Oscar voters help us … and sometimes we help them

Michael Musto, who writes for the Daily Beast and is a member of the Gold Derby panel of Experts, has just published an interview with an Oscar voter who he declined to name, and though his subject’s predictions are in line with most of ours, it’s always good to hear from someone on the inside.

Those of us journalists who’ve covered the industry in its home town have known many members of the academy and have always called on them during awards season to get whatever inside dope they might have on voter sentiments.

I covered Hollywood with a close eye on the Oscars from the late ‘70s to the early ‘90s for Knight-Ridder, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times, and I was on the phone with academy members from October to March. It wasn’t by any stretch a scientific poll I was conducting, but so far, no one has managed a better one.

If memory serves, the Wall Street Journal once attempted to predict the Oscars by contacting every single member of the academy and still failed in key categories.

SEE 2018 Oscar Best Picture predictions by experts: After WGA win, ‘Get Out’ gets boost

Nonetheless, logic argues that most of those members have a better sense of the sentiments in their particular branches than critics sucking their thumbs in Manhattan, which is why I pay close attention to the early predictions of veteran Gold Derby panelists like Anne Thompson, Tim Gray, Pete Hammond and our dear leader, Tom O’Neil.

My academy sources, like Musto’s, were always anonymous, but I can say now that the late publicist Jerry Pam was a vital help to me every year in assessing the inscrutable foreign language category. Jerry was a perennial member of the foreign language committee, he attended all the mandatory screenings, he chatted up his colleagues after each one and his tips were very accurate.

Not to scandalize you, it can go both ways. Eugene Vale, a screenwriter and author from the ‘50s and ‘60s, had me over to his apartment to sip whiskey and discuss the Academy Awards every year at this time. Long retired, he grilled me on all of the nominated films that he had missed, this being long before screeners were sent out, and he presumably took my advice when filling out his ballot.

SEE 2018 Oscar nominations: Full list of Academy Awards nominees in all 24 categories

A more telling story about outside influence came to me on the set of Blake Edwards’ “Micki + Maude” at the old Ambassador Hotel in 1984. I’d been invited there along with Jim Bacon, a long-time Hollywood columnist, and Syd Cassyd, a trade magazine editor and founder of the television academy, to appear as extras in the scene being shot that morning.

USA Today had sent me there to do a column on the experience.

While we were in one of the interminable lighting breaks familiar to all who have spent time on a movie set, we began a discussion of the Oscars with Edwards, who was cynical about them, having been overlooked for his direction of such heralded films as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Days of Wine and Roses” and the entire “Pink Panther” series.

His screenplay for “Victor Victoria” had been nominated the year before, but the film’s seven total nominations did not include one for his direction.

SEE 2018 Oscar nominations by movie: ‘The Shape of Water’ leads with 13 Academy Awards bids, but how many will it win?

Responding to Edwards’ comment that the awards were meaningless, Cassyd said he had a confession to make. He said an academy member friend of his had once asked him to fill out his Oscar ballot for him because he was going to be out of town.

“I’ve always felt bad about that because it was the year Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn tied [for Best Actress] and I voted for Streisand,” Cassyd said. “If I hadn’t, Hepburn would have won by herself.”

“Don’t feel bad,” Bacon said, smiling, “I filled out Jack Oakie’s ballot that year and I voted for Hepburn.”

PREDICT the Oscar winners now; change them until March 4

Be sure to make your Oscar predictions so that Hollywood insiders can see how their films and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before winners are announced on March 4. And join in the fierce debate over the 2018 Oscars taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our movie forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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