Sunday Conversation with Gary Moss

Local filmmaker has a say in Oscar awards

You probably have an opinion about whether “La La Land” or “Hidden Figures” should take home the Oscar for best picture and whether Emma Stone or Meryl Streep should win best actress. Gary Moss has an opinion, too, but his actually matters. Moss, a retired DeKalb County filmmaker and a 1989 Oscar contender, is among the 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who gets to vote on the nominees. Moss didn’t disclose the winners, to be revealed at the awards ceremony today because he doesn’t know them. “I find out the same time as everyone else,” Moss says.

Q: Why do you get to vote?

A: I was nominated for an Academy Award for my short film, “Gullah Tales” and typically, if you are nominated and have a body of work, the Academy offers you membership and access to the secret handshake.

Q: Was your film about the Gullah people?

A: Exactly. The Gullah are on the South Carolina and Georgia coast and have probably had more African retention, in both language and culture, than any other group in America.

Q: How long have you been voting and can you vote for every category?

A: Since 1990. Once the nominations are made, every member can vote in every category. If I don’t feel that I can evaluate a category fairly, like best sound editing, I don’t vote.

Q: Can you say how you voted?

A: One of the rules is that we never disclose how we vote. I suppose we could say retrospectively how we voted.

Q: Do you watch all of the movies up for awards?

A: I don’t watch every film in every category but I watch all the best picture nominees. And I make sure to watch those in which the best actor and actress appear and those up for the best writing in both adaptation and original screenplay. And best director.

Q: Was there ever a winner announced and you said, “Really?”

A: I’ll confess one, “Django Unchained,” which won best screenplay. I am a student of history and have read widely and deeply on the subject of African-American history. I was offended by that movie.

Q: Who do you think will take this year’s best picture?

A: With 14 nominations, you have to think “La La Land.” It is about actors and actors are interested in actors and make up the largest branch of the Academy. Take “Birdman” and “The Artist,” which won best picture. “La La Land” is also so well made. The rap on it is that it is trivial and there is a lot of debate in this country about what is true and important. Filmmakers are perhaps taking a second and third look at films that reflect the true history of America. I think “Hidden Figures” rises to the top on that.

Q: What about best actor and actress?

A: I don’t know. Ryan Gosling is going to get votes for the wonderful work he did looking like he can play the piano. The singing, the dancing, the piano playing are things people appreciate. Casey Affleck carries “Manchester by the Sea.” Andrew Garfield in “Hacksaw Ridge” is a fresh face and sometimes, fresh faces win out.

In one scene in “La La Land,” Emma Stone is doing an audition and goes from joyous, happy, buoyant to literally crying and hiding her tears. It is all done in real time, no cuts, with all these distractions going on behind her. It is just a fantastic piece of acting. But never bet against Meryl Streep.

Q: Are there too many political statements at the Oscars?

A: Filmmakers are artists and many artists feel that politics is inseparable from culture. When an artist gets their 45 seconds of fame before the music plays and the mic is cut off, if that’s how they want to use it, I respect that.

Q: Do you get a lot of swag from studios trying to influence your vote?

A: Some years ago, there was quite a bit so the Academy said, “No swag.” Every year, I get 75 or 100 of the best films plus all those nominated for documentary, short subject, short documentary, animation and foreign language. Voting is an honor and it is fun.

Q: Will you be watching the Oscars?

A: I can’t stay up that late anymore. I tape it and watch the highlights the next day.

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