Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot No. 3: “Couldn’t Get Through” ‘Drive My Car,’ Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ Better Than Original – Hollywood Reporter

General Thoughts

There are going to be 40 million fewer potential viewers of this year’s Oscars because they’re busy being bombed and massacred and chased out of their country [Ukraine], and there’s something a little bit odd about gathering in tuxedos and gowns and congratulating ourselves while all hell is raining down on them. However, the Oscars have been a through line, for almost a century now, through all sorts of hell, from the Second World War to Vietnam to 9/11, and I guess there is something about that continuity which is important. That being said, I sure wish that some of these studios would take some of the millions that they spend pursuing Oscars and instead buy some stinger missiles for the Ukrainians. I’m not sure how to address it all during the show. I think that Amy Schumer was well-intentioned in trying to get Zelensky to make an appearance, but the Oscars are so petty, comparatively, to what they are going through, that I’m glad that didn’t work out.

Best Picture

If The Tragedy of Macbeth had been nominated, I might have voted for it because what Joel Coen did with that film was just brilliant. The same with the documentaries Flee and Summer of Soul. Anyway. The Power of the Dog took me, without exaggeration, 10 viewings to get through. I think the Academy’s Screening Room [a members-only streaming service] is absolutely fantastic, but it does make me wonder if the results are skewed when so many people are not seeing movies on a big screen and with others. Roma, for example, if seen on a small screen, was always going to put you to sleep, and the same thing would have been true years ago if that had been a way to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey. I understand The Power of the Dog’s artistic merits, but I did not find the topic of repressed homosexuality to be original or daring anymore, and I thought the movie was very slow. I’m not quite in the Sam Elliott camp — Sam Elliott, by the way, may be the only person in this town who could be unabashedly homophobic and completely get away with it, just because it’s sort of what we expect from our crazy old uncle — but I do agree with him that it didn’t have the aura of an authentic Western. What Benedict Cumberbatch is to an authentic cowboy, New Zealand is to Montana — it just doesn’t add up. The topography is off, the extras are off, and I’m just kind of surprised that it has been the frontrunner up until now. Without the critics’ awards, I don’t think a single Academy member would have checked out Drive My Car. A three-hour Japanese movie about Uncle Vanya with long shots of driving cars? I knew, going in, that it was going to be tough for me, and if I’m being honest, I couldn’t get through it. To me, Don’t Look Up was a one-note flippancy; its only virtue was its stunning cast. I suppose it’s entertaining, but as much as a genius as I think Adam McKay is, and I really do view him that way, I believe he is in a self-plagiarizing mode of the highest order at this point, and there wasn’t anything that was particularly innovative about this film. Dune is just not my kind of movie; I find fantasy and science-fiction films to be outside of my realm of personal interest, so I didn’t really go for it. I have an affinity for Paul Thomas Anderson — I’ve loved most of his stuff — and this one [Licorice Pizza] has lots of great stuff in it, but there’s literally no story, and I found the central relationship to be extremely odd and not believable. How is a 15-year-old running a business? We never see him in school at all. And I didn’t see how Bradley Cooper, as Jon Peters, could be absolutely obliterated by these kids, yet we don’t see him seeking revenge for the rest of the movie. Every scene, I guess, is very good, but it didn’t add up for me at the end. I wish that Belfast had been a half-hour longer. I think its 90-minute running length made it too slight of a movie — I didn’t quite have enough time to be as invested in these characters as I wanted to be — but it is a very good movie. There’s no movie that I was rooting for more than King Richard because I think that the story of the Williams sisters is one of the greatest stories in all of sports history. And the more you think about it, the more interesting it is: You have a character who you root for, even though his flaws are considerable — I mean, he both loves and exploits his girls. The lack of cinematic flourish is what prevents me from putting it at the top of my list; I want my best picture winners to advance cinema. CODA is also a whimsy of a movie, without any cinematic brilliance, but it is the movie where I was most invested in the characters of the film, and it is the only film of the year that left me weeping at the end of the movie. Sian Heder truly managed to get me crying like a baby, and in a good way. I was so caught up in this love for family, and I just found it extremely satisfying. To me, Nightmare Alley is a great film, and it had an ending that stuck with me for days on end. It is the movie that most stayed in my brain and stuck to my bones, that unnerved me the most, and I came out of it in awe of the cinema of it all. I was completely engaged from beginning to end. West Side Story is a rather flawed film — I had issues with both of the leads, Rachel [Zegler] and Ansel [Elgort] — but it is a movie that made my heart glad otherwise. There are so many moments when you’re in the theater — and I did see it in the theater — when you’re leaning forward and gobsmacked by the fluidity of the camera and the excellence of the set pieces. It’s Spielberg’s best movie since Munich, I think, and it gives a real sense of the love he has for the material. I think this town would be very happy if West Side Story won the Academy Award for best picture. Even though it has a very tragic ending, there’s a certain joie de vivre throughout most of the film that is very engaging and very cinematic. I know it’s sacrilegious to say, but it’s actually a better movie than the 1961 film.

VOTE: (1) West Side Story, (2) Nightmare Alley, (3) CODA, (4) King Richard, (5) Belfast, (6) Licorice Pizza, (7) Dune, (8) Don’t Look Up, (9) Drive My Car, (10) The Power of the Dog

Best Director

Any year when there is a [Guillermo] del Toro film [which there is this year with Nightmare Alley] and del Toro is not a nominee is a sham of a year. He is one of the great geniuses of our time — he puts most of us to shame. As much as I don’t care for The Power of the Dog, this is an area where I do believe it’s appropriate to give awards in order to reward a lifetime of work, so I was thinking about voting for Jane Campion, but she completely lost me with the Critics Choice Awards speech. She self-aggrandized herself by making it about how she has to compete with men, but that is by no means a detriment anymore; she is not the Rosa Parks of female directors, and The Power of the Dog is not a feminist film. It just rubbed me the wrong way. With Belfast and Licorice Pizza, both of the directors [Kenneth Branagh and Paul Thomas Anderson, respectively] were working subpar to what they had done before, in terms of creativity, so I couldn’t vote for either of them. I went with Steven Spielberg, who was able to take Robert Wise’s film and make it into his film. His movement of camera — in concert, of course, with his cinematographer [Janusz Kaminski] — was simply extraordinary. There is that amazing sequence at the high school dance, where he comes down the hallway and swoops into the dance and somehow, without fanfare, does something very fanfare-ish, swooping in and out of these groupings. I also loved some of the decisions that he made — this time in concert with his screenwriter, Tony Kushner — rearranging the scenes and giving Rita Moreno this role that used to belong to the old man. He has made a sublime movie.

VOTE: Steven Spielberg, West Side Story

illustration of an Oscar statue throwing a paper airplane that is aflame

Best Actor

This should be [Cyrano‘s] Peter Dinklage’s award. If he had been nominated, then everyone would have been incentivized to see the film, and they would have seen one of the most beautiful performances of the past five years. Javier Bardem is a great actor who was terribly miscast as Desi Arnaz [in Being the Ricardos]. My guess is they searched for the biggest star they could find who could pass for a Latino, which Bardem is not. He’s too old, he’s too thick and he’s not funny enough — this is the guy from No Country [for Old Men] and a James Bond villain! [The Power of the Dog’s] Benedict Cumberbatch is as much a cowboy as you are a lion tamer. In fairness, he has made a career of playing beta-males, so maybe that makes it harder to take him seriously as a character who makes Clint Eastwood look like Don Knotts. It simply didn’t work for me. Andrew Garfield was very, very believable in Tick, Tick … Boom!. I loved Will Smith in King Richard, and would love nothing more than to see him on stage — other than to see Denzel [Washington, of The Tragedy of Macbeth] on stage. There’s a theory that if you really want to identify “the best actor,” have everyone play Hamlet. Well, this is pretty close because so many people have played Macbeth, and I’ve never seen it done better. His “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” speech was just fucking fantastic. He’s one of the two or three best actors in the world, maybe of all time.

VOTE: Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth

Best Actress

Being the Ricardos was entertaining, but I never for one second felt like I was watching Lucille Ball [the part for which Nicole Kidman is nominated]; it felt like a fictional character. [Spencer’s] Kristen Stewart is a great actress, but I never bought her as Lady Di. [The Eyes of Tammy Faye’s] Jessica Chastain is one of the great actors in the world, but this performance was a complete caricature, and I have a hard time supporting a performance that is an oasis in a desert of a bad movie. I have worked with [The Lost Daughter’s] Olivia Colman, and I have voted for her every time she’s been nominated because I have an affection for her, but also because she’s one of the best actresses in the world. I mean, the depth and complication that she brought to this character was really brave and extraordinary. She and [Parallel Mothers’] Penelope Cruz both dealt with the anguish of motherhood, which is not something that you often see in movies.

VOTE: Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter

Best Supporting Actor

The true best supporting actor was not nominated: [West Side Story’s] Mike Faist, who was such an improvement over the original Riff [played by Russ Tamblyn] and is such an interesting actor. [The Power of the Dog’s] Kodi Smit-McPhee was good. [Being the Ricardos’] J.K. Simmons was a lot of fun. [Belfast’s] Ciaran Hinds was great. But — sorry to be boring — I went with Troy [Kotsur, of CODA]. It was just such a beautifully humanistic performance. One of the most difficult things for an actor to express is love, and he expresses love beautifully. And also, I just want to see the guy up there. I think everybody does.

VOTE: Troy Kotsur, CODA

Best Supporting Actress

The best supporting actress was not even nominated, either: Kathryn Hunter in [The Tragedy of] Macbeth, who gave one of the most fascinating performances in the history of film. I remember turning to my wife in the middle of the movie and saying, “This is it; this is the lock of the year.” She reminded me of Linda Hunt in The Year of Living Dangerously. But it didn’t happen. I also hoped that [West Side Story’s] Rita Moreno would be nominated — what a story that could have been, winning Academy Awards 60 years apart for the same movie. Instead, Ariana DeBose is going to win the award for the same part that Moreno did, which is also a cool story — but that’s not who I voted for. [Belfast’s] Judi Dench was, to me, doing the Judi Dench thing; I thought the boy’s mother [Caitriona Balfe] should have been nominated instead. [The Power of the Dog’s] Kirsten Dunst gave a very competent performance. [King Richard’s] Aunjanue Ellis had a couple of Beatrice Straight moments [the latter actress won this Oscar for brief but show-stopping scenes in Network]. But, to me, [The Lost Daughter’s] Jessie Buckley was the best of the bunch that was nominated. It’s interesting — she and Olivia [Colman] look nothing alike, and yet Jessie was able to completely embody the same persona that Olivia did, and I thought that was just an extraordinary accomplishment.

VOTE: Jessie Buckley, The Lost Daughter

Best Adapted Screenplay

I had read Dune and then saw the film, and was not particularly blown away by the writing of it. I went with The Lost Daughter. I’d read the book, and it struck me as a very, very difficult book to adapt, especially with all the time-shifting in it, and I thought that she [Maggie Gyllenhaal] did just a miraculous job with it.

VOTE: The Lost Daughter

Best Original Screenplay

This was a very easy choice for me: I went for The Worst Person in the World. With Don’t Look Up, again, I’m getting a little bit bored with Adam McKay’s style. Belfast had some nice moments. I don’t know how you can vote Licorice Pizza for best screenplay given that it has no story at all; it felt like a book of short stories put into film form. Worst Person also doesn’t really have a story, but it has a certain continuity of character with a really interesting woman. And the sequence toward the end of the film, when she’s sitting with her former lover in a hospital, is just sublime. It’s one of the best written films of the last several years.

VOTE: The Worst Person in the World

Best Animated Feature

Out of the four that I saw, the best one of the bunch, as a movie, is Flee. It’s probably not the most impressively animated, but I don’t care — I want it to win something. The subject matter is so powerful, and it’s always refreshing to see an animated film for adults, like Waltz with Bashir a few years ago.

VOTE: Flee

Best Documentary Feature

This was an easy one. CODA was the movie that made my heart the most glad last year, but boy, Summer of Soul was right up there in second place. Any movie that can keep me smiling from the first second to the last second, and that can have me clapping and cheering and singing along? I’ve seen the movie three times now. It’s the only movie of 2021 that I saw more than once. It’s a completely magnificent film, and I even nominated it for best picture. Wouldn’t it be great if they asked a bunch of those singers who are still alive, or even just Stevie Wonder, to perform on the Oscars?

VOTE: Summer of Soul

Best International Feature

Flee is one of my favorite movies of the year, but it’s nominated in three categories, meaning there are three opportunities to reward it, so I didn’t feel bad about voting for The Hand of God here, which I did because, I’ll be honest, I have a friend involved with it. Plus, it’s an extremely well-made film — a little slow, but extremely well made.

VOTE: The Hand of God

Best Cinematography

I was all set to go with West Side Story to recognize Janusz Kaminski’s brilliant work, but I thought about it and decided that I want to see a woman win this award. I don’t think that The Power of the Dog is a particularly creatively shot film, and I think the DP [Ari Wegner] had the built-in advantage of a beautiful setting — fake Montana — but sometimes it’s important to advance somebody in order to advance everybody.

VOTE: The Power of the Dog

Best Costume Design

I think that it’s going to be Cruella — the whole movie is set around its costumes, which are larger than life — which was probably the most watched movie in this category among people who have kids in their house. I really loved Cyrano, so I almost voted for it based just on that. But I ended up going for Nightmare Alley just because I’d like to see it win wherever it can.

VOTE: Nightmare Alley

Best Film Editing

It’s always tough to know what to do with this category because you don’t know what was a decision of an editor and what was a decision of a director, plus studios come in and start dictating what should and shouldn’t be in, and it can quickly become a committee decision. And then, what are we actually rewarding? Is it most editing? That would mean a vote for Hank Corwin, the editor of Don’t Look Up. Then there’s King Richard, which requires special editing to make the tennis look real, but is that enough reason to to give it an award? What I did was I called up three editors who I’ve worked with and asked them what they think was the best edited film of the year, because I couldn’t quite figure it out, and all three of them gave me the same answer: Tick, Tick … Boom!. So I went with the advice of my editors.

VOTE: Tick, Tick … Boom!

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

I had to vote for a really bad movie here, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, because the truth is that that particular makeup artist really fucking nailed it.

VOTE: The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Best Original Score

None of the four scores I heard — I didn’t see Encanto — are going to stand the test of time. But I’ve worked with Hans Zimmer, and he’s always great, and his score for Dune is really very good.

VOTE: Dune

Best Original Song

The winner is going to be the James Bond song [“No Time to Die” from No Time to Die], even though I think it’s an incredibly boring song which doesn’t change rhythm or melody and is a very slow-paced bunch of nothing. I’m really tempted to vote for Diane Warren [“Somehow You Do” from Four Good Days] because she’s a friend; she may be the most popular person in town, by the way — people love her as a human being. But, in the end, the Beyoncé song [“Be Alive” from King Richard], I thought, was just fantastic. I was really disappointed about one thing: On the Academy Screening Room, they put up a three-minute clip of the songs as they played in their movies. The problem is that Beyoncé’s song plays over the end-credits, with documentary footage of Richard Williams and his daughters talking over the song, and if that’s all you went by — as opposed to going and listening to a clean version of the song, which I did — then you aren’t getting the full experience of the song. She is just fantastic.

VOTE: “Be Alive,” King Richard

Best Production Design

This was one of the easiest votes for me. Nothing comes remotely close to Nightmare Alley, including Dune. Dune was able to create a completely fictional world, but what they did with Nightmare Alley was to put creativity into a realistic world. The carnival and houses are really heightened, but when you go into Cate Blanchett’s office, it’s very tall, angular and flat, like a completely different dominion. I think that they were trying to establish Cate almost as the devil, and therefore her world would be different. There was just so much thought and consideration that went into that.

VOTE: Nightmare Alley

Best Sound

I’m happy that there’s only one sound category now. It was always dumb when they had two [sound editing and sound mixing], which was like dividing cinematography between lighting and movement — it’s all of the same thing. There has been a tendency for this award to go to action films or war films, but to me musicals are the most difficult when it comes to sound.

VOTE: West Side Story

Best Visual Effects

I didn’t see Free Guy or Shang-Chi and the Legend of whatever [the Ten Rings]. This is the one category where I went for Dune. It was close to a no-brainer for me.

VOTE: Dune

Best Animated Short

This was a very difficult one for me. It boiled down to Robin Robin, which was, to me, sort of a prototypical Academy winner — it just looks like a very expensively made thing — and Bestia, which had amazing stop-motion animation and was such a fucking ballsy movie. It was, in a way, unbelievably ugly and horrific, but I ended up voting for it simply for the courage that was displayed by the subject matter. It was really something.

VOTE: Bestia

Best Documentary Short

I watched all five. I liked Audible, but I went with the basketball film [The Queen of Basketball]. I just was drawn to it. I’m interested in the topic.

VOTE: The Queen of Basketball

Best Live-Action Short

These were too difficult to get through, so I didn’t vote.

VOTE: [Abstain]

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