Friday, February 25, 2011

Interview with an Academy Member - 2011

Every year, numerous publications, including the LA Times & Entertainment Weekly, reveal how anonymous Academy members voted, in the hopes of shedding some light on the way this years Oscars go down. Last year we were lucky enough to chat with a member who most often votes off the beaten path and he agreed to talk to us again this year, this time going even more in depth.

How do you think 2010 fared in general?

Overall, I actually think it's been a very impressive year. It may not have been very deep in terms of quantity of good films, but the top 10-12 were pretty exceptional. As a matter of fact this is the first time since I've been in the academy in which all the films I nominated actually made it on to the final ballot. I have heard some murmuring about this year's films lacking in some way and just last week on Show Business!, Peter Guber complained it was not a particularly great year because he didn't see any "Godfathers" out there. Truth of the matter is that I don't see any "Godfathers" in many of the recent Best Pic winners, so I'm really not quite sure what he was talking about. It certainly wasn't The Departed or No Country for Old Men. In terms of cinematic scope, I'd have to look back to Return of the King, and in terms of perfection, I think you'd have to go all the way back to Shakespeare in Love, but still neither of those touch The Godfather. So, I guess what I'm saying is sure, we'd all like to see more "Godfathers" being made, but in the mean time, this year's crop is a pretty damn good one.

What is your philosophy when it comes to filling out your ballot?

Well by the time I get the ballot I have tried very consciously to have already seen all of the major contenders and beyond, and then if I've seen all five nominees in a given category, I'll fill out the ballot IMMEDIATELY. This way it reflects my true gut feelings about the work itself. It is after all an Academy of motion picture arts and sciences, it's not about commercial success or "pimping" yourself to win (as one actress has infamously described her campaign). I can understand a studio campaigning for a film just to be sure that it's seen by as many members as possible, but it's hard for me to accept that one actor wants to have an Oscar more than any of the other nominees. So taking out an ad that essentially says "pick me because I want it more" seems counter intuitive to awarding the Oscar based on the performance alone. One of the major benefits of filling it out as soon as possible is to avoid being influenced in any way by all of the ensuing typical Oscar campaigns.

Was Supporting Actress a category you filled out before all the controversy, or did the ad end up affecting your choice?

I had seen all five nominees and in all honestly it was a no brainer for me to pick Hailee Steinfeld, who basically stole the entire picture and on whose shoulders the story rested. I thought Melissa Leo's performance in The Fighter was terrific, I could also name half a dozen other actresses who could have hit it out of the park as well. However it took looking at something like 14,000 girls to find Hailee Steinfeld and she was uniquely spot on. All of this being said however, if Julianne Moore had been nominated in this category, I very probably would have voted for her because she was the heart and soul of The Kids Are All Right and although that film is as close to an ensemble piece as the Best Picture nominees go, she truly supported every other performance in the movie. Her performance also took me by surprise in that it's the warmest, earthiest, most sensual, most vulnerable, most lovable that I've ever seen her in a film. She made the pivotal scenes with Mark Ruffalo believable and organic, when they so easily could have been cliched or come across as a stereotypical male fantasy.

Clearly Moore was a snub you weren't happy with, was there anything else you disappointed to see not receive a nomination?

First I have to reiterate that we Academy Members never get together and decide to snub someone. And for all I know, Julianne Moore pulled herself out of this category because her not getting nominated is incomprehensible to me. The only other film I wish had been nominated was Tangled for Best Animated Film as it came closest to giving me as an animation lover everything I enjoy about classic animated films. I didn't think the animation itself was as beautiful as it could have been, but the voice performances, the screenplay, the humor and the music were wonderful, as well as the twist of changing Rapunzel's rescuer from a prince to a thief, which worked extremely well. Everything about it seemed genuine, especially the lead performances and so your emotional responses to the story were more authentic than they were to Toy Story 3, which to me seemed to be working overtime to manipulate your emotions. The Illusionist was beautifully animated, but I can't say the story was all that engaging and while I really enjoyed the story, music and flight sequences of How To Train Your Dragon, the character design and particularly the lead voice acting and the dragons themselves just weren't very appealing. If Toy Story 3 had recused itself, as I think any animated film nominated for Best Picture should, that third slot would have most likely gone to Tangled. And just to clarify, I'd feel the same way about a Best Foreign Language film. If it should be nominated for Best Picture, it should not also be nominated for Best Foreign. I don't think there should be a built-in consolation prize.

Which were your top 5 and in which order were they nominated?

1. The Social Network

2. True Grit

3. Black Swan

4. Inception

5. The Kids Are All Right

So The King's Speech, the front runner, didn't even make your top five?

When I saw the movie, my first reaction was Colin Firth just gave the best performance of his career, deeply nuanced from the inside out... and is going to win an Oscar, but I honestly did not think I just saw one of the best movies of the year. It's that simple. I don't mean to diminish it in any way whatsoever by saying it would have worked as well on television, because I think some of the best television ever made is being produced now, but ultimately, it's was just not as outright cinematic as the films I did nominate.

What was your pick for Best Director?

I hope it's Fincher's year. There's not much else to say other than The Social Network was brilliantly directed. I've seen it 3 times now and it impressed me more with every viewing.

What was your pick for Best Actress?

I thought all 5 leading performances were absolutely wonderful this year, but I put the check next to Natalie Portman as soon as I opened my ballot. Jennifer Lawrence and Michelle Williams gave beautiful, subtle performances and I loved Annette Bening, but simply did not see that role as either the lead character or her best work. Natalie Portman's immersion in that character is what made Black Swan as stunning as it is and she was breathtaking in it.

What was your pick for Best Original Screenplay?

The King's Speech kind of carved its story out of historical tidbits and existing works whereas the Kids Are All Right was a wholly original, authentic, genuine portrayal of truly complex relationships thats is also very relevant to what's going on in our society today. It reflected the way that real people really speak and interact and it actually felt original, like something you hadn't seen before, which I don't think was accomplished by The King's Speech's screenplay, as well written as it might be.

Anything else you'd like to say?

On a side note, I wish there was someway to acknowledge the animated sequence in Harry Potter, which is probably among the finest animation I've seen this year in any context or format. I can only hope that if Deathly Hallows wins either of the categories it's nominated in (Art Direction, Special Effects), that the animator gets a well deserved piece of that award.