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Brutal Truth: How Oscar Voters Pick the Winners

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by Sam Adams
March 2, 2014 8:05 PM
10 Comments
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"The guy in '12 Years a Slave' -- I can never pronounce his name -- was just phenomenal."

The Hollywood Reporter's "Brutally Honest Oscar Ballots" series has its unsavory aspects, but I'd argue that of all the pixels spilled covering this year's Oscar race, there's no more essential document when it comes to understanding who wins Oscars and why. Pundits love to invent tidy reasons for why X beats Y, although the rare few who approach the process with integrity, like Grantland's Mark Harris, caution they can be understood at best as a snapshot of a particular moment. The idea that the Academy's 6,000-plus members function as a cohesive identity simply doesn't hold. There are, to be sure, AMPAS voters who approach the process with the utmost integrity, and it's just as clear those are not the ones the Reporter sought out for their series. (At least it's superior clickbait to "The Sad Stories of 9 Acting Nominees Who Committed Suicide" -- and no, I'm not linking to that one.) So as you watch this evening, keep this list, organized by category, handy, and consult it carefully before deciding what, or if, "The Academy" really thinks.

Best Picture:

#4 (Publicist)The truth is I only watched about half of "12 Years a Slave"; I couldn't take it. It made me sick to my stomach and I just thought, "OK, I know slavery was terrible, and this is an important movie and I get all that," but I was bored with how long it was taking. 

#7 (Executive): Look, I've lived long enough to know what it was like for a person to be a black person in America. I mean, it's not anything that I'm not aware of. 

#5 (Writer): "12 Years a Slave" I ranked third only because I felt as if I had seen that film before.

#1 (Director): "The Wolf of Wall Street" has almost nothing to say, but I found it hysterically funny. Conversely, with "12 Years a Slave," you don't even crack a smile, but it was interesting, admirable and well done; I must say, though, that contrary to what some have asserted, it's not as if it required great courage to make that movie -- maybe if you made it in Mississippi in 1930.

Best Director:

#4 (Publicist): [Steve] McQueen -- I don't know how to say this -- he never made me want to vote for him. I thought he came off as pretentious and affected and rude.

#1 (Director): [Alfonso] Cuaron was part of a committee of technicians who made that movie, and I have seen things at the planetarium that were at least as impressive.

Best Actress:

#1 (Director): You have to vote for who's truly the best, and to me, Blanchett -- whom I'm normally not that wild about, with the exception of "Bandits" -- is that. She was just a revelation; she was just spectacular. 

#2 (Sound): My wife loved "Willamina," but I didn’t care for it. 

Best Actor:

#2 (Sound): The guy in "12 Years a Slave" -- I can never pronounce his name -- was just phenomenal. And yet I was really taken with [Matthew] McConaughey, even though I have not really been a fan in the past. He was just ridiculously good -- plus the weight loss and what he had to do was just unbelievable. 

#5 (Writer): I do love that actor from "12 Years a Slave," whose name I can't pronounce; I couldn't really fault him at all. So it came down to a choice between him and Matthew McConaughey, whose role really captivated me -- and who really impressed me in three different things this year.

#6 (Executive): Matthew McConaughey -- wow, what an incredible year. In addition to "Dallas Buyers Club," I was really won over by "True Detective."

Best Supporting Actor:

#4 (Publicist): Leto gives a classic Oscar role: "I have AIDS and I'm a drag queen." Like, it doesn't get bigger than that, in terms of Oscar bait. He could have gotten nominated with just one of the above! I'm trying to think if there could have been one more thing? A Jew! A Jew, during World War II, who is sick and a transvestite -- that would have been a trifecta. 

#1 (Director): Jared Leto was good and will win, but he's getting tremendous points because of the person he's playing more than the way he played it, which is as close to pandering as you can get.

#5 (Writer): This was easy. They were all good, but Jared Leto just did something that I'd never seen anybody do before. He played a character who was a transvestite but is not apologetic or self-conscious at all; he's a take-charge guy and, at the same time, he's proud of his femininity. It's bizarre, but he certainly holds your attention.

Best Supporting Actress:

#4 (Publicist): I didn't vote for Jennifer Lawrence, even though I thought she was very entertaining in the movie, because (a) she just won last year, and (b) we can't give everything to Jennifer Lawrence when she's 22 years old because Jennifer Lawrence will be institutionalized.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

#1 (Director): "Wolf" is enjoyable, and if you were giving awards for most fun, it probably would be the biggest winner this year, along with "American Hustle," which is a much better movie overall. On the other hand, by that logic, "Step Brothers" would have won.... "Before Midnight" is a travesty of ineptitude and dreadful writing, like the other two in that horrible trilogy -- if I was sitting next to those people, I would run in the opposite direction. 

Best Original Screenplay:

#1 (Director): I'm going for "American Hustle" because Woody has already been overwhelmingly rewarded. I feel very badly about the absurd bullshit that's flying Woody's way, but that can't intrude one way or the other on voting. 

#4 (Publicist): It'll go to "Her" because this is where you give an award to the quirky movie that everybody wants people to know that they appreciated. And I concur with that. I don't want anybody, though, to come to any conclusion, when Woody Allen does not win for "Blue Jasmine" -- my runner-up -- that it had anything to do with the horribleness of dragging him through everything he's had to deal with over the last few weeks. 

Best Animated Feature:

#1 (Director): I have seen none of them. I have no interest whatsoever. That ended when I was 6. My son dragged me to a few when he was 6; I would seat him and go outside and make phone calls. 

Best Documentary Feature:

#4 (Publicist): I voted for "Twenty Feet From Stardom" because I found it the most entertaining, but I think "The Square" is the more important movie.

#7 (Executive): My friends tell me "The Square" is one of the best documentaries that they ever saw, but I haven't had a chance to see it.

#3 (Executive): With "Act of Killing," you can't help but wonder, "How the f--- did he make that movie?" To get that guy to open up emotionally? And I also thought the whole notion of the recreation was a very interesting idea. But I just wanted to vote for "Twenty Feet." It's a very excellent movie.

#1 (Director): I actually liked several of the movies, especially "Twenty Feet From Stardom," but I refuse to dignify the category by voting in it. Even with its new rules, the documentary category has about as much claim to legitimacy as the Bush-Gore presidential election. It's an incestuous little club. 

Best Foreign Film:

#1 (Director): I immediately rule out Palestine for "Omar" because I saw it, and it's a bunch of f---ing anti-Semitic swine.... "The Great Beauty" is unbelievably f---ing slow and dull; that's another movie where you can sit there and pass out five times and miss nothing. I stopped "Broken Circle Breakdown" halfway and Cambodia's after 20 minutes.

#8 (Director): I think "The Hunt" is a really impressive film all around. I did not like "The Broken Circle Breakdown" -- movies with actual child endangerment are upsetting. And I did not see "The Great Beauty."

Best Cinematography:

#4 (Publicist): I thought "Llewyn Davis" had amazing cinematography which stayed with me the longest of all the nominees.... I watched it and I thought, "Wow, I wish Gordon Willis had been alive to shoot this." [Fortunately, Willis is still alive -- he's now 82 and living in Cape Cod.]

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10 Comments

  • Belinda | March 3, 2014 11:13 AMReply

    Why do none of your imagined thought bubbles include those of actors? 20 Feet from Stardom won because actors are the largest voting block in the Academy. To vote in docs, you just have to be a member who's seen all the nominated films. If Casting By had been chosen, it would have won--performers care about performers.
    McConaughey won because he lost weight for the role, and went from romantic lead to character actor.
    Commenters complaining about publicists know nothing about show business.

  • David | March 3, 2014 1:04 PM

    No, the rules for voting for documentary were changed by Michael Moore and the Academy board a couple of years ago. Now, everyone gets screeners of the nominated films and anyone can vote (though as those 8 ballots show, not all of them do).

  • Robin E. Simmons | March 3, 2014 9:50 AMReply

    Publicists shouldn't be eligible to vote in ANY Oscar category. And didn't Gordon Parks already make a Solomon Northrop slave movie some years ago? Queen's reboot offered nothing new or original in any way.

  • Boykin | March 3, 2014 9:16 AMReply

    "#7 (Executive): Look, I've lived long enough to know what it was like for a person to be a black person in America. I mean, it's not anything that I'm not aware of. "

    ^ this is the mentality of the current power structure in Hollywood, but the plague done hit and their crop is dying.

    cheers to John Ridley, Steve McQueen and 12 Years A Slave.

  • FP | March 3, 2014 8:32 AMReply

    Why the f--- are publicists allowed to vote for the Oscars? Sorry, but publicity has s--- to do with filmmaking as an art form.

  • ALPINE | March 3, 2014 6:12 PM

    Because the Oscars are not actually about celebrating art, any more than any other big awards show is. They are the awards show of the movie industry, which includes publicity.

  • NO BRAINER | March 3, 2014 4:29 PM

    I was about to ask the same thing. Who gives a shit about the opinion of a publicist's opinion on film craft? No wonder films like Gravity win for everything. They're, along with some Execs and other non-craftsman, ruining the Academy Awards.

  • spassky | March 3, 2014 3:37 AMReply

    These people are all the scum of the earth.

  • Nick | March 2, 2014 9:02 PMReply

    What do the numbers signify next to each voter?

  • elie | March 3, 2014 12:39 AM

    The number of the article in The Hollywood Reporter's series

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