Two years ago, Scott Feinberg posted this interview with an Academy member, talking through the man’s reasoning for how he filled out his Oscar ballot. It was relatively unremarkable. Last year, he posted this interview, with another member, which sent me through the roof. How was this person offered membership into the Academy? I knew I could do better. So I made my own ‘brutally honest’ Oscar ballot, indicating how I would vote if given the chance.
Well, this year, I’m not waiting until right before the Oscars to post mine: I’m beating Feinberg to the punch. Partly because I’m not sure I want to read another of those articles—the last one sent me into white hot rages of indignation and contempt—and partly because… it was kinda fun! So, why not just make this a yearly thing, shall we?
Please remember: though my choices are true, and my logic rock-solid and unassailable, the explanations are written to be mildly satirical versions of Feinberg’s interviewee. Tongue in my cheek here.
For reference, a full list of the Oscar nominations is here.
Best Documentary Feature
No contest! OJ Simpson: Made in America is the correct choice by several light-years. A nine-hour film so riveting that I had to watch it all through in one day, and probably the best documentary about race in America ever made. Sure, it may really be a TV show, but it’s on the list and it’s the best, so…
My vote: OJ Simpson: Made in America
Best Animated Film
Ugh. I’m sorry, but this was a very bad year for animation, especially when you compare it to last year. I mean, last year gave us Inside Out, the third best movie of 2015 and one of the best Pixar movies ever. This year, the best animated movie was, oh, I dunno, Your Name, probably, and it wasn’t even nominated. I honestly hated Moana and Zootopia, and Kubo and the Two Strings and The Red Turtle have serious story issues that prevent me from liking them too much. So by default, that leaves…
My vote: My Life as a Zucchini
Best Foreign Language Film
Last year I made a big deal about how I don’t believe that Academy members should vote in any category in which they haven’t seen all the nominees. I stand by that. The problem here is, A Man Called Ove and Toni Erdmann are so unbelievably undeserving of their nominations that I have to do something. They must be stopped. While I strongly, strongly suspect that The Salesman is the strongest film here, I won’t let myself vote for a film I haven’t seen. I have much more integrity than that. So I’ll vote for the best film I have seen.
My vote: Tanna (my review here)
Best Costume Design
This category is usually a showcase for fantasy and period films, and—hey, whaddaya know? Three period films and a fantasy flick! Those nominees here are worthy, truth be told, but I’m partial to the modern and subtly expressionistic work of Mary Zophres.
My vote: La La Land
Here we are, the category that makes the obnoxious, odious Suicide Squad into an Academy Award nominee. It deserves no recognition for anything. The only makeup I can recall in A Man Called Ove is the eyeliner they give the gay guy to wear—’cause gay guys always have to look identifiably effeminate, amirite? Well, that only leaves one option, and lucky for me it is actually a pretty great one in this category.
My vote: Star Trek Beyond (my review here)
Best Sound Mixing
La La Land is the likely winner here, but too many times the voices are overpowered by the music in the mix, so some lyrics are dropped (e.g., the opening number). Anyway, if you’re going to ignore the best sound mixing of the year by snubbing Silence, then I’ll go for the other film last year that perfectly utilised, er, silence, and quieter moments.
My vote: Arrival
Best Sound Editing
La La Land probably has all the sound categories in the bag, but here I want to go with Hacksaw Ridge. Not because of those loud, muscular war sequences; more for the first two acts—the sonic snippets that help transform Australia into 1940s Appalachia. Oh, and the war scenes too, which seem to be handled more purposefully than the noise in Deepwater Horizon.
My vote: Hacksaw Ridge
Best Original Song
Even though I didn’t like the movie that much, the best original song of the year is ‘Drive It Like You Stole It’ from Sing Street. (You can hear it here.) A close second is ‘Equal Rights’ from Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, which you can hear here. Since the best song isn’t nominated and I firmly believe the Academy should retire this category, I wouldn’t cast a vote, since I sincerely don’t care.
My vote: abstention
Best Original Score
What is up with the Music Branch of the Academy? Last year, they screw Sakamoto; this year, Jóhannsson. I know the conventional wisdom in this category is to give it to the original musical, but my heart belongs to the score for Jackie, which serves as both the glue holding scenes together and the counterpoint to them. (Plus, this is an award for original score, not song score.)
My vote: Jackie
Best Visual Effects
Another ‘Ugh.’ All of these nominations are bad. After giving the award to Ex Machina last year, I thought the Academy finally recognised that supporting visual effects can enhance a movie rather than overpower it. Nope! They have not learned this lesson, as omissions for Arrival, A Monster Calls, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them show. Ugh. Ugh.
My vote: abstention
Best Film Editing
Yay! No Jennifer Lame for Manchester by the Sea! Guess the Academy realised she lived up to her name. (Sorry. No more Lame puns, I promise.) While I feel that Hacksaw Ridge and Hell or High Water are pretty much perfectly paced and structured—not only as a whole but within each individual scene as well—Arrival turns what could be an editing gimmick into an full expression of the film’s central theme. (It’s hard to give more of a reason for my choice in this category without spoiling the movie!)
My vote: Arrival
Best Production Design
I often complain that this category goes to the film displaying the MOST production design, so I feel a bit sheepish in expressing my admiration for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, seeing as how it’s the most elaborate of the bunch. But it does such a great job of subtly melding the ‘wizarding world’ with 1920s New York City. Fantastic world-building.
My vote: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
If this were just an award for Prettiest Pictures, then I’d vote for Moonlight without reservation. James Laxton provides images that seem washed out and vibrant at the same time. Every frame is gorgeous. But I need more than pretty pictures to bestow a vote for BEST cinematography. Does the DP understand the film’s theme? How do the images—colour timing, use of film stock, lens choices—help convey this theme? This is clearly true for Bradford Young and Rodrigo Prieto. But Prieto comes out miles ahead here: not only does he craft some of the year’s most beautiful images, his shots are ugly when they need to be as well. No other cinematographer this year was as in tune with his director’s vibe.
My vote: Silence
Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis and Michelle Williams need Oscars, like, yesterday. They have both been so good in so many films—and, if we’re being honest, deserved to win at least one of their previous nominations. In their roles here, they certainly do cry a lot! You know, it’s interesting, because I feel like every nomination in this category is a woman who has been tasked with fleshing out an underwritten character. And I’m more than a little surprised to discover that I think Nicole Kidman does the best job of doing this. It’s not just makeup that shows the progression of her character from the 1980s to the present day—it’s in her body language, her voice, her eyes, her entire aura. It’s pretty fascinating. She makes this woman whole. Look, if Taraji P Henson (Hidden Figures) or Zhao Tao (Mountains May Depart) had been nominated in this category, then either would have my vote hands down. But, I’m limited to the choices the academy gives me, so I have to go with Nicole Kidman.
My vote: Nicole Kidman, Lion
Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali projects a cool, sage-like vibe in Moonlight, but other than that… what does he really do? I’m quite flummoxed by the critical crowding around him. My favourite performance in Moonlight is actually Trevante Rhodes, but he wasn’t nominated. Ali is an actor I like very much; he’s been great before and I expect future great things from him. A strong contender here is Lucas Hedges, giving an unaffected, raw performance in Manchester by the Sea. But Dev Patel deserves it. He single-handedly saves Lion, and it is only through his emotional heavy lifting and screen presence that the film doesn’t shatter into tiny pieces in the second half. I guess his is a supporting performance in the sense that he supports the entire film.
My vote: Dev Patel, Lion
Best Adapted Screenplay
This isn’t even close. This might be the easiest category. Lion has major structural defects, Fences isn’t so much an adaptation as it is a transcription, Hidden Figures neuters some of the drama of its source material, and Moonlight is an original screenplay (and an unfortunate victim of category fraud). On the other hand, Eric Heisserer takes Ted Chaing’s mind-bending ideas and translates them into a brilliantly cinematic script. No-brainer.
My vote: Arrival
Best Original Screenplay
La La Land and 20th Century Women are the weaker nominees here. I kinda want to bump The Lobster just so more films as audacious get made. But honestly, this is a horserace between Manchester and Hell or High Water. Jeez—it’s a very tough choice! Lonergan has crafted the best characters of the year, and I won’t hold his unfortunate directorial choices against his screenplay. Okay, look: I’ve read both scripts (online, legally): I think that Lonergan crafts indelible individual scenes, but the overall structure of the script is shaky. Hell or High Water has an impeccable overall structure, though its characters and individual scenes aren’t quite as sharply drawn, though they are potent. The scripts complement each other quite well, in this way. Poop. Well I guess I’ll go with Hell or High Water, partly because I honestly expect Manchester would have a better shot without my help, and partly because the structure works better for me. I might be wrong, and tomorrow my decision might be different, but—oh, well.
My vote: Hell or High Water
For me, this is clearly between Natalie Portman and Isabelle Huppert. Portman transcends mere imitation, and ends up delivering the most complex performance of her career. Of course, Huppert is every bit her equal, and doesn’t have an Oscar yet.
My vote: Isabelle Huppert, Elle
For a long time, I felt Affleck was a lock for my vote. And with all this nonsense flying around about him that has nothing to do with his performance, I kinda just want him to win so those internet bozos know that their whinging is worthless. But here, and I know it’s wrong, I feel compelled to cheat… just a little bit. Andrew Garfield delivered two of the year’s very best performances, and they’re both pretty much on the same level as Affleck’s. The math is clear.
My vote: Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
With Scorsese snubbed, we have another horserace—now between Mel Gibson and Denis Villeneuve. I love Hacksaw Ridge, obviously, and Gibson’s passion shines through every frame. His brilliant staging of the battle sequences, the performances he draws from his cast… the man who made Apocalypto has not lost his touch. But here, my heart lies with Villeneuve. He stages action as well as Gibson, juggles complex emotions as well as Lonergan, and controls his film’s tone as well as Jenkins—all at the same time.
My vote: Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
Okay, enough brutality. I’ve thought long and hard about this. I’ve done a lot of soul-searching. I know that people are very passionate about the fact that movies like Moonlight, Fences, Lion, and Hidden Figures have gained recognition this year, and have highlighted minority actors and stories. I’ve questioned myself over and over again, should I rate these films more highly? Why haven’t I?
I keep coming to the same conclusions. Fences’s staginess holds it back from greatness. Lion completely shoots itself in the foot in the second act. Hidden Figures is a safe, platitudinous Stanley Kramer vision of history. Moonlight steals too much from older gay-themed films to move me in the way it should. Despite great casts, I genuinely feel that the filmmaking behind these movies is lacking. I’ve written about these movies elsewhere on the website; you can judge for yourself if I’ve been fair to them or not.
Now, I know there are people out there—I mean, I personally know several—who think a movie is good precisely because it features minorities or a story of minority interest. I sympathise, but just can’t get behind this idea. It seems supremely intellectually dishonest to me. If that means that I’m not woke, then I have to live with that. If that makes me a privileged poopyhead, then that’s my burden. I still strongly feel that the root problem is not with awards, but with producers and financiers: if more minorities get a chance up at bat, we won’t have to content ourselves with the offscourings, and overrate them to achieve visibility.
One thing I’m not going to do is lie about it. I’m not going to say that I liked these movies more than I did, because that’s pathetically desperate. (C’mon; one thing worse than not being woke is desperately trying to appear woke, and we’ve all seen those people. They’re everywhere.) It’s not fair to me, to have to suppress my actual feelings, and it’s not fair to any of you readers. You deserve to hear the truth, even if it’s from a poopyhead.
And the truth is that what makes a movie great is not what it is about, but how it is about it. And so, to that end, I would vote solely for the movies that I feel are about their subjects the best. And, in the interests of strategic voting, I would leave the others off my ballot to ensure my choices’ success:
My votes: *(1) Hacksaw Ridge*, (2) Hell or High Water, (3) Manchester by the Sea, (4) Arrival, (5-9) blank
Okay, what’s the tally?
ARRIVAL — 4
HACKSAW RIDGE — 3 (including Best Picture)
LION — 2
OJ: MADE IN AMERICA, JACKIE, ELLE, MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI, LA LA LAND, HELL OR HIGH WATER, SILENCE, STAR TREK BEYOND, TANNA, FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM — 1
Well, there you go: an Oscar ballot from someone who 1) has more or less seen everything and 2) has a lick of sense about him. (Maybe.) We’ll see exactly how much the Academy agrees with me on Sunday 26 February. My guess? They won’t agree very much!