Pete Hammond

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.”

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.

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