What kind of difference are the newest Academy members having on what gets nominated for and wins an Oscar? Yesterday, we spoke to 14 of the voters who had been asked to join the Academy over an unprecedented two-year push to increase the organization’s gender and racial diversity and invite younger, ostensibly hipper members to the table. Their general observations about the nominations were candid and juicy.
Today, we talked to those same new members about the votes they planned to cast in the top eight Oscar categories, which include the four acting races, the two screenplay categories, as well as Best Director and Best Picture. Will the new voters have enough of an impact to deliver some surprising winners? Here were their anonymous thoughts on those big races.
Best Supporting Actress
In this category, our polled voters bucked the conventional wisdom: While I, Tonya actress Allison Janney has won just about every prize this season, the new members we spoke to gave Lady Bird’s Laurie Metcalf the edge by one vote. “People don’t realize this is Laurie’s first major film role!” said one voter in the casting branch. “She is an American treasure that’s been completely undervalued, so I’m thrilled to see her get this recognition.”
Many members said the Best Supporting Actress race was the most difficult race to decide. “This is the one where I might have to wait until the last minute to choose,” said a new voter, who ultimately pronounced that Metcalf delivered “a deeper and more felt performance” than her competitors. “But Allison Janney is great, and I also thought Lesley Manville was incredible.”
Indeed, the Phantom Thread scene-stealer was neck and neck with Janney with our voters. “I think Lesley Manville might steal,” said a member of the at-large branch. “That’s been creeping into my brain, because the supporting categories are the sneaky ones, although I would cry a little bit for Allison Janney … but not that much, she’s won plenty. I can see [exes] Gary Oldman and Lesley Manville holding Oscars next to each other, and I fuckin’ want to see that picture!”
Still, most of the Metcalf and Manville voters — as well as a sole voter for Mudbound’s Mary J. Blige — expected their pick to lose to Janney, who delivers a flashy performance as Tonya Harding’s bitter mother in I, Tonya. “I’m a real sucker for Allison Janney,” said a director we spoke to. “Everyone’s like, ‘Oh, her performance was so big,’ but then you watch the footage of that woman and you’re like, ‘No, that was actually a very restrained performance.’” Said another member, “She went deep with it and brought humor, pathos, and grit. This performance will go down in the history books.”
Best Supporting Actor
Here we come to what seems to be the safest top race of the night, if our polled group is anything to go by: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri star Sam Rockwell, who has walked away with every televised award so far, was the blowout favorite of the new voters. Rockwell won over two-thirds of the new members we spoke to, and in all the categories we polled, no other victory was as outsized as his.
“I think what Sam did is remarkable,” said one of the voters. “I didn’t expect that at all from him or the film. I knew it from the minute I saw it that he had done something really, really noteworthy and I’m glad he’s getting the recognition for it.” The nomination is Rockwell’s first, but many voters felt he was still overdue. “He’s one of those actors whose work is always kind of gets overlooked and this time he had the part that everybody loved,” one new member told us.
Rockwell earned more than double the votes of his closest competition, The Florida Project’s Willem Dafoe. The members voting for Dafoe were effusive: “Just a beautiful, nuanced performance from one of our greatest actors,” said one member of the actors branch, while a producer told us, “He’s been defined by playing bad guys and weirdos, so I thought it was a delightful, new, and refreshing performance from him. He really moved me.”
Some of the other voters, though, weren’t sure why Dafoe’s low-key turn was even in the race. “I wouldn’t consider that performance Oscar-worthy,” said one new member. “I don’t feel like he had a ton to do. Maybe they just wanted to give some love to that movie but they weren’t ready to give it to Sean Baker and they didn’t want to totally write it off.” That sentiment was echoed by a member of the directors branch who felt The Florida Project deserved a Best Picture slot but not a Best Supporting Actor nomination. “I thought that story and the filmmaking were beautiful, and that’s what I wish had been recognized,” she said, noting that Baker traditionally casts his films with unknown or novice performers. “[The Florida Project] was the first time Sean put someone recognizable in one of his movies, and I’m offended that it was the movie star that got the recognition. I find that really disappointing.”
Three Billboards co-star Woody Harrelson also snagged a vote from one of our new members, but neither The Shape of Water’s Richard Jenkins nor All the Money in the World’s Christopher Plummer managed to put points on the board. “The person who was robbed,” one member of the casting branch told us, “is Michael Stuhlbarg for Call Me by Your Name!”
Every actress in this category won at least one vote from our members, but front-runner Frances McDormand had a comfortable lead over her competition. “Not a lot of actresses could have pulled that off,” one new Academy member said of McDormand’s grieving mother on a mission in Three Billboards, while two separate voters called her performance “ferocious.” McDormand does very little press and hardly campaigns at all during awards season, but that didn’t matter to most of the people we spoke to. “I love Frances,” said one new member of the directors branch. “I love her, I love her, I love her. I like everyone else in the category, but I didn’t like any of their performances.”
Other voters did, however. “I thought Sally Hawkins’s role [in The Shape of Water] was more challenging and I feel like I’ve seen Frances do that before,” said another new member. One actress we spoke to was impressed that Hawkins learned sign language for her role as a mute woman: “She’s so transformative in her performance, just a wonderful actress. She went to new territory for me, that’s why I liked what I saw.”
The amount of preparation was also cited by the voters partial to Margot Robbie, who plays disgraced ice skater Tonya Harding in I, Tonya. “[There was] six months of training on ice, and learning the dialect of Tonya,” recalled the voter. “I went to a screening and met her and she is nothing like that character, so she had to find that within herself.” Another new member voting for Robbie expressed disappointment that the film itself didn’t make the Best Picture race: “For me, no one touches her performance, as great as everyone in this category is.”
In the back of our pack were Lady Bird’s Saoirse Ronan and The Post’s Meryl Streep, the latter of whom received compliments both full-fledged and backhanded. “The moments leading up to where she makes the decision to publish the Pentagon Papers are some of the most thrilling acting I’ve ever seen,” said one voter, while another felt it was too familiar: “I think Meryl Streep was great in The Post, but there’s Meryl Streep fatigue in that kind of role,” said a documentary-branch voter. “That seems like the ‘old Oscars.’ There’s something that doesn’t seem fresh in that performance.”
None of the new members we spoke to liked the World War II drama Darkest Hour all that much — one said it “was akin to getting yelled at for two hours straight” — but they still gave Gary Oldman the slim edge in the Best Actor category, handing him one vote more than his young competitor, Call Me by Your Name’s Timothée Chalamet. “Gary Oldman was just fucking brilliant,” said one voter. “He’s a journeyman actor, and I’ve always loved his work. You watch that movie and you’re like, ‘Fuck, he’s chewing this up!’”
Oldman’s makeup-aided portrayal of Winston Churchill was especially singled out for the amount of research and work that went into it. “I’ve always loved Gary’s acting,” said one actress, “but after hearing him say he prepared for this role for one year, and sat in the makeup chair four hours a day … he really went on a journey for this role. It definitely shows.”
Younger voters were less enamored. “I feel like Gary Oldman is the elder Academy choice,” said one director, and there was a notable age divide in the members we spoke to: All of Oldman’s votes came from members over 45, while younger voters broke decidedly for the 22-year-old Chalamet, who is considered Oldman’s closest competition. “[Chalamet] was the entire heart and soul of that movie,” said one young member, while another predicted, “He’s going to get an Oscar for the last shot in the movie … it felt like such a discovery.” Another member favored Chalamet over Oldman due to the nature of their roles: “I have always resisted the Academy’s impulse to honor imitation,” said the voter. “What Gary Oldman does is way beyond mimic, but Timothée created a person. That’s the thing that blows me away. I could never do that.”
Another voter said that while he would be voting for Chalamet, the actor has hit the promotional trail hard for Call Me by Your Name and Lady Bird and may be courting overexposure. “I have to say, there’s been so much publicity that I’m starting to feel backlash toward him,” said the Academy member. “I see him everywhere and it’s too much, but I love the performance and I think he’s so talented. He’s obviously had a great year, but that performance stayed with me.”
In the back of the pack, with two votes each, were Phantom Thread’s Daniel Day-Lewis — “extraordinary, just really nuanced,” said one voter — and Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya. “His performance is the one that stuck with me all year,” said a member of the acting branch. Denzel Washington, the fifth nominee in the category, did not receive a vote from our group. “Roman J. Israel, Esq.? No, even though I love Denzel,” said one member.
Best Original Screenplay
This category is the most competitive it’s been in years, with the screenplays of four of the strongest Best Picture nominees represented, as well as The Big Sick. To our new voters, though, it wasn’t much of a contest: Jordan Peele’s script for Get Out easily triumphed over Lady Bird and Three Billboards.
“[Get Out] is a thousand percent a fresh perspective,” said a producer. “I can’t think of another movie that did what that movie did in terms of taking an audience in, entertaining them, scaring them, and making a racial and political statement. It’s heroic.” One member of the publicity branch speculated that voters will seize upon this category to reward Peele instead of handing him the Oscar for Best Director or Best Picture. “I do think Get Out has a lot of momentum,” he said, “but that’s what the Academy does: They give you other things when they’re not going to give you the thing they probably should.”
One bemused voter said the influx of young talent in this category, from Peele to Greta Gerwig to The Big Sick writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, has an unexpected downside. “Here’s where things get real tricky in Hollywood Land: I’m friends with a lot of these people,” said the new Academy member, who is in her 30s. “I want to be like, ‘They should all get a fucking Oscar because they’re my friends!’ It’s really strange. You have to completely separate yourself because I’m insanely proud of all of these people.” Ultimately, this voter went in a different direction: “If I sit down and really look at the scripts, I most love Three Billboards,” she said. “I thought it was rad.”
Best Adapted Screenplay
In this race, our new voters heavily favored one of the oldest Oscar nominees ever: 89-year-old James Ivory, who adapted Call Me by Your Name from the book by André Aciman. With his late partner Ismail Merchant, Ivory made many movies that the Academy has loved over the years, from Howards End to A Room With a View, but he himself has never won the Academy Award. Expect that to change this Sunday. “It was moving and beautiful and my favorite film in that category,” said one voter.
Comic-book entry Logan scored no votes with our crew, though Mudbound and Molly’s Game earned one each. Two votes went to the showbiz story The Disaster Artist, whose lead actor James Franco was perhaps the most high-profile Oscar snub after accusations of sexual misconduct surfaced during the nomination voting period. “I would put money on Call Me winning, but Disaster Artist was a more difficult screenplay to adapt, and they got it right,” said one voter, though not everyone was so thrilled with the movie: “The Disaster Artist, I hated,” said one female voter. “My husband loved it. Maybe it’s a male thing, or I have James Franco fatigue.”
The conventional wisdom has it that Guillermo del Toro is in line to take this Oscar for The Shape of Water, and he also earned the most votes of the new voters we polled, though Get Out’s Jordan Peele and Dunkirk’s Christopher Nolan remained within striking distance. Nearly every voter for del Toro had met him over the season or heard him speak at a Q&A, and they were struck by his passion. “Guillermo is literally the loveliest fucking person ever,” said one voter, while another added, “The del Toro talk-back specifically gave me a lot more respect for what he was doing. Those can sway you, when you really understand the filmmaker’s vision.”
A director who was just asked to join the Academy concurred — “I will go with Guillermo because I think he took the biggest swing” — but she was surprised to learn just what goes into an Oscar campaign of that size: “Hearing him talk about making that movie, and his intentions really rang true for me, which just goes to show you that these fucking events they hold for Academy members have an effect. By the way, seeing what’s behind the curtain at the Academy … it’s so sad. Campaigning starts in July! It’s just nauseating. I know I’m not the first person to say Hollywood is disgusting, but Hollywood’s fucking disgusting. But back to my point: to hear Guillermo talk about his inspiration for that movie and what he wanted to tell and how he wanted to touch people, that resonated with me.”
Lady Bird helmer Greta Gerwig, the fifth woman to ever receive a Best Director nomination, received only one vote from our crowd “As far as Greta and Lady Bird, I really like that movie and want to support a woman filmmaker,” said a new member of the editing branch, “but it’s continually up against Get Out, also made by an underrepresented filmmaker, and I think Get Out is a little better and a historically important movie in a way that Lady Bird isn’t.” A woman in the documentary branch told us, “I’m really torn. As much as I want to see a female director get it, if Greta Gerwig were to get it for that film, we’d be set up for a backlash. Is that a really horrible, provocative thing to say? She got some great performances but The Shape of Water, he created this whole other world. You’re dealing with the fucking CGI! And how do you incorporate that and get a real performance? How do you art direct a whole world?”
Several new members expressed disappointment that they couldn’t vote for Martin McDonagh, the Three Billboards director who was this category’s most notable omission. “I’m of the philosophy that whoever directed the Best Picture should also be the Best Director, but Martin McDonagh didn’t get nominated for Director, so I don’t know,” said one voter, though he was still planning to give Three Billboards his Best Picture pick. “Could Jordan sneak in? I wouldn’t be upset if he won, or if Greta Gerwig won, but I think it would be a stretch for a first-time director to win this year.” One of the youngest new voters we spoke to pushed back on that notion: “A film being a director’s first is definitely not a factor for me as I’ll be voting for Jordan Peele,” he said. “I think ‘he/she has plenty of time to win again’ is an old-school mentality and I’d be surprised if many of the new members of the Academy share that viewpoint.”
As for the other men in this field, Phantom Thread’s Paul Thomas Anderson received two votes — “I’m just astonished that movie was in his head,” said one voter, adding, “This guy grew up in L.A., where the hell did that movie come from?” — and Dunkirk’s Christopher Nolan had his passionate partisans for and against. “The guy’s just due,” said one voter, who called the World War II movie “an immersive film experience from beginning to end.” Another was fatally unimpressed: “Dunkirk is whatever,” she said. “I think we shouldn’t be making movies about that war anymore.”
Why hasn’t this Nolan epic performed better during awards season, since it was a massive hit with critics and audiences? One new member we spoke to had a theory. “When a director gets labeled at some point in their career — in this case, it might be the label ‘unemotional’ — nobody can get over that,” she said. “It almost takes a director having to go and shoot a movie on a small budget with two actors and one camera and doing a chamber piece in order for them to be taken outside of the category that they’re in. We have a director like Chris Nolan who is arguably one of the best directors working now. I would say he’s a genius, and whenever I hear him speak, I’m just kind of blown away by it. He makes brilliant, big-budget, thoughtful action movies, but he’s not being embraced.”
For even seasoned Oscar-watchers, this year’s Best Picture field feels like a toss-up: Could it be The Shape of Water, which won top prizes with the directors and producers guild? Three Billboards, which triumphed at the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, and BAFTA? What about Get Out, which took home the WGA award and feels like the most of-the-moment contender? And then there are pundits who are still predicting a win for Dunkirk, a film that feels as if it would have had this category sewn up in previous years.
The new Academy members we spoke to were similarly torn: Those four movies all received the same number of votes.
“The Shape of Water was my favorite film of the year, hands down,” said a member in the actors branch. “I thought it was del Toro’s most complete expression of his filmmaking abilities and I loved the underlying theme of the love story that there is someone for everyone out there. We needed this message now more than ever.” Said another besotted voter, “Amongst many other remarkable things, it’s a love letter to Hollywood and movies. It wears its heart on its sleeve, and that plays well with people who make movies.”
But while Shape was firmly in that top tier of contenders, it also had the most dissenters, many of whom offered their low opinion of the movie without being asked. “I didn’t respond to The Shape of Water like everyone else seemed to,” said one new voter, while another said, “Shape of Water is a beautifully made movie, but it never did anything I didn’t think it was going to do. It didn’t move me.” Most of Shape’s voters skewed older; one of the youngest new members we spoke to just shrugged, “I definitely don’t get it.” Still, no one had an issue with its craft. “The Shape of Water, I didn’t love, but I totally respected the movie,” said a documentary producer. “It really went for something, it created a world. It just was apples and oranges to Lady Bird.”
That Greta Gerwig film still earned one vote with our crew, as did Call Me by Your Name and Phantom Thread. Darkest Hour and The Post couldn’t muster up any strong advocates, though one voter said she still appreciated the latter: “Spielberg got lucky because I watched it when I had the flu and my immune system was down,” said the director. “But I enjoyed watching Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep together! Will I vote for it for Best Picture? Not in a bajillion years.”
Some of the voters we spoke to had still not settled on their final pick. “I just don’t know,” said one publicist, who couldn’t predict what she thought would win, either. “If you look at technical ability and pure filmmaking genius, Dunkirk has that sewn up. But if you look at then a movie that really is emotional and makes people feel something, then Get Out has that.” To her, the deciding factor might ultimately come down to which movie speaks more to our current news cycle.
“I think that people have been feeling very impotent and unable to do anything with the process that we have right now, and I think they’ve taken that power and used it in other ways,” she said. “We’ve got some really very cool and quite political movies that have been in the conversation … Three Billboards just got, what was it, five awards at BAFTA or something like that? This is a fine movie, but it’s not necessarily a movie that would have gotten the same amount of attention. People are actually getting their own billboards and putting them up, trying to tell a political story. That’s amazing. That’s not publicity. That’s organic, you know?”
“Maybe we need to redefine how we think about this and ask: What movie changed our conversation and point of view?” asked one director we spoke to. “What movie enlightened us to something in the way that Moonlight did? If you look at it that way, it could be Get Out or Call Me by Your Name, but where Moonlight felt real, Call Me by Your Name feels like an utter fantasy. That’s what’s preventing me from [voting for it].”
Ultimately, that member was leaning towards casting her top Best Picture vote for Three Billboards, but she offered a reason why this year’s field is still so unsettled: “There isn’t one movie where I’m like, ‘Yes! That is this year’s Moonlight,’” she complained. “That was a beautiful, unique, and passionate story that was so elegantly told. That, to me, is how you define a Best Picture, and I feel like this year was sort of lacking that.”