OSCAR: Hammond Polls Academy Voters

With ballots out and not due back until 5 PM on February 22nd, I decided to talk to a sampling of Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voters directly to see how they’re picking their winners. By doing this very unscientific survey in the past, I could gauge if an upset was coming. For instance, in 1992, I found that voters I spoke with were almost unanimously choosing long shot Marisa Tomei. Bingo. I won the Oscar pool with that prediction. In 2005, I found an overwhelming surge for Crash among all but one voter I canvassed. Similarly, just days before the 2007 Oscars, I found a groundswell of support for Marion Cotillard. For this Oscar year, I conducted my informal poll by phone or in person. So here are my findings to date: I am picking up some interesting trends. Not just the expected strong support for The King’s Speech (it’s real), but also a surprising amount of backing for The Fighter. It has been the most mentioned movie after The Social Network and could figure significantly by drawing mostly first- and second-place votes. The Social Network also drew many mentions. Although some of the people I spoke with have already cast their ballots, most have not (at least when I talked to them). Members are supposed to be discreet about revealing their voting, but many were generous in sharing their thought process at this point as long as they remain anonymous.

Here are some snapshots from the conversations:

Golden Globe-winning producer/director/actor: “I am really torn between The King’s Speech, The Social Network, and The Fighter. These were all fine films. I am thinking I will split my vote this year and maybe go for King’s Speech for Best Picture and David Fincher for Best Director. I thought the rhythms he got in The Social Network were brilliant. He did a great job with that script. I don’t know, this year is very tough, but that’s probably the way I will go.”

Publicity branch guy with no connection to The King’s Speech: “Many of the older voters that I see at the Academy all the time seem to be falling in line for The King’s Speech and voting the ticket. I get a strong feeling about that. I thought it was the best overall and favor Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter,  as well as Director and Original Screenplay. Although I also really loved The Fighter and The Social Network.”

Actress in her 50s: “I have to say I  loved The Fighter. There wasn’t a bad performance and it was so unexpected. Also, sorry, but I don’t really get the Natalie Portman thing. I thought she was over the top in Black Swan. I did like Annette Bening but I am voting for Jennifer Lawrence who was remarkable in Winter’s Bone. There was a special, very authentic, quality to that performance that touched me.

Former Oscar-nominated Supporting Actor in his 60s: “For picture, The Fighter is the one I had the best time with, although there are many good choices this year. For Best Actor, I am in the Javier Bardem camp. I thought what he did in that film [Biutiful] was almost a master class in acting. I’m hoping he wins.”

Guy in the executive branch:  “For me it’s about what is going to be remembered 10 or 20 years from now  and, again for me, the simple answer is The Social Network. I thought that was going to win but I don’t think so now after all The King’s Speech awards, but it’s got my vote.”

One-time Supporting Oscar-nominated veteran actress in her 80s: “I definitely think the best picture of the year among those I’ve seen is The Social Network. Others like True Grit were good. But this one was Academy level. It has the quality you want in a Best Picture, don’t you think?”

Her actress friend, another longtime Academy member:  “The King’s Speech all the way.”

Marketing person with an uncanny knack for voting winners:  “I loved Black Swan and will definitely vote for Natalie. For Best Picture, The King’s Speech and Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, too. Supporting Actress, I like Melissa Leo. For Best Director, I think I will go with Tim.” [When I asked who “Tim” was, she said “the director of Kings Speech” — so count that as a vote for Tom Hooper.]

Former studio head: “I liked The King’s Speech. I don’t really get Inception. I have to say The Social Network is the film among the 10 nominees that I was most impressed with. My favorites were Fair Game and Barney’s Version, but since they weren’t nominated, it’s The Social Network. For Best Actress, definitely Annette Bening.”

First-time voter: “Inception for Best Picture. But I also liked The Fighter and think if anything could upset, it’s that. It’s a really good movie. I am voting for David O. Russell as Best Director. And for Melissa Leo. Javier Bardem for Best Actor because he was clearly in a separate class. And Annette Bening for actress. I have seen everything. I’m trying to be a good voter. ”

New York-based voter: “The Social Network is my choice for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. But I am concerned because it’s practically invisible now in New York. It’s like Sony has given up. There are a lot of members here and the perception is that it’s all about The King’s Speech now. They have TV ads running constantly. I’m also voting for Jesse Eisenberg even though I know he doesn’t have a chance against Colin Firth. And the feeling I get is Best Actress will be Natalie Portman, but I thought Nicole Kidman was extraordinary in The Rabbit Hole.”

Younger voter: “Not finalized with what I’m doing. Still need to see a handful of films based on the nominations and then I’ll make the call. I will say that I’m not voting for The Social Network. Good movie, but definitely not Best Picture. I’m so happy that it got shut out of the last few awards. Enough of certain organizations, like critics groups, trying to act cool and hip by voting for it. And besides, it peaked too early.”

Mid-50s actress/producer: “I loved The Fighter. I really loved The Kids Are All Right. Both Annette Bening and Julianne Moore were wonderful in it. It’s a pretty good year, but I still had trouble filling out my ballot with 10 movies.”

Veteran Publicist: “I am going to put Toy Story 3 number one on my ballot, then The King’s Speech and The Fighter, and leave it at that for Best Picture. Definitely not Black Swan. Having mentioned all that, I will go with David Fincher for Best Director on The Social Network because I thought what he did with that material was pretty extraordinary. As for Best Actress, I hate the campaign for Bening that says ‘This is Annette Bening’s Year’. It’s almost like saying we have to give it to her, but I will probably vote for her anyway. I will vote for Amy Adams in supporting for The Fighter because I didn’t know she had it in her. She reminded me of Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich. I will tell you I am definitely with The King’s Speech for Best Sound Mixing. Anytime I can listen to a film and actually understand what English people are saying, I will vote for it.”

  1. WOW, seems like The Fighter has a small chance to pull a “Crash” after all, and Bening and Rush are much stronger based on this, than I expected, I thought for sure that Portman and Bale have these Oscars in the bag.

  2. This will be the most predictable Oscars in years.”The Fighter” may have gained momentum over “True Grit” but not enough to overtake ‘King’s Speech’ or ‘social network.’ The most laughable nominee is Annette Bening which is clearly a Supporting role. Julianne Moore had a more complicated role in their film. Natalie Portman and Colin Firth are a lock to Win in their respective categories. Toy Story 3 will take Best Animated Film….YAWN!

  3. Barney’s Version was definitely one of the best pics of the year with stellar performances esp by Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman. It also should have been nominated for best adapted screenplay, as it achieved the impossible by bringing Mordechai Richler’s complex final novel successfully to the screen. Sadly, it just goes to show that too much of this is about campaigning and $$.

  4. I predict Javier Bardem will win. Anyone that actually watches all five performances will vote for him. He is in another league.

  5. “For me it’s about what is going to be remembered 10 or 20 years from now.”

    Really? Because if that’s what the Academy cares about (and I think it should care about this), then TSN is NOT the right choice; Inception is. I think older voters have the misconception that TSN somehow resonates with the Facebook generation, but that simply isn’t the case. To us, it’s a well written and directed topical film, but the fact that it’s about Facebook doesn’t give it any special significance. Inception is the movie our generation will remember in 20 years when the fogeys who love TSN so much on our behalf have croaked (no offense).

    1. Completely agree about Inception being the most remembered film in 20 years. Definitely the most remembered film in 2010. When I tell myself “Ok what’s the one film I remember from 2008,” It’s never Slumdog Millionaire (Which was good), its always The Dark Knight. Lol so I doubt that’s what Academy voters really consider when it comes to winning films.

      Also I’m in the Facebook generation (Had it since it was exclusive for college students) and I had no desire to see The Social Network when I heard about it. Neither did anyone else I know. Not that it isn’t a good film, but it definitely doesn’t resonate with the younger generation as much as they’re implying that it does…

  6. I hope Nicole KIdman pulls an upset and is announced Best Actress. She was superb in that role, but alas I think the winner will be Natalie.

  7. Kind of surprised by the shunning True Grit is getting. Thank you Coen bros for making an awesome western.

  8. Can this admiration for Annette Bening in The Kids Are Alright just stop? Her performance did not have the impact that Julianne Moore’s did. Enough already.

  9. I really don’t understand this love for the fighter, the performances are amazing throughout but the film in general is not. To me the film felt mediocre at best. King’s speech, honestly what a travesty if that wins, It’s as if the academy took ten steps backward. Nice to see inception and toy story 3 were mentioned, even if it was once, honestly the two films that should be the frontrunners. Toy story 3 was the an emotional thrill ride that proved third film don’t have to suck. Inception the most ambitious, thought-provoking film in a long time. Inception is the reason you fall in love with film, its everything right in Hollywood. It’s a shame that christopher Nolan doesn’t get enough credit for his work. The film that I feel deserve to win is social network (not my favourite), out of the bunch of nominee that have a chance of winning.

  10. I just don’t understand the appeal of The Fighter. Very standard been there done that film elevated by Bale, Leo, and Adams. Why are people so passionate over it?

    I hope we get 1 upset. Everything is so boring and bland now in the race. Everything gets settled so fast.

    I am relieved to see voters considering Bening, Lawrence, and Kidman as I think Black Swan sets a horrible example of what it takes to win Best Actress these days. Over the top doesn’t even describe it.

    1. I think Natalie Portman was good, but I agree that it was nice to see other actresses being considered. I hate when people say “So and so is a shoo-in to win this award” because its labeled an ‘upset win.’ I’d be happy to see Jennifer Lawrence or Nicole Kidman win.

  11. The Academy members are such a yawn of a group. No one is going to think much about The King’s Speech in years to come. THE SOCIAL NETWORK is the thinking person’s best picture, which is why critics (a more educated, erudite group) went with it.

  12. So, most of them said The King’s Speech for picture–one marketing guy is voting for Hooper in the Best Director category, even though he doesn’t know his name–and on this poll I saw more support for Bening than Portman and for Rush over an unmentioned Bale…wow. If the Oscars really play out like this article, the Academy will cement for a new generation their status as “out of touch” like when they overlooked such films as The Graduate, Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now and Raging Bull in the past. Well done, AMPAS! After all, it’s tradition to allow future generations to ridicule by staying this extremely far behind the curve.

    1. The support for Bening is interesting. Bardem shows up a lot, too. But I don’t see an upset happening for either one. Rush is only mentioned twice-both in a King’s Speech actors grouping. Beyond that, supporting actor isn’t even mentioned-even by those gushing about The Fighter. I think it’s fair to guess several of the unnamed voters who gush about The Fighter are Bale votes. His performance kind of is the film for what seems like the majority of those who see it.

      The Fighter love just makes me think it has enough strength to hold both of the supporting categories even if TKS makes a killing Oscar night. We’ll see.

  13. The younger voter’s comments about The Social Network are very interesting. I wonder what other divergences there are between older and younger Academy members.

    1. On the internet no one knows you’re a dog an studio intern who gets paid to speak for “young people.”

      Personally I tend to be wary of people who claim their opinion stands for an entire generation in a Deadline posts about the Oscars.

      Although I actually agree with the sentiment that in 20 years The King’s Speech will not be remembered as anything other than a footnote. Inception’s imagery and The Social Network being an endless goldmine for snappy quotes give them much better odds at becoming actually memorable.

    2. I find it really interesting that so many critics liked the Social network- almost everyone I know that saw it thought it was just an ok movie, not really great & not anything that should win an Oscar for sure.And they are younger.

  14. Thanks for the insight, Pete. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I read things like this,

    “I will tell you I am definitely with The King’s Speech for Best Sound Mixing. Anytime I can listen to a film and actually understand what English people are saying, I will vote for it.”

    And I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot academy members split their voter, like this voter.

    “I am really torn between The King’s Speech, The Social Network, and The Fighter. These were all fine films. I am thinking I will split my vote this year and maybe go for King’s Speech for Best Picture and David Fincher for Best Director.”

  15. Guy in the executive branch is clever!

    The younger voter sounds bitter. He/she is so annoying! I bet none of his/her films are as loved by the critics hence the crab mentality.

  16. If they’re voting for what will be remembered in 20 years time, then clearly Inception would win. Whether you care for the film or not, it was the most talked about picture of 2010.

  17. I’m among the facebook generation-and participated when it was newly launched, back when participation was limited to colleges. I didn’t like the social network. It was a well made MTV film-thanks in part to sorkin and fincher. But on that same token, I felt that it was fincher and sorkins weakest work. It was very eh. I hope fincher doesn’t win for this. He can do better-and will.

  18. Remember the SAG awards folks. Almost always a predictor of who will win.

    That means Firth, Portman, Leo and Bale.

    Unless of course, there’a a backlash for Leo buying ads for herself.

    1. Although they did last year, the Oscars usually don’t follow the SAGs 100%. I think Leo’s chances could be hurt not so much by a “backlash,” but by splitting votes with Amy Adams from the same movie.

  19. Good article, Pete. I’m starting to think Annette Bening can pull an upset for Best Actress–it feels like the older voters of the Academy who “don’t get” Black Swan are going to shift their support to her. I admired Christian Bale in The Fighter, but I want Geoffrey Rush to win in that category, and hope he can pull it off. Also, Amy Adams gave the better performance for me than Melissa Leo–but I’d still vote for Hailee Steinfeld. But if Bening had just been put in supporting, the way she should have been, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation, because she would be a lock to win.

    I love The King’s Speech and The Social Network, and when my two favorite movies of the year are battling against each other for an Oscar win, that’s when you know it’s been a strong year.

    1. Hailee Steinfeld gave an incredible performance but it always irks me when what is obviously a lead performance is nominated in the supporting category because it gives her and the film a better chance of winning. Melissa Leo was amazing in what was truly a supporting performance. Also, The Fighter was the only movie I saw in the theater where the audience literally stood up and cheered. How often does that happen these days?

      Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes were phenomenal in Winter’s Bone as well.

  20. “A more educated, erudite group?” I’ve always thought of critics as failures. Has anyone ever chosen to be a critic? If anyone ever saw the courting of critics by the film industry they would never believe anything they read. At one point, with Pauline Kael, John Simon, Dwight McDonald, and a few others, film criticism had some meaning (as did films). That era is over. These critics had a passion to recognize a new medium as a creative force. David Mamet has said that film has regressed to the Nickelodeon era. I agree. It’s only about nickels going into the machines. TSN is no exception, except that not enough nickels are going into the machine.

  21. I don’t see the great thing they see in The Fighter either. I thought is had in amazing ending but It isn’t something truly original. I also can’t see the reason why people think TSN is such a great movie!! It was all dialogue and still kept me awake, I’ll give it that. But I think they should just have made a book and it would have been the same thing. I Have so much respect for the King’s Speech but At the end of the day I feel that in 5 years it will be a yawn.
    Inception was amazing and deserves recognition. I mean it was about a guy who goes into people’s dreams. It’s not everyday that such a korny sounding storyline becomes something truly exciting to watch. To be honest I believe Toy Story deserves the best. I mean come on even Shrek, which was a bomb hit, wasn’t able to beat times change in tastes. Toy Story has not only conquered the younger generation, but has also managed to keep the college generation loving it. Not many movies do that. To be honest I would give it the prize out of respect. It deserves much more than best animated movie of the year. It deserves Best MOVIES (plural) of all times.
    It’s about time animation gets it. They should just stop putting animated movies on Best Feature out of respect because if this one doesn’t get the prize, not one animated movie will.

  22. The Social Network is a film about a Dick. I don’t think people want to remember a film 20 years from now about a young college student who takes an idea from others, makes it better and makes billions of dollars off of it. The film was good, don’t get me wrong, but really was it Best Picture of the Year quality? I believe it had the best score of all other films and props need to go out to Trent Reznor for his achievement. Ask yourself, did this film give you goosebumps when you walked out of the theatre? Did you think about it for hours if not days afterward, or is this just a film that got people talking because it had a gimmick of present day technology which we can all relate to on a personable level? A best picture in my opinion is a film that moves you, if not changes your views on life. Makes you feel something deep down and resonates for days if not weeks after. In my opinion the films that are nominated this year are quality pieces of work. The fighter is 2nd best and will will a few acting awards. True Grit was light and missed the bus with plenty of opportunity. Inception was a film about nothing important, just a guy who should of had his kids sent to France instead of going through some rich kids mind to plant an idea to destroy everything his father worked so hard to build in his life. The King’s Speech, a film about a king with a stuttering problem who gets through his problem to give the most important speech to his war torn country. This film opened up on so many levels and left the audience walking out amazed. This one gave me goosebumps. Truly surprising at how I had zero interest in this film but once I saw it I was amazed.

    1. Your post smells of a Studio Intern trying to slander the competition for Papa Weinstein….just saying!
      “The Social Network” has a dazzling script, an on-point cast, and a director with a definitive vision…it may not be as emotionally engaging as “The Fighter” or “The King’s Speech” but it speaks to our times/generation…I hope it pulls an upset!!

    2. I really had to respond to this. You don’t think TSN should win Best Picture because it is about “a Dick.” You felt “emotionally moved” by TKS when you walked out of the theater and thought about it for days? You need to see more movies because the period piece about a real person overcoming a disability to do great things is Oscar Bait 101. I came out of TKS thinking, “Eh, that was a good movie, but nothing special beyond the acting.” It’s the same reaction I get from watching HBO films that tackle similar subject matters like John Adams–also, directed by Tom Hooper. TKS is so by the numbers. I do believe Firth is deserving and if Bale’s turn in The Fighter had not been this year, Rush should have won too. But Best Picture? There are a plethora of great films that are about unsavory and complex characters that are masterpieces remembered for generations: Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Wall Street, Pulp Fiction, etc. You’re throwing in your lot with Driving Miss Daisy, Shakespeare in Love and Crash.

      TSN is another masterpiece told with an out-of-this-world screenplay and crackerjack direction that could have been shot as a by-the-numbers biopic (see TKS), but instead was visceral, surprising and thrilling. The quality of cinema in that film made me see it twice and think of its cultural importance again and again.

      Come March, nobody will talk about TKS again other than in the: “Why did that win Best Picture?” conversations to come.

    3. I agree. TSN was a very good movie. But I didn’t spare a thought for those people/characters for one moment after I left the theater. Who gives a shit about a bunch of rich guys fighting over money/power/influence? They’re all still rich with power/influence at the end of the day.

      TKS was, for lack of a better word, inspiring. They made me care about those characters. I thought about them afterward, they stuck with me. *shrug* I felt the same way about 127 Hours–wonderful, wonderful film that’s getting too little press.

      1. Yes, The King’s Speech was “inspiring,” in the same vein “My Left Foot,” “Shine” and “A Beautiful Mind” were “inspiring.”

        A fine film with some world class actors, but, as others have stated, it’s by the numbers oscar bait 101.

        1. What can I say? I’m easily manipulated, I guess.

          I just can’t work up any outrage over TKS winning the Oscar. Great films stand the test of time. What’s the better film: Raiders of the Lost Ark or Chariots of Fire? Both came out in 1981, but I know which one I’ve watched about 100 times. The best will last and the rest will be forgotten.

          I’m not convinced that either TKS or TSN will relevant in 10 years. But they’ll both still be great movies.

  23. The Benning/Portman race acknowledges the talent they brought to their roles…hopefully somewhere along the way (Spirit Awards??), Michelle Williams can be honored for the talent and honesty she brought to her portrayal.

    1. Agreed, as much as I loved Black Swan, Toy Story 3, and The Social Network Blue Valentine was my favorite of 2010 and both Williams and Gosling were outstanding.

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