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Anonymous Oscar Ballot: Publicist Loves ‘Phantom Thread,’ Thinks ‘Darkest Hour’ Is ‘Claustrophobic and Dull’

Our anonymous Academy voter candidly shares their thought process as they ponder their Oscar ballot.

Daniel Day-Lewis Lesley Manville Phantom Thread

Daniel Day-Lewis and Lesley Manville as the Woodcock siblings in “Phantom Thread”

Laurie Sparham/Focus Features

Here’s another in our series of interviews with a swath of Academy voters from different branches for their candid thoughts on what got picked, overlooked, and overvalued this year. 

Best Motion Picture of the Year

Phantom Thread” being nominated was a surprise; it wasn’t predicted as being nominated by anyone. Its wide critical acclaim came too late to be immediately absorbed. So its nomination was due to strong word of mouth and the strength of the reviews that made people want to see it.

“Phantom” was brilliantly and inventively constructed and executed, full of surprises, difficult to pin down. It pushed the envelope while retaining traditional elements that can appeal to a wide audience. It deserves to win.

Probably “The Shape of Water” will win, which also has a lot of surprises in it, along with some pulpy elements, which maybe made it more accessible. “The Big Sick” should have been nominated over “Darkest Hour,” which was conventional, claustrophobic, and dull.

I don’t feel any pressure to be inclusive; I just vote for what I think is the best. I don’t have any prejudice one way or the other, it’s my estimation of quality.

I never understood the preferential ballot. I’ve had arguments with people who say, “always put the number one choice way down,” but the Academy says, “don’t do that.” The one who gets the most amount of number ones should win. Why complicate it? Make it simple. The ones that get number two or three could wind up winning! It’s too complicated. Just count the votes.

What’s going to win is less important than who gets nominated. Picking the best of anything is problematic; how can you compare “Phantom Thread” and “Dunkirk”?

Daniel Day Lewis and Paul Thomas Anderson on the set of "Phantom Thread"

Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Thomas Anderson on the set of “Phantom Thread”

Photo : Laurie Sparham / Focus Features

Best Directing

Paul Thomas Anderson! Luca Guadagnino, who directed “Call Me By Your Name,” wasn’t nominated. Probably [Guillermo] del Toro will win. It feels there’s been more push for “Dunkirk” and Christopher Nolan in the last weeks. I’d say it’s between Nolan and Del Toro.

Best Adapted Screenplay

How did “Molly’s Game” get in there? Jesus. If it needed all that narration and voiceover, why make it a movie? The whole thing was a disappointment. I would have walked out if I hadn’t seen it at the Academy, to tell you the truth. It got nominated because it’s the great Aaron Sorkin. I thought “Miss Sloane” was a better movie, with a similar but better and stronger performance from Jessica Chastain.

“Call Me By Your Name” should win. Their situation is so beautifully evoked: the period, the love story, the writing — [Michael] Stuhlbarg’s last speech is beautifully stated and performed, it’s an amazing thing. All the way through it felt real.

Barry Mendel, Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani and Judd ApatowThe Big Sick film premiere, SXSW Festival, Austin, USA - 16 Mar 2017

Barry Mendel, Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani, and Judd Apatow

Tara Mays/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

Best Original Screenplay

I’m shocked “Phantom Thread” was not nominated: that’s one category I expected it to be in. I like “The Big Sick,” which is really clever: you’re expecting it to be all sweet and nice, not that serious, but they balanced it really well. The first half of “Three Billboards [Outside Ebbing, Missouri]” was great, but it fell apart as soon as Woody Harrelson [left the movie], and then Sam Rockwell becomes a hero after reading that letter? Give me a break!

Timothée Chalamet stars as Elio in <em>Call Me By Your Name</em>

“Call Me By Your Name”

Best Actor

This is tough. I would eliminate Daniel Day-Lewis. He’s brilliant, but I wouldn’t vote for him just because he has three Oscars already. He’s great and everyone knows it. I believe in spreading the Oscars out. I’d go with the boy [Timothee Chalamet] in “Call Me By Your Name.” He is so natural, I didn’t think he was acting — so brilliant, I didn’t think of it as a performance. He was just being.

Gary Oldman was terrific, but I could never see Gary Oldman at all, Oldman was lost in the makeup. It’s no fault of his; you knew it was Gary Oldman, but I never saw him in it, because it was hard to find him physically. Daniel Kaluuya was excellent, but I wasn’t 100 percent wild about [“Get Out”].

I haven’t seen Denzel Washington; I’m not looking forward to seeing [“Roman Israel, Esq.”]. It annoys me that the films come too late, starting around Thanksgiving. With all the stuff we have to do over the holidays, you have to watch one film a night. Sony Classics is the first one to send early — smart — you have a chance to see the things. I’m in a rural place, so art films are 30 miles away. Spread them out: A good film you won’t forget, anyway. That’s a big problem with the whole system.

Sebastian Stan, Margot Robbie, Allison Janney. Sebastian Stan, from left, Margot Robbie and Allison Janney arrive at the Los Angeles premiere of "I, Tonya" at the Egyptian Theatre onLA Premiere of "I, Tonya", Los Angeles, USA - 05 Dec 2017

Sebastian Stan, Margot Robbie, and Allison Janney at the LA premiere of “I, Tonya”

Str/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Best Actress

I eliminate [Meryl] Streep and [Frances] McDormand because they’ve got Oscars already. Even though “Three Billboards” has problems, she’s sensational. So is Streep.

It’s between Margot Robbie and Sally Hawkins. “I, Tonya” was a real surprise on many levels. Hawkins is great in “The Shape of Water.” She conveyed everything without speaking. That is a real achievement. When I think back on the movie, I don’t think about her not speaking, but her performance is so rich, she was speaking without speaking.

Saoirse Ronan is also excellent. I had a few little problems with “Lady Bird,” which was beautifully done but had a lot of situations I’d seen before in other coming-of-age movies. It didn’t grab me.

Annette Bening and Jamie Bell should have been nominated for “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.” She’s always good, but he’s terrific and didn’t get the recognition.

Richard Jenkins, director Guillermo del Toro and Sally Hawkins on the set of THE SHAPE OF WATER. Photo by Kerry Hayes. © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Guillermo del Toro on the set of “The Shape of Water” with Richard Jenkins and Sally Hawkins.

Kerry Hayes

Best Supporting Actor

Richard Jenkins: a lot of the lines he had to say [in “The Shape of Water”] were profound almost. You believe that weird character. Woody Harrelson was great and Sam Rockwell terrific, but I didn’t believe the character was suddenly going to be a hero. I didn’t buy that at all.

Best Supporting Actress

It’s between Lesley Manville and Allison Janney. [Manville in “Phantom Thread”] said more with a look: I knew everything the character was about and what her power was and what she was thinking. She was a real force, when she says: “You don’t want to mess with me because I’ll wipe the floor with you.” She’s the balance even though the movie is about the other two [characters].

Allison Janney is amazing [in “I, Tonya”] in so many ways. Laurie Metcalf was too [in “Lady Bird”]. [Octavia] Spencer has a real style about her: You love watching her [in “The Shape of Water”]. For the richness of [“Mudbound”], Mary J. Blige was fine, too, but she didn’t have a lot to do, really.

“Dunkirk”

Best Cinematography

I’m good with “Dunkirk.” But how many times does Roger Deakins need to get nominated before he wins? Give it to Deakins, even though “Blade Runner 2049” didn’t make any sense to me. The idea of a baby being born in society was brilliantly and better done in “Children of Men.”

Best Costume Design

Best costume will go to “Phantom Thread.” The costumes were stunning: what they represented in the plot of the movie became a real character that had to convey what everything else was about. They’re on another level than the other films.

Best Editing

“I, Tonya” because it’s so energetic, it kept moving from one thing to the next, which you didn’t expect in that movie. I’m not sure how it was constructed from the script stage, but the editing moved it along. It was surprisingly entertaining all the way through.

Kristin Scott Thomas and Gary Oldman star as Clementine and Winston Churchill in director Joe Wright's DARKEST HOUR, a Focus Features release.Credit: Jack English / Focus Features

“Darkest Hour”

Jack English

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

I’ll have to go with “Darkest Hour;” he was transformed into Churchill.

Best Original Score

Jonny Greenwood wrote an amazing score [for “Phantom Thread”].

Best Original Song

I like the one from “Call Me By Your Name;” also, “Mighty River” from “Mudbound.” I didn’t like “The Greatest Showman.”

Best Production Design

“The Shape of Water.”

Best Sound Editing

“Baby Driver” was pretty great.

Best Sound Mixing

“Phantom Thread” should have been nominated because of the toast!

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