The “brutally honest Oscar ballot” is an annual tradition, when The Hollywood Reporter gets anonymous Oscar voters to
show their asses explain their vote process to us mere plebes. Sometimes, this peek behind the curtain is interesting, but mostly it’s just infuriating as often the honest voters expose the very biases and issues that are plaguing the Academy and preventing greater progress. This year is no different, as THR brings us a lady voter from the acting branch who has some, er, colorful opinions about where foreign films belong in the Best Picture race (chiefly: they don’t). One good thing about this year’s shortened award season is that there hasn’t been much time for this nonsense, so hopefully we will be spared too many more of these asinine opinions. I almost don’t know where to start with this ballot, it’s all over the place, so here are the highlights.
Little Women is an un-American mess
Greta Gerwig’s decision to slice and dice the timeline of Little Women is not exactly controversial, but it has been the subject of some debate. This voter did not go for the back-and-forth timeline, calling it “confusing”, and also she is irritated that Gerwig cast non-Americans to play these quintessential American roles. Brits playing famous American literary roles goes back at least as far as Vivien Leigh playing Scarlett O’Hara (and we got one of our own back with Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones), but jingoism is the primary theme with this voter.
The Oscars are American, dammit
The honest voter favors Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood and Quentin Tarantino for their Americana, and is content to relegate Bong Joon-ho and Parasite to the Best International Feature award. One of the greatest moments of this award season is when Bong Joon-ho called the Oscars “very local”. He’s not wrong, as the Oscars are a celebration of Hollywood, and Hollywood is in America, and is defined by primarily American films. We must also acknowledge that “Hollywood” readily embraces productions from English-speaking white nations but the Academy is currently struggling with categorizing films from English-speaking non-white nations. However this particular voter may feel, the Oscars have never really defined “Hollywood” as strictly “American”, but they have defined “Hollywood” as “white” and “English-speaking”.
Who, however, participates in Hollywood is changing, and the scope of stories told by Hollywood is evolving—even if at a glacial pace; still, this voter considers the Oscars “American” and thinks American films and filmmakers should be winning the big prizes and everyone else should stick to their home country awards, so 1917 should be happy with their BAFTA and Parasite should stick to the Grand Bell Awards. Other countries’ film awards are certainly prestigious—it was a big deal for Kristen Stewart to win a Cesar Award—but the Oscars have always positioned themselves as THE award show. They actively seek a global audience, they want to nominate films that reflect a global film industry. The Oscars are Hollywood’s biggest night, but they’re also Hollywood’s biggest and best international moment.
The reason the Academy has categories for Best International/Animated/Documentary Feature is because if they did not single those categories out, it is very likely the Academy voters would not nominate those films for Best Picture, and they would be excluded entirely. So the second-class categories were created to ensure that non-narrative, animated, and foreign films get considered on Hollywood’s biggest night. It is a clear case of the Academy attempting to expand beyond the typical Hollywood definition of what meaningful film is. But this voter is exactly why these films are relegated to second-class consideration—because she simply WOULD NOT consider Parasite on its own merits against an American film—and why it is SO extraordinary a film like Parasite is up for more awards than just Best International Feature (ditto for Roma last year). Given Parasite’s success, it seems this voter is outnumbered by her peers who look past regional boundaries for great film, which is a small signal of progress.
Laura Dern is annoying
The acting categories this year are a lock for Joaquin Phoenix, Renee Zellweger, Brad Pitt, and Laura Dern. But this voter broke from the crowd and selected Scarlett Johansson for her Best Supporting Actress pick, because she found Dern’s performance in Marriage Story “annoyingly over the top”. I must assume, then, that this woman has never encountered celebrity divorce attorney Laura Wasser, because Dern is doing a solid Laura Wasser impression in Marriage Story (Wasser represented Dern in her divorce from Ben Harper). I know a lot of people consider Dern’s performance a warmed-over rehash of Renata, but I think this is why her performance is resonating with her peers—many of them recognize Wasser in her performance. I would not throw out your office pool pick for Dern over this one voter’s distaste for her work.
Jojo Rabbit was the divisive movie all along
Joker was set up to be the most divisive movie of the year, but really, that honor goes to Jojo Rabbit. Audiences have generally embraced it, but when someone doesn’t like it, they REALLY don’t like it. At TIFF, Jojo split critics far more sharply than Joker did (though again, the audience loved it and gave it the People’s Choice award). This voter falls into the “does not like” category, because she was “unable to laugh about Hitler”. Well, you’re not supposed to laugh about Hitler, you’re supposed to laugh at Hitler, which is a different thing, but I get it, the satire is smart and that’s hard. We’re probably just lucky she refrained from saying anything “honest” about Taika Waititi.
Attached - Laura Dern at an Oscars luncheon yesterday in LA.