The Big Short | Bridge of Spies | Brooklyn | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Martian | The Revenant | Room | Spotlight
From the moment that it was named as a nominee, and even for sometime before that, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant has stood apart from the pack. This bitter cold epic about a fur tracker who is mauled by a bear (twice), then left for dead, then watches his son murdered before his very eyes, then is forced to drag his broken body hundreds of miles across the snowy wilderness, then forced to confront his son’s killer is filmmaking of the highest order. It’s a tough, brutal epic so uncompromising that makes you feel ashamed of your petty first-world problems.
In that way, it makes the other seven nominees feel like they’re standing one step back. I’ve been on the wagon that The Revenant is the clear winner for months, and I still believe it. However, recent pundits have pulled its chances down a bit. The Revenant may be the best film among the nominees, but the pre-awards are starting to give others a slight boost. Dispatch with the hangers-on: Bridge of Spies, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian and Brooklyn are off the table, they don’t have a snowball’s chance here. And the sleeper Room will settle for being rewarded in the Best Actress category. That leaves Spotlight, Tom McCarthy’s sobering drama about the Boston’s Globe’s investigation into the Catholic priest abuse scandal, and The Big Short, Adam McCay’s oddball comedy about the housing crisis. While Spotlight is respectable and just has the feel of an Oscar winner, The Big Short has won The Producer’s Guild Awards, voted on by the same people who vote for the Oscar. So there’s that.
Yet, after watching and studying The Oscars for 25 years, I have to go with my gut. Something about The Revenant feels right. I could waffle back and forth about films about newspapers, spies, road warriors, mars, captivity, the housing crisis, and the Irish romance; for the second year in a row, the top prize goes to Iñárritu and his crew. I just know it.
Winner: The Revenant
Here’s diversity for you: Alejandro González Iñárritu, a Mexican-born director won the Oscar last year for Birdman and is poised to win again for The Revenant. Take that Spike Lee!
Bryan Cranston in Trumbo | Matt Damon in The Martian | Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant | Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs | Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl
It’s time. After five previous nominations, it’s time to reward Leonardo DiCaprio. And if you’ve seen the film, you know why. Few actors took the beating that Leo did in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant, as a fur trapper who survives a brutal bear attack and treks miles and miles across the Dakota wilderness to get back to civilization. It is possible that, given what he goes through, DiCaprio may have played the toughest character of any actor this year. This one is so clear that I can’t even see a darkhorse.
Winner: Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant
Cate Blancett in Carol | Brie Larson in Room | Jennifer Lawrence in Joy | Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn | Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years
The understandable knee-jerk reaction here is to set your sights on Jennifer Lawrence. She’s an Oscar favorite and one of the best actors of her generation. Early predictions tended to point in her direction, but Joy, in which she plays a real-life woman whose burst of inventiveness gives the world The Miracle Mop, has received a lukewarm reception from just about everyone. It’s hard to call her a darkhorse, but her chances for a second Best Actress Oscar stands down from the new kid in town.
Brie Larson is a star in the making, and her chances lie in the fact that she not only gave a great performance but seems to be cleaning up in the pre-Oscar awards, most crucially the Screen Actor’s Guild Award which is voted on by the same people who vote in this category. Larson is the star of the moment. She made waves two years ago with the indie drama Short Term 12 that cinemaphiles are still talking about. This year she proved that is was no fluke. In Room, she plays Joyce, a woman forced to spend seven years in captivity, locked away in a tool shed by a sicko and eventually giving birth to a son. But the story isn’t about the machinations of captivity (spoiler alert), it’s about the long-term psychological state of a person who has escaped from such circumstances who must now work to rebuild their lives in a larger world that they no longer know. Larson could easily have ridden this performance on anguish alone but it’s the internal struggle that propels her to move out of the darkness and into the light for her son. It’s a great performance and I’ll be happy if, and when, she wins.
The Winner: Brie Larson in Room.
The Darkhorse: Jennifer Lawrence in Joy.
Christian Bale in The Big Short | Tom Hardy in The Revenant | Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies | Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight | Sylvester Stallone in Creed
It is reasonable to assume that Sylvester Stallone’s lock on the Best Supporting Actor Oscar this year comes packaged in heaps of nostalgia. I won’t disagree, but I will say that it’s not without reason. Stallone brings Rocky back around for the seventh time but it never feels tired. He plays Rocky as a man who has experienced the loss of those he loves and faces a future with few new opportunities. That, in many ways, is how we met him 40 years ago but now he’s older and wiser and we see a man facing the bitter reality of the adamant of time as he faces a battle with cancer, and attempting to train a hungry young fighter who faces the same temptations that he himself once experienced.
40 years ago, Stallone was nominated for Best Actor for this role but he lost out to Peter Finch for Network for no other reason than that the man died a month before the ceremony. That may have been for the best because the passage of time has given us a chance to appreciate what this character has meant to the legacy of American film. It’s not just a wagon of nostalgia; this Oscar is for Stallone in the single best performance of his career.
The Winner: Sylvester Stallone in Creed
The Darkhorse: None
Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight | Rooney Mara in Carol | Rachel McAdams in Spotlight | Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl | Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs
Throughout this Oscar season, I have run up and down this category believing, at one time or another, that all had the potential to be frontrunners (except Rachel McAdams whose nomination is really for the ensemble, not the performance). As the ceremony draws closer, it has narrowed down to Oscar veteran Kate Winslet (her seventh nomination) and the new kid, Danish actress Alicia Vikander. Winslet seemed to have been the frontrunner after winning the Golden Globe, but then Vikander won The Screen Actor’s Guild Award, which is selected by the same voters who vote for the Oscar.
Winslet was at the heart of Steve Jobs, playing the computer genius’ long-suffering head of marketing and showed a mastery of Aaron Sorkin’s tricky dialogue. Yet, the more emotionally full-filling role went to Vikander who not only suffers being a woman in the 1920s struggling to build herself as an artist but also dealing with the emotional turmoil of being married to a man who faces a confusion of his gender. Both are hard-working performances, but I think the new kid has the edge.
Best Original Screenplay
Bridge of Spies | Ex Machina | Inside Out | Spotlight | Straight Outta Compton
It may seem a bit ‘on the nose’ to give a writing award to a screenplay about writers, but anyone who has seen Spotlight knows what a tricky piece of work this is. In dealing with the journalists of the Boston Globe who broke open the priest abuse scandals ten years ago, Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer’s script doesn’t exploit the material but focuses on the long-term effects of the victims and the machinations that kept the church wrapped up in a protective cocoon of deception and collusion. It’s a brilliant script and it deserves to be rewarded.
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Big Short | Brooklyn | Carol | The Martian | Room
This is part of the reason that I think that The Revenant will win Best Picture, because the three best films in that category are all going to win something. Revenent will Best Picture; Spotlight will win Best Original Screenplay; and Adam McKay and Charles Randolph’s bizarre and comedic script for The Big Short about the housing scandal will win here. Yet, if the voters are in a generous mood, there may be a surprise with Emma Donoghue’s emotionally satisfying Room.
Best Animated Feature
Anomalisa | Boy & the World | Inside Out | Shaun the Sheep | When Marnie Was There
Like Best Picture, there isn’t a slacker in the bunch here. All are worthy but I think Pixar’s comeback feature Inside Out was the most explosively creative (not to mention, the best) film of the year.
Best Foreign Language Film
Embrace of the Serpent (Columbia) | Mustang (France) | Son of Saul (Hungary) | Theeb (Jordan) | A War (Denmark)
I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t seen any of the Foreign Language Film nominees this year so I’ll got with the frontrunner, Son of Saul from Hungary.
Best Original Song
“Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey | “Dahealia” from The Weekend | “Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction | “Simple Song #3” from Youth | “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground | “The Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre
None of the six nominees this year is really anything to write home about, so it falls to massive celebrity to pick a winner. The presence of Lady Gaga for her anti-rape ballad “Til It Happens to You” from the documentary The Hunting Ground is not the best work she’s ever done but it is likely to be seen as the most important. The Oscar goes to the cause, not the song itself.
Best Original Score
Bridge of Spies | Carol | The Hateful Eight | Sicario | Star Wars: The Force Awakens
John Williams goes into the history books by receiving his fiftieth nomination for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he now has more Oscar nominations then any living person. It is also likely to be his last – he came out of retirement to write it. Yet, oddly enough, it may be the most underwhelming score of the entire series. Meanwhile Ennio Morricone crafted a wonderfully ominous Hell-bound score for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. Morricone and Tarantino were at odds on the set, so that will make for a very interesting Oscar speech.
Best Production Design
Bridge of Spies | The Danish Girl | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Martian | The Revenant
With the exception of The Danish Girl, most of these films take place outdoors against harsh and unyielding elements. Yet, the only one that really stands out are Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson’s work creating the Dante-like world of Mad Max: Fury Road.
Carol | The Hateful Eight | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Revenant | Sicario
As with Best Production Design, these nominees – with the exception of Carol – take place mostly outdoors. All are worthy but this one goes the Emmanuel Lubezki for The Revenant. If he wins, it will be his third in a row after Gravity and Birdman.
Best Costume Design
Carol | Cinderella | The Danish Girl | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Revenant
Double nominee Sandy Powell is the architect behind both Carol and Cinderella. While a win for Cinderella wouldn’t surprise me, I have a feeling that the voters in this branch are going to want to reward Carol somewhere and this may be their one win of the night.
Best Make-Up and Hairstyling
The 100 Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out a Window and Disappeared | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Revenant
Pretty slim stock here. Scares and beards make up the work on The Revenant while The 100 Year-Old Man is simply age work. That leaves the award in the hands of Mad Max: Fury Road.
Best Film Editing
The Big Short | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Revenant | Spotlight | Star Wars: Force Awakens
My heart immediately goes out to Star Wars for this one, but I must concede that the tradition of this category is that whatever wins Best Picture, usually wins Best Editing. The Revenant is a possibility but if they break to tradition, I see this one going to Margaret Sixel (wife of director George Miller) for Mad Max: Fury Road.
Best Visual Effects
Ex Machina | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Martian | The Revenant | Star Wars: The Force Awakens
In my heart, this award goes to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but in reality I can’t remember where it broke any new ground. That mantel belongs to the work done by Mark William Ardington, Sara Bennett, Paul Norris and Andrew Whitehurt for Ex Machina . . . which would happen in a perfect world. One more for Mad Max: Fury Road.
Best Sound Editing
Mad Max Fury Road | The Martian | The Revenant | Sicario | Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Best Sound Mixing
Bridge of Spies | Mad Max Fury Road | The Martian | The Revenant | Star Wars: The Force Awakens
I will concede to anyone who tells me that Mad Max: Fury Road will walk away with these awards. But in my deepest heart, wanting to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens get something, I’m going to take a chance and declare it the winner.
Best Documentary Feature
Amy | Cartel Land | The Look of Silence | What Happened Miss Simone? | Winter On Fire: The Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
The most stunning and achingly sad film of the year was Amy about the rise and fall of Amy Winehouse. It was moving, it was beautiful and it deserves an Oscar.
Best Documentary Short
Body Team 12 | Chau – Beyond the Lines | Claude Lanzmann: Specters of Shoah | A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness | The Last Day of Freedom
The film-lover in me is automatically drawn to Claude Lanzmann, about the groundbreaking filmmaker who made the holocaust documentary Shoah 30 years ago. But A Girl in the River, the story of a girl faced with and Honor Killing in a small village seems a more likely choice.
Best Live Action Short Film
Ave Maria | Day One | Everything Will Be Okay | Shok (Friends) | Stutterer
I am lucky enough to have seen all of this year’s nominees for Live Action Short film and in a pack that includes a lot of downers, my favorite is the most light-hearted, Stutterer, the story of a loner with a debilitating speech impediment who is faced with meeting the woman with whom he has been carrying on an online romance. Yet, I suspect that the voters are going to gravitate toward the darkest of the nominees, Shok the pitch black story of two childhood friends growing up in Kosovo during the war.
Best Live Action Short Film
Bear Story | Prologue | Sanjay’s Super Team | We Can’t Live Without Cosmos | The World of Tomorrow
My favorite nominee here is We Can’t Live Without Cosmos, the touching story of the friendship between two Russian cosmonauts, and there are signs that this may be the darkhorse. But I think the voters will be more dazzled by The World of Tomorrow, a bizarre line-drawn short about a 5 year-old girl who meets and ancestor from 227 years in the future. The story behind the short is even more interesting than the film itself. The director Don Hertzfeldt recorded the sounds of his niece Winona Mae playing in her bedroom and built a story around them.