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4 anonymous Oscar voters get “very” candid about secret ballot picks: “Maestro” is 'vanity show,' 'hated' “Poor Things”

"It’s so sad that our country has gone so far backwards that 'Barbie' is considered radical feminism. It’s still a movie about a doll," a director tells EW.

From an industry marketer hailing the past calendar year as "the best year for movies" in decades to a prolific director slamming some of 2023's most beloved titles as "uncomfortable" (sorry, Poor Things) and an "actor's vanity show" (apologies, Bradley Cooper!), Entertainment Weekly's panel of anonymous Academy Awards voters had some, uh, disparate — and super shady — thoughts while voting for winners at the 2024 Oscars.

Before Sunday's ceremony — which will include likely Oscar victories for front-running contenders including Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan, Cillian Murphy, Lily Gladstone, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, and Robert Downey Jr. — EW polled a group of working Hollywood professionals and current Academy members (whose identities will remain a secret) on who they voted for to win this year. And while their answers might not shock you, what they have to say about some of this year's biggest competitors may.

<p>Adobe Stock; Warner Bros; Universal Pictures; Focus Features; Netflix - Design: Alex Sandoval</p> EW interviews 4 anonymous Academy voters for their secret ballot Oscars picks

Adobe Stock; Warner Bros; Universal Pictures; Focus Features; Netflix - Design: Alex Sandoval

EW interviews 4 anonymous Academy voters for their secret ballot Oscars picks

Take, for example, a marketing specialist's assessment of Barbie director Greta Gerwig's supposed "snub" in the Best Director category, which many alleged was the result of misogyny — despite the Academy's increasingly international directors branch heralding French filmmaker Justine Triet with a nomination.

"My takeaway is that it has nothing to do with her gender, it has to do with the film," the marketer tells EW. "The international vote is very strong, which is how Justine Triet got in and how people were able to discover [her Best Picture nominee Anatomy of a Fall.] I don’t look at it as a snub. That’s an easy, clickbait headline, and it’s a simplistic way to talk about the nominations, but there’s a lot more nuance to it."

For more hot takes on this year's Oscars, read our secret ballot interviews polling Academy members in this year's biggest categories, before the 96th Academy Awards air Sunday at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on ABC.

EW's anonymous 2024 Academy voter panel

The Actress: Decades of on-screen appearances in movies and on television shows cap this performer's eclectic filmography.

The Director: This award-nominated filmmaker has earned their reputation of excellence on screens both big and small.

The Marketer: An industry veteran who regularly promotes both awards season darlings and major commercial projects.

The Writer: With a long list of industry credits, this scribe has penned and produced everything from A-list star vehicles to notable genre entries in film and TV.

Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures Cillian Murphy in 'Oppenheimer'
Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures Cillian Murphy in 'Oppenheimer'

Oscars secret ballot picks for Best Picture

Marketer: Oppenheimer speaks volumes to excellence of filmmaking and the power of what a film can do. On paper, I don’t think a year ago we would’ve thought this would be a zeitgeist moment, and Oppenheimer incorporated all the elements, from an incredible ensemble to a phenomenal script to the craftspeople — top to bottom, a superlative film. The headline should be to stop releasing movies in the last two months of the year. You don’t need to be released in the last two or three months of the year to become part of the conversation as a nominee or winner.... I didn’t care for The Zone of Interest. It came out of the gate so acclaimed, I had high expectations, and I found the film incredibly self-indulgent. I was disappointed, I wanted to feel something, I wanted to be moved, and I felt frustrated by that film.

  1. Oppenheimer

  2. Past Lives

  3. Poor Things

  4. The Holdovers

  5. Anatomy of a Fall

  6. Barbie

  7. Killers of the Flower Moon

  8. American Fiction

  9. Maestro

  10. The Zone of Interest

Director: Nobody was more excited to see Poor Things than me, and then I hated it! I was so shocked. I love this director, [Yorgos Lanthimos,] I love all these actors, how could I hate this movie so much? It might be that I was watching it at home on the small screen, but it felt like it was trying to make this comment on misogyny, but it ended up doing misogyny, for like, three hours. Watching all these men wanting to f--- Emma Stone, who was a baby in a woman’s body, was really uncomfortable.... There’s no denying it was beautiful filmmaking, I just couldn’t get around the men wanting to f--- a baby.

I hated Maestro. Absolutely hated it. If you’re going to tell a story about Leonard Bernstein, why did you pick the least interesting aspect to focus on for so long. If you’re going to go so far with the makeup and prosthetics, God forbid Bradley Cooper cover up his piercing beautiful blue eyes to be accurate. I don’t think Leonard Bernstein had blue eyes. I think he famously did not. That was such an actor’s vanity show.

  1. American Fiction

  2. The Zone of Interest

  3. Past Lives

  4. The Holdovers

  5. Barbie

  6. Anatomy of a Fall

  7. Abstained

  8. Abstained

  9. Abstained

  10. Abstained

Writer: [I'm voting for] Oppenheimer. Everything about it was done to perfection. The screenplay was tight, the actors were terrific, the locations were accurate, all the sets were perfect. Everything about it was just brilliant, and it didn’t lag, there wasn’t a boring moment in it. It was fast-paced.

  1. Oppenheimer

  2. Barbie

  3. The Holdovers

  4. Maestro

  5. Abstained

  6. Abstained

  7. Abstained

  8. Abstained

  9. Abstained

  10. Abstained

Actress: The Best Picture of the year for me was [J.A.] Bayona’s Society of the Snow. I know, I know, you may not have watched it because of the topic, but trust me, it’s more than worth it. Of the films up for the award, I voted for American Fiction. In the same way Oppenheimer addresses the existential threat of human extinction at our own hubris-fueled hands, American Fiction speaks to how flummoxed I am with what seems to be the ever-growing stupidity of those who shape our culture and, by default, those who ingest it and ask for more. American Fiction hits the mark on so many levels without losing its heart, hitting us over the head with its message, or ever being anything but utterly entertaining.

  1. American Fiction

  2. The Holdovers

  3. Anatomy of a Fall

  4. Barbie

  5. Oppenheimer

  6. Poor Things

  7. Maestro

  8. Killers of the Flower Moon

  9. Past Lives

  10. The Zone of Interest

Writer: I did not like Maestro. I thought it was more of a put-down of the main character, Leonard Bernstein. I couldn’t hear most of the dialogue, it didn’t center on all the great things he’s done in his life. It centered mostly on his sex addiction. I thought it was a poor movie. Why focus on that when he had so many fabulous things about him? His work with the anti-war movement, the women’s movement, all these things he had participated in, and they didn’t even mention them.

Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures Christopher Nolan directing Emily Blunt and Cillian Murphy in 'Oppenheimer'
Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures Christopher Nolan directing Emily Blunt and Cillian Murphy in 'Oppenheimer'

Oscars secret ballot picks for Best Director

Director: To me, this category, even though it’s probably going to be Christopher Nolan, it belongs to [The Zone of Interest's] Jonathan Glazer. The techniques they used, how it was shot, the storytelling was so incredible. I didn’t even know that they stashed hidden cameras or all of the techniques they used in making that. After I read all that, I watched it again and liked it even more. The incredible use of storytelling techniques to have the horrors be sounds off-camera. It was beautiful [filmmaking.]

Writer: Oppenheimer again. It was a long movie, and for me, it just sped by. It was seamless, and I never lost interest. There was no lag in the movie at all, and the performances were great, the locations were great, the cinematography was terrific. I think it was an excellent movie.

Actress: My vote would’ve gone to [J.A.] Bayona or Greta Gerwig, and I voted, for similar reasons, for Christopher Nolan due to the sheer scope and brilliance of Oppenheimer. In my estimation, the reason Oppenheimer is nominated more than any other film is a testament to Nolan’s leadership and vision. From the jump with Memento, Nolan’s work has been, and will continue to be, a defining standard of excellence in filmmaking.

Marketer: This is Christopher Nolan’s year, it’s his time, it’s his film. It’s a masterwork, what he did technically, with the story, with his actors, his craftspeople — exceptional work. It’s his time to have an Oscar.

Director: For nominations, I usually do something insane. Zone of Interest was on there, and then I just went for all the women. I try to fill it with all female directors.

Writer: I don’t know what it was, but Greta Gerwig should’ve got a nomination. The movie made a billion dollars or something, and if their actors are going to be nominated, that means she did a great job.... [The Academy voters] don't seem to like movies that are blockbusters, which I don’t understand.

COURTESY OF TIFF /ORION RELEASING Jeffrey Wright in 'American Fiction'
COURTESY OF TIFF /ORION RELEASING Jeffrey Wright in 'American Fiction'

Oscars secret ballot picks for Best Actor

Director: I’m so thrilled to see [American Fiction star] Jeffrey Wright’s name on this list because he’s such a phenomenal actor and has been for years. Paul [Giamatti] is always good, but why won’t he tell us how that lazy eye happened? Why is that a trade secret? Why can’t he just share? [Editor's Note: The .Holdovers star talked about the hand-painted eye cover with EW's The Awardist podcast] He’s always good playing that character, but I feel like Jeffrey is a fresher pick.... The sentiment [in the industry] is Paul. Most of the Academy is kind of old people, and that movie feels like an old Hal Ashby movie in a beautiful way, and I think it gave everyone the old fuzzies.

Marketer: Paul Giamatti, for a character that could’ve been one-note [but he] lent humanity to it throughout the film. It’s very hard to carry a film like that with only two other characters. There’s a lot of passion vote for [Rustin's] Colman Domingo, Jeffrey Wright, and Bradley Cooper, that I’ve heard. But I’m voting for Paul for this incredible, Oscar-worthy performance. I’m hearing more support for Paul [than Cillian Murphy], and I feel the Academy will find a way to honor Oppenheimer in other categories.

Writer: Cillian Murphy. I thought he disappeared into the role again. That’s the highest compliment that I can give. He was the character. I think Paul deserved to be nominated, but Cillian deserves to win. [The Holdovers character] isn’t far from Paul’s persona, but Cillian Murphy just disappeared into Oppenheimer. Paul is kind of that character, he’s played that before. I wasn’t surprised by his performance, whereas I was surprised by Cillian’s. [Bradley Cooper was] terrible. He didn't take his cigarette out of his mouth the whole time, I could hardly hear him. He was mumbling all the time. I thought it was a terrible performance.

Actress: Jeffrey Wright. As an actor, I’m still dazed at how Wright pulled off the myriad of layers in this performance and made it look so easy that even as an actor reveling in another actor’s technique, I couldn’t help but throw up my hands and go on the ride. Like personal runner-up, Paul Giamatti, Wright is an actor’s actor who makes everything he’s in better. How was he not nominated for Basquiat (hello, #OscarSoWhite)?! In my opinion, he not only deserves this nod, he deserves the win.

Apple TV+ Lily Gladstone in 'Killers of the Flower Moon'
Apple TV+ Lily Gladstone in 'Killers of the Flower Moon'

Oscars secret ballot picks for Best Actress

Actress: Lily Gladstone. I’ve gone back and forth between [the Killers of the Flower Moon star] and Emma Stone — though, all of the performances in the category are masterclasses. In the end, Lily has carved out a spiritual space in the story that feels as if its filled by Mollie Burkhart herself. And it haunts every frame of the film, even though her actual screen time is a fraction of the whole. And then, we get that last scene. That scene with Mollie confronting Ernest will go into the cinematic canon. I mean, here you’ve got the trifecta of Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, and [cinematographer] Rodrigo Prieto — and holding it all together? Lily Gladstone. Lily for the win. The upside, I’d be thrilled for any of these women to win and I have a feeling Lily will be back in the running with Charlie Kaufmann’s upcoming adaption of The Memory Police.

Marketer: Best Actress is, hands-down, Emma Stone. What could’ve been two-dimensional, she gives warmth, innocence, self-growth — all the nuance that she lent Bella, to me, symbolizes what the Best Actress means. That film could not have existed without this incredible symphony of actors. And that dynamic duo [of Emma and Mark Ruffalo] was nothing short of exceptional.

Director: I think it’s Lily Gladstone, for sure. That movie is nothing without her. Scorsese is one of my favorite filmmakers.... It was a mistake to put us in the point of view of a dummy [DiCaprio’s character] for two hours.

Writer: [Nyad's] Annette Bening, I just thought it was a great performance, a very daring performance. I thought she really put herself in the role completely, and I was really blown away by her.

Marketer: I think Margot Robbie’s work was reflective of the [Barbie] script. I think these five nominees are representatives of the Best Actress. [Margot was not snubbed] in my estimation.

Director: [Emma Stone] did make [her character, Bella,] seem vacant and then grew. While there was that close-up of her face while somebody was taking her from behind repeatedly, you did see some maturity. You really saw her transition from baby into an adult in the whorehouse, where she really came into her own.

Claire Folger Sterling K. Brown in 'American Fiction'
Claire Folger Sterling K. Brown in 'American Fiction'

Oscars secret ballot picks for Best Supporting Actor

Actress: Okay, I’m right with everyone else in wanting to see Robert Downey Jr. give one more acceptance speech — Jimmy Kimmel, if you ever need a sabbatical, can RDJ step in for a year as host? However, my vote went with [Poor Things'] Mark Ruffalo this year. Mark brings such pathos and authenticity to every single role he plays, and I was flat-out astounded — and deliciously ick-ed out — as he threw himself into the over-the-top, caddish role of Duncan Wedderburn. Ew.

Marketer: It’s probably the toughest to pick. Certainly Robert Downey Jr. is looking like the odds-on favorite, but I think what Mark Ruffalo did in Poor Things is excellent, so I’m voting with my heart there. What could have been a two-dimensional role, I think he brought to life. He lent the film a great amount of gravitas and nuance, which I don’t think most actors could pull off.

Director: We’ve got to give [Killers of the Flower Moon's] Robert De Niro props for being the only Italian American in Osage County. It’s hard. I feel like Ryan Gosling’s Ken was really good. He ended up being the more compelling part of Barbie, in a weird way, maybe because his character was written more solidly. He threw himself into that role in a great way. Is it Oscar-worthy? I love [American Fiction's] Sterling K. Brown so much, so I want him to win everything.

Writer: Robert Downey Jr. He disappeared into the role. He wasn’t himself, he was the character, and that was fantastic. I stopped thinking it was Robert Downey Jr., which is hard to do.

Marketer: I don’t think I’d eliminate any of them. If I could add one more, I’d put Paul Mescal in there [for All of Us Strangers].

Kimberley French/Netflix Jodie Foster and Annette Bening in 'Nyad'
Kimberley French/Netflix Jodie Foster and Annette Bening in 'Nyad'

Oscars secret ballot picks for Supporting Actress

Director: We’ve got to give it to [The Holdovers'] Da’Vine Joy Randolph, right? First, I’ll admit, I got a little nervous when there was only one Black woman in this movie of all white kids. She did not allow her character to fall into any sort of depictions that we’ve seen, any stereotypes — it was great. I was like, please don’t be the Black woman that takes care of everybody. She did it with such subtlety, dignity, and beauty. She’s the clear winner.... I think America Ferrera is always good, and I was waiting for this big monologue [in Barbie], this big moment that everybody was talking about, and I was like, we know this, we know that, like, oh, that was it? We know all those things. I turned and the woman next to me was sobbing, so I was like, okay, you didn’t take any women’s studies classes in college, so it was moving to her.

Actress: Da’Vine Joy Randolph, with America Ferrera a close second. Having loved her role in Dolemite Is My Name, I was overjoyed to see the wildly talented Da’Vine in a quintessential Alexander Payne story. Two things I love in an unexpected pairing — like strawberry and basil. Yum. The vulnerability and rawness with which Da’Vine’s performance explores grief was transcendent and brought healing to my own soul as an audience member going on that journey with her.

Marketer: I’m voting with my heart. Danielle Brooks. What she did in [The Color Purple] was timeless, it’s a masterclass in acting. Because the Academy did not vote for it for Best Picture, or in other categories, I want to give my love to The Color Purple and have it acknowledged in that way.... I think Danielle represents independent of whoever got nominated or not nominated in the acting categories, this was the best supporting actor performance of the year, period.

Writer: I saw Nyad, I thought Jodie Foster was fantastic. It was just powerful, she’s natural, I forgot she was Jodie Foster, and was just into the character. That’s a high point for me. I thought [Da'Vine] was good, but I liked Jodie more. I thought [Oppenheimer's] Emily Blunt was terrific, but I just think it was an easier performance than Jodie Foster's — an easier part.

Marketer: I would’ve loved Claire Foy in this category [for All of Us Strangers]. I think Claire lent such a nuance of warmth. She was able to make that character so warm, so human, so multi-dimensional. That’s something that still smarts that she wasn’t nominated.

<p>Warner Bros. Pictures</p> Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie in 'Barbie'

Warner Bros. Pictures

Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie in 'Barbie'

Oscars secret ballot picks for Best Adapted Screenplay

Director: We’re always being asked to vote between a white woman and a Black man, as a hypothetical, and now we have to do it all over again. It’s so hard because if Greta had been nominated for the other things, I’d be like, alright. I loved American Fiction so much, but I think it’s so sad that our country has gone so far backwards that Barbie is considered radical feminism. It’s still a movie about a doll. I’ll go with American Fiction because I loved it so much. I did finally watch [Oppenheimer] to see what all the hoopla was about. My stance on Christopher Nolan is: I’m not going to watch his rough cuts anymore until he finds a real editor to cut it down. It’s bananas. You managed to not make it a boring three hours, but that still doesn’t mean you needed three hours to tell that story.... And then you have American Fiction, which said so many things about culture, race, class, privilege, death, and grief — all the same things, almost, in a much more entertaining way that didn’t fall apart.

Writer: Oppenheimer. I think it was a brilliant screenplay. The characters, the structure, the whole thing was brilliant. I didn’t see Barbie, so I don’t know about that one. It just didn’t strike me as interesting. Poor Things, I didn’t see. No, [I didn’t watch American Fiction or Zone of Interest]. Not all those movies come [to where I live].

Actress: Barbie. Y’all, it’s a doll — not a novel, short story, or a historical event with entire college classes devoted to studying it. It’s a doll, and because it’s not just any doll, but one that was an integral part of millions of children’s lives — mine included — it is therefore in some ways also BOATS (based on a true story), which just raises the stakes even higher and makes a barely possible task impossible. How do you keep millions of people from age 7 to 70 who know and love Barbie happy with the way you present her in human form? Cue: Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach. Since, clearly, this feels a little personal, they have my vote, hands down — and ensconced in fuzzy pink mittens.

Marketer: My vote is going to Barbie. I think what Greta and Noah did with the material was subversive, poignant, timely, entertaining, and certainly what Hollywood needs, which is a huge hit. I think the Academy needs to reward the film, and this is the place they’ll want to reward it. The screenplay is so smart and wickedly funny.... The best movie of the year, in my opinion, is All of Us Strangers, and that should’ve been the winner of Adapted Screenplay, but it wasn’t even nominated.

<p>Jon Pack/Twenty Years Rights/A24 Films</p> Teo Yoo and Greta Lee in 'Past Lives'

Jon Pack/Twenty Years Rights/A24 Films

Teo Yoo and Greta Lee in 'Past Lives'

Oscars secret ballot picks for Best Original Screenplay

Actress: I’m so torn in this category, between Anatomy of a Fall and The Holdovers. In the end, due entirely to the originality of the premise, I voted for Anatomy. And, honestly, if a dog is in the script, that makes it a clear winner). That being said, I will be adding The Holdovers to my annual Christmas movie watchlist right next to Love, Actually.

Director: Past Lives, all the way. I thought it was so romantic. There was just something beautiful about how [director and screenwriter Celine Song] told the story in a way that was so unexpected. The trailer, you thought it would be a story of her love and her past that she’d run back to, but the way the title took on an entirely different meaning after you saw the movie. It’s so skillfully crafted.... The philosophy of fate, I thought it was so layered and nuanced. I loved watching Greta Lee as a leading lady. I didn’t realize how much I needed to see her as a leading lady until this.

Writer: The Holdovers. I liked it. I thought it was a good movie, I thought the characters and story were good. I thought it was a powerful piece.

Marketer: This is one of the most challenging categories. I was lucky enough to see Past Lives at some early screenings, and that’s a film I fell in love with. I’m going to vote for that. I’m also wickedly wild about Anatomy of a Fall. But — because of the heart and how it pulled at your heartstrings and was effective, even months later after first seeing the film —Past Lives is getting my vote.

Director: People turned on May December, like, "How dare they glamorize this story," "This is a reality show," "We don’t need to hear about this affair anymore" — mostly in the writers circles that I was in. It’s weird, I can hear the guild chatter as well, and it’s like, people turned on it so fast.

Check out more from EW's The Awardistfeaturing exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's best in TV.

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