With the 88th annual Oscar ceremony just two weeks away, EW spoke to six different members of the Academy (under strict conditions of anonymity) about who they are voting for this year and why. And, just like this year’s race, their choices are all over the map.
Our panel includes: a 20-year veteran in the Actors branch, an Oscar-winning actress who’s been acting for several decades, an Academy Award-winning screenwriter specializing in high-stakes drama, a director active since the 1990s known for his political thrillers, a veteran publicist who’s overseen many an Oscar campaign, and a producer who toggles between quirky drama and effects-driven spectacles.
There is, of course, some major consensus — just hand Leonardo DiCaprio his statue already. But others might surprise you. And best of all, they explain the choices they made. We wonder if you will agree.
The Actor: No film quite captured why you go to the movies in the way The Revenant did. This is the full package — the story, the acting, the directing, the scope, the cinematic expression. For me, it had everything.
The Actress: Mad Max: Fury Road. This movie was the most engaging on every level. It’s a great example of why I want to go to the movies — to be completely absorbed in a fictitious world. And I loved that there were so many women in the movie. It was quite amazing.
The Screenwriter: Brooklyn. It will never win, but it’s a sound film with a nicely complex emotional tone.
The Director: I found the inventiveness of The Big Short immeasurable. I’m always fascinated when a movie can be something you’ve never seen before. In this case, it wasn’t due to any visual tricks — it was more about the script — which put it beyond any other movie this year.
The Publicist: Spotlight. To me it was between Spotlight and The Big Short. But as a publicist, I’m fascinated by journalism and by the fact that a scandal like this couldn’t be buried today like it was back then. I loved the relevance of both films, but my vote goes to Spotlight.
The Producer: Spotlight. I waver back and forth among four: The Revenant, Spotlight, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Big Short. But in the end, Spotlight took a “Who would want to see a movie about that?” subject and made it emotionally resonant with subtle and beautiful performances.
The Actor: Alejandro G. Iñárritu. He turned the difficulty of the location and the story into a cinematic spectacle and celebrated the brutality and beauty of the landscape while doing the same thing with the actors and their bodies. He made a film that warranted the big screen.
The Actress: Lenny Abrahamson. It’s between him and George Miller, but gun to my head, I pick Lenny. Room was brilliantly and deftly realized. The vast majority takes place in a 10 by 12 space, and to have it elicit so many big, raw emotions with such constraints was truly impressive.
The Screenwriter: George Miller. Mad Max: Fury Road had more cinematic gusto than just about all the others put together. It was wild and willing to fail, even though it didn’t, which is especially notable in a world in which so few directors these days take aesthetic risks of any kind.
The Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu. He introduced us to a visual world that we’ve never seen before. He did it with his director of photography, but the idea germinated with Alejandro. Plus, it’s quite a smorgasbord of realistic acting, and that comes from a very strong director.
The Publicist: Tom McCarthy. I loved his storytelling, and I found the flow of the movie amazing. I like the way he slowly revealed the information. It was invigorating.
The Producer: George Miller. I would have voted for Ridley Scott for The Martian had he been nominated, but I’m voting for Miller, because he took an incredibly simple story and built a universe on top of it that was alive, perverse, enthralling, and complicated—and he surprised at every moment.
The Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio. I know what it takes to do what he did, and you leave a piece of yourself behind to give that performance. It cost him, and the audience is the beneficiary of that cost. It was an elemental performance.
The Actress: Leonardo DiCaprio. This isn’t a vote for a career achievement. He did a great job. I could relate to working in extremely cold conditions. Sometimes it’s so cold it’s hard to even act. I felt for his character and for what he was going through.
The Screenwriter: Eddie Redmayne. No one was inspiring this year. But if I had to pick one performance, it would be Eddie, because he’s always good.
The Director: Leonardo DiCaprio. Any vegetarian who will eat a raw bison liver for art has my vote.
The Publicist: Leonardo DiCaprio. His performance deserves to be recognized. Leo is always challenging himself, and he gets better and better with each job. I think his moment has finally come. It was grueling to watch, but it was an amazing performance.
The Producer: Leonardo DiCaprio. Without his performance, The Revenant is a beautiful but unemotional movie. Who else could topline a brutal, period-based, frequently silent, R-rated story of survival and attract the audience this movie has? It’s unbelievable.
The Actor: Brie Larson. The sheer amount of emotion she was able to convey was admirable. So much of Brie’s performance was about being in the present but also conveying history, and that is very difficult to do. No other performance had that degree of depth.
The Actress: Brie Larson. I was blown away by her performance. She was so nuanced and complicated and layered. The intimacy and detail were breathtaking.
The Screenwriter: Saoirse Ronan. Authenticity goes a long way with me, and her performance was about as real as they come.
The Director: Charlotte Rampling. I love the beautiful realism of Rampling’s performance. It’s courageous to put your age out there like that. And I really loved her in The Verdict.
The Publicist: Saoirse Ronan. I thought her performance was amazing. Brie was great in Room, too, but that was another movie that was very difficult to watch. Brooklyn was a charming story, and I really enjoyed my time watching her on the screen.
The Producer: Brie Larson. The first hour of Room was the most emotionally wrenching experience I’ve had in the cinema in quite a while. I literally couldn’t breathe. The second hour became a little soapy for me, but Brie Larson was subtle throughout. It was a masterful performance.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The Actor: Sylvester Stallone. I was impressed with how much of the action star he was willing to leave behind to play a man whose best years are behind him. It takes a degree of humility, vulnerability, and bravery for an actor who’s built a career on strength to do that.
The Actress: Sylvester Stallone. It was a great performance. To play a character you played almost 40 years ago and to have it feel so connected and so raw, I thought it was a real achievement.
The Screenwriter: Mark Rylance. He just owned it. He was subtle. It seemed like he wasn’t hiding behind a mask. Plus, he’s due. Tom Hardy was pretty great in The Revenant, but he can get it next time he eats someone’s face on screen.
The Director: Sylvester Stallone. In the absence of Idris Elba, this category is a fraud. It’s one of the greatest performances in the past 30 years, and its omission makes me almost not want to vote in this category. But like 95 percent of the other people here, I vote for Sly based on nostalgia.
The Publicist: Sylvester Stallone. It’s so great to come back to a role almost 40 years after playing him the first time. He’s great in it, and I love the idea of him being recognized 40 years later for the same character. I’m genuinely so happy for him.
The Producer: Sylvester Stallone. That the original movie spoke to a young man [Ryan Coogler] who grew up to be a filmmaker and made this sequel all those years later—and repaid that gift to Stallone by helping him shape this performance—that’s too great a story not to honor.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The Actor: Kate Winslet. I barely recognized her in the first act of the film, and her sparring with Michael Fassbender was one of the most exciting aspects of the movie. It was a transformative performance.
The Actress: Jennifer Jason Leigh. Here she was in a movie with seven men. She was the only female, and she was able to steal the show. Her portrayal was so spirited. It made such an impact in a sea of strongly-drawn male characters.
The Screenwriter: Kate Winslet. I’d give Kate an award for ordering pizza, so…
The Director: Rooney Mara. I was entranced by this movie, and I thought her performance was utterly sincere. It absolutely tore at me.
The Publicist: Alicia Vikander. She was absolutely extraordinary. The performance is amazing, and she was the best thing in the movie. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.
The Producer: Alicia Vikander. I’m voting for her because I thought Ex Machina was the best female performance this year. Everyone in this category was wonderful, particularly Rooney Mara, but I was really blown away by Vikander in not one but two roles, so she gets my vote.