The Oscars

Mining for gold

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Although I have my quibbles with Hollywood—and they are many—I am an unabashed lover of Oscar season. It’s the one time of the year when Tinseltown celebrates itself for those few movies it puts out during any given year that are not pure, unadulterated crap.

I think we can all get behind that.

Of course, this year’s Academy Award nominations were not without controversy. They never are, but instead of the typical hullabaloo about this worthy film or that piece of cinematic art not receiving its proper due, the debate centered around a singular issue that came to be summed up with the hashtag #Oscarssowhite. For the second year in a row, the predominately white, male members of the Academy saw fit to grace only white men and women with nominations in the four major acting categories.

This is far from the first time the Oscars have featured an all-white cast of contestants vying for the little gold guy, and in the wake of the media storm and promises to boycott this year’s awards show, the Academy has implemented measures it says will increase diversity among future nominees. Whether that’s merely a symbolic gesture or a sign of systemic change remains to be seen, but I tend to side with the sentiment expressed by Viola Davis in her Emmy acceptance speech a few months ago, in which she said, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” Substitute “people” for “women” and “Oscar” for “Emmy,” and you will have adequately and succinctly defined what has become known as Hollywood’s “diversity problem.”

In spite of the controversy, the show must go on and predictions must be made, and since I am in the business of prognosticating who will go home with Oscar and who will go home alone, what follows is how I think this year’s ceremony will go down. If you’d like to congratulate me for my uncanny prescience or heckle me for my obvious wrongheadedness, you’ll have ample opportunity to do so at the Pickford Film Center’s Oscar party Sun., Feb. 28, where the ceremony will be shown on the big screen and I will act as emcee and entertainer of questionable ability during the commercial breaks. But first, the predictions.

Best Picture
Nominees: The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room, Spotlight

Who Will Win: Never, in the Academy’s recent history, has a category been so hard to call. All of the awards-season indicators that handicappers typically use to call such things have been neatly split between three films: Spotlight, The Big Short, and The Revenant. At first, Spotlight seemed to be the movie to beat—and indeed it might be—but The Revenant has held its own as well. Somewhat a surprise, The Big Short now has some serious Oscar momentum as well. Will the Academy give back-to-back Best Picture Oscars to films by Alejandro J. Inarritu, who won last year for Birdman and helmed The Revenant? Or will the man made of gold go to The Big Short, an unconventional and entertaining but highly technical film about the 2008 financial crisis? Or will Spotlight, about the Boston Globe’s investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic church, prevail after all? This one is too close to call.

Who Should Win: Of the films nominated, Spotlight was the best movie I saw in 2015, so were I actually a member of the Academy, it would get my vote. But all three of the perceived frontrunners are worthy of the title of Best Picture.

Who Was Snubbed: Lauded by both critics and moviegoers (it ruled the late-summer box office, despite not being a superhero movie or a sequel), it boggles the mind that Straight Outta Compton was not nominated in this category. They cast Ice Cube’s lookalike son—and he could act. They found a dude who looks exactly like Eazy-E—and he could act. An affecting true story with an excellent ensemble cast of unknown actors—this is exactly the kind of movie the Academy would normally fawn all over. One has to wonder why it was almost completely shut out of the Oscar race. And while I’m at it, how’d Mad Max nab a Best Picture nomination and the near-perfect Star Wars reboot was almost completely overlooked? Do better, Academy.

Best Director
Nominees: Lenny Abrahamson (Room), Alejandro J. Inarritu (The Revenant), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), Adam McKay (The Big Short), George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Who Will Win: In what has to be one of the weirder head-to-head Oscar races of my lifetime, it seems this one is coming down to George Miller and Alejandro J. Inarritu. Miller has won a surprising number of awards-season accolades for Mad Max: Fury Road, but I will be astounded if he takes the buff baldy over the extraordinary vision displayed by Inarritu with The Revenant. If the Academy sees fit to bestow Inarritu with back-to-back Oscars, it will be the first time a director has earned such an honor in more than half a century.

Who Should Win: Although Tom McCarthy and Adam McKay expertly directed excellent ensemble casts in Spotlight and The Big Short respectively, few people in Hollywood today are doing work on par with Inarritu. And his vision deserves its just rewards.

Who Was Snubbed: What in Hollywood hell is Ridley Scott going to have to do to get himself an Oscar? Amass a career chock full of films that are both commercially successful and critically praised? He’s already done that. I get that he probably would not have won for his work on The Martian, but he certainly earned the nomination.

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

Who Will Win: If this year’s Academy Awards ceremony has one defining story, it has to be Leonardo DiCaprio and his long-sought-after Oscar. This year’s nod for his turn in The Revenant featured not only stellar acting, but also was brutally physically taxing. It is the kind of performance the Academy loves to reward, much like his role in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, when he lost to Tommy Lee Jones (Leo was robbed), or when every single person involved with the making of Titanic won an Oscar and Leo wasn’t even nominated, or when he got another nod for The Aviator and was bested by Jamie Foxx’s uncanny turn as Ray Charles, or when he lost his Blood Diamond Oscar to Forest Whitaker (Leo didn’t really deserve that one), or when he conjured up a compulsively watchable performance in Wolf of Wall Street and fell victim to the McConaissance and Dallas Buyers Club. This year, he’s swept every awards show leading up to the Oscars and if he doesn’t go home with his Oscar, it will be the shock of the night.

Who Should Win: Leonardo DiCaprio. His was the defining performance in a year that (lucky for him) lacked a lot of defining performances.

Who Was Snubbed: After being snubbed—wrongly—for Fruitvale Station, Michael B. Jordan was snubbed a second time for Creed. Michael Keaton also deserved a nomination in either this category or the Best Supporting Actor category for both his Boston accent and his work as the conscience at the center of Spotlight.

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

Who Will Win: Although Cate Blanchett has made a career—and won two previous Oscars—out of playing complicated women, and has done so with deceptive ease, Carol does not seem to be the Academy darling it was perceived as before the Oscar nominations were announced. This means the odds are pretty darn good that Brie Larson is about to become a first-time Oscar winner for her role in Room—an honor that she owes as much to her own heartbreakingly fine performance as she does to her astonishing co-star Jacob Tremblay.

Who Should Win: Saoirse Ronan elevates everything she’s in, and during a different year, this Oscar would be hers. But Larson cannot and should not be denied.

Who Was Snubbed: I suppose one could make the argument that with 10 Oscar nominations for Mad Max: Fury Road, Charlize Theron deserved recognition for her turn as Furiosa, especially given the iconic nature of the role.

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

Who Will Win: Somehow we’ve entered into an alternate universe in which Sylvester Stallone has cleaned up every award that act as precursors to an Oscar win, so he’s the odds-on favorite in this category. I’m not sure he was the best part of Creed, but the best parts (the aforementioned Michael B. Jordan and director Ryan Coogler, who actually deserve credit for this movie’s critical acclaim) are black and therefore ineligible for nominations in the eyes of the Academy.

Who Should Win: Because I have a stated soft spot for Spotlight, I’m going to say Mark Ruffalo (always so good, always so underappreciated), although Mark Rylance was far and away the best thing in the pretty darn good Bridge of Spies.

Who Was Snubbed: Oh, I dunno, maybe the entire ensemble cast of Straight Outta Compton? Or perhaps Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation? Also, newcomer Jacob Tremblay exhibited brilliance and self-possession beyond his years in Room. Does the Academy hate children too?

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

Who Will Win: If the pre-Oscars awards ceremonies mean anything—and they do—this category comes down to Kate Winslet and Alicia Vikander. Even though Steve Jobs faltered a bit in execution, Kate Winslet offered up yet another of her customarily outstanding performances. However, Alicia Vikander was the emotional center of The Danish Girl, and her deft touch with a role that she could’ve overplayed gave that movie great depth and heart. Smart money is on her for the Oscar win.

Who Should Win: Alicia Vikander. And she can scratch Ex Machina next to The Danish Girl on her Oscar because she could’ve won for that role as well.

Who Was Snubbed: The inimitable Helen Mirren, who I’m pretty sure is made of onscreen charisma and unflappable British wit, played a pitch perfect Hedda Hopper in Trumbo. Kick Jennifer Jason Leigh out of this category and give her slot to Mirren.

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