Oscars: Exclusive Interview With An Academy Member

For the fourth year in a row on the day after Oscar voting has closed, we sat down with an anonymous long-time member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to discuss the year in film, the resultant Oscar controversies (Affleck, torture, manic acceptance speeches, oh my!) and look ahead to Sunday's telecast, which may prove to be the most unpredictable and least groan-inducing in years!*

*Or not.

Loquacious Muse: Overall, was 2012 a good year for movies? And how do you feel this year's Oscar race differs from those of recent years?

Academy Member: I thought it was an amazing year with a wide variety of films in many different genres, but I don't really see anything dominating or sweeping. My own votes are all over the map this year and I'd love to see them spread around come Oscar night too. The year was better than 2011 in that so many important and terrific directors released films - I mean, hell, both, P.T. and Wes Anderson, the Washowskis, Linklater, Spielberg, Whedon, Ang Lee, Tarantino, Zemeckis, David Russell, Bigelow, Affleck, Oliver Stone, Apatow, Rian Johnson, Mark Webb, Woody Allen, Tim Burton, Sam Mendes, Ridley Scott, Soderbergh, Peter Jackson, Chris Nolan... and there were quite a few unexpected gems like "Ruby Sparks," "End of Watch," "Holy Motors," "Not Fade Away," "The Impossible," and even "Ted," which had us all on the floor. By any standards, that's a helluva'n All-Star lineup of talent.

I love that it seems wide open and anything could happen. There are a number of deserving movies I'd be fine with winning this year. This year, just because you favor one over another, doesn't mean you think the others are awful or undeserving. I don't have a dog in this hunt and the so called political divisiveness ascribed to several of the nominees did not play any role whatsoever for me.

In the last few years, I was much more passionate about wanting something to win and NOT wanting something to win than I feel this year. The films that won the last couple of years are - in retrospect - kind of inconsequential, and this year a number of movies are actually important and timely and eye-opening... big movies dealing with big themes; movies of consequence that will matter years from now, whereas it could be argued that "The King's Speech" and "The Artist" were not exactly sweeping in their vision...

What is your current critera for nominating a movie for best picture?

I can't say that it's always conscious, but over the years I've developed somewhat of a system. First, I take into consideration all of the individual elements that go into creating a great film - obviously the directing, acting, screenplay, etc. Secondly, I ask, did the film accomplish what it set out to do? From that point on, it becomes more personal. How much did I enjoy the film or how much of an impact did it have on me? Would I recommend it? Do I want to see it again? If I do see it again, do I feel the same way? Whatever the best movie of a year is, it BETTER be something you would recommend and want to see again. And in more recent years, I've learned that if you really don't want to throw your vote away, such things as studio support come in to play. I don't mean an Oscar campaign, which is more likely to turn me off, I mean the very simple fact of making the movie easy to see, making sure it is sent out to the academy and ultimately even what format they send it out in. With all of the emphasis placed on exhibition, I think the time has come that if we can't see the film in a theater, we should find a way to have all movies available at home in high-def - digitally, through a special VOD channel or Blu-Ray.


How did you rank your initial nominees?

Pretty much the same as on my final ballot, which is unusual for me. "Argo," "Django," "Pi," "Silver Linings," "Lincoln" and a few more that ended up not making the cut.

Do you have any particular theory on what happened with Ben Affleck?

I'm sure we all have our own theories on what happened with all of the so-called "director snubs" this year. I honestly think that Affleck's "snub" was more a factor of everyone assuming he was going to be nominated without their vote. For Kathryn Bigelow, it was very difficult physically to see the movie in a theater prior to the nomination deadline, and - because the directors branch is so small - it is conceivable many of them saw it on a very dark DVD, which just doesn't compare to how it looked on the big screen. For some reason, Quentin is never nominated, and in the case of Tom Hooper, let's just say that "Les Miserables" was kind of oddly directed... wonderful, intense, committed performances and a camera covering the action like a heat-seeking drone honing in on a target.

Also check out: Oscar Predictions - Where do we stand on Best Director?

How do you feel about Argo being the perceived frontrunner?

I voted for it, and its arc from underdog to frontrunner has certainly been remarkable. I can tell you that the level of applause at the first Academy screening of "Argo" was through the roof and seemed pretty indicative at the time of how the membership would feel about this film.

Was there any movie you were especially passionate about this year?

Of the nominees, I was most passionate about "Argo," "Django" and "Life of Pi" in terms of how I felt when I came out of the theater, and that's the order in which I voted.

Did you see any of the nominated movies more than once?

Yes. "Argo," "Django," "Moonrise Kingdom," "Lincoln" and "Life of Pi" - once in 3D and once in 2D. "Argo" and "Django" played just as strongly if not better. With "Pi," I found I got swept away more by the visuals than I was invested in the story. While it's still gorgeous in 2D, It really should be required viewing in 3D at least once.

Did the politics surrounded Zero Dark Thirty affect your vote or opinion at all?

Not remotely, and it's a shame that discussion became so loud that it could influence the film's chances. If it matters, I don't think the film is guilty of the crap being thrown at it. I think it's one of the year's best films, but just not the very best. Period.

Was there any nomination that you were really rooting for that ultimately didn't come to pass?

I'd have loved to see "Ruby Sparks" get an original screenplay nod. "Cabin in the Woods" cleverly rewrote and undid every teen in peril horror movie ever made, but I guess not enough folks in the writer's branch were thinking Oscar. Jake Gyllenhall was the best he's ever been in "End of Watch." Rosemarie DeWitt stole "Promised Land" and "Your Sister's Sister." Jack Black was honestly brilliant in "Bernie," inhabiting that real life person's skin as completely as Day-Lewis inhabits Lincoln. I also loved the score for "Beasts of the Southern Wild" - perfect for the film, but also truly beautiful music that's both earthy and ethereal.


There's been talk of acceptance speeches affecting someone's chance to win, Anne Hathaway being somewhat of a manic theater kid hurting her Golden Globes speech and Jennifer Lawrence being so damn self-effacing and charming helping her. Do you think there is any truth to this and it does it affect your vote at all?

I think it would be absolutely insane to let someone's acceptance speech for something else affect your vote for whether or not they deserve an Oscar. I suppose I could envision a scenario where a nominee's public comments prior to voting costs them the award, but it would have to be over something monumentally offensive, not because a deserving actress was being slightly annoying or cloying.

Also check out: The 12 Greatest Acceptance Speeches in Oscar History

What upsets are you hoping for?

I can't say I'm hoping for upsets, because Daniel Day-Lewis and Steven Spielberg are obviously deserving, but I would love to see Hugh Jackman, Ang Lee and "Pirates" win. Those would be my three favorite underdogs this year.

Can you tell us about how you cast your vote in the individual categories? Who did you have for Best Actor?

Best Actor - Hugh Jackman.

When you're faced with really strong performances and several perceived frontrunners, the best thing I begin to do is wonder how easily could I imagine another actor pulling off what that actor did in that role. For me this year, the one who accomplished that the most, as impeccable as Daniel Day-Lewis' performance was, was Hugh Jackman in "Les Mis." It's hard to imagine any other actor in the world doing what he did in terms of getting and performing that role.


Best Actress - Jennifer Lawrence

This notion most applies here, and by that same token, i decided to vote for Jennifer. I was really torn between her and Naomi Watts, whose performance in The Impossible is f***ing amazing and certainly the most challenging physically. But I cannot imagine any other actress doing what Jennifer did in that part. It was a combination of physicality, fragility, beauty, irrationality, razor sharp wit and outright energy that was so distinctly HER in this role. The screen crackled whenever she was on camera.

Best Supporting Actor - Robert De Niro

I loved every single one of these nominated performances and if Christoph hadn't just won it, I'd have been even more tempted to vote for him, but I decided to vote for De Niro this year. if nothing else, the scene where he comes around to Tiffany's way of looking at things, is just... you can see every single one of the twisted wheels working in his head..., it was just one of those delightful scenes to watch unfold as his character's opinion changes 180 degrees. It's also very hard to believe he last won 32 years ago.

Best Supporting Actress - Anne Hathaway

She owns it this year.

Best Original Screenplay - "Django Unchained"

Best Adapted Screenplay - "Silver Linings Playbook"

This year, I was more of a sucker for dialogue over epicness. SLP was an actor's screenwriter working at the top of his game. Easy decision for me, but would be happy to see "Argo" win too. I'm tempted to say that Lincoln just had too many words, but I'm afraid no one will get the joke. I also wish Lincoln had started ten minutes later and ended ten minutes sooner. The shot of Lincoln accepting his hat and walking away toward the light as he says "I'd love to stay, but I have to go" was the perfect ending, even more poignant than taking it to the assassination that we all know happened.

Best Animated: "The Pirates! Band of Misfits"

How did it not win the BAFTA? How could they? I thought it was by far the best animated movie of the year, in terms of the actual animation as well as the screenplay, voice performances, music, art design... not to mention it's an actual animated film for grownups with treats for the kids thrown in, while all the others are for kids with asides for grownups thrown in.

In the endless quandary of are we awarding the animation itself or the movie as a whole, this year, I think "Pirates" has top-tier animation like the rest, but also clearly has the best of everything else. I enjoyed all of them, but if I have to nitpick on why the other four don't quite match Pirates - I'd say the stop motion in "Paranorman" and "Frankenweenie" were wonderful, but they had similar problems in their third acts when they both got very frenetic and lost focus. "Wreck-it Ralph" got kind of annoying in the way that juvenile cartoons are annoying and sort of became what it was parodying. The main problem with "Brave" is that I wanted it to be more beautiful than it was and would have preferred an actual celtic myth and music and art design that reflected that more. I also don't understand why all the human characters were so cartoonish and visually unappealing.

Any final thoughts?

What happened to John "Carter" was a crime. I know that has nothing to do with the Oscars, but it needed to be said.

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