Thursday, February 25, 2016

2016 Oscar Predictions: Part 1

Well, here we are again. Another Academy Awards is upon us, and once again, I have compiled my predictions for who will win. This year's nominations were defined by unpredictability. A lot of the films that, early in the year, people thought would be major contenders ended up decidedly out of the running, while movies that no one saw coming became major contenders. At this time last year, who would have thought that Mad Max: Fury Road would be a Best Picture nominee? And who would have thought that Sylvester Stallone would be nominated for acting? And (here's the most amazing part) who would have thought that they'd deserve these nominations?! So here are my predictions. As I say every year, I feel good about my individual predictions in each category, but am increasingly feeling less than confident about how I'll do in the long-run. Below, you'll see my picks for what will win (and what should win) in all of the major categories.

Best Picture:
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant

As more and more film awards have gained respectability over the years, the Oscars seem to have become more predictable. If a movie wins the top prize at every awards ceremony before the Oscars, it’s likely that it will take home Oscar glory too. So while there are still sometimes surprises, most categories have already been narrowed down to at most two genuine contenders by the time the Oscars finally come around. But this year is different. The typical precursor awards seem unable to agree. Usually, the best predictor for the Oscar comes from the Guild Awards, with multiple Best Pictures winning the top prize from the Screen Actor’s Guild, the Director’s Guild of America, and the Producer’s Guild of America. But this year, for the first time in a decade, these awards have gone to different movies. And those three movies are the natural frontrunners. At the moment, Spotlight and The Revenant seem to be the ones competing for the top prizes, as they’ve won the most awards leading up to this point. Spotlight has been the frontrunner for a while, but The Revenant has picked up a surprising amount of momentum recently, especially thanks to its recent BAFTA wins. But it would be unwise to count out The Big Short. Although it hasn't won a ton of Best Picture awards from the precursor ceremonies, it did grab the PGA Award, which has typically been the most reliable predictor. Even though it’s currently seen as being in third place, if The Big Short doesn’t win Best Picture, it will be the first time the PGA has not predicted the Best Picture winner since 2006. So, really, any of these three could win.

But the fact that this awards circuit has already been so unpredictable leaves the door wide open for a spoiler. The fact that Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn and The Martian failed to grab Best Director nominations means that these three are unlikely to pull an upset victory. And then there’s Room, my personal favorite of these nominees, but which hasn’t had the monetary backing to launch a large acting campaign (the producers have focused all of their energy on the campaign for Brie Larson and largely ignored the Best Picture race). That leaves Mad Max: Fury Road. And while I can’t say for certain that it will win…a part of me thinks it’s a huge possibility. People love this movie, and it has actually been performing really well on the awards circuit. The main reason people don’t think it will win is because of its genre, but when was the last time any action film received this level of acclaim? It’s still a huge wild card, to be sure. But I just can’t dismiss its chances outright.

No matter what, this Oscar race has already been intriguing, and will be up until the envelope is opened. For my prediction, I’m going with the default: no movie has done well enough to dethrone Spotlight as the frontrunner in my mind. But this Oscar race is going to be close to say the least.

Will Win: Spotlight
But Don’t Count Out: The Revenant, The Big Short, Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Win: Room

George Miller, calmly explaining what sort of torture device they were strapping Tom Hardy into on that particular day of shooting.

Best Director:
Adam McKay—The Big Short
George Miller—Mad Max: Fury Road
Alejandro G. Inarritu—The Revenant
Lenny Abrahamson—Room
Tom McCarthy—Spotlight

Typically, Best Director and Best Picture are linked. So you’d think that, given that it’s the frontrunner for Best Picture, Spotlight would be a major contender for Best Director. But the problem is that, while McCarthy directs it capably, the direction really isn’t the star of the film, and in this category he has certainly done the least to distinguish himself from the rest of the crowd. So this is shaping up to be one of the rare years that Best Picture and Best Director are split. The situation feels similar to two years ago, where the director of Best Picture (Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave) was overlooked for the contributions of a director with more of a technical focus (Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity). This time, the race seems to be between Miller and Inarritu. Both have earned plenty of accolades this year already, so just like Best Picture, it’s too close to call. Also, it’s worth noting that both of these choices have things going for them outside of the quality of their work this year. Miller is a beloved figure in the industry who has never won an Oscar (or even been nominated before), and the Academy loves recognizing those who are overdue. Plus, he’d be the second oldest winner ever in this category. Inarritu, meanwhile, is an Academy favorite after winning the award last year. If he wins, this would be the first time a director won this award in two consecutive years since 1950. Personally, I’m on Team Miller. I did find Inarritu’s direction impressive, even if I wasn’t a huge fan of The Revenant, but what George Miller did with Mad Max: Fury Road wasn’t just artistically brilliant, it was truly groundbreaking and unique. But I'm giving Inarritu the edge to win simply because he won the Director's Guild Award, which is always a good indicator.

Will Win: Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant
But Don’t Count Out: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Win: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

"ME LOOK SAD ENOUGH FOR OSCAR NOW?!?! PLEASE SAY NOW!!!!" -Leonardo DiCaprio, overheard on the set of The Revenant

Best Actor:
Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo—Trumbo
Matt Damon as Mark Watney—The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass—The Revenant
Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs—Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne as Lili Elbe—The Danish Girl

Even before the movie came out, people were saying that DiCaprio would finally win an Oscar this year for The Revenant. But then the movie came out and I personally was kind of unimpressed. DiCaprio is good in the movie, and certainly very committed, but ultimately I think he’s one of the weaker nominees in this category (the only nominated performance in this category I liked less was Redmayne’s). As much as DiCaprio shivers and winces and screams, there’s not much room for textual interpretation, and that’s a big part of what acting is. I could see many actors doing what DiCaprio did, but it’s far more difficult to fully inhabit a character the way I feel Fassbender, and especially Cranston did. The appeal of DiCaprio’s performance comes down to the amount of effort he put into it. DiCaprio suffered the most, but he definitely didn’t give the best performance.

But as the awards season has gone on and on, DiCaprio has continued to rake in awards and is the undeniable frontrunner. Plus, there’s of course a sense that he’s overdue (even though Redmayne is the only one of these nominees to have ever won before). When he wins, it won’t be for this performance, it’ll be in recognition of his entire career up until this point. Also contributing to the seeming inevitability of DiCaprio’s win is the fact that there isn’t really much of an alternative. The performances of Cranston, Fassbender, and Redmayne have all been well-received, but their movies have not been, which has hurt all of their chances. If there is some secret hidden rule of the universe that Leonardo DiCaprio can never win an Oscar, the only person who might be poised to overtake him is Damon, whose performance in The Martian might have been too good. He made it look easy, which masked how truly difficult that role was to pull off. His performance is infinitely more impressive than it appears to be at first glance. Plus, Damon was the only one whose character was not based on a real person, which makes him stand out in this lineup.

Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
But Don’t Count Out: Matt Damon, The Martian (but not’s going to be Leo)
Should Win: Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

You're about to read the name "Brie Larson" a bunch.
Best Actress:
Cate Blancett as Carol Aird—Carol
Brie Larson as Joy “Ma” Newsome—Room
Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano—Joy
Charlotte Rampling as Kate Mercer—45 Years
Saoirse Ronan as Eilis Lacey—Brooklyn

After all the wordiness above and talks about how these are races that are really close, I’ll be brief. Brie Larson is going to win. Brie Larson deserves to win. Brie Larson is amazing and this movie is amazing and no other actress can compete with the work that Brie Larson did and everyone agrees. She has won every award up until this point, and has deserved every award up until this point. Brie Larson. Brie Larson Brie Larson Brie Larson. Brie Larson is going to win. It’s the most set-in-stone category of the night.

Will Win: Brie Larson, Room
But Don’t Count Out: A meteor crashing into the theater on Oscar night and killing everyone before they announce that Brie Larson has won the award.
Should Win: Look, how many times do I have to say Brie Larson? It’s Brie Larson.

If Sylvester Stallone's performance wins over Mark Rylance's, it'll be oddly fitting that Rocky Balboa triumphed over a Soviet foe.
Best Supporting Actor:
Christian Bale as Michael Burry—The Big Short
Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald—The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes—Spotlight
Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel—Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa—Creed

In case you were worrying that this year’s Oscars was getting too easy to predict, we’re back to a close race! One of the most competitive categories when it came to nominations, lots of potential contenders for this award ended up getting completely snubbed (most notably Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation, but I’d also include Jacob Tremblay for Room and Michael Shannon for 99 Homes). Now that the nominations have been decided, we’re down to a two-person race. Rylance has been seen as a frontrunner ever since the rave reviews for his work in Bridge of Spies, and the veteran stage actor seemed unbeatable for a long time. He’s certainly picked up his share of accolades this year, including a SAG Award, but there’s been a surprise dark horse that has emerged as a potential winner. And, fittingly considering the role, he has gone from underdog to potential champ. Sylvester Stallone is incredible as he reprises Rocky Balboa, and truly earns the acclaim that he has received. He understands this character in a way that most actors can only dream of, and it’s wonderful watching as he simply exists on screen, every move feeling deliberate but natural. There are many arguments for why Rylance should still be seen as the frontrunner—most notably that he won the SAG Award which Stallone wasn’t even nominated for—but Stallone has a Critic’s Choice Award and a Golden Globe under his belt. It really could go either way, with perhaps a few more ticks in Rylance’s corner. But, I think Stallone will triumph just as a gut instinct. If Rylance wins, everyone will be happy and applaud. If Stallone wins, everyone will flip out with excitement and give him a standing ovation.

Will Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed
But Don’t Count Out: Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Should Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

You know the problem with this category this year? There's nothing all that funny to say about any of these categories. Anyway, here's Alicia Vikander.
Best Supporting Actress:
Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue—The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara as Therese Belivet—Carol
Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer—Spotlight
Alicia Vikander as Gerda Wegener—The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman—Steve Jobs

This has been yet another strange category. Vikander seems to be the frontrunner, having won multiple awards up until this point. She does a great job in the The Danish Girl—she’s easily the best part of of the movie—and has had a fantastic year in general. Plenty of people might vote for her just because of how great she was in Ex Machina. But despite the statistics implying Vikander being the winner, she simply doesn’t have that same set-in-stone feel that, say, Brie Larson has. Winslet has also done surprisingly well, picking up a Golden Globe and a BAFTA despite her pretty wonky accent. Then there’s Rooney Mara, who won Best Actress at Cannes, and who might get extra support from Oscar voters who want to make up for the fact that Carol was largely snubbed. And, hey, Jennifer Jason Leigh was really good too! Basically, it’s Vikander’s award to lose, but it won’t be all that surprising if an upset occurs.

Will Win: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
But Don’t Count Out: Rooney Mara, Carol, or Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
Should Win: Rooney Mara, Carol

"And then, some weird fucking dancing shit happens."--excerpt from the Ex Machina screenplay

Best Original Screenplay:
Bridge of Spies
Ex Machina
Inside Out
Straight Outta Compton

As nice as it is to see surprise nominations here for movies like Ex Machina or Straight Outta Compton, it’s unlikely that they will actually take this category. Spotlight has gotten to its frontrunner status precisely because of how good the screenplay is, and it has been sweeping this category everywhere else.

Will Win: Spotlight
But Don’t Count Out: Nothing. None of the others really have a chance. If Inside Out's weak screenplay somehow pulls an upset, then the tiny red Lewis Black in my head will flip out.
Should Win: Ex Machina

Fun fact: there are exactly four instances in the shooting script for The Martian where Drew Goddard accidentally called the main character "movie star Matt Damon" instead of "Mark."
Best Adapted Screenplay:
The Big Short
The Martian

This year, this category was especially strong. Aside from the five nominees here, there were multiple high profile films with adapted screenplays (such as The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road) and plenty of films which didn’t receive much Oscars attention but had excellent adapted screenplays (such as Creed and Anomalisa). Still, the nominees here are a great lineup. Four of these nominees have, I think, really great screenplays. Phyllis Nagy put forth a more than capable screenplay for Carol. Nick Hornby’s script for Brooklyn, I would argue, actually improves upon Colm Toibin’s novel which I really liked. Emma Donoghue’s adaptation of her own novel for Room is truly a thing of beauty, and remains faithful to the book while still finding its own identity. And Drew Goddard’s script for The Martian was unbelievably smart and wonderfully paced, filled with a wonderful energy and (despite the complaints that the Golden Globes called it a comedy) plenty of humor.

And in a year where there were so many great adapted screenplay, it irritates me to no end that this award seems destined to go to the absolute turd that is the screenplay for The Big Short. I’ve already expressed my dislike for this movie, but the screenplay in particular I thought was lackluster. It was so sloppily done, so obnoxious in tone, and absolutely terrible at truly setting up characters or establishing stakes. Every time this screenplay wins an award over the other nominees, I scratch my head. The problem is that I’ve been scratching my head a lot. Especially after the Writer’s Guild saw fit to award this prize to The Big Short, it is inconceivably the clear frontrunner to win in this category. Although Brooklyn or Room pulling an upset is not outside the realm of possibility.

Will Win: The Big Shit. That’s not a typo.
But Don’t Count Out: Brooklyn, Room
Should Win: The Martian

A shot from the Oscar-nominated film Boy & The World, which you had no idea existed until reading this caption right now.

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

What a great year for animation! When this category was introduced for the first time fifteen years ago, there was a lot of skepticism from the distinguished academy over whether the category should exist at all. And, in fact, it wasn’t until five years ago that there were consistently five films nominated in this category, demonstrating how each year, this medium has continued to grow. And these five aren’t the only good animated movies this year has had to offer. The Peanuts Movie was very well-received, and the gorgeously animated The Good Dinosaur is only the third Pixar movie to not be nominated in this category since its introduction (and the first non-sequel). Personally, I find it exciting that, in a category always dominated by Pixar, Disney, and Dreamworks, the past two years have erred on the more independent side, recognizing international and smaller scale films.

Of course, Inside Out is going to win. It’s not exactly a close contest. The film was one of the best received movies of the year, and even picked up a screenplay nomination. But, if you follow this blog, you know that while I liked Inside Out, I wasn’t as much a fan of it as most were, and view it as one of Pixar’s weaker efforts. Compared to the rest of the nominees, it’s actually my least favorite of the five, and I encourage everyone to seek out the less famous titles in this category. The particular standout to me is, easily, Anomalisa. From the ever-cerebral and brilliant Charlie Kaufman, Anomalisa was one of the smartest, thoughtful, and overall best films of the year. If you liked Inside Out for its originality, wait until you see Anomalisa. Side by side, I just don’t see how anyone could judge Inside Out as the superior film. I still hold out hope that the artsy-fartsy elitist intellectuals of the Academy might lead Anomalisa to a surprise victory, but that’s just the na├»ve person in my brain taking control.

Will Win: Inside Out
But Don’t Count Out: Anomalisa
Should Win: Anomalisa

The wonderful young cast of Mustang.
Best Foreign Language Film:
Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia)
Mustang (France)
Son of Saul (Hungary)
Theeb (Jordan)
A War (Denmark)

This is the category which I’m the least familiar with, having only had a chance to see Mustang and Son of Saul, although I’ve heard great things about the other nominees (Theeb in particular). But, for the purpose of predicting a winner, the two I’ve been able to see are the designated frontrunners. Mustang, France’s entry, is a wonderful look at a group of Turkish sisters as they grow up. It takes a little bit to get going, but ultimately is incredibly engaging, and offers excellent social commentary and storytelling. But, it seems destined to come in second place to Son of Saul, which has been the presumed winner in this category since its premiere at Cannes. The story of a Sonderkommando in a concentration camp who attempts to procure a proper burial for the corpse he believes to be his son is quite depressing, and many have found it quite powerful. Personally, I feel like it verges on the edge of being torture porn, and for all its artistic merit, lacks insight and ends up being brutality without purpose. Unfortunately, I’m in the minority, and Son of Saul will win this award, as it has won every Foreign Language Film award up until this point.

Will Win: Son of Saul
But Don’t Count Out: Mustang
Should Win: Mustang (although I haven't had a chance to see all the nominees)

A man watches an interview with the people who brutally murdered his brother, in the feel-good family movie of the year The Look of Silence.
Best Documentary Feature:
Cartel Land
The Look of Silence
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
This has been one of the strongest years for documentaries in recent memory. There were many acclaimed documentaries which failed to even score a nomination, such as He Named Me Malala, Listen to Me Marlon, The Wolfpack, Best of Enemies, and Where to Invade Next? The result is five excellent documentaries which make up one of the strongest field of nominees this category has ever had. But two titles have emerged as frontrunners—Amy and The Look of Silence, and it’s a close race between these two. The Look of Silence, from documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer, is a follow-up to his film The Act of Killing which was nominated in this category two years ago. The Act of Killing was an absolutely brilliant look at those who served as executioners during the Cambodian genocide, while The Look of Silence focuses more on the victims. While I didn’t find it to be quite as brilliant as The Act of Killing, it’s still excellent and incredibly profound. It’s also hard to watch, and might be off-putting to the Academy as a whole. It is generally accepted that The Act of Killing was the best documentary of 2015, but its difficult subject matter caused it to lose to the far more crowd-pleasing 20 Feet From Stardom. And while Amy does delve into some darker subject matter, it’s far more conventional and is the definite projected winner. It doesn’t hurt that it’s an excellent film—this is a brilliant portrait of a troubled figure that examines Amy Winehouse’s life with respect and curiosity. It reveals her demons thoroughly while still preserving her artistic spirit and genius.

Will Win: Amy
But Don’t Count Out: The Look of Silence
Should Win: It’s really a toss-up because they’re all so good. But as much as I enjoyed the frontrunners, I’m going to go out on a limb and pick Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom. Based on synopsis alone, this was the nominee that interested me the least, but ended up being incredibly engaging and fascinating. This is an important film that everyone should see. And, you’re in luck—it, Cartel Land, and What Happened Miss Simone? are all currently streaming on Netflix!

So, those are my thoughts on the major categories. What do you think will and/or should win--let me know in the comments! You can read my predictions on the minor categories in Part 2!

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