Thursday, January 14, 2016
Oscars 2016: Nominations and Predictions
We interrupt your regularly scheduled Director Report Card! Oscar season is upon us again! Today, the Academy got up at the break of dawn, sniping those that stay up late or those that get up at a normal time, to announce 2016’s nominations. Like every year, there were picks you could’ve seen coming a mile away, totally unexpected snubs, and a few surprises. Every year, it happens. The Academy is unpredictable in its predictability.
I’ve gotten pretty good at excluding myself from the Serious Film Circuit, these days. In 2016, I didn’t even know what two of the Best Picture nominations were about. On one level, unfamiliarity with the films doesn’t even matter that much. Half of the people who will vote are in a similar predicament, I’ve chosen to believe. After all, hype is what wins Oscars, not necessarily quality. That’s how “Birdman” and “Crash” got Best Picture statues. This is why I wait until the nominations are announced before posting my guesses.
And they’re just guesses, of course. I have no fucking clue who’s going to win. My predictions aren’t so much based on opinions. Instead, I follow the tide of what other, smarter people are saying, where other award shows have gone. Don’t gamble with my choices. That would be a bad idea. Anyway, let’s get this over with.
It was very nice of the Academy to throw us nerds a couple bones this year. Despite being an R-rated action movie, an entry in an on-going franchise, and a science fiction film, “Mad Max: Fury Road” still earned a Best Picture nomination. The film powering through the Academy’s bias didn’t happen because “Fury Road” is really good, even though it is. “Fury Road” topped so many year-end Best Of lists that the Academy was forced to acknowledge a movie they otherwise wouldn’t give the time of day. Don’t get too excited. It won’t win.
Weirder yet, “Fury Road” isn’t the only genre film to score a Best Picture nomination. “The Martian” was also really good, a big commercial and critical success. Granted, there’s way fewer explosions, Nitro-Wagons, and flame spewing guitars in “The Martian.” Once you remove the space trappings, “The Martian” is basically a survival story, in the mold of “Robinson Crusoe.” That’s not too far out of the Academy’s wheelhouse. It also won’t win.
A few months ago, “Spotlight” was the front-runner for Best Picture. It might still win. “Spotlight” is about a Big Issue – child molestation allegations against the Catholic Church – and gives kudos to journalists. Oscar likes it when movies acknowledge the little people who make a difference. “Spotlight” has also been described as a detective movie. Oscar likes it even more when Big Issues are packed in digestible, recognized packages. Yet “Spotlight” also has a lot of indie movie grit, which turns the Academy off. Currently, the film’s heat is cooling. That could change, if it picks up more wins from other award shows between here and February 28th.
Another problem with “Spotlight” is that “The Big Short’ has stolen some of its thunder. Both movies seem to revolve around people sitting in rooms, discussing important issues. “The Big Short” is about the economical crisis, which is probably too technical a topic for AMPAS voters. The darkly comedic approach might not be to their liking either. On the other hand, “The Big Short” received more nominations than expected. Could an upset be possible?
In a year with fewer unexpected films demanding critical attention, “Bridge of Spies” would’ve had a better chance. The combination of Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and a historical event would’ve meant a sure win in a less competitive year. As it is now, “Bridge of Spies” got nominated mostly out of inertia.
There were snubs. “The Hateful Eight” and “Carol” were both locked out of Best Picture. Immigrant story “Brooklyn” almost assuredly took the spot the latter otherwise would’ve gotten. “Room” was another relatively small picture whose odds I weren’t certain on. Though it’s neat that smaller projects like that received nominations in the biggest category, I was rooted for Tarantino and Todd Haynes’ latest films.
You’ll notice I’ve left out one nomination. What does the Academy love? Period pieces! Difficult productions! Important but universal issues, like revenge! Especially if they’re filtered through classical genres, like the western! Self-important violence! Movies well-liked by both critics and audiences! Do you see where I’m going with this? “The Revenant” checks off too many boxes not to go home with Best Picture. Unless there’s a serious shift in opinion in the next month, I’d say its victory is assured.
There’s a reason we use the term Oscar Bait so loosely. It works. “Trumbo” and “Steve Jobs” both received mediocre reviews and even worst box office. Despite that, Bryan Cranston and Michael Fassbender earned Best Actor nominations. How could they have resisted important cultural heroes showily played by well-liked performers? I have no doubt both actors will win Oscars eventually. This isn’t their year. “Trumbo” and “Steve Jobs” are too divisive to win statues.
Compared to 2015, the Academy has been avoiding controversy this year. With one exception. “The Danish Girl” got some pretty reviews but people actually in the LGBT community have been dismissive of it. Still, I’m not shocked Eddie Redmayne received a nomination. Transformative performances like that are favored by the Academy. But he won last year, so he won’t win this year.
Matt Damon was pretty great in “The Martian,” carrying long portions of the film solo. Yet the Mars-set film is not the survival story the hype is favoring. Leonardo DiCaprio is a perennial runner-up, despite being one of the most beloved actors of his time. In “The Revenant,” he ate a raw bison liver. He toiled in freezing, isolated locations. He slept in animal carcasses. If he doesn’t win an Oscar for shenanigans like that, he never will. If anyone else's name is in that envelope, he’ll also probably spontaneously combust.
Leonardo DiCaprio for “The Revenant.”
The Best Actress category has a nice mix of talent this year. Amusingly, David O. Russell’s latest simpering piece of Oscar Bait, "Joy," was mostly ignored. Except in the one category where it might’ve deserved something. I didn’t much like the movie but Jennifer Lawrence was pretty good in it. She’s already got her Oscar, so she won’t win, but it’s good to know her status as America’s Sweetheart still counts for something.
Critics adored “Carol” and even I liked it. Todd Haynes’ lesbian-themed drama didn’t earn as much attention as expected. Despite that, Cate Blanchett’s nomination was probably a gimme. If she hadn’t recently won and the field was less packed, her odds would be much better, I think.
The Academy loves old people. From the moment I heard about “45 Years,” I knew Charlotte Rampling would be nominated. It was obviously going to be the out-of-left-field movie that’s not widely known yet still got a nod. A beloved actress, in personal and serious material? Oh yeah, you bet. Though an up-set isn’t impossible, Rampling probably won’t win. It’s pretty cool she got nominated though, considering the few received no other attention.
I’m happy to see that two young and up-and-coming actresses are leading the field. Saoirse Ronan is awesome, enlivening even dire movies. “Brooklyn” seems to be a showcase for her considerable skill. She’s picked up some awards already and decent buzz. I’d be really happy if she took home the Oscar. (That the film scored a surprise Best Picture nomination will help too.)
She might. However, she faces serious competition from Brie Larson in “Room.” Another talented actress that emerged over the last few years, Larson has been snatching awards all over the place for the character-focused drama. It’ll definitely come down to her and Ronan. The race will be tight but the odds currently favor Brie.
Brie Larson for “Room.”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
There are a few categories this year with no clear front-runner. Best Supporting Actor is a mix of talented performers that have prior nominations and a few off-beat choices. None of them are clear winners which will make this a very interesting category.
Christian Bale already has a statue to his name. While he’s received good press for “The Big Short,” a win doesn’t seem likely. Mark Ruffalo hasn’t won yet, despite two previous nominations. If “Spotlight” picks up awards in other categories, he might win. But that’s counting on a pretty big “might.” Mark Rylance is a relative unknown but has received some okay buzz for “Bridges of Spies.” Likewise, a win in his favor would mean a notable shift in opinion.
With that out of the way, two other names emerge as top choices. Tom Hardy has had a great year. “Fury Road” was widely beloved, “Legend” earned him some praise, and “The Revenant” got him an Oscar nomination. It might get him a win too. In a category without a clear winner, he could slip through. “The Revenant” seems likely to sweep anyway. It could happen.
Entering the ring is some stiff opposition. Sylvester Stallone’s career has had too many ups-and-downs to count. He holds the record for most Razzie nominations. Yet the Academy loves a come-back story. Though “Creed” was locked out of all other categories, Stallone’s performance as an aging Rocky Balboa was singled out. I would love it if Sly won a little golden man. Validation like that is long overdue for the action icon. However, history also counts for something at the Oscars. It would be a welcomed win, seemingly the logical choice, but also somewhat unexpected. The Academy might scorn Stallone at the last minute and toss the award at Hardy.
50/50 split between Tom Hardy and Sylvester Stallone.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Best Supporting Actress is another very open field, with any of the nominated performers being potentially winners. Only Kate Winslet for “Steve Jobs” can be definitively ruled out. She’s already got an Oscar and the movie wasn’t that well liked.
Rachel McAdams is on her way for a comeback. An Oscar would certainly help. While her performance has been singled out as a high-light, it still remains to be seen if the Academy will shine on “Spotlight.” Similarly, the lack of nods for “The Hateful Eight” might lessen Jennifer Jason Leigh’s chances. It’s an explosive performance but also a confrontational one. Oscar doesn’t always like that.
Many prognosticators are pointing towards Alicia Wikander for “The Danish Girl” as the obvious winner. Yeah, the odds are in her favor. I haven’t seen the damn movie but Wikander is an up-and-comer and people seem to like her. However, my heart is rooting for Rooney Mara in “Carol.” She gave a powerful performance in a good film. “Carol” hasn’t won as many awards recently as expected but that win at Cannes still counts for something. Wikander will probably take it but I’m hoping there’s an outset in Mara’s favor.
Rooney Mara for “Carol.”
The Best Director is the category with probably the most question marks. Adam McKay and Tom McCarthy, for “The Big Short” and “Spotlight,” probably won’t win. However, if the Academy showers either picture with awards, voters may side with one of them. Lenn Abrahamson is the Little Director That Could this year. The Academy opted for him over established critical darlings like Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg, and Quentin Tarantino.
George Miller is the fan favorite to win. “Fury Road” was an impressive technical achievement. AMPAS voters like that. Miller has also had a long career, with many notable films along the way. The voters also like that. However, we can’t forget that “Fury Road’ is a down-and-dirty action movie, the likes of which rarely win major awards. Everyone loved “Mad Max” but will it be enough for Miller to win?
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is a pretentious fraud, as we all know. He also just won last year. But with “The Revenant” being the clear front-runner for Best Picture, Inarritu’s odds at success are looking good. Like I said, “The Revenant” had a hellish shoot and the Academy considers that. They also tend to favor familiar faces over previously un-nominated names. It’s going to be a close race though. Either Inarritu or Miller could take it.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for “The Revenant” OR George Miller for “Fury Road.”
My gut is telling me that “Spotlight” will win Best Original Screenplay and “The Big Short” will win Best Adapted Screenplay. Those are just the kind of films that usually get it. Talky dramas about important issues are generally favored by the voters.
However, there are other factors to consider. The Academy loves Pixar and “Inside Out” had an inventive screenplay. Hell, I can even imagine an up-set in the favor of “Straight Outta Compton,” considering how popular that film was. Though it won’t win, I was pleasantly surprised “Ex Machina” received a nomination. Good for you, Alex Garland.
The adapted category also has “The Martian,” a popular adaptation of a best seller. “Room” and “Carol,” meanwhile, are indie darlings. In other words, films that receive little attention in major categories but sometimes pull off a surprise win in the Writing categories. The Serious Issues movies will probably get it but some variety would definitely appreciated.
“Spotlight” and “The Big Short.”
2016 has one of the weakest lots of Best Song nominations I’ve seen in a while. Despite everyone agreeing “Writing’s On the Wall” was a drippy Bond theme, and that Radiohead’s unused theme was vastly superior, the song still snagged a nomination. I don’t expect Sam Smith’s maudlin love ballad to repeat “Skyfall’s” success.
The Academy really needs to sit in a corner and think about what it’s done. Now “Fifty Shades of Grey” is an Oscar-nominated film. I’m not sure why “Earned It,” a fairly generic R&B anthem for fuckin’, earned a nomination. The production is unimpressive and the lyrics are inane. Seriously, the Weekend randomly peppers the song with shouts of “Shit!” I don't know what the Academy saw in this one.
“Simple Song #3” is an opera-style number from a film I haven’t heard of before called “Youth.” Though pretty if you have an ear for it, this isn’t the kind of song that wins Oscars.
Increasingly, Issue Documentaries include a song in hopes of getting an Oscar nod and presumably drawing more attention to their chosen issue. This year, two such films scored nominations. “The Hunting Ground” is about rape on college campuses and “Racing Extinction” is about species facing extinction because of man’s carelessness. Important issues, no doubt.
But what about the songs? J. Ralph and Antony Hegarty’s “Manta Ray” from “Racing Extinction” has an effectively downbeat melody and powerfully sad vocals. The only aspect holding the song back is some weirdly throaty vocals from the singer.
Lady Gaga has undergone some critical reassessment, from in-your-face weird pop provocateur to respected artist. “Til It Happens to You” is hopelessly overproduced and Gaga’s loud, overwrought vocals hit without any power. The lyrics are repetitive and seem to trivialize and simplify an important issue. It’ll probably win.
The nominations for Best Score are much stronger. Thomas Newman’s “Bridge of Spies” score is powerful and stirring. Johann Johannsson’s “Sicario” score is equal parts foreboding and lyrical. Carter Burwell’s “Carol” score drives home the isolation at the center of the film. Ennio Morricone’s “The Hateful Eight’ score is sinisterly baroque. John Williams’ “The Force Awakens” score doesn’t sound too different from his previous “Star Wars” score. Which is to say it’s still pretty great. Though my brain is rooting for Morricone and my heart chose Burwell, any of these deserve the win.
OTHER FILM CATEGORIES:
There’s no competition in the Animated Feature category. “Inside Out” is not only Pixar’s best, most ambitious, and powerful film in quite some time, it’s also one of the best movies of the year. It’s going to win. A victory for “Anomalisa,” Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion masterpiece, would be swell but seems unlikely. It’s sort of neat that “When Marnie Was There” and “Shaun the Sheep” scored nominations, against heavier competition like “Peanuts” or “The Good Dinosaur.” I have no familiarity with “Boy & the World.”
Similarly, the Foreign category is full of movies I’ve never heard of. Apparently, “Son of Saul” has won some accolades around the world, so I guess that’s my pick. In the Documentary category, “Amy” seems to be the front-runner despite “The Look of Silence” being widely considered the more important film. The Academy passed over its predecessor, “The Act of Killing,” so who knows if the follow-up will win.
“The Revenant” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” lead the nomination. The two films are going head-to-head in Editing, Production Design, Costume Design, Make-Up, Visual Effects, Sound Mixing and Sound Editing. Either film seems likely to win most of those, with “Mad Max” probably taking most of the technical awards. Though “Cinderella” or “The Danish Girl” might win Costume Design and “Star Wars” will probably scooped up Visual Effects. Hopefully, BB-8 will be a presenter.
Both of those movies are also nominated in Best Cinematography. However, I’m rooting for “The Hateful Eight’s” snow-swept vistas and “Carol’s” chilly presentation to win in that particular category.
Despite doing a lousy job last time he hosted, the Academy has invited Chris Rock back. As always, I will be live-blogging the ceremony on February 28th. All next month, I’ll be reviewing as many of the above films as possible. Tomorrow, my John McTiernan Director Report Card will continue. Somewhere in there, I’ll have to squeeze out a few podcast episodes as well. Never a dull moment, here at Film Thoughts. See you all real soon!