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Anonymous Oscar Ballot: A Documentarian Gives Best Picture and Director to ‘Roma’

This voter wonders if everyone sees the films, and if all Academy members are equipped to evaluate all the categories.

(L to R) Marco Graf as Pepe, Daniela Demesa as Sofi, Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marina De Tavira as Sofia, Diego Cortina Autrey as Toño, Carlos Peralta Jacobson as Paco in Roma, written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Photo by Carlos Somonte


Photo by Carlos Somonte

As Oscar balloting opens on Tuesday morning, we’re launching our second annual series of six interviews with Academy voters from different branches for their candid thoughts on what got picked, overlooked, and overvalued this year.

Motion Picture of the Year 

I do think about the preferential ballot. I know how it works. You have to be very careful with your number one and two. That’s what really matters. Everything else doesn’t matter so much. I’m torn between “The Favourite” and “Roma,” of the pictures that are nominated. And I would probably choose “Roma.” It is a truly good movie.

There’s a chance that “Black Panther” will win. That will be an interesting test for the Academy. They’ve tried so hard to get big-grossing pictures a seat at the table. That’s a big picture that did gross a ton, it’s fun and entertaining, and directed by an indie director. What’s not to like?

The heat on “Roma” has been so great, I don’t think any of the others have a chance.

“Green Book” in another era would have won everything. It’s a very conventional movie with two great performances. To some extent, in the way it’s directed, it cements racial stereotypes rather than upends them.

Best Picture aside, I would recommend that the Academy erases the vote weighting for the other categories. I’m not convinced everybody sees every picture, and I’m not sure they are all qualified, that a production designer could sense the best-edited picture.

We should try to make sure everybody sees the films — and I don’t know how to force that. We should leave the final vote up to all Academy members. But we should slightly weight the votes inside the branch. Let everybody have a shot and vote for Best Picture and the acting categories. But let those inside the category have extra weight.

In other categories like Best Documentary and Foreign Film, a lot of people haven’t seen the films. If they have, they tend to be judging not on the merits, but just which is the most famous. What is the one you’ve heard of?

Alex Honnold atop Lower Cathedral with El Capitan in the background, Yosemite National Park, CA. (National Geographic/Samuel Crossley)

“Free Solo”: Alex Honnold El Capitan

National Geographic/Samuel Cross

Documentary Feature

“Free Solo” won at BAFTA, which is British; “RBG” doesn’t have the strong emotional pull there that it has here. “Free Solo” follows “Meru;” Jimmy Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi are a great couple, and he’s very courageous. Chai has done a good job of promoting it, it’s very visual. “RBG” could win, but I’m pretty sure “Free Solo” will win.

“End Game”


Documentary Short

I’ve seen a ton of films about the fallout of the migration from Africa to Europe. “Life Boat” is another good one, beautifully shot and rendered.

“Night at the Garden” is a fun idea, he discovered some footage. It’s an important film that reminds you of something in history you forgot. It would not be, in my view, the winner.

“Period. End of Sentence” is of the zeitgeist but it is not great.

I’m inclined toward “End Game,” which has a powerful notion of how you reckon with death and is very intimately captured. The “End Game” emotions are powerful. I give Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman tremendous props. It’s my pick.

Director and cinematographer Alfonso Cuaron on the set of "Roma"

Director and cinematographer Alfonso Cuaron on the set of “Roma”


Alfonso Cuarón is going to win, is my prediction. I’m OK with that, it’s a great movie. “Cold War” was great, I really liked it. It’s very powerful. It’s an Eastern European version of “If Beale Street Could Talk,” about how to fall in love when society makes that impossible.

I tend to like Spike’s genre movies better than his purposeful tour-de-force movies. I love that movie he did with Denzel Washington, “Inside Man.” “BlacKkKlansman” is a great one of course, it’s political but it’s really a counterculture police movie. It’s fun, it delivers in ways I enjoyed. It’s well observed, it should win Best Direction, but I don’t think he’s going to. Are they going to give it to him because they feel he’s been snubbed in the past? Scorsese did not win Best Director for his best movie, but for “The Departed.”

Glenn Close and British actor Jonathan Pryce attend the 72nd annual British Academy Film Awards at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Britain, 10 February 2019. The ceremony is hosted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).Arrivals - 2019 EE British Academy Film Awards, London, United Kingdom - 10 Feb 2019

Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce at the 72nd British Academy Film Awards



Guessing about the Academy, it’s possible Glenn Close will win for that reason. It’s the old Academy question: Close has done so many incredible roles; is this her best, or does she win for “The Wife” because she hasn’t won before?

There’s a chance Lady Gaga wins. I was impressed by her performance. And that was not a film that really did it for me. I thought she was great both as singer and actor. Yalitza Aparicio was great, but they almost never give it to the first timer. I think Gaga will get it.

Olivia Colman is a funny choice for Best Actress, because she’s got a supporting role. She was good, but that was the easiest of the three roles to play. The harder roles were what Rachel and Emma were doing.

DF-25953 – L-R: Joe Mazzello (John Deacon), Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor), Rami Malek (Freddie Mercury), and Gwilym Lee (Brian May) star in Twentieth Century Fox’s BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY. Photo Credit: Alex Bailey.

“Bohemian Rhapsody”

Photo Credit: Alex Bailey


This is tough: Rami Malek is going to win, but Christian Bale was incredible. Dafoe won’t win it, nobody saw [“At Eternity’s Gate”], Viggo Mortensen was great in “Green Book” but it’s not that deep a role. Rami Malek was impressive, if he weren’t in that Freddy Mercury role, I don’t think I would care about watching “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He is the driver.

Regina King stars as Sharon in Barry Jenkins' IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, an Annapurna Pictures release.

Regina King in “If Beale Street Could Talk”

Tatum Mangus / Annapurna Picture

Supporting Actress

I hope Regina King wins. I thought her performance was devastating. When she goes down to Puerto Rico to visit the woman who was allegedly raped: That’s an incredible scene. Amy Adams is a great actress, but Lynn Cheney is not a life-changing role. Marina de Tavira is also good in “Roma.” Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are great playing off each other, Stone impressed me; I’ll always watch anything Rachel does. I hope and think Regina King will win.

Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali: well done. The performance was great and Ali got all these wins, he deserves it.

"A Quiet Place"

“A Quiet Place”

Paramount Pictures

Sound Editing

Some of these movies are big, but what you want to be able to find is differing textures. In that regard the job is bigger for “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “First Man.”

But for me, the sound quality and the dramatic impact of the sound was more potent in “A Quiet Place” and “Roma.” “A Quiet Place” is innovative and genius: The dynamic range of the movie was so exquisite. “Roma” has an interesting sound quality, it has atmosphere to it that is palpable, it feels like a dream. That means it’s a mix of hyper-real and things that feel like they are coming to you through a remembered vision. You intuit the way the aesthetic of the sound matches the ambition of the film.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover UsageMandatory Credit: Photo by Marvel/Disney/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (9360960cz)Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan"Black Panther" Film - 2018

Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan in “Black Panther”


Sound Mixing

That’s a hard category. “A Star is Born” has all that music. “Bohemian Rhapsody” has all that concert footage. It was a challenge to take the tracks of Queen and mix them so you feel you are onstage and in a stadium in particular. It did feel crisp and wild, you felt like it was performance. “Bohemian Rhapsody” was more entertaining than I would have given it credit for. But the concert sequences didn’t feel as wild as I would have liked them to have been. With sound mixing, you head into the aesthetic choices of the director.

I would go with “Black Panther.” It is very difficult to do something with that much going on, and make it feel like they’re human beings.





“Vice” will win, frankly, and deserves to win. In terms of content there was a lot I didn’t like about “Vice.” But it is heralding a new form, which some people feel is gimmicky, but it was not easy to pull that off, with mixed media forms and moving backwards and forwards in time and space from multiple perspectives. It’s big and I admire it and it will win. This serves my theory of why people in the craft should have a weighted vote. The most showy editing usually wins, because it’s the most “cutty.” In this case, the most showy editing deserves to win because it suits the story and creates a new kind of form. It took a sharp concept and rendered it in ways that made it all feel part of the movie. That is a skill, well done by Hank Corwin.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is a conventional movie done well, so it doesn’t rise to the level of art. My favorite cut in “The Favourite” is during the quail-shooting sequence when Rachel Weisz gets splattered with blood. It’s a sickening moment, it’s all on her face but we never see the bird. I still believe “Vice” will be and should be the winner.

"The Favourite"

“The Favourite”

Fox Searchlight

Costume Design

I hope “The Favourite” gets it, with its jaw-dropping constraints. Sandy Powell is a genius. It must have been the choice of the director to basically use costume as character. This film, after all, is a story of power, and the costumes play a pivotal role, dressing up to make a statement. You strut yourself to be envied and take power. This movie justified over-the-top costuming; it served the aesthetic purpose of the film.

“Black Panther” has a shot. It was way more seen than “The Favourite;” its aesthetic achievement was creating a new look. It had to invent itself, which is a very powerful thing. The “Black Panther” costumes were impressive. Sometimes it’s trickier to invent than to define an aesthetic within a tradition. In terms of making stuff up, “Black Panther” is exquisite costuming. It’s between those two.

Marvel Studios' BLACK PANTHER..Ph: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2018

“Black Panther”

Marvel Studios

Production Design

With [not-nominated] “BlacKkKlansman,” nothing is harder to do than the ‘60s-‘70s. In that film, Spike Lee found a way to do the ‘60s that felt like the ‘60s. If you want to see bad ‘60s, look at the demonstration in “The Post” — embarrassing. When they’re walking into that tiny room when Stokely Carmichael is talking, it’s a mix of stuff that’s familiar and peculiar to the period. Everyone wasn’t dressing up as if they were in a Haight-Ashbury costume. This combines the African-American and white experience; it’s tough to get the period right in a way that’s natural.

If you’re looking for a creative contribution, the production designer on “The Favourite” had the benefit of real-life palaces; with those wonderful hallway shots with candles, that’s being able to have a castle.

“Roma” was exquisite. You’re dealing with a kind of showdown between “Black Panther,” which gets kudos for making up an entire world, while “Roma” is building something in the present in order to properly represent the memories of a young man at the time [1971], and to feel it’s authentic, rather than just being an old Felliniesque vision. In that regard, “Roma”‘s production design is exquisite, from the tracking shots down the busy streets in front of the movie theater, down to that narrow driveway in the house as she is scraping her car against the walls, with all the shit in it.

That’s pretty great, between those two. It’s a tough one to pick: the aesthetic choices are so different. If possible I’d vote for both them.




Black-and-white cinematography is easier than you think. It’s always striking when it happens because we live in a color world. People go “Wow, that’s so special!” Cuarón found an aesthetic, an extremely deep depth of field and a wide angle that he made much of. It’s powerful. And he figures out a way to carry it through the whole thing. “Roma” is “Titanic.” I have a pretty good home theater screen, which is good. I first saw it at Lincoln Center on a big screen, which really did have an impact. It couldn’t have been a better screening experience.

“Cold War” uses it to great political effect, juxtaposing the coldness of the politics with the heat of the romance, but in a peculiar way. “The Favourite” was more innovative, with the notion to pop in modern cinematography in order to picture the past. It’s provocative with that extreme wide angle, fish-eye lens. The problem is, it calls attention to itself. But I loved the long tracking shots with just a candle, which give a sense of the grim physical quality of their existence, which makes the power-grubbing all that more evident.

Emma Stone in the film THE FAVOURITE. Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos. © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Emma Stone in THE FAVOURITE.

Yorgos Lanthimos

Original Screenplay

It’s not “Green Book” and not “Vice.” Everything I liked about the directing and filmmaking in “Vice,” I did not like about the screenplay: I thought the Cheney portrait was all wrong.

“First Reformed” is powerful and personal. But I’m picking “The Favourite” and “Roma.” I’m interested in power, so “The Favourite” is the one I end up leaning toward. It seemed to be about how power works. It was a much more poignant and perceptive vision of power than “Vice.”

Comparing the two, “The Favourite” gets it and “Vice” doesn’t. It’s content, it’s not just form. Somebody got it wrong. The motivation for Dick Cheney to pursue pure power is thin gruel; it can’t just be because he didn’t want Lynn to screw other guys. He decides to pursue power for its own sake so he can get laid is terrible. Everybody wants to get laid.

(l to r.) Actor Stephan James, director Barry Jenkins, and actor KiKi Layne on the set of IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, an Annapurna Pictures release.

Barry Jenkins on the set of “If Beale Street Could Talk”

Tatum Mangus / Annapurna Picture

Adapted Screenplay

“If Beale Street Could Talk” is the one I’m voting for because it’s a very powerful script about how to hard it is to fall in love in difficult circumstances. It’s rough, it’s not classically structured, but it delivers a kind of poignancy you think about after you leave the theater.

“BlacKkKlansman” is good. I dug it, I thought it was a good movie, but it’s not “If Beale Street” screenwriting.

Nicholas Britell attends the 72nd annual British Academy Film Awards at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Britain, 10 February 2019. The ceremony is hosted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).Arrivals - 2019 EE British Academy Film Awards, London, United Kingdom - 10 Feb 2019

Nicholas Britell at the 72nd annual British Academy Film Awards



I loved the score for “If Beale Street Could Talk.” I hope it wins, I think it will win. That’s the problem of the full Academy. The score by Alexander Desplat for “Isle of Dogs” and Terence Blanchard’s for “BlacKkKlansman” are also beautiful.

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