) The Imitation Game; (2) Birdman; (3) American Sniper; (4) Boyhood; (5) The Grand Budapest Hotel


I'm voting for Richard Linklater. I think that what he did — as a "thing" — is extraordinary. I'm absolutely comfortable with breaking up picture and director; I wouldn't know [The Imitation Game's] Morten Tyldum if I walked into him. I thought all of the others were fine except for one: I could have watched my hair grow during Foxcatcher — it was so slow. MY VOTE: Richard Linklater (Boyhood)


I'm voting for [Birdman's] Michael Keaton because I love him and for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is he seems like a completely sane person who lives in the middle of the country and works when he wants to work. I've loved every interview that he's done. He seems grateful, not particularly needy, and I don't know when he'll ever get another chance at this; the other nominees will. What Keaton had to do was harder than what the others had to do because they had the benefit of playing real people. I mean, Eddie Redmayne did an amazing impression of Stephen Hawking, but Keaton created a character from whole cloth. MY VOTE: Michael Keaton (Birdman)

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I'm not sorry that Jennifer Aniston isn't nominated; she was fine, but I thought her movie [Cake] was ridiculous. [Two Days, One Night's] Marion Cotillard gave a really good performance, and I was glad she made it through. [The Theory of Everything's] Felicity Jones was fine, but she kind of came in on the ticket with [Redmayne]. I didn't like Gone Girl [which starred Rosamund Pike]. Reese [Witherspoon in Wild] was very good, but that movie was not. But the minute I saw Still Alice, I remember thinking, "This [best actress race] is over. Four other women are going to have to get dressed and go to 5,000 dinners knowing they have no chance." MY VOTE: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)


Robert Duvall [for The Judge] was an "Uh-huh, sure, fine." [Boyhood's] Ethan Hawke gave a very strong performance. Edward Norton was great in Birdman — he was hilarious. And even though I didn't like Foxcatcher, I have to say Mark Ruffalo was good. But J.K. Simmons' performance was in a different league. It's kind of ironic that he's in "supporting," right? I'm voting for him because he was great in the movie — and because he was in 5,000 episodes of Law & Order. In other words, he's been acting forever, I've seen enough of his work to know he is a journeyman, and I'm happy to be able to recognize him. MY VOTE: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)


[Wild's] Laura Dern was good, but I didn't think she was as good as [A Most Violent Year's] Jessica Chastain. Keira Knightley was fine and got in on the [Imitation Game] ticket. Emma Stone was pretty good [in Birdman], but she can do no wrong — she's like Meryl Streep, although I wish [the film for which Streep is nominated] Into the Woods stopped after 20 minutes. But I'm voting for Arquette. She gets points for working on a film for 12 years and bonus points for having no work done during the 12 years. If she had had work done during the 12 years, she would not be collecting these statues. It's a bravery reward. It says, "You're braver than me. You didn't touch your face for 12 years. Way to freakin' go!" MY VOTE: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

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I put in the Inherent Vice screener, and it became apparent that it's a terrible, incoherent movie, so I turned it off. I thought it was not possible for me to hate something more than I hated The Master, but I hated this more. MY VOTE: The Imitation Game


I'm not voting for Nightcrawler — that was really unpleasant. With Foxcatcher, they said seven words in the whole movie and the rest of it was people staring at each other, so I'm not voting for that. I didn't really get the sense of a screenplay with Boyhood — it was more like they just turned on the camera once a year. Birdman and Budapest were both pretty clever, but I liked Birdman more. MY VOTE: Birdman


If you can call anything a "snub," this year, it was The Lego Movie, which was one of the best movies of the year. I don't know what happened there, but it is inconceivable to me. Of the five they did nominate, my favorite is Big Hero 6, which was adorable and original. MY VOTE: Big Hero 6


I thought Finding Vivian Maier was the most interesting. I don't get the whole Citizenfour thing — he [Edward Snowden] is annoying, he has a little bit of a God complex and a lot of what's in there I felt I'd seen in other places. MY VOTE: Finding Vivian Maier

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I haven't seen enough of them to vote. MY VOTE: I abstain.


The Birdman single-shot thing gave me a headache. Roger Deakins did a great job on Unbroken and he deserves to finally win one of these, but the cinematography was amazing on Grand Budapest HotelMY VOTE: The Grand Budapest Hotel


If you're going to do it, do it. They went for it with the Budapest costumes. The rest of them just looked like the same old thing. I know some people are excited about Into the Woods, but to me it just looked like that fairy-tale show that ABC airs Sunday nights [Once Upon a Time]. MY VOTE: The Grand Budapest Hotel


I usually talk to an editor before I vote for this category, and this year he confirmed what I already felt: Whiplash was very well edited, but Boyhood was a unique job. Cutting 12 years of crap down to a decent length can't be easy. MY VOTE: Boyhood

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I was happy to have the chance to vote for Guardians of the Galaxy. It could have and should have been nominated for best picture; I nominated it. MY VOTE: Guardians of the Galaxy


[Double-nominee Alexandre] Desplat works so much that eventually he'll win, but I didn't particularly like the score for Budapest or The Imitation Game. I liked the score for The Theory of EverythingMY VOTE: The Theory of Everything


It's not even close for me: "Everything Is Awesome" is a great song and voting for it is a way to give something to The Lego MovieMY VOTE: "Everything Is Awesome"

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It's taken awhile for the "tweeness" of [Wes Anderson's] movies to become accepted. It used to be much more of an acquired taste, but now it's become much more mainstream. MY VOTE: The Grand Budapest Hotel



I never vote for these categories because I have no idea what's good sound or bad sound — and believe me, I'm not alone among Academy members. MY VOTE FOR BOTH: I abstain.


I don't think I should be able to vote for this category either, but I can't resist another opportunity to support Guardians of the Galaxy. It should get something. MY VOTE: Guardians of the Galaxy





Twitter: @ScottFeinberg