Saturday, February 27, 2016

2016 Oscar Predictions

While the Academy Awards seem steeped in more controversy than ever this year, there's no debating that they're still very much a big deal. If they weren't, no one would care, and there certainly wouldn't be as much discussion and outrage as there's been over the past couple of months surrounding the nominations. If nothing else, Chris Rock shouldn't have any shortage of material in his opening monologue. And those watching definitely won't have a shortage of things to talk and laugh about when he's finished. Long considered a thankless job that's sunk even the most talented of comedians, actors, and TV hosts, Rock has the unusual benefit of this year's jokes sitting right over the plate for him. But as we know, it's always a tough room for any host, regardless of the circumstances 

Complaints about a lack of diversity in the nominations has already caused one unfortunate, unintended consequence: The conversation shifting away from all the deserving nominees that were recognized and the acknowledgement that, more often than not, the Academy does recognize quality. And occasionally, they even get around to rewarding it. This 88th year is no different than any other. Sometimes your favorites get in. Sometimes they don't. All you can do is sit back, enjoy the ride, taking pleasure in the tiny victories that do come your way as a movie fan. Like knowing your favorite film of the year may be recognized with a Best Picture nomination. Or celebrating a talent whose career you've followed from jump street, or in this case, since before 21 Jump Street.

There are 8 nominees this year for Best Picture, and despite my recent inactivity, I've seen over half of them. I meant to get a review up for the frontrunning The Revenant before the show, but will instead have to unfortunately settle for cramming in a last minute viewing. That race is still far from locked up though, as more than a few categories are still up in the air. It hasn't been one of the more enthralling Oscar races in recent years, but it's all over the place, making the prognostication game tougher than usual. The closest I've come to a clean sweep was missing two categories in 2014. Don't expect that this time. All predictions are below, accompanied with analysis where warranted. This time, I saved the big ones for last. As usual, I'm reserving the right to adjust these right up until the start of the show. But judging from the poor results of my flip flopping last year, that's a luxury I should probably restrain from indulging in.

*Predicted Winners 

Best Original Song
“Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey
“Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction
“Simple Song #3” from Youth
“Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground
“Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre

Best Cinematography
Ed Lachman, Carol
Robert Richardson, The Hateful Eight
John Seale, Mad Max: Fury Road
Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant
Roger Deakins, Sicario

Best Documentary Short
Body Team 12
Chau, Beyond the Lines
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
Last Day of Freedom

Best Documentary Feature
Cartel Land
The Look of Silence
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

Best Costume Design
Sandy Powell, Carol
Sandy Powell, Cinderella
Paco Delgado, The Danish Girl
Jenny Beavan, Mad Max: Fury Road
Jacqueline West, The Revenant

Best Sound Editing
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Sound Mixing
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Makeup and Hairstyling 
Mad Max: Fury Road
The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
The Revenant

Best Live-Action Short
Ave Maria
Day One
Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)

Best Animated Short
Bear Story
Sanjay’s Super Team
We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
World of Tomorrow

Best Animated Feature
Boy and the World
Inside Out
Shaun the Sheep Movie
When Marnie Was There

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

*With performances in Mad Max: Fury Road, Legend and The Revenant, Tom Hardy's nomination for his diabolical turn in the latter represents the culmination of a creatively fruitful year. He'll get his Oscar. Just not now. Bale and Ruffalo are in similar spots as standouts in large ensembles, but if you're putting odds on an upset, Bale's wild performance, his history and The Big Short's surprising momentum gives him a better than decent shot here. Some think Mark Rylance can win for Bridge of Spies and he theoretically can. But who's talking about that movie? His victory narrative just isn't exciting enough. That leaves us with Creed's Stallone, for whom we can all agree the narrative is most definitely exciting enough, potentially winning gold for reprising the character he created over thirty years ago. Everyone loves a comeback and voters won't be able to resist hearing that music as Rocky takes the stage. The place will go nuts.      

Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

*Spotlight's Rachel McAdams is a non-starter, relegated to background player in an ensemble role that should have been developed enough to earn her this. If they're interested in giving out a career award, there's no better option than Jennifer Jason Leigh, who is somehow only now receiving her first nomination. But The Hateful Eight's lack of presence in other major categories and Tarantino hate still running strong would prevent me from putting any money on it. And as much as I admire Steve Jobs and Kate Winslet's chameleon-like performance, the subtlety of it will probably be lost on Academy members who prefer the actress in bigger, showier roles. So, it's a battle between two ingenues in Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander. Given Oscar's storied history of anointing the the next "It Girl" in this category, Vikander's 2015 double shot of The Danish Girl and Ex Machina (for which many believe she should have been nominated instead) puts her over the top. If just barely. As usual, be wary of a possible upset in what's annually been the tightest contest.      

Best Visual Effects
Ex Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Film Editing
The Big Short
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Production Design
Bridge of Spies
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant

Best Adapted Screenplay
Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, The Big Short
Nick Hornby, Brooklyn
Phyllis Nagy, Carol
Drew Goddard, The Martian
Emma Donoghue, Room

*In a perfect world, Room's Emma Donaghue would easily take this for pulling off the rare trick of successfully adapting her own novel. She would be my choice, but unfortunately three other adaptations fit more squarely into the Academy's wheelhouse. It isn't Drew Goddard, who's the odd man out with The Martian's inexplicable inclusion, with his script being that film's weakest aspect. Nick Hornby and Phyllis Nagy may be in the same boat for Brooklyn and Carol, respectively. Both are well regarded without being well regarded enough to take this. But don't count either out, especially Brooklyn, which, like Room, was liked enough to earn a Best Picture nod. The winners will likely be The Big Short's Chris Randolph and Adam McKay, who accomplished the seemingly impossible feat of adapting Michael Lewis' impenetrable book about the housing and credit bubble into a more easily digestible (if still impenetrable) piece of entertainment.   

Best Original Screenplay
Matt Charman, Joel Coen, and Ethan Coen, Bridge of Spies
Alex Garland, Ex Machina
Pete Docter, Megg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley, Inside Out
Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff, Straight Outta Compton

*Just the names "Joel and Ethan Coen" over Bridge of Spies' credits assures at least the chance at a potential upset. The challenge will be in reminding voters they had anything to do with that script. When praising Inside Out, everyone seems to place an emphasis on its surprisingly deep and insightful script. Unfortunately, the Animated Feature category exists partially to prevent the film from winning in categories like these. Ex Machina is a really inspired choice but it came out too early in the year and it's doubtful enough voters saw it. Besides, it's just too cool for them, which is a shame since Garland's script is probably the most deserving here. There's NO WAY voters are honoring the two white writers of Straight Outta Compton while the film was overlooked in every other category. Just imagine how that would go over. That leaves us with Spotlight, which has to win something. This is likely it.

Best Original Score
Thomas Newman, Bridge of Spies
Carter Burwell, Carol
Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight
Jóhann Jóhansson, Sicario
John Williams, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Foreign Language Film
Colombia: Embrace of the Serpent
France: Mustang
Hungary: Son of Saul
Jordan: Theeb
Denmark: A War

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

*It's great when the Academy gets it right. Brie Larson's going to win and most definitely deserves to, making for my most appreciated outcome of the night, and easily the past few years. I could waste time dwelling on all the nominees' chances (in short: Joy flopped hard, Rampling blew what little shot she had with controversial diversity comments, Blanchett just won this and Ronan's nod feels more like an invite into an exclusive club) but this space is better served recognizing an actress I'm not only a big fan of, but have actually written A LOT about. What's most amazing is that most of these are supporting roles and it still doesn't cover even smaller ones like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Greenberg or The Spectacular Now, where she also made huge impressions. 

In honor of Brie's potential win, I gathered a collection of choice review quotes of mine praising her work, including an eerily accurate prediction from 2014's The Gambler, a unique, underrated remake I seem to appreciate more and more each time I think back to it. Searching for an excuse to talk about it again, I couldn't be more pleased it's happening under these circumstances While some feel Brie's part was a throwaway or underdeveloped, it's a testament to her talent that even its director has apologetically admitted that's exactly the reason she was needed to do it. And she's really good, regardless of how anyone feels about the film, which does rightfully have its supporters. 

Incorrectly dubbed an overnight sensation, Larson's actually been kicking around in the industry for over 15 years, starting as a child actor and sometimes pop star, sharing the screen at various points with co-stars as insanely eclectic as Bob Saget, Toni Collette, Jimmy Buffett, Chris Kattan and Tony Danza. Looking and acting so completely different from film-to-film that few could pick her out of a lineup, it wasn't until the brilliant Short Term 12 a couple of years ago that she really turned the corner and exploded. And now, here we are. So, congrats in advance to one of my absolute favorites, somewhat easing the blow of what happened to Michael Keaton last year. Not many Oscar wins have me jumping out of my seat. This one will.

"....the biggest credit to the maturity and wit Larson brings to the role is that we're genuinely rooting for Hill's character to win this girl over and laughing too hard to even consider the moral and legal ramifications of an undercover cop picking up a high school student."- from 21 Jump Street review (8/9/12)

"And doing a complete 180 from her recent role in 21 Jump Street, an almost unrecognizable Brie Larson goes head to head with Harrelson in the emotional family scenes as his rebellious daughter" -from Rampart review (8/14/12)

One of the toughest things to convey as actor are hidden reserves of surprising strength or deep pain. Larson is able to do both, sometimes at once, and because we start with so much respect for the character and her relationship with her boyfriend and these teens, when she's forced to finally pull back the curtain on her life, the reveal is almost unbearable to take." -from Short Term 12 review (4/26/14)

"In a nearly wordless, dialogue-free performance, Brie Larson's face may be buried in her phone texting as Jon's sister, Monica, but conveys more with an occasional eye roll or sideways glance than most other actresses would with pages of dialogue." -from Don Jon review (5/28/15)

"Larson captivates as usual in the limited role, further confirming suspicions that Jennifer Lawrence probably needs to watch her back in the years ahead."-from The Gambler review (8/2/15)

"As Kim, Brie Larson is given an arguably undeveloped role she still manages to do a lot with, allowing us to see through her how Amy turned into such a disaster." -from Trainwreck review (9/16/15)

"...Larson really plunges the depths of this character in much the same way she did a couple of years ago in Short Term 12, taking a strong-willed caregiver and completely unraveling her as inner demons take over. Before long, it's apparent she's plummeted into a near-helpless state."-from Room review (1/18/16)

Best Actor
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

*It's time. He's due. The planets have aligned. Whichever phrase you want to use, Leo is taking home the Oscar and the only remaining question is which of the remaining nominees stand the best chance of pulling an upset that won't happen. Eddie Redmayne won last year and he won't be repeating given that The Danish Girl was even more poorly received than The Theory of Everything, but lacking the goodwill his performance in the latter had. Damon's work in The Martian is fun, but hardly Oscar worthy. In a stronger year, he's not even here. Fassbender gave the best male performance of 2015 in Steve Jobs, but too many people are inexplicably put off by the film, which flopped.

If DiCaprio somehow doesn't win, they would go for the popular Cranston who's popular enough in the industry to come one step closer to winning the EGOT. His biggest competition might not be DiCaprio, but Walter White. How do you top that? If only Trumbo were a better film and this wasn't Leo's year. But it is. And he's winning. Very few could claim he doesn't deserve it and we shouldn't be surprised if he wins a few more before he's done. And though it partially is, this doesn't feel like a "career achievement" award because the performance itself is deserving. The physicality he brings to the role of The Revenant's Hugh Glass stands out as being completely different than anything else he's done before.    

Best Director
Adam McKay, The Big Short
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant
Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

*Only two filmmakers have managed to win back-to-back directing statues in Oscar history so it can be done. And while I'm not sure how I feel about Iñárritu joining the exclusive company of John Ford and Joseph Mankiewicz when so many legendary directors have none, he will pull it off. There's no reason he shouldn't given the wave of momentum The Revenant is currently riding. Voters are more likely to be impressed he quickly followed up Birdman with something dramatically different than grouchy he's winning two in a row. If anything, it shows his range and they'll want to reward that.  

Spotlight isn't a director's film at all. The phrase, "The nomination is reward enough" has never been more applicable than it is this year to The Big Short's Adam McKay. Considering the skill it takes to direct two actors (one of them a child) in a single contained space for half the film and make it that compelling, Lenny Abrahamson should be seen as a bigger threat. Oddly, he's not. The strongest competition is Mad Max's 70-year-old George Miller and if we're talking purely about direction, he arguably accomplished the biggest feat of the year. If there's a Picture/Director split, he's winning. But there won't be. Iñárritu has this in the bag.      
Best Picture
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant

*We can agree right away that Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn and The Martian (which shouldn't be here) don't stand a chance, with each just not having enough critical or commercial support to go the distance. We can pretty much cross out any films that don't have a corresponding directing nomination, which makes this much easier. And as painful as this is for me to admit, we have to eliminate my beloved Room, which lacks that all-important film editing nod. This leaves us with Spotlight, The Big Short, Mad Max and The Revenant. Logic would indicate the Revenant lacking a screenplay nomination (or some would argue even much of a story) and The Big Short winning the Producer's Guild award, makes the latter an odds on favorite. Then common sense took over and people started to realize you can't just rely on statistics. The Big Short is polarizing and confusing. Movies like that don't win Best Picture, and especially if it's classified as a comedy.

The Academy would never give Best Picture to a genre film, even one as great as Mad Max, and still be able to look at themselves in the mirror the next day. Consider the fact that this and The Martian got a nominations a huge achievement in itself. Spotlight is a strong, solid choice if only it wasn't missing something. Namely a "wow" factor that all previous Best Picture winners have had. It doesn't feel BIG or emotional enough. Understated qualities that critics appreciate are sometimes not shared by the Academy, which is clearly the issue here. No matter what you think of it, The Revenant does feel big enough, containing the necessary scope, vision and emotion that most previous winners possess. It also boasts the most impressive filmmaking. Looking at the 8 nominees, it's tough to imagine voters won't feel it's the one, checking all their boxes, and making Iñárritu the only director in history to have his films win back-to-back Best Picture Oscars.

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