From the Mouth of a Voting Member

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

PhilLIP Pine'S eyes twinkle as he tells his wartime story of meeting Eleanor Roosevelt, then segues with a veteran actor's perfect timing back to the question at hand. "Yes," he laughs, "I'm one of those 'stupid Academy voters,' " one of the 3,500 or so actors who are the largest part of the answer to the biggest Oscar night question, "Who voted for that guy, anyway?"

Mr. Pine says it's been Oscar season at his house for 26 years. He dives into a memorabilia-packed closet to fish out a pile of screening notices. The top one is dated April 7, 1993, a mere week or so after that year's Oscar broadcast. "See! They [the Academy] expect us to start going to the new films immediately."

Pine estimates he and his wife see over 100 screenings a year - but that doesn't include the 65 or so cassettes he receives closer to Oscar day.

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He takes the job seriously, complete with note-taking and finding time to review films he's forgotten. What does he look for? "To be entertained. Take me someplace, and I know I've seen a good movie."

The routine goes something like this. He and his wife choose the morning or evening showing that each film receives and report to the elegant Samuel Goldwyn Theater at Academy headquarters in Beverly Hills. Then, they silently (and hungrily - no food allowed) watch the film. No one talks in the theater or afterward.

The season picks up in January when the nominating ballots go out. Pine says this part is simple because he only nominates within the acting categories.

The nominations are announced a month later. Then, in early March the voting ballots go out to all Academy members to vote in all categories.

Pine says he takes a few hours to fill this ballot out, because he must rank the nominees on a point system - 1 through 5 - in such a way that his favorite actually comes out ahead.

He admits when it comes to voting, there are certain categories that he knows little about, such as original music, for which he won't vote.

Does anything influence his vote?

"Absolutely not, especially not race."

This year, he says he looked closely at Laurence Fishburne's performance in "Othello" and decided it wasn't up to par. "I didn't like his choices about the Moor. I think he played him too cold, too calculating. I don't think that's right, so I didn't vote for him."

Other than that, he concedes that occasionally his wife will bring up something he hadn't noticed. But before Pine will change his vote, "I must agree," he says.

And how did he vote this year?

Members are under as tight a gag rule as any court ever laid out. But, Pine coyly offers, "I'll say this much. I never liked Sean Penn much, but he knocked me out with his performance in 'Dead Man Walking.' "

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