Oscar Watch: A Voter Speaks.

J.K. Simmons in 'Whiplash.' (Sony Pictures Classics)

J.K. Simmons, left, in ‘Whiplash.’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

When you work for The Hollywood Reporter, access to Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members is probably more readily available than from my desk here in western New York. THR is running a series of anonymous interviews with AMPAS members in the lead-up to the Oscars this weekend – to probe their ways of thinking and get the story behind the varied winners and losers – and what they found yesterday was a doozy.

The subject of the profile, a “longtime member of the Academy’s 378-member public relations branch,” offered up some remarkably cynical and unquestionably illuminating viewpoints on this year’s contenders, including:

  • Boyhood’s Patricia Arquette deserves to win for Best Supporting Actress – not for the strength of her performance, but for allowing herself to be filmed for 12 consecutive years without assistance from cosmetic surgery. “It’s a bravery reward…. Way to freakin’ go!”
  • Boyhood the film, on the other hand, isn’t her pick for Best Picture – “I never thought, ‘Wow, this is the one!’” – but she’ll choose The Imitation Game because “movie that, years from now, people will still watch and talk about.”
  • She’s voting for Michael Keaton for Best Actor in Birdman, largely because, well, because she likes Michael Keaton: “I’ve loved every interview that he’s done. He seems grateful, not particularly needy, and I don’t know when he’ll ever get another chance at this; the other nominees will.”
  • On J.K. Simmons in Whiplash: “while the rest of the world thinks [his] character is an overbearing, horrible monster, there are many people in Hollywood who would model themselves on that character.” She’s voting for him, she says, both on the strength of his performance “and because he was in 5,000 episodes of Law & Order.”
  • Like many of us, the difference between the Sound Editing and Sound Mixing awards is lost on her. “I never vote for these categories because I have no idea what’s good sound or bad sound — and believe me, I’m not alone among Academy members.”
  • Re Selma and its well-publicized snubs: “there’s no art to it. If the movie had been directed by a 60-year-old white male, I don’t think that people would have been carrying on about it to the level that they were.” And lest you think she’s conforming to accusations of AMPAS voters being racist: “they had to get into the Academy to begin with, so they’re not cretinous, snaggletoothed hillbillies.”

Setting aside her invention of the world’s greatest band name, ever (“Ladies and gentlemen, let’s give it up for the Cretinous Snaggletoothed Hillbillies!”), this voter has laid bare the essence of what I’m sure is a disturbingly commonplace mindset among her peers. It turns out that some Oscar voters don’t pick their winners based on the aesthetic or technical qualities of the work, but on random qualities such as likeability, showbiz politics and arbitrary considerations of legacy.

In other words, she’s just like the rest of us. Edge of Tomorrow was a universally well-regarded summer blockbuster last year, but relatively few people went to see it, largely because moviegoers are becoming leery of Tom Cruise’s public life. Most people don’t know J.K. Simmons by name, but they’ll recognize him from Law & Order or Oz and seek out a film because they liked him in those earlier roles. And admiring an actress for forgoing plastic surgery is just the flip side of automatically honoring films whose Hollywood-pretty movie stars consciously get ugly for their roles (see Charlize Theron in Monster or Christian Bale in American Hustle, to name a few).

I’d love to think AMPAS voters were immune to these petty and irrelevant biases, but that’s an unrealistic dream. Better, I think, to use moments of transparency like these to remember that when your favorite movie loses at the Oscars, it’s often due to reasons other than its relative quality. And the same goes for the ones that win.