Searching for Light in the Darkness: Oscar Nomination Predictions, 2016

E: Most years, predicting the Oscar nominations requires merely a boatload of information and the ability to decode it dispassionately.  That sounds like a lot, maybe, but generally, it’s pretty simple to anticipate 4 out of 5 nominees correctly given all the precursor awards, the critics and the guilds guiding the way.  Sure, nobody’s charting is perfect, but it’s serviceable enough to get me to the right harbor, or help me snare the right fish.  These are waters we know, those of us who pay attention, who put in the work.  This year, I’m afraid, that boatload of information won’t help me set my course; there are too many conflicting directions, too many great films and performances, too many distractions.  There’s not one clear winner anywhere. The Oscars are usually an exercise in groupthink, but this time the pertinent people are all thinking different things.  The school of fish we’re following hasn’t thinned out and it’s not pointed in the same direction.  We can’t even tell what we’re looking at most of the time; is it tuna or dolphins?

But in some ways, that makes this the great white whale of prediction years.  This is the big one. Get this one more right than not, and you can rest well.

And that’s where that leaves me — searching for answers and a metaphor.

Please indulge me with a tiny summary. When you follow the awards races, the first announcements come in early December, and yes, that’s pretty silly when you consider the number of movies that don’t even open until Christmas.  Obviously the only people to see movies that early are film critics, and so the prizes start with the critics group the National Board of Review, which releases a top ten list and then awards in individual categories.  (Of course, many Oscar films have been working the festival circuit all year, so critics and industry professionals may be familiar with them from Cannes and Telluride and Toronto and the like.)  After the NBR comes the city and state prizes, where the critics in a given area award their favorite films, beginning with New York and L.A. (the most prestigious), going through Chicago and Boston and so on, swelling out to include smaller cities like Phoenix and Dallas-Fort Worth as well as the entire state of Georgia.  After the city prizes, we have bigger critics groups, the splashiest of which is the Hollywood Foreign Press Association with the Golden Globes, but also including the Independent Spirits, the Broadcast Critics with their Critics Choice Awards, and the British Academy (BAFTA).

But after the critics, we turn to the guild awards — the awards given by members of the filmmaker industry.  The guilds start with the actor’s union, the Screen Actor’s Guild awards (SAG), but almost every specialty has their own awards, from the costume designers to the film editors to the writers.  The Oscar nominations are chosen by the Academy members in each branch (that is, editors pick the editing nominations, documentary filmmakers the documentaries, etc…) but everyone votes for Best Picture, so how the film shows across all specialties does matter.  Often there’s a clear shift between the critics and the guilds, with the critics choosing more elevated, even esoteric fare, and the industry responding to more sentimental or populist works.  Granted, the Oscars don’t tend to reward blockbusters anymore (the Titanics and Return of the Kings are getting fewer and further between) but they do still enjoy a feel good story like Slumdog Millionaire or The Artist.

This year, however, nobody can agree on anything – not the critics groups, and not the guilds.  And I don’t just mean that the critics have lined up against the guilds; it’s one critic’s organization against another, one guild against its fellows.  Nobody seems able to agree on anything. In a way, though, Best Picture isn’t my biggest worry (even though it’s actually an enormous worry).  And no, before you ask, it’s not Best Director either, a category no one ever nails.  This year, it’s the acting categories and, perhaps most shockingly, it’s the women’s races.

I’m getting ahead of myself, however.  The general point is, 2015 was a year rich in terrific movies and performances, and no one has settled yet on one contender as the ruler-in-all-but-name of a given category.  Most years, we have a Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln, destined to win, an American Beauty or Beautiful Mind clearly in charge of the best Picture race.  Some years we have an obvious critics favorite (Leaving Las Vegas, L.A. Confidential, The Social Network) that’s thrown over for a more popular, more heartwarming film (Braveheart, Titanic, The King’s Speech). Last year, the Chosen Ones were Patricia Arquette in Boyhood and J.K. Simmons in Whiplash, snapping up the supporting categories in early fall.  While Boyhood and Birdman (and Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton) battled  it out in January and February, between the critics and the guilds, there was still plenty we knew.  Most years at a minimum, you have six possible lead actresses fighting it out for six slots.

Well, not this year. Nope.  Nada.  Not a single solitary race among the big six (actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress, director and picture), can be called at this late stage.  Oh, we’re much closer after the Golden Globes; now we have front runners, which is something.  But we’ve still got more candidates than you can shake a stick at, and voting bodies with lots of diverse opinions.  And again, when you come down to it, that’s pretty great too.

So let’s get down to it. I’m going to break it down nice and easy, and then we’ll see what we find.

 

Best Supporting Actor

These We Know Are True:

Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation

Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

These We’re Pretty Sure Are True:

Michael Shannon, 99 Homes

Sylvester Stallone, Creed

These We Thought Were True Until Everybody Ignored Them:

Michael Keaton, Spotlight

Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

What Category Do They Belong In, Again?:

Christian Bale, The Big Short

Steve Carell, The Big Short

Jacob Tremblay, Room

Because They’ve Popped Up Here and There:

Benicio Del Toro, Sicario

Paul Dano, Love & Mercy

Long Shots:

Harrison Ford, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Tom Hardy, The Revenant

Jeff Daniels, Steve Jobs

Well, my friends, this is a doozy.

This week’s Golden Globe ceremony taught us a few interesting things, both about who might win the Oscars as well as which films and performances have enough heat to get nominations.  The most interesting case of these has to be Sylvester Stallone, returning to the screen as his imaginary best friend Rocky Balboa in the boxing drama Creed. Sure, he’s overblown and kind of a joke — he’s made bad action movies for so long that people forget how subtle and fantastic his acting was in the first few Rocky movies, let alone the fact that he wrote them — but if you judge by the spontaneous standing ovation when he won the Golden Globe, actors really like him anyway. He’s got a nice story line in Creed, with a nice arc to it and a good chunk of nostalgia and sentiment and brave carrying on.  He hasn’t been nominated since getting two nods for writing and acting for the first Rocky in 1976, so that makes a nice comeback story, too. Would I consider him the lead rather than supporting?  Yes.  Would he make my short list over the boys from Spotlight?  No.  Would he be my winner?  Nope.  But if he can worm his way onto this slate, the race could be Sylvester Stallone’s to lose.

Broadway and television star Mark Rylance brings large sad eyes and a quiet richness to Steve Spielberg’s taut, fascinating Bridge of Spies, and he’s made every shortlist there is.  In fact, as late as this past Sunday afternoon I thought he was our likeliest winner.  The Globes reinforced this year’s biggest lesson; different groups seem to care passionately about different things, and being invited to every party isn’t the same thing as being the guest of honor.  He should still score a nomination, and he could potentially win (especially if Stallone is snubbed) but we’ll have to see how the nominations and then the SAG awards shake out before we have a real idea there.

The always wonderful Idris Elba — staple of television award shows for his powerful, morally ambiguous detective Luther — is poised to take home his first Oscar nomination for his work as the horrific Commandant who trains, employs and brutally abuses child soldiers, turning them into the titular Beasts of No Nation.  I have to admit, I’ve been avoiding seeing this one just in case he doesn’t get nominated, because it’s clearly going to be devastating viewing.  I’m glad it exists to tell the story of child soldiers (though whether it can do more than simply make audiences feel awful I don’t know).  I’m also glad there’s at least one person of color who’s likely to get a nomination this year, pitiful as that percentage seems. And I’m also just glad for Elba, an astonishing actor who deserves more opportunities to shine; hopefully the exposure he’s gotten for this film will help get it for him.

Nearly every year there’s a snub of at least one actor or actress who everyone presumes will get the nod because they’ve been nominated at all the precursor events (Daniel Bruhl for Rush, Michael Fassbender for Shameless, Emma Thompson for Saving Mr. Banks, Mila Kunic for Black Swan, the list goes on) or won all the critics prizes (Steve Buscemi for  Ghost World, Christopher Plummer for The Insider).  Over the years you gain a sense for these things.  If I had to hazard a guess at whose chances might be going a little soft, I’d pick Michael Shannon, who’s been getting a rather surprising amount of attention for his role as, essentially, the devil, in little scene indie 99 Homes.  Technically he’s a real estate developer who pushes debt ridden people out of their homes, but really, in the point of view of the movie he’s the embodiment of evil in the world.  Though SAG and the Golden Globes have nominated him, though he’s made it onto the Supporting Actor table before, his exclusion from the BAFTAs makes me guess that one of this year’s snubs could be pointed in his direction.

Supporting actor is often the dwelling place of villains, and clearly this year’s crop is no exception.  In fact, it’s rather amusing that the top three candidates for a nod are all villains — an African warlord, a ruthless capitalist, and a Cold War era Russian spy.  It’s maybe more amusing that the spy (accused of betraying a country and making millions face atomic annihilation) is gentle and honorable.  Bring in Stallone as a mentor (another prime supporting category) and we’re sitting pretty.

We do have a few heroically inclined fellows in our potential list as well. I’m inclined to think that The Big Short stars Carell and Bale will suffer from category confusion (as well as the abundance of competition), but I’ve been wrong about both of them before.  Both men were nominated as comedy leads by the Golden Globes for their roles as analysts trying to warn the banks about the pitfalls of toxic mortgages before the worldwide economy almost collapsed in 2008.  I have yet to see the film, so I can’t really tell you if either role in this large ensemble truly merits consideration as a lead, but it sounds like Carell’s character might be slightly more prominent.  Of the two, Bale (an Oscar winner and 2 time nominee) is more likely to trump over one time nominee Carell, perhaps because his role might lend itself less obviously to the supporting category, based on Bale’s inclusion on the BAFTA and  SAG slates.

This is also one of those categories where someone gets nominated who’s been honored by absolutely none of the precursor awards, like Max Von Sydow in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, or Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street.  It doesn’t quite reach that level, but you have to consider Paul Dano (who plays the young Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy, through his time with the Beach Boys, the creation of Pet Sounds and his breakdown) a threat after receiving both a Golden Globe and a Critics Choice.  (The Critics Choice, by the way, muddies our waters by anointing six nominees per category instead of the usual five. Often it’s easy to see who the outlier is, but not this year!)

And then we have nine year old Jacob Tremblay, under consideration for his work in Room, first as a captive unknowingly imprisoned in a shed and then as a sort of explorer, discovering the wide world after his release.  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences doesn’t really like nominating kids, but they’re willing to do it occasionally in supporting categories. It’s where Leonardo DiCaprio was first noticed, back in 1994, for playing a mentally challenged teen in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?.  It’s almost impossible for a child to snag a lead nomination as Quvenzhane Wallis did for Beast of the Southern Wild, and so more often, children who are really leads are campaigned as supporting actors, a technique that seems clearly in play here.  This sometimes works (witness Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense) but Room doesn’t have the box office and momentum that M. Night Shyamalan’s marvelous thriller had back in the year 2000.  SAG nominated him, but not BAFTA or the Broadcast Critics or the HFPA.  He stands a chance as a surprise inclusion (as does Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro for his BAFTA nominated ex-prosecutor fiercely seeking vengeance in Sicario) but it’s nothing to bet on.

And that brings us to the boys from Spotlight, Keaton and Ruffalo. Last year Keaton received his first nomination for Birdman, and almost won.  Some of his partisans for that performance hoped this year might bring him the trophy for his role as editor Walter “Robby” Robinson, self-proclaimed “player/coach” of the Boston Globe team that specialized in long form reporting, and wrote more than 600 stories which shone a light on not merely the prevalence of sexually abusive priests but the pattern of cover ups by the Catholic Church.  Like Rylance, it’s a subtle, quiet performance, full of confidence; you forget as you watch him that this is an actor you know, and start to feel like he (and the rest of the cast) are just a bunch of real people. Two time Oscar nominee Ruffalo costars as a passionate reporter on the team, equally dogged but more vocal, devastated by this betrayal of trust.  Both actors are ripe for awards attention, but neither is a lock.  In fact, Keaton would be a Von Sydow/Hill level surprise; Ruffalo at least has scored precursor nods from BAFTA and the Broadcast Critics.

Tom Hardy did manage a Critics Choice nod for his work in The Revenant, and he’s had a pretty decent year, with strong performances in Mad Max and Legend.  If The Force Awakens had been released earlier in the year, it just might have spawned a sentimental campaign for Harrison Ford, but I doubt there’s been time; he would have to be the total left field candidate.  Jeff Daniels won an Emmy for his ability to resoundingly declaim Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue in The Newsroom; his Apple CEO John Sculley feels like the same character, and the theatrically structured, biography-flavored Steve Jobs didn’t have the impact many pundits thought it might.

I don’t feel secure in this at all, but I have to go with Elba, Rylance, Ruffalo, Stallone and Bale, with alternates of Shannon and Dano.  Or Keaton and Tremblay. I’m tempted to say I’m the least secure about Stallone, but really, I’m not secure about any of this.  Bah!

Best Supporting Actress

This We Know Is True:

Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

What Category Do They Belong In, Anyway?:

Rooney Mara, Carol

Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Looking Good:

Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

In An Actual Supporting Role:

Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina

Still in the Game:

Rachel McAdams, Spotlight

Helen Mirren, Trumbo

Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria

Not Without Awards Chatter:

Jane Fonda, Youth

Julie Walters, Brooklyn

Long Shots:

Joan Allen, Room

Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy

Jessica Chastain, The Martian

First, let’s get Kate Winslet out of the way.  The Academy loves her.  I love her.  Who doesn’t love her? She has that classic Hollywood glamour (as well as a very English class and intelligence) ; she seems at once down to earth and relatable, yet also impossibly beautiful and extraordinarily talented.  She’s been the one constant in this crazy field, nominated by BAFTA, the Broadcast Critics, the HFPA and SAG. A six time nominee, she hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar since finally winning Best Actress in 2009 for The Reader, and she’s in top form as the voice of reason in a generally respected but disagreeable movie.  She’s in.  Let’s move on.  We can debate whether she can repeat her Golden Globe win another time, but her nomination is a non-issue.

So let’s look at the real issue, shall we? It seems a fact that Alicia Vikander will be nominated somewhere.  The question, however, is where and for what, and it’s not an easy puzzle to solve.

We knew, back in the fall, that Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander were being campaigned by their publicity and marketing teams for the supporting categories, and all the pundits thought that the winner would be one of the two.  Could it be Mara, nominated once before for her work in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, take the prize as the shy, reserved shop girl consumed with love for a wealthy older woman?  Or perhaps voters would prefer Vikander, suddenly everywhere in 2015, as the painfully devoted and baffled Bohemian spouse of Einar Wegener,  who becomes Lili Elbe, a gender reassignment surgery pioneer.  Mara’s not a big star and Vikander’s an almost complete unknown, and often such people will be campaigned in the supporting categories where they might have a better shot at winning, even if their role might be a large one.  You also see this campaign technique employed on a film where one lead is older than the other, as with Carol and The Reader, or a much bigger star (Carol, Collateral Damage) or when the two leads are of the same gender (Carol, Brokeback Mountain).  Occasionally you even see a lead character campaigned as supporting because their more famous costar can’t be seen to take a smaller role (Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke in Training Day).  It’s a specific calculation, designed to get awards and to keep the famous people in their happy bubbles.

That idyllic marketing strategy, however, was soon questioned by actual voting bodies.  Most viewers considered that Vikander’s artist Gerda Wegener is really the female lead, and Mara’s Therese a co-lead.   The Hollywood Foreign Press put their nominations behind this theory, putting both Vikander and Mara in the lead category.  They can afford to do it, what with ten lead acting slots, but it was still a bold move.  Their love for Vikander was so strong, in fact, that they nominated her in supporting for one of her many other roles this year – her sweet and terrifying robot Ava in Ex Machina. SAG, on the other hand, booted both women back to supporting-land.  The Critics Choice followed suit.  Was the case closed?  Then BAFTA split the difference, nominating Vikander as a lead actress and Mara as supporting.  BAFTA’s voting body shares the most members with AMPAS, and so their arrangement just has a solid feel for me.

Now, neither woman ended up winning anything at The Golden Globes.  That might bode ill for those dreams of an ingenue win — but before we figure that out, we need to see who gets nominated.

With so little clarity, we have to turn to the other precursor awards for help.  80s teen star Jennifer Jason Leigh has never received an Oscar nomination in her nearly 40 year career, despite highly acclaimed work in provocative dramas like Last Exit to Brooklyn, but her work in Quentin Tarantino’s Western seems poised to end that drought.  Her manipulative femme fatale drives the plot and leaves dust clouds of confusion around her. Is it a misogynist role?  Tarantino’s always controversial and it hasn’t prevented Oscar from rewarding him yet; I think in this season of extraordinary confusion, Leigh will reap the benefits.

Rom com and romantic drama star Rachel McAdams does lovely, subtle work as Sasha Pfieffer, one of the Boston Globe reporters on the Spotlight team, calm and empathetic, a lapsed Catholic deeply affected by the sexual abuse survivors whose stories she chronicles. Perhaps I’m swayed by the fact that I listen routinely to the real Sasha Pfieffer on my local NPR station, but the film has a lot of heat, and she’s quite possibly the strongest shot it has at an acting nomination (clearly the strongest based on her nominations for the Golden Globe and the SAG).

Of course, the other hand, she’s never been nominated, and we know that Oscar loves Helen Mirren, who plays infamous gossip columnist Hedda Hopper in blacklist drama Trumbo. She’s been nominated by SAG, the HFPA, and by the Broadcast Film Critics, but not, notably, the BAFTAs, where you’d think she’d have the hometown advantage. (That slot went instead to Julie Walters, the strict Irish boarding house landlady in Brooklyn, but unless the Academy likes the lovely Brooklyn more than most of the other awards bodies has, Walters doesn’t have a strong shot of making the list.)

We have to talk about Jane Fonda as she made the Golden Globe short list for her work in Youth as the actress/muse for Harvey Keitel’s filmmaker Mick, a melancholy contemplation of art and aging that seems to have captured much more attention in Europe that it has in America.  A nod for her is possible — she’s a two time Oscar winner after all, with seven nominations in all — but other groups haven’t followed up on the HFP’s nod, and so it seems more likely her is just another name muddying the murky waters.  It’s been nearly thirty years since Oscar last nominated her, for 1987’s The Morning After, and Youth doesn’t seem popular enough to break that streak.

If we’re going to have an “out of left field” candidate here, like last year’s Laura Dern for Wild, I think it’ll be Kristen Stewart, who seems to slowly be turning her tabloid tainted reputation around with strong supporting performances in last year’s poignant Still Alice and this year’s Clouds of Sils Maria, where she plays the loyal personal assistant to Juliette Binoche’s troubled French actress.   I’m not saying that it’s going to happen, but despite not being nominated for any precursors, her name just keeps coming up.  Oscar fans haven’t forgotten the role which won Stewart a Cesar award (the French Oscar); have Oscar voters?

Three other actresses who fit that same “left field” category are: three time nominee Joan Allen, whose work in Room as the mother of the kidnapping victim has touched audiences without resulting in nominations so far; never nominated actress, comedienne and director Elizabeth Banks, who brings freedom and salvation to John Cusak’s incarnation of Brian Wilson in the second half of Love & Mercy; and finally critical darling and two time nominee Jessica Chastain for her role as the steely and guilt ridden mission captain who made the choice to leave Matt Damon’s astronaut on Mars, and then moves heaven and earth to get him back.  These candidates would require a lot of ifs, though.  If The Martian surprises with even greater than expected nomination totals.  If Love & Mercy connected better with the Academy than with anyone else.  If Room, too, has more support than expected, a rising tide could lift one of these boats.

So there’s Winslet for sure, probably Leigh, and most likely Mara.  If that’s the case, do we see McAdams, Mirren or Vikander in something?  The three of them seem mostly likely to make up the final two slots.  Even though it was clearly beloved by the SAG awards and even the Golden Globes, Trumbo just doesn’t feel substantial enough, and so I’ll guess McAdams and Vikander in Ex Machina, with Vikander in The Danish Girl and Mirren as a close alternates and Stewart as my long shot.

 

Best Actor

These We Know Are True:

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

These We Think Are True:

Matt Damon, The Martian

All The Awards Groups Love Him:

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

Because They’ve Popped Up Here and There:

Johnny Depp, Black Mass

Will Smith, Concussion

What Category Do They Belong In, Again?:

Christian Bale, The Big Short

Steve Carrell, The Big Short

Jacob Tremblay, Room

Long Shots:

Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation

Michael Caine, Youth

Samuel L. Jackson, The Hateful Eight

Michael B. Jordan, Creed

Ian McKellen, Mr. Holmes

I Wish He’d Been Considered:

Tom Hanks, The Bridge of Spies

 

Oddly, even though it has an abundance of contenders, this may be the most stable category in the race.  We have four actors who’ve been nominated almost everywhere: Cranston, Damon, DiCaprio and Fassbender. We even have a potential winner in Leonardo DiCaprio; Hollywood seems to have decided (or seems to be in the midst of deciding) that the actor is old enough, has waited long enough, has been nominated enough times, and has lost enough of his boyish looks that they can finally award him the Oscar. It happens that way sometimes.  It happened last year, actually, when five time nominee Julianne Moore finally took home the prize for her riveting, gut-wrenching turn as a professor slowly losing herself to early onset Alzheimers, and it could very well happen that way this year, too, as DiCaprio contends for his role as a fur trapper left for dead in the wilderness, discovering an indomitable will to live.

Cranston, long beloved of television audiences and award giving bodies for his work on Malcolm in the Middle and Breaking Bad seeks to break into the movie market now that his long running meth drama has ended.  He was gifted with the role of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who ended up on Hollywood’s infamous blacklist, imprisoned for refusing to name names to the House Committee on Unamerican Activities, and for this role he’s nabbed Golden Globe, SAG, BAFTA and Critics Choice nominations.  The critics, interestingly enough, have been less enamored of his performance and his film in general.

And then there’s Michael Fassbender, nominated once before as a brutal slave owner in 12 Years a Slave, here playing the brutal inventor and iconic technology guru Steve Jobs.  Arrogant, mercurial and convicted of his own genius, the film shows us a man who hurts the people who love him and who’s wrong more often than he’s right. Like Cranston, he’s gotten nods at the top four precursor events, as well as awards from a bunch of critics groups (Austin, Houston, IndieWire) and was nominated for many more.  True, he was snubbed in 2012 for Shame, the critically lauded sexual addiction drama, but Steve Jobs is at least marginally less controversial, and he’s a more established star now. He ought to pick up nomination number two.

Which brings us to last year’s winner, Eddie Redmayne, taking on the most challenging role in the slate as previously mentioned transgender pioneer Lily Elbe.  The film’s look is sumptuous, the topic couldn’t be more on trend.  Surprising Oscar watchers, the film itself failed at the box office, with critics considering it a little to inert, beautiful without ever coming fully alive.  Everyone has continued to heap praise on both Redmayne and Vikander, and simply for the stunt of so plausibly playing a woman in transition, Redmayne should hold on to his slot.

After those four, there’s less cohesion.  The Globes nominated Will Smith as their fifth drama nominee for his role as Bennet Omalu, the doctor who first sounded the alarm about NFL head injuries, in Concussion.  SAG picked Johnny Depp as nefarious Boston mobster Whitey Bulger in Black Mass.  The Broadcast critics used their extra slot to nominate both Depp and another October entry, Matt Damon, as the wry, resourceful, stranded astronaut in The Martian.  And when they finally released their nominations a few weeks ago, BAFTA picked the four expected performances and Damon. In a move that baffled pretty much everyone, the Hollywood Foreign Press designated The Martian as a comedy, and then gave their respective actual awards to Damon and to the movie itself.

I don’t think either our category challenged friends Bale, Carell or Tremblay can shove their way into this category.  There’s too much competition, and too much confusion with Bale and Carell; Tremblay’s not only too young, but his movie doesn’t appear to have enough heat.

Now, if any of them are to be snubbed, my gut says Cranston.  There are still older members of AMPAS for whom a television intensive resume is still a liability, and the movie itself hasn’t had any traction either in the awards race, with critics or with audiences.  There seem to be quibbles, in fact, about whether or not Trumbo did name names.  Abraham Attah, as well, is too young and too unknown and comes from too small a film to take a lead acting slot from one of the most famous actors on the planet; I’m hoping the first time actor (plucked from his classroom to audition) is justly proud that his name has even been put in contention.   Two time winner Michael Caine is unlikely to up his nomination total as the retired composer sleepwalking through his golden years in Youth; Ian McKellen’s brilliant turn as the famous detective Sherlock Holmes (aged and losing his memories in Mr. Holmes) may simply have premiered too early in the year to stay on voters’ minds.  It’s rather depressing to think that the two time nominee, now in his 70s, might never get the Oscar that should have been his in 1999 for the riveting Gods & Monsters.  This won’t be the year that rights that wrong, however.

Though Quentin Tarantino has helped his troop of favorite actors onto the awards slate, he hasn’t managed to do so yet for Samuel L. Jackson.  That’s kind of crazy when you think about it.  If Tarantino can’t get it done, I hope someone else picks up the slack, because Jackson’s a national treasure and ought to have at least one nod in his storied, iconic career.  The Hateful Eight is highly unlikely to be the movie that gets it done.

Finally, Michael B. Jordan’s up and coming, like his director Ryan Coogler.  No, his boxer in Creed — the smart son of champion Apollo Creed, who had a shot at a normal, well-heeled life in finance but turned it down for the primal thrill of the ring — probably isn’t going to provide his moment.  Oscar prefers their lead actor nominees to be middle aged or old if they’re not going to play disabled; just ask DiCaprio, or Brad Pitt, who waited 18 years from his blinding debut in 1991’s Thelma & Louise for his first lead nomination.  Likable striver Jordan ought to have a great career ahead of him, though, and I look forward to what he does next.

Finally, I don’t know why Tom Hanks can’t get a break with the Academy these days.  He turned in splendid work in Saving Mr. Banks (scuttled by negative press), and delivered a beautifully subtle turn as the dryly heroic James B. Donovan in grappling with brutal public opinion, Soviets, East Germans, the CIA and the KGB in Bridge of Spies.  It’s a masterful performance, one that could have been saccharine and dull in the hands of a lesser talent.  Perhaps his turn as pilot “Sully” Sullenberger in next year’s Sully will bring him back to Oscar’s fold.

All that said, I am still going to go with the BAFTA slate of Cranston, Damon, DiCaprio, Fassbender and Redmayne, with Cranston (or even Redmayne) as my shocking snub.   I’ll admit, I’m probably influenced by the fact that I adored Damon’s performance and found Depp ridiculous-looking and caricatured in the trailers I’ve seen for Black Mass.  (And yes.  I’m ignoring that one unless it gets this nomination; thanks for asking!)  If there was a clear, strong alternative to this group, rather than a large pool of critically acclaimed performances without a lot of buzz, I might have chosen otherwise, but this is what feels right.

Best Actress

These We Know Are True:

Cate Blanchett, Carol

Brie Larson, Room

Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

What Category Do They Belong In, Anyway?:

Rooney Mara, Carol

Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Everybody Loved Them Before They Saw the Movies:

Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

Carey Mulligan, Suffragette

Women in Genre Flicks Can’t Get No Respect:

Emily Blunt, Sicario

Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part 2

Daisy Ridley, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road

So If Not Them, Then Who?:

Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

Lily Tomlin, Grandma

Long Shots:

Marion Cotillard, Macbeth

Helen Mirren, Woman in Gold

Sarah Silverman, I Smile Back

Maggie Smith, The Lady in the Van

Most years, the Academy has to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find five worthy performances, digging up tiny independents or foreign films, because Hollywood gets worse and worse at making movies about women.  Not in 2015, though!   Maybe it won’t sound like progress to say that 4 of the top 10 moneymakers of the year star women, but sadly it is; that number is actually well up from 2 in 2014 and 3 in 2013.  (You could even boost that number to 5 out of 10 if you consider Sandra Bullock a main character in Minions: she’s certainly the most famous and prominent actor, not to mention the most important one who uses actual words.)  Granted, the women who headlined those blockbusters — Daisy Ridley, Jennifer Lawrence, Lilly James, Amy Poehler — aren’t the ones fighting for nominations, but that might be even better news; women lead both blockbusters and prestige flicks and everything in between.  Their films made money, both men and women went to see them, AND they gained the critics adoration.  Amazing!  Who knew such a thing could happen?

This, of course, makes life a little tricky in the prediction game.  The most solid thing about this grouping is the top three.

Cate Blanchett can’t win — she won her second award in 2014, and the Academy took more than 20 years before it let Meryl Streep pick up a third Oscar, becoming only the second actor to do so — but she will certainly be nominated as the glamorous fifties housewife who gives the name to lesbian romance Carol.  Look for her to pick up her seventh nomination Thursday morning.  Saoirse Ronan, nominated as a child for her role in Atonement, will pick up her second nod as the lead in Brooklyn, a moving drama about a young Irish girl coming of age (and coming into herself) in America.  It’s a quiet but revelatory performance, taking Eilis from homesickness and terror to confidence and mature grace.

That brings us to our prospective winner, Brie Larson, who yes, you might never have heard of.  Best known for her work on television series The United States of Tara and Community, Brie had a supporting role this year in comic phenomenon Trainwreck,  as well as roles in 21 Jump Street and The Spectacular Now. A few years ago, Oscar flirted with her performance in Short Term 12 as a group home worker struggling with an unexpected pregnancy. A dark horse in 2013, Brie holds the race in her hands now.  As Ma, a young woman kidnapped and forced to live in a garden shed, Brie protects the young son she has born to her kidnapper/rapist, filling his tiny world with  as much hope and imagination and joy as she can create, walking a delicate line to preserve her son’s innocence.  No, she’s not a lock for the win (yet), but she is for the nomination.  All three of these ladies have made every short list, from the SAG to the BAFTA, from the Golden Globes to the Critics Choice and beyond.

And that’s where things get messy. Really messy. As I mentioned above, this season has a case of category confusion, and it’s got it bad.  And that brings us right back to Alicia Vikander and Rooney Mara.

Back in 2002, Keisha Castle-Hughes was famously campaigned in Supporting Actress for her lead role in Whale Rider; she was too young, too unknown to be considered a lead!  But instead, Academy voters rejected the obvious ploy and nominated the 14 year old over luminaries like Nicole Kidman in Cold Mountain.  That brings us back to Mara and Vikander.  Could Castle-Hughes’ feat happen again?  Absolutely.  Could both women end up in supporting?  Sure. Could both women be done out of a slot entirely by the category confusion?  Absolutely; the precursors bear that out.  So you see what a pickle we’re in.

Where does that leave us?  If 3 out of the 5 slots seem for certain, and if the other two don’t go to Vikander and/or Mara, who’s left to take them?

If you were paying attention above, I said that Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t in contention for an award.  What I meant specifically, however, is that she’s not in contention for her work in a high prestige literary adaptation which happens to also be a box office smash, Mocking Jay; instead, she actually has a shot at a nod for her third collaboration with David O Russell, playing real life inventor and entrepreneur Joy Mangano in his film Joy.  Want to hazard a guess at which movie is better reviewed?  Mocking Jay. This prejudice, truly, is never going to make sense to me. Now, there was talk of a second win for 25 year old Lawrence, who charms fans with her blunt and self-deprecating style, captivating audiences unlike any star in recent years — until Joy premiered, and the criticisms rained down on writer/director David O. Russell after four years of being waterproof.  But because in those few years Lawrence has had such an astounding run, she still has a strong shot of capturing her fourth nomination since bursting on the scene with a searing performance in 2011’s Winter’s Bone.

Previous nominee Carey Mulligan, too, was sitting pretty before her movie Suffragette premiered, but her put-upon factory worker turned activist seems to have ended up on the wrong side of Oscar history here.  As fuel run driver Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, Charlize Theron won fans’ hearts, but isn’t likely to add a third nomination to her total.  It’s not impossible, but it’s a big stretch.  And you can forget about Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jennifer Lawrence in the final Hunger Games film; these kind of movies just can’t get no respect.  (They’re not alone, though; when was the last time you saw a broad comedy nominated?  When was the last time a comedy won, or an actor was nominated in a leading role for comic work?  The awards community’s idea of a comedy is The Martian.)  Comedienne Sarah Silverman managed one of those occasionally head-scratching SAG nominations like Philip Seymour Hoffman for FlawlessI Smile Back details a mother’s struggles with depression, infidelity, addiction and an overwhelming sense of hollowness; Silverman got great reviews as well as the one nomination, and I’m happy for her, but I couldn’t have been more surprised.  The movie’s too small to put her in contention in a year unusually full of high profile women’s roles.

Drug trafficking thriller Sicario could have been a contender; it hovers on the outside of a crowded field, impossible to discount but hard to rely on as well.  Like Carey Mulligan, Emily Blunt had early buzz, but her movie (though well reviewed) didn’t really connect with audiences, and has been overwhelmed in the minds of awards voters by later breaking fare.  After last year’s French language drama Two Days, Three Nights proved, you ignore Marion Cotillard at your peril.  I don’t think that Macbeth has made the same sort of impact as the quiet workplace story, however, even with the battle scenes and splashy costumes.  Maggie Smith, too, cannot be ignored, but her Lady in the Van probably hasn’t opened big enough in the U.S. for her to duplicate her BAFTA nomination.  And even though she’s all that is great in cinema, Helen Mirren’s Woman in Gold was generally panned by critics.  There are more consistent contenders for the last two slots here, prestigious as her SAG nomination is.

That leaves us with Lily Tomlin as the titular Grandma helping her granddaughter fund an abortion, sassy and dry as only Lily Tomlin can be.  She scored a Golden Globe comedy nomination, and was one of six Critics Choice nominees.  But is that enough to bring the comedienne her first nomination since 1975’s Nashville?  Will it best Charlotte Rampling as the wife in the quiet story of a long standing but troubled marriage, 45 Years. Rampling, who had Oscar buzz a decade ago with Swimming Pool, has won a slew of city critics prizes (including L.A. and Boston) and picked up a Critics Choice nomination.  She’s my dark horse.

If we assume Blanchett, Larson and Ronan (which I do), and we guess that Alicia Vikander alone will get a lead spot (which I’m guessing) then the remaining slot should go to Jennifer Lawrence, just because she’s great and beloved and everyone agrees she was fantastic even if they have issues with the structure of Joy.  But if her fellow members of the acting branch suffer from J. Law burn out, and curse her for speaking out on Hollywood’s wage inequality, or for chastising a rude reporter at the Golden Globes (something that, happily for her, happened after Oscar voting closed) it could be my alternate Rampling who finally scores a nod, or the dry and fabulous Lily Tomlin.

Best Director

These We Think Are True:

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant

Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

Adam McKay, The Big Short

Why Not?

Todd Haynes, Carol

George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

The Giants:

Ridley Scott, The Martian

Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies

This Year’s Wunderkind

Lenny Abrahamson, Room

Ryan Coogler, Creed

The Long Shots:

J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs

Cary Fukanaga, Beasts of No Nation

David O. Russell, Joy

 

I’m always going to hedge my bets when it comes to the Academy’s director’s wing, always.

On Tuesday, the Director’s Guild announced their award nominees, going with a fairly sedate slate — Inarritu, McCarthy, McKay, Miller and Scott.  Seems reasonable, right?  I mean, unless you really think too hard about Miller.  Carol‘s probably the top film left off that list, jockeying for a position on the Oscar slate; at the BAFTA awards, Haynes replaced McCarthy, perhaps our first sign that Spotlight isn’t the clear front runner many pundits had presumed.  So can we just assume that five of those six men will be our nominees?

Let’s talk it over first.  The director’s branch of the Academy tends to be much less predictable than that.  It’s not unusual for them to pull in one or even two unexpected names (Benh Zeitlin, Michael Haneke, Pedro Almodovar) and to entirely omit obvious candidates that have been favored with wins before (Tom Hooper, Steven Spielberg, Kathryn Bigelow, etc.), or to snub a director who has just won the Golden Globe for direction (Ben Affleck); and forget about men whose film is the overwhelming favorite to win Best Picture (Ben Affleck).  Somehow these choices feel even more peculiar and difficult to predict when we have a large and unstable number of Best Picture nominees.  One thing we can say with certainty; this year there are no high profile female directors available to be snubbed as Ava DuVernay and Angelina Jolie were last year.

Multi-hyphenate George Miller has been nominated for an Oscar 4 times before, as the producer and the writer of the classic Australian children’s film Babe (a triumphant hit in 1996), as the writer of an original screenplay for the deeply moving true story Lorenzo’s Oil, and actually won as the producer of animated feature Happy Feet.  All signs point to him receiving his first nomination for direction this year, after first bringing us the Mad Max universe back in 1979.   It’s a confident work, certainly, which believes completely in its own cartoon soul.

What Tom McCarthy has produced, on the other hand, veers so far from cartoonish that it feels like a documentary.  Well known movie stars disappear so deeply into their roles that they start to feel like our coworkers and friends, here in the baleful glare of a Boston winter, with a shadowy malevolence around every corner.

Adam McKay, cocreator of Funny or Die and writer/director of such Oscar stalwarts as Anchorman and Talladega Nights, has a great shot of achieving his obviously destined role as an Oscar nominee.  Well, seriously, though, it looks like it’s going to happen; he’s been nominated by the Hollywood Foreign Press, BAFTA, the DGA, and had his cast lauded by SAG.  He’s got a great shot, if his peers can take him seriously enough.

He may have given a shockingly boring speech when collecting the Best Musical or Comedy feature at the Golden Globes, but The Martian‘s director Ridley Scott still produced one of the best films of the year. In all his years in the industry, after producing amazing films like Thelma & Louise, Black Hawk Down, Gladiator, Alien and Blade Runner, and after three nominations for Best Director, Ridley Scott has never won an Oscar.  Who knows?  He’s got a good shot at least of making it to the table this year, if nothing else.

Then there’s Todd Haynes, director of the sumptuous romance Carol. Never nominated for direction but much respected in the industry, he’s directed such gorgeous Oscar nominated films as Far From Heaven and I’m Not There, in addition to the Julianne Moore drama Safe and the much lauded miniseries Mildred Pierce, and he did manage to pick up a nod for writing the original screenplay for interracial fifties romance Far From Heaven.  (Yes, I know.  He does seem to have a favorite period and set of themes.  He clearly excels at them, though.)  With nominations from BAFTA and the HFP, he’s a threat to his fellow contenders.

So those are the big six.  Of course, Steven Spielberg (and Haynes) made the BAFTA list over McCarthy and Miller, and BAFTA’s the closest thing to the Academy we have in a precursor group.  Spielberg was one of the Broadcast Critics six nominees as well.  How much does this mean? We’ll find out.

Oscar loves David O. Russell, especially lately, but Joy landed with a big resounding thud, crushing dreams beneath its ponderous weight.  So Russell and his big wacky casts will have to wait another year to get him that statuette he seems on track to claim very soon.

Ryan Coogler first came to public attention as the multi-hyphenate behind truth-based police brutality drama Fruitvale Station, but boxing tale Creed brought him to a whole other level.  In fact, he’s helming Marvel’s 2018 Black Panther, I’m sure a result of his current success.  He’s certainly possible as an out of left field candidate, but the very definition of that means that he’s more a possibility than a probability.  The same can be said of Cary Fukanaga, who directed SAG ensemble nominee Beasts of No Nation to similar heaps of critical praise.  J.J. Abrams, too, has a lot of respect as a money maker and a revitalizer of franchises.  In The Force Awakens, he finally managed to stick the landing, providing the perfect ending which many, if not all, of his previous films (and television series) lacked.  But not only did The Force Awakens premiere late in the year, it didn’t court voting groups with screeners so that they could see and appreciate the film before audiences, something done with virtually every other awards contender.

I know what you’re going to say.  Star Wars, the most secretive project in years, sending out screeners?  Never! I agree.  The whole point of the Oscars, when they were started, was to get people to see more movies.  It’s all about ticket sales and the bottom line, and heaven knows, The Force Awakens doesn’t need any help with its bottom line; secrecy served it far better than screeners could have.  The team knowingly sacrificed Oscar potential for both box office gain and, let’s face it, fan enjoyment.  It was a major cultural happening, seeing that movie, refraining from spoilers, going with your friends, staying off-line until you’d seen it.  I’m sure the team behind the film would love some award attention to highlight all the hard work they put into it, but they didn’t make the movie for AMPAS.  Not to sound all sentimental, but they made it for the fans, and for the legacy from our childhoods.  And as fans, they made it for themselves. And that’s likely to be J.J. Abrams’ reward, that the movie is beloved by fans and critics; if nothing else, jealousy (so well expressed by Ridley Scott at the Golden Globes) could keep him from getting a nod here.

All this said, it IS pretty likely that most of those six men mentioned at the top will be nominated, but whether it will be five of them, or four, or even three, no one can say.  We can guess, but the director’s branch constantly asserts the originality of their point of view.  The safest bets really and truly are Inarritu, McCarthy, McKay, Miller and Scott, with Haynes as an obvious alternative and perhaps Will Ferrell’s constant collaborator McKay as the snub.  For our long shot, I’d pick Abrahamson or Coogler.  I know, I know; it’s dull of me to agree with the DGA.  What’s worse, I know it’s pretty likely to be wrong — but the thing about the director’s branch is that their crazy can’t be anticipated.  Certainly there’s no one more obvious or likely.

A word about the future. Exactly once in the entire history of the Oscars has a director won two years in a row – Joseph L. Mankiewicz, in 1949 and 1950. Interestingly enough, the similarly long running Golden Globes have never repeated a winner in two consecutive years, despite Inarritu’s win; last year Richard Linklater took their top prize for Boyhood only to lose the Oscar to Inarritu and Birdman.  Of course, Mankiewocz’s second film, All About Eve, is his most enduring and his biggest Oscar success, and unlike his 1949 effort won Best Picture as well as Best Director.  Perhaps The Revenant will be Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s All About Eve, and Birdman his A Letter To Three Wives, but I don’t know.  Is Inarritu really the best and most Academy-beloved director in 70 years?  It seems far more likely that between now and the Oscar cast another winner will emerge.  Leaving all that aside, with his Golden Globe win Inarritu ups his chances of a nomination to near certainty. I think what the win for The Revenant at the Globes signifies is that there simply isn’t a consensus candidate yet, and that means there’s still quite a lot for us to learn.

 

Best Picture

These We Know Are True:

The Big Short

Spotlight

These We Think Are True:

Bridge of Spies

Carol

The Martian

The Revenant

I Can’t Believe They’re Really Going For This:

Mad Max: Fury Road

Some Groups Have Favored:

Brooklyn

Room

Sicario

Straight Outta Compton

While Others Went With:

Beasts of No Nation

Ex Machina

Inside Out

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Trumbo

They Were Shoo-ins Until Audiences Actually Saw Them:

The Danish Girl

Joy

Long Shots:

Creed

The Hateful Eight

Steve Jobs

As is the new normal, complicating this process is the fact that we don’t know how many nominations there will be.  Working with the numbers, Oscar watchers have proved that the preferential ballots can almost never result in ten nominees.  In fact, it seemed certain that they’d produce 9 each year –until last year, when there were 8.

Now, the Broadcast Critics, the National Board of Review, the American Film Institute and the Producers Guild all pick a slate of ten nominees; the BFC actually came up with 11 nominees this year, because they retroactively voted to include The Force Awakens after it premiered, but still. The Golden Globes also pick 10 nominees, but since those are split between drama and comedy, this year’s nominees include the comedies Spy and Trainwreck, popular with audiences but not the normal stuff of awards lists.  The point is, these lists have a lot in common, but not perhaps as many as you’d think.  Each list includes Mad Max, The Martian and Spotlight, so we ought to be able to say those are in.  Getting four out of five are The Big Short, Bridge of Spies and Room, with Carol, The Revenant, Sicario and Straight Outta Compton appearing on three.   That leaves Star Wars, Inside Out and Brooklyn on two each.

If we add in the BAFTA and SAG nods, and we get two more points for Spotlight and The Big Short, and one more each for Bridge of Spies, Carol, The Revenant and Straight Outta Compton.

Complicating things even more is that fact that, since its inception, no movie has won Oscar without being nominated both for best picture at the Golden Globes, and for the SAG ensemble award.  That’s why the entire Oscar watching community was shocked the SAG nominees were announced, and only had two movies (Spotlight and The Big Short) in common with the Globes, instead filling out their slate with gut-wrenching war drama Beasts of No Nation, NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton, and Hollywood communism story Trumbo instead.  Immediately, prognosticators suggested that these overlap movies were now the front runners, putting The Martian, The Revenant and everything else out of contention, but I don’t think we can say that’s true anymore, not after The Revenant and The Martian‘s big wins. It’s turning out that stats don’t matter so much in this really odd year.

You know, it’s funny.  If you just look at the numbers, The Revenant is tied in precursor nominations with Room, but after its win at the Globes, it looks like the Inarritu flick is a safe bet while the kidnapping drama is on the bubble.  If you look at those numbers (down to the nods for editing and costumes), then drug trafficking drama Sicario might even have a better shot than The Revenant — but all attention isn’t equal, and just sneaking along in the Producer’s Guild and the Broadcast Critics usually doesn’t cut it.

If, as noted above, Oscar has a type, and it by-passes better reviewed movies for ones that are at once more populist and more serious feeling, then I have no idea what Mad Max is doing on this list.  Yet it’s here, and I think here to stay.  It’s an excellent action movie, but that’s rarely enough to elevate a film into Oscar contention; you need big themes or great acting. What Mad Max has is a full commitment to its cartoon style, and unrelenting, impressive action.  All I can say to explain it, really, is that Mad Max has been around long enough that enough of Hollywood is used to it.  It reminded me of Doctor Who, in a way, being a modern iteration of an idea that belongs to another time, with operatic impulses and hammy — well, hammy everything.  So much ham.  So much silliness.  And I love Doctor Who, but it’s an acquired taste, and one that I don’t tend to confuse with High Art. It boggles my mind that enough people will get over the hammy, cheesy nature that the film itself embraces and not just enjoy it but nominate it as the best movie of the year, but after it has appeared on the Producers Guild’s list, the Critics Choice, the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs, as well as topping many end of the year best lists and critics prizes, I don’t think it can be gainsaid.

Sorry about that little rant; I just can’t get over the cartoonishness of the film.  If we’re going to leave serious dramas aside, why not a sci fi flick with a resonant story line instead of just vague nods toward nostalgia?  Does the stunt work in Mad Max really take that much more skill than, say, crafting and delivering the gut-busting comic lines of Spy?  I just can’t help grousing over it.  But my own feelings don’t stop what I know to be true: Hollywood loves Mad Max.  It wants its Precious, and the Precious it will have.

So.  Anyway. If we assume that Spotlight, The Big Short, The Revenant, Bridge of Spies, Carol, The Martian and Mad Max make the list, that leaves us one or two more films, and that leaves us a massive headache trying to figure out which of the 8 other films nominated by major awards bodies will fill up those slots.  We can probably (though not absolutely) cut out AFI Top Ten/Critics Choice nominee The Force Awakens and PGA nominee Ex Machina for being science fiction; it’s not stopping Mad Max, but I guess the Academy can only handle so much imagination in one year, and they generally draw the line at a single nominee.  Inside Out, too, can most likely be dismissed as animation.  There’s a reward waiting for it in animated feature, and the Academy really, really dislikes rewarding movies without live actors in them.  If we can’t see their faces, how will we know who to love?  Anyway.  That’s the story.  As I’ve said, Joy and The Danish Girl both fizzled with critics and audiences, and so we can count them out of this particular race (though not others).  Netflix financed (and distributed) Beasts of No Nation, bringing us a particularly upsetting story line, so while critics felt its raw power, the industry might balk at elevating the tiny and distressing movie to such a height.  Oscar loves it’s serious movies, though, so it’s not impossible.

We’re still left at this point with one or two slots, and a host of movies that have been lauded in the precursor awards; it should be noted that the movies remaining — Brooklyn, Creed, Room, Sicario, Straight Outta Compton and Trumbo — mostly star either women or minorities.  In fact, if you look at the movies I just pushed off the track in the paragraph above, those mostly star women and minorities as well.  I know, I know; you can make a case for every movie that will end up on tomorrow’s list, but it’s sure looking like the Good Ole Boys Club is zeroing in on their own instead of the equally well-reviewed competition.  Or at least, that’s what I fear.  Yes, it’s hard for women and minorities to get movies made (especially ones starring women and minorities) but even when they do, the establishment likes to pretend they don’t exist.  No, I don’t think it’s a conspiracy, but it’s a clear trend.

So what I see is this.  If the numbers give us a general picture, then we have 8 solid  films in The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Carol, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room and Spotlight.  If the count goes to 9, which I think it will, it looks good for Straight Outta Compton.  If it achieves the unlikely full load of 10 (as Variety and Entertainment Weekly seem to be guessing by default, probably just to hedge their bets in a fiendishly difficult year), then Sicario, with Brooklyn (oddly a more obvious Oscar type film and one of my personal favorites) as the alternate and Inside Out and Star Wars:The Force Awakens as the surprise dark horses.

Phew!  That was kinda painful.

Now, despite everything, there are a very few things most pundits are pretty confident of.  Hungary’s devastating, mostly silent Holocaust drama Son of Saul is the clear favorite in foreign film (not just to be nominated but to win), and PIXAR’s Inside Out stands at the top of the heap in feature animation (a heap that will likely consist of Anomalisa, The Good Dinosaur, and some combination of Minions, The Peanuts Movie and Shaun the Sheep).  Spotlight seems likely to miss out on an editing nomination, which bodes ill for its ability to eventually win; only a single film has ever won Best Picture without one. Of course, that happened last year, so who knows? Maybe it’s the start of a trend. The five cinematography slots seem the most stable in the entire slate: Roger Deakins for Sicario, long time Spielberg collaborator Janus Kaminski for Bridge of Spies, Ed Lachman for Carol, Emmanuel Lubeski (winner the previous two years running) for The Revenant, and John Seale for Mad Max: Fury RoadThe Force Awakens should at least pick up nods for its splendid score and visual effects, and perhaps (as it did at the BAFTA’s) a few other technical ones.  Look for Mad Max and The Martian to rack up nomination numbers in the tech categories as well as the more artistic ones.  And check out adapted screenplay, would you?  Last year everyone assumed that Gillian Flynn would be the first woman nominated for adapting her own novel for the screen. The Academy didn’t like Gone Girl nearly as much as critics and audiences did, however, resulting in one of the biggest snubs of the year.  Well, this year Emma Donoghue could break that barrier with her screenplay for Room.  That one’s going to be very interesting to see.

Who am I kidding? I’m pretty interested to see everything.

A personal note: I’m working tomorrow, so I won’t get to write a response until late Thursday afternoon.  It’s going to kill me; I might not even get to hear the nominations read.  I will be back, and I hope there will be some of you guys to talk to about it then, too.

Advertisements

2 comments on “Searching for Light in the Darkness: Oscar Nomination Predictions, 2016

  1. […] subtle point of view character who carries the audience through Carol.  If you’ve read this site before (or any Oscar watching blog this season) you know that these two women were nominated as […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s