It’s Oscar season atop one Rappahannock mountain

Every year at this time on a remote mountaintop in Rappahannock County it’s Oscar season.

“I get about 200 [movies to review], give or take,” says Rappahannock-based film director and writer Ron Maxwell, who this past Saturday night was sorting through several stacks of 2018 Oscar-nominated film CD’s in his home’s state of the art screening room.

Flint Hill-based film director and writer Ron Maxwell poses for the camera at his home on Saturday night. By John McCaslin

“Universal Studios will send eight titles, Paramount will send ten titles . . . and they never go out of this house!” exclaims the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences member. He’s not joking, what with the potential quarter-million dollar fine and prison time should any of the films wind up in the wrong hands.

Take the advisory accompanying the Oscar nominated Best Picture “The Post,” warning voting members like Maxwell that their individual screener copies “may be coded with an invisible watermark that identifies the particular individual to whom the screener has been issued . . . When you are finished using it for awards consideration purposes, you must securely destroy this screener.”

That’s not to say that Maxwell and his actress wife Karen can’t invite friends into their home overlooking Flint Hill to enjoy an Oscar-nominated feature or two. This reporter was treated to one such Saturday night screening of “Beauty and the Beast,” the popular new non-anime adaption of the monstrous fairy tale starring Emma Watson as Belle and nominated this year for both Best Production Design and Costume Design.

Maxwell, whose film career took him from Charleton Heston’s directorial assistant to an award-winning director in his own right — “Little Darlings,” “Gettysburg,” “Gods and Generals,” and numerous other feature films — has been a member of the Academy since 1991, specifically in the director’s branch.

Which is important when it comes to Oscar nominations. While all 6300 or so Academy members are allowed to vote for the Best Film award (there are no less than nine films nominated this year) it is the respective branches — 17 branches total — that independently nominate five candidates in 24 categories.

So Maxwell and his more exclusive branch of movie directors, in other words, nominate five picks for Best Director. Then, on the final ballot, all members may vote their choice, whether it’s for Best Director, Lead Actor, Original Screenplay, Costume Design, and so on.

A cabinet top in Maxwell’s screening room contains stacks of Oscar-nominated and other movie selections, including some of the director’s own feature film releases. By John McCaslin

“There are various deadlines for nominations and films,” Maxwell points out. “They will send ballots, although the ballots are now all online. They are password coded for security, so you have to go through a few doors. It has to be you!”

Since 1991, the year “Dances with Wolves” took home seven Oscars, including Best Picture, there have been only two times that the director hasn’t voted in the Oscars because he was busy with his own films.

A screener copy of the Oscar-nominated “The Post,” which includes several warnings for Academy members. By John McCaslin

To become a member of the Academy, which is made up of directors, producers, writers, actors, actresses and others within the film industry, isn’t easy. One must have either received an Oscar nomination, or else a recommendation from two Oscar branch members or the membership committee as a whole based on accomplishments within the business. An actor, for example, must have three significant credits to his name.

Besides the Academy, Maxwell is a member of the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America.

This year’s 90th Annual Academy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, will air live on ABC on Sunday, March 4 (not the normal February date because of the Winter Olympics). Leading the pack with 13 nominations is “The Shape of Water,” followed by “Dunkirk” with eight nods and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” with seven.

Best Picture nominations, besides the aforementioned, include “The Post,” “Lady Bird,” “Phantom Thread,” “Darkest Hour,” “Call Me By Your Name,” and “Get Out.”

“Every year there’s a lot of mediocrity,” Maxwell opines, “but every year there is somebody doing extraordinary work.”

This year, the director is highly impressed with the Oscar nominated “Loving Vincent,” which bills itself as “the world’s first oil-painted feature film” — a one of a kind work of art surrounding the struggles of artist Vincent van Gogh.

“That one blew me away,” Maxwell says.

The Flint Hill resident and his fellow Academy director’s branch have nominated the following five individuals for Best Director: Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”), Jordan Peele (“Get Out”), Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”), Paul Thomas Anderson (“Phantom Thread”), and Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”).

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John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at