Interviews · Movies

A Casual Conversation with an Oscar Voter

By  · Published on February 20th, 2017

Still undecided which film they are voting for in Best Picture.

We are in the final stretch for the 89th Academy Awards. Oscar voting closes tomorrow, Tuesday, February 21st at 5pm PT sharp and the ceremony will take place on Sunday, February 26th. We all have our predictions surely (look for ours at Film School Rejects in the coming days), but it never hurts to pick an actual Oscar voter’s brain and see where their minds are at. Of course, one out of thousands doesn’t shed any light to great mysteries of the year. But here is one voter on a few major categories, nonetheless. I won’t disclose their branch, gender or location on their request. But I hope you’ll agree that this one voter, whom I interviewed late last week, takes great pride in doing their homework thoroughly.

Without further ado…

Thanks for agreeing to talk to me. So, what did you think of the crop of nominees this year?

There were films that were omitted that kind of upset me. And some of the nominations didn’t make sense to me. I liked certain performances that were overlooked. Also with documentaries…there was one documentary that I really loved and it got nothing.

Can you name a few of those omissions that you were upset about?

One of the documentaries I loved was Tower. I loved that movie, thought it was a really fantastic film, and it really should have been nominated. I was very disappointed that 20th Century Women didn’t get very much attention. I really liked the movie a lot, and I thought Annette Bening was really good.

For Best Supporting Actress, I thought they gave it to the wrong person in Hidden Figures. I would have given it either to Janelle Monáe or to Taraji P. Henson. Best film, I’ve seen all the movies that are nominated and I’m still sort of between three films for different reasons. I know everybody’s saying that La La Land is going to be the winner, and it’s a possibility. I know some of the critics have said, “Well, he choose actors that couldn’t sing really well, or dance very well.” I thought [those critics] kind of missed the point of the casting. I mean when I watched it, [I found] these two characters totally relatable. They’re not brilliant singers, they’re not brilliant dancers, but they’re pleasant to watch and they’re like real people that you can identify with. I think that’s what Damien [Chazelle] was going for and he completely succeeded.

Completely agree with you. People expected them to be ‘Ginger and Fred’ maybe.

[They are] not, and that wasn’t the point of the film. And that’s one of the reasons why I really liked it. I think it was just very refreshing to see a movie like that. It made me feel really good. It had a very French feel to it, so I really liked it. I loved Manchester by the Sea. That is one of my favorites. La La Land, I loved. And I loved Moonlight. And I liked Hidden Figures. There were things about it that if it won Best Picture, I would not be disappointed.

It sounds like you still have not decided which movie you’re voting for.

Yeah, I still haven’t figured it out, I haven’t decided. I’ll probably decide at the very last minute. I know a lot of people have already voted, having not seen everything. What they do is they just don’t vote in certain categories, like short films, or animation. I want to vote in every category.

That’s great to hear and I respect that a lot. Regarding Best Picture, is the reason you’re undecided because you can’t decide whether you want to vote with your heart ‐ you know, just put your favorite down and be done with it– or whether you want to consider other things, like political reasons.

I generally go with my heart. I really have a hard time deciding between these, because I really loved them all. If today one of those four films won, I wouldn’t be disappointed. I wouldn’t be upset.

Do you worry about what kind of message this year’s winner should send to the country and the world?

No, I don’t think about that. People say, “They’re going to vote for The Salesman [because of politics] and the director is from Iran.” I don’t [think about] where they’re from. Also, the whole thing about Mel Gibson. Well, he is a complete asshole. He’s a jerk. But if I loved the movie, I might have voted for it. I didn’t really love [Hacksaw Ridge]. I didn’t see a point in the movie at all. It really wasn’t my cup of tea, so I wouldn’t vote for it. Generally speaking, I try to let the work speak for itself. After I’ve seen all the foreign movies (I’m seeing The Salesman and Tanna tonight), if The Salesman is the movie I like the most, I’ll vote for it. Not because of any political reason, I’ll vote for it because I think it’s deserving.

OK then, let’s go through some major categories starting with Foreign Language. What did you think of the three nominees you’ve seen so far? Which was your favorite?

A Man Called Ove. That was my favorite. I really loved Toni Erdmann. I saw it in Cannes at 8:30 in the morning. I didn’t know anything about it. I really loved it. I watched it again a second time and I didn’t love it as much then. I like Land of Mine very much. It is a very difficult film to watch. But A Man Called Ove just has a nice message without hitting you over the head with it. It was very pleasant to watch. It’s a crowd pleaser, yes, but I really enjoyed it immensely.

Best Actor?

I think Casey Affleck was really good, he’d be my favorite.

Best Actress?

I would have to say Isabelle Huppert.

Did you like Elle?

Not really, I liked her other movie better, but I thought she did a great job.

You’re referring to Things to Come?

Yes, I love that movie.

So glad to hear you say that. I’m actually disappointed she was nominated for Elle and not for Things to Come. That was one of my favorites last year.

Me too. But with Isabelle Huppert, you know, this may be a case where I’m voting for the actress and her body of work [instead of this one film], because I think she’s just unbelievable. She’s just an amazing actress and she was amazing in this part. I didn’t particularly love the movie, found it very misogynistic, but I can appreciate her work in it.

Best Supporting Actor?

I would give it to Mahershala Ali. He was the best for me.

Best Supporting Actress?

I have to say Viola Davis. She was really, really good in Fences. I also loved Denzel [Washington], but he was maybe a little over the top for me.

Best Director?

I would have to say maybe Barry Jenkins. Him, or Kenneth Lonergan.

Why those two?

The way Barry took the story, which is kind of in three parts… He directed it fairly seamlessly. He told the story in such a beautiful way. I mean I was originally thinking of Damien. He was the first person I thought of because what he did is kind of difficult to do. But then, I don’t think his task was any more difficult than other musicals in today’s world. And Kenneth took his own story…when [someone’s] directing from their own story, they tend to be self-indulgent. But I thought he was really good [and restrained] about it. I like his stage work a lot. I just thought he did a really good job in directing his actors, telling a story. I have a feeling I will probably vote for either Kenneth or Barry. I just liked the way both films turned out.

What is the toughest category for you to decide this year?

Best documentary. Yeah, I’m really torn. I mean, I always loved 13th. That was my favorite and then I saw I Am Not Your Negro. And I loved Fire At Sea but that doesn’t have a chance. It really doesn’t. Many people I know who saw it fell asleep during it. But I thought it was really great. It was really like, you’re watching this movie and you forget you’re watching a documentary. You don’t even realize it, I was so engrossed in that movie. I can’t imagine [why] people didn’t like it. The problem is, they probably watched it on TV and you have distractions and you can’t watch a movie like that. And for 13th, when you watch it again, it doesn’t feel like a documentary. It felt more like I was doing a lesson plan in history class. It felt too much like a lesson. But I loved I Am Not Your Negro. I probably will vote for that.

What about the other docs?

I thought O.J.: Made in America was really good. I watched it over a period of three days, but I don’t think it is a movie. It really feels more like a [TV] series. I don’t think it should have been nominated. I also loved Life, Animated. It’s a very well done documentary. Well again, I’ll probably go with I Am Not Your Negro. I don’t know.

What is your favorite 2016 film? It doesn’t have to be nominated for Best Picture. Something you put in your ballot during phase one even though you knew maybe it wasn’t going to be nominated.

You know what my favorite movie was that wasn’t nominated and that really affected me? I, Daniel Blake. It really resonated with me. I nominated that one. I loved it. There wasn’t much of a campaign for it, but Ken Loach doesn’t do much of any of that. He was recognized at the BAFTAs at least. And I also loved the documentary The Eagle Huntress.

What do you think of all these controversies that just appear at the thick of every awards season? Take La La Land, for instance. Are you paying attention to what people are saying?

I don’t really buy into them at all. I read one thing but I really didn’t pay much attention to it.

Well this particular so-called controversy ended up in “Saturday Night Live” even.

I can barely watch SNL because the writing is so horrendous.

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Freelance writer and film critic based in New York. Bylines at Film Journal, Time Out NY, Movie Mezzanine, Indiewire, and others.