I Am DB

February 19, 2017

Oscars 2016: And the Nominees Are…

Filed under: Movies,Oscars,TV — DB @ 6:15 pm
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(Class of 2016 photo from Annual Nominee Luncheon. Click image to enlarge and actually see who these people are.)

Complete List Of Nominees

With everything going on in the world, it seems particularly frivolous to spend the kind of time I do writing about, reading about, and thinking about the Academy Awards. But I’m much better equipped to talk about this than I am about the more important things going on, and since there are countless people vastly more qualified to discuss and dissect and spotlight those things — some of those people in my very own family — I’m going to stick with what I’m good at and focus on something that makes me happy, since every day there are a dozen reasons to cry.

Actually, that may not be the most ideal way to draw the line, since looking at recent movies also gives us a dozen reasons to cry. Lion, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea — which delivers one of the most devastating scenes of this year, or last year, or 1983, or 1971…I could go on — these are just some of the movies that lately gave us reasons to cry. But these are cathartic tears, the kind made possible by art’s capacity to move us. Good tears, in other words.

Once again, I’m pretty late with this post – external forces are partly to blame this time — but Oscar voting only started last Monday and closes on Tuesday, so somehow I feel like that lets me off the hook a little bit. I’m not sure why voting didn’t start much sooner after the nominees were announced, but oh well. We’re here now. Phase Two of awards season began at the unfathomable hour of 5:18am on Tuesday, January 24, when the nominees were unveiled in a two-part video produced by the Academy. This was a departure from the tradition of having the nominees announced live by the Academy President and an actor or actress in a room full of journalists and publicists at the unfathomable hour of 5:38am. The video featured past Oscar winner and nominees — including Marcia Gay Harden, Ken Watanabe, Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and writer/director Jason Reitman — talking about their experiences, interspersed with a lady robot reading off the nominations in each category. It was a nice experiment, but maybe could be adjusted in the future, as it wasn’t entirely successful. The interviews included some trite, “most amazing moment of my life” kind of recollections, and the revelation of the nominees themselves were even more dry than they typically are in the live format. At least with an audience you get some gasps and cheers. Here, just that alarmingly neutral female voice. There weren’t even pictures of the films or actors as each nominee was read. There’s got to be a way to have a little more fun with this kind of format, and to maybe get a couple of those participating actors to actually read the nominees. Filming ahead of time obviously makes that difficult since the nominees can not be revealed until that morning, but making magic is what Hollywood does. I believe in you, Academy! And whatever you do, bring back Gabourey Sidibe, cause she was the best part of this thing.

As for the nominations themselves, I was a pretty happy man that morning, as much as I can be at the unfathomable hour of 5:18. Not only did I do pretty well with my predictions, but there were several cases where I might have missed a call but found one of my personal picks nominated instead. There were at least three times where I audibly exclaimed, and I don’t remember that happening in many an early Oscar morning. Of the 19 categories in which I made predictions, I went 100% in five (Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Animated Feature, Best Makeup and Hairstyling), and missed by one in 11. I’m good with that.

Here are some thoughts I had on certain categories…

BEST PICTURE
These Best Picture numbers keep getting the best of me. After three years of nine nominees beginning in 2011, I continued predicting nine, but the last two years yielded only eight. So this year I went with eight…and they nominated nine. I did get those eight correct, and right up until publication I was debating whether to add Hidden Figures —and whether to add it as a ninth, or slide it in and take out Fences or Hacksaw Ridge. I decided to stick with eight and keep my initial list intact, but it was great to see Hidden Figures included. It’s a satisfying crowdpleaser bolstered by terrific reviews and genuine social and historical significance that hit its stride at exactly the right time, in the middle of the voting period. The rest of the line-up went as pundits seemed to expect. I could have seen Fences or Hacksaw Ridge having lost enough momentum to be passed over, but they held on.

BEST DIRECTOR
As is usually the case, the Academy’s picks did not perfectly align with those made by the Director’s Guild of America (DGA), and I was correct that it would be Lion helmer Garth Davis who missed the cut. I thought Martin Scorsese might get the fifth slot, but instead it went to another previous winner, Mel Gibson. This seemed to surprise many people, but not me so much. The industry’s warm embrace of Hacksaw Ridge since its early November debut, and Gibson’s inclusion in the award season melee — from Golden Globe and Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) nominations to a seat at The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual roundtable of directors — were high-profile evidence that the industry had accepted Gibson back into the fold and moved on from the public displays of bad behavior that so damaged his reputation over the past decade.

Then again, Gibson was never quite the pariah during these past years that everyone seems to think he was. He’s always had A-list friends in his corner — like Jodie Foster and Robert Downey, Jr. — who stood by him and expressed their firm belief that the person who did and said those things is not the person Gibson is at heart. Beyond that, he continued to find employment. Foster directed him in the The Beaver; he starred in the Warner Bros. revenge thriller Edge of Darkness, which was a modest hit in 2010; and he took on the antagonist roles in the popcorn action flicks Machete Kills and The Expendables 3. They aren’t exactly Hamlet, but they have an audience. So Gibson never fully went away; he just hasn’t been this openly welcomed in a long time. Perhaps the applause that greet his name when this category comes up on Oscar night will be a bit quieter than that of his fellow nominees; surely not everyone in the room will have forgotten past events. Or maybe his name will be greeted as enthusiastically as the others. The fact that he got the nomination is a victory.

I also need to mention Arrival director Denis Villeneuve and how great it is to see him score his first Oscar nomination (he directed 2010 Best Foreign Language Film nominee Incendies, but that award goes to the country, not the filmmaker, so although he would have accepted the prize had the movie won, he wasn’t the nominee). I’ve been high on Villeneuve since he landed on my radar with his 2013 kidnapping drama Prisoners, and he was among my personal picks in this category last year for Sicario. This guy is a fantastic director, fully in command of the medium and the stories he’s telling. He wasn’t among my personal choices this year, but I only recently had the chance to watch Arrival for a second time, and I definitely got more out of it this time. I might have included it personally in several categories if I’d had a chance to see it twice before the nominations. Whether I would have included him or not, I’m excited by his nomination.

BEST ACTOR
Of the five nominees, Viggo Mortensen was the one who felt the most vulnerable going in, even with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) nomination under his belt. But he made it, along his four fellow SAG contenders, and I have to acknowledge it, because Viggo Mortensen is awesome. A great actor and class act all the way (scroll to the end of this recent interview for his story about the dinner he organized for his Captain Fantastic kids after the SAG Awards). He’s one of those actors — Sigourney Weaver, Ed Harris, Bill Murray and Michael Keaton are others that come to mind — who I really really want to see win an Oscar, so with every new role they take on that sounds like it has that sort of potential, I get excited for them and hope that the movie and performance are good enough, and catch the right wave of attention and bring them into the award season orbit. He’s not going to win, but I love that he got the nomination.

I was also happy to see Andrew Garfield score his first nomination. It should have been his second, but he missed out in 2010 for The Social Network. His character is Hacksaw Ridge is a tricky one, so unflappably earnest and pure that he could have come off as laughable. But Garfield found his way into the character’s core and sold the role 100% and then some. It’s been great to see him celebrated for it throughout the season.

BEST ACTRESS
The biggest surprise of the morning in terms of an expected nomination that did not come to pass was easily Amy Adams’ absence from the Best Actress list. It’s perplexing for a couple of reasons. One, as I mentioned in the previous post, the Academy adores Adams. Two, the movie was obviously embraced across the Academy, with recognition above the line — Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay — and below the line, from Cinematography to Sound Mixing. Given how central her performance and her character’s emotional state is to the entire fabric of the movie, her omission is rather stunning. With nominations not only from nearly every critics organization during Phase One, but also from key bodies like the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (distributor of the Golden Globes), BFCA, SAG and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), Adams was considered nearly as sure a thing as sure things Natalie Portman and Emma Stone.

We have to remember, though, that each branch nominates its own, so looking at all the other mentions Arrival earned doesn’t ultimately matter. One hand doesn’t know what the other is doing, and although Adams missed out amongst her peers, I’d wager she collected plenty of votes and came awfully close to making the list.

The question of who took Adams’ perceived spot has a different answer depending on how you saw the nominations going. Some might say it was Elle‘s Isabelle Huppert. By this point in the season, however, I felt Huppert was a good bet. So to me, the surprise is Ruth Negga. She didn’t came out-of-nowhere, having remained consistently in the mix since Loving‘s early November release (in fact the buzz for her and the movie really started last May at the Cannes Film Festival). But given the number of compelling performances that could have been nominated this year, Negga had become a longer shot, and she represents the only nomination received by Loving. I was thrilled to see her recognized, as she was one of my personal picks, but it was a fiercely competitive field, and any number of actresses deserved a spot only to miss out. Chief among them in my eyes are Rebecca Hall and Annette Bening. It was never expected to happen for Hall, unfortunately, but Bening was firmly in the running, so her omission is tough to take. She’s wonderful in 20th Century Women — dry, relaxed, introspective…I’ve never seen her play anyone quite like the character she plays here, and I’m sad she wasn’t honored for it.

I certainly would have preferred to see Bening over Meryl Streep, who earned her 20th nomination, breaking a record previously held by Meryl Streep. I love Meryl as much as anyone, and I enjoyed Florence Foster Jenkins quite a bit — more than I expected to. I have nothing bad to say about Streep’s performance; there was just stronger work this year that deserved recognition.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
One the most pleasant surprises among this year’s nominations was Michael Shannon, recognized for his intense, oddly comedic and sad portrayal of a West Texas detective working a case sometimes outside the boundaries of the law. Shannon earned strong reviews and awards buzz when the movie came out, but as the season unfolded it was his co-star Aaron Taylor-Johnson who took people by surprise with the most visible recognition (though Shannon was nominated by the BFCA). Taylor-Johnson was nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA award, and pulled off a huge upset by winning the former. That had led most pundits to expect that if anyone from Nocturnal Animals managed a nomination, it would be him. So it came somewhat out of left-field when Shannon’s name closed out the Academy’s list of Supporting Actor nominees. It’s the actor’s second nomination — his first was in 2008 for Revolutionary Road, opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Kathy Bates — and in both cases he came up from behind as a long shot. Many people thought he’d be in the running last year for the drama 99 Homes after he earned Golden Globe, SAG and BFCA nominations. It didn’t happen, but his peers celebrated him this year even without any of those accolades boosting his visibility. The nomination is even more surprising because it represents the only one collected by Nocturnal Animals, a film which several other organizations honored in multiple categories. BAFTA was especially high on it, citing it in nine races.

If anyone is seen as missing out at Shannon’s expense, it’s probably Hugh Grant. He received career-best notices for his work opposite Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins, and odds looked good for him to receive his first nomination. Some pundits seem to think that category confusion may have cost him the honor, as his Golden Globe nomination came for Best Actor (Comedy or Musical) while his other nominations – SAG and BAFTA among them – were for Supporting Actor. I’m not convinced this was a factor. The Golden Globes have a bit more room to play with given their separation of drama and comedy, but Grant’s role pretty clearly is a Supporting one, and I’d be surprised if those Academy voters who did include him on their ballots did so in the Lead Actor category vs. Supporting.

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BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Cheers to the writers for honoring the bizarre and imaginative screenplay for The Lobster, by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou. It didn’t pick up any other nominations, but its premise and execution had to earn it a place here. Hell or High Water, La La Land and Manchester by the Sea were all favorites, but it was tough trying to surmise what might get the fifth spot. I guessed Captain Fantastic, and I know that was a popular choice among other players of this game. I’d have been pleased with that, but I was also happy to see Mike Mills nominated for 20th Century Women, which begins with the great idea of a single mother enlisting the help of two other women in her life to help educate her teenage son in how to be a good man. Mills’ mother was the inspiration for Annette Bening’s character, just as his father inspired the character that Christopher Plummer won an Oscar for playing in Mills’ previous film, Beginners. His script is personal, warm, and generous to all of its characters. Terrific choice by the branch.

It’s also worth pointing out that Hell or High Water writer Taylor Sheridan got his first nomination, a year after missing out for Sicario, which as mentioned above was directed by Denis Villeneuve. That movie should have brought nominations for both of them. Nice to see them both here this year.

BEST FILM EDITING
I was a little surprised to see Manchester by the Sea miss out on this. This category tends to include the leading Best Picture nominees whether or not they seem to feature the most effective editing, but Manchester does take a somewhat non-linear approach to its story by withholding details of the event that defines Casey Affleck’s character when we meet him. It isn’t until midway through the film that we learn what happened to him, and even then the story is doled out in small fragments within a single sequence.

One nomination of note: Joi Mcmillan, co-editor of Moonlight, becomes the first African-American woman nominated for an Oscar in this category. With the #OscarsSoWhite movement still active in calling attention to the scarcity of women and people of color in behind-the-scenes positions, this recognition is great to see.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Another of my audible exclamations on the morning of the nominations came when Passengers was nominated for Best Production Design. Not only was it among my five personal picks, but I specifically made a point of praising the movie’s design and wondering why no one was talking about it as a contender in this area despite the Academy’s frequent recognition of more traditional “spaceship” movies. Too often, movies that aren’t seen as the Academy’s cup of tea are overlooked in areas where they nevertheless stand out, and not given the consideration they deserve. Although it was released at the height of awards season, Passengers was always a commercial play more than an awards one, but good for Academy voters who gave it a look and recognized its achievement in specific areas, regardless of its overall reception or its intended audience. Further demonstrating the movie’s achievement in this realm: The Art Directors Guild handed Passengers the prize in their Fantasy category, where it topped Arrival, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Doctor Strange and Rogue One.

This is one of two categories where my predictions were off by two; I got Arrival, La La Land and Fantastic Beasts; I missed Jackie and Silence. But those two slots went to Passengers and another of my personal picks, Hail, Caesar! (its sole nomination), so I have no complaints.

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BEST COSTUME DESIGN

The nominees here include Jackie, a movie I would have nominated in several categories (sorry, Aunt Geri). This, however, was not one of them, even if it was among my predictions. I would agree that Jackie boasts some of the most striking and beautiful costumes onscreen this year, but when many of those costumes are re-creations of already famous outfits — even iconic, in the case of the pink suit from the day of the assassination — then it irks me to see the results, however impressive, honored over work that didn’t have the benefit of countless photographs and even film footage to guide the design team. While clothes that Mrs. Kennedy wore in more private moments might have had to be imagined, many if not most of the outfits in Jackie are based on things actually worn by the former First Lady and those around her. I don’t want to minimize the difficulties, challenges or ultimate achievement that go into re-creating the design elements — be they costumes or sets — of true-life events, but when you’re singling out the five best achievements of the year, it has always seemed unfair to me when films that had the advantage of historical evidence are celebrated over original works.

Original work like the kind featured in Kubo and the Two Strings, whose vestiary praises I sung in the previous post. Failing to nominate the exceptional work in Kubo — which would have made it the first animated film to receive such an honor, though not the first to deserve it — was a huge missed opportunity for the Costume Design branch. I would love to know if it got a lot of votes and lost by a small number, or if there weren’t many voters who gave it serious consideration. I have to believe the former, because I don’t see how anyone who works as a costume designer and takes their craft seriously could fail to pay due attention to such sumptuous work.

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BEST ORIGINAL SONG
In the previous post I mentioned that with so many strong contenders in the mix, the category probably couldn’t handle three songs from La La Land, which would mean the exclusion of John Legend’s contribution, “Start a Fire.” However I had forgotten the current rule that no more than two songs from a movie can get nominated, so as it turned out the category really couldn’t handle three. But the two expected tunes from La La Land — “City of Stars” and  “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” — made the cut. With 91 songs to choose from, there are obviously a lot of ways for this category to go, but I’m pretty disappointed by the absence of Sia’s “Never Give Up” from Lion and especially “Drive It Like You Stole It” from the sadly underseen Sing Street – omissions that are all the more frustrating when they were partially kept at bay by Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” from Trolls. Okay, everyone loves JT, and the song was an instant hit when it came out last May (seven months before the movie’s release, to capitalize on its summery vibe). It was the best-selling song of the year in the U.S., and it’s fun and energizing and will probably make for a great production number on Oscar night that will have the crowd grooving. But c’mon, this song is the the sugariest stick of bubblegum you could imagine. I’m not saying a song has to be deep or particularly substantive to deserve an Oscar nomination, but “Drive It Like You Stole It” is just as infectious as “Can’t Stop the Feeling” — more so, to my ear — and definitely more interesting lyrically. It doesn’t strive to be much more than a catchy pop song either, but it has a little bit more to say than “feel the music, get up and dance.”

Oh well. What’s done is done. But you should go watch Sing Street. Right now.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Another of my most pleasant nomination surprises came in this category, and once again it was for Passengers. I mentioned Thomas Newman’s score in my predictions post, but didn’t think it had much of a chance. I even lamented that I pushed it off of my personal picks, but it was right there for me, essentially on even ground with the five scores I did pick as my own choices. Newman is Hollywood royalty (his father Alfred is one of the most famous film composers of all time, whose work includes this brief but iconic piece) and a beloved composer who has been nominated in this category 12 times before (and maddeningly, is still seeking his first win). Whether or not his stature among his peers helped him this year or they just dug the music, it was a nomination I was happy to see. Ditto for Mica Levi’s Jackie score, which was also one of my personal picks, but one I thought might be too odd and untraditional to penetrate deeply enough into the ranks of the music branch. Happily, they surprised me. Less happily, they also surprised me by passing over Abel Korzeniowski’s lush, romantic Nocturnal Animals score, which has a classic, old-school Hollywood feel that I thought would be a big appeal to this crowd. Maybe it was, but not enough so to crack the final five.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Most people with an interest in visual effects were probably surprised by the inclusion of Deepwater Horizon, and I would have been too had I not attended the branch’s Bake-Off event, as I discussed in the previous post. Hearing the VFX supervisor talk about his team’s work made me realize how deserving the movie was, and I was glad the voters felt the same way. The bigger question mark was whether or not they would honor the stop-motion animated Kubo and the Two Strings. I wasn’t sure they would, as my predictions showed, nor was I sure they should, as my commentary expressed. But despite my mixed feelings, I have to say that seeing the movie show up on the list of nominees brought me a big smile. Even though I didn’t include it among my personal picks, I knew what a triumph it was for everyone up at Laika Entertainment to receive this nomination — only the second ever for an animated film.

I thought the spot that ended up going to Kubo would be given to Arrival, given the branch’s frequent tendency to nominate at least one “prestige” film. Among the ten films left in the running when the Bake-Off was held, Arrival was the only one in serious running for Best Picture and other top awards, so history led me to expect it among the final five. The movie’s visual effects look great, but in a tough year that also could have resulted in deserved nominations for Passengers and Captain America: Civil War, I think the final picks represent a terrific array of work.

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BEST SOUND MIXING AND BEST SOUND EDITING

When discussing the sound categories in my predictions post, and the wide array of films from which they could come, I named 16 titles that I thought represented the field. Even with that many, I still left one off that ended up getting nominated for Sound Mixing: Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, a movie that came out way the hell back in January 2016, the day after last year’s Oscar nominations were announced. I was an idiot not to have kept this movie on my radar; Bay’s movies tend to do well in the sound categories, and had I remembered it, I definitely would have had it among my list of movies to consider, whether or not I’d have ultimately predicted a nomination. So that was a glaring oversight on my part.

I didn’t include La La Land in my predictions for Sound Editing because musicals and music-centric movies never get nominated here. Sound Mixing, yes. Sound Editing, no. I knew this movie could potentially be the one to change that, but I went with precedent. Sure enough, it came through, pushing La La Land to a record-tying 14 nominations, and ruining all future chances when making predictions in this category of saying, “Musicals never get nominated for Sound Editing.” So thanks for that, Academy. As if this isn’t hard enough…

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
As usual, I didn’t make predictions in this category, having not seen any of the films in the mix. But I was aware of the movies in the running, and aware that one of the most frequent winners from critic’s groups was O.J.: Made in America, a nearly eight-hour sociological deep dive into the life, professional career and downfall of O.J. Simpson. The project was created for television as part of ESPN’s acclaimed 30 for 30 series, but because it was briefly exhibited in movie theaters in New York and Los Angeles, it qualified for Oscar consideration and made the cut. Count me among the contingent that finds this unfair. Yes, technically the movie qualifies. But this was not created to be a theatrical documentary, and it’s not right that other films — which were intended to be films (not epic television projects) and had to work within a traditional theatrical running time — should have to be measured against a piece that had hours more to explore its subject and tell its story. Regardless of how good it is – and by all accounts it’s an incredible piece of work – it shouldn’t be considered alongside other films whose directors had to make harder choices about what to sacrifice and what to focus on. The movie is considered the frontrunner, but if I were one of the other nominated filmmakers, I’d find it extremely frustrating not to be judged on a relatively even playing field.

On a more positive note, the great Ava DuVernay — who should have been a Best Director nominee in 2014 for Selma — is a nominee now for her doc 13th, which argues that the mass incarceration of African-Americans is effectively the continuation of slavery. Hopefully this is the first of many Oscar nominations DuVernay will collect in time. (By the way, 13th‘s distributor Netflix has addressed the disparity in running time with O.J.: Made in America by putting out billboards and banner ads that highlight its more traditional length.)

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Now then…I can’t wrap this post up without commenting on one aspect of this year’s nominations that has already been frequently-discussed. Much of the reporting in the minutes and days after the announcement centered on the inclusion of several actors of color among the nominees, as well as three films in the Best Picture category focused on African-American characters. Many outlets were quick to declare #OscarsSoWhite a thing of the past. This year’s nominations indeed take us in the direction we should be heading, but let’s not be too quick to declare Hollywood a post-racial paradise of inclusion.

First of all, none of these movies — Moonlight, Fences or Hidden Figures — arrived in theaters as a reaction to the past two years’ unfortunate lack of diverse stories and performers nominated for Oscars. Movies take a long time to make. They take a long time to write, a long time to gestate and develop, and a long time to land financing. That’s all before the cast and crew takes shape and the movie actually gets shot and then edited and assembled in post-production. It doesn’t happen in a year’s time. It seldom happens in even two years’ time. That means these movies were already in the works. If anything, they may have been put on an accelerated track for release to ensure they hit theaters within a year of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, but whenever they were going to arrive, the important thing to remember is that they were going to arrive.    Whether or not they would have gained traction with the Academy in a different year would be subject to all the other movies in the mix, but you can safely bet they would all still have been in play. The fact remains, however, that the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag will be hiding in the wings, ready to be dusted off and displayed again anytime the year’s most celebrated movies do not reflect the diversity of the real world.

Of course, directing that rallying cry at the Oscars was misguided from the start, as the problem is not with the Oscars but with the studios and producers who decide with their millions of dollars what movies get made. The more movies depicting varied cultural, racial and sexual characters and experiences, the more likely that audiences will find those movies, that critics will champion those movies, and that award-giving bodies will honor those movies. It’s all about what gets made. That’s where the focus should be. The Academy has been making big moves toward diversity for longer than the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag has existed, and as positive and important as those moves are, they’re not going to solve the problem of more diverse representation at the Oscars. So by all means, enjoy the representation featured among this year’s  nominees, but don’t yet claim the battle for diversity is won. Let’s see how things look in two years, four years and beyond. That’s the test.

Now with that said, let’s end things on a fun note…assuming that you find any of this fun. Each year in my Favorite Movies of the Year post, I put forth some nominations for Oscar categories that don’t exist but are fun to consider. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to complete one of those posts since the 2013 list, so I’m transferring my fake Oscar categories here instead. From my one-man Academy, which is not bound by the five-roster rule, my categories and nominees are:

BEST POSTER

[Larger Versions: The Birth of a Nation (Noose); The Birth of a Nation (Flag); Patriots Day; Certain Women; 13th; The Handmaiden; Jackie; Pride & Prejudice & Zombies; De Palma]

BEST TRAILER
Fences (Teaser #1); La La Land (City of Stars Teaser); La La Land (Audition Teaser); Zoolander 2 (Teaser)

BEST CASTING
Captain Fantastic – Jeanne McCarthy
Hell or High Water – Jo Edna Boldin, Richard Hicks
Indignation – Avy Kaufman
Little Men – Avy Kaufman
Loving – Francine Maisler
Manchester by the Sea – Douglas Aibel
Moonlight – Yesi Ramirez
Other People – Allison Jones
Silence – Ellen Lewis

BEST ENSEMBLE
20th Century Women; A Bigger Splash; Captain Fantastic; Fences; Hidden Figures; Manchester by the Sea; Moonlight; Nocturnal Animals; Other People; Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

BEST BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE
Julian Dennison – Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Alex R. Hibbert – Moonlight
Madina Nalwanga – Queen of Katwe
Sunny Pawar – Lion
Lewis McDougall – A Monster Calls
Angourie Rice – The Nice Guys
Trevante Rhodes – Moonlight
Ashton Sanders – Moonlight
Neel Sethi – The Jungle Book
Hayden Setzo – The Edge of Seventeen
Theo Taplitz – Little Men

BEST BODY OF WORK
Mahershala Ali (Free State of Jones, Hidden Figures, Moonlight)
Michael Shannon (Complete Unknown, Midnight Special, Loving, Nocturnal Animals)
Michael Stuhlbarg (Arrival, Doctor Strange, Miles Ahead, Miss Sloane)
Rachel Weisz (Complete Unknown, Denial, The Light Between Oceans, The Lobster)
The Woods (Captain Fantastic, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Jungle Book, The Lobster, Pete’s Dragon, Swiss Army Man, The Witch)

BEST SONG SOUNDTRACK
20th Century Women; Deadpool; Everybody Wants Some!; La La Land; Sing Street

BEST OPENING CREDITS
10 Cloverfield Lane; Deadpool; Nocturnal Animals; A Monster Calls

BEST CLOSING CREDITS
A Bigger Splash; Deadpool; The Jungle Book; Kubo and the Two Strings

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January 23, 2017

Oscars 2016: Nominations Eve – My Absurdly Long Predictions Opus

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I was going to kick off this post talking somewhat extensively about a movie that premiered right around this time last year, at the Sundance Film Festival, in the wake of the second consecutive year of all-white acting nominees and the resulting rise of #OscarsSoWhite. The Birth of a Nation took home the festival’s  Grand Jury and Audience Prizes for Drama, and sold to Fox Searchlight for a record-setting $17.5 million. It was instantly proclaimed the front-runner for the next year’s Oscars. Then in the few months leading up to its October release, it became mired in controversy stemming from director/co-writer/leading man Nate Parker’s involvement in a sexual assault lawsuit years earlier, when he was in college. Parker’s past became the narrative around the movie, and by the time it came out, it was DOA. It has been almost entirely absent from the awards season, and no one even seemed to be talking about that fate.

I should have written what I wanted to about all of that earlier and had it ready to go, but I didn’t, and now there’s no time. There’s more than enough material out there to consume for anyone who missed the story at the time and wants to learn more. But I thought it was worth mentioning, especially since #OscarsSoWhite is not going to be a problem this year even without The Birth of a Nation in the running.

BEST PICTURE
So that’s all I’ll say about the movie that won’t get nominated for Best Picture. Let’s talk about the ones that will, starting with La La Land (which will easily be the year’s most nominated film), Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea. Rock solid, those are. We can also reasonably expect Hell or High Water, Lion and Arrival, all of which have demonstrated impressive staying power throughout the critics awards and guild nominations. That puts us at six, and of course we don’t know what the magic number will be. We’re now in the sixth year of Best Picture yielding anywhere between five and ten nominees depending on how the numbers play out. The first three years saw nine nominations, while the last two gave us eight. So as always, it gets trickier as we proceed. FencesHacksaw Ridge, Loving and Jackie are sure to have strong support among the ranks, but Loving‘s bare-bones simplicity and Jackie‘s ethereal intimacy probably don’t play as broadly as Fences and Hacksaw. Sully is a longshot at this point, having been eclipsed by too many other options since its September release, but a nomination isn’t impossible. Much more recent arrivals Silence and Hidden Figures were once thought to be certain contenders, but the reception for Silence has largely lived up to its title, while Hidden Figures – popular crowd-pleaser though it is – might lose ground to Lion as the year’s biggest heart-tugger. Both Figures and Lion found favor with the Producers Guild of America (PGA), but that group nominates a guaranteed slate of ten movies, and always leans commercial where the Academy leans prestigious. To that point, the PGA nominated Deadpool, whose other notable accolades include Best Picture and Best Actor nominations (Musical/Comedy) at the Golden Globes. But despite a super sincere pitch for inclusion, don’t expect the the wiseass mutant to show up in the Academy’s above-the-line races. Anyway, Hidden Figures walks the commercial/prestigious line, but is still a tough call. It went into successful wide release in the middle of the voting period, so might that help? I can see it going either way.

XX
Predictions:

Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Personal Picks:
20th Century Women
Fences
Jackie
La La Land
Loving
Manchester by the Sea
A Monster Calls
Moonlight
Silence
Sully

BEST DIRECTOR
The Big Three lead us off here as well, in the forms of Damien Chazelle (La La Land), Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) and Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea). Alongside this trio, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) put forth Denis Villeneuve for Arrival and Garth Davis for Lion. The latter selection took me aback, even coming just one day after it was nominated by another guild I hadn’t expected (which we’ll get to further down). I wasn’t sensing that Lion was that big a player, and I’m still skeptical it will hit the same notes with the Academy. The DGA nominees almost never match up with the Academy’s picks five-for-five, and I have to think that Davis will be the odd man out. Villeneuve seems like a good bet to repeat with the Academy, especially given that Arrival – unlike Lion – has been a more visible player across the top categories during the precursor phase…though Lion has done well.

The director’s branch sometimes uses that fifth slot to celebrate a helmer who has been largely overlooked by other groups, as was the case the past two years with Room‘s Lenny Abrahamson and Foxcatcher‘s Bennett Miller, respectively. On that possibility, never underestimate directors’ esteem for Martin Scorsese. Although Silence didn’t make much noise in the precursor phase (c’mon, these puns are begging to be used), it was one of the very last movies of the year to begin screening within the industry, and it certainly hasn’t been poorly received. It’s just gotten lost in the year-end glut. It has its admirers, and the fact that it’s been a decades-long dream of Scorsese’s to make it, and that it was surely a difficult production to finance and mount, might fuel its chances. Directors who respect Scorsese for continuing to push himself and create artful, challenging films may well want to show him their appreciation.

Still, there are others in the mix. Mel Gibson found himself back in Hollywood’s good graces with Hacksaw Ridge, which left many viewers breathless with its intense battle scenes and moved by its celebration of old fashioned heroism. David Mackenzie’s direction of Hell or High Water doesn’t call attention to itself, which the movie’s fans will likely appreciate. The same could be said for Jeff Nichols and Loving, but his odds seem distant. On the other side of the coin are a pair of movies whose directorial style is front and center: Pablo Larraín’s Jackie and Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. Both men have found a fair amount of love from the critics, but their work might be too divisive to earn enough votes within the Academy…though I’d give better odds to Larraín. One last possibility worth mentioning is Denzel Washington, who delivered a forceful screen version of Fences. Powerful as the movie is, however, it retains the feeling of a play, and stands more as a showcase of acting and writing than directing.

Predictions:
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Martin Scorsese – Silence

Personal Picks:
Pablo Larraín – Jackie
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
J.A. Bayona – A Monster Calls

BEST ACTOR
Given the astonishing dominance of Casey Affleck, who has picked up nearly every single critic’s award there is for his aching performance in Manchester by the Sea, nominating four other guys feels like a formality. But that’s how it works,  so when Casey arrives onstage to collect the prize, he can acknowledge his fellow nominees Denzel Washington – the only other super-sure thing – and almost definitely Ryan Gosling. Andrew Garfield is a bit less definite, but still right on the edge of almost definite. Along with Affleck, Washington, Gosling and Garfield, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) went with Viggo Mortensen, an excellent choice that could easily repeat with the Academy. There are usually one or two differences between SAG nominees and Oscar nominees, but there’s also usually one category a year where the two bodies match up, and this year Best Actor could be the one. Although the most vulnerable of the five, Mortensen also has a nomination from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and was a Golden Globe nominee.

Overall, the field isn’t nearly as crowded as usual, making for a less painful process of elimination to round out the category if the Academy passes on Viggo (or Garfield or even Gosling). Loving‘s Joel Edgerton has stayed in the mix thanks to several critic’s groups nominations, but it’s hard to gauge how that movie will do. Everything about Loving is quiet and unassuming, and especially when it comes to acting, those aren’t necessarily the performances that get recognized. Adam Driver has also been nominated by quite a few critics groups for his turn in Paterson, but he faces the same challenges as Edgerton in a movie that’s almost surely been seen less widely. Plus, Jim Jarmusch films have never exactly caught on with the Academy. Driver would need a passionate and sizable fan base within the acting branch.

Tom Hanks gave yet another of his reliable and understated – many would argue undervalued – performances in Sully, and after 16 years since his last nomination, he’s long overdue for another. Sully could be the one to bring him back, especially given the thinner-than-usual slate of contenders. The movie doesn’t give him the kind of unforgettable scene he had at the end of Captain Phillips, for which he was widely expected to be nominated, but 2012 was a maddeningly competitive year for Best Actor. Michael Keaton and Matthew McConaughey were at one time expected to be in the thick of the race for their vibrant performances in The Founder and Gold, respectively, but The Weinstein Company – distributor of both films – totally dropped the ball with the releases, dumping them into the packed December market with minimally-publicized one-week qualifying runs before releasing them wide this month (The Founder this past Friday, Gold this coming Friday.) Harvey Weinstein is usually much smarter and savvier than this, and The Founder is especially head-scratching since it was initially set for release in August, when it would have had breathing room and Keaton – whose hot streak continues with another excellent performance – could have built up some momentum. But for whatever reason – possibly financial limitations? – TWC put all their muscle behind Lion (which, admittedly, will work out well for them) and hung The Founder and Gold out to dry.

The remaining names in the mix face slim odds, despite having popped up in high-profile places. Deadpool‘s Ryan Reynolds and The Lobster‘s Colin Farrell both earned Golden Globe nominations in the Musical/Comedy category, while Jake Gyllenhaal raised eyebrows with a BAFTA nomination for Nocturnal Animals that displaced Denzel Washington. In fact, I learned in the wake of that surprise that BAFTA has never nominated Denzel Washington. NEVER! Not for Glory, not for Malcolm X, not for The Hurricane, not for Carbon Copy…what the hell is that about? Did Denzel do something early in his career to offend the Brits?

Oh, and for what it’s worth, Don Cheadle gave a great performance as Miles Davis way back in the April release Miles Ahead, but it’s been long forgotten save for one nomination in the precursor phase. Cheers to you, North Texas Film Critics Association!

Predictions:
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington – Fences

Personal Picks:
Same

BEST ACTRESS
For the second year in a row – noteworthy because, sadly, it’s not usually the case – the Best Actress conversation has far more deserving nominees than available space. Actually, it’s not that the pool is especially large as much as it is robust. Better to have a surplus of great work than a dearth, but it makes for difficult choices and unfortunate omissions. Emma Stone and Natalie Portman needn’t worry about this, as their spots are assured. Amy Adams is a near lock too, after Arrival went from a bubble candidate upon its release to a bona fide awards season darling. Her almost-certain nomination will be the sixth she’s collected in 11 years. (She has yet to win, but make no mistake: the Academy loves Amy Adams.)

Isabelle Huppert has pulled in major acclaim – and lots of precursor awards – for Elle, and is a good bet for a nomination, but faces obstacles. The movie is smaller, without the kind of marketing muscle that the likes of La La Land, Jackie and Arrival have in their corner. It’s a movie that voters will need to seek out rather than wandering into a screening any night of the week anywhere in Hollywood. Motivation to see the film shouldn’t be a problem given how much attention Huppert has garnered. She has rivaled Portman nearly neck-and-neck for prizes from critic’s groups, and has come out better so far when it comes to higher profile wins. The New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Association and National Society of Film Critics – three of only five standard critics groups that really matter on their own – gave their award to Huppert, and she also bested Portman at the Golden Globes, taking the award for the Drama category. Despite all of this, the movie is still something of an outsider, which could impact Huppert’s chances to some degree. Plus, for all the attention she’s received, she was passed over by BAFTA and SAG. Unlike all these critics groups, SAG and BAFTA actually share members with the Academy, so their selections can offer clues. But they also shouldn’t be overestimated; just last year, Charlotte Rampling scored a Best Actress nod at the Oscars, and Huppert fits a nearly identical pattern: veteran performer, acclaimed international star never before nominated by the Academy, earning some of the best review of her long career, landing a lot of wins and/or nominations during the precursor phase but missing out with SAG and BAFTA…if it could happen for Rampling – who also didn’t get a Golden Globe nomination, let alone the win – it could surely happen for Huppert. Still, there’s one key difference that should be mentioned, and that’s subject matter. Elle deals with a rape and its aftermath (other things too, but the rape is what sets the story going), and overall it subject matter is “difficult.” That might deter some voters from pursuing it. (Huppert’s is the only performance in the Best Actress conversation that I haven’t seen. I’d love to check out her work, but knowing what the movie is at least partially about, I know I don’t have the stomach for it. Not on the big screen at least. Maybe I can eventually give it a try at home.)

Speaking of SAG and BAFTA, both groups shared a rather baffling inclusion: Emily Blunt for The Girl on the Train. Don’t get me wrong: I love Blunt, and would have been thrilled to see her nominated for The Devil Wear Prada and Sicario. But The Girl on the Train? Despite its origins as a popular best-seller, the movie landed softly, middling in both its critical and box office reception, and for reason. She was good, and most reviews singled her out as the best thing about the movie, but still…it’s hard to justify such high profile honors when there was much more impressive work in the mix. (Plus – and of course this has nothing to do with the quality of the performance – but the character was so unsympathetic that I spent most of the movie’s duration wanting to violently shake her and give her a couple of good slaps across the face…not feelings I usually have toward people). Anyway, these nominations mean we have to talk about Blunt. Now we’ve talked about her, and I think that’s as far as she goes. I just can’t imagine the Academy affording her a spot given the competition.

No, I’m afraid the last spot may go to Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins. I say “afraid” because it’s a safe and unimaginative choice. Look, we all know Meryl Streep is a marvel (well, most of us), and she does it again in Jenkins as a wealthy socialite whose determination to be an opera singer is matched by her complete lack of talent. As we’ve seen in movies like Postcards from the Edge and A Prairie Home Companion, Streep has a lovely singing voice, so it may have required a unique skill set to suppress her natural ability and come off as such a disaster. The movie is charming and it’s a delightful performance, yes. Plus, outside factors always come into play, and Streep’s chances were no doubt boosted by the memorable speech she gave at the Golden Globes while accepting a lifetime achievement award. That went down smack in the middle of the Oscar voting period, and it almost surely won her some votes. But the fact is there’s richer, more complicated, more nuanced and simply more deserving work this year, and it will be a disappointment if voters rubber-stamp Streep for what is ultimately a lightweight offering.


One such performance that belongs here is Annette Bening’s in 20th Century Women, and when the movie debuted at the AFI Fest in November, she was touted as a highly likely nominee alongside Portman and Stone. But that was before Adams and Huppert surged, and before Streep picked up nominations from SAG and BAFTA; nominations that I believe mean more for her than for Blunt because she was already in the mix, whereas Blunt feels like a kooky outlier choice. Bening could still break through, but she’s looking more and more like a longshot. Ditto for Ruth Negga, who gave a beautiful breakout performance in Loving as a modest wife and mother who quietly but defiantly challenges the county’s discriminatory interracial marriage laws. Negga, like her co-star Joel Edgerton, may pay the price for the subtlety of the performance and the overall film. But if it turns out to have stuck with enough voters, Negga could have a shot.

Like Bening, Taraji P. Henson started generating talk when Hidden Figures finally bowed late in the season, but it may have been too late. She probably would have needed one major nomination elsewhere in order to have a fighting chance at the Oscars. Without one, she’s probably out. Jessica Chastain gave another fierce and worthy performance in Miss Sloane, but she and the movie were largely buried under higher profile releases. Also shamefully lost in the shuffle this season was the terrific coming of age comedy The Edge of Seventeen, anchored by a superb Hailee Steinfeld performance. She never earned buzz as an awards possibility, but she should have. She received a deserved Golden Globe nomination in the Musical/Comedy category, but that was the extent of her presence. Finally, I have to mention the most disappointing example of neglect in any acting category of the year: Rebecca Hall in Christine. She did get some critic’s group mentions here and there, but none from the ones that mattered (unless we count runner-up to Huppert from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association). As a real-life, troubled news reporter who shot herself on the air, Hall’s performance was like nothing we’ve seen her do before, and she captured the character’s pain and disappointment and social awkwardness with dry wit and deep pathos. She should be in the thick of any legitimate Best Actress conversation.

Predictions:
Amy Adams – Arrival
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

Personal Picks:
Annette Bening – 20th Century Women
Rebecca Hall – Christine
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
You could pretty much stack this category with the five principal male performances from Moonlight and be done with it. That’s how good Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes (playing main character Chiron at ages 9, 16 and 26, respectively), André Holland and Mahershala Ali all are. But short of a major surprise, it’s Ali who will get the nomination. He’s completely run this category in the precursor phase and is the heavy favorite to win the award. I’m a bit surprised by his domination, not because he isn’t great – he is – but because he doesn’t have a huge amount of screen time, and because the other performances are also so good. Personally I’d give the nomination to Rhodes, who not only has the larger role, but arguably the greater challenge as well: connecting the adult Chiron in the movie’s final third to the younger actors who played him in the earlier segments. Regardless, Ali is a sure thing.

The only other likely lock is Hell or High Water‘s Jeff Bridges, who’s been a consistent nominee, winner or runner-up so far. A surprising number of critics groups also cited his co-star Ben Foster, but I don’t expect that to continue with the Academy. Ironically, the actor most deserving of award attention for Hell or High Water is the one who hasn’t gotten any: Chris Pine. Bridges and Foster are terrific, but we’ve seen both actors play similar characters before. Bridges, especially, could play this guy in his sleep. Pine was the real revelation, and reviews repeatedly said as much when the movie came out last summer. Unfortunately the role – although the lead one among the three – isn’t dominant enough for Pine to have broken through as a Best Actor contender. Too bad.

Dev Patel is probably in for Lion, nearly a decade after his breakthrough in Slumdog Millionaire brought him within striking distance of a nomination. Lucas Hedges is a strong possibility for Manchester by the Sea, but there are some potential stumbling blocks. Although Hedges has been a fixture among nominees from regional critics, he was passed over by the Golden Globes and BAFTA. He did land BFCA and SAG nominations, but SAG in particular has always been generous to young actors, and at 20 – not a kid anymore, but not far off – Hedges is in a bit of a grey zone with the Academy. They don’t often nominate young performers, and when they do, girls have a better track record than guys. If nominated, he would be the youngest male in either lead or supporting categories to be nominated since Haley Joel Osment for The Sixth Sense in 1999. Since then, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Kiera Knightley, Abigail Breslin, Ellen Page, Saoirse Ronan, Jennifer Lawrence, Hailee Steinfeld and Quvenzhané Wallis have all been nominated while between Osment’s then-age and Hedges’ current age. This is hardly a scientific argument, or a demonstration that Hedges won’t get the nod, but it’s not as certain as Manchester‘s expected presence or Hedges’ success thus far might lead you to believe. He could easily be among the overlooked.

For the one – or maybe two – remaining spots, we could look to Hugh Grant, who earned some of his best notices ever for Florence Foster Jenkins, and who scored with the Globes, SAG and BAFTA. His co-star Simon Helberg – also Golden Globe nominated – is deserving as well, but a long shot at best. Michael Shannon has been a critic’s favorite for Nocturnal Animals, but was ignored by most major entities (the BFCA cited him) while to everyone’s surprise, his co-star Aaron Taylor-Johnson scored nominations from BAFTA, as well as truly shocking Golden Globe victory over Mahershala Ali. I’m not expecting his good luck will extend to the Oscars (or that Shannon will manage to break through) but clearly the performance is sticking with people. In advance of Hidden Figures‘ release, Kevin Costner was generating a lot of talk, but he hasn’t been singled out by any group, so at this point a nomination would be a surprising.

I’m also compelled to mention three performances that haven’t had much traction, but deserve consideration. First, Alden Ehrenreich, the up-and-comer who stole the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar! out from under a jacked cast boasting Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johannsson, Channing Tatum and Tilda Swinton. Second, one of Ehrenreich’s scene partners in Caesar: Ralph Fiennes, who did blazing, boisterous work opposite Tilda Swinton in A Bigger Splash. Lastly, John Goodman as a creepy, unpredictable survivalist in 10 Cloverfield Lane. It’s crazy that Goodman has still never been nominated for an Oscar, and although the Academy rarely honors commercial horror/thriller/sci-fi movies like 10 Cloverfield, Goodman’s excellent performance would be a welcome exception. All three actors have received a smattering of recognition amongst the critic’s awards, but the odds of any getting Oscar love are slim to none.

Predictions:
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Hugh Grant – Florence Foster Jenkins
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel – Lion

Personal Picks:
Alden Ehrenreich – Hail, Caesar!
Ralph Fiennes – A Bigger Splash
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Trevante Rhodes – Moonlight
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
As awards season was unfolding, one big question affecting people’s early predictions was whether Viola Davis would be pushed as a lead or supporting actress for Fences. Davis won a Lead Actress Tony Award for the role in a 2010 stage revival. The same part also earned Mary Alice a Tony Award in the original Broadway production, but her win was in the Featured Actress category (the Tony’s equivalent of Supporting). So while category fraud often finds leading performances shuffled into the supporting categories because odds of winning might be better there – see Rooney Mara and winner Alicia Vikander last year – there was precedent for Davis to go either way. It was reportedly Davis herself who, after watching a final cut of the film, felt her performance belonged in the Supporting race. Once people got a look at Fences, there was no question she’d be nominated; only where she’s be placed. Count her in.

She’s sure to be joined by Michelle Williams, who’s role in Manchester by the Sea is small but in one particular scene packs such a punch that it could actually leave people physically bruised. Moonlight‘s Naomie Harris is also a sure bet, playing a mother whose drug addiction continually gets in the way of her love for her son. All three of these actresses are playing mothers and/or wives, and motherhood is a big theme among the potential nominees this year. In Lion, Nicole Kidman plays the devoted adoptive mother of two Indian boys; in Queen of Katwe, Lupita Nyong’o is a mother concerned that her daughter’s success as a chess prodigy will build up hopes that can’t be fulfilled; and both Other People‘s Molly Shannon and A Monster Calls‘ Felicity Jones play mothers dying of cancer, fighting to ensure their children will be okay when they’re gone. Unfortunately, most of these terrific performances have received too little award attention to stand much chance of getting nominated, save for Kidman, whose chances look good thanks to nominations from SAG, BAFTA, the Golden Globes and the BFCA.

Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe both play wives and mothers in Hidden Figures, though their domestic roles take a back seat to their professional roles in the story of African-American women’s contribution to NASA’s space program in the 1960’s. Monáe was nominated by the BFCA, and Spencer was nominated for a Golden Globe and SAG award and is on many pundits’ list of expected Oscar nominees. I’m not sure what to expect. Her performance (and Monáe’s) are enjoyable, but don’t merit Oscar attention in my view. Not that my view has any impact on what will actually happen. But I just don’t know if I see it happening. Another option that’s vexing me is Greta Gerwig, who plays a bohemian artist boarding with a mother and her teenage son in 20th Century Women. Several critics’ organization’s nominated her, but I don’t know if the movie has managed to make an impression on enough Academy voters.

One actress who has has done well with critics but who has little prayer with the Academy is Certain Women‘s Lily Gladstone, a young actress who plays a ranch worker so lonely that she wanders into a night class just to be in the company of other people, and then begins to yearn for the instructor, played by Kristen Stewart. The movie also stars Laura Dern and Michelle Williams, but it’s Gladstone who has resonated. There’s no way the movie has been seen by enough people for her to crack the race, and even if it had, her performance, open-hearted as it may be, is so understated and quiet that she makes Loving‘s Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton look like they’re playing Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in What’s Opera, Doc?

Predictions:
Viola Davis – Fences
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Personal Picks:
Viola Davis – Fences
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Lupita Nyong’o – Queen of Katwe
Molly Shannon – Other People
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
As evidenced by the preceding sections, and this annual post I’ve been doing for far too long, Oscar predictions are based in no small part on what other organizations have nominated. The most important place to look when it comes to the screenplay awards is the Writers Guild of America (WGA) nominations. Yet this always proves tricky, since the WGA plays by its own rules. If a movie is written by a non-guild member, or if the production operates outside of certain guild guidelines, it is deemed ineligible for consideration. Inevitably, this occurs every year with movies that are prominently in the running. In the category of Original Screenplay, this year’s affected movies include Florence Foster Jenkins, The Lobster, Paterson, Everybody Wants Some! and Miss Sloane. Of these, only The Lobster seems a possibility for the Oscars, and its chances would have been strong with the WGA had it been eligible.

As it is, the WGA’s nominees this year are Manchester by the Sea, Hell or High Water, La La Land, Loving and Moonlight. The first two will surely be nominated, and it’s hard to imagine La La Land missing out even if its screenplay is pretty simple and straightforward. However we now come to another wrench in the gears; one which is less frequent than the yearly WGA ineligibilities. The Academy ruled last month that Moonlight and Loving will be considered in the Adapted category, not Original. Moonlight is based on a play Tarell Alvin McRaney, titled In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. McRaney receives a Story By credit on the film, though his material was significantly altered by Jenkins. Loving was partially informed and inspired by the 2011 documentary short The Loving Story, whose creator Nancy Buirski is among Loving‘s credited producers. Both Jenkins and Loving writer/director Jeff Nichols have been open about the source material that influenced their scripts…but we’ll save this for the next section. For now, we’re left with a race that looks quite different than it might have, and which the WGA now provides even less help in forecasting.

Two assumed slots are up for the taking, and will probably be filled from a short but potent list of challengers, topped by The Lobster. There were few films this year more original than this one, set in a world where single adults are forced to find a mate or else be turned into an animal. That’s an extremely simplistic description, but it will have to do until you see it for yourself. Despite the WGA’s ruling, I would be surprised if members of the writer’s branch didn’t support this one en masse. The movie feels like something Charlie Kaufman would have come up with, and given the good luck his films have had, surely The Lobster is on the shortlist of many a voter. Beyond that, the best bets are Captain Fantastic, 20th Century Women, Zootopia and Jackie. I have no sense of which one will come out on top, or if something else altogether might surprise. There’s no shortage of films that haven’t found traction on the awards circuit despite terrific scripts. Could we see Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Edge of Seventeen, Sing Street, Other People, or The Founder? I doubt it. But I wouldn’t mind being wrong.

Predictions:
Matt Ross – Captain Fantastic
Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Yorgos Lanthimos, Efythimis Filippou – The Lobster
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

Personal Picks:
Mike Mills – 20th Century Women
Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water
Taika Waititi – Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Yorgos Lanthimos, Efythimis Filippou – The Lobster
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

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BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Interestingly, the name of this category technically used to be Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published, and while I don’t know the circumstances around when or even if that officially changed, I do know that the last time a presenter of this award used that phrase was at the 2007 Oscars. Ever since then they’ve called it Best Adapted Screenplay. (How do I know this? Because I went to YouTube and started watching clips of this category until I found the turning point. That’s how dedicated I am to bringing you thorough commentary. That’s also why I’m never done until the nominations are hours away. This is my curse.) I bring it up because the literal interpretation of the category seems relevant in regards to Moonlight and Loving. The play that Barry Jenkins adapted was not produced or published (in fact, McCraney says it wasn’t really a play at all; that he never wrote it down in the way a play is written). Loving, though based on real events that are part of public record, was by Jeff Nichols’ own admission based in part on the documentary. So the Academy’s classification of Loving as adapted seems cut-and-dry to me. I’d be curious to know why the WGA saw it differently. As for Moonlight, it’s clearly adapted from another medium, but I wonder if it would have been considered an Original were the Academy still calling the category Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published.

In any case…they’re here now, and Moonlight will definitely be among the nominees, while Loving is a possibility. Fewer adapted scripts than originals were ruled ineligible by the the WGA; the most prominent was Lion, which is a good bet to land with the Academy. In the absence of the three movies mentioned so far, the WGA’s nominees were Arrival, Deadpool, Fences, Hidden Figures and Nocturnal Animals. Arrival will make the cut, and Fences looks good too. The WGA nominees often include some fun, commercial choices that tend to be ignored by the Academy (Trainwreck, Guardians of the Galaxy and Looper are recent examples), but they can usually be accommodated because of the more expected contenders that are disqualified. Translation: Deadpool probably won’t be a factor in your Oscar pool. It’s not an impossibility, but definitely not a likelihood. Hidden Figures and Nocturnal Animals both stand a chance, each having scored BFCA and BAFTA nominations along with mentions from other groups during the season. (BAFTA was especially taken with Nocturnal Animals, awarding it nine nominations. I don’t expect it will do quite as well with the stateside Academy.) This is one of the few areas where Silence has garnered a bit of attention, and I’ll say again that it was a late arrival, which could account for why it has struggled to gain traction in a field that is overcrowded, as always. Maybe it will surprise us with a decent showing.

Predictions:
Eric Heisserer – Arrival
August Wilson – Fences
Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi – Hidden Figures
Luke Davies – Lion
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

Personal Picks:
Park Chan-wook, Chung Seo-Kyung- The Handmaiden
August Wilson – Fences
Jeff Nichols – Loving
Patrick Ness – A Monster Calls
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Depending on the number of eligible films, there can be anywhere from two to five nominees for Animated Feature, and with 27 submissions this year, there should be no problem with at least 16 successfully qualifying, meaning we can expect a full slate of five nominees. Two of those will for sure go to Zootopia and Kubo and the Two Strings, which have dominated the critics’ awards with an almost equal number of wins (Kubo comes out just ahead). The category could easily be filled out by five mainstream releases, but the voters almost always include one or more lesser known films, often foreign, independent or both. Moana will probably make it, but I feel like Finding Dory is surprisingly difficult to call. Pixar movies have won this award in eight of the 15 years it’s existed. Only twice have they lost (Monsters Inc., Cars), and only three times have they not been nominated: for Cars 2, Monsters University and The Good Dinosaur…which we can probably all agree are the three weakest movies they’ve produced during that time period. Finding Dory has a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and was the second highest grossing film of the year. The problem is really that despite being universally well-received, it still seems to have been eclipsed by the three non-Pixar movies previously mentioned, and there are a lot of acclaimed indie films in the running (six of the most notable are highlighted in this Hollywood Reporter piece). Even though Dory has plenty of acclaim, does anyone think it matches the original, which won this award in 2003? And will members of the animation branch, when faced with something original vs. a sequel, go for the sequel? In a less crowded year with movies that look less interesting, maybe. This year, I’m not so sure. Or hey, maybe they’ll go with Seth Rogan’s hilariously raunchy Sausage Party, celebrating that animation can be totally adult-centric with a hard-R rating.

Regrettably, most of the smaller animated movies eluded me this year, or ran in theaters only briefly, just long enough to qualify for consideration. My personal list, therefore, is completely filled out by big studio picks. I have a feeling it would look slightly different had I been able to see some less-exposed contenders.

Predictions:
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
Zootopia

Personal Picks:
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
Sausage Party
Sing
Zootopia

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
As we move into the below-the-line categories, La La Land will be as much of a presence as it was above, starting here with a nomination for Linus Sandgren. He was among the lensers selected by the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), along with Bradford Young for Arrival, James Laxton for Moonlight, Rodrigo Prieto for Silence and Greig Fraser for Lion. Fraser’s nomination was a shock to me (it’s the other one I referred to above in the Best Director section when I mentioned my surprise over its presence on the DGA’s list.) I just don’t remember coming away from Lion thinking that the cinematography was among the year’s very best, and since the Oscar nominees are unlikely to align with the ASC picks, I’m once again left to think Lion will miss. Maybe I’m underestimating it.

If the Academy veers from the five ASC choices – either dropping Lion or perhaps something else – Nocturnal Animals could find its way in. Tom Ford’s movies can be counted on to look great, and Seamus McGarvey’s work on the movie is stylish and foreboding. Those adjectives may be even more appropriate to describe Natasha Braier’s gorgeous images in The Neon Demon, but unfortunately I don’t see the Academy going anywhere near that batshit crazy movie. (Nocturnal Animals is pretty batshit crazy too, actually, but The Neon Demon…Jesus, that movie is fuckin’ nuts.) The cinematographer’s branch has shown an affinity for Asian cinema over the years, which could bode well for The Handmaiden. There’s also been some recognition from critics groups for Hell or High Water, shot by Giles Nuttgens. I don’t expect it to make the cut, but it’s not out of the question.

Predictions:
Bradford Young – Arrival
Linus Sandgren – La La Land
James Laxton – Moonlight
Seamus McGarvey – Nocturnal Animals
Rodrigo Prieto – Silence

Personal Picks:
Stéphane Fontaine – Jackie
Linus Sandgren – La La Land
James Laxton – Moonlight
Natasha Braier – The Neon Demon
Rodrigo Prieto – Silence

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BEST FILM EDITING

Best Editing tends to mirror Best Picture closely, anointing that category’s favorites alongside possibly a “respectable” action movie. (Sometimes you get something that hits both buttons, like last year’s winner Mad Max: Fury Road.) This year’s Best Picture leaders La La LandMoonlight and Manchester by the Sea are all expected to score here, though it’s conceivable that either of the latter two could be usurped by any number of other prestige dramas. Arrival relies heavily on the success of its editing, and Hacksaw Ridge benefits from having intense war sequences. These movies all picked up nominations from the American Cinema Editors (ACE), though La La Land was in their Musical or Comedy category. Hell or High Water held the fifth spot in the Drama category. Across the pond, BAFTA also went with La La, Manchester, Arrival and Hacksaw, but swapped Nocturnal Animals for Moonlight. ACE’s Musical/Comedy category was rounded out by Deadpool, The Jungle Book, Hail, Caesar! and The Lobster. I’m doubtful any of these can break through into a race of just five, but Deadpool and The Jungle Book could conceivably crash the party.

For me, Jackie is right up there in terms of deserving recognition alongside those three, but I expect it will be overlooked. I would also think Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day – two intense, real-life dramas from Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg, each balancing a lot of moving parts – will have their supporters within the branch, as will Sully, which portrays the Miracle on the Hudson multiple times, from different angles and for different storytelling purposes throughout its running time. Had Sully caught on as a stronger contender in the top categories, I’d have given it better odds here. Lion could show up if it turns out to play across the Academy better than I’m expecting, as could Hidden Figures or Silence. I suppose we should also consider Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as a distant possibility, as The Force Awakens made a somewhat surprising appearance here last year. That movie had an ACE nomination, however, which Rogue One doesn’t. Not that an ACE nod is a prerequisite for an Oscar nod, but for a long shot like Rogue One, chances that it will make the cut without precedent from the guild seem slim.

Predictions:
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Personal Picks:
Jackie
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight
Sully

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
As always, period pieces and science-fiction/fantasy films rule the day in the design categories, so naturally La La Land – which is neither – leads us off. True, contemporary films with “real-world” settings are seldom recognized in this category, but La La Land may be the most gorgeously color-coorindated movie since Dick Tracy, which took home the award in this category in 1990. Seriously, look at how the green of the pencil eraser interacts with the green of the pencil itself and the green on Emma’s shirt and the blue reflected on the window. Colors….pretty….

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Moving into more traditional territory for this category, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them could bring three-time winner Stuart Craig back to the race. The production designer on all eight Harry Potter movies, Craig returned for this spin-off where the 1920’s setting allowed him to blend period details into the fantasy elements of the wizarding world that earned him four nominations for the Potter movies. The unique design of the alien crafts in Arrival – both interior and exterior – make that movie a prime contender here, and Passengers should be in the thick of the conversation too. Although it earned a nomination from the Art Director’s Guild (ADG) in their Fantasy category, it didn’t show up with any critic’s groups that give out awards in this category. But many of those organizations, as well as the Academy, love to nominate “spaceship movies” even when the spaceships in question all look pretty much the same time and time again. Given the Production Design branch’s recognition in the last three years of Gravity, Interstellar and The Martian, certainly they should be taking a close look at the more imaginative, unique design of Passengers‘ enormous ship, designed to be a playground of luxury for its inhabitants on their journey to a new life in the cosmos. Elsewhere in the area of Fantasy, Doctor Strange is worthy of attention, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story brought some fresh locations and design elements to the 40 year-old galaxy far, far away.

On the period side, Jackie was frequently cited by critic’s groups for its re-creation of the Kennedy-era White House, while the 1790’s English setting of Love & Friendship also earned some attention. Silence and The Handmaiden spotlight different but equally impressive depictions of Asian locales, with the former taking place in 1600’s Japan and the latter in Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 1900s. Hail, Caesar! not only offers up renderings of old time Hollywood, but gets to show off plenty of variety thanks to its primary setting: a movie studio where one soundstage is occupied by a Roman epic, another by an elaborate musical number in a swimming pool, and so on through a variety of film genres.

Finally, to circle back around to the contemporary – and the batshit crazy – Nocturnal Animals is another viable possibility, while The Neon Demon is worthy but probably not viable. Even batshit crazy has a scale.

Predictions:
Arrival
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Jackie
La La Land
Silence

Personal Picks:
Arrival
Hail, Caesar!
The Handmaiden
La La Land
Passengers

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Kicking things off with a guaranteed spot is, you guessed it, La La Land!  It would be getting annoying by now if it wasn’t eminently worthy in category after category. Generally though, the same rules apply in Costume Design as they do in Production Design: period, fantasy and sci-fi films dominate. As such, many of the same titles vying for a Production Design nomination are in the mix here too: Jackie and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them are both solid possibilities; Love & Friendship and Hidden Figures are stronger contenders for their costumes than their sets; and Silence, The Handmaiden, Nocturnal Animals, Doctor Strange and Rogue One have about the same odds here as they do there, which are not great, but not impossible.

This is actually one of the most competitive categories of the year, with a plethora of stylish threads on display and jockeying for a position on the coveted list of five. Other challengers include the dapper duds and elaborate gowns seen in Florence Foster Jenkins; and Live By Night, Allied and Rules Don’t Apply. I group that trio together because, although set in three different 20th century decades – the 20’s, the 40’s and the 60’s, respectively – each one features immaculately tailored and beautifully designed outfits that seem like they could all be found in one decade-spanning epic.

There are two spoilers that must be mentioned. First, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, given that its predecessor earned a nomination in 2012 and it does feature some stunning pieces. Second, a little-seen Kate Winslet vehicle called The Dressmaker. The Australian film came and went from American theaters, but a Google search of its costumes clearly shows that it should not be underestimated. The Costume Designers branch has never had a problem nominating movies that were barely seen by audiences but which stood out for their incredible sartorial achievements. Remember The Invisible Woman? W.E.? 2010’s The Tempest? Bright Star? Angels and Insects? Probably not. But the Academy’s Costume Design branch did.

Lastly: if I had the power to influence the Academy in just one of its choices across all categories, I would use it to ensure that they nominate Kubo and the Two Strings for Best Costume Design. Animated films never seem to break through – if they get considered at all – in these crafts categories, and that needs to change. In this case, Kubo is as worthy of consideration as any other movie in the field, and if there was a better single costume all year than the one adorning Kubo‘s chilling villains The Sisters, I didn’t see it. The Costume Designer’s Guild (CDG) recognized the film’s achievement, nominating it in their Fantasy category – the first time they’ve accorded a nomination to an animated film. Do the right thing, Academy, and follow the CDG’s example.

Predictions:
The Dressmaker
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
Jackie
La La Land

Personal Picks:
The Dressmaker
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hidden Figures
Kubo and the Two Strings
La La Land

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BEST ORIGINAL SONG

This is probably the most difficult category to call each year, given how many possibilities there are and how open the voters are to looking beyond the usual suspects and nominating songs from movies no one has ever heard of. That’s a good thing, of course, but it makes predicting the nominees extra challenging. Of course, I wouldn’t exactly call the music branch voters – or the rules they play by – enlightened. This is a category in need of serious procedural overhaul, and the utterly illogical guidelines complicate guessmaking. For one thing, voters are sent video clips of the songs as they appear in the movie, which can work against songs that play over end credits or that seem less integral to the plot. If the Academy wants to change the category to Best Use of a Song in a Movie, then this methodology is appropriate. But when the category is simply meant to recognize the best songs, it shouldn’t matter how they’re used. Voters should receive audio only, not video, and judge the songs simply on their musical merits. But wait, it gets better. Clips submitted to the Academy for consideration and in turn sent to the voters can not exceed three minutes. So if the song runs five minutes, or four minutes, or 3:06, well, tough shit. The clip will cut off and that’s that. How is this possibly allowed, or considered an effective way of evaluating the a piece of music? The branch leaders would probably argue that the time limit exists to expedite the judging process to some degree. Perhaps the better way to do that, however, would be to revise the submission guidelines in the first place, tightening up the qualifications so that you don’t wind up with a list of 91 songs for consideration. 91 songs! That’s how many are in play this year. The last three years all had between 70 and 80.

So…where to begin with trying to predict which five songs from a list of 91 will make the cut? Well, once again we can begin with La La Land, which actually cuts the field down by two. “City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” are standouts in the film and standouts in the field, and given the expected love for the film, both songs are sure to get in…though for what it’s worth, only “City of Stars” picked up a Golden Globe nomination. A third song from La La Land – “Start a Fire,” sung by John Legend – is also on the list (a maximum of three songs per film can be submitted), but beloved as the movie is and catchy as Legend’s track is, the category probably can’t handle three songs from one movie. That’s because unlike last year, which featured a dreadful pool of offerings – a dreadpool, if you will – there are actually a lot of worthy songs this time around. Moana has two in the running, and in a weaker year – or just a year without La La Land, both of them might have been able to pick up nods, but I expect that “How Far I’ll Go” will get a slot over “We Know the Way.” I’m surprised the powers that be at Disney didn’t also submit the fun and bouncy “You’re Welcome,” which is sung – quite respectably, if I do say so – by Dwayne Johnson. For my money it’s a better choice than “We Know the Way.”

Those are the relatively easy picks. After that it gets hard. Maybe because I loved the movie so much, I have to think one of the tunes from Sing Street will be included, and while voters could go with the slow-building ballad “Go Now” sung by Adam Levine, I don’t see how anyone can resist “Drive It Like You Stole It.” That’s just a no-brainer to me, although it does touch on the frustrating elements of the music branch’s voting system. One one hand, the song is featured in a big fantasy sequence involving a school dance, so the clip might appeal to voters looking for selections that have story impact. On the other hand, they’ll be missing most of the context, because there are things going on in that scene that won’t make sense to anyone who hasn’t watched the whole movie. So does seeing how the song is used in the movie help its chances, hurt them, or make no difference? Also, the song is about three-and-a-half minutes long, so the ending will be cut off. Brilliant, music branch. Way to go.

Plenty of rock and pop stars are in the mix, with some of them having taken on a music supervisory role for entire movies. In addition to voicing a lead character, Justin Timberlake oversaw the music for the animated Trolls, contributing the relentlessly upbeat “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” Pharrell played a large role in the music of Hidden Figures, and could find his song “Runnin’” in the runn…in the mix. Common contributes the searing and topical “Letter to the Free” to Ava Duvernay’s documentary 13th, which explores the mass incarceration of black men in America. Sia has three songs on the list, with “Never Give Up” from Lion definitely a standout for me. Feeling like the category could use some Iggy Pop? Well, he’s here too, with the title track of Matthew McConaughey’s Gold. The list goes on, and obviously I can’t go through all of these. If you’re interested in an overview, The Wrap‘s Steve Pond listened to all 91 and offered his thoughts. I did listen to a whole bunch of them, and found many that I liked, some of which surprised me, like Shakira’s “Try Everything” from Zootopia; Twenty One Pilots’ “Heathens” from Suicide Squad (unfamiliar with the band, I expected something numbing, bombastic and forgettable, and instead found it sort of charmingly creepy and low-key); and “Even More Mine” from My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. Not exactly a must-see for me, but I found the song – sung by actress/singer/Tom Hanks’ wife Rita Wilson – to be quite lovely and touching, with a nice melody.

I don’t expect to see any of those three nominated, but any of the previous four could make it. Others we might see? Perhaps “The Empty Chair,” from the documentary Jim: The James Foley Story.  A collaboration between Sting and J. Ralph, both past nominees. (Ralph has been nominated twice, each time an unexpected choice from a way-under-the-radar movie.) Or maybe “The Rules Don’t Apply,” from Warren Beatty’s movie of the same name (minus the “the.”), although I really hope not. The melody is bland, the lyrics are terrible and there are so many more deserving songs on the list. But it was nominated for a Golden Globe and BFCA award, so it’s not out of the question. Three-time winner and all-around songwriting legend Burt Bacharach has a contender this year, “Dancing With Your Shadow,” from a movie called Po that I’ve never heard of. But he collaborated with Sheryl Crow, and you have to think voters will pay attention to someone of Bacharach’s stature…although come to think of it, I seem to recall that the  clip package and accompanying list of songs sent to voters do not include names of the songwriters, in order to make sure the works are judged on their merits and not by who was involved. If voters are feeling bold and good-humored, they might honor Sausage Party‘s “The Great Beyond,” where the Broadway musical skills of The Little Mermaid/Beauty and the Beast/Aladdin composer Alan Menken meet the weed-addled mind of Seth Rogen. The song is okay, but it would make me smile to see it nominated.

Okay, I can’t do this anymore. It’s time to move on.

Predictions:
Audition (The Fools Who Dream) – La La Land
City of Stars – La La Land
Drive It Like You Stole It – Sing Street
The Empty Chair – Jim: The James Foley Story
How Far I’ll Go – Moana

Personal Picks:
Audition (The Fools Who Dream) – La La Land
City of Stars – La La Land
Drive It Like You Stole It – Sing Street
Letter to the Free – 13th
Never Give Up – Lion

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BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

At 145, the number of eligible scores is even more staggering than the number of songs, but the nominees are much more likely to be pulled from a relatively small and familiar pool, which makes for easier – or at least, less difficult – prognostication. Once again, La La Land leads the pack, and Moonlight will probably join it. Another leading contender was thought to be Arrival, but the Academy disqualified it (along with Manchester by the Sea and Silence) because it featured non-original contributions that the music branch felt would be indistinguishable to voters from the original music by composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. It’s too bad, as Jóhannsson’s score is quite unique and effective.

Mica Levi’s score for Jackie was a major presence on the critic’s circuit, and not unlike Moonlight, takes a  unusual approach to an emotional character study. Lion also received a lot of deserved attention from critic’s groups and should resonate with voters. Other scores that seem to be in the mix are Nocturnal Animals, Hidden Figures, Hell or High Water and Hacksaw Ridge. I would add The Neon Demon, Swiss Army Man and Passengers as being worthy of nominations, though I doubt they’ll break in. I hated pushing Passengers off my own list, but these are sacrifices one must make.

Predictions:
Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Benjamin Wallfisch – Hidden Figures
Justin Hurwitz – La La Land
Dustin O’Halloran, Hauschka – Lion
Nicholas Britell – Moonlight
Abel Korzeniowski – Nocturnal Animals

Personal Picks:
Mica Levi – Jackie
Dustin O’Halloran, Hauschka – Lion
Nicholas Britell – Moonlight
Cliff Martinez – The Neon Demon
Abel Korzeniowski – Nocturnal Animals

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
The three nominees for Makeup and Hairstyling will come from a list of seven semi-finalists offering Deadpool, The Dressmaker, Florence Foster Jenkins, Hail, Caesar!, A Man Called Ove, Star Trek Beyond and Suicide Squad. It’s a rather underwhelming list, with the emphasis apparently less on the makeup and more on the hair…although even in that area, I can’t quite see what Florence Foster Jenkins or Hail, Caesar! have to offer that’s so impressive as to be shortlisted for an Oscar. A Man Called Ove is a Swedish film sporting work from makeup artists Love Larson and Eva von Bahr, who were nominated last year for another movie you’d never heard of: The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. Like that film, A Man Called Ove features aging work, and if their effort was good enough to make the shortlist last year, it may be again this year.

Predictions:
A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad

Personal Picks:
Seeing as I haven’t seen three of the nominees and only half of the remaining four make sense to me as contenders, I can’t say I really have any.

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BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Like the Makeup and Hairstyling Branch, the Visual Effects branch has helped us narrow down the field this year by beginning with a list of 20 contenders, then whittling that down to 10: Arrival, The BFG, Captain America: Civil War, Deepwater Horizon, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, The Jungle Book, Kubo and the Two Strings, Passengers and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s a strong list, with only two that I would dismiss: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and The BFG. Both feature good work, but in the case of Fantastic Beasts, the strongest elements are undermined by some spottier contributions (the CG goblins populating a speakeasy were noticeably subpar), while the title character in The BFG – realized through a motion capture performance by last year’s Best Supporting Actor winner Mark Rylance – couldn’t climb out of the Uncanny Valley, close to the upper slope though he was.

The only one of the 10 films that will also be a player in top categories is Arrival, and since the branch usually likes to include at least one such movie among its selections, that may earn a spot by default…not that the work isn’t good on its own merits. Like pretty much all of the Marvel movies, Captain America features seamless work that looks terrific, but it may be overshadowed by its showier cousin, Doctor Strange, which sports work that is equally polished but more eye-popping, even if some of it hearkens noticeably back to 2010’s winner, Inception.

I had the opportunity to attend the branch’s Bake-Off event this year, where the teams behind each of the 10 remaining films present clips of their work and discuss techniques used and challenges encountered. The big surprise for me – and from what I could tell, just about everyone else in the room – was Deepwater Horizon. Most probably assumed that the majority of the movie’s effects were achieved practically, on set in real time with the actors. As it turns out, the demands of the true story about the 2010 oil rig explosion were too intense to be accomplished at the necessary scale with practical effects. Instead, a massive portion of the work was achieved through CGI, though you would never guess to watch it. CG fire – just one part of the movie’s demanding work – is always a challenge to visual effects artists, but the Deepwater Horizon VFX crew tamed the beast and enhanced the reality with smoke, ash and embers that were all added in post-production. This was a movie I’d have assumed would be dismissed had I not attended the Bake-Off. Now I’ll be straight-up pissed – and quite surprised – if it doesn’t get nominated.

The most interesting selection in the running is Kubo and the Two Strings. I have mixed feelings about this, which go back to the only other example of a stop-motion animated movie being nominated in this category: 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. It never felt right to me, since stop-motion essentially is a visual effect in the first place. How do you separate the visual effects from the animation technique when the animation technique is a visual effect? How do you fairly measure a movie that is one giant special effect against movies that blend special effects into real-world environments? On the other hand, the movie did utilize visual effects beyond the stop-motion, just as any live action movie would, and the crew at the Bake-Off emphasized that in their presentation, so why shouldn’t it have a chance? Certainly the crew was thrilled to be invited and given an opportunity to make their case, and they made an enthusiastic and impassioned plea for consideration. The crowd did seem impressed, but I couldn’t gauge if they were impressed with the visual effects specifically, or with the general impressive feat of doing a stop-motion animated feature.

Another category with some tough decisions to be made.

Predictions:
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Personal Picks:
Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Passengers
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

BEST SOUND EDITING/BEST SOUND MIXING
After Best Sound Mixing turned out to be one of only two or three categories in which I was 100% correct in my predictions last year, maybe I should approach it with more confidence this year. As always, let me drop what is surely an overly simplistic explanation of what the two categories are all about. To lift directly from last year’s post, sound editors create and/or fix sounds that couldn’t be recorded during filming or were not usable, while sound mixers combine all the elements – dialogue, music, sound effects, etc. – into a balanced whole.

More often than not, at least in recent years, the categories are almost identical with one unique nominee in each. You might think La La Land would be a sure thing in both areas, but I’m not so sure. Going back to 2000, every time there has been a movie with a heavy musical component, it has been nominated only for Sound Mixing. Whiplash, Inside Llewyn Davis, Les Misérables, Dreamgirls, Walk the Line, Ray, Chicago, Moulin Rouge – all nominated for Mixing, none nominated for Editing. And in none of those years did the Editing category feature a music-heavy film that wasn’t nominated for Mixing. Now, eventually this pattern will end, and it’s not like music is the only sound in any of these movies; an Editing nomination could happen on other merits. But I’m going to side with history and say that La La Land gets the Mixing nomination, but not Editing. (If I’m wrong, and if I’m right about it’s chances in every other category, it will land 14 nominations, tying All About Eve and Titanic as the most nominated films of all time.)

These categories are also among the hardest to predict, since a) the criteria are less obvious to me – I can look at costumes or visual effects and form a reasonable opinion – and b) the nominees can come from anywhere: respected dramas, blockbuster action movies, animated adventures…there are a lot of options. I’m figuring this year’s crop will come from Deadpool, The Jungle Book, Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, Star Trek Beyond, Jason Bourne, Kubo and the Two Strings, Sully, Deepwater Horizon, Hacksaw Ridge, Doctor Strange, Arrival, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Passengers and Patriots Day. That may seem like a kitchen sink list, but trust me, there’s a strategy that goes into narrowing down the field…or if not strategy, at least a sense of vague intuition. Hey, shut up, you try doing this!

Sound Editing Predictions:
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
The Jungle Book
Hacksaw Ridge
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Sound Mixing Predictions: 
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Because the two categories are so difficult for most people outside of the sound field to make sense of, I always say that there should be one award, designated Best Sound Design, recognizing the overall aural experience of a movie. The rest of us are still poorly equipped to really judge even that, but we can probably  at least come up with a list that makes some sense to our untrained ears. With that said, I admit my ignorance and forego making personal picks in the two actual categories, instead naming my picks for the fake category of Best Sound Design. And this year, it looks pretty similar to my predictions: Arrival, Deepwater Horizon, Hacksaw Ridge, Passengers, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Usually I have some more interesting variations in there, but not so much this time around.

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And there we have it. I hope it wasn’t as torturous for you to read as it was for me to write. Nominations are announced tomorrow morning at the absolutely unholy time of 5:18am PST. That’s a half-hour earlier than the usual unholy time, but apparently the Academy is trying something new this year. In the past, the nominations have been announced live in a room full of press and publicists. This year, the nominees will be unveiled via a “global live stream” on Oscars.com, Oscars.org and broadcast on Good Morning, America. In addition to Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, several past winners and nominees will participate, including Brie Larson, Ken Watanabe, Jason Reitman, Jennifer Hudson and Emmanuel Lubezki. I’m not sure why the new procedure requires a start time half an hour earlier than what was already painfully early, but I’m an addict, so I’ll be awake to get my fix. For now, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite songs from a movie this year. It won’t be nominated for Best Original Song, because, well,  it’s not original. But it’s a classic, given an appealingly fresh take.

 

February 27, 2016

Oscars 2015: The Envelope Please

As usual, and despite all efforts to do better, I’m once again down to the wire with this post, so there’s no time to waste with lengthy introductions. Let me waste your time with the lengthy play-by-play instead. Away we go…
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BEST SOUND MIXING AND BEST SOUND EDITING
One of Oscar night’s big battles starts in these two categories (well…for our purposes, anyway; it’s not like these will necessarily be the first two awards presented). Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant face each other in 10 categories, and while Phase One of the season suggested that Fury Road would dominate below-the-line, The Revenant‘s emergence as a top-category frontrunner during Phase Two could easily trickle down to these races and shake things up. Poor Tom Hardy isn’t going to know who to root for half the night.

The big question as to whether Fury Road would get those Best Picture and Best Director nominations was partly a question of whether the film was more than just a critic’s darling. Would the industry show it enough love for the conservative-leaning Academy to take the hint? Well…they did. But how far will that extend? As Fury Road faces industry favorite The Revenant in category after category, will it have a chance, or get clobbered by the new kid in town?

As for these two categories, we’re not even talking about a one-on-one bout, as Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Martian could totally take one or both of these. I think Sound Mixing nominee Sicario and Sound Editing nominee Bridge of Spies are out of the running, but everything else is in play, and where you can sometimes make a pretty strong guess as to which film has the edge when it comes to sound, there is no such clarity here. So for no reason other than having 17 more categories to get through, I’m guessing they’ll split this year: Sound Mixing will go to The Revenant and Sound Editing will go to Fury Road.

Which probably means they’ll both go to Star Wars.

Personal: As usual, I have no real investment in these categories. To the extent that I notice sound work, the only nominee that didn’t make an impression on me in that area is Bridge of Spies. I was probably most affected by the soundscape of Sicario, so I suppose I’d throw my Mixing vote in that direction. For Editing, any of them would make me happy except Spies…and it’s not like that would make me angry.

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BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

This category poses a conundrum. When there’s no obvious VFX game-changer, this award tends to go to a Best Picture nominee, or the closest thing in the category to a prestige film, even if there’s clearly better work elsewhere. See Gladiator‘s victory over The Perfect Storm, Hugo‘s over Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Interstellar‘s over Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. There’s no major breakthrough work in this year’s nonetheless admirable slate, so we should look to The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road. But Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a wild card. A Star Wars movie isn’t a guaranteed winner; neither The Phantom Menace nor Attack of the Clones triumphed here, and Revenge of the Sith wasn’t even nominated. But those movies weren’t particularly well-liked outside the realm of fandom (and not always so well-liked within either). The Force Awakens, on the other hand, reignited everyone’s love of Star Wars, and the legacy of the franchise could be enough to make this return-to-form victorious.

All three films can make a strong case. The Revenant‘s bear attack is one of the most talked-about movie scenes of the year, and it looks incredible. On the other hand, it’s just one brief scene, and the movie’s other visual effects are more invisible. Fury Road is the rare nominee these days to feature a huge number of practical special effects, which makes the work seem that much more tactile and impressive. Star Wars can make that claim too, offering a balance of practical and digital work that also boosted its reputation after the overly CGI’d prequels. But still, Star Wars is a more traditional VFX movie; Fury Road has the charm of being something a little different. Once again, I have absolutely no idea what will happen, as each of these three is a viable winner. My shot in the dark is that it will go to Star Wars, the movie that’s synonymous with modern-day visual effects and is finally worth celebrating again.

Personal: Difficult choice, but I think I’d have to go with Fury Road. Like I said, it’s something a little different. That bear attack in The Revenant was mighty impressive, but I don’t like the idea of a movie that’s two hours and 36 minutes winning an Oscar for basically five minutes of its runtime. As for Star Wars, excellent work…but nothing we haven’t seen before. And since there are going to be new Star Wars movies every year until the oceans rise and cover the planet’s surface, it has plenty of other chances.

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BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Apologies to The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared. Nobody outside of the Makeup and Hairstyling branch that nominated you has any idea what you are. Which leaves…wait for it…wait for iiiiiiiiiit…Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant! And once again, they both have an excellent chance at the gold. Most pundits appear to be predicting Fury Road for the win. But I’m thinking that more voters, when sitting in front of their ballots and trying to recall the movies, will remember the beards and grime and dirt and blood and gashes and scalps and bad teeth and all around horrible, horrible hygiene of The Revenant before Fury Road‘s work, which is more inventive but perhaps less obvious. Then again, if voters mistake that crazy, instantly iconic face mask worn by Fury Road villain Immorten Joe to be a piece of makeup rather than a piece of costume design, all bets are off.

Personal: Mad Max: Fury Road, because I tend to be more impressed by the imaginative than the realistic.

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BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Will it be Fury Road or The Revenant this time around? Trick question! Neither are nominated for Original Score! Among the films that are competing is The Hateful Eight, featuring music from the prolific Italian maestro Ennio Morricone. In 2006, Morricone was awarded an Honorary Oscar for career achievement, having been nominated five times previously. His first nomination was for 1978’s Days of Heaven, meaning he was never cited for any of his beloved Spaghetti western scores, such as Once Upon a Time in the West or The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Now he stands to win his first competitive award for his terrific compositions from The Hateful Eight, which recall the work of those famous movies that have been such an inspiration to Hateful writer/director Quentin Tarantino. I wouldn’t call Morricone a lock, though; he faces another prolific titan in John Williams, who returned to his most famous and popular series with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Enthusiasm for that movie — which has been seen more widely than The Hateful Eight — could earn Williams his sixth trophy. Carter Burwell’s score for Carol is a dark horse, but I think it will come down to Hateful Eight and Force Awakens, with Morricone pulling off the win.

Personal: The Hateful Eight. Williams’ work on Star Wars was solid, and there were a couple of good new themes, but there was nothing in the score that matched the music of original three films. That won’t necessarily stop people from voting for Williams, but Morricone’s Hateful Eight score made a bigger impact on me than the overall score for The Force Awakens. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Sicario score is supremely effective in the movie, but I always gravitate toward scores that stand alone as a listening experience apart from the film.

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BEST ORIGINAL SONG

While trying to guess what might be nominated in this category, I expressed a lack of enthusiasm at the field of contenders. The final five (hear them all for yourself) haven’t done much to change my mind. Nice, fine, okay….these are some of the words that might describe them. Nothing too memorable or fun or beautiful or really worth getting excited about at all. But someone’s gotta win, and it will probably be Lady Gaga and Diane Warren for “‘Til it Happens to You.” It’s from a documentary called The Hunting Ground, about rape on college campuses. The importance of the issue, the star factor of Lady Gaga and the lack of a compelling choice among the competition should all combine to bring this tune a win.

If that happens, it will end one of Oscar’s notable losing streaks. This is Diane Warren’s eighth nomination, and she’s never won. Probably because most the songs she’s been nominated for are bland, forgettable ballads. Remember “How Do I Live,” from Con Air? Or “There You’ll Be,” from Pearl Harbor? Of course you don’t. How about “Because You Loved Me,” from Up Close and Personal? Do you even remember Up Close and Personal? (I do…but I’m a freak of nature.) To be fair, Warren does have one great nominated song to her credit: the epic, just-the-right-side of-cheesy-to-still-be-good-in-the-way-that-80’s-songs-could-be-cheesy-and-good-at-the-same-time “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” from Mannequin.

Anyway…I’m not trying to be a Warren hater. I’ve got nothing against her, and she is a renowned songwriter who’s worked with a long list of great artists. It’s always nice to see somebody finally win an award like this after so many times coming up short. And since she’s not going to beat someone who I’m rooting for, it’s all the same to me.

Personal: I’d vote for “Simple Song #3” from Youth, just because it’s something different from the norm.

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BEST COSTUME DESIGN

After a brief interruption in their nominations domination, please welcome back Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant. But to keep things interesting, let’s dismiss one of them right off the bat. I don’t think The Revenant will factor in here. And while The Danish Girl won the prize in the Period film category at the Costume Designers Guild Awards just a few nights ago, I think Academy voters will make this a three-way contest between Carol, Cinderella and Mad Max: Fury Road. And as with most of these below-the-line categories this year, there’s no obvious frontrunner. Cinderella‘s outfits are grand and colorful, which is the most common winning recipe, while Carol‘s are also strikingly colored, yet more conservative in style. Exquisite as both film’s sartorial selections are, however, I think the rugged and gritty outfits of Fury Road could win here, following triumphs with the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and the Costume Designer Guild’s Fantasy category. It’s no sure thing; Carol and Cinderella are more in line with the traditional winners of this award (and of those, I’d give the edge to Cinderella), so we’ll see if enough voters are up for a change of pace.

Personal: I love the work on display in Carol and Cinderella, but I think I’d have to go with Mad Max: Fury Road, for that aforementioned Immorten Joe mask, if nothing else. I mean…look at that thing!

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BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

I think most people — myself included — tend to think of this category as just sets and locations, but it also takes into account all the stuff in the movie. Keeping that in mind, Mad Max: Fury Road — with its tricked-out vehicles and wild, creative props — may have the edge here. The setting itself is mainly a vast, open desert landscape. But pretty much everything moving through that landscape is ingeniously conceived.

If voters remain stuck on the idea of location and backdrops, the path to victory becomes more hazy. The Danish Girl and Bridge of Spies faithfully recreate their period settings — 1920’s and 1950’s, respectively — but the visuals aren’t particularly eye-catching. The Martian‘s interiors have a standard spaceship look, and the beautiful exteriors, while impressive, are just natural settings that don’t seem to require much work from a design standpoint. The Revenant, like Fury Road, primarily takes place outdoors in vast, untouched locales. This award usually goes to movies with lots of interior work, and as with Costume Design, voters tend to favor flashy over muted. Or not; Lincoln was a surprise winner here in 2012, and Bridge of Spies — despite being set nearly 100 years later — has a similar palette. So really, this year’s line-up — in its own vacuum and compared to past nominees — is a study in contradictions.

It really depends on how broadly voters are thinking when they consider what makes up Production Design. I could see almost anything except The Danish Girl picking up the prize, and even though it’s outside the box, I think they’ll go with Fury Road.

Personal: Mad Max: Fury Road. All of the Mad Max movies exemplify brilliant world-building, with endlessly fascinating details in the sets, costumes, vehicles, accoutrements, etc. Sometimes they are just seen quickly, in passing, helping in their small way to tell the story of this brutal post-apocalyptic world. These flourishes might not be explained, but they speak volumes. This is one of the most impressive elements of the series for me, and it makes Fury Road a no-brainer in this category.

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BEST FILM EDITING

Here’s another contest where we can probably eliminate The Revenant right off the bat, unless voters really go deep for it. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a bit of a surprise in this category, is also out. I doubt Spotlight can pull this off, but it’s not out of the question. It mainly comes down to Mad Max: Fury Road and The Big Short. This award often goes to a Best Picture frontrunner, unless there’s another film where the editing work truly stands out. That can apply to action movies like past winners The Matrix and The Bourne Ultimatum, or movies that are longshot Best Picture nominees like last year’s victor, Whiplash. In this case, we have one of each. The Big Short has a big shot at the big prize, while Fury Road has less of a shot, but showcases masterfully assembled action. Both movies are highly admired within the Academy, and I have no idea which side the majority of voters will come down on. Every year has one particularly difficult-to-predict, coin toss category, and this year’s is right here. I’m going with Fury Road, but this is a nailbiter…and if The Big Short takes it, watch out when Best Picture rolls around.

Personal: Mad Max: Fury Road. I thought the editing of The Big Short was a little annoying, truth be told. It wasn’t so much an example of best editing to me as it was most editing. There’s a difference.

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BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

There’s not a weak contender in this lineup, and there are several more films that could easily have been here, but it will boil down to the two most obviously difficult movies to shoot: Mad Max: Fury Road, with its mind-boggling mayhem of practical effects and stunt work; and The Revenant, with its remote locations, long takes and natural light. This time, look for The Revenant to take the gold, making Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki the first person to win this award three years in a row, following Gravity and Birdman.

Personal: It would be fun to see 70 year-old John Seale win for coming out of retirement to shoot Fury Road, but The Revenant is hard to deny. And as much as it pains me to think of Sicario‘s criminally Oscarless Roger Deakins losing for the 13th time while Lubezki wins his third, there’s a reason Lubezki keeps on winning. The guy is a magician, and these last three films have been unusually complex tricks.

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BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

I don’t know which of Inside Out‘s five emotions — Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger or Sarcasm — covers jealousy and disappointment, but those feelings will be working overtime in the heads of everyone not nominated for Inside Out. In one of the night’s few slam dunks, Pixar will celebrate its eighth win since this category’s inception 15 years ago. I wonder if Roger Deakins is interested in directing a Pixar movie…

Personal: Anomalisa and Inside Out were both funny, sad and beautiful. Either would be fine with me, but the creativity on display in Inside Out is tremendous.

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BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Not a lot to say for the two writing categories this year, as each one has a pretty clear frontrunner. The Big Short has been far out in front of this race from the start, with more wins from regional critics groups than any of its competition, as well as wins from the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) and BAFTA. The movie has been a big hit with Academy voters, and all signs point to an Oscar win. Room has potential to surprise, but that potential is low. The Big Short will take it.

Personal: I like Room, The Martian and Brooklyn better than The Big Short, but I’d still give this award to the latter because I have no doubt that it was the most challenging book to adapt. The other three stories — as well as the remaining nominee, Carol — tell straightforward narratives, but The Big Short is not a traditional A to B to C tale. It’s a fragmented story following multiple, unrelated groups of characters and dealing with incredibly complicated, dense concepts, which the script illuminates with humor and clarity. Like I said in the previous post, I haven’t read any of these books (and I’m sure most voters haven’t either), but finding a compelling movie in the pages of The Big Short was probably no easy task.

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BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Like The Big Short, Spotlight took home prizes from the BFCA, WGA and BAFTA, and nearly swept the critics awards, capturing even more than its adapted counterpart. While its Best Picture hopes may have faded, it’s still held in extremely high regard, and for good reason. It’s one of those films where everything just clicks, and that begins with the impeccably researched, unfailingly truthful script. It’s hard to imagine any of the other nominees coming up from behind.

Personal: I’ll be happy to see Spotlight take this, especially since co-writer and director Tom McCarthy is long overdue for this kind of recognition after being ignored for past work like The Station Agent, The Visitor and Win Win. Still, I’d probably go with Inside Out. I loved how it handled such abstract concepts as, well, abstract thought, short-term and long-term memory, and the subconscious. The imagination behind every detail of how the mind functions is just wonderful.

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

I never thought that the phrase “Oscar frontrunner” would be used to describe Sylvester Stallone, but his moving and grounded performance in Creed has put him in that position. Stallone dominated the critics awards, and took home the Golden Globe and the BFCA prize. So with all that momentum, he remains the man to beat. But consider this…Stallone was not even nominated by SAG or BAFTA, which are the only two organizations that actually share membership with the Academy. Perhaps that shows some vulnerability.

Or perhaps not. Consider this: the SAG voting opened so early that Creed had barely been identified or positioned as an awards player. SAG voters had a brief window in which to view the unexpectedly acclaimed movie before ballots were due. As for the BAFTA awards, Creed didn’t open in the U.K. until mid-January, too late for 2015 awards consideration. (Oddly, it opened in countries like Kuwait and Pakistan much earlier. Go figure.) In addition, Stallone’s wins at the Globe and BFCA ceremonies were accompanied by long and enthusiastic standing ovations, which suggests big support from the industry. People seem genuinely moved by the narrative of a guy who created a character (let’s not forget that) 40 years ago, was nominated at the time, and now comes full circle to give what many have called the performance of his career in an acclaimed spin-off of his brainchild, conceived by a young filmmaker who was deeply impacted by that original film. That story could almost be a movie itself. So momentum remains with Sly, and betting against him would be unwise if you’re in this thing for money or even just bragging rights. Still…a surprise is not out of the question here.

Personal: Stallone’s journey is touching, no doubt, but the focus should be on the performance. His is great, but for me, it’s all about Ruffalo. Sure, he’s the one who gets the big emotional outburst scene that will almost certainly be the clip played during the telecast, but it’s not about that. It’s because he’s the one principal actor in the movie who is called on to transform, and he does it completely. His voice, his speech pattern, his walk, his entire physicality…he inhabits this guy so fully, and because it’s a guy who’s so intense and committed, it allows him to really get under the skin. It’s enough of a makeover that it could have been a showy performance, but it’s not, because the writing and directing are so grounded. I enjoyed Tom Hardy in The Revenant a helluva lot, but Ruffalo would get my vote.

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Alicia Vikander has been leader of this pack, collecting the BFCA and SAG trophies, plus far and away the most critics awards (though for what it’s worth, most of those critics awards were for Ex Machina, while her nomination here is for The Danish Girl, as they were at the BFCA and SAG awards). The only major prize she lost was the Golden Globe, which went to Kate Winslet. That could have been dismissed as a fluke…until Winslet won the BAFTA prize as well. Now we have to stop and wonder if Vikander is on less solid ground than it initially seemed. I think she’s still the frontrunner, as the SAG award is generally a more reliable indicator of Oscar success than the BAFTA or Golden Globe. But the two taken together suggest that Winslet is closing in. Then again, Vikander was nominated for Ex Machina — not The Danish Girl — the two times she lost to Winslet. So…there’s that…whatever that is.

Winslet is an Academy darling, of course, with this being her seventh nomination, and she’s excellent in Steve Jobs, but as a co-lead in The Danish Girl, and by virtue of the story and her character, Vikander gets to go deeper in her role than Winslet does in hers. Not that Winslet’s work is shallow; it just isn’t as chewy a role as Vikander’s. The Swedish actress is young and still not widely known, and will surely have many more shots. But I think that on the strength of her work not just in The Danish Girl but also in Ex Machina, Testament of Youth (in which she gave another award-worthy performance), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (a fun, breezy summer movie that showcased her playful side) and Burnt (not much to do in her brief appearance opposite Bradley Cooper, but she looked great, for whatever that’s worth), voters will reward her for an incredible year full of shining performances.

Personal: I’d vote Vikander too. Although I’d have nominated her in this category for Ex Machina, she’s been fantastic in everything she’s been in this year. Any way you slice it, her work speaks for itself.

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BEST ACTOR

There’s not much to say here, as this award is one of night’s easy bets. Leonardo DiCaprio has reigned supreme all awards season long for the all-in, go-for-broke dedication he displayed in The Revenant. After years atop the Hollywood food chain, he will finally take home his first Academy Award.

Personal: Here’s the thing about DiCaprio. He gives an excellent performance in The Revenant, no argument, and his nomination is deserved. But he has given stronger performances, and he will again. Leo winning this Oscar is about two things: finally rewarding him for a career full of outstanding and committed work, and rewarding him for the physical extremes to which he pushed himself in order to make this movie. For his willingness to go to those extremes, I applaud him. But an Oscar win should be recognition of the performance, not the personal struggles. Leonardo DiCaprio, the Actor, buried himself in the experience of making The Revenant, but he doesn’t bury himself in the character of Hugh Glass the way he did with The Departed‘s William Costigan or The Wolf of Wall Street‘s Jordan Belfort or What’s Eating Gilbert Grape‘s Arnie or J.Edgar‘s title character or so many others. He doesn’t bury himself in Hugh Glass to the same extent because Glass, as depicted here, doesn’t require the same level of immersion. The story of The Revenant is primal and powerful, but it isn’t deep. That’s not a criticism; it’s just a fact. It doesn’t have to be deep to be great. It’s a story of survival and revenge, plain and simple. At the end of the day, what went into the performance is more impressive than the performance itself.

With that in mind, my pick would be Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs. He had a much more challenging character to play, requiring him to hit notes grand and intimate, and to capture so many subtle and contradictory facets of the pioneering tech giant. He’s in nearly every moment of the movie, deftly maneuvering the acrobatics of Aaron Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue, and not trying to guide how the audience feels about his mercurial character. His performance is completely magnetic. He really is quite something.

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BEST ACTRESS

There’s little commentary or analysis required here either. Very early in Phase One, it seemed that this award might be a neck-in-neck race between Room‘s Brie Larson and Brooklyn‘s Saoirse Ronan, but Larson soon pulled ahead and built up a considerable lead that she hasn’t relinquished. With BFCA, SAG and BAFTA awards now on her shelf, as well as a Golden Globe, she’s got the Oscar all locked up.

Personal: This is an absolute heartbreaker of a choice between Larson and Ronan. Putting aside that I have major celebrity crushes on them both, their performances are so, so good. I’d have to give the tiniest, tiniest edge to Ronan, just because her role calls on her to play what appeared to me as a wider range of emotions. There’s no question that both actresses nail every beat. Ronan just got a more varied array of beats to hit, and when the choice is this difficult, you look for whatever you can to guide your decision.

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BEST DIRECTOR

The stars seem aligned for Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who took home this Oscar last year for Birdman, to become the first back-to-back winner of Best Director since 1950, when Joseph L. Mankiewicz won for All About Eve a year after taking the prize for A Letter to Three Wives. Prior to that, the only back-to-back winner was John Ford, for 1940’s The Grapes of Wrath and 1941’s How Green Was My Valley. A few weeks ago, Iñárritu became the first person to ever win the Director’s Guild of America (DGA) award two years in a row. Given that award’s success rate at predicting the Oscar — only seven times since the DGA award was first presented in 1948 have the two not been in sync — a win for Iñárritu is extremely likely, especially when you add in Golden Globe and BAFTA victories. In what has been another tough-to-call year in the top categories, it’s always possible that this will turn out differently, but the momentum is definitely with Iñárritu.

Personal: George Miller, by a mile. I kinda don’t get why Miller isn’t the frontrunner here, or at least considered a major threat. I understand why people are impressed by Iñárritu’s achievement, but since so much of the admiration derives from his insistence on pushing the limits under such extreme conditions, how are people not in even greater awe of what Miller accomplished? I look at The Revenant and I see the beauty and the skill, and I admire Iñárritu’s drive for authenticity. But as hard as the movie surely was to shoot, it doesn’t feel impossible. Mad Max: Fury Road feels impossible. I look at that movie and I am completely blown away by the directorial skill on display. I look at that movie and I have absolutely no idea how Miller even begin to film it. How to even conceive of the specific beats of the action choreography, let alone actually capture it all on camera. It’s a towering achievement. With all respect to Iñárritu and The Revenant, as well as to nominated directors like Tom McCarthy (Spotlight) and Lenny Abrahamson (Room), whose talents are absolutely evident even if showcased differently by the nature of their movies’ smaller scales, what Miller did with Mad Max: Fury Road was singular and stunning.

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BEST PICTURE

As Alejandro G. Iñárritu looks primed to win the directing prize, so too is his film The Revenant poised to capture the night’s top honor. But it’s not a sure thing. The only sure thing is that whichever movie does win, the victory will have been hard-won. This was an unpredictable awards season in many ways. (Do I say that every year? I probably say that every year. It must feel that way every year.) The precursor awards, which are supposed to help narrow the field — and ultimately take any and all suspense out of Oscar night — proved to be mostly unhelpful this year. It was one of the rare times when the Producer’s Guild of America (PGA), the DGA and SAG each went with a different movie. The producers chose The Big Short; directors rewarded The Revenant; SAG went for Spotlight. SAG’s Best Ensemble winner has the least impact on the Oscars, and Spotlight — an early frontrunner thanks to its dominance in Phase One — has seen its odds decrease.

With The Revenant‘s recent successes, The Big Short no longer feels like the movie of the moment, but here’s why it could win. Of all the other movie award-distributing bodies, the PGA is the only one to use the same voting system as the Academy uses for Best Picture. That would be the preferential ballot, and as I’ve included each of the past two years, here’s a video from The Wrap‘s Oscar expert Steve Pond explaining how it works.

The PGA and the Academy both moved to the preferential system in 2009, and every year since, the PGA winner has gone on to win the Oscar (with the only hiccup being when 12 Years a Slave and Gravity tied). That doesn’t really mean anything — these streaks are made to be broken — but it doesn’t mean nothing either. Then again, the PGA award has only been around since 1989. The DGA award has been around since 1948, and there have only been 14 occasions in the ensuing 66 years when the DGA winner’s film has not gone on to win Best Picture. But again, what do any of these facts ultimately mean? Some people doubted Birdman‘s chances last year because no movie had won Best Picture without a Best Film Editing nomination since Ordinary People in 1980. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King had its naysayers because the Academy had never awarded a fantasy film the Best Picture prize. Could the song Skyfall win an Oscar when no James Bond theme had ever managed the feat? Yes it could, and it did. These factoids are interesting to bring up, but eventually they all get defied. Other trivia, records and statistics that pundits have brought into the discussion for this category:

  • Only three films — Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet, The Sound of Music and Titanic — have won Best Picture without a screenplay nomination, which The Revenant does not have. And no film has ever won Best Picture without either a screenplay nomination or a WGA nomination, which The Revenant also did not have.
  • There have never been back-to-back Best Picture winners from the same director, even though there have been back-to-back director winners. With Iñárritu’s Birdman the reigning champ, a victory for The Revenant would be a first.
  • Seldom does a movie win Best Picture without also winning at least two other awards. In the last 62 years, only one film — The Greatest Show on Earth — has managed it. So by that statistic, The Big Short — only considered a lock for Best Adapted Screenplay — would have to win one more to be a viable Best Picture winner. It’s a strong threat to take Best Film Editing, but can Christian Bale or director Adam McKay pull off upsets? (Spotlight faces the same challenge.)

We’ll see which of these talking points are altered come Sunday night. Other things to consider in the meantime? The preferential ballot favors consensus, so the movie that wins probably isn’t the one with the most first-place votes, but the one with lots of second and third place votes as well. The Revenant seems like more of a love-it-or-hate-it movie than The Big Short, which could have a better shot at placing higher on more ballots. Could that be why it lost with the PGA? Or has it just been more widely seen since the PGA – one of the earlier voting groups in Phase Two – presented their award? And who knows if I’m even right in that love-it-or-hate-it estimation? This is just intuition on my part. Really at this point, I’m just spinning my wheels, so enough is enough. In a tumultuous award season like this one, few things are certain. Something could come along and knock down The Revenant — most likely being The Big Short — but the odds seem stacked in its favor.

Personal: I’m a big fan of most of the nominees, so almost any of them would be fine with me. Only The Big Short or Bridge of Spies would disappoint me, though I definitely liked both. Still, once again I’d choose Mad Max: Fury Road, because the fact that it even got here is such a triumph, and I’d love to see it go all the way. And because, as I said in the Best Director commentary, the movie sorta blows my mind. I’m left to wonder again why The Revenant became The One to Beat. I think its Phase Two surge had more to do with the narrative behind the movie than the one in the movie — an effective bit of strategic campaigning on the part of the filmmakers and 20th Century Fox. What surprises me is that given how taken the industry at large seems to be with the movie’s behind-the-scenes lore, they aren’t showing more of that love to Fury Road. My conjecture is that they think The Revenant is somehow “important” and that Fury Road, at the end of the day, is still just an action movie and ultimately too frivolous to win the top awards. The irony is that The Revenant may have the appearance of depth, but is actually quite superficial (again, not meant as a criticism), while Fury Road, which appears to be just explosions and car chases, has much more substance brewing beneath the surface. Oh well. At least it made it this far. That’s worth appreciating on its own.

 

As usual, I’m sorry to say that I have nothing to really offer in the remaining categories. Son of Saul is the favorite to win Best Foreign Language Film, with Mustang being called the most likely spoiler. Amy is said to have the inside track on Best Documentary, though I don’t know; I’m not sure the subject matter of Amy Winehouse has wide enough appeal across the Academy. I might go for Cartel Land. As for the live-action, animated and documentary shorts…you’re on your own.

Hopefully it will be an exciting show, given some of these up-in-the-air categories, and it might be a bit of an uncomfortable show too, with Chris Rock and others commenting on the lack of diversity among the nominees. I still haven’t been able to write-up all my thoughts on that issue, so perhaps I’ll do a separate post. The issue isn’t going away, unfortunately.

To close, here’s a great bit from Chris Rock’s 2005 hosting gig.

February 14, 2016

Oscars 2015: And the Nominees Are…

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 7:00 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Complete List of Nominees

And so we are deep into Phase Two of awards season, with the Oscar nominations announced and the guild awards rolling out. I’ve already been asked several times who’s going to win the Oscar in this category or that. To which I’ve responded, “Does it matter? They’re all a bunch of racists, apparently, so who even wants one?”

Unfortunately, that’s where we have to begin this year, as the nominations set off a firestorm of controversy when acclaimed films about black characters like Straight Outta Compton, Beasts of No Nation and Creed were not nominated for Best Picture, and for the second year in a row, all the acting nominees are white.

A lot has already been said about this topic. Like…a lot. It’s been in the news nearly every day since the nominations were announced. I wrote about this in last year’s corresponding post, and having just re-read that, I feel it’s pretty spot-on, thank you. I don’t know what I can add this year, especially with so much already said by so many others. But it’s too big a story to ignore. I can’t get wrapped up in all the awards nonsense and spend all the time I spend writing about the Oscars and not wade into this mess. The whole reason I’m posting this a month after the nominations were announced is that I’ve been trying to stay abreast of all the developments and respond to specific points that have been made, but it’s been too much to keep up with. So for now, I’m going to leave it alone, and hopefully get to it in the next post. At this point, it’s well past time to review the nominations, so let’s stick to that.

It was another middling year for me on the predictions front. Of the 19 categories I covered, I only went five-for-five in two: Best Actor and (somehow) Best Sound Mixing. But in 10 others, I missed by just one…though perhaps I lose a point for expecting Alicia Vikander’s Best Supporting Actress nomination to be for Ex Machina. The Academy voters cited her for The Danish Girl — clearly a lead performance, but one that the studio campaigned as Supporting to give her better odds at a nomination.

Let’s drill down into some of the categories, shall we? While you want to glory in being as accurate in your predictions as possible, there’s also fun in seeing where you went wrong and what unfolded that went against your instincts, where your theorizing went wrong, and where it went right. If you consider any of this fun, that is.

BEST PICTURE
I once again predicted there would be nine nominees, and for the second year in a row there were only eight. I got seven of them, but missed Room. I opted for Carol instead, and also included Inside Out. In the previous post, I mentioned Room and Carol as movies I’d read were not being received as enthusiastically by Academy members as they were by critics. Goes to show that you can never be be sure how 6,000+ people are going to come down on something. Because Carol director Todd Haynes is a more established filmmaker than Room‘s director Lenny Abrahamson, I thought Carol would have a stronger base of support and would make the cut thanks to a small but passionate contingent. Instead, Room turned out to be the movie that got the necessary boost, and I’m thrilled to see it here.

As for Inside Out, I had thought that given its level of acclaim, it would have found a place here just like previous Pixar efforts Up and Toy Story 3 did in 2009 and 2010. But after the nominations were announced, I became aware of something I hadn’t realized. In 2009 and 2010 — the two years where the Academy went with a guaranteed slate of ten Best Picture nominees — voters were asked to list ten movies on their ballots. (I knew that part.) Beginning in 2011, however, when the change was made to a system that would result in anywhere from five to ten nominees, ballots reverted back to just five choices for voters to write down. I didn’t know that. If I had, I wouldn’t have predicted a nomination for Inside Out. With ten selections to make, voters are more likely to honor an animated film. With only five selections, they’re more likely to stick with live action and leave movies like Inside Out to the Animated Feature category. Live and learn.

Mad Max: Fury Road, meanwhile, overcame historical odds and landed in the Best Picture race, coming in behind The Revenant as the second most nominated movie of the year. In the narrow scope of this year’s award season, it may not be surprising, but given how outside the Academy’s “top award” box this movie is, the fact that it’s now a Best Picture nominee is pretty astonishing. It’s great to see the Academy recognize the artfulness of this movie — both the staging and creation of its incredible action, but also the character drama and underlying themes that propel the story. The movie is more than one big car chase, and the Academy’s recognition is a ringing endorsement of that fact.

BEST DIRECTOR
The most surprising omission from this year’s nominees came in this category, with The Martian director Ridley Scott being left out. He was supposed to be one of the day’s absolute sure things, with many at that point already dubbing him the sentimental favorite to win. Whether his omission was a matter of too many voters deliberately choosing elsewhere, or a matter of them thinking he was a lock and therefore giving their vote to someone else — something I suspect happened to Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow in 2012 — we’ll never know. I didn’t think Scott deserved a nomination for The Martian, so I’m okay with his absence. I loved the movie and he did a great job with it, but it didn’t strike me as such a strong directorial achievement as to be singled out among the year’s five best.

I only guessed three out of five in this category, expecting Scott to get in, and going for Steven Spielberg over Adam McKay. Overlooking McKay was a dumb move. I knew The Big Short was apparently doing really well with Academy members, and with the DGA nomination under his belt, I shouldn’t have underestimated him. I thought his comedy background would hinder his chances with this crowd. But the evidence for his nomination was all there, and I ignored it.

The other big surprise in the category was the man who took Scott’s perceived slot: Room’s Lenny Abrahamson. He was a real longshot, not expected to go the distance. So not only were those rumblings about Academy members staying away from Room unreliable, they belied how taken with the movie voters actually were. It may have only landed four nominations, but it was never going to place in the crafts categories, so its showing in Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay is a huge victory. Too bad the actors branch couldn’t overcome their reticence to nominate children by recognizing the movie’s not-so-secret weapon, Jacob Tremblay. Given the enthusiasm for the movie, you’d think voters would have gone to bat for him. But with the exception of Best Picture, each branch votes for their own, and apparently not enough actors could find a place for him, even though their SAG counterparts did.

BEST ACTRESS
I was mildly surprised that Charlotte Rampling made the cut. Many pundits expected her to be nominated, but I left her off my list, thinking 45 Years was too small to get noticed, and her performance too subtle and quiet to stand out. I also thought the lack of a BAFTA nomination was a big omen, but I was obviously wrong. She made it…and promptly killed her chances with some poorly worded comments on the diversity controversy (seriously, Charlotte…you’re not helping.) No no, I’m kidding: ignorant and tone-deaf as her comments were, she didn’t kill her chances. She never had a chance. Her nomination is her reward.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Of all the non-white actors who were in the conversation this year, the one with the best odds of a nomination seemed to be Beasts of No Nation‘s Idris Elba. As we know, it didn’t happen. Some blamed the fact that Netflix didn’t have experience mounting an Oscar campaign. Some blamed the movie’s difficult subject matter. Some blamed a bias against black actors. The film’s subject matter is the only one of those possibilities I believe might have been a factor. But I’d bet a lot of people did watch the movie, and I’d bet a lot of those people did vote for Elba. Just not enough, in the end…though interestingly, he did go on to win the SAG award. Sylvester Stallone, Mark Rylance and Christian Bale survived from Phase One, while Mark Ruffalo and Tom Hardy — who were largely absent from the precursor awards — found a place too. I’ve been baffled all along by the consistent inclusion of Bale. He’s a great actor, of course, and I enjoyed him in The Big Short, but I just don’t see it as an award-worthy performance at all. If anyone from that movie should have been singled out, it was Steve Carell, and even he wouldn’t have made my cut. I remain disappointed that Jacob Tremblay didn’t get nominated for Room, as I mentioned above. He would really belong in Best Actor, but that was never going to happen, so Best Supporting Actor would have been his spot if he had made it. Still, Tremblay seems okay with being passed over. He’s having a blast, Instagramming his way from one starry red carpet event to another and making the talk show rounds, proving hilarious and adorable at every turn.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Despite a lot of attention paid to category fraud this year, Academy voters fell in line with studio campaigning and nominated Carol‘s Rooney Mara and The Danish Girl‘s Alicia Vikander in this category, despite both actresses being co-leads in their films. Vikander received far more attention during Phase 1 for her role in Ex Machina, but The Danish Girl always seemed more in the Academy’s wheelhouse. I still thought, as did several others, that her many critics citations for Ex Machina would translate here, but it did turn out to be The Danish Girl that earned her a nomination. She’s superb in both movies, so…either way, really.

It’s great to see Jennifer Jason Leigh finally earn an Oscar nomination after years of excellent work, and although Rachel McAdams has been around for far less time, she’s a versatile and always reliable actress, so it’s nice to see her here too. I wasn’t convinced she would make it for her strong but unassuming work in Spotlight, but the movie — whose fortunes some thought might be fading when the nominations came around — is still making a big impression on people.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
After Ridley Scott, the second most shocking omission this year came in this category, with Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs script failing to make the cut. This one astounds me. It should be the winner here, as far as I’m concerned. I haven’t read the source material for any of these contenders, but who are we kidding: neither have the voters. No one is ever really evaluating this category by how successfully the source material is translated to the screen. They’re going off the movie itself. Even without reading the source material, I doubt that any of the nominees — all of whom did excellent work — crafted anything as creative, unique, or just plain smart as what Sorkin did with Steve Jobs. Very disappointing.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
My risk in predicting The Assassin didn’t pan out, as the voters in the Cinematography branch stuck with a more expected set of nominees. Despite all the fanfare over The Hateful Eight‘s 70mm shoot and use of anamorphic lenses literally not employed since the 1960s, I thought the film’s mostly interior settings would hurt its chances. Not so, with three-time winner Robert Richardson earning his ninth nomination. Not at all undeserved; I just wasn’t sure it would happen.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
I was a little surprised to see The Revenant here. So much of the film’s settings and locations are natural landscapes; beautiful, but not appearing to require the work of a production designer so much as a location scout. That’s not to diminish the work that did go into the film from an art and set decoration perspective, but it does seem that with so much good design efforts to consider, this slot might have been more deserved by something like Carol, Crimson Peak or Ex Machina.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Again, The Revenant is a bit of a head-scratcher to me. Clearly, as evidenced by the field-leading 12 nominations, Academy members across all branches were big-time in the bag for this movie. But this nomination — and the Production Design nod, to a lesser extent — strike me as the kind of unimaginative thinking that leads voters to just fill in a favorite movie all the way down the line without really considering the options. If members of the Costume Branch were taken with the look of heavy furs and 1800s winter wardrobes, they’d have made a better choice going for The Hateful Eight, where the costumes at least had some creative flair. And for a branch that usually prizes color and elegance above all, a nod for the drab outfits of The Revenant over Brooklyn or Crimson Peak is curious.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Poor Vin Diesel. This was the one category where Furious 7 actually stood a decent chance of earning a nomination, but it didn’t happen. Diesel’s Oscar dreams have died hard this year, but he surely has another half-dozen Fast and Furious movies coming down the road that could finally end the series’ inexplicable Oscar drought. Keep on truckin,’ Vin.

At least Fifty Shades of Grey is now an Academy Award nominee.

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Still trying to figure out what the hell The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is.

BEST SOUND EDITING AND SOUND MIXING
I did surprisingly well in these categories, nailing the Mixing lineup and missing Editing  by just one. The frequent trend of four common nominees between the two categories and one loner in each continued, and I correctly guessed the shared contenders: Fury Road, The Force Awakens, The Revenant and The Martian. My shot in the dark that Bridge of Spies would land in Sound Mixing turned out to be right – go figure. I may ostensibly understand the general definition of these two categories, but I still don’t really get it, or have any idea how to evaluate it. Nevertheless, I know enough to know they made a good call by including Sicario in Sound Editing. The sound work in that movie was stellar, and huge contributor to its incredible sense of tension that was sustained throughout.

 

Chris Rock copyThat’s really all I have to say about the nominees at this stage. The big show is two weeks away, so we’ll see each other before then. Chris Rock is hosting, and in this year of racial controversy, who better to comment on the drama? I have a great idea for the opening of the show. The announcer says, “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome your host for the evening, Chris Rock!” And out walks Louis C.K., nodding and doing his understated, I’m-kind-of-uncomfortable-right-now Louis C.K. thing. “I…I know you were expecting Chris. You were probably expecting Idris Elba or Will Smith too, but you know…anyway the Academy quietly decided that in keeping with the theme this year…” and then he’d just kinda point to his face with a telling look. And it would go on for a minute until they figured a way to get Rock out there. I imagine maybe Louis calling Chris and tracking him down to Jerry Seinfeld’s house. They put Jerry on screen, Chris is over his place just hanging out in a tux, Louis and Jerry convince Chris that the show needs him, he agrees to come, and then Jerry drives him over, the ride becoming a riff on Seinfeld’s web series, this time called Comedians in Cars Getting Oscars. I dunno — it’s a work in progress. I’ve got two weeks to figure out the second part, but the opener is gold.

Anyway, after three years of being produced by Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, who insisted on stuffing the show with musical numbers, this year’s producing duties fall to the ebony and ivory team of Reginald Hudlin and David Hill. Hudlin is a writer/producer/director/executive with many credits in film and television, while Hill is best known for his work on live sporting events. Interestingly, Hudlin and Hill were talking about a focus on diversity at the show months ago, long before the nominees were determined. They’ve stated that diversity also means taking into account movies that are popular with audiences but don’t necessarily find themselves represented at the Oscars. (Furious 7, you may yet get your moment in the Oscar sun.). Hill, whose work in the sports world often focused on telling personal stories of the athletes in the game, talked of bringing that kind of device to the Oscars as a way to better acquaint audiences with nominees in the below-the-line categories. He also said he wants to construct the show in such a way that the awards are not given out in a totally random order, but that they have a flow and build to night’s final award, Best Picture. So…pretty much they’re talking about doing what was done for the 2008 awards, which is probably the overall best and most creatively produced Oscar ceremony I’ve ever seen, and did almost everything Hudlin and Hill have talked about, except for personalizing the lesser known nominees. Not a bad model to emulate. One idea I’m not crazy about, which was introduced earlier this week at the nominee’s luncheon, was asking all nominees to submit in advance a list of people they’d like to thank, and then the list will scroll across the bottom of the screen like a 24-hour news ticker. The idea is to encourage the winners to say something interesting during their time on stage, as opposed to just reading a list of names that have personal significance to them, but mean nothing to anybody watching. I understand the instinct, but the idea seems pretty crass to me. I kinda hope most people just don’t submit anything.

Okay…I’m sure nobody reading this cares about any of this stuff, so I’ll end it here. Your time would be better spent catching up on nominated movies.

(Class of 2015 photo from Nominee Luncheon. Click image to enlarge and scan for recognizable faces.)

 

 

January 13, 2016

Oscars 2015: Nominations Eve – My Absurdly Long Predictions Opus

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 12:45 pm
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Early in the premiere episode of the about-to-conclude-tonight American Horror Story: Hotel, Wes Bentley’s homicide detective is reviewing gruesome crime scene photos while listening to a recording of facts about the case to which they pertain. His notes identify the brutally mutilated victim as an Oscar blogger. I chuckled at that. Then I locked all the doors and windows and peeked out onto the street from behind the curtains to make sure no suspicious activity was afoot. I suppose if a deranged killer was out there targeting an Oscar blogger, there are several professionals for them to pursue. They wouldn’t bother with my small-time operation. So I’ll just continue toiling away here for the five of you who have showed up to read this. But in case this is my last hurrah, savor it. We who are about to die salute you…and still can’t believe Al Pacino wasn’t nominated for Donnie Brasco.

BEST PICTURE
To begin, it’s safe to say that whatever Vin Diesel might have promised us last April, Furious 7 will not be counted among this year’s contenders for the top Oscar. There are, however, an unusually high number of commercial films in the hunt that do have a legitimate shot. Mad Max: Fury Road, Straight Outta Compton, The Martian, Inside Out, Creed and even Star Wars: The Force Awakens all have varying degrees of momentum.

The big question mark is Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s one of the best reviewed movies of the year, and has collected several Best Picture wins from national and regional critics associations. Nearly every organization that didn’t give it their top prize, if they name runners-up or nominees, had it in one of those two positions. It’s far and away one of the two most honored movies of the year so far, which would appear to make it a no-brainer Best Picture contender…except that it couldn’t be further away from a typical Best Picture contender. This is a loud, crazy, high-octane action movie that begins at full-throttle and rarely lets up. Whatever intelligence and strong feminist themes run through it, it is on its surface a far cry from the type of films that earn Best Picture recognition. When this category was expanded to include more than five nominees, the move was believed to be, in part, a reaction to the Academy’s failure to nominate Christopher Nolan’s action drama, The Dark Knight. With a larger field of nominees, the thinking went, smart commercial movies could earn a place at this table. Alas, that isn’t really how things have gone…but then again, has there been such a film since The Dark Knight that has truly deserved that recognition? Maybe Skyfall. Definitely Fury Road. So this will arguably be the biggest test of the Best Picture expansion since its inception. Will voters make room for an acclaimed action film that has been embraced in all other corners as one of the year’s finest? Or will they ignore it in favor of more standard Academy fare that feels Moving, or Important?

The question is further complicated by the presence of The Martian. Ridley Scott’s sci-fi drama, with ample doses of crowd-pleasing laughs – so much so that it was rather questionably nominated in the Golden Globes’ Musical/Comedy categories, where it won Best Picture and Best Actor – is a box office success (more so than Fury Road), and also a big hit with critics (though less so than Fury Road). Crucially, it feels more like an Academy movie. I can’t articulate why, exactly. Whatever Oscar-friendly fortune smiled on Avatar and Inception – popular, mainstream films that have been nominated since the category’s expansion – also seems to grace The Martian. The Best Picture race will rarely accommodate more than two “popular” movies, and The Martian is a commercial film with a larger whiff of prestige than the gritty, grungy, in-your-face Fury Road, making it a more likely nominee. Given how well Fury Road has done in the precursor phase, it would be foolish to bet against its chances for a Best Picture slot. More importantly, it’s scored nominations from every guild to announce so far except one, which indicates support across the filmmaking community. Many voting members of the guilds are also Academy members. On the other hand, the film failed to land a Best Picture nomination from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), which could be a bad omen…or could mean little, considering that BAFTA’s Best Picture race still only has five nominees. Like our Academy, the BAFTA is a large voting body comprised of filmmakers, so it can be a decent indicator of which way the winds are blowing, but it’s still just one of many such indicators, and must be weighed accordingly. On paper, Fury Road appears to have all the momentum it needs to score a Best Picture nomination. Yet the fact remains that there is zero precedence for a movie like it to be nominated, while there is plenty of precedence for critically adored and even guild-heralded movies to be shunned by the Academy.

Moving on to some safer bets, I mentioned that Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the two most honored movies of 2015, at least based on the year-end awards. The other is Spotlight, which has captured the majority of Best Picture precursor awards so far. I expect it will be joined by Brooklyn and The Big Short, as well as aforementioned commercial prospects The Martian and Inside Out. So that’s five slots for sure, and six if we go with Mad Max: Fury Road. That leaves a maximum of only four spaces – five if we bet against Fury Road – and several contenders in the hunt: The Revenant (crowned with a Best Picture – Drama win earlier this week at the Golden Globes, though Oscar voting had already closed by then), Room, Carol, The Danish Girl, The Hateful Eight, Bridge of Spies, Steve Jobs, Joy, Trumbo, Sicario, Ex Machina, Beasts of No Nation, Son of Saul, plus Straight Outta Compton, Creed and Star Wars. That may seem like a kitchen sink list, but every one of those movies – even Star Wars – has legitimate potential to land a nomination. A solid case could be made for each, let me put it that way.

Once again, we don’t know how many nominees there will be. Last year there were eight, while the three previous years each had nine. I’m guessing nine again, based purely on the few years of evidence we have to work from. Ultimately, it has nothing to do with how many worthy films there are, or whether it’s been a strong or weak year for movies. It’s all about how many votes each movie gets. The way the numbers are crunched, a movie with a few hundred first place votes will be nominated over a movie with many more second or third place votes. (There are approximately 6,000 members of the Academy.) The passion vote is the key when it comes to the Best Picture nominations, and that’s tough to get a handle on. I’ve read, for example, that Carol and Room – while performing quite well with critics – have been less embraced by Academy members; the former for being perceived as too cold, and the latter for portraying difficult subject matter that has discouraged voters from watching it. Even if those rumors are true, there could still be enough devoted admirers who choose one of those films as their first choice, helping land it a coveted spot. (I’m counting on that passion vote to carry Fury Road over the finish line.)

Predictions:
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Carol
Inside Out
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Spotlight

Personal Picks:
Brooklyn
The Hateful Eight
Love & Mercy
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room
Sicario
Spotlight
Steve Jobs

BEST DIRECTOR
Whatever happens with Mad Max: Fury Road‘s Best Picture prospects, director George Miller’s chances in this race are a different ball game. As far as the critics awards go, Miller is miles ahead of the competition, having been named the top filmmaker of the year by nearly two dozen groups. The director’s branch usually makes room for one outside-the-box contender alongside a line-up of more traditional choices that align with Best Picture nominees. Miller could end up fitting either of those slots, depending on how things go. I imagine fellow members of his branch will want to honor him for getting out there at age 70 and mounting an immensely challenging production full of brazen physical effects and practical stunt work. It was a complicated endeavor with stellar results, and it’s hard to imagine his peers won’t honor him for it.

His peers in the Director’s Guild of America (DGA) did indeed honor him for it, nominating him alongside The Revenant‘s Alejandro G. Iñárritu (who also took the Golden Globe, in a minor upset), The Big Short‘s Adam McKay, Spotlight‘s Tom McCarthy, and The Martian‘s Ridley Scott. It’s the first such mention all season long for McKay, though he has collected his fair share of Screenplay honors. His slot comes at the “expense” of the only other director besides Miller, Iñárritu, McCarthy and Scott to be recognized during the precursor phase: Todd Haynes, director of Carol, who was honored by a couple of major critics groups.

What does it all mean for the Oscars? Well, as is the case with most of the guilds, the nominees rarely line up exactly. Scott and Iñárritu seem safe, as does McCarthy, having directed the presumed Best Picture frontrunner. Despite dominating the critics circuit, however, I’m not prepared to say that Spotlight will go all the way. And good as it is, it doesn’t jump out as a directing showcase…although the fact that it isn’t a flashy epic shouldn’t deceive anyone into thinking it’s not a superbly helmed film. So McCarthy could be the omission that will shock the pundits. I’m hearing that The Big Short is playing like gangbusters with Academy members, and that its popularity was hitting its stride smack in the middle of the voting period, so McKay could definitely benefit if people are loving the movie. On the other hand, might some voters be reluctant to hand a Best Director nomination to the guy behind Anchorman and Talledega Nights? You never know. I mentioned that the Director’s branch often goes for a less mainstream, more outsider candidate, and that can translate to “arty,” so I wouldn’t count Todd Haynes out.

Steven Spielberg could break into the race with Bridge of Spies, which has proven a surprisingly strong contender throughout both phases of the season, earning consistent mentions from critics in various categories, as well as nominations from several guilds and a field co-leading nine nominations from BAFTA. The movie is exactly the kind of sturdy, old-fashioned, handsomely crafted and entertaining production that older Academy members love…or at least greatly admire. Other than Spielberg, the only two people I can see sliding in – and they’re both huge longshots – are Alex Garland (Ex Machina) and Denis Villeneuve (Sicario). I’d be surprised if anyone else showed up. There’s plenty of good, worthy work, but nothing that looks likely to push through. I don’t see Quentin Tarantino or David O. Russell getting in this year, nor up-and-comers like Lenny Abrahamson (Room), Ryan Coogler (Creed), or John Crowley (Brooklyn). Danny Boyle and Tom Hooper are past winners with prestige films in the mix – Steve Jobs and The Danish Girl, respectively – but nominations don’t appear to be in the cards.

We’ll see soon enough if I’m underestimating someone.

Predictions:
Steven Spielberg – Bridge of Spies
George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
Ridley Scott – The Martian
Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant
Tom McCarthy – Spotlight

Personal Picks:
Quentin Tarantino – The Hateful Eight
George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant
Denis Villeneuve – Sicario
Danny Boyle – Steve Jobs

BEST ACTOR
This is typically a tough category to crack, overcrowded with excellent, deserving work. The competition isn’t quite as intense this year as it’s been the last few, but there are several viable contenders, and the category feels more pliable than in other years. Leonardo DiCaprio is the one true lock, for his all-in work in The Revenant, and he’ll likely be joined by Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs. The fate of that film seemed up in the air for a while when, despite strong reviews and big box office during its limited release, the movie faltered in wide release and disappeared from theaters far too quickly. But the critics revived it with constant mentions during Phase 1 of awards season, and Fassbender has been nominated for a Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award and Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) award – a hat trick which doesn’t guarantee an Oscar nod, but doesn’t hurt.

Last year’s winner Eddie Redmayne has good odds of being back again, for The Danish Girl, but that movie’s reception seems just muted enough to make what might seem on paper like a surefire nomination be less of a guarantee. (He plays a real-life artist who was one of the first people to ever undergo gender-reassignment surgery.) Heading into the fall season, everyone assumed – and even hoped – that Johnny Depp’s work in Black Mass would be a return to form for the actor, and a surefire awards magnet. Unfortunately the movie was underwhelming, and Depp – while very good – was stuck with a script that gave him a two-dimensional character to play. There was nothing below the surface to dig into. He’s been largely absent from the awards conversation, but did score nominations from SAG and the BFCA, so he’s not completely sidelined.

Bryan Cranston has done quite well on the circuit for his role as blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, and Cranston’s popularity among actors (everyone loves Breaking Bad) as well as the boost of being in a movie about the movie industry – which tends to go over well with Academy members – give him an excellent chance of finding a spot. Matt Damon is a favorite for his versatile turn in The Martian, while Will Smith has garnered positive notices for his performance in Concussion.

Circling on the periphery with limited chances but just enough buzz to break through as a surprise, we have Michael Caine in Youth, Michael B. Jordan in Creed and Ian McKellan in Mr. Holmes. Tom Hardy and Jason Segel have garnered some critical attention for Legend and The End of the Tour, respectively, but neither have the momentum to push through into this race, while Jake Gyllenhaal might have had a shot for Southpaw had the movie made more of a splash. I’d bet there are many voters who would want to make up for him missing out last year with Nightcrawler, but Southpaw just didn’t catch on. I should also mention child actors Abraham Attah from Beasts of No Nation and Jacob Tremblay of Room, though they would probably find themselves in the Supporting Actor race – despite both being leads – if they make it at all.

Predictions:
Bryan Cranston – Trumbo
Matt Damon – The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl

Personal Picks:
Abraham Attah – Beasts of No Nation
Matt Damon – The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
Jacob Tremblay – Room

BEST ACTRESS
What I’m about to say will defy logic and make you doubt all that you have come to believe in and understand about the world, but just know that everything is going to be okay. Here goes: Meryl Streep starred in a movie this year and is NOT going to get nominated for an Oscar. It feels like heresy just to write that, but I must speak the truth. Meryl Streep’s performance in Ricki and the Flash is not part of the Best Actress conversation at all. It might have been, in a more typical year…”typical” meaning a year with a disappointingly small pool of great female roles from which to select. Happily for us all, this is not a typical year. In fact, the number of women in the Best Actress hunt is larger than it’s been in a long time, and the problem that has plagued Best Actor over the past few years – so much good work that no matter how the nominations turned out, some great performances were going to be left out – now impacts the ladies.

Two actresses that needn’t worry about the stiff competition are Brie Larson and Saoirse Ronan, who are comfortably positioned to be recognized for Room and Brooklyn, respectively. Whatever issues Room might have in cracking the Best Picture race, they shouldn’t impact actors’ desire to recognize Larson’s extraordinary work. Jennifer Lawrence is an Academy darling, and even though Joy hasn’t resonated as strongly as American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook – Lawrence’s last two collaborations with David O. Russell – her work in the film is admired enough to make her a likely nominee. She missed out on a SAG nomination, but ballots for those awards went out in mid-to-late November, well before the movie was completed and screening for guild members.

That leaves two slots and a dozen strong possibilities. In addition to Larson and Ronan, SAG nominated Cate Blanchett for Carol, Helen Mirren for Woman in Gold, and in a major shock, Sarah Silverman for the little-seen indie I Smile Back. Blanchett is probably a safe bet for an Oscar nod, and Mirren can never be discounted, but I suspect she’ll be squeezed out by more compelling work. Silverman’s SAG nomination is impressive, but a matching Oscar nod isn’t in the cards.

There’s been plenty of talk for Blanchett’s Carol co-star Rooney Mara as well as The Danish Girl‘s Alicia Vikander, but both of them are being promoted by their studios for Supporting Actress recognition. This has led to cries of category fraud, since both actresses are clearly leads. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which hands out the Golden Globes, rejected these categorizations and filtered Mara and Vikander into the Lead race, where both were nominated in the Drama category. Some critics organizations also put them into Lead, while others stuck with Supporting. Both actresses received SAG and BFCA nods, both in Supporting. Academy voters always have the option of ignoring the studios’ suggestions and placing performers in the category they feel is most accurate, though more often than not they go along with what is recommended. The danger for both actresses’ chances comes from the possibility that many voters will place them in one category while many will place them in the other, splitting their recognition such that they don’t collect enough votes in either category to break through.

A number of veterans have been in the conversation this year, from character actress Blythe Danner, playing her first lead film role in I’ll See You in My Dreams to Lily Tomlin for her acerbic turn in Grandma to Maggie Smith in The Lady in the Van. But the only one from this over-65 club who seems to have a real shot is Charlotte Rampling, who has earned raves for 45 Years. The movie is a small one, but she’s received enough praise that if voters get a chance to see the film, she could land a spot. It’s a definite “if,” however, especially since her performance is so quiet and internalized. Voters prefer fireworks. She missed out on a BAFTA nomination (her assumed spot went to Maggie Smith), and that could be a bad sign for her Oscar prospects. If she couldn’t break through with a home field advantage, she may not have the votes to get nominated on this side of the pond.

Carey Mulligan turned in a pair of excellent performances, with Far from the Madding Crowd and Suffragette, and Emily Blunt was terrific in Sicario, though like Rampling, who has racked up far more mentions than Blunt, her work is probably too understated and nuanced to pop amidst such strong competition. There’s also Charlize Theron’s lauded performance in Mad Max: Fury Road, but while that would be great to see nominated, I have a hard time imagining she’ll collect enough votes to get her there.

Predictions:
Cate Blanchett – Carol
Brie Larson – Room
Jennifer Lawrence – Joy
Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn
Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl

Personal Picks:
Emily Blunt – Sicario
Brie Larson – Room
Jennifer Lawrence – Joy
Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn
Charlize Theron – Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Whereas the last two years have seen one actor dominating this race heading into the Oscars – Jared Leto in 2013 and J.K. Simmons in 2014 – this time around the race is wide open, with critics groups spreading their love across a dozen performances. The one to collect the most prizes so far, believe it or not, is Sylvester Stallone for his reprisal of Rocky Balboa in Creed. It’s a part he’s now played seven times, and he was a Best Actor nominee the first, back in 1976. Stallone is quite good in Creed, and gets to bring some lovely new shadings to the character. On the other hand, we don’t tend to think of Stallone and “great actor” in the same sentence, and although he’s in a frontrunner position at the moment, it wouldn’t surprise me if many voters felt that he hadn’t “earned” Academy attention. He did just win a Golden Globe, and is nominated for a BFCA award, but was passed over by SAG, which is the only one of those three voting bodies that has any crossover with the Academy. On the other hand, if the enthusiastic standing ovation he received at the Globes is any indication, his chances look good.

If we consider Stallone a lock, the only other person who enjoys similar status at the moment is Mark Rylance as the accused Soviet agent at the center of Bridge of Spies. Rylance isn’t well-known by film audiences, but he’s a Broadway fixture with three Tony awards, and has been a highlight of Steven Spielberg’s drama for those who’ve seen it. (I enjoyed the performance, but felt it needed to be more substantial in size to deserve an Oscar nod.)

From its earliest showings in September at the Venice, Telluride and Toronto film festivals, Spotlight was seen as having strong Oscar potential, with Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo the standout performers likely to earn award recognition. The only question throughout the fall seemed to be if the category would have room for both of them, or only one. Now the question is whether it will have room for either, as both have missed the cut with nearly every major group so far. SAG, BFCA and the Golden Globes all overlooked them. The thinking seems to be that they’ve split the vote, but I’ve said before that the long-held notion of vote splitting makes little sense to me. By and large, people will vote for the performances they most enjoy, whether or not there happen to be more than one in a given movie. If Spotlight does as well with the Academy as it’s expected to, I find it hard to believe that at least one of these guys isn’t getting nominated. But if only one, which one? Keaton could have support from what I’m sure is a large number of people who wanted to see him win last year for Birdman. Ruffalo, also widely admired by his fellow actors, is still awaiting his first Oscar, and he has the showier role in Spotlight. And in a late breaking boost, he got a BAFTA nomination last week. I think he’s going to make it, but it’s no sure thing.

Michael Shannon has garnered a fair amount of critical accolades for the searing housing crisis drama 99 Homes, and even landed SAG, BFCA and Golden Globe nods. But have enough Academy members seen that movie? Enough to go for Shannon over Keaton and Ruffalo in Spotlight, a movie many of them will definitely have seen? Only Shannon and Rylance have scored nominations from all three of those groups. Idris Elba was recognized by SAG and the Globes for Beasts of No Nation; Christian Bale by SAG and the BFCA for The Big Short; and Paul Dano by the BFCA and the Globes for Love & Mercy. Bale, Elba and Rylance have also added BAFTA nods to their tally. Tom Hardy picked up a BFCA nomination for The Revenant, while Jacob Tremblay scored a SAG nod for Room. SAG often goes to bat for child actors, but I’m unsure about Tremblay’s Oscar chances. People who’ve seen the film – actors who’ve seen the film, importantly – are definitely moved by his performance, but with someone so young, there’s often the question of the line between acting – making conscious choices about a performance – and playing a sort of make-believe guided by natural behavior. There’s also the category fraud issue again, seeing as Tremblay is unquestionably a lead in Room. As with Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander, Tremblay’s placement as Lead vs. Supporting has varied among critics groups.

Benicio del Toro garnered buzz for Sicario, and has been on the bubble all season long. He landed a BAFTA nod, but that’s the biggest honor he’s collected to date. The buzz may not have remained strong enough to get him in. Oscar Isaac is a longshot for his work in Ex Machina, and Joel Edgerton had a bit of shine around him early on for Black Mass, but his fortunes seem to have faded along with the movie’s. Still, if it somehow rebounds with the Academy – if they nominate Depp – he could benefit.

One more longshot that I have to mention is Harrison Ford for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He hasn’t been named by a single critics group, let alone SAG, the Globes or the BFCA…though to be fair, the movie wasn’t available for most of these groups to watch before they announced their nominations. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference. But consider: Ford is a beloved actor with only one nomination, way back in 1985 for Witness. He hasn’t even earned an Honorary Oscar yet. From George Burns to Don Ameche to Sean Connery to James Coburn to Alan Arkin to Christopher Plummer, this category often recognizes veteran actors who have never won before. With The Force Awakens, Ford returned to the role of an iconic character, also beloved, and slipped comfortably back into the part despite 30+ years elapsing since he’d last played it. The character is deepened in this new film, allowing Ford to bring new dimensions and play a more emotional arc than the earlier films allowed. All of these points, by the way, also apply to Stallone, though as popular a character as Rocky Balboa is, he doesn’t hold the same cultural significance as Han Solo. And those who’ve seen the movie know that Ford has one scene in particular that could go a long way toward earning him some sentiment for recognition. Do I think it will happen? No, probably not. Do I think it could? Absolutely. There are all kinds of factors beyond just the performance that voters think about when making their selections, and some of the things I’m mentioning here could propel Ford to a nomination.

Predictions:
Christian Bale – The Big Short
Idris Elba – Beasts of No Nation
Tom Hardy – The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight
Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies

Personal Picks:
Tom Hardy – The Revenant
Oscar Isaac – Ex Machina
Jason Mitchell – Straight Outta Compton
Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight
Sylvester Stallone – Creed

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
We now come back to Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander. If voters fall in line with the studio marketing, both will earn their recognition here…and chances are good that both will earn recognition. In Vikander’s case, the mystery is whether her nomination will come for The Danish Girl or Ex Machina. While the assumption all season long has been that Vikander would garner recognition for The Danish Girl, she has quietly amassed a field-leading number of critics group wins for Ex Machina. I don’t know what to expect from that film in terms of how it will play with the Academy. It was nominated for Best Picture by the Producers Guild of America, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will repeat with the Academy. It’s been out long enough and received enough attention that I’m sure many voters have seen it. So in which role has Vikander most impressed the most people? And could she end up pulling double honors, with a Best Actress nomination for The Danish Girl and Supporting for Ex Machina, which she got from the Golden Globes and BAFTA? That’s what I’m predicting…but I’m not convinced about her Best Actress chances. I just had to make a choice and get on with my life.

Mara and Vikander and their category confusion aside, the safest bet here is Kate Winslet, who has earned consistent accolades for her work in Steve Jobs, and just picked up an unexpected Golden Globe win. Jennifer Jason Leigh, one of the finest actresses to never be nominated for an Oscar, could finally have her chance with a live-wire role in The Hateful Eight, and Helen Mirren is in play for a small role in Trumbo…much too small, in my opinion. She earned the SAG/BFCA/Golden Globe trifecta, but enjoyable as she is playing gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, this is a spot that should go to someone who contributed more to their film. Like Elizabeth Banks, for instance, in Love & Mercy. The prolific actress gives one of her best performances, and although she has picked up some recognition in the precursor phase, she’s a dark horse for an Oscar nomination.

Another dark horse, though she has received a few major critic’s prizes, is Kristen Stewart for Clouds of Sils Maria. I’m a bit baffled by the attention she’s received for this. (Last February, she became the first American actress to ever win a César, France’s equivalent of the Oscar. Bizarre.) Clouds of Sils Maria is a movie that stuck with me all year even though I had significant issues with it, and Stewart was good…but Stewart is rarely better than good. There is something compelling about her screen presence, but she’s not a great actress, and I can’t figure why she’s earning such high marks for this role. Her co-star Juliette Binoche is the one who should be in the conversation, for Best Actress, but there’s been nary a peep about her, or a single critic’s notice during Phase 1. The question of “deserve” aside, I seriously doubt Clouds of Sils Maria has been seen by enough voters to earn Stewart a spot.

While Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton have been unable to register as widely as expected, Spotlight‘s Rachel McAdams has carried the torch for the movie’s lauded ensemble, earning SAG and BFCA nominations. She’s solid in the movie, but it’s a pretty muted performance, and I’m not sure she would be singled out unless voters indeed can’t choose between Keaton and Ruffalo, and want to make sure someone from the cast is acknowledged.

Jane Fonda has a shot for her brief, memorable work in Youth, but like Helen Mirren in Trumbo – more so, in fact – the role is much too small to deserve a spot. It’s little more than an extended cameo, really, but it was enough to land her a Golden Globe nomination. With all due respect to these esteemed actresses and the admittedly fine work they did in their films, it would be a shame if their brief contributions were allowed to eclipse roles that are significantly more substantial, even if from less known performers or films outside the mainstream. Consider Tangerine, the Sundance breakout hit starring transgender actresses Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, who created two of the year’s most vivid and memorable characters. The movie’s producers, indie rock stars Mark and Jay Duplass, initiated an Oscar campaign for Taylor and Rodriguez, and while the movie surely remains too under-the-radar to actually land any nominations, it would be a breath of fresh air from the Academy if they were to honor either of these vibrant performances.

Predictions:
Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara – Carol
Helen Mirren – Trumbo
Alicia Vikander – Ex Machina
Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

Personal Picks:
Elizabeth Banks – Love & Mercy
Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
Mya Taylor – Tangerine
Alicia Vikander – Ex Machina
Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Bank on Spotlight and Inside Out to land here for sure, with Bridge of Spies also a near-lock. Quentin Tarantino and David O. Russell have both done well in the writing categories in recent years, but while QT’s The Hateful Eight is a good bet, Russell may not be able to repeat unless the Academy turns out to embrace Joy more enthusiastically than any other group this year. Straight Outta Compton, Sicario and Trainwreck all picked up nominations from the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) – alongside Spotlight and Bridge of Spies – but there are always several major players which are ineligible for recognition from the WGA, and this year’s victims include Inside Out and Hateful Eight. I’m sure the former will get a nomination, and the latter probably will too, so there won’t be room for all of the guild’s selections. Sicario may have the best shot of the three, but even that’s hard to say, seeing as the film has been on the bubble all season. It’s done well with guild nominations, but I can’t say with any confidence that things will play out the same way with the Academy. Ex Machina, which was also ineligible with the WGA, is another strong possibility here, though again, I’m have no sense of how the movie is playing with Academy members.

Predictions:
Bridge of Spies – Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Ex Machina – Alex Garland
The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino
Inside Out – Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley
Spotlight – Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer

Personal Picks:
Dope – Rick Famuyiwa
The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino
Inside Out – Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley
Spotlight – Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer
Sicario – Taylor Sheridan

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
There are six films that have come up consistently in this category throughout the season: The Big Short, Brooklyn, Carol, The Martian, Room and Steve Jobs. There’s only room for five, of course, and there are a few others looking to break in. Chief among those is Anomalisa, written by Charlie Kaufman, whose work is always unique and admired. A few critics groups have nominated The End of the Tour, about Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky’s interviews with David Foster Wallace near the end of his Infinite Jest book tour, but I seriously doubt that movie has the momentum to be a threat here. Others that have cropped up are Creed, 45 Years and The Diary of a Teenage Girl, as well as Trumbo, which landed a WGA nod. But again, ineligibilities always clear the way for some longshot nominees to have their day in the sun with the WGA. Brooklyn and Room were the most notable omissions this year, but both seem like safe bets for an Oscar nod. I’d say Carol is the most vulnerable here, but the fact is that all six of these are favorites, and something’s gotta give.

Predictions:
The Big Short – Charles Randolph, Adam McKay
Brooklyn – Nick Hornby
The Martian – Drew Goddard
Room – Emma Donaghue
Steve Jobs – Aaron Sorkin

Personal Picks:
Anomalisa – Charlie Kaufman
The Big Short – Charles Randolph, Adam McKay
Brooklyn – Nick Hornby
The Martian – Drew Goddard
Steve Jobs – Aaron Sorkin

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Sixteen films were submitted for consideration this year, a quota which means that up to five can be nominated…though I think there can be fewer. Inside Out is a no-brainer, and Pixar’s other 2015 release, The Good Dinosaur, is a safe bet too, though it was less well-received than most of the studio’s films, and could be bumped. The animation is often stunning, but the plot is fairly pedestrian. I’m not sure which of those qualities will be given more weight by voters.

Anomalisa and The Peanuts Movie will probably make it, so if we assume there will indeed be five nominees, the question is whether or not one of the more obscure, indie animated films can break through. Salma Hayek produced Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, which might be able to land a slot. Japan’s renowned Studio Ghibli, which has enjoyed several nominations over the years, has When Marnie Was There in contention, but I feel like that movie has flown further under the radar than other Ghibli efforts. Not that it matters, since the branch members have often selected little-known movies that have received no mainstream publicity prior to being nominated. I don’t think this is going to be one of those years, but that could well be because I have absolutely no framework in which to evaluate movies like Moomins on the Riviera or Boy and the World.

Predictions:
Anomalisa
The Good Dinosaur
Inside Out
The Peanuts Movie
Shaun the Sheep Movie

Personal Picks:
Anomalisa
Inside Out
The Peanuts Movie
Shaun the Sheep Movie
When Marnie Was There

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Emmanuel Lubezki, who triumphed in this category the last two years, is going for a three-peat with The Revenant, shot in remote landscapes using only natural light. He’ll surely be keeping company with John Seale, the 70 year-old Oscar winner who came out of retirement to lens Mad Max: Fury Road, a monumental production with a dazzling visual style. And count on the brilliant, still Oscar-less maestro Roger Deakins to make the cut for his evocative work on Sicario. Those three are the sure things, with Carol‘s Ed Lachman probably right at their heels. Who gets the fifth spot?

Much has been made of The Hateful Eight‘s 70mm shoot and the decades-old lenses that were used, but will any of that ultimately be meaningful to voters on a film that, however well photographed, is largely confined to a single-room location? Robert Richardson is a three-time winner, nominated for Tarantino’s last two films, but I could see him getting edged out this time. Lubezki, Seale, Deakins and Lachman were all nominated by the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), which chose Janusz Kaminski’s work on Bridge of Spies to round out their list. Kaminski is another Academy favorite with two wins under his belt, but rarely does the Academy line up five-for-five with the ASC, and of these five impressively photographed productions, Revenant, Fury Road and Sicario seem immovable. Carol could get knocked out, but it feels too entrenched. The Martian has a good chance, as a movie that could hit a lot of these below-the-line categories and does have an exotic look thanks to its alien location. The employment of different film stocks, along with digital cameras, to capture the three distinct acts of Steve Jobs could earn it some votes, but the end result might not be viewed as dynamic enough to land a spot in such a competitive race. There is also plenty of deserving work that probably doesn’t have the momentum to make the cut, including Luca Bigazzi’s wondrous shot compositions in Youth; Maryse Alberti’s fluid work on Creed; Dan Lausten’s gothic play of light and shadow in Crimson Peak; and Cary Joji Fukunaga’s unflinching hold on child soldiers in the African jungle in Beasts of No Nation.

I could go on, as there’s no shortage of impressive cinematography to marvel at, but if the Academy offers up a surprise, it could be The Assassin. I missed the film, so can’t speak to it personally, but the Cinematographer’s branch of the Academy sometimes goes for a more obscure pick, and it’s often a foreign film. The Assassin has collected enough critics prizes to make me think it will be on voters’ radars, and while it’s definitely a longshot, I’m going out on a limb and guessing it turns up.

Predictions:
The Assassin – Mark Lee Ping Bin
Carol – Ed Lachman
Mad Max: Fury Road – John Seale
The Revenant – Emmanuel Lubezki
Sicario – Roger Deakins

Personal Picks:
Mad Max: Fury Road – John Seale
The Revenant – Emmanuel Lubezki
Sicario – Roger Deakins
Steve Jobs Alwin H. Küchler
Youth – Luca Bigazzi

BEST FILM EDITING
This category is closely associated with Best Picture, so some of the frontrunners are sure to appear here as well. However, the most obvious Editing nominee is Mad Max: Fury Road, even though its position here doesn’t necessarily reflect its Best Picture odds. It’s just a hell of a skillfully assembled movie. The Big Short moves between multiple storylines, and also uses a lot of rapid-fire imagery to convey its message, so expect a nomination for that. The Martian also shifts between different storylines, maintaining successful pacing throughout its running time, so I think it has a good chance too. As the current frontrunner for Best Picture, Spotlight would seem like a sure thing for Editing, but it was conspicuously absent from both the American Cinema Editors (ACE) and BAFTA nominees. That may be a bad sign, but given the history of connection between Picture and Editing, I can’t bet against Spotlight. ACE breaks things out into categories for Drama and Comedy, and The Big Short is named in the latter, where it feels like the only nominee that will also land with the Academy (it joins Ant-Man, Trainwreck, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and the only one I wouldn’t dismiss as a possibility, Joy. On the drama side, Fury Road and The Martian are up against The Revenant, Sicario and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. BAFTA threw Bridge of Spies into the mix as well. My guess is that Revenant, Sicario and Spies are fighting it out for the fifth spot, and I’m giving a slight edge to Sicario.

Predictions:
The Big Short – Hank Corwin
Mad Max: Fury Road – Margaret Sixel
The Martian – Pietro Scalia
Sicario – Joe Walker
Spotlight – Tom McArdle

Personal Picks:
Dope – Lee Haugen
Mad Max: Fury Road – Margaret Sixel
The Martian – Pietro Scalia
Sicario – Joe Walker
Spotlight – Tom McArdle

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Once again, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian are out in front. I’d be questioning the latter’s chances if “spaceship” movies didn’t do so well with the voters in this branch. Apollo 13, Gravity and Interstellar all picked up nominations here, so I’m guessing The Martian will follow suit, especially with the arid Mars exteriors lending color and character. While Gravity, Interstellar and The Martian are all technically science fiction, they portray realistic designs, as opposed to the more fantasy-based science fiction of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which could also find success here. Much of its design seems to take its cues from the earlier Star Wars movies, which might be a strike against it, and I don’t know if the category – which also favors period pieces – has room for both The Martian and Star Wars. But it very well might.

On the period side, Carol, Brooklyn and The Danish Girl seem the likeliest contenders, with Bridge of Spies also a strong possibility. The Art Directors Guild picks nominees across three categories – Contemporary, Period, and Fantasy – and still didn’t find room for Carol or Brooklyn, which came as a big surprise, though I think both are very much in the running for an Oscar nomination. Two additional strong contenders, bridging the gap between period and fantasy, are Cinderella and Crimson Peak. Also worthy of consideration is the excellent design of Ex Machina, but unfortunately films with contemporary settings – even ones like this that are not only uniquely stylish, but also serve the story quite organically –  are rarely given their due by designers. I’d love to be wrong in this case.

Predictions:
Bridge of Spies
Carol
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian

Personal Picks:
Carol
Crimson Peak
Ex Machina
Inside Out
Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Costume designers, like their brethren in the Production Design branch, favor period pieces and, to a slightly lesser extent, fantasy.  So while Mad Max: Fury Road is a probable nominee, the frontrunners are Carol, Brooklyn and Cinderella. The Danish Girl is also a strong possibility, and Bridge of Spies, though more muted in color palette than the films that do best here, also has a shot. Trumbo and The Hateful Eight have decent odds, while Far From the Madding Crowd, Crimson Peak, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Martian could all find a way in. Two other films that deserve to be mentioned are the tongue-in-cheek 60’s spy adventure The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and the Will Smith-Margot Robbie con artist caper Focus. I’m sure neither earned any real consideration, falling outside the “prestige” purview, and in the case of Focus, being set in the present day. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. at least has the period setting in its favor, and maybe it will collect some votes, but not enough to get nominated.

Predictions:
Brooklyn
Carol
Cinderella
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road

Personal Picks:
Brooklyn
Carol
Cinderella
Crimson Peak
Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Even with 74 eligible songs this year, the pickings are slim. Like…really slim. This list is comprised of lots of forgettable pop songs as well as tracks from movies you’ve never heard of. Vin Diesel’s promise of a Best Picture nomination for Furious 7 may not come true, but the unstoppable franchise may in fact land its first ever Oscar nomination, for the song “See You Again,” which serves as a farewell to the series’ late star, Paul Walker. In addition to that song, most of the critics groups that include a Best Song category have featured the same short list of titles: “Love Me Like You Do,” from Fifty Shades of Grey; “Simple Song #3,” from Youth; “Writing’s on the Wall,” from Spectre; and “‘Til it Happens to You,” from the documentary The Hunting Ground. There have also been a couple of mentions each for Shaun the Sheep Movie‘s “Feels Like Summer,” Pitch Perfect 2‘s “Flashlight” and Concussion‘s “So Long.” A number of critics groups nominated the Brian Wilson selection “One Kind of Love,” from Love & Mercy, but for reasons I’m not sure of, it didn’t qualify for Academy consideration…which is too bad. The lackluster category could have used the work of someone like Wilson.

I really have no idea what will happen here, and I’m not sure I care. The selections could all be from this pool of pop songs, or maybe something out of left field will impress the voters. It wouldn’t be the first time. The Wrap‘s Steve Pond once again listened to every eligible song and filed this report, but he doesn’t really offer predictions; just his own thoughts. If you’re interested in a bird’s-eye view of the contenders, it’s worth a read. I didn’t listen to most of these songs myself, but nothing I’ve heard this year has left much of an impression. Maybe there are some gems I didn’t hear.

Predictions:
See You Again – Furious 7
‘Til it Happens to You – The Hunting Ground
Feels Like Summer – Shaun the Sheep Movie
Writing’s on the Wall – Spectre
Simple Song #3 – Youth

Personal Picks:
Uhhh…..I like the new Adele stuff. Was any of that in a movie? Can we figure out a way to nominate David Bowie for something?

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Fortunately, one of the music categories offers some work this year worth getting excited about. Despite a typically large pool of qualifiers – 114 this year – the conversation has focused around a small-ish selection of likely nominees. Fresh off a Golden Globe win, legendary Italian maestro Ennio Morricone is gunning for his first competitive Oscar (he received an Honorary statuette in 2006) for The Hateful Eight, and I can’t imagine him not getting nominated for this terrific work. Another legend, John Williams, returned to sacred territory with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, to which I give 50/50 odds for a nomination. The popularity of the film and of Williams himself could be enough to get him a spot. Working against him? The score is good, but not great. He was nominated for each of the original three films, but none of the prequels, and the Force Awakens score is more on par with those later efforts.

Health issues prevented Williams from collaborating with Steven Spielberg on Bridge of Spies, making it only the second of the director’s 28 features since 1974 not to be scored by Williams. (Do you know the other? No Googling! And Twilight Zone: The Movie doesn’t count; Spielberg only directed one of that movie’s four segments.) Bridge of Spies was instead scored by Thomas Newman, who did nice work…though I preferred his score for Spectre. Newman, long overdue for an Oscar win, could be in the running again this year with either one. Another excellent composer who has never won – who has never even been nominated (not even for Fargo!?!) – is Carter Burwell, but he’s poised to finally join the club with his work on Carol. (He also won acclaim this year for Anomalisa.)

With The Danish Girl, last year’s winner – and a near-perennial at this point – Alexandre Desplat may collect his ninth nomination since 2006, and another of last year’s nominees, Jóhann Jóhannsson, could get cited for his moody, unsettling contributions to Sicario. That score might not make for the most enjoyable listening experience on its own, but works magnificently in the context of the movie. I generally favor scores that stand on their own as music you can listen to without the film, but what I favor has nothing to do with anything, and the Oscar for Best Original Score should first and foremost recognize music in service of its movie. Others this year that could land nominations for serving their movies well even if they might not be as compelling on their own include The Martian, by Harry Gregson-Williams, and Ex Machina, by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow.

Spotlight (Howard Shore), Brooklyn (Michael Brook), Inside Out (Michael Giacchino), Cinderella (Patrick Doyle) and Steve Jobs (Daniel Pemberton) are all serious contenders, but two scores that have done well in the precursor phase – Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant – will be sidelined. The Revenant was ruled ineligible, while Fury Road features the kind of thumping score – more rock than classical – which the music branch voters rarely favor. One last possibility that should be mentioned is The 33, a movie that isn’t otherwise on the Academy’s radar, but which features music by James Horner, the Oscar-winning composer of Titanic, among many other great scores. Horner died in a plane crash over the summer, and it’s possible his colleagues will want to honor him one last time.

Predictions:
Bridge of Spies – Thomas Newman
Carol – Carter Burwell
The Danish Girl – Alexandre Desplat
The Hateful Eight – Ennio Morricone
The Martian – Harry Gregson-Williams

Personal Picks:
Ex Machina – Ben Salisbury, Geoff Barrow
Far From the Madding Crowd – Craig Armstrong
The Hateful Eight – Ennio Morricone
Sicario – Jóhann Jóhannsson
Spotlight – Howard Shore

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
The Academy has already taken a fair amount of guesswork out of this category by narrowing it down to seven contenders, of which three will be nominated. The lucky finalists are Black Mass, Concussion, Legend, Mad Max: Fury Road, Mr. Holmes, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, and The Revenant.

If you’re anything like me, that list begs a few questions. Like, what the hell is the The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared? Or, are they retroactively talking about the 1985 Tom Cruise-Tim Curry fantasy Legend? Because what could they possibly be thinking about by including the Legend with Tom Hardy as twin gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray?

There are some unfortunate omissions from this shortlist that deserve a shot at the final three, including In the Heart of the Sea (this poor movie got the shaft in every way), Everest, Ex Machina, The Danish Girl, Trumbo, and maybe Avengers: Age of Ultron. But the seven finalists are generally a good lot. Seriously, though…Legend? Am I forgetting something from that movie?

Predictions:
Black Mass
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant

Personal Picks:
Same

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Like the Makeup and Hairstyling branch, the Visual Effects group goes through an organized process of elimination that began with a list of 20 films. That was narrowed down to 10, from which the final five will be selected. Our pool consists of Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ex Machina, Jurassic World, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Tomorrowland and The Walk. Last Saturday, members of the branch gathered at an Academy theater for presentations by each film’s visual effects supervisor, immediately after which they cast their ballots. (The Makeup and Hairstyling branch held a similar bake-off event the same day.)

It’s an impressive line-up this year. There’s not a film here that doesn’t feature really high-quality work, so it’s a tough call. The voters love to honor visual effects from Best Picture-caliber movies, so that bodes well for The Revenant and The Martian. The primary work in both The Walk and Ex Machina, while excellent, is somewhat limited in terms of how much it’s employed. Ex Machina‘s effects create the visible robotic portions of the AI character Ava, but those parts are often concealed by clothing. The Walk, meanwhile, has one truly spectacular sequence that lasts maybe 20 or 30 minutes, but beyond that it’s not an overtly effects-heavy movie. I’m also not sure if both The Walk and The Revenant will make it. Each employs visual effects on major, buzzed-about sequences – the former on the breathtaking walk between the two World Trade Center towers, the latter on the harrowing bear attack – and both with stellar results. I’m trying to figure which one has the edge, but maybe they’ll both make it and push a presumed nominee like Jurassic World or The Martian out of the final five. As Yoda once said, “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.” No idea, he has. Predicting the Oscars he should try sometime, then talk to me he can.

Anyway, if you want an insider’s view, Variety‘s David S. Cohen was at the bake-off, and offered his take on the presentations and how they were received.

Predictions:
Jurassic World
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Walk

Personal Picks:
Ant-Man
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Walk

BEST SOUND EDITING AND SOUND MIXING
I feel like a broken record when I reach the Sound categories each year, because I always say the same things: the difference between the two categories, the wide array of films that could turn up, and how I think there should be a single sound category honoring overall Sound Design. So first, the two categories. In simplest terms, sound editors create and/or fix sounds that couldn’t be recorded during filming or were not usable, while sound mixers combine all the elements – dialogue, music, sound effects, etc. – into a balanced whole.

Second, the array of possibilities. The categories are usually dominated by action movies, so we could see things like Mad Max: Fury Road, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Jurassic World, Tomorrowland, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Spectre, or Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We could see dramas that have strong action-ish elements, like Sicario, The Revenant, Everest, In the Heart of the Sea, The Hateful Eight (Tarantino’s last two movies have been recognized) or Beasts of No Nation. We could see something with a heavy musical component, like Straight Outta Compton or Love & Mercy (which employs sound mixing to great effect by using it to bring us inside Brian Wilson’s troubled headspace). We could see an animated film, which requires extensive creation of sound elements (several Pixar movies have been nominated). And we could also see the odd, straight drama that doesn’t seem an obvious candidate for recognition in Sound, but apparently is, because, well, what do we know? Bridge of Spies seems a likely bet to fill that potential slot this year.

Sound Editing Predictions:
Inside Out
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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

Finally, in lieu of personal picks that I feel wholly unqualified to offer, I have my fantasy category of Best Sound Design, which I feel slightly less unqualified to offer. I’d go for Inside Out, Love & Mercy, Mad Max: Fury Road, Sicario, and The Revenant.

And that’s everything. Well…almost everything. As always, my sincere apologies to the Documentaries and Foreign Language films that I didn’t get around to seeing, as well as the short films that no one ever gets around to seeing until the nominees are announced and each category’s selections are released as a package…at which point I probably still won’t get around to seeing them, so advance apologies for that too.

It’s all in the hands of the movie gods now. The nominations will be revealed tomorrow morning, in two segments beginning at 5:30am PST. Ang Lee and Guillermo del Toro will announce 11 categories, followed by John Krasinski and Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs with the remaining 13, including all the above-the-line categories like Picture, Acting and Writing. Will you be waking up to watch the gig live?? I will be!! Because, if you hadn’t figured it out by now, I’m waaaay too into this shit. Pray for me…

 

 

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