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Diary of an Academy voter: Rosalyn Heller

Part two of two

Rosilyn Heller, serves on the Academy’s foreign-language committee, which chose the five nominees from among official submissions by various countries. A VP of production at Columbia throughout the 1970s, she became the first woman inducted into the executive branch of the present AMPAS. We checked in with her again on Jan. 17, the day after nominating ballots were due. Click here to read part one.

On this year’s movies: I found the foreign films to be much better this year than in past years, and in general, I think they’ve even been more fascinating and compelling than the American films. The Spanish-language films have been especially impressive, not just from Spain but from Latin America. It’s a very exciting trend. For the American films, it’s been an interesting year, and there are many that I enjoyed, but none that really dominated the season or my psyche.

The shortened nominations period: It’s been intense. Since Jan. 4 alone (the Academy) has screened 22 foreign films from 22 countries, sometimes even four films a day. My limit is usually two. I’ve seen more than half of those screened (about 50 altogether) since the screenings started in November. And for those I’ve missed, I will definitely see them if they’re nominated.

How the voting is done: We don’t mail in ballots; we vote right there in the Academy theater as soon as the movie is over. I don’t take notes; I go by my instinct, my gut reaction. We have our own personal ballots listing all the foreign films and we assign a number to those we’ve seen. For some reason the numbers are from six to ten. I never figured that out.

On the home front: I did receive my lovely DVD player (from the Academy), and it was broken, but they did replace it. I have no idea what is marked and what is not marked (among the DVDs they’ve sent); I haven’t really used it. After I see what’s nominated, if I’ve missed a movie, I might watch it on DVD, but generally I like to go to theaters. For example, I’m going to the Laemmle tonight to see “Bad Education,” because that was one I missed.

How her choices compare with the awards year so far: When it comes to the critics awards from around the country, and various ten best lists, I’m always shocked at how uniform they are. I think, what are they doing? Reading each other’s lists? They all seem to have voted for “Sideways.” It is a little gem, I admit … but … what is that about? What else are they looking at? It seems so strange to me that every list has the same movies, and they’re all, for the most part, American movies.

My ballot seldom reflects what actually wins. My taste tends to be uniquely my own; and I’m not at all more responsive to those that are most heavily promoted. I vote for the movies I care about and I can tell you, they’re not usually the top five that are nominated.

The party circuit: I went to the Golden Globes this time. I was there because a friend of mine was nominated. It was a lot of fun. It’s always fun to look at all these gorgeous people; even those women who are like cadavers. But there’s such a buildup about the whole thing, and it’s gotten more and more intense because the season has gotten shorter. It’s become like a bad game that’s totally unrelated to the real work.

Okay, so Leonardo got best actor, but what about the others? Javier, Liam? Not exactly chopped liver, right? Now, with the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards and the Academy Awards all being televised, these fabulously talented people get to lose three times — and so publicly — with millions of people watching. They’re better sports than I’d be.

Attending the Academy Awards: I’m not going. I used to have to go all the time when I was vice president of Columbia. It was great fun, then. But now, the idea of sitting in a theater for all those hours doesn’t interest me. I’ve only been in the last few years when close friends have been nominated. Although I do have a friend visiting, a European director, who really wants to go, so I might do it for him.

Favorite memory from an Oscar night: We made a picture that we all loved a lot at Columbia, called “The Last Detail,” with Jack Nicholson. Robert Towne was nominated for best screenplay, and we had to pick a clip. Not easy to do even back then. Finally a clip was settled on that had the F-word in every sentence, and the whole thing was bleeped, which was hilarious. And, if I remember correctly, Towne even won, though not one word of the actual screenplay was ever heard. It was a great time in the movie business, an outrageous time, a time everyone actually reveled in the moviemaking more than the award shows. I remember enjoying those years, and those movies, tremendously.

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