Saturday, February 27, 2016

2016 Oscar Predictions

It's that time of year again. If there's one good thing to come out of this awards season, it's been the lack of predictability. The three big Guild awards (Producers, Screen Actors, and Directors) usually indicate where we're headed. But this year, all three went to different films. The Big Short took the PGA, Spotlight won the SAG, and The Revenant/Alejandro Inarritu won at the DGA (followed by top awards at BAFTA). So where does that leave us for Oscar Sunday? Here's what might happen...

*In categories where there is a "should have been" entry, I've tried to limit these to films/performances that had some semblance of a showing during awards season (including the smallest local critics groups). As such, my favorite US release of 2015  - About Elly - isn't marked down anywhere (even though, yes, it should be in many of these categories, but that's what my personal ballot is for).

Nominees are here

Best Picture

Will Win: Spotlight
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Have Been Here: Carol, 45 Years

Usually by this point in the race, Best Picture is one of the easiest categories to call. Even when it comes down to a genuine two-horse race (as in last year's Boyhood v. Birdman), one usually has a decent edge. That couldn't be further from the truth now, with three solidly positioned "front runners" and a few possible spoilers. Of the three front runners, I'm going to (just barely) stick with Spotlight, despite a late surge of love for The Revenant. The Revenant clearly has ardent fans, but it also has strong detractors. Spotlight is an appealing middleground pick for Picture. It's not an immediately overwhelming spectacle, but it's the sort of thoughtful, relevant story that can claim the top prize even while being in dead last for the Best Director prize. That said, The Revenant and The Big Short aren't far behind. And, given how weird this season has been, keep an eye out for Mad Max: Fury Road. Stranger things have happened. Then again, last year I bet that Boyhood would emerge triumphant while Alejandro Inarritu (Birdman/The Revenant) would take director, and the latter ended up winning both.

Best Director

Will Win: Alejandro G. Inarritu - The Revenant
Should Win: George Miller - Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Have Been Here: Todd Haynes - Carol, Andrew Haigh - 45 Years

The Revenant is much more secure here, despite history technically being against Inarritu. Directors rarely win back to back, but Inarritu is positioned to buck the trend, rather than follow it. The film's campaign has been built on how difficult the film was to mount, and that will likely factor in to people's votes. Funnily enough, another movie that likely wasn't a walk in the park, is also here. Inarritu's film bludgeons the viewer with its difficulty without amounting to much. Miller, however, made something that actually benefitted from brutal on-location shooting. Fury Road may not emphasize its logistical obstacles to the same degree, but it does far more with its sun-blasted vistas than The Revenant does with its frozen tundra. These two films are perfect opposites, and on the surface The Revenant seems like the one we should root for. Long shots, real-life story basis, a revenge drama etc... Meanwhile, Fury Road looks like "just an action movie" with a few decent stunts. Things couldn't be further from the truth. Miller has made the exhilarating out-in-the-wildnerness epic that Inarritu strains for (and comes up short).

Best Actor

Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio - The Revenant
Should Win: Michael Fassbender - Steve Jobs
Should Have Been Here: Jacob Tremblay - Room, Tom Courtenay - 45 Years, Jason Segel & Jesse Eisenberg - The End of the Tour

I groan every time I look over this category for two reasons: 1) how uninspired the lineup is on its own and 2) how I can't even think of many un-nominated performances that should be here instead. Even when Actor comes up short with its actual nominees, there's usually an embarrassment of riches elsewhere from the same year. Not so for 2015, which has been a wasteland. All the more reason to think that this will finally be the year Leonardo DiCaprio wins, and for one of his weakest performances. Yes, he did lots of his own stunts out in the cold and ate raw bison liver. But what does that have to do with acting or building a character or creating a connection with the viewer? We'll never know. For much of The Revenant's bloated duration, DiCaprio is a meat puppet/rag doll that Inarritu batters into submission (along with the audience). Suffering can produce great art, but the material has to be in service of something. Our other options aren't terribly exciting, but at least I can dredge up some semblance of enthusiasm for Michael Fassbender's spiky portrayal of Steve Jobs and Matt Damon's old-fashioned star turn in The Martian. Though, at this point, it's tempting to just cancel this category altogether. 

Best Actress

Will Win: Brie Larson - Room
Should Win: Charlotte Rampling - 45 Years
Should Have Been Here: Nina Hoss - Phoenix, Emily Blunt - Sicario, Elisabeth Moss - Queen of Earth

Even with the lazy and unwelcome throwaway nod for Jennifer Lawrence, Best Actress is having one of its strongest showings ever. Going by pre-cursors, Brie Larson pretty much has this locked up, and she'll be winning for a great performance put up against other great performances. Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn is a tender marvel, and Cate Blanchett is regal and sensitive in Carol (as strong, in different ways, as her work in Blue Jasmine). And then there's Charlotte Rampling. Those diversity comments were a bit of a foot-in-mouth moment (albeit more attributable to ignorance than malice), but that has nothing to do with her work in 45 Years, which is absolutely stunning (in a subtle way).  Three nominees have a possible chance (Larson, Rampling, Ronan), and no matter who wins (Larson..duh), so do we.

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Sylvester Stallone - Creed
Should Win: ?
Should Have Been Here: Sam Elliott - Grandma, Oscar Isaac - Ex Machina, Walton Goggins - The Hateful 8

Supporting Actor has a long history of going the sentimental route. But what if there's two sentimental routes? That's the weird part of this category, which features a more obvious choice (Sylvester Stallone - Creed), and quiet alternative (Mark Rylance - Bridge of Spies). Were Stallone not here, I'd mark Rylance down as the favorite (he gained some momentum from a win at the BAFTAs). But there are a few key differences to consider. Stallone is much better known (especially on this side of the Atlantic). And even though Rylance has been working for years, his noteworthy film work is limited; he's best known for the stage. The other big difference comes down to voting (or rather: who's voting). For the BAFTAs, only members of a given branch may vote for the respective categories (actors vote for actors, writers for writers, etc...), which gave Rylance an advantage. For the Academy, however, voting for most categories is open to the entire membership, which favors Stallone. Actors may love Rylance, but in the industry as a whole (Stateside), there isn't the same feeling that he's "overdue." In the even that Stallone and Rylance split enough votes, then maaaaaybe Mark Ruffalo can sneak in (if he does, it would put Spotlight on track to pull a 12 Years a Slave: win only three trophies, but all big ones - Picture, Screenplay, supporting performance).

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Alicia Vikander - The Danish Girl
Should Win: Rooney Mara - Carol
Should Have Been Here: Marion Cotillard - Macbeth, Kristen Stewart - Clouds of Sils Maria, Alicia Vikander - Ex Machina 

Vikander had a stellar year, and an Oscar will crown her as a new It Girl. It also falls in line with one of the Academy's favorite roles for women: the supportive wife. Vikander is quite good in The Danish Girl (and Ex Machina), so this is hardly one to complain about. But what Rooney Mara does in Carol - all furtive glances and distant observing - is a thing of understated beauty. Granted, she should be in lead along with her co-star, but at least she's nominated. If there's a potential spoiler here, it's Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs, who has snuck in and won a few prizes along the way.

Best Original Screenplay

Will and Should Win: Spotlight

Spotlight doesn't register as the most "cinematic" of major nominees, and its writing is far more likely to be the film's big area of recognition. 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: The Big Short
Should Win: Carol
Should Have Been Here: 45 Years

Think of The Big Short as Spotlight's louder, flashier cousin. It tackles a real life story with sobering consequences, but does so in a way that's livelier and draws attention to the complexity of its subject matter. The far superior option in this category is Phyllis Nagy's beautiful and nuanced work on Carol, but it will likely prove too introverted to grab enough votes. 

Best Editing

Will and Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road 
Should Have Been Here: 45 Years, Carol, Sicario

Usually films that win here have the most (highest number of cuts) editing, not necessarily the most purposeful. If Mad Max wins here Sunday night, it will be a rare example of a film with high-octane, rapid-fire editing truly earning the trophy. Margaret Sixel's team made sure that every shot advanced and informed the story, while maintaining total clarity during the film's exhilarating action sequences. Possible spoiler: The Big Short, for being a more obvious awards contender that's dressed up with look-at-me editing to condense its labyrinthine subject matter.

Best Cinematography

Will Win: The Revenant
Should Win: Sicario
Should Have Been Here: It Follows, Phoenix, It Follows

No one has ever won three consecutive Oscars in this category, but Emmanuel Lubezki looks primed to make history. His work on The Revenant is certainly impressive, though it's often in service of the film that lacks the depth of vision to make it worthwhile. After being snubbed for his sublime work on The Tree of Life, Lubezki is coming close to being over-compensated. Meanwhile, one of the field's other geniuses - Roger Deakins - should take home the trophy for his stellar work on Denis Villeneuve's Sicario. Other worthy winners include Ed Lachmann's subtly masterful work on Carol, and John Seale's super-saturated images of vehicular carnage in Mad Max.

Best Production Design

Will and Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Have Been Here: Crimson Peak

Most of Mad Max is spent out in the desert, but it still makes its mark in the PD category  - and thrillingly so - due to the design work on the film's automotive ensemble. Any individual car in Fury Road is a work of mind-melting art, communicating the chaos of the film's setting and characters in ways that words never could. Oddly missing from this lineup? The jaw-dropping settings of Guillermo Del Toro's gothic horror/romance Crimson Peak. The movie as a whole was never destined to be an awards player, but you'd think the arts and tech categories would have at least gone gaga for it.

Best Costume Design

Will and Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Have Been Here: Crimson Peak, Brooklyn

I was tempted to go with Cinderella, but arts/tech categories are shaping up to be a bloodbath between The Revenant and Mad Max. And it's the latter's costumes that became instantly iconic (also due to the hair and make up wizardry). This is one of the category's best lineups in years, even with head-scratching exclusions like the stylized exaggerations of Crimson Peak, and the bright hued, yet authentic, 50s threads of Brooklyn.

Foreign Language Film

Will Win: Son of Saul [Hungary]
Should Win: Mustang [France/Turkey]

Since its premiere at Cannes, Lazlo Nemes' concentration camp drama has been positioned as FLF front runner. It will likely take home the trophy for its unrelenting barrage of horror. But there is room for an upset from the vastly superior French/Turkish drama Mustang. Last year's winner - Poland's Ida - was also about the Holocaust (albeit less directly), and voters may favor something a little different. Mustang, with its themes of female empowerment and rebellion could resonate more deeply (it also boasts a realistic ending that still manages to be uplifting). 

Animated Film

Will and Should Win: Inside Out

Anomalisa has maybe a 1% chance of upsetting. Otherwise, nope. 

Documentary Film

Will Win: Amy
Should Win: n/a

Original Score

Will Win: The Hateful 8
Should Win: Carol

Two composing legends are nominated in this category, but voters will likely favor Ennio Morricone over John Williams. Williams is nominated for Star Wars, revisiting pre-existing compositions while adding new ones. Morricone created a largely original work to carry Tarantino's Western. On the less bombastic end of the spectrum is Carter Burwell's delicate, haunting work on Carol, which would be one of the most inspired wins in the category's history. If only...

Original Song

Will Win: "Til It Happens to You" - The Hunting Ground
Should Win: "Simple Song #3" - Youth


Make Up and Hairstyling

Will and Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Visual Effects

Will Win: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian

Sound Editing

Will and Should: Mad Max: Fury Road

Sound Mixing

Will Win: The Revenant
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

And now for everyone's least favorite categories to predict...the Short Films

Live Action Short

Will Win: Day One
Should Win: n/a

Animated Short

Will Win: Sanjay's Super Team
Should Win: The World of Tomorrow

I rarely have something to root for in the Short Film categories, but thankfully this year is an exception. Sanjay's Super Team is a delightful, but the entire category is put to shame but Don Hertzfeldt's bizarre, cerebral, and strangely touching sci-fi piece. At 15 minutes, it contains oddball humor, beautiful (and deceptively crude)  images, and a heartbreaking story about existence and memory.

Documentary Short

Will Win: Body Team 12
Should Win: n/a

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