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Anonymous Oscar Ballot 2021: This Publicist Never Logged on to the Academy Screening Portal

A member of the Academy publicity branch goes through the categories, most of which he will not be able to vote on.

Frances McDormand stars in "Nomadland"

Frances McDormand in “Nomadland”


With Oscar ballots heading into Academy voters’ hands on April 15, we’re forging ahead with our fourth annual series of interviews with Academy voters from different branches for their candid thoughts on what got picked, overlooked, and overvalued in this strange pandemic year.

I vote in the publicists branch. I’m also a producer. I live out of town. I subscribe to Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, get Deadline, and [Los Angeles Times award supplement] The Envelope. It’s built up over the years. The Oscars have developed into something beyond what I grew up with. Complaints people make about Oscars and nominations is that now everything is so promoted, so deliberate and expensive. It gets away from the purpose of what the whole thing is with awards. It’s a bigger issue than the Oscars. It’s overwhelming. There’s five months when it’s all that’s talked about, then two months later you forget who even won. And then it starts all over again.

I have a Smart TV, but I can’t get Apple or HBO Max on my Panasonic, even though I subscribe to HBO. Anyway I’ve gone through hell on this one. You can’t get on the [Academy screening] portal unless you have Apple or Roku. I haven’t done it. I never used the portal.

So I got the nominees for the main categories on DVD. Warner sent three or four things. Some started coming around Thanksgiving. I’m paying attention to the major categories only, because I haven’t watched more than one or two documentaries. The rest I won’t see because I don’t have the time or the capacity for getting a new TV and all that, right now. I don’t like watching movies on my computer.

I got an Oscar package of docs, shorts, and foreign, the categories that are hardest for their members to see. I’m not looking at shorts. I might do that.

I do watch Netflix. I liked “I Care a Lot,” which is a horrible title, whoever agreed to a title like that should be fired. I would have probably voted for the fantastic Rosamund Pike, she was brilliant in it. Hats off to the HFPA, her Golden Globes acceptance speech was fabulous. They nominated her, good for them, they saw the movie. “The Dig” is also terrific, Ralph Fiennes was fabulous in it, he should have been nominated, a disgrace. I would have voted for him.

I would vote for the fabulous Dianne Wiest and Candy Bergen in the Soderbergh film “Let Them All Talk.” It was well done, all shot on the Queen Mary. The atmosphere was fantastic, suspenseful. It was the best Woody Allen. That’s why [the Academy] should increase the number of acting nominations so that they’re equivalent to Best Picture. If you find four Best Pictures you think are great, you’re lucky.

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH, Daniel Kaluuya (left), as Fred Hampton, Dominique Fishback (center), 2021. © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

“Judas and the Black Messiah”

Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

Best Picture

I would go for “Nomadland.” It was consistently excellent all the way through. I was into it the whole time. “Nomadland” is seamless, and the commentary aspect and how Chloé Zhao used the real people was wonderful.

Mank”: It’s an ambitious mess. I don’t understand why it got all those nominations. The film didn’t flow, I don’t know what he was trying to do with it. The relationship between Welles and Mank wasn’t there, what were we watching as all these people in Hollywood tried to solve the situation between the two? It wasn’t explained properly, it was scattered. The black-and-white photography looked terrific, the production values were first rate. Gary Oldman was tiresome, Amanda Seyfried was good, but they didn’t give her enough to do. I liked the scene where she finds a bottle of of liquor under the pool. She had things placed all over San Simeon, to hide alcohol from Hearst. It’s a major disappointment, the one thing I was really looking for.

“Judas and Black Messiah”: My only qualm, is in the beginning the dialogue is difficult to understand, it’s very vernacular. It took me a while to get adjusted to how they were speaking. I’m glad “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “One Night In Miami,” despite the praise they got, weren’t nominated. They were both tedious, boring, and so obviously stagey. “Judas” is a real movie, cinematic.

“Sound of Metal”: Riz Ahmed was terrific, I’m a fan of his anyway, from “The Night Of.” But the film fell apart in the last quarter, in Paris. I didn’t get their relationship, which was so strong to begin with.

“The Father”: Sony Classics always sends their stuff early. It was excellent.

“The Trial of the Chicago 7”: I lived through a lot of it. It’s all terrific. Frank Langella did it brilliantly. I couldn’t figure out who the actor who played the defense attorney was. It was Mark Rylance! He was sensational. They were all good.

“Promising Young Woman” is extremely clever, stylistically inventive, and different as a revenge movie. Carey Mulligan was terrific.

“Minari” was a very good movie, although it’s smaller.

best director nominees Emerald Fennell and Chloé Zhao

Emerald Fennell and Chloé Zhao

AP Images

Best Director

It’s between Zhao and Emerald Fennell. Maybe I will vote for Fennell and “Nomadland” for Best Film and split it up that way. The direction of “Promising Young Woman” was so innovative, something that grabbed me about it that I never expected. But maybe in the scheme of things, Zhao should get Best Director because of who she is and what she accomplished.

Best Actor

Chadwick Boseman, god bless, gives a terrific performance [in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”]. Even though his role is more supporting, he made that film come alive at the end. It’s between Ahmed and Anthony Hopkins. Ahmed was great, but his performance at the end was weak. Hopkins is perfect all the way through, he won an Oscar for another fabulous performance [“The Silence of the Lambs”]. I’m not sure.

Best Supporting Actor

Why isn’t Daniel Kaluuya in the Best Actor category [for “Judas and the Black Messiah”]? It’s a lead performance, but he’s not in the lead category. He’s the force, the power of “Judas.” And he deserves Best Actor for that role.

Viola Davis in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"

Viola Davis in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”


Best Actress

Viola Davis in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” she’s a powerful force, unbelievable. We want more of her, we’re waiting for her to come back amid endless dialogue scenes, so much energy and style, and interest, she’s so compelling. She’s a supporting role, not lead. I don’t care if she’s in the title. That shouldn’t determine what the category is; she should have been lead for “Fences.” That was a leading role, she was fantastic in it, she’s always fantastic, unbelievable. The supporting vs. leading categories have to be reexamined. It’s such a joke. I felt it was a filmed play except for Viola Davis.

I’m voting for Carey Mulligan, because Viola is in the wrong category. Frances McDormand is perfect, but she has won two Oscars and that’s enough. That always weighs with me. It’s so difficult to get one with all the politicking you have to get through.

I liked “Pieces of a Woman,” Vanessa Kirby was good, and Shia LaBeouf was good in that too, in a small role. Andra Day was very good, but the movie [The United States vs. Billie Holiday”] was just passable. She sang well.

Maria Bakalova, "Borat 2"

Maria Bakalova, “Borat 2”

Amazon Prime Video

Best Supporting Actress [updated]

I found “Hillbilly Elegy” far better than expected. Glenn Close totally immersed herself in the character and was almost unrecognizable, so I voted for her. Not only was it the most challenging role compared to the other nominees but
she’s been nominated seven or eight times and deserves to finally win. Despite the redneck milieu, which has become tiresome, I thought even the flashbacks worked with how the film was structured was edited. I think the trailer put me off originally beside not usually expecting much from Ron Howard.

Original Screenplay

With “Promising Young Woman,” you don’t know how the screenplay would read. I couldn’t imagine the movie that it turned out to be from the screenplay, with so much style and individuality in the direction. The importance of “Promising Young Woman” was her direction and how she adapted it rather than the screenplay itself. I’d maybe go for “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which covered all the angles of that extremely well.

Adapted Screenplay

“The White Tiger,” I loved. It should have been nominated for Best Picture. A powerful movie, it was a more violent scary take on “Parasite.”

News of the World

“News of the World”

Bruce Talamon/Universal Pictures

Production Design

It’s a toss-up between “The Father,” “News of the World,” and “Mank.” Those production values were excellent. I never really felt the scope of San Simeon, the elaborateness and grandeur of it. The dinner parties seemed smaller than they should be. In “The Father,” when he changed the layout of the apartment, it was very subtle and you didn’t realize it right away. It was very clever. “News of the World” was extremely authentic looking, beautifully realized, even though it was another version of “The Searchers.” Tom Hanks was fine. I wanted more of how the Tom Hanks character got there, the guy who went around reading the news to people. It was based on fact, it was a fascinating job for someone to have. The girl [Helena Zengel] was terrific, and a great presence.

Visual Effects

I never saw “Tenet.” I didn’t get [a DVD], it’s now on the portal. [Chris Nolan] was silly not to send it out, people couldn’t go to theaters to see it. I forgot all about it because I never got it, It wasn’t in any of the campaigns. I haven’t seen “The One and Only Ivan,” “Mulan,” “The Midnight Sky,” or “Love and Monsters.”

SOUND OF METAL Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Paul Raci and Riz Ahmed in “Sound of Metal”

Courtesy of Amazon Studios


I never saw “Greyhound.” I didn’t see “Soul.” Sending a DVD is up to the studio. I wanted to see that. I don’t get Disney+. “News of the World” was beautifully made. The atmosphere was excellent. I would probably vote for “Sound of Metal.”

Makeup and hairstyling.

I did not see “Emma” or “Pinocchio.”  The “Ma Rainey” hair and makeup was excellent, she looked towering, fantastic, her performance was perfectly done. It’s an indelible look.

“The Father”

Sony Pictures Classics


“Nomadland” and “The Father” were beautifully consistent. I’d like to give “The Father” something, the editing was so seamless, even when you were jarred by the different guys who are supposed to be married to [the daughter]. I didn’t quite get at first that [the father’s] mind wasn’t working. This was difficult to pull off. Everyone did it beautifully.

Costume Design

Between “Mank” and “Ma Rainey,” I’d give it to “Mank.” Even though the “Ma Rainey” costumes were great and perfect, everyone else did not seem extraordinary. While in “Mank,” they had a lot of people to dress, and they all looked like the period.


Given everything that went into “Mank” and how it captured the period, something about that movie is so manipulative and deliberate and precious. In “Nomadland,” you felt you were there. There was a lot to capture. I’d go with “Nomadland,” although the “Judas” cinematography was powerful, you got to feel those guys in that situation without it being overbearing.

Another Round Cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen

“Another Round” cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen

courtesy of filmmaker

International Feature Film

“Another Round” is a tough movie. The whole idea in a way is preposterous, testing the theory of alcohol being the solution to their problems. Despite that, I bought that it was happening.

Best Documentary [updated]

“My Octopus Teacher’ was far above anything else. I saw them all except “The Mole Agent,” which never arrived. “Time” was a mess. Did they leave a plea bargain on the table?

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