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Three anonymous Oscar voters share their super-secret ballots in key categories

“It’s a movie-movie for people who love movies,” says one Oscar voter of “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood.”
“It’s a movie-movie for people who love movies,” says one Oscar voter of “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood.”
( Andrew Cooper / Columbia Pictures)

Oscar voting ends today and academy members are putting the finishing touches on their ballots and wondering whether a vote for “Parasite” in the international feature film category is enough or if they should go all in and mark it for best picture as well.

We asked academy members from different branches — a writer, director and producer — to anonymously share their choices and the reasoning behind them. Some of the decisions were agonizing; some were clear-cut. But they were all made with consideration and care.

WRITER, woman in her 40s

Picture: There are a lot of great movies in this category, and a lot of great movies that didn’t make this category. I liked every single one of these movies quite a bit, which is rare for me. I’ve been trying to really think about what makes something a “best picture,” what historically has been considered a “best picture” and what I think of as a “best picture.”

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For me, it’s a movie that has great craft behind it as well as a grand scope in narrative, setting or emotion and, hopefully, all three. I think the emotion part has often been left out of best picture nominees, and I’m happy to see it represented in many of the movies here.

“Parasite” is the movie that feels like it fits the bill for me personally. “Parasite” is the movie we’ll be talking about years down the line, and not for the politics around it, but for how satisfying of a complete meal it is.

Director: Sam Mendes for “1917.” I thought this was such a gorgeously shot movie, and it had a quiet contemplation and grace to it that I hadn’t seen in other war movies. I thought “The Irishman” might sneak in there for me, but sometimes the CG felt like it limited the storytelling, even as I acknowledge that it was necessary for the movie to be made.

Actor: I thought Joaquin’s performance in “Joker” was fantastic. Complicated. Upsetting. Moving. But here’s a perhaps strange calculation I’m making. I think that Adam Driver could have played Joker just as well as Joaquin Phoenix, but I don’t think that Phoenix could have played Driver’s character in “Marriage Story.” I thought Driver knocked it out of the park in a much less showy, more internal role. I’d be happy with Phoenix winning too, though.

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Actress: A category where three women are playing actual people! It always feels a little unfair to judge performances that are fully created characters against characters that are channeling real people. That being said, watching someone nail the strength and the heartbreak of Judy Garland took this over the top for me, so it’s Renée Zellweger all the way.

Voter: “Adam Driver could have played Joker just as well as Joaquin Phoenix.”
Voter: “Adam Driver could have played Joker just as well as Joaquin Phoenix.”
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Supporting actor: Joe Pesci! I think the vote will be split here and Brad Pitt will probably get it, but I think part of that is his performance and part of it is that we just like giving Brad Pitt what he wants. However, I found myself continually surprised by the nuances of Joe Pesci’s performance, acting through the CG at times to bring tremendous layers to his character.

Supporting actress: I want to say Florence Pugh. But if I’m being honest, I’d be giving it to her not just based on this role, but based on this role plus her role in “Midsommar.” She made me love and appreciate Amy [March] in a way I never had, but I still found her performance in “Midsommar” to be more fierce and brave.

So I think I’m going to say Laura Dern for this one. I don’t even know what it is that is so perfect about her performance in “Marriage Story.” I tried to explain it to a friend who had not seen the movie and all I could come up with was, “She’s just warm and comforting and terrifying and also clearly in pain.” Laura Dern is a wonder.

Adapted screenplay: “Jojo Rabbit”! This was one of the most original movies I saw last year, and certainly the most original idea in this category. There were some great scripts nominated. But I think a lot of the magic in “Joker” was in Joaquin’s performance rather than the script, and I occasionally felt like Greta’s wonderful refreshing of “Little Women” felt too tied to the source material — in a way that it probably had to be. I appreciated the work of “Jojo Rabbit” more.

Original screenplay: It was between “Parasite” and “Knives Out” for me, but Rian [Johnson] writes one hell of a screenplay. Not a word wasted, rich characters, plenty of twists and an exceedingly original idea. I watch Rian’s movies for the immersive worlds he creates, big or small, and for the new language he seems to create for every single movie. That always starts with the script.

DIRECTOR, woman in her 50s

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Picture: “Parasite” has my vote. It was vivid and strange and cinematically thrilling and filled with the kind of political and creative urgency that I’ve been craving from popular entertainment lately. As far as I’m concerned, nothing else this year came close to that film’s specificity and weirdness.

“His vision feels like a whole one, filled with curiosity in all of humanity,” says an Oscar voter of her support for “Parasite” director Bong Joon Ho.
“His vision feels like a whole one, filled with curiosity in all of humanity,” says an Oscar voter of her support for “Parasite” director Bong Joon Ho.
(Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

Director: Bong Joon Ho displays a kind of film mastery that’s singular and deeply personal. And while I wish there were some female nominees in this category (as I do in this and almost every other year), I am heartened to see that Bong showed as much interest in his female characters as in his male characters. His vision feels like a whole one, filled with curiosity in all of humanity.

Actor: This is a toss-up for me. I loved Adam Driver so much in “Marriage Story”and, in fact, I admired so much about all of the performances in this category. But when push comes to shove, I think my vote goes to Joaquin Phoenix. He just owned the movie, and he brought humanity to a character that’s easy to fear, ridicule or dismiss.

Actress: I just loved Scarlett Johansson in “Marriage Story.” I loved getting to watch this woman think and process and adapt in front of me. It’s a beautiful performance.

Supporting actor: In a category occupied by giants of the screen, I’m voting for Tom Hanks and his deceptively quiet take on Fred Rogers. I loved that he brought spiritual gravity to Fred, and more than a suggestion of emotional storminess. The performance felt real and memorable and fully lived in to me.

Supporting actress: Every actor in this category does something vivid and fresh with their roles, but Florence Pugh has my vote. She took the character of Amy in “Little Women” — who historically has been demeaned or dismissed — and gave her fire, wit and admirable complexity. It’s a credit to Greta’s screenplay that Amy’s trajectory is as interesting as Jo’s.

Adapted screenplay: Greta Gerwig, “Little Women”

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Original screenplay: Rian Johnson, “Knives Out”

I’m disappointed by a lot of the nominations. The male-centricism is just deeply depressing to me. And I am so tired of women being murdered as a joke (thanks, Quentin!) or women being nearly mute or absent altogether (thanks to many of the male directors!).

PRODUCER, male in his 30s

Picture: “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood” absolutely floored me and as a movie lover, I would find it difficult not to vote for it. I was blown away by it the first time I saw it, and when I watched it again, I was even more blown away by it. It’s everything I want in a movie. It’s movie stars. It’s fun. It’s cinematic storytelling in the purest form. It’s a movie-movie for people who love movies.

Director: Sticking with “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood” and Tarantino. I did love “The Irishman.” What Scorsese is doing is pretty extraordinary, the conversation about his self-reflection and age and his body of work. In many ways, Tarantino is doing that same thing. And Tarantino hasn’t won, so that’s where my vote will go.

Adam Sandler, “Uncut Gems”
I’m very sad I can’t vote for Adam Sandler,” says an Oscar voter, praising the actor’s work in “Uncut Gems.”
(A24)

Actor: I’m very sad I can’t vote for Adam Sandler. His performance in “Uncut Gems” is by far, for me, the best of the year. Now I’m choosing between Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonathan Pryce and I’m leaning toward Pryce. I loved “The Two Popes,” which surprised me. It’s such a humane picture.

Actress: I think I’ll go with Scarlett Johansson. There’s a lot of subtle, beautiful stuff going on. As a parent, and I know she’s a parent too; she was tapping into some stuff that was pretty great and things I don’t see from her.

Supporting actor: Pitt for me is an absolute lock. It’s such a movie star performance.

Supporting actress: How do you not go with Laura Dern? She’s so good.

Adapted screenplay: “Two Popes,” “Irishman” and “Jojo Rabbit” are the ones that stick out. There’s something about the storytelling in “Jojo Rabbit,” and I love that it’s about kindness. Right now, though, I would say “The Irishman.” It’s enormous and there’s so much going on and it’s so well done.

Original screenplay: “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood” or maybe “Knives Out.” I’m still trying to choose. “Knives Out” was so tight and clever and smart. And it didn’t get a ton of stuff elsewhere. Again, just a movie-movie and so enjoyable. It was such a pleasure to see a movie in which kindness wins out, and I do appreciate that.


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