The acting winners for this year’s Oscars, airing Feb. 9 on ABC, are going to be as predictable as the fact that the host won’t make any offensive jokes. (There is no host.) But Best Picture is still up for grabs, and so is the fact that voters might still be carrying ill will toward Netflix for disrupting the way theaters used to be the most convenient way to catch a new film.
For a take on this and some other issues—like whether J.Lo got snubbed for Hustlers, why Jojo Rabbit makes people uncomfortable, and who’s to blame for the lack of diversity in some of the major categories—I tracked down a very savvy Oscar voter, whom I’ll keep anonymous so they can really spout off.
Hello, Oscar voter. Last year, the Oscars had no host, and they’re continuing that pattern this time too. Doesn’t that put someone out of a job?
I’m sure they have plenty other jobs and are not going to suffer. And I enjoy the idea of them having no host. I still believe that unless you get the perfect one, like a Billy Crystal or even a Whoopi Goldberg, they tend to bring their shtick to the performance. When they had a host-less show last year, it was a breath of fresh air and I’m glad they’re continuing with that.
As for the awards themselves: There are nine movies battling it out for Best Picture. Will it be 1917, Parasite, Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood, Joker, The Irishman?
Absolutely hands-down for me it’s going to be 1917. I’ve seen it a couple times now and apart from the fact that it’s such a compelling story, it’s mind-boggling how they managed to do it the way they did it.
Where it looks like one continuous take?
Correct. And hearing director Sam Mendes speak about putting the audience into the footsteps of the characters, I thought it was an absolutely stunning success. For me, that is the frontrunner, but I do have a grievance against two of the nominees. Just like a couple of years ago, when I couldn’t understand why Get Out got all the praise, I understand Parasite, liked it when I saw it, and loved his other films, but I just don’t understand why it’s sweeping all the different awards. And The Irishman is the same. I saw it and I thought, “Oh, it doesn’t seem like three-and-a-half hours long…”
[Laughs] Exactly. The more I thought about it, the more it fell apart for me. It seemed to be more of a platform for those actors. And in three and a half hours, they didn’t bother dealing with why the Irishman is the way he was, which is apparently in the book. And I’m not happy with the fact that they said point-blank what happened to Jimmy Hoffa.
Speaking of The Irishman, which I actually admired in many ways, is there still resentment of Netflix? Roma didn’t win Best Picture last year, possibly because it was Netflix.
Unfortunately, I do believe that rumor is probably true, but I don’t think it’s resentment, I think it’s fear—fear of the way they’re changing the industry. But I wouldn’t be unhappy if a Netflix film wins this year because the way movies are done is becoming more old school, and the new way of doing it, which is how Netflix is doing it, might be the wave of the future and might open doors for projects that might otherwise not be done.
What was left out of Best Picture?
I loved Bombshell and was upset that it was left out.
Maybe people had trouble empathizing with a woman who said Santa Claus is white?
[Laughs] It never occurred to me that there could be a backlash on that. The thing I loved about it is that when you go into Fox News’ reputation, you find out how manufactured Fox News is. And it comes with victims. I thought that was a revelation.
“When the #OscarsSoWhite backlash happened, we were all thrown under the bus by our own Academy for seemingly being biased.”
Moving from Santa to people of color, there is only one black actor nominated: Cynthia Erivo for Harriet.
When the #OscarsSoWhite backlash happened, we were all thrown under the bus by our own Academy for seemingly being biased. So they added a lot more members, making sure it was diverse. But what also came out of that was an extra fringe benefit of youth. Suddenly an entire group of voters was plugged into social media in a way the older voters were not. So now comes this year, where the grumblings are happening again, but this time it’s harder to throw the Academy members under the bus because we are more diverse now. I think it points to what the other issue was that got buried under the controversy, and that is the need to develop more projects that are richer in roles for actors of color and even stronger directing opportunities for women.
Much more boringly, the four acting categories seem like tighter locks than the ones on White House documents. Let’s start with Best Actor—Joaquin Phoenix is a slam-dunk for playing a sympathetic psycho in Joker, yes?
Correct. I loved Jonathan Pryce in Two Popes—it surprised me completely—but I’ll probably vote for Joaquin. He throws himself physically into the role. With Joker, I thought, “This is a little slow and really depressing,” but then I realized how the pieces fit together and created a new origin story for both Batman and Joker. Joaquin created a character that is so familiar in so many ways with actors from Jack Nicholson to Heath Ledger and all of a sudden, Joaquin found a different take.
And he lost weight.
He lost 70 pounds, but Todd Phillips, the director, said in truth he needed to lose 20 anyway. I was hoping Eddie Murphy would get in there. I loved Dolemite Is My Name. Also, Taron Egerton for Rocketman because I thought he did a better performance playing Elton John than last year’s winner, Rami Malek, did in playing Freddie Mercury. It should have been up for Best Picture too, but suffered in the nominations because of Rhapsody. And Adam Sandler did a nice breakout performance in Uncut Gems and I was hoping he’d get in. Another film that was completely overlooked was Gemini Man. I thought Will Smith did an amazing job.
Well, it could still be up for Golden Razzies. Will Joaquin give a crazy speech, I hope?
Oh, yes. I can’t imagine he’s going to behave himself.
Does Renee Zellweger have Best Actress all sewn up for Judy? The thing is, Judy Garland herself never won a competitive Oscar.
That would be the epitome of ironic, but I’m absolutely voting for her. It’s always been a toss-up between Charlize Theron (for Bombshell) and Renee for me, even though I loved Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story as well. Charlize really becomes a unique and individual character with a huge point of view, but Renee does what Joaquin did with Joker. She literally melted into that role. She’s going to win. The one that’s missing was Ana de Armas from Knives Out.
I thought she was bland, but I’m in the minority.
I thought she was great. She held that film together. I loved Knives Out. I thought it was going to be this year’s Shape of Water. It was an unexpected, quirky, incredibly well-made, wonderfully acted film. It only got one nomination [Best Original Screenplay] and I was stunned.
As for Best Supporting Actor, it’s finally the charming Brad Pitt’s year (for Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood).
I agree. I love Anthony Hopkins (Two Popes), but it’s definitely Brad. There is nobody that can reimagine history better than Quentin Tarantino. He takes it just enough off the rails that you feel like you’re getting a new take on an old story. Brad, I think, absolutely anchored that field of slightly-off-the-rails reality. More than Leonardo, he was the person the audience was dragged along with so they could understand this world.
And he’s never won for acting before—though they don’t seem to care about that kind of thing anymore. Look at Glenn Close. So will Laura Dern win Best Supporting Actress for her divorce lawyer in Marriage Story?
I believe so. I’ve been avoiding watching Little Women [which Dern is also in] because I don’t like that story. I saw a clip and it was exactly what I thought that film was gonna be—syrupy—but apparently it’s not that bad. I’ll catch up with it. In Marriage Story, holy crap, Laura plays a tough woman who’s unbelievably manipulative and embodies why you should be terrified of lawyers. She’s gonna win because she embraced that role. But Margot Robbie (Bombshell) was the one that really got me. I’d put Scarlett Johansson ahead of Laura as well because I’m a huge fan of Jojo Rabbit. Every friend of mine who’s Jewish has a problem with it. I can’t understand and I don’t even dare because I feel like I’d be insulting something. I’m sure they’re all huge fans of Mel Brooks and I don’t think anyone complained about that, but with Jojo Rabbit, something struck a chord of distaste with every Jewish friend. It’s not that they didn’t like the film, they just wish it hadn’t been made.
“With ‘Jojo Rabbit,’ something struck a chord of distaste with every Jewish friend. It’s not that they didn’t like the film, they just wish it hadn’t been made.”
One difference is that it’s set during the Holocaust, whereas The Producers isn’t. It deals with neo-Nazis and other nuts.
The thing I love about Jojo is it takes a strong director to straddle that line of satire and reality. But Taika Waititi didn’t get nominated. I wonder if part of it is the discomfort about the film. Scarlett was the perfect chord that brought this satire into reality. But Margot is the one I’m voting for.
As a composite lesbian.
Yes! I thought where Jojo straddled between satire and reality, Margot straddled between the artificial look that Fox News creates for their women and reality.
They made her pay the price of her ambition. Was J.Lo snubbed or just undeserving?
I did not like Hustlers and though I thought she did a good job, I don’t think it really rose above the material. I think when you look at the ones who were selected, there was no room. It’s not a personal thing against her. She was in a very lackadaisical film and she did admirable in it, but didn’t really shine. The hype exceeded the actual performance.
But she spun around that pole like lightning!
Was that really her?
Moving on to Best Director. Will Bong Joon-ho (Parasite) get this, like a foreign director did last year (Alfonso Cuaron for Roma)?
I’m going to vote for Mendes. To conceive of 1917 and figure out how to do it and get actors that managed to pull this off was remarkable. I saw it on the big screen and the little screen, and it holds up on the latter. Mendes will win. He went above and beyond making a film that was astoundingly different, without the ability to juxtapose one scene with another for effect. My order would be Mendes, Tarantino, Phillips, Joon-ho, Scorsese.
Do you see it as an anti-war film?
I saw it more as a realization of how horrific WWI actually was. There have been so many films done on WWII and very few comparatively done on WWI, even though they say more people died in that war. To make 1917 as horrific as it was, with all the bodies that were treated like refuse, it was the first time it shone a light on how bad that war was. It made me understand even more about how horrific present war must be—actually even more than Hurt Locker.