An Idiot’s Guide To The Oscars

So…we made it. After one of the most wide-open, topsy-turvy races in history, we find ourselves on the verge of the 2016 Academy Awards, and the 88th running of this ceremony feels like its got a point to prove. While I don’t want to focus on the controversies surrounding this year’s awards, I feel like I have to address it now in order to get it out of the way – the diversity crisis that has engulfed the Oscars will undoubtedly overshadow this year’s ceremony. And in some ways, I don’t feel like that’s fair on the Academy – after all, all they do is pick the best performances out of the pool they’re given. I realized this when, days after the nominations were announced (hard to believe that was more than a month ago now), I tried to find room for an African-American nominee, and I admittedly struggled. The only name that I feel was a definite snub was Idris Elba, for his supporting performance in Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation, due to the fact that he took home the SAG Award (although I feel that his victory in that ceremony had a political motive). The issue with diversity in Hollywood is not coming from the Academy, but from the production companies and studios who are making the films that they evaluate – I simply can’t believe that the Academy is institutionally racist when its president Cheryl Boone Isaacs is not only an African-American, but has pledged to increase diversity within its admittedly white-dominated voting panel.

Casting that aside however, we have an Oscars to attend to. Eight movies (although they could have nominated 10, the Academy’s ridiculously stupid preferential voting system does not guarantee that, leading to snubs for movies that should have been on the ballot e.g. Carol) have weathered one hell of a storm, been in and out of contention, some from the very beginning and some gaining momentum at the very end. Oh, and there’s other awards to attend to as well. And yes, don’t worry, Leonardo DiCaprio will be discussed at great length.

So without further ado, this is An Idiot’s Guide to the 88th Academy Awards.

(NB: The order in which awards are discussed is in the same order as the 87th Academy Awards; it is not guaranteed to be in this order on Sunday night)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Presenter: Patricia Arquette (Winner of Best Supporting Actress for Boyhood, 2014)

NOMINEES

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Christian Bale (BSA Winner 2010, The Fighter/BA Nominee 2013), The Big Short

Christian Bale’s third nomination, he plays financial analyst Michael Burry, an Aspergerish genius who ends up discovering that the global economy may collapse. Although Bale is terrific when on screen, perfectly nailing the awkward mannerisms of the character and being totally consistent while doing so, a lack of screen time and interaction with the other stars in Adam McKay’s financial thriller will probably work to his detriment.

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Tom Hardy (first nomination), The Revenant

What a year its been for Tom Hardy. It may come as a surprise to you that his nomination for The Revenant, Alejandro G. Inarritu’s colonial epic, is his first recognition by the Academy, and maybe for one of his lesser works this year (he is terrific in Mad Max: Fury Road and equally so playing double in Legend). Hardy plays villainous John Fitzgerald with power and one of his typically incredible accents, but when compared with Idris Elba’s turn in Beasts of No Nation, its difficult to fathom how he beat him to the nomination.

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Mark Ruffalo (BSA Nominee 2010, 2014), Spotlight

Deja vu? Mark Ruffalo is nominated in the Best Supporting category for the third time in six years, and once again deservedly so. His performance in Spotlight, surprisingly one of only two actors to gain a nomination for their display, is commendable as it is driven. Ruffalo completely embodies the idea of the journalist with an idealistic view of reporting, and his morality is what furthers Spotlight’s emotional depth. While he is terrific, Ruffalo seems once again to be out of the race: surely an Oscar will be coming soon for the Hulk actor.

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Mark Rylance (first nomination), Bridge of Spies

A year ago, Mark Rylance was little known outside of theatre circles, but now the British thespian has shot onto the scene with his brilliantly subtle turn as spy Rudolf Abel in Steven Spielberg’s Cold War thriller. Rylance is possibly, to my mind, the only reason why Bridge of Spies is able to transcend its safe storytelling – with every mannerism, Rylance is able to encapsulate exactly what Abel is going through, and what he believes. Its an incredible piece of acting that should be commended.

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Sylvester Stallone (BA Nominee 1976, Creed

Nope. Not seeing things. He’s never been known for being one of the great method actors, but after a 39 year gap, Sylvester Stallone finds himself back at the Oscars. And incredibly, he’s the sure-fire favourite – while his seventh performance as Rocky Balboa (a character that so parallels Stallone he is now surely an alter-ego) may not be the performance of the year, it is definitely Stallone’s most mature, and nostalgia for his distinguished career coupled with the sentimental feeling for Rocky Balboa as a character should push Stallone over the line, although that’s not entirely assured.

WHO WILL WIN: Sylvester Stallone, Creed
WHO SHOULD WIN: Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
THE SPEECH: Stallone brings down the house by merely standing, Oscar in hand. Demand money back if he doesn’t say Adrian.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

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Predicted Winner: Sandy Powell, Carol

In a sort of ‘Ah shit, we really should have nominated you for Best Picture’ moment, Todd Haynes’s remarkable adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt will deservedly win for Costume Design, narrowly beating out Cinderella (whose costumes were also designed by Sandy Powell) to the Oscar.

BEST MAKE-UP AND HAIRSTYLING

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Predicted Winner: Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega & Damien Martin – Mad Max: Fury Road

No contest. The make-up and hairstyling for George Miller’s magnum apocalopus is absolutely ridiculously brilliant. It’s a reminder that, even though this category pales into insignificance against the big ones (explaining why its hidden away nice and early in the telecast), make-up and hairstyling when done right can create an entirely new world.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

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Predicted Winner: Son of Saul (Hungary), Dir. Laszlo Nemes

Ah yes, the bit with subtitles – the race for Best Foreign Language Film (in which countries can submit one film each to compete, leading to a problem for France between selecting Palme D’Or winner Dheepan and their eventual pick, Mustang) has really been led from the gate by one film. Ever since Son of Saul, first-time director Laszlo Nemes’s first=person holocaust drama, won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, its been at the front of the pack, and it should be first over the line on the night. Don’t rule out an upset from French entrant Mustang however, which has been picking up momentum.

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM & BEST DOCUMENTARY, SHORT SUBJECT

To be honest, I don’t really care about the shorts. But to whoever does win these statuettes, I extend my congratulations.

HONORARY ACADEMY AWARDS

This is the time to breathe. Take a toilet break and get some food, because the next few awards have already been given out…quite a while ago in fact. Usually winning an Honorary Academy Award is like the Academy’s apology to people that probably should have won a long time ago, and who in some cases should have won on multiple occasions (the late Peter O’Toole won an Honorary Award after being nominated for 8 acting awards with no success). As per usual, the Academy has already announced the lucky/unlucky winners of the 2015 awards, and they are:

  • Spike Lee (director), described as ‘a champion of independent film and an inspiration to young filmmakers’; awkwardly, Lee, a prominent African-American whose films mainly focus on race relations in the United States, is one of the more high-profile boycotters of this year’s ceremony due to the diversity row.
  • Gena Rowlands (actress, BA nominee 1974, 1980), described as ‘an original talent whose devotion to her craft has earned her worldwide recognition as an independent film icon’.

ACADEMY AWARDS FOR TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT

Presenters: Olivia Munn & Jason Segel

Still in the kitchen? Don’t worry, we’re still on break. The Academy Awards for Technical Achievement were actually announced and given out a couple of weeks ago, and in this sequence we’ll be cutting over to this presentation for a little bit. Olivia Munn & Jason Segel present the sequence; this segment of the show is also unique as the awards given out aren’t Oscar statuettes, but framed certificates – a bit of a let-down if you ask me.

BEST SOUND MIXING & BEST SOUND EDITING

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Predicted Winners: Chris Duesterdiek, Frank A. Montano, Jon Taylor, Randy Thorn – The Revenant (Sound Mixing)

Martin Hernandez, Randy Thorn, Lon Bender – The Revenant (Sound Editing)

Despite competition from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the sound awards should be a clean sweep for The Revenant, for its visceral sound – if you watch THAT bear attack sequence with your eyes closed (which I’m guessing you may have at some point, due to how wince-inducing it is), the sound alone is enough to get the brutality of the attack across.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Presenter: J.K. Simmons (Winner of Best Supporting Actor for Whiplash, 2014)

NOMINEES

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Jennifer Jason Leigh (first nomination), The Hateful Eight

Her first Oscar nomination, Jennifer Jason Leigh became a dominant force of evil in Quentin Tarantino’s aptly titled Western, The Hateful Eight. Her performance as Daisy Domergue was taken straight from the jaws of hell and into her eyes. While this nomination is well deserved, don’t expect Leigh to pull off a victory in what has been a very strong and competitive year in the Best Supporting Actress category.

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Rooney Mara (BA Nominee, 2011), Carol

I’m going to say this upfront – Rooney Mara’s performance as innocent shopworker Therese in the mind-blowingly underrated Carol is totally spellbinding. Her performance alongside Cate Blanchett (who also has a deserving nomination in the Best Actress category) is truly masterful. She never puts a foot out of place, as we see her heartstrings tug on her mind and her decisions and emotions grow rasher as time goes by. A truly terrific performance by a frighteningly capable actress.

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Rachel McAdams (first nomination), Spotlight

Long ago are the days where Rachel McAdams burst onto the scene with her roles in Mean Girls and The Notebook – after being called a new ‘it girl’ in Hollywood, McAdams’s career seemed to be on the stall until she got a role in Tom McCarthy’s journalist drama Spotlight. While McAdams is very assured in her performance, I was surprised to see her nominated as she was frequently outshined by others in her own movie and those in other movies. She’s here to make up the numbers.

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Alicia Vikander (first nomination), The Danish Girl

After a dazzling breakthrough year, Swedish ‘it girl’ Alicia Vikander finds herself being placed as marginal favourite to win Best Supporting Actress – however in my opinion, while her nomination is fully deserved, she has been bestowed it for the wrong film. Her performance in Alex Garland’s clinical sci-fi Ex Machina was a far more compelling performance than her display in The Danish Girl. Despite the fact that that performance was a strong and multi-dimensional showing…I found it slightly lacking in comparison.

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Kate Winslet (BA Winner, The Reader, 2009/3-Time BA Nominee, 1998, 2005, 2007/2-Time BSA Nominee, 1996, 2002), Steve Jobs

If Vikander is a nose above the pack, the only one that can get their head over them has to be Kate Winslet for her superb performance in Steve Jobs, the Danny Boyle-helmed biopic touted for much greater success at this year’s Oscars. Winslet frequently outshines fellow nominee and lead Michael Fassbender, the only player that is able to steal scenes from him. With a Golden Globe and BAFTA win under her belt, there’s no doubt Winslet has had a strong awards season, but it remains to be seen whether she can upset the odds.

WHO WILL WIN: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl (just)
WHO SHOULD WIN: Rooney Mara, Carol
THE SPEECH: Vikander bursts into some light crying and ends up being an audience darling as much as an Academy one.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

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Predicted Winner: Chris Corbould, Roger Guyett, Paul Kavanagh & Neal Scanlan – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

While it can be debated that this may not be the win based on merit, for the Academy not to award the highest-grossing picture in American history (and a Star Wars movie for the sake of it being one) would be borderline sacrilegious. As such, The Force Awakens should lock at least one Oscar, and its most likely to come in for its visual effects, the only Oscar where amount of money spent is the main criteria for getting it.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

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Predicted Winner: Inside Out (Disney)

Should be up there for best picture to be honest – the fact Bridge of Spies was the Disney movie that got a nomination over this is stunning to me. At least I can know that Pixar’s brilliant return to former glories will not go unhonoured at this year’s Oscars. While it wasn’t quite a lock (Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa has gained a lot of buzz), Inside Out will continue to perpetuate the theory that if Pixar show up, they take home this award.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

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Predicted Winner: Colin Gibson, Katie Sharrock, Lisa Thompson – Mad Max: Fury Road

While The Danish Girl’s production design was beautiful to behold, and The Revenant’s was equally strong (although if the majority of the film takes place outside, then surely the production designer is God?), the award has to and will go to the team behind the incredible, elaborate sets of Mad Max: Fury Road. In terms of below the line awards, this piece of technical wizardry can win as many as it wants – its a truly staggering feat of production. Everything within the frame looks like something created simply from director George Miller describing what he saw in his dreams.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

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Predicted Winner: Emmanuel Lubezki (2-Time BC Winner, 2013,2014/5-Time BC Nominee, 1995, 1999, 2005, 2006, 2011), The Revenant

The easiest award to predict this entire year, and what makes that statement all the more shocking is that Emmanuel Lubezki, the shoe-in to win this award, will win for the third consecutive year. Usually the Academy has a knack of saying ‘You’ve had your go’ to Oscar winners, but with Lubezki it seems the rules are different for someone so far ahead in his field. His work on The Revenant will stand as some of the greatest cinematography in history, and Lubezki himself should be regarded as one of the best ever. He’s won every award leading up to this – the Oscar will be no exception.

BEST FILM EDITING

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Predicted Winner: Margaret Sixel (first nomination), Mad Max: Fury Road

In a normal year, Hank Corwin’s outstanding work on The Big Short would be enough to get him an Oscar, but sometimes years aren’t normal. It would be a crime if Margaret Sixel did not win Best Film Editing for Mad Max: Fury Road. Every cut of that film is perfect, the pace of them precise, the placement fool-proof. The way in which the action sequences just flow effortlessly in Mad Max: Fury Road is truly something to watch with your jaw fixed to the floor. She won the ACE Award also, which is the best indicator for who will win Best Editing, so she’s the clear favourite – proof that sometimes we live in a slightly just world.

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BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Predicted Winner: Amy (A24)

In the documentary department, its been a pretty solid year, with many of the nominees having a slight chance of winning. Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence has gained critical plaudits all year, as has Netflix’s What Happened, Miss Simone? but if I had to take a punt, it would be Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees’s portrait of the tragic singer Amy Winehouse in Amy, which is the moderate favourite to take home the prize.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

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Predicted Winner: ‘Til It Happens To You’ – Lady Gaga & Diana Warren, The Hunting Ground

Always a controversial award (and an annoying one for me, as a musician), it currently seems that the star power of Lady Gaga and nothing else should get ‘Til It Happens To You’, co-written with Diana Warren for little-known college sexual assault documentary The Hunting Ground, a golden statuette. To be honest, I would have probably gone with Earned It from Fifty Shades of Grey, although 1) Despite The Weeknd’s typically sultry vocals, the song doesn’t feel sexy enough and 2) I would have to refer to that torture instrument of a film as an ‘Oscar Winner’ from now until the end of time. In a small mercy, I guess it’s not going to be Sam Smith’s awful SPECTRE theme Writing’s on the Wall (to which my negative feelings are so many that I could devote an entire essay as to why I want it to go away).

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

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Predicted Winner: Ennio Morricone (5-Time BOS Nominee, 1979, 1986, 1987, 1991, 2000), The Hateful Eight

Continuing the musical portion of the ceremony, we move on to the award that I am most annoyed about this year. After the year’s best score (Ryuichi Sakamoto’s spectacular score for The Revenant) was not considered due to arcane rules and regulations, it seems that the two favourites for the award are tired versions of better scores by composers being voted for on nostalgia. While Thomas Newman and the underrated Carter Burwell have done better work this year on Bridge of Spies and Carol respectively, it seems its a straight shootout between John Williams’s return to a galaxy far, far away and Ennio Morricone’s return to the Old West. Morricone seems to have the momentum and the fact he hasn’t won an Oscar yet on his side, so he’ll probably take it.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

NOMINEES

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Matt Charman, Ethan Coen & Joel Coen – Bridge of Spies

The best way to describe Bridge of Spies, in my opinion, is that it is a very solid movie, and Matt Charman’s script (rewritten with the Coen touch) holds it all in place. While the pacing is solid and the dialogue is very well thought out though, Charman’s structure feels a little jarring in the centre due to its decision to time-jump midway through. Overall, its solid but not spectacular, and the Academy is looking for spectacular.

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Alex Garland – Ex Machina

As I thought it a little too polarizing to get on the ballot, a nomination for Alex Garland’s terrific Ex Machina screenplay came as a really pleasant surprise to me. I didn’t quite get it at first, but on reflection Garland’s script really is terrific, an intellectual and cerebral muse on what it means to be conscious combined with some incredible tension and a strong emotional core. It’s one of the best screenplays of the year, but it speaks volumes when I say I didn’t think it would get a nomination.

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Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley & Ronnie del Carmen – Inside Out

Original screenplay’s do not get much better than this. Take an impossibly original concept? Check. Take it to pretty much everywhere that you want to take it narratively? Double check. Execute that idea with breathtaking imagination? Check again. Rationalise that incredibly complex idea into a story that kids can understand just as well as adults, but in their own ways? There are not many films that do all of those things at once. Inside Out, narratively, pace-wise, dialogue-wise, is without a fault. It’s as good as they come, but doesn’t look like it’ll win.

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Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer – Spotlight

The screenplay that seems locked on to take that honour is Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer’s work on Spotlight, the hard-hitting Catholic priest drama. While its a very assured screenplay, I can’t quite work out why it’s favourite – I feel like if there is a reason, its more of a consolation prize for if Spotlight doesn’t take home the big one. If Spotlight doesn’t win this category (which is a very unlikely possibility), it might be an indicator that Spotlight has caused an upset.

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Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge & Alan Wenkus – Straight Outta Compton

It’s a bit of a shame that the diversity issue has harmed Straight Outta Compton’s chances, as its only nomination is exclusively given out to an all-white writing team as opposed to the black actors and director. It’s actually a very well-constructed screenplay, with great pacing and structure that is able to have a great scope, looking at the politics and race relations within the era, but also focusing on the main story of NWA. While it won’t take home the prize, its nomination is really well deserved.

WHO WILL WIN: Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer – Spotlight
WHO SHOULD WIN: Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley & Ronnie del Carmen – Inside Out
THE SPEECH: Expect a dedication to those who suffered abuse at the hands of the Catholic priests, and to The Boston Globe.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

NOMINEES

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Adam McKay & Charles Randolph – The Big Short (adapted from The Big Short by Michael Lewis)

Trying to adapt a highly complex, non-linear book that focuses mainly on the fine details of housing economics is not something that usually works. But Adam McKay & Charles Randolph are somehow able to get all of that information, turn it into a compelling story and, most incredibly, make it understandable to ordinary people through their eclectic fourth wall breaks. And at the centre of it all, its a damning indictment of the banking system that will make you feel angry at the world, but you’ll be laughing at the same time. It’s the massive favourite to win, and I don’t expect the script will change.

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Nick Hornby – Brooklyn (adapted from Brooklyn by Colm Toibin)

In a slight disappointment, it seems that Nick Hornby’s strong screenplay for Irish immigrant drama Brooklyn has fallen through the net as far as winning is concerned. With the exception of an all too rushed ending, Hornby is able to tell a heart-tugging story with young immigrant Eilish (Saiorse Ronan – more of her later) right at the centre. Romantic, funny and often tragic, Hornby’s screenplay is quietly fantastic.

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Phyllis Nagy – Carol (adapted from The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith)

From the first scene, you can tell that Carol screenwriter Phyllis Nagy will have spent days, months, maybe years poring over each movement, each gaze, each word of her two main characters. The blossoming of Carol and Therese’s relationship is absolutely captivating to watch, and when they have to go on defence over their affections, Nagy provides them with fire to play with. Occasionally the script loses a little momentum towards the third act, but its a minor flaw in an otherwise terrific screenplay unfortunately just filling up the ballot.

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Drew Goddard – The Martian (adapted from The Martian by Andy Weir)

Once upon a time it looked like Drew Goddard’s heartfelt and often hilarious screenplay for sci-fi blockbuster The Martian was a lock-on to win Best Adapted Screenplay – its testament to how mad this Oscar race has been that it seems to be right at the bottom of the order now. It could be down to backlash (more of that in a little while), as well as the fact The Big Short entered the fray so late, but it seems now that Goddard’s screenplay, which is surprisingly inspirational, hasn’t a chance in the race.

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Emma Donoghue – Room (adapted from her own novel)

I wish more people would have seen Room, a frankly stunning piece of indie moviemaking that’s heart was an Emma Donoghue screenplay that knocked my socks off. I can’t think of a film in recent years that tries and succeeds in hitting so many varied themes all at once and making it look totally seamless. It’s quite similar to The Big Short’s script in the fact that they both try to do a lot and on the whole do well, but with The Big Short its noticeable that they’re trying to fit it all in – with Room you feel as if all those themes are just natural, logical next steps in the narrative. While The Big Short should win, to my mind Room just edges it.

WHO WILL WIN: Adam McKay & Charles Randolph – The Big Short
WHO SHOULD WIN: Emma Donoghue – Room
THE SPEECH: McKay and Randolph will provide a lot of jokes to the stage, and may attack some bankers in the process

BEST ACTRESS

Presenter: Eddie Redmayne (Winner of Best Actor for The Theory of Everything, 2014)

NOMINEES

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Cate Blanchett (BA Winner, Blue Jasmine, 2013/BSA Winner, The Aviator, 2004/2-Time BA Nominee, 1998, 2007/2-Time BSA Nominee, 2006, 2007), Carol

It’s fortunate that Cate Blanchett, as you can more than see above you, has already been lavished with nominations and statuettes, as the chances of her enthralling performance as the glamorous Carol Aird in the (I know I say it a lot) snubbed brilliance of Carol winning are very slim. She enters the screen in Carol and holds her audience directly in her grasp; its performances like these that remind me why Blanchett is one of the best of her generation, a true lesson in on-screen magnetism.

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Brie Larson (first nomination), Room

Engrave her name into the statue now. You could have done it back in November, to be honest – ever since the world was blessed to witness Brie Larson’s absolutely unbelievable performance in Room, she’s been an absolute favourite – every award leading up to this has fallen her way and this one will too, in a concerning rare case of the Academy getting it right. As captured single mother Joy Newsome, Larson has the role of a lifetime and makes you feel everything she does. Her desperation, her anxiety, her love, comes straight out through her, sometimes even with a look. It’s the performance of the year, and for Larson, proof that she is a massive, massive talent.

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Jennifer Lawrence (BA Winner, Silver Linings Playbook, 2012/BA Nominee, 2010/BSA Nominee, 2013), Joy

Really? I’m not saying that Jenniifer Lawrence’s fourth Oscar nominated performance, as entrepreneur and inventor Joy Mangano, isn’t a good one – its probably the best part of that movie, in fact. But the fact is, the movie itself isn’t an Oscar-worthy one, and neither is this performance. Lawrence is strong, but falling on familiar tropes, and while she continues to demonstrate in Joy a maturity far beyond her years, her performance to my mind doesn’t have enough meat to merit a nomination. She should just be happy she got on the ballot, as there’s no way she’ll spring a surprise.

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Charlotte Rampling (first nomination), 45 Years

A British thespian previously unknown as one because she didn’t appear in Harry Potter, long-time darling of the Cesar Awards (where she is a 4-Time nominee) Charlotte Rampling has gained recognition for her performance in Andrew Haigh’s independent drama, 45 Years. While some critics have been calling it a performance that could merit t Oscar, the fact she is a relative unknown coupled with controversial comments regarding the Oscar diversity row will hamper her chances drastically.

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Saiorse Ronan (BSA Nominee, 2007), Brooklyn

A shame – with all the plaudits going to Brie Larson, the terrific performance by Saiorse Ronan in Brooklyn is being overlooked. While, in a straight duel, Larson cuts her down with her far deeper performance, Ronan does do a fantastic job of anchoring Brooklyn down. Often the film feels like it may become too sentimental, but Ronan’s grounded performance keeps Brooklyn on its feet. She’s really a great lead and an investable one at that, and although she would be first in line if Larson fails to win, I can’t see there being a shock.

WHO WILL WIN: Brie Larson, Room
WHO SHOULD WIN: Brie Larson, Room
THE SPEECH: Larson will keep it short and snappy – she does have to fly to Vietnam to film Kong: Skull Island in the morning.

BEST ACTOR

Presenter: Julianne Moore (Winner of Best Actress for Still Alice, 2014)

NOMINEES

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Bryan Cranston (first nomination), Trumbo

After a long stint playing one of the most iconic characters in television history, and being killed far too early in Godzilla, Bryan Cranston finds himself on the ballot for the first time for playing one of the great Oscar tactics: play a Hollywood figure, also known as the Philip Seymour Hoffman trick (Capote, 2005). If there’s anyone that can pull an upset on the obvious favourite, then Cranston has a typical Oscar bait role and a lot of popular goodwill on his side, but this doesn’t look like his year.

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Matt Damon (BA Nominee, 1997/BSA Nominee, 2009), The Martian

Quietly, Matt Damon was absolutely brilliant in The Martian – it was a bit like Tom Hanks’s Cast Away performance but, to my mind, a better version of it. As stranded astronaut Mark Watney, Damon played him as a funny everyman with nerves of steel and a never-say-die attitude. It’s one of the best blockbuster performances in a long time, one that proves that Matt Damon is one of the most reliably good actors in Hollywood; but it doesn’t seem that Damon will be able to get over the line for the third time.

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Leonardo DiCaprio (BA Nominee 2005, 2007, 2014/BSA Nominee 1993), The Revenant

I know what question you want answered, so let me get it out of the way: Leonardo DiCaprio will finally walk home with an Oscar for his stunning performance in The Revenant, barring a significant upset. While I wouldn’t say it’s 100% (maybe the Academy will feel a Best Picture win merits enough praise for the film), DiCaprio should take home his first Academy Award this year. His performance as Hugh Glass is one of silent steel, and his dedication to the role is absolute; he slept in a horse’s carcass for god’s sake, just give him an Oscar before he kills himself.

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Michael Fassbender (BSA Nominee, 2013), Steve Jobs

A couple of years ago, when Steve McQueen’s brutal race drama 12 Years A Slave was riding a tidal wave of acclaim that led it to the Best Picture win, I found that Michael Fassbender, whose supporting turn as a savage slave owner was nominated but not a winner, was frankly snubbed for the award in favour of Jared Leto’s performance in Dallas Buyers Club. For his magnetic display as tech-wizard Steve Jobs, Fassbender finds himself nominated again, thanks to his beautiful understanding of Jobs’s character that makes audiences forget that he looks absolutely nothing like the man he is portraying. Fassbender won’t win this year, but he will win one in the future.

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Eddie Redmayne (BA Winner, The Theory of Everything, 2014), The Danish Girl

One man who has already won a golden statuette is Eddie Redmayne, who is back for another shot at the title, defending his crown with his performance as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl. While I personally found the movie weak, Redmayne shone as he was able to really make you understand his character’s psychology, getting you right into Lili’s mind. He’s a great anchor for the film as well, and his nuances and assuredness prevent the film from sliding into exploitation. It’s a deserved nomination for Redmayne, although the spectre of his camp, so-bad-it’s-hilarious, pantomime villain performance in Jupiter Ascending will hang over him forever.

BEST DIRECTOR

NOMINEES

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Lenny Abrahamson, Room

His first nomination, the picking of indie starlet Lenny Abrahamson over Ridley Scott, who many predicted had a major chance of winning the Best Director award (a long overdue win at that), came as one of the major surprises of this year’s nominations. However, on reflection I feel like Abrahamson deserved it – his helming of Room is impeccable. Abrahamson combines the tension and the darkness with a focus on love and sacrifice, and for a director to be able to get Emma Donoghue’s screenplay (as brilliant as it is) honed and refined is a terrific feat. A well-deserved first nomination.

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Alejandro G. Inarritu (BD Winner, Birdman, 2014/BD Nominee, 2006) , The Revenant

At the start of this Oscar’s race, I was in denial that Inarritu would take it for the second year in a row, becoming only the third director in history after John Ford and Joseph Mankiewicz to do so. But now it seems that Inarritu will take this award, I feel conflicted. For one, while his last two pictures have been terrific, I’m not sure Inarritu has done enough to earn himself back to back wins, and secondly I feel like his direction of The Revenant, however visceral and stunning, still comes second in those stakes to Mad Max.

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Tom McCarthy (first nomination), Spotlight

What a change in fortune for Tom McCarthy. His last picture before Spotlight was The Cobbler, a drama intended to be a reminder to the world that Adam Sandler was in fact a talented actor. Now that that experiment has failed miserably on every level it is possible to fail at, McCarthy has bounced back by getting himself on the ballot for Spotlight. His understated direction is refreshing in a year that mainly seems to be focused on praising the masculine, all-out nature of Inarritu and Miller’s direction.

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Adam McKay (first nomination), The Big Short

Never did I think that Adam McKay, the director of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (sidenote: great comedy, 60% of the time it works…every time), would have been the man to make the best film on the economic crash of 2008. McKay’s direction actually ended up to be the drive of The Big Short, which despite feeling a little too eclectic and hodge-podgey, was able to give the film its unique flavour – and in the third act, McKay helms the crash itself with the power of a nuclear bomb, giving it such power it feels like you’ve been kicked in the head – nomination well deserved.

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George Miller (first nomination), Mad Max: Fury Road

Sorry, Alejandro Inarritu – as good as The Revenant is, its technical quality and sheer bombastic-ness, George Miller’s direction of Mad Max: Fury Road takes it for me. In a time where the action movie continues to feel ever more generic, a pension-age Australian showed the world exactly how it’s done. Miller has essentially directed his dreams into film, with a technical and production prowess that exceeds any action film ever made. Some people say that its just a genre piece, too commercial to be a true winner: for this, Miller should be honoured, because he has made an action film that transcends its genre into pure, spectacular cinema.

WHO WILL WIN: Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant
WHO SHOULD WIN: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
THE SPEECH: Inarritu receives his praises, tries to convince audiences that his film is a Native American love letter.

BEST PICTURE

So here we are: after a ridiculously long ceremony full of questionable musical numbers, awkward audience interaction, misplaced jokes, extended and preachy acceptance speeches and at least one incident – we come to the main event. For my guide to the Best Picture award, I will be ranking the films in order of the chances they have of winning – this is not my personal ranking of the films, which varies from this. But here are the eight films that overcame the rest to get nominations, who will duke it out. But who is going to win the ultimate prize?

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8TH PLACE – BROOKLYN

Brooklyn has been the film that has had to go through the most to get here, I suppose. Premiering way back at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, before last year’s Oscar ceremony had even happened, Brooklyn has been able to stand the test of time to get a nomination. However, its not going to be more than that – its a very good, solid picture, but doesn’t innovate enough for me. There’s no denying that the film is pure Oscar bait: period setting, positive view of America, relationship drama…it really ticks every box as far as the Academy voting panel is concerned. As a film, I feel like its actually a little better than some of the other nominees – it feels more emotionally compelling, its dialogue stronger, its lead performance (courtesy of Saiorse Ronan, who in another year may have won Best Actress) more investing. But the filmmakers will have to settle for the honour of being amongst the nominees this year.

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7TH PLACE – BRIDGE OF SPIES

Next on the list is the film that I think is the least deserving of the nomination. Bridge of Spies feels like its only managed a Best Picture nomination due to the fact that Steven Spielberg decided to make it, and his name holds more clout than any in Hollywood. The problem I have with Bridge of Spies is that, although it is a very solid movie, its too safe and doesn’t innovate in the way I feel like a prospective Best Picture should. Tom Hanks is very strong in the lead, and Mark Rylance even better with a superbly nuanced turn as spy Rudolf Abel. It also might have the year’s best score, composed by Thomas Newman. But when stacking it up against the rest, Bridge of Spies can’t hold itself up against its competitors.

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6TH PLACE – THE MARTIAN

Back when this $110m sci-fi blockbuster was released in October to outstanding acclaim, many believed that The Martian had a legitimate chance of winning. However, Fox’s decision to claim that the film was a comedy at the Golden Globes, thereby sweeping the awards in those categories, has probably led to a backlash in the voting that has destroyed any chance it had of winning. The Martian is Ridley Scott’s best movie in years, and one of the best sci-fi films of recent times – the cast, led by a great turn from Matt Damon, is terrific. However, as inspirational and, admittedly, funny as it is, I can’t help but think of Christopher Nolan’s flawed but stunning Interstellar, which is simply better than this film is, and was not given a nomination.

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5TH PLACE – ROOM

This really should be in contention to win – Room is one of the best films of this year, an absolutely deserving nominee, with performances, writing and visuals that have legitimate claims to win Academy Awards. Of course, Brie Larson is absolutely stunning, as is Emma Donoghue’s ambitious screenplay and Lenny Abrahamson’s focused direction, but I haven’t even mentioned that in Jacob Tremblay it has, unquestionably, the best performance by a young actor this year. In every way, Room is a slice of genius – its such a shame that the film wasn’t released as widely as the others it competes against, and therefore its chances of winning have been scuppered (more on why a film’s earnings affect it’s chances in a minute).

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4TH PLACE – MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Well, dear God, I’m so happy that Mad Max got nominated. To be honest though, I’m not quite as hyped about it as some others are: while I am absolutely convinced that this is the best pure action movie in years, and the way that its been and filmed will be pored over in film schools for years to come, to me the ‘run away and come back’ narrative is a little bit thin. Hardy and most notably Charlize Theron are brilliant in it however, and Nicholas Hoult should get a special mention for his deranged war boy, Nux. While its going to win a lot of the below the line awards (and deservedly so), those wins will probably be compensation for a lack of a Best Picture triumph.

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3RD PLACE – SPOTLIGHT

From the very start of the race, Spotlight has been the film that all the pundits have said is just slightly ahead of the pack. But it just seems that Spotlight has just lost its momentum right at the end – while I wouldn’t rule out a win for Spotlight (preferential voting may help it, as I don’t think it’ll be below voters’ top fives), it seems that it just doesn’t have the energy to go all the way. Spotlight is a great film, a well handled film that tackles a really controversial subject with grace and bravery. But it just doesn’t seem to have captured the imagination in the way some of its competitors have, and in the end that will mean it just comes up short.

Big Short Cover

2ND PLACE – THE BIG SHORT

The story of the race – The Big Short was absolutely nowhere, its distributor Paramount was looking like it was going to sit the awards race out this year, and it all seemed like Spotlight would fight Brooklyn and Carol. But all of a sudden, when it came out late in the race, it was so different that people simply had to stand up and take notice. It is the greatest compliment that I genuinely considered if this would win, and the gap between first and second to me is the closest. The Big Short has a serious chance of winning – it won the PGA Award, which over the last eight years has had a flawless record of crowning the eventual Best Picture winner. It’s subject matter falls into the Oscar remit of important American history, of which the financial crisis of 2008 now is. It’s so different to anything else on the ballot this year, and when push comes to shove it nearly has enough to get it over the line. But in the end, after coming from absolutely nowhere to be in the race right at the last hurdle, it will just (and I mean JUST) miss out on the prize, which will go to…

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BEST PICTURE – THE REVENANT

Boom. Two years in a row for Alejandro G. Inarritu. When I sat down to consider whether The Revenant had enough, the thing that kept coming back to mind was that Birdman, which was made by pretty much the same crew, won last year and probably undeservedly when you think it was going up against Boyhood. But its Golden Globe and BAFTA wins for Best Picture have given The Revenant the greatest momentum heading in. It seems the popular movement is with it, and for the Oscars that’s huge. To me, The Revenant will win not because it is a great film, maybe the deserving winner amongst the eight nominees, but because it will give the Academy Awards relevance again. Over the last few years the films that have won, however brilliant, have simply not been seen by much of the general public – but The Revenant is a big-budget movie, the second most expensive on what is a more commercial bill than usual at $135m. It’s box office figures have been successful by anybody’s standards. And while the idea that the Academy would give the same crew Best Picture two years running still doesn’t sit right with me (Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, anyone?), it seems as if it will just get over the line. There it is: Inarritu’s visceral epic will win the most wide-open Oscar race by a nose. And if that prediction does come true, its as much of a political win for the Academy as it is a win for innovation, for quality, for ambition and for capturing the consciousness of the people – all the things that I feel a Best Picture winner should do.

James Stephenson

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One comment

  1. Reel Review Dude · February 28, 2016

    Reblogged this on reelreviewdude and commented:
    So, a friend and fellow blogger over at “this week in movies” has just put up a really great Oscar guide 🙂 His blogs are always great, you guys should totally check his page out!! As well as that, i’ll be doing a live stream thing on twitter reacting to all of the Oscar news.I’d love it if you joined in on the hashtag #ReelReviewOscars (or just follow me @ReelReviewDude) – it should be a lot of fun.

    Stay tuned as next week i’ll me releasing my first ever alternative to the Oscars THE GOLDEN REEL AWARDS where i break down my favourite films of the year 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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