Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot No. 6: 'Birdman' "Genius on Many Levels," "Loved" 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

An anonymous female Academy member also says she voted twice for 'Unbroken,' 'Nightcrawler' deserved a best picture nom and Benedict Cumberbatch "can do just about anything."
Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment
'Guardians of the Galaxy'

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 member of the Academy's 386-member writers branch who has won an Oscar.


I try to watch all of the nominees in every category primarily because I love film — you can learn something from even a not very good film — and secondarily because I think it's the right thing to do if you're a voter. I know how hard people work on these things, and it's the least I can do. Plus, I'm a completist!

I always go with my visceral response to a film, meaning that I try to exclude things like my opinion of the director or the actors. The work is what's important. I mean, there are very famous geniuses who were not good people — for instance, Robert Frost was a horrible man, but he created beautiful art. I don't appreciate the man, but I love his poetry.

Read more Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot No. 3: 'Sniper' Attacks "Not Legitimate," Eddie Redmayne "Transformative"

I am a huge Clint Eastwood fan, and I had a lot of different emotional responses to American Sniper. I applaud him for simply trying to tell the story of this man [Chris Kyle] in a straightforward way and then letting the viewer see it through the lens of their own experience. It was a very well-made film. What I came away from that film feeling — being reminded of — is that war is an awful thing, and if Chris Kyle can be faulted for anything, it's that he didn't put the guns down soon enough; it became an obsession for him that led to a lot of sadness for his family.

I loved Birdman. I thought it was genius on many levels. You know how sometimes when you watch a film, something will jump out at you that doesn't work? Everything in this film worked, even the magical realism, because I felt like I was inside the actor's head experiencing what he was experiencing. The casting was great. The actors did a tremendous job acting like actors — emotional and over-the-top and egotistical. (Laughs.) The cinematography was brilliant — it was fascinating that they decided to do it as one long one-r [making the film appear to be done in one shot]. It was all just very entertaining for me, and I was very touched by it.

Boyhood was very touching, too. It was such an accomplishment for Richard Linklater. It gives you a very strong sense of timing passing in your own life, and for that reason, it's a film that anybody who watches it can relate to, young or old. You feel a little bit voyeuristic watching the family, but in a really good way — you feel privileged to be able to see them grow.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of my favorite Wes Anderson films, and I like almost all of his. I enjoy his style. He's quirky but interesting. He's eccentric but not an egomaniac. His movies are a lot of fun.

Read more Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot No. 4: 'Birdman' "Bored Me to Death," Carell "Blew Me Away"

I thought that The Imitation Game was an extremely interesting movie. It didn't move me the same way that Birdman did, but I like it a lot. I watch films hoping to learn something — maybe it's a life that's different from my own or some aspect of history that I knew nothing about — and I came away from that film feeling like I really had [learned something]: the fact that this man was such a genius, and yet he was arrested for being a homosexual. I'm very glad it was made because I think very few people were aware that there was that kind of law in place in Britain. And I think that Benedict Cumberbatch is one of the top actors around today — he can do just about anything convincingly.

I really liked Selma. The thing about LBJ [President Lyndon B. Johnson] did bother me a little bit, not because he actually was an appealing man — he wasn't — but because he did do an amazing thing, as difficult as it was, by forcing through the most profound Civil Rights Act ever, which wasn't emphasized in the film. But I have no doubt that it was a very difficult film to make and I, frankly, was thrilled that it even got made — and with a woman director [Ava DuVernay]. It wasn't my favorite film, but it was a film I liked and it was a huge accomplishment.

I enjoyed The Theory of Everything very much. I'm a fan of Stephen Hawking because he's so smart — I love smart people — and I thought Eddie Redmayne did a terrific job portraying him. But it wasn't my favorite overall. I wasn't particularly moved by it.

Whiplash is a very realistic film, I thought. It's brutal to watch, but I think it was important to watch, because it's about the struggle of the artist. For my money, I thought that it was moving, interesting and important, in the sense that it shows how difficult it can be to become an artist.

MY VOTE: (1) Birdman, (2) Boyhood, (3) Whiplash, (4) Selma, (5) The Imitation Game


Foxcatcher was too slow and indulgent so Bennett Miller was out for me. I loved The Grand Budapest, but it's not all that different from what Wes Anderson always does. The Imitation Game's direction wasn't its standout quality. So for me it was between the directors of Birdman [Alejandro G. Inarritu] and Boyhood [Linklater], and I struggled with it. I really love Birdman but I had to go with Linklater because I thought it was a monumental achievement on his part — his film took relentlessness, tenacity and real vision that had to be sustained over 12 years. How do you do that in the entertainment business when there are so many things you're battling against?

MY VOTE: Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

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I thought [Birdman's] Michael Keaton was fantastic. I've always admired him as an actor because he's both comedic and touching at the same time, and to see him on the screen again was so refreshing because I haven't seen him in a long time. I also realized that all of the other actors who were nominated were playing real people; Michael had to take his role, without reference points, and make it his own just by virtue of his pure talent. That's not to say I didn't admire the other performances — Steve Carell, in particular, was excellent, although I didn't care for his film [Foxcatcher] — but this wasn't close for me.

MY VOTE: Michael Keaton (Birdman)


[Two Days, One Night's] Marion Cotillard was brilliant. [The Theory of Everything's] Felicity Jones was exceptional. I didn't care for the movie Gone Girl, but Rosamund Pike, I thought, was very good. Reese [Witherspoon] is good in everything she does, and she was in virtually every shot of that movie [Wild]. But I was definitely for [Still Alice's] Julianne Moore. I tried to watch the movie a second time and couldn't because it was so sad and moving because I've known people with Alzheimer's disease, and to imagine someone with early-onset Alzheimer's was a lot to handle. There's just something about her [Moore] — her expressions and her gestures were so convincing that I forgot it was her acting, and when an actor can do that? Oh, my goodness.

MY VOTE: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)


[Whiplash's] J.K. Simmons is my choice. I kind of expected what I got from all of the other actors [nominated in the category] — really strong work, especially by [Foxcatcher's] Mark Ruffalo, who is terrific — but J.K. Simmons was such a surprise. It wasn't like anything I'd seen him do before. I always sort of thought of him as the guy selling insurance [in television commercials], you know, and then he came up on the screen in this, and I forgot all about that.

MY VOTE: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)


[Into the Woods'] Meryl Streep is always brilliant so no argument from me about her. [Birdman's] Emma Stone was a delight. [The Imitation Game's] Keira Knightley is always beautiful, but I'm not very taken with her as an actress. And [Wild's] Laura Dern is very good in anything. But [Boyhood's] Patricia Arquette just jumped out at me as someone very real. I've always been a fan of hers — I watched Medium, and I loved her in that — and I just think she's so accessible and has this wonderful ability to be like every woman. I thought she was just brilliant. She's pretty special and she so deserves this acknowledgment.

MY VOTE: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)


Whiplash jumped out at me — I just thought it captured that world perfectly. The others were very fine scripts, but the source material was right there. [Whiplash was the only one of the category's nominees adapted from another film — a short version of the same story — as opposed to a book.]

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

MY VOTE: Whiplash


I was disappointed that Nightcrawler wasn't nominated for best picture — it was disturbing, but it was important that it was disturbing and it was a really fine film — so I was happy that it was at least acknowledged in this category. But I had to go with Birdman. I just couldn't find a flaw in that film, and a film starts with a script.

MY VOTE: Birdman


I saw all five. I like to sit down with [the young people in her family] and watch them. We all loved Big Hero 6 and there was no discussion, no argument, no nothing. The kids watched that one three times — what does that tell you?

MY VOTE: Big Hero 6


I really liked Ida, but Leviathan really moved me. When it comes down to two movies and I liked both a lot, it's really a visceral thing that you can't explain.

MY VOTE: Leviathan


I really enjoyed them all — I mean, I thought Citizenfour was brilliant and brave, I greatly admire the woman that directed that [Laura Poitras] and she made me proud to be a woman, actually, as did Selma, frankly — but there was no question about this one. I watched Last Days of Vietnam twice — the first time it was very emotional for me because [people very close to me] went to Vietnam and came back and were never the same again, and I went back to watch it again to try to be more objective about it. It's an important film, in the sense that there are generations of people who aren't really aware of that time and the effect that that war had on people. The film captures the layers of moral conflict over there and gives you a sense of how hard it is to be a human being in situations like that. How do you save people? Who do you save?

MY VOTE: Last Days in Vietnam


I just thought they did a brilliant job with Birdman — what a task to take on!

MY VOTE: Birdman


The look of the film was delightful and the costumes were a big part of that.

MY VOTE: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Read more Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot No. 2: Voter Finds 'Whiplash' "Offensive," Doesn't "Get" 'Birdman'


I went with Grand Budapest again because I wasn't conscious of the editing when I watched it — which is the way I like it — until my second viewing. I think I was more conscious of Boyhood's editing because I knew it was a 12-year film.

MY VOTE: The Grand Budapest Hotel


I loved Guardians of the Galaxy! I was so happy that it got nominated for adapted screenplay [at the WGA Awards]. If you love film, you should take every genre seriously.

MY VOTE: Guardians of the Galaxy


I chose [the score of] Grand Budapest because it was so pleasant and enjoyable. Nothing else was really close.

MY VOTE: The Grand Budapest Hotel


I picked [Selma's] "Glory." I'm a big fan of John Legend, for one thing, and I was moved by that movie.

MY VOTE: "Glory" (Selma)


I picked Grand Budapest because the look of that film is integral to the entire experience of watching it. Nothing else was close.

MY VOTE: The Grand Budapest Hotel


There was considerable stuff they had to figure out with Sniper, but I went with Unbroken. I thought it was the best.

MY VOTE: Unbroken


I felt the same way here [that I did about best sound editing]. Sometimes in American Sniper things would be way too loud — you know, I know what a gunshot sounds like, so it bothered me.

MY VOTE: Unbroken


Out of all of the nominees, I suspect that Guardians of the Galaxy had the least amount of visual effects, but I voted for it anyway because I liked it so much.

MY VOTE: Guardians of the Galaxy


I'm a dog lover, so this one was no contest.

MY VOTE: Feast


I feel strongly about our veterans and anyone who puts their life on the line for others, so I voted for Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1. In light of the horrifying rate of vets who have returned home and committed suicide, it is unbelievable that that's the only call center that there is. The film was an education for me.

MY VOTE: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1


I only got to see three of them, and Boogaloo and Graham was the best of those, but I didn't vote because I didn't see them all. It was a little lighter than the others!

MY VOTE: I abstain.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg