With Oscar ballots filed, 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.
Nine is too many. This was a lackluster year. I struggled to come up with five. We know the Academy is all about the actors, the largest group of people who dominate and decide everything!
“Parasite.” It’s an invigorating movie to watch. Bong Joon Ho took me places I didn’t think I was going to go. The performances are great. The story it told at this moment in time of the haves and have-nots was fascinating. The humor, we need humor! In all this grimness. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” has humor within the story. Even “The Irishman” has moments of humor; it helps to leaven the grimness. I liked “Parasite” the best. I’d vote for something else for Best International Feature Film.
“The Irishman.” The performances were great; you got inside the head of a murderer, and how he evolved. Marty Scorsese is a deft director — you put yourself in his hands and you have an excellent journey. I did watch it in the theater at 11 a.m. so as not to fall asleep. It was three-and-a-half hours long, but I was gripped.
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“Little Women.” I don’t have as much invested as other people I know; it wasn’t a book I grew up with and adored. I came to it with a cleaner slate. I wasn’t as upset with the feminist changes Greta Gerwig made — I enjoyed it. The performances were entertaining! I had problems with the backwards and forwards construction; I found it confusing and not necessary.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” I loved the “what if?” conceit of the movie; it was brilliant. Quentin Tarantino’s gratuitous violence turns me off. I sit there with my hands over my eyes.
“Jojo Rabbit.” It was a brilliant conceit, and the performances were great. I couldn’t quite get into it; it’s tough. Not because Taika Waititi’s making fun of Hitler and the history of Nazis — it was a leap I didn’t entirely make — but I was watching from a distance, in a way.
“Marriage Story.” I like Noah Baumbach’s movies generally, but he lost me, because suddenly this guy who runs this podunk theater in New York has enough money to hire a big lawyer and rent an apartment in LA, fly backwards and forwards? That stepped out of reality for me. I didn’t believe the characters anymore. It’s such a kitchen-sink story. I went with the stuff about why they’re splitting up, but the minute it became a divorce saga of expensive lawyers vying with each other, I didn’t care, I didn’t believe it anymore. It was sad.
“1917.” Manohla Dargis said it the best. It was pretentious and lengthy and Richard Brody did a good critique of it; the story is limited and one-note. I was watching this clever trick of doing the supposed one shot throughout the movie, which of course it isn’t. I grew a bit bored by it. It was very real — I’m interested in that period and stories of men in that war — but I was disappointed.
“Joker.” I was beaten on the head over and over again. I didn’t want to be there with these people. “King of Comedy” had gone into that territory and done it better. It was too unpleasant, and I don’t know the purpose of it. Maybe it’s a reflection of our society, but I see Trump on TV every day and I don’t need this.
Martin Scorsese. It’s a lifetime achievement thing with him. I don’t know that “The Irishman” is my favorite movie of his. He’s such an excellent director.
Bong Joon Ho. That’s a dilemma. It’s a very close first, if I could vote for two.
I can’t stand the idea of Quentin Tarantino up there banging on. The ego, the ego!
They’re all really good actors; that’s not the issue. it’s whether their moments in the films moved me or I felt galvanized by them.
Jonathan Pryce. I voted for “The Two Popes” as one of my favorite movies of the year. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It was a smart movie. I’d give it to Pryce, with Antonio a close second.
Antonio Banderas. I didn’t love that movie as much as other Pedro Almodóvar movies.
Adam Driver. I am in love with him, but how much I didn’t like the movie supersedes the performance. I can’t disassociate.
I’m not thrilled by any of them. I don’t know who I would have put in instead .
Saoirse Ronan is really good; I liked “Little Women” more than the other films.
Renée Zellweger. I didn’t love “Judy.” It’s a shame she sang. Bob Ackerman’s “Judy” was fine with Judy Davis.
Cynthia Erivo. I didn’t love “Harriet.”
Charlize Theron. At the end of “Bombshell” I didn’t know who these women were and what really motivated them.
Best Supporting Actor
Tom Hanks (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”). I was nervous about seeing him do that. He walked a fine line between imitating someone, which gets old, and doing an interpretation, particularly with such a recognizable voice and cadence. It could get annoying. So I give him props for that.
Brad Pitt (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”). I might have to vote for him for sheer lust. Pitt gave a nuanced performance, as he did in “Thelma and Louise.” He has the chops. But his looks are distracting and take away from his ability to perform. You get seduced and distracted by that.
Anthony Hopkins (“The Two Popes”). What was so clever was their foreign accents, which were enough to understand that they came from someplace else and where, but it wasn’t overwhelming. Anthony gave a refined low-key performance that was nice to see.
Al Pacino and Joe Pesci (“The Irishman”). With Al, the hair was distracting. When you are looking at a big screen it takes up a lot of space. He’s better than he has been in a while, not chewing up the scenery as much as he can. I’m glad they were in the movie; they augmented it. I didn’t feel so moved by their performances; I appreciated them.
Scarlett Johansson (“Jojo Rabbit”). She had quite a range in that role, from being charming, to being caught in a bad situation and trying to deal with this impossible world, which was not exactly surprising from her but unexpected. She had an accent, she was real, this person existed in this fantasy world the director had created. That’s important: she had that base that you can hang onto as you go for the ride.
Kathy Bates (“Richard Jewell”). Her performance is pretty amazing, and moving. I really cared about this woman. She captured that maternal angst [and] I can identify with, God forbid, being powerless to do anything about [what’s happening to your child].
Margot Robbie (“Bombshell”). She was so good in “I, Tonya.” I can’t fault her, again. That moment in the office with John Lithgow is extraordinary. You viscerally feel what she’s going through, what she’s on the verge of capitulating to.
Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”). My dislike of the movie overrides her performance for me.
Florence Pugh (“Little Women”). I wasn’t knocked out.
Anthony McCarten (“The Two Popes”). This excellent story well told was given short shrift. It’s a complicated story he was telling, with the trick of how you portray people who are still alive. He did it really powerfully. The flashbacks integrated into the movie were well done.
“Parasite.” It’s so original, clever, and brilliant.
“Jojo Rabbit.” It’s historically accurate; there’s a twist on the costumes, they are reflections of the story, which is a fantasy in some ways. The costumes are a little extreme, not what everyday people in Germany would be wearing. They have a toe in reality, so they’re not totally outrageous. The designer took it that extra step, which melded with the tone of the movie. I hope that one wins.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Arianne Phillips did a great job with the costumes. They are very textured, with lots of variety — there’s hippies, and the more stylish, sophisticated looks for Sharon Tate. It wasn’t too kitschy. Sometimes period stuff can get too obvious. There was a range she covered, pretty accurately, with subtlety. The clothes looked worn, they were a bit funky, crumpled. They weren’t pulled freshly out of dry-cleaning bags, but reflected the way Brad Pitt lived in that trailer. Things were not spick and span. There was a variety of looks appropriate for each character, like Leonardo’s leisure suit. Things repeated a bit, again how people really wear their clothing. It’s not a new outfit every time; people have a uniform they wear.
“Little Women.” I went with the costumes. Greta was giving us a rose-tinted view of the world they lived in, which is true of a lot of period films. The hair and makeup can make or break it; if you go over the top, it takes away from the costumes, it distracts you. That’s not good. Laura Dern would never have hair like that. These people bathed once a month, plus all that food on the table! They were living in the land of plenty. The hair did them in. If the hair been more realistic it would have dialed down everything.
“Knives Out.” Contemporary films often get short shrift. I was pleased it also got the CDG [Costume Designers Guild] prize. It was witty, and the costumes reflected the tone of the movie: that’s what a good costume should do, as well as interpret the character.
“The Irishman.” Sandy Powell, she’s great. But how many Oscars does she need? Spread it around a little. If I don’t like the movie, it’s hard for me to separate the movie from the costumes.
“Joker.” Joaquin Phoenix was terrific, but the movie left me cold. So, I’m less enthusiastic about the costumes. Also, Mark Bridges has won a couple of Oscars.
International Feature Film
“Honeyland” (Macedonia). It’s a gripping documentary about the extraordinary world of this woman, her life, and these people invading, how they take over and almost destroy her, and how she survives. It’s a mirror, again, of what’s going on in the world. Everything is different in this very remote place, but no, it’s filled with humans who behave badly, just like everywhere. And it’s touching because she tried to be a good Samaritan and the kids do nothing but abuse her. What’s clever about it: you also feel for the family, they’re trying to survive, they’re being stupid about it, they’re mistaken about what they’re doing, which leads to disaster. They could have gotten on together and been all right, but the guy gets too greedy. And it all falls apart. It’s an extraordinary movie.
“Parasite” (South Korea). If you’re going to compete in Best Picture you shouldn’t be in Best International Film Feature; that takes an opportunity away from someone else. It’s double-dipping. What about all those poor foreign movies? “Parasite” got an insane amount of publicity — how do you compete with that? To be in too many categories is not fair. If the Academy Awards do in fact mean something and can help a movie make money, let’s give that opportunity to as many people as we can.
“For Sama.” I went to a small screening. [Waad Al-Kateab] was there with the guy [Edward Watts] who helped put it together. I was weeping. For the sheer emotional experience you can’t beat “For Sama.” It takes us out into this world we can’t even imagine. That they stayed [in Aleppo] trying to do good, while they jeopardized their lives and their daughter, is a kind of bravery beyond my comprehension. It’s an important story to get out: what goes on in these countries we’re toying with, not giving aid to, or [where we’re] backing the wrong person.
“American Factory” is incredible, an excellent documentary that also tells the story of something really important.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Robert Richardson has won a ton but he’s a great cinematographer.
“1917” looked gorgeous but I didn’t like the movie.
“The Lighthouse.” I hated the movie, it could have taken an hour or so, but went on and on in such bleakness. It was visually extraordinary. With a movie like that, I often think, “the poor cast and crew, such a miserable shoot!”
“The Irishman” had a good look, but that weird CGI stuff making actors look younger was distracting, which was not [Rodrigo Prieto]’s fault.
It was between “Parasite” and “The Irishman.” Thelma Schoonmaker deserves it for dealing with Marty. If she had never won I’d vote for her [she has won three times].
“Ford v Ferrari.” The race sequences were confusing. I couldn’t tell which car was the car I was meant to be watching.
Makeup and Hairstyling
“1917” has excellent wounds and horrible things: the distress of the human body going through war.
“Judy” was not a standout for what they did to Renée. That’s what’s good about it; you’re not distracted by it which would have been bad.
“Bombshell.” They did such an amazing job of making Charlize Theron look like Megyn Kelly that it’s almost creepy.
“Parasite” was fantastic, that world he created, between the horrible apartment and the fancy house, and then the surprise dungeon.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Barbara Ling’s period stuff was more spectacular. She recreated things that don’t exist anymore, taking familiar landmarks and seeing them through period eyes.
“1917.” The production design of Dennis Gassner was amazing.
“The Irishman” had a nitty gritty, grim very real look to it; the color palette was dowdy and sad.