With Oscar ballots in Academy voters’ hands, we’re forging ahead with our third annual series of interviews with Academy voters from different branches for their candid thoughts on what got picked, overlooked, and overvalued this year.
People get so enraged about films that are not nominated. It’s so subjective. It’s exciting to vote for the Oscars, but it’s not the be-all and end-all, the greatest films of all time. It’s great to reward things. People get impassioned and angry at snubs, but look at your favorite films. Look at how many classics didn’t get nominated for anything? I liked “Uncut Gems,” but I wasn’t surprised that the Academy snubbed a challenging movie. It’s one that people will still be talking about for years to come.
Deep down, when it comes to voting, you do vote for the films you like the best. It’s funny when people talk about some kind of agenda going on. Having been an Oscar voter for a number of years now, once I was in the loop, I had my own agenda about what films did I see, like, and like the best. I can only vote for the movies in the order of the ones I love.
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It’s tougher this year more than any other for me. There’s five movies I really love, three others I like, and one I’m not crazy about. The ones I really love, I have a tough time picking between: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Parasite,” and “1917.” If any of these three won, I would not be surprised and be really happy. They’re all really great films.
This year, I agree with what other people have said: original films have bitten back. This is the last stand against the franchises. I can think of no better movies to exclude “Avengers: Endgame” from a Best Picture. These are the films we should be honoring.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is Tarantino’s deepest movie since “Jackie Brown,” and it’s an original screenplay too, unlike the former which was an adaptation. I saw it more than once. The ending surprised me and made me cry; it’s very profound and upsetting in a way I didn’t feel in his other movies. He achieved something beyond his usual tone. “Oh, I’m seeing something that is a real masterpiece.” I suspect it could win on the night.
“Parasite” is a slightly different movie than “Roma” last year., but it’s still about class. But this is a genre film, a grand thriller in the Hitchcock tradition, and it’s not often that films like that can make it to Best Picture. But with this movie Bong Joon Ho has cut through at the box office, and it’s touching a nerve on society that is resounding through the whole planet. It’s a social thriller that feels like one of those “of the moment” movies.
And “Parasite” is also an authentic Korean movie. There’s been a ton of amazing Korean movies in the last 20 years, becoming bigger and bigger successes. I’m excited as a fan of foreign cinema to see a global hit. It has cut through the bias against subtitled international films and it could win. If it doesn’t, this will obviously win Best International Feature Film.
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures
“1917” is the third one. You’ve got returning Oscar alumnus Sam Mendes doing his best film ever. That’s a stunning movie. Even though some people think it’s a technical exercise, it does hit home emotionally in way that is clearly speaking to a lot of people. For a World War I film on the scale of “Dunkirk” to have made $100 million already domestically is extraordinary. It’s a cinematic experience. These three different films–Quentin’s most ambitious of his crime comedies, Bong Joon Ho’s Korean thriller box-office smash, and a World War I film that has to be seen on the big screen–mark a push back against the idea of cinema being dead.
I was happy I saw “Marriage Story” on the big screen with an audience. It’s beautifully written and performed–I’d pick Adam Driver over Joaquin Phoenix. Everyone is great in it.
I loved “The Irishman.” I saw it on a big screen with an audience. Maybe “The Irishman” has dropped off from the lead because Netflix didn’t push the idea of seeing it on the big screen as hard as they did with “Roma.” If you looked at the metrics to see who watched “The Irishman” at home in installments, it would be shocking. I’d love to know who saw it in one sitting. The film loses its power, it’s not to be binged, but watched in one situation. I didn’t go to the bathroom once, it was fucking great. It’s something a little less special when it’s available on a platform in the land of stand-up specials and baking shows, I honestly believe.
If “The Irishman” had been at the cinema it would still be in the conversation: it adds prestige. Maybe one reason it’s not cutting through as much as it should: it’s darker than “Casino” and “Goodfellas,” a more elegiac, profound movie in the Scorsese canon. I have an inkling it will not make it on the night.
“Little Women“–what reason was there to make another one in 2019, when it had been adapted twice in like 18 months? Greta Gerwig answered that question with an original approach to a well-known text, bringing in meta framing devices. This was great, those scenes alone with Saoirse Ronan and Tracy Letts earn it Best Adapted Screenplay. It was a brilliant framing device that turned a required-reading book into something finger-on-pulse and current.
“Ford v. Ferrari” was fucking entertaining and I enjoyed and was surprised by it. I wasn’t expecting the ending, that “Rocky”-style, ‘win the battle, lose the war’ finale. The performances were good, it was super-funny, amazingly well-made, but it’s not got the same weight as the others.
“Jojo Rabbit.” Early tonal wobbles stopped me from loving it. I didn’t have a problem with bad taste– that was perfectly pitched, or Taika Waititi as Hitler. But it gets broad with Rebel Wilson and Sam Rockwell; when you get to Thomasin Mackenzie, the film gets better, with real emotional stakes. The second half starts to find its feet. It’s an ambitious impressive movie that doesn’t have a chance of winning.
“Joker” I don’t really love. On the plus side, Phoenix is hypnotic and amazing. It’s the best thing Todd Phillips and Lawrence Sher have done. On a philosophical level it thinks it’s deeper than it is. When I saw the trailer, I told a friend, “this looks like a mass shooter’s favorite movie.” The actual movie is obviously not that, but I don’t actually know what it was trying to say. The more Phillips and Scott Silver explained it in interviews, the less I understood it. The film struck a chord with $1 billion, it grossed more than “Star Wars,” but you can’t mention it in the same breath as “Taxi Driver” or “A Clockwork Orange.” It’s a good movie, not a classic. It’s my least favorite. It’s crazy “Dark Knight” didn’t get a Best Picture nomination and “Joker” did.
Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”). He is going to win. It’s an amazing performance, but it’s not unlike any he’s ever given. Not true. He was equally hypnotic and disturbing in “The Master” and “You Were Never Really Here.” It’s no surprise. It’s on brand for Phoenix, we’ve seen him do it before. His commitment to a part is extraordinary. Everybody else is strong in the category.
I didn’t see Phoenix hit seven different notes, like Adam Driver in “Marriage Story.” I will vote for Adam Driver. The “Being Alive” scene is incredible, but in several scenes Scarlett Johansson matches him. She’s underrated in that movie, she’s spellbinding. She manages to perform a clever balancing act. Those actors play characters who are so likable and in the next scene unlikable. You’re totally with them. It’s an amazing journey to go on, so nuanced, in so many moments, they hit so hard in the smallest ways.
Leonardo DiCaprio (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”). He is strangely underrated. He is extraordinary in that scene when he goes to pieces on that TV western. It’s one of the best pieces of acting I’ve ever seen. He stalls on his lines, he’s flailing, gets bigger. Brad Pitt has taken all the press, but DiCaprio is really good.
Jonathan Pryce (“The Two Popes”). A film I was surprised by. One of the last films I watched was “The Two Popes,” I did not have high expectations and loved it. I was happy to see Pryce nominated for the first time.
Antonio Banderas (“Pain & Glory”). He is amazing. It’s one of the few times the Academy has nominated a quiet subtle performance. He never raises his voice, but he is quietly heartbreaking and funny. That scene alone, when he meets his old gay lover who has married two women and had kids! He won’t win, it’s not his night. But what a great performance. I am happy to see him in the mix.
Charlize Theron (“Bombshell”). Megyn Kelly can’t be given any Oscar glory. Theron gave Megyn Kelly more soul than she deserves. It’s a great performance, but Megyn Kelly can be scrubbed from a chance of winning immediately.
Renee Zellweger is amazing in “Judy,” the performance is better than movie, which is a nice little HBO movie with an amazing star turn. Especially to play such an iconic actor and yet make it her own. You’re not seeing mimicry, it didn’t feel like seeing a Judy Garland impersonator. It felt deeper, seeing Renee Zellweger become her. This incredible performance will probably win on the night. It’s between Johansson and Zellweger.
Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”) gives a performance that is better than the film she’s in. I wasn’t crazy about this biopic; it came close to feeling a little like a Lifetime movie, but you can’t say that Erivo isn’t engaged and giving it her all. I hope she’s back as a nominee soon and in a film that matches her efforts.”
There’s no performance I dislike. They’re all really good.
Joe Pesci (“The Irishman”). He completely flies against “Goodfellas” with equal power by being incredibly quiet with terrifying authority. It’s great to see him back on the big screen after so many years. He’s both brilliant and different. I also love Al Pacino too of course. He gives that movie such a charge of energy.
Tom Hanks (“A Beautiful Day in Neighborhood”). He’s amazing. Especially in that hotel room scene. There’s a question to me whether he’s support or lead.
Anthony Hopkins (“The Two Popes”). I wasn’t expecting to be so taken with it, just at first glance. Then I saw it was directed by Fernando Meirelles. It’s a lot spikier and sharper and funnier and dramatic than I was expecting. The title alone, it was at the bottom of the screening pile. But Hopkins is really great in it, as magnetic as Gary Oldman in “Darkest Hour.” It feels like a chamber piece or a play, but there’s no denying that for a talky movie it’s riveting. A lot of that is Hopkins. It’s Hopkins’ best performance in a decade, he’s obviously a master. It’s between Hopkins and Pitt for me.
Brad Pitt (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”). I along with every other voter will vote for Pitt, he’s extraordinary. It’s one of those rare star performances. He takes a dark, dubious character and makes him enormously likable. He has rough edges. It’s interesting, that somebody like that can be a dangerous man, and also incredibly virtuous at the same time. Tarantino’s films have won Oscars twice for Christoph Waltz. In “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” Pitt is not very verbose, he’s one of Quentin’s more laid-back characters. He’s a commanding and beguiling actor playing off his persona and his age, in a way not many other stars like that could really pull off. Other people couldn’t make that part as engaging as it is.
Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”). The narrative is, she’s already won. She’s amazing in that film. It’s funny in a way, because it seems Driver and Johannsson don’t have a chance, but Laura Dern is going to win. When she won the Golden Globe, she said, “This one is for the divorce lawyers,” which was funny, but made we think twice about voting for her in the Oscars. It’s already been decreed she’s winning.
Florence Pugh is really good in “Little Women.” It’s between Laura or Florence.
Margot Robbie (“Bombshell”). I have trouble with “Bombshell.” The scene in the Westwood cinema in “Once” is the Margot Robbie scene of the year, more than “Bombshell.” It’s a good performance, but I have trouble with her character, which is a fictional amalgam, which makes it less interesting to me.
Kathy Bates (“Richard Jewell”). I was surprised to like it as much as I did. And Kathy was great.
It’s an amazing category, they’re all good scripts.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Tarantino has a good chance at screenplay. Quentin would want to win Best Director. But it’s one of his very best screenplays.
“Marriage Story.” It’s between Tarantino and Noah Baumbach.
“Parasite,” which is incredibly nuanced and interesting, I don’t think is going to win.
“1917.” When you think about a screenplay you think dialogue. But story is as important as dialogue. This is a great story perfectly done [by Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns] for that movie. It will probably never get rewarded.
“Knives Out.” I’m glad Rian Johnson got a nomination. It’s an amazing feat of writing.
“Little Women.” Greta Gerwig will win in that category. That’s not to say it’s a diversity vote. I will genuinely vote for “Little Women” of those five. The movie’s a hit, and should have been nominated for more. Greta didn’t get directing; this is her Oscar for sure.
Another tough one. I would be happy if any of them won except “Joker.”
Bong Joon Ho (“Parasite”). It’s between Bong and Mendes.
Sam Mendes (“1917”). He’ll probably get it.
Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”). Quentin is such an amazing writer, give him screenplay. He wants the director Oscar. It might not happen, but I may still vote for him.
Live Action Short Subject
“Nefta Football Club” I loved, it’s the perfect shaggy dog story, and the best one. I’ll vote for this.
“Saria.” This was truly powerful though. The actresses are real refugees. This is winning.
“Daughter” and “Sister” are the two faves I have to choose between.
“I Lost My Body” is for me the best one. A knockout.
“Missing Link” and “Toy Story 4” are exceptionally well-made movies. “Toy Story” has enough Oscars. Is it as essential as “Toy Story 3”? No, it isn’t. But while it is well made, please don’t give it to them again. They have enough gold. As much as I love Pixar they don’t need any more gold on their shelf. Give it somebody else.
International Feature Film
“Parasite” will win. I loved “Pain and Glory” and “Les Miserables,” and was knocked out by “Honeyland,” which is beguiling and really dramatic.
Roger Deakins (“1917”). When he won for “Blade Runner 2049,” it was a legacy thing. “1917” is going to win for his genuinely great work, for sure.
The two best-edited movies are “Parasite” and “Ford v Ferrari,” which is an exceptionally well-edited movie. But it’s got to go to “Parasite,” it’s like pin-fucking sharp. “Parasite” could win that one.
“The Irishman” is like four hours long. So I’m sure some may think, “Whoa, it could be shorter.”
Makeup and Hairstyling
“Bombshell.” I suspect it will win. Even though it’s amazing work by Kazu Hiro to make Charlize Theron look like Megyn Kelly and Nicole Kidman like Gretchen Carlson, it’s also just ridiculous. I do not want anything Megyn Kelly-related to win any Oscars.
“Joker” has clown makeup. More work went into “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” I’ll wager.
This is a weak bunch of original songs.
“I’m Gonna Love Me Again” from “Rocketman.” Elton John will sing the nominated song and accept the Oscar. I will likely vote for him. Taron Egerton didn’t get the nomination, it’s a chance to reward that film, which is really good.
“Into the Unknown” from “Frozen II.” It is not “Let It Go” is it?
“I’m Standing With You” from “Breakthrough.” Another one that is weak. How many times has Diane Warren been nominated? [11.] I love you, but try harder. Be on a good film for starters.
“1917” will get it. Amazing work.
“Parasite” is extraordinary too and could be a spoiler.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” has amazing production design. May have my vote.
“The Irishman.” Great, but we’ve seen it before.
“Ford v Ferrari” could win both. “1917” will win both.
“Joker” will win for Hildur Guðnadóttir. I can’t deny it’s a great score.
“1917.” However, Thomas Newman has never won. The music for that flaming village scene and the end cue of the movie are both extraordinary. I may vote for this.
“Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker” is the only bullshit nomination. John Williams has done some amazing work, but not a single cue in this pops at all.
“Lion King” is the best-looking, yet most depressing movie I’ve ever seen. It’s amazingly made but entirely 100% creatively bankrupt. It was like watching some form of movie karaoke. I’m curious how the original writers and directors don’t get any credit. It’s beautifully done, but I never felt the animation matched the actors, except for Billy Eichner. It’s not something we haven’t seen before. We saw “Jungle Book” a couple years ago.
“1917” is extremely well done. This gets my vote.
“The Irishman” is amazing work, with a couple of dubious shots. It’s not going to win.
“Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker” cannot win. It’s slick, but the same old.
“Avengers: Endgame” is, again, the same old nonsense we’ve seen before, without advancing the medium. Show me something new, Marvel.