Thursday, March 4, 2010

Interview With An Academy Member

Every year the LA Times & Entertainment Weekly talk to anonymous members of the Academy and even though they are not supposed to reveal their votes, we had the opportunity to talk to a long time Academy member this weekend to at least see what his or her thinking is at this point in the game, just before his or her ballot was sent in. This particular member's opinions seem to stray off the beaten path from what's been published so far, so I especially thought it was worth hearing.

What do you think of the 10 nominees versus 5 nominees?

Im a big supporter of expanding the best picture list to 10 in that it does now make it more likely that popular genre or comedy films might be acknowledged, even if they have little chance of winning. In recent years, some of the movies I personally considered to be the best of the year were almost totally ignored by the academy and this change will help widen our scopes. If you look back at the history of the Academy and the years when there used to be 10 nominees, its very hard to argue that any of them don't deserve to be there. I think the same will ultimately hold true now. The proof is in the pudding in that this year's nominees actually do reflect a much wider range and include some films which would not have had a chance last year.

Which movies do you think may have benefited from ten nominees earlier on?

Last year, Dark Knight, no doubt, which everyone thinks was number 6. And in prior years, Children of Men, Charlie Wilson's War, Eternal Sunshine and so on. Though it never stood a chance, I actually nominated Shaun of the Dead for the 77th Annual Academy Awards and I don't think anyone can make a valid argument that Best Picture winner Million Dollar Baby is a better movie or had more of an impact on cinema today than Shaun of the Dead did.

How did you rank the top five of the ten nominees when you sent in your ballot?

1. Inglorious Basterds

2. Avatar

3. Hurt Locker

4. District 9

5. Up

How this Academy member voted in the big 4 acting categories after the jump!

Best Picture Selection: Inglorious Basterds

Why: For the first time in years, voting for Best Picture was not an easy decision. I ultimately decided on IB because more than any other film, it contained all the elements I love most about going to the movies and of the main contenders, is the one I'm mostly likely to sit down & watch again. The opening scene alone earns it a nomination and Tarantino's dialogue as well his actors are simply a delight. The truth is I just love this movie.

Why not Avatar or Hurt Locker?: I did vote for them for 2 & 3. I do consider Avatar to be the game changer everyone says it is and voted for it for virtually every other award it was up for, but it's hard for me to consider the best picture of the year as a film that has no nomination for screenplay or performance. As riveting & well directed as Hurt Locker was, it also struck me as very familiar and could have been done as a really good episode of Generation Kill. We've all seen the "Do I cut the red wire or the blue wire?" scene a zillion times and it was Kathryn's direction and Renner's performance that ultimately set it apart.

Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker

Why: This was one of this year's most difficult choices, as I think strong cases can be made for all of them and it wouldn't upset me to see any of them win. But I think the director who most contributed to making their film an actual Oscar contender was Karthryn Bigelow.... Hurt Locker is as good as it is because of its Direction.

Best Actor Selection: Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart

Why: I knew this was going to Jeff Bridges the minute after Crazy Heart ended. This is one of those characters that is totally inhabited by the actor portraying him, although I don't buy the comparisons to The Wrestler as Bad Blake clearly hasn't given up, wants to survive and is motivated mostly by love.... and then actually accomplishes his goals.

Best Actress Selection: Carey Mulligan - An Education

Why: As much as I loved Meryl's performance, I think it should have been in the Supporting category and the fact that I was surprised by Sandra Bullock's performance doesn't mean it merits an Oscar. In terms of inhabiting a very challenging role & creating the entire arc of a character, I ultimately decided to vote for Carey Mulligan, who is in virtually every scene of the film and holds her own against a myriad of amazing & seasoned actors.

Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz - Inglorious Basterds

Why: This performance is transcendent and he's deserved every award he's gotten and I saw no reason not to vote for him here. However, as much as I appreciate the other nominees, I was sorry that Christian McKay's performance in Me & Orson Welles was overlooked and I thought Jackie Earle Haley was brilliant in Watchmen. It's a shame Taking Woodstock never built up any buzz as Liev Schrieber lit up the screen with his supporting role as a gay ex-marine transvestite.

Best Supporting Actress: Vera Farmiga - Up in the Air

Why: To me, this award came down to Maggie Gyllenhaal & Vera Farmiga & I ultimately decided to vote for Vera as I had never seen her so warm & able to fill the screen. She owned every scene she was in. Maggie managed to make me believe completely that she would have both fallen for Bad Blake and turned him away at the end. Mo'Nique will undoubtedly win, but I actually thought from Precious, Paula Patton's performance was stronger, more complete and more nuanced.

Anything else you'd like to share?

I'd like to make a point about the best animated film category this year. Bearing in mind that I nominated Up as one of the ten best motion pictures of the year, which is the award they heavily campaigned for, I kind of feel that they took themselves out of the running for Best Animated Film if they wanted to be compared with the big boys and that it's not fair to have a "fall-back" award. Don't get me wrong, I think it deserved to be nominated for Animated Film, because those who nominated it didn't know it would secure a best picture slot as well. But as much as I loved Up, and thought the Married Life sequence was incredibly touching, I also thought it went over the top once it reached the dog fighting dogs in the third act. Pete Docter is overdue for an Oscar, but this year I ultimately decided to vote for Fantastic Mr. Fox which came out of nowhere and is an absolute joy on every level, including music and voice acting and is my actual favorite animated film of the year. Even though it seems like getting a Best Picture nod should secure Up's win in Best Animated Film, I actually think it opened up the category a little bit and there's a chance Mr Fox or Coraline, both of which have tons of Academy support, could sneak in there.