Anonymous Oscar Ballots 2021: Two Producers Go All In on ‘Nomadland’ and ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’

With final Oscar ballots in Academy voters’ hands as of April 15, we’re moving forward with our fourth annual series of interviews with Academy voters from different branches for their candid thoughts on what got picked, overlooked, and overvalued in this odd pandemic year.

Producer #1:

One of the best things to come out of this challenging awards season has been the Academy Screening Room portal. It’s easy access and works perfectly. No need for screener DVDs! We’re missing the theaters for now, but we are saving the planet from DVD waste! Next: the trades online only, please!

The nominations were not shocking. A few surprises in the Best Actor/Actress categories, as there were performances of equal or greater merit that were left out, including Delroy Lindo in “Da 5 Bloods.”

I’m disappointed this year with Best Picture: not because an eligible film was overlooked, but rather some potentially great films were either delayed in getting made, delayed in getting released, or they were not greenlit at all. I felt the absence of larger-scale greatness in Best Picture this year. Eight very good films during a horrible time, but not a great, large-scale epic. There might be more to this than the pandemic. The human experience through film seems to continue to be more and more limited to low- and medium-budget indies.

But we vote for what we have, and the show must go on! The films are very good and they survived a global pandemic. Thanks to all the movies that were released this year. We needed you. Thank you Academy for figuring out a way to make it work under these unprecedented circumstances. The show will go on! Looking forward to watching.

Producer #2: The Academy screening room app was awesome. I don’t know who thought it up; it was great. It did require digital literacy. Perhaps Biden’s infrastructure bill can support a stronger Academy screening room next year. “Minari” was among the movies with interesting storytelling this year, not mainstream. Among many neorealist movies. So was “Nomadland,” and that incredible Mexican Netflix entry that was not nominated, “I’m No Longer Here.”

I got lavish Netflix gift boxes for both “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “Mank.” That was weird, to get a box with a bottle of expensive whiskey about a movie about a drunk man who vomits on William Randolph Hearst’s carpet. Wait a second, this was all about alcoholism! Honestly, I was was looking forward to “Mank,” and it was like, “Really? This is the experience I’m being taken through?”

“Judas” is genuinely powerful and stands on it own, but it matters whether a studio really gets behind something in an effective way. Josh Goldstein, the new head of marketing at Warner Bros., loved “Judas” when he saw it and made an extra effort to get it recognized. Here’s this movie that totally deserves its recognition, but holy shit, it’s getting it! There’s something great about that.

Best Picture

Producer #1: “Nomadland” had a big emotional effect on me. So did “Sound of Metal.” Also moved by “Minari,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Pieces of a Woman” [nominated for Best Actress, not Picture], and “The Father.” All strong indies. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and “Mank” are all we have this year representing slightly bigger scale. Both good, but not enough.

Where are the great, original, larger scale “Hollywood” films? Last year: “The Irishman,” “Little Women,” “1917,” “Joker,” “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood” … This year the smaller indies dominated more than ever, with “Nomadland” standing out for its new insights, originality, and inspiration. “Nomadland” would be a worthy nominee in any year.

I will be reviewing everything one more time before voting. There’s always a last-minute surprise after a second viewing! “Minari”? “Mank”? “Chicago 7”?

Producer #2: 

I put all eight in order. I’m still not sure whether weighting them takes away the power of your vote or diminishes it. I know numbers, budgets, and production schedules, but I’ve never mastered the nuances of what makes your choice the most assured. I’ve never tried to game the system. And so I wrestled with this. I ended up with “Nomadland” 1, “Judas” 2, “Minari” 3, “Promising Young Woman” 4, “Sound of Metal” 5, “The Father” 6, “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” 7 and “Mank” last.

Director

Producer #1: Chloé Zhao built something bold and very, very special.

Producer #2. Chloé  Zhao, “Nomadland,” no question.


“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

Netflix

Best Actress

Producer #1: Viola Davis was flawless.

Producer #2:  Viola Davis and Frances McDormand, gosh that’s hard. I voted for Frances [“Nomadland”]. In the end, there was something more nuanced about that performance. She won twice? I didn’t think of that — not enough of an Academy nerd.

Best Actor

Producer #1: I am rooting for Chadwick Boseman.

Producer #2: Chadwick Boseman. It’s an incredibly strong category, he deserves it on the merits, and there’s something emotional and necessary about it. I’m happy to recognize him.

[Producer #2 continues through the categories.]

Supporting Actor

Daniel Kaluuya, he’s the one. It’s a tough call. [Lakeith Stanfield] was good, but it’s a richer performance. Loved “Judas and the Black Messiah;” it’s a vivid story full of incident and consequence for anyone who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s.


Yuh-Jung Youn in "Minari"

Yuh-Jung Youn in “Minari”

A24

Supporting Actress

Great nominees. Youn Yuh-jun from “Minari,” absolutely.  I’m pulled toward her. Loved it.

Adapted Screenplay

“Nomadland.” It was so thoughtful, I wanted to recognize that. “Borat [Subsequent Moviefilm]” was one of the best movies of the year, I’m thrilled that it exists. “Nomadland” had some improvisation as well. I went with “Nomadland.”


“Judas and the Black Messiah”

Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

Original Screenplay

Great category. I voted for “Judas and the Black Messiah.” It found a more real way into [1968] than “Chicago 7.” I don’t mean closer to reality — a certain emotional authenticity. Because of its subtlety, I was drawn to the “Minari” screenplay as well, it was incredibly elegant.

I was not knocked out by “Chicago 7.” Paramount unloading that on Netflix was a deft move; good luck trying to get audiences to come out to movie theaters to see that. That allowed it to find the largest audience it probably could. I was heartened to see that story told. It is a good script. As brilliant an actor as he is, Eddie Redmayne was so not Tom Hayden. [Hayden] was the opposite of good looking. That is a stickler of a point. It pushed me away from the movie. But if Eddie Redmayne wants to be in your movie, do you say no?


"Soul"

“Soul”

Disney+

Animated Feature

Even though I thought “Wolfwalkers” was seriously great, I went with “Soul.” What great values worth voting for! It’s beautifully done. It deserved it on many levels.

Cinematography

I found myself thinking about the movies, not the cinematographers. The ASC winner and popular favorite is “Mank.” I went with “Judas and the Black Messiah.” It’s incredibly rich, with energy in the frames.

Costume Design

It’s a strong category. I thought “Ma Rainey” had a certain vibrancy to it.


“My Octopus Teacher”

Netflix

Documentary

Great, unbelievable category. So many strong films. I had to wrestle with this one. It was between “Crip Camp” and “My Octopus Teacher.” That was an agonizing choice. They both were about spiritual beauty. In the end, I went with the one that affirmed the earth. It was the pandemic. I went with it as storytelling.

Editing

“Sound of Metal,” because it was so important what each shot was. It was the movie where every choice mattered.

International Feature Film

Unbelievable category; each one of those movies is so rewarding. I went with “Better Days.” Something in me wanted to support Hong Kong. I know that’s not the reason one should vote. “Quo Vadis, Aida?” was so depressing, I’m still recovering. I know “Collective” is going to win, I get it, it’s undeniably powerful. I was never going to vote for “Another Round.” I was not drawn to the drinking aspect — not a comment on the filmmaking which was great, just a personal thing.


“The Present”

ShortsTV

Live Action Short Film

I was torn between the Israeli (“White Eye”) and the Palestinian (“The Present”) and went with the Palestinian. Because it was so emotionally powerful.

Makeup and Hairstyling

“Ma Rainey.”

Original Score

“Da 5 Bloods,” that film was robbed. And it was a great score. It did a lot of things in different time periods.

Original Song

Every song was about social justice, but the “Judas and the Black Messiah” song was the best. The “Chicago 7” song was incredibly contrived.

Production Design

“Ma Rainey”‘s design was a bigger, more emotional factor than “Mank.” I respect “Mank,” it had a high level of craft throughout, but I don’t think it broke new ground. Harsh thing to say.

Sound

I voted for “Greyhound,” 1) on the merits and 2) it was a chance to vote for a movie I thought was great.

Visual Effects

It’s one of my favorite categories, and I was confounded, because I did not see everything, so it wasn’t fair for me to vote. I take this category seriously, so I ended up not voting, which made me sad.

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