Josh Young
February 21, 2005 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Oscar gods thwarted controversy by ignoring The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11 in the major categories this year, but the slight did take some of the fun out of the nominations derby. At least that’s the sentiment of the three longtime Academy members — an actor, a producer, and a screenwriter — who agreed to discuss (anonymously) some of their choices with us. ”Jesus against Michael Moore for Best Actor would have been wild, but the nominees we have are about the best we could hope for, quality-wise,” says our screenwriter.

The Actor

Despite working eight consecutive months, our actor managed to watch all the films in the major categories. His verdict? ”I was disappointed with all of the movies,” he says. ”In the old days, when the studio had final cut, movies were shorter and better. I liked In Good Company because it had lovely performances — but particularly because it was an hour and 50 minutes.” His picks:

Million Dollar Baby
No contest. The Aviator was too long: ”I looked at the clock a few too many times.” He wasn’t intoxicated by Sideways, and he has no real opinion of Finding Neverland. He calls Ray ”a wonderful movie,” but declares that Million Dollar Baby is what movies are about — ”great characters, wonderful storytelling; heart brought right up to the forefront.”

Martin Scorsese, The Aviator
”Clint Eastwood is the best storyteller in the bunch, but I’m giving it to Marty out of sentimental reasons — he should have gotten it for Raging Bull.” Interestingly, he didn’t vote for Scorsese in 2003 for Gangs of New York. ”I sat there on both movies going, ‘Ah, come on, Marty, cut something!”’ Still, he’s hoping ”to right a 24-year-old wrong.”

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Aviator
And now, a word about acting. ”[Foxx’s] Ray was an imitation,” he explains. ”To get an Academy Award, you have to create it all yourself.” He dismissed Johnny Depp outright (”He threw his performance away so much that he threw it off the screen”), and let Don Cheadle down easy (”a fine job in a fine movie, but not a winner”). ”It was between Clint and Leo, and Clint’s won enough things. Plus, I really enjoyed Leo’s performance.”

Annette Bening, Being Julia
”She was hysterical!” he bellows. ”The character is overdone, but overdone in the right way. Annette Bening had such respect for that woman. She played that woman at the top of her intelligence. She wasn’t making fun of her.” Hilary Swank ranked ”a close second.”

Virginia Madsen, Sideways
He had a passing, prurient interest in Closer‘s Natalie Portman (”that scene where she’s lying on the bed is so great”), and he nearly voted for Cate Blanchett. A distinction between Foxx’s Ray Charles and Blanchett’s Katharine Hepburn: ”I forgot about her imitation after a while and I started watching this character and her sadness, whereas Ray was a strict imitation.” But he toasts Madsen because ”she had that character inside out.”

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