What Do Actual Academy Voters Think Of Lady Bird's Oscars Chances?

Photo: Courtesy of A24.

I couldn’t tell you what my first major fight with my high school boyfriend was about, but I can tell you what I did immediately afterward. I went on AIM (that’s the now-defunct AOL Instant Messenger for you younger folk reading this) and made my away message, “And all the colors mixed together to grey.” That’s a line from the Dave Matthews Band song “Grey Street,” in case you’re uninitiated with the DMB catalogue, what with it being 2018 and all. This was back in 2002, though. I was 17, and I was feeling things. I was a senior in high school. I was in love for the first time. In that moment, nothing seemed to capture my feelings more than a lyric from a song by a jam band that first rose to prominence in 1994. Please don’t judge me.

Lady Bird, now a five-time Oscar-nominated film, chronicles the senior year of the defiant Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (played by best actress nominee Saoirse Ronan), who just wants her life to take on shape and meaning beyond what she considers to be a humdrum existence in Sacramento, California. It takes place in 2002 and 2003, the very same year I was a senior in high school, so I very much identify with everything Lady Bird goes through, even though I grew up in New Jersey and attended public school instead of Catholic school (I, too, desperately wanted to get out of my town).

But it’s the moment in the movie when Lady Bird experiences her first heartbreak and consoles herself to Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash” when I fell head-over-heels in love with Greta Gerwig’s film. I don’t think I’ve ever related more to a scene in a movie than watching Lady Bird sob to “Crash.” I was immediately transported back to that moment of being 17 and devastated, so overcome with emotion I didn’t know how to process it besides Dave Matthews Band lyrics. (Again, don’t judge. Teenagers don't have fully developed prefrontal cortexes. I blame it on that.)

Still, that's my unique experience, and it aligns very closely with Lady Bird's. But I'm not an Oscar voter. Can the niche story of an outspoken teenager and her complicated relationship with her mother possibly win enough Academy members' hearts for a best picture win? It won the Golden Globe for best musical or comedy motion picture, but there’s no separation between comedies and drama at the Academy Awards. As much as we want this woman-focused story to win, it’s up to Academy voters to decide which best picture nominee will emerge victorious. They're a notoriously staid and cautious bunch. After all, this is the voting body that awarded Crash best picture over the far superior Brokeback Mountain.

Yet you don’t have to have been a senior in high school from 2002-2003, or even have experienced life as a teenage girl to identify with at least one element of Lady Bird. While this year’s other best picture contenders tell stories that range from tender (Call Me By Your Name) to cuttingly timely (Get Out, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) to gripping and historical (Dunkirk, The Post, Darkest Hour) to exacting (The Phantom Thread) to sublimely fantastical (The Shape of Water), Greta Gerwig’s slice of life story remains a standout for its verisimilitude and realistic portrait of a mother (Laurie Metcalf) and daughter dancing around each other in a torturous boomerang between love and hate.

The best picture category is a deep bench, though, as are the races for best original screenplay, best actress, best supporting actress, and best director. Three Billboards has been pulling in best picture all awards season, despite some controversy. Guillermo del Toro seems to be the favorite for best director. And, prior to Moonlight’s surprising win last year, smaller-scale, quiet stories about regular humans' lives weren’t exactly known for bringing home the be-all, end-all little gold man on Oscars night.

With that in mind, we decided to get a sneak peek of what might be in store for Lady Bird on Oscar night by going directly to the source. This year, the Academy welcomed 774 new members, the most diverse class ever, which hopefully means a more open-minded voting body. We asked three new members of the acting branch what they think of Lady Bird and Greta Gerwig’s Oscar chances. Their answers are being kept anonymous to preserve the integrity of their ballots. Here’s what they had to say.

Photo: Courtesy of A24.

Actor #1

Refinery29: Is Lady Bird being taken seriously as a contender for Best Picture?

“I believe it is. However, I think it's it is up against a strong list of contenders, some of which, in my opinion, stand a better chance of winning.”

How does it stand out from the other best picture nominees?

Mostly, in tone. The delicate balance of comedy and drama told in such an elegant fashion is remarkably refreshing in the landscape of the other nominees.”

Is it at all being given extra credit for being directed/written by a woman?

Yes. The Hollywood community doesn't operate in a bubble and, as such, it finds itself amidst the current #MeToo, Time's Up, and the like, specifically as it relates within its own village. That might make it difficult for any reasonable person to exclude the current climate from affecting one’s own choices when selecting nominees, subliminal or otherwise. That is not to say that Lady Bird doesn't deserve to be a contender for best picture, but I think it must have impacted Academy voters much in the same way that voters must have been impacted by the #OscarSoWhite incident of 2015.”

If it won, what message would that send about the importance of telling women’s stories?

“A well-crafted film is a well-crafted film regardless of its content or who crafted it. If it rises to the top of its class for political or cultural reasons, that is another story. Of course, women's stories are important to tell. However, one can safely assume that the degree to which any film is regarded or greenlit for that matter at any given time is, to some extent, a reflection of external social pressures, right? But hey, what/who isn't?”

Did you feel any personal connection to it?

“As a father of two daughters as well as a son, I found deep connection with this film. But, I would say that one does not have to see oneself in a film to connect to it personally. For example, I have never been an army captain or a Native American in the 1800s, but I felt deep connections with the relationships in the film Hostiles. More specifically with Lady Bird, however, the script, cast, and direction of this film is so well executed by all parties involved, that I found it to be immensely relatable, and I might imagine, relatable to every subsection of the public. But, isn't that the essence of any good film regardless of genre or target audience?”

Why did you vote for it to appear on the best picture, best original screenplay, best director, best actress, and/or best supporting actress list?

For all the reasons stated above. Excellent script, wonderfully acted, and perfectly directed. Greta Gerwig deserves a special shout out for her extraordinary work in this film. This would have been a wonderful example of tremendous skill, both in writing and direction, from a seasoned veteran, but debuting in both categories is pretty astounding.”

Photo: Courtesy of A24.

Actor #2

Why did you vote for Lady Bird on your Oscar ballot?

It was one of my favorite films that I’ve seen in many years. I’ve always been a fan of Greta Gerwig as an actor, and I just thought she did an astonishing job with this movie. From casting all the way through — from Laurie Metcalf to Saoirse Ronan to Tracy Letts, who played the father, who I’ve always enjoyed as an actor and a playwright. I love the film so much. I’ve seen it three times. It was one of the first films that I got in the mail as an Academy member. I popped it in, and I watched it with a couple of friends, and I just thought it was charming and poignant and funny and heartbreaking and beautifully acted. I will probably watch it again.”

Do you think it’s being taken seriously as a contender for best picture?

I think so. It certainly should. Greta certainly should be taken seriously as a director. I hope she’s got a lot more directing in her. I think for a freshman film, to whack it out of the park like that your first time up to bat is pretty extraordinary, so I think she’s got an amazing future as a director, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.”

Why do you think it stands out from the other best picture nominees?

“This was a tough year. Obviously, for our country, politically, there was a lot of darkness. It just had a lovely thread of hope throughout it. Even though I’m a guy, it reminded me a lot of my childhood sort of just as an awkward outsider kid growing up. I just think it’s very relatable on a lot of levels, in terms of her relationship with her parents, and how they’re struggling to understand her, and how she’s struggling to understand the world. It checked a lot of boxes for me, and it did it not in a pander-y way. Just the way it was written, I just thought was just beautiful.”

If it won, do you think that would send a message about the importance of telling women’s stories and having women behind the camera?

I certainly hope so. I think Greta, she’s the fifth or the sixth female director nominee in Oscar’s 90-year history, which is kind of mind-blowing when you think about it. I mean, you think back to the early days of cinema, and you had a couple of women directors, but I think they’re really coming to the fore. The #MeToo/Time’s Up movement is long, long overdue, so I think we’re going to see a lot more women behind the camera. It’s an extraordinary time for women, and I absolutely welcome it. When I read the other day that she was only the fifth women director nominated, I just thought how sad. And what a shame that we’ve come so far in so many other departments, but only five women to have been nominated for Best Director. So, that’s gotta change, and I’m sure it will. I think the change has come, and it’s long overdue. So I’m looking forward to seeing what’s coming next.

“I hope she wins. It’s a tough competition. It was such a dark year for the world, and for America in general. Cinema kind of reflected that. I just found that this was one of the more hopeful films to me. It was a remarkable year for film. When you think about Call Me By Your Name getting nominated. There was just such an extraordinary variety all across the spectrum, from little films like Florida Project. I think it was just a great year for film. So I feel very hopeful.”

Did you feel any sort of personal connection to the movie?

I did. As I said, just sort of growing up as an awkward teenager and finding your way, emerging into the world. I had a complicated relationship with my parents. It was very relatable on a lot of levels. I love that it took place where she grew up in Sacramento. We see a lot of movies, and I think it’s probably the first movie I’ve ever seen that takes place in Sacramento. I grew up in Los Angeles in a different environment, but I just very much related to her story as a teenager, as an outsider. And again, as a man, I could relate to the complicated growing pains, the sexual growing pains, the life growing pains. Finally, when she graduates high school and she goes off to college and is out in the world, it captured the pain and the fear and the joy and the exhilaration of going from high school out into 'the real world' in such a lovely way. That’s what really resonated for me.”

Photo: Courtesy of A24.

Actor #3

Is Lady Bird being taken seriously as a contender for best picture?

“I believe it is taken very seriously. Audiences and critics have fallen in love with it.”

How does it stand out from the other best picture nominees?

“It is hard to compare such different films, but to me Lady Bird is a very unique experience. It is harsh and tender at the same time, insightful, smart, a graceful film. A rare bird.”

Is it at all being given extra credit for being directed/written by a woman?

“I don’t think so. The film has earned its credibility due its numerous qualities.”

If it won, what message would that send about the importance of telling women’s stories?

“Women's stories and men's stories are equally important. This seems to be the biggest message to me. But, above everything, Lady Bird is, independently of being about a girl, a beautiful portrayal of growing up.”

Did you feel any personal connection to it?

“Absolutely. It made me remember and look back at my own adolescence. Life has its own way of teaching lessons and the process of growing up is painful but also fascinating to me. This film feels like a love letter to that time in life. One of the best films about adolescence I have seen.”

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