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. Here we have: the executive.
This early season has been disruptive. I’ve been feeling on my back foot the whole time. I did have some festival experience which gave me a bit of a jump, but I found [seeing all the movies] challenging. I couldn’t be on the foreign committee this year, I’m still employed. I went on the website to pick off a few movies. You can watch everything online. “Site under maintenance;” everyone had the same idea as me. I was scrambling to look for DVDs and free online shorts. “I’m going to run out of time.”
You get into a plethora of riches. How to pick any of them? You’ve got to mix it in with the size of the movie, the relevance of the movie, what happens if you take the performance out of the movie. The MVP award.
Antonio Banderas (“Pain and Glory”). “Pain and Glory” is the best Pedro Almodovar movie I’d seen in years, and the best performance that Antonio Banderas has ever given. This could be his only chance.
Jonathan Pryce (“The Two Popes”): I’ve never seen a performance like that, I can’t tell him from the guy, I get him and Francis confused.
“Adam Driver” (“Marriage Story”). It’s a beautiful exquisite performance: Both of them. Is he too young, has he been around long enough, will he have more chances?
Leonardo DiCaprio (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) is so great in that part, but he blends away. Brad Pitt is easy. Done deal. Take him out of the movie, who else could play that part? The two of them together was so much fun.
Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”): He gave a great speech at the BAFTAs.
Renee Zellweger (“Judy”). She’s it.
Saoirse Ronan (“Little Women”). She’s Meryl Streep. She’s on her way, as a kid she was amazing, she is today, and will be tomorrow.
Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”). I had never heard of her, didn’t know her whole background. Critics didn’t like it, was underrated. I’m voting for it for Best Song.
Charlize Theron (“Bombshell”). The movie was thin. It was a throwaway. The six-hour Showtime series tells the story from the beginning at Fox News. It was about the guy, played by Russell Crowe. You see how he treated the women. I didn’t resonate with the notion of injecting the fictional character [Margot Robbie]. You didn’t need her.
Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”). Any of us who live on the West Side know that character, and Laura Wasser was a consultant on the movie. I know that moment in real life and how it works. [The divorce lawyer] wasn’t a bad person, she was doing a very good job. It’s a particular skill to carry off an unlikable task in an unlikable way and through it all you don’t dislike the person. That’s hard to do. She’s going to win.
Scarlett Johansson (“Jojo Rabbit”). I could see her sneaking in. That’s a ridiculously brilliant performance. That’s a nice way of rewarding that movie.
Brad Pitt (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) is in a league by himself. You have to be so insouciant, who else could do it like that?
With the preferential ballot, I think the best thing to do is vote your preference.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is in a class by itself. I had an intense spiritual experience watching the movie, it’s such a large point that it makes so eloquently. It was such a flat-out brilliant idea. And to pull that off in the midst of all the other stories that fed into that era. They got it so right. It was a knockout punch. I walked out of the theater and said, “I don’t know what could possibly beat this movie for me this year.” It held. I’m dying to see it again and the extra footage.
The question: Is it a clean sweep? How do you do that movie without the cinematography, production design, the wardrobe? Without the production design esoterica, you can’t make the movie. It’s magic. How do you tell what makes that thing work? It’s so integrated. I have a hard time not giving it all to Quentin: Screenplay and Directing and Picture.
“1917.” Roger Deakins is going to win Cinematography. Dennis Gassner’s production design is astounding.
“Joker.” I was never going to see the movie. When I finally saw it, I thought it was one of the best movies of the year! It’s so misconstrued, the whole conversation on what it was about. It reminded me that you can’t pay attention to what anyone says. You have to see it for yourself. The movie is a sad, tough, meaningful, devastating indictment, and it’s sophisticated in the way it’s told, not manipulative. Todd Phillips, who knew? It goes back to his days as a rabble-rouser, counterculture guy. He drew from those rebellious early things he did. I wouldn’t be upset if “Joker” won. It’s an art film and a commercial film about society and mental health. The second easiest award to pick is [Hildur Guðnadóttir]. You never heard a score like that.
“Parasite.” It was cold in a way that set me back. The characters were all so creepy, they all deserved shit, you know? I didn’t think any one of them deserved anything good to happen to them. I admire the craft, the filmmaking, but I was turned away by the fact that you aren’t supposed to root for anybody. If Bong Joon Ho wins, god bless him, it’s an amazing piece of work. It’s brilliant all the way.
“The Irishman.” Martin Scorsese. It’s enough reward that you got to make the movie your way: whether brilliant, overindulgent, or somewhere in between. I’m glad you pulled it off. You don’t need a prize. I saw it on the big screen in one sitting straight up, the only way. I had no problem with the length. Three and a half-hours: all good. I couldn’t tell what nationality the actors were. One guy’s a Greek, they’re all Italians, it was hard to sort out. I had no problem with the de-aging. It’s a movie.
I’m supportive of Netflix movies as real movies, it’s a great slate. If I were king, I’d say that anyone who wants to be eligible for the Oscars has to report the grosses. Then you have a level playing field. It seems only fair. If you open “The Irishman” on 200 theaters for three to four weeks, I’d like to know, just say what the movie did. By the time the season is over, these Netflix movies in the last lap lose that last kick. It comes late. It doesn’t come early when they promote it. There’s no third or fourth gear on those Netflix movies.
The notion of picking what’s best is not in isolation, it’s part of a fabric of experience. It does have some undetermined income because “they’re losing steam.” People who might have voted for it might not vote for it. Maybe “it’s not quite right.” Maybe it’s not a movie that is going to sustain over time. It’s not going to affect my vote. But it might affect on a meta level collectively some votes. It’s baked into the cake with the Netflix format, it’s part of the milieu. Netflix has gotten most of the benefit already.
Anthony McCarten (“The Two Popes”). An amazing script. How did they make that so compelling? I don’t know how you write that movie.
Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit”). The director is funny and charming. It was a ridiculous notion he had. It was wildly creative, at the same time it wasn’t my favorite, it didn’t stick with me.
Greta Gerwig “Little Women” is an interesting take. I’d be thrilled if she won.
This is always the category where they give it to an indie movie that didn’t necessarily get any of the other awards. “Jojo Rabbit” or “Little Women” is going to win that category because you can give to it a smaller movie that should get a prize.
None of us are past thinking about diversity. [Greta Gerwig] didn’t have a director nomination. The number of director nominations should be the same as the number of pictures. It would open it up for a lot of things and eliminate these ridiculous stories about snubs. It’s a stupid way to do it. It’s a directors branch issue. If you have nine pictures, why not nine nominations? I don’t attribute that to gender bias, but administrative myopia.
In that category every film deserves to win.
“Honeyland” is unlike any movie I’ve ever seen before. It’s not a contender in international, but it is in documentary.
“American Factory” has two beloved filmmakers, a timely subject, and a longitudinal case study. And the movie is represented by two giant forces [the Obamas]. It has a lot going for it. It is the frontrunner.
“The Edge of Democracy” was chilling. The filmmaking was so precise and elegant.
The two war-torn films “The Cave” and “For Sama” have the possibility of knocking into each other. The sensibility is similarly tragic of these people trying to have an existence [under siege in Aleppo]. Neither film is easy to watch. One is inspiring, the other so personally emotive.
Documentary Short Subject
“St. Louis Superman” was optimistic in a constructive sense, it was about people doing something and not just crying about it.
“In the Absence.” I was so pissed off, I had trouble, it made me so angry. There was a sympathetic resonance to it about all this denial that goes on in our current situation: look the other way. Watching [the ferry sink] you are realizing they had hours to save people. The poor mother talks about the phone call with her child, “follow your teachers.” She has to live with that.
“Learning to Skateboard in War Zone (If You’re a Girl)” melted my heart. You see those kids bouncing around, those kids could be in Brentwood, kids are kids, anywhere in the world. I recognized the universality. The kids are so happy as they had a sense of something to enjoy. It made me cry, actually. Showing little shoots of life in the midst of all that, you see how fragile the line is and how little it takes.
In this bifurcated category, you have the giants — charming and iconic “Toy Story 4,” and visually fun “How to Train Your Dragon: Hidden World.” Both are worthy. Then you have the outliers “Missing Link,” “Klaus,” and “I Lost My Body.” It’s tricky because they’re so different. I love the “Toy Story” series and it was a good finish for it. “Missing Link” and the “Dragon” movie were spectacularly beautiful. “I Lost My Body” was an unusual, esoteric mood piece. I didn’t get the memo on “Klaus,” which is winning everything. I didn’t quite get what the shouting was about. It was sweet, it was okay.
Short Film Animation
“Memorable” was exceptional, it used that painting technique from that vintage Van Gogh movie.
“Hair Love” was adorable.
“Sister” was shocking. It was about “One Child Nation” but it also reaches into the generalized question about choice.
International Feature Film
I can’t remember five movies I liked better and a year when it was so predictably obvious what the leading candidate is, but “Parasite” is not going to be my number one pick in either category.
“Les Miserables” (France) is the best class movie since “Do the Right Thing.” It had the same sense of the haves and have nots, at the end it all goes sideways. It has so many layers to it.
“Corpus Christi” (Poland) was a world-class movie, like “Cold War” and “Ida.” The acting and directing were good, the filmmakers were fun to hang out with.
Twentieth Century Fox
Sound Editing and Mixing
It’s a tough call between “Ford v. Ferrari” and “1917.” Reading a story tilted me in the “Ford v Ferrari” direction, what they did with the cars. I hope they do combine the sound categories. I’d have to interview them all to know what’s live sound and not.
“Avengers: Endgame.” It’s a comic book movie of the highest proportions. That Thanos is a bad-ass dude! It’s the essence of the movie. It’s what it is. It’s industry standard, if you don’t have that you don’t have a movie.
“The Lion King.” I didn’t see any point in it. I didn’t like it. The effects were great, that’s the kind of movie they wanted to make. I didn’t respond to it.