G CLARK’S VOTE—A ‘Brutally Honest’ Oscar Ballot

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Last year the Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg printed an interview with an anonymous male member of the Academy’s Writers’ Branch, in which was detailed the writer’s rationale for his choices on his Oscar ballot.  The writer seemed a bit lunk-headed, but did no real damage in his choices, explained himself well, and abstained in categories wherein he did not see all the nominees.

This year, Feinberg printed another story, this time an interview with a different member of the Academy from an undisclosed branch.  It is atrocious.  That such a creature, devoid of all sophistication and intellectual acuity, is allowed to vote in the Academy Awards is a very troubling matter indeed.  Voting for the Academy isn’t a privilege I enjoy, sadly, but without question I’d be better at it than this unfortunate plonker, who doesn’t seem to know her fanny from her face.  Reading this cringe-inducing pabulum did get me thinking though: how would I vote if I were given an actual Academy Awards ballot?  I would take it far more seriously than this dipshit, but do I still have prejudices to confront?  Would I engage in strategic voting?  Could I back up all my choices?

So, I decided to talk myself through a 2015 Oscar ballot, to discover the answers to these questions.  Though I would hope this disclaimer is unnecessary, the Internet Outrage Train knows no borders: you should probably read a lot of the following with the understanding that I wrote it with my tongue lightly dancing in my cheek.

vote - The Revenant

Best Picture

Unfortunately, Academy members tend to vote for the film they like the most.  I know what you’re thinking, ‘isn’t that what they’re supposed to do?’  Well, sure; the problem is it leads to Best Picture winners like Gigi and How Green Was My Valley.  What’s wrong with those choices?  Nothing, they are fine films really, but you’ll agree that the former isn’t Vertigo and the latter isn’t Citizen Kane.  So the Academy’s choices in this category end up looking endearingly quaint after a certain point, with its choices absent from Sight and Sound polls and the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? lists.  So, I guess I’m saying it isn’t so much that Academy members vote for the films they like, the problem is… the films they like.  Anyway, from the list of nominees this year, it’s quite clear that only two movies there have the auteurist thrust to be remembered, studied, and written about decades hence, and those are Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant.  (Spotlight will be remembered, but not the same way.)  I earlier called Mad Max: Fury Road perhaps the greatest action movie yet made, and I stand by that.  Both of these films have impeccable craftsmanship.  But The Revenant has that little something transcendent, that extra thematic push I look for in my Top of the Year, so it gets my vote here.  Now, should my ballot include all the nominees, or not?  If I’m being fair, yes, but I could see myself strategically voting.  Since Spotlight and The Big Short seem right on The Revenant’s heels, and clearly wouldn’t need my help, I’d consider leaving them off my weighted ballot to give The Revenant an edge.  (I’d also leave off Room since it’s not very good.)

My votes: (1) The Revenant, (2) Mad Max: Fury Road, (3) Brooklyn, (4) Bridge of Spies, (5) The Martian.  (6-8) abstain

Best Director

Obviously, given what I said for the previous category, this is a race between Miller and González Iñárritu.  Abrahamson doesn’t have the weight to be on this list, McKay kind of ‘accidentally’ made an important film, and Tom McCarthy doesn’t quite make Spotlight cinematic enough to be seriously considered here.  The remaining directors create expansive, immersive worlds for the viewer to relish, and demonstrate flawless filmmaking mastery this year.  By the thinnest of microfibres, my vote would go to Miller.  (I would like to think the fact that AGI got my vote last year doesn’t affect my feelings for him or The Revenant this go-round.)  Unlike the aforementioned damfool Academy voter, I have no problem splitting Best Picture and Best Director; I’d say about 50% of the time it is necessary to do so.  (Side note: if AGI wins this year, this will be the third time in a row a Hispanic person receives this award, if that matters to anyone.)

My vote: George Miller

Best Actor

I’m annoyed by people who claim that Matt Damon isn’t even acting in The Martian, that he’s somehow just ‘playing himself.’  Never heard anyone complain when Cary Grant did that.  A star performance is exactly what’s needed here; if we don’t connect with Watney, there’s no movie.  Plus, do you know how many people, actors included, would look ridiculous playing themselves?  Anyway, I love me some Bryan Cranston, but found his Dalton slightly cartoonish without a lot of depth (though, you can probably blame that on Jay Roach).  Fassbender and Redmayne are very nearly perfect in their roles, but that’s not quite enough to be #1 this year.  It’s not even close, really; Leonardo DiCaprio is by miles the best choice, delivering an outsized, transformative performance that is at once also breathtakingly nuanced and subtle.

My vote: Leonardo DiCaprio

Best Actress

Here’s another nomination Jennifer Lawrence shouldn’t have gotten; she’s good in the role, but only here because of the category fraud that pushed Mara into Supporting.  (And because the Academy didn’t seem to have seen Phoenix.)  For some reason, Brie Larson seems to be the frontrunner.  Now, I love Brie Larson and called her an indispensable actress after seeing her beautiful turn in Trainwreck (for which she easily could have been nominated), but I think she’s really shortchanged by Emma Donoghue’s thin script; try as she might, Joy never really seems like a 3-D character.  (You [and I] might argue that’s not really her fault, of course, but we’re still left with just what’s on the screen.)  For me this category is a horserace between Charlotte Rampling and Saoirse Ronan.  I give Ronan the edge by just a hair; her character goes through the biggest internal journey, which she handles delicately, with star-powered skill.

My vote: Saoirse Ronan

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Supporting Actor

Obviously, a vote for Sylvester Stallone here would make a great story, but great stories probably shouldn’t be governing our votes.  This is a solid list of actors—so solid, that it’s not immediately apparent if one stands above the others.  I thought I’d be throwing my support to Rylance; I’ll admit that I find myself quite shocked to be slightly favouring Tom Hardy now.  He has a relatively thankless role, but he also has the hardest job: his performance has to straddle the fine line between forcefully intimidating and ridiculous.  That’s the same line walked by Nicholson in The Shining and Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood.  Not that I’m saying that Mr Hardy is close to that echelon here, not at all, but he’s not supposed to be, and given what he has to accomplish his performance is a tiny miracle.  Plus, it’s a Supporting Performance in the best sense of the word: he’s memorable and strong enough to be felt when offscreen, helping the motivations of the starring character.  (Like Alice Harford in Eyes Wide Shut, if you will.)

My vote: Tom Hardy, to my complete surprise

Best Supporting Actress

Rooney Mara clearly doesn’t belong here.  It’s a travesty that she is, having given a performance which is clearly a leading role.  Should we hold that against her?  Of course not!  Should this give her an advantage?  Well, being brutally honest, you could say the very same thing about Alicia Vikander—I might argue that her role in The Danish Girl to be more of a lead than Eddie Redmayne, seeing as how she is the title character and the window for the audience into Tom Hooper’s world.  For better or worse, that’s one of the reasons she’d probably get my vote.  She takes what could have been a tiresome character and ensouls her with grace and intelligence.  (Side note: whether you think this performance belongs in Lead or not, I would much prefer Vikander be nominated in this category for Ex Machina; that preference has nothing to do with me choosing her for The Danish Girl, however.)

My vote: Alicia Vikander

Best Original Screenplay

Straight Outta Compton, which I enjoyed immensely for personal reasons, is, at heart, a standard biopic that hits all the expected bullet points for the genre (see: Ray, Walk the Line, etc).  Bridge of Spies has a solid script, if not a crackerjack one—the mere presence of the Coen Brothers may have given it a push.  Spotlight impresses with its restraint and construction, and Ex Machina overflows with complex ideas and characterisations.  But Inside Out takes the most outlandish premise of the bunch and knocks it out of the park, managing to give rich voices to all its characters and full weight to its premise without copping out or deflating before the (heartrending) finale.

My vote: Inside Out

Best Adapted Screenplay

I vote for the actual act of adaptation.  Emma Donoghue wrote a fantastic novel, but doesn’t find particularly cinematic ways to translate Room to the screen; it feels as if she’s trying to hit all the plot points rather than let scenes breathe to give the viewer an experience.  Ditto with The Martian—Drew Goddard packs a lot of story in, but never really translates the danger, loneliness, and repetitiveness of Mark Watney’s experience (though Matt Damon helps in bridging that gap).  The Big Short may have had the hardest job, in making a whirlwind of information understandable and accessible to a mainstream audience (or, at least, anyone who never saw Inside Job), but the result kinda feels like a bloated episode of Radiolab.  So I side with Nick Hornby’s work on Brooklyn, which perfectly conveys the tone, feeling, and themes of its source material.

My vote: Brooklyn

Best Animated Feature Film

Congrats to the Academy for branching out with this category.  By several dozen parsecs Inside Out is the correct choice here, but I appreciate how the Animation Branch recognises work from all over the world, rather than taking a limited American view and nominating Minions or some shit.

My vote: Inside Out

Best Foreign Language Film

I don’t believe Academy members should vote in categories where they have not seen all the nominees.  As I have yet to see two of the films nominated in this category, I’d have no choice but to leave my ballot blank.

My vote: I abstain

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Best Documentary Feature

As with the previous category, two of the nominees remain unseen by me.

My vote: I abstain

All Three Short Subject Categories

My vote: I abstain, see above

Best Production Design

Historical dramas tend to do well here, which would be fine if the award were Most Lavish Design From Historical Research.  The sheer rapturous originality of Colin Gibson’s world-building with Mad Max: Fury Road, however, makes this one of the easier categories in which to cast my vote.

My vote: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Cinematography

Okay, this is the one category that could get me into the most trouble, because it’s the one I most want to be instructional on, and vote mostly on principle.  Let me get on my soapbox.  With the Academy more and more showing that they can’t differentiate between VFX and photography (Avatar, Life of Pi, Gravity), and physical film being strangled by budgets and DCPs, I’m only going to cast my vote for a movie actually shot on film.  I know: I’m awful, aren’t I?    Even I’m outraged at myself.  Nevertheless, that leaves Carol and The Hateful Eight.  Clearly, Ed Lachman does the best job between the two of using the camera to underscore and heighten the film’s themes, so that’s where I’m going.

My vote: Carol

Best Film Editing

Star Wars doesn’t belong here, so let’s chuck it.  The Big Short has a lot of information for its editor to keep straight, but too often felt rushed, like it was desperately afraid of losing the audience, so artificially pumped up the pacing.  The Revenant and Spotlight have ‘invisible editing,’ I suppose, which is a boon.  But to plagiarise myself, I wrote about Mad Max, ‘There is not a single wasted frame; a shot lasts precisely as long as it needs to to convey a piece of information.  …The largest sequences are like watching a chess match: you know exactly where all the pieces are in relation to each other, and thrill at watching them move about the board.’  So there you go.

My vote: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Original Score

Soapbox again: To hell with this category!  I’m getting sick of the Music Branch of the Academy.  I started to resent them after they disqualified the best score of 2007—Jonny Greenwood’s work on There Will Be Blood—and was incensed after their ridiculous disqualification of Birdman’s score.  But punting the score for The Revenant—so deep and complex, best complementing, amplifying, and, when necessary, underscoring the images it dances with—is idiocy of the highest order.  Not that we don’t all love John Williams following familiar patterns or Carter Burwell doing his best Philip Glass impersonation.  The Music Branch’s wrongheadedness casts a pall over any eventual winner in this category, and I bite my thumb at them!

My vote: I abstain in protest 。・°°・(>_<)・°°・。

Best Original Song

Okay, last Soapbox category, I promise.  Let’s be honest, this is an antiquated category that should have been retired years ago.  Every Academy member should be petitioning for its removal.  Nominees this year are boring and revoking their nominations would have the added benefit of making the ceremony shorter.

My vote: I abstain, and draw a little penis doodle, à la Superbad, over this section of the ballot

Best Visual Effects

Personally, I’m getting sick of over-reliance on CGI.  Audiences today may laugh at how archaic the stop-motion animation of Ray Harryhausen seems, but it doesn’t look any less realistic than, say, Maz Kanata in Star Wars: TFA.  One of the reasons that everybody hated the re-release of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial in 2002 was because E.T. looked horrible.  That is, not real.  As a puppet, the character had heart and emotion.  As a CGI critter?  It turned E.T. into Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  This is a roundabout way of saying that I find the effects in Star Wars: The Force Awakens relatively unimpressive, given the remaining nominees.  The number of practical effects in use doesn’t make its CGI any more believable.  The other four prove pretty seamless in their CGI/live-action combos; Mad Max: Fury Road impresses me most (sandstorm aside, naturally).  In any other year, Ex Machina or The Revenant easily could have grabbed my vote.  Actually, ask me again tomorrow, and one of them might.

My vote: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Costume Design

I don’t follow this category closely, as I generally fold it up into Production Design, but here my rationale is basically the same for Production Design.  The costumes for Carol, Cinderella, and The Danish Girl are certainly lavish, and lavish at more or less the same expected level.

My vote: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Sound Mixing

The Revenant’s perfectly-layered soundtrack is the sure-fire winner for me, and goes a long way to providing the immersive experience I was talking about.  The impeccable fusion of the sound elements is important, but so is the mixers’ restraint, and masterful use of silence.  Every single sound is exquisitely placed, and means something.  (Apart from that, the delicate interplay between the sound effects and the score is ethereally magnificent.)  The other nominees might vie for Most Sound Mixing, but this is certainly a category where most ≠ best.

My vote: The Revenant

Best Sound Editing

Do Academy voters even know what this category is?  Judging by that chilling THR article, certainly not.  I might actually be for combining the sound categories into a Best Sound Track award or some such, but that’s a conversation for later.  Look, I really want to vote for Sicario here, because I want it to win something, but best is best; the editing in Mad Max: Fury Road is damned impressive, whether we’re talking about video or sound effects elements.

My vote: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Does anyone look at this category and think, ‘Yes, I just have to see the winner for Best Makeup; that makes it a must-see!’  Certainly not—er, unless you’re a makeup artist, I guess.  Anyway, here’s another category where Most Makeup usually wins.  I’ll take Mad Max’s, more for the fact that in this film more than the other two, the makeup is somewhat of an extension of the costuming, and so vitally important to an understanding of the characters.  Not every makeup artist has the chance to shine so brightly.

My vote: Mad Max: Fury Road

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Okay, what’s my tally?

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD—7

THE REVENANT—4 (including Best Picture)

INSIDE OUT—2

BROOKLYN—2

CAROL—1

THE DANISH GIRL—1

ABSTENTIONS—7

So there you have it.  A ‘Brutally Honest’ ballot that, I like to think, is a least a tiny bit more sophisticated than the one that inspired it.  Or maybe it’s not; I could be just as aggravating and dense as Feinberg’s source, but oh well.  It’s a risk I’ve taken.  At any rate, after Sunday, it’s all a moo point.

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