Donovan's 2016 Oscar PicksSubmitted by ryandonovan at 2016-02-24 00:21:22 EST
Rating: 1.59 on 12 ratings (13 reviews) (Review this item) (V)
DONOVAN’S OSCAR PROGNOSTICATION 2016
I'll be tuning into the Academy Awards this year to follow the controversy that NOBODY is talking about: The fact that all the nominees are… orange. Spray-tanning for awards shows seems to be at an all-time high, with total disregard for natural pigmentation and high-definition televisions. The Golden Globes ceremony might as well have been called Orange Is The New White. Will any stylists step in to stop this madness? #OscarsSoOrange anyone?
As for the movies themselves… Violence, espionage, captivity, abandonment, discrimination, revenge, greed, pedophilia - the Oscar crop this year are a grim bunch. It's saying something when Mad Max: Fury Road is the "feel-good" movie in the group. The presidential candidates look downright valiant by comparison.
Read on for my 17th annual Oscar predictions. And be prepared: There will be Star Wars.
SHOULD WIN: The Big Short
WILL WIN: The Big Short
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Jurassic World
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
With no film sweeping the critics' awards and different films winning the major press and guild prizes, the Best Picture race is completely up in the air. How can I forecast who will win? It's anyone's guess. There are so many factors to consider, that it would practically take the intellect of Vizzini from The Princess Bride to predict. In fact…
[In my best Wallace Shawn voice:] The battle of wits has begun. It's so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of Oscar history. Only four films have ever won Best Picture without a Best Director nomination, so I can clearly not choose Bridge Of Spies, Brooklyn, and The Martian. And only one film in the last 50 years has won Best Picture without a Best Screenplay nomination; I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road.
I've made my decision then? Not remotely. The Martian and The Revenant won the Golden Globes, so I can clearly not choose The Big Short and Spotlight. Truly, I have a dizzying intellect. Wait 'til I get going! Now, where was I? Yes. Only three films have ever won Best Picture without having also won either a Golden Globe, Producers Guild, or Screen Actors Guild Cast award, as everyone knows, so I can clearly not choose Room and Mad Max: Fury Road.
Am I just stalling now? You'd like to think that, wouldn't you? Spotlight won the SAG Cast award, so I can clearly not choose The Big Short and The Revenant. But, different films won the Producers Guild, SAG Cast, and Golden Globe awards; the only other time in history that happened, the SAG and Globe winners did not win the Oscar, so I can clearly not choose The Revenant, Spotlight, and The Martian.
The Oscars have given everything away! I know who the winner will be! I choose… WHAT IN THE WORLD CAN THAT BE? Well, I could have sworn I saw something. No matter. I choose The Big Short. Think I guessed wrong? You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders - the most famous of which is "Never get involved in an eating war with Harvey Weinstein" - but only slightly less well-known is this: "Never go in against an Irish-German when Oscars are on the line"! Hahahahaha! Hahahahaha-- (And I keel over.)
Could I be wrong? Inconceivable!
Let me put it this way: I think the Big Short will win. But if it doesn't, The Revenant will win. But if it doesn't, Spotlight will win. Anything else would be a gigantic upset. The big arguments for The Big Short are that it won the Producers Guild Award in a year where the major awards were spread out, and it got better reviews than The Revenant. What might make the difference for The Revenant is that it was way more popular - it's made more than double The Big Short and quadruple Spotlight. The outside chance for Spotlight hangs on the fact that it is the best-reviewed of the bunch - it literally didn't get a single bad review.
As you can see, trying to predict what will win at the Oscars is like choosing to drink from two poisoned cups. Fortunately, I've spent the last 17 years building up an immunity to prognostication embarrassment. Perhaps a better (and certainly more debatable) endeavor is choosing who SHOULD win.
I'm also going to go with The Big Short as my pick, but again, it's close. What seals it for me is that the filmmakers take a story that nobody knows, involving people that nobody cares about, in a situation that nobody understands, with an outcome that nobody is surprised by - and they make it into a fiercely entertaining and compelling movie. (I'll get into more detail in the Adapted Screenplay section.) Predictably, producer/co-star Brad Pitt gives himself the most gratuitously righteous part in the movie, just like he did in 12 Years A Slave. Good for him.
Why not The Revenant? I think it's because I've literally never heard that word before, "revenant". How can you vote for a word you don't even know? I'm pretty sure most Academy members think they're voting for "The Reverend", a 2011 flick starring Rutger Hauer. (Not surprisingly, non-native speakers know English better than I do. Damn you, public schools!)
It's really hard for me to pick Spotlight. It's not a bad choice, with its workmanlike style, authentic settings, resonant characters, and chilling true story. But honestly, if the story wasn't so incredible, this film probably wouldn't even be in this category - the subject matter is probably what wowed voters the most. There are just not enough superlatives for me.
On the other end of the spectrum - all conflagration, turbulence, and utter fantasy - and just as hard to pick, is Mad Max: Fury Road. Frankly, I'm still in a bit of disbelief: A Mad Max movie is nominated for Best Picture. And I confess, I might be a bit of a dissenter. As the film's Oscar campaign gained steam like the dragsters it depicts, I couldn't help but feel that the Best Picture nomination was a little… arbitrary. Not necessarily undeserved, but what makes it so much better than other well-regarded action movies? Or the previous Mad Max flicks? Or Star Wars: The Force Awakens (hint, hint)? You can't tell me it's the story; it's thin and bland - Best Screenplay is one nomination that it didn't get. Don't get me wrong - I really like it, and I'm rooting for it. I mean, I should be championing this - spitting some vinegar into a typically stodgy collection of period dramas! To partially answer my own question, it goes a bit beyond "action film"; it's a cool twist on the road/revenge genre, yet it's an unapologetic B-movie. I feel trepidation picking at the story, because nobody else is; but based on the hype, I expected more from the script. You say The Force Awakens was a retread of a previous Star Wars movie? How about this plot summary: Max reluctantly aids in the escape of a group of innocent and helpless naïfs from a post-apocalyptic city run by psychotic tyrants, resulting in an epic, gory, high-octane, cross-dessert chase-cum-battle. Fury Road? Yes, but also the 2nd half of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (when Max saves the pack of feral children). And that film's storyline has been roundly drubbed over the years (I actually loved it - then again, I was 10). Is Fury Road this century's Grapes Of Wrath... or Cannonball Run II? 2016 is ready to proclaim the former, maybe even as Best Picture. We'll see what posterity says.
The Martian is a lot of fun, blends a bunch of genres and tropes, toys with its inevitable predictability, packs an abundance thrills, and manages to convince us that it is scientifically sound. But it's ultimately more summer joy-ride than important picture. (Can you just see the pretense dripping off the page?)
On to my Snubbed choice. If I'm voting with my head, then Ex Machina. (More on that later.) But since I'm voting with my heart... Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Of course. You had to see this coming. I've been writing this article for 17 years - even the casual skimmers should know there was no way I was going to NOT argue Star Wars for Best Picture. It's STAR WARS. I mean, I declared that one of the PREQUELS should have been nominated for Best Picture. I shouldn’t even have to explain. The Force Awakens was, quite simply, the most excited I've been at a movie in a long time.
Full credit goes to J.J. Abrams, of course. Well, make that most credit. Not surprisingly, in lionizing Abrams as a savoir, the masses also denounced George Lucas for the state he left the franchise in. As someone who has probably put one of Lucas's kids through college with all the Star Wars stuff I've purchased in my lifetime, I think the criticisms of him have been unfair. Compare him to, say Woody Allen and his New York movies; nobody is vilifying Allen (at least, not for his movies; his, uh, romantic choices are another matter). Allen keeps making New York films; some are great, some are not. But nobody accuses him of ruining New York, or starts petitions requesting that he stop desecrating New York, or claims that he's robbing them of their New York childhood memories, or prays that he sells his New York films to a media conglomerate. And certainly nobody dedicates their existence to lambasting his annoying characters with irritating accents, like they do with Jar Jar Binks (in fact, they instead gave Mira Sorvino an Oscar for Mighty Aphrodite). The people congratulate Allen on his work, quietly skip the movies that don't like, and generally leave him alone on the internet. I think Lucas at least deserves the same courtesy. (Then again, Allen didn't insert digital Rontos into edited re-release versions of Manhattan.)
So Star Wars is my favorite movie of the year… but I'm still going to nit-pick it. (I mean, I'm not just going to sit back and simply enjoy a movie - that would be silly.) Much ado has been made of the plot - it's basically the same storyline as the original Star Wars. Agreed. No need to belabor that. Abrams played a safe hand with this one, and it paid off in every possible way. I suspect the next two films will be a little more unique and take more chances. If I really wanted to pick the movie apart, I could do it all day. For example: After the fateful Starkiller Base mission, why does Leia console Rey - who she just met - after walking RIGHT PAST AND IGNORING Chewbacca, Han's best friend and Leia's protector?? Inexplicable. But it doesn't mean I didn't like the movie. I do it with the originals, too. Like in Return Of The Jedi, why do the rebels agree to put Luke on the shield generator team, and not the Death Star strike team? Think about it: When they are planning out the attack, they know there is literally ONE person in the entire galaxy that has already single-handedly destroyed a Death Star… and they choose not to use him! Instead, Luke saunters into the meeting (late, by the way; why wouldn't Mon Mothma have said, "Hey, why don't we wait a few minutes for the ONLY LIVING JEDI to start this mission?") and casually announces that he's NOT going to attack the Death Star, but instead is joining Han's shield generator team. If I was Admiral Ackbar, I would have said, "The hell you are! Otherwise we have to use stupid Nien Nunb and his 20 freaking lips! You're going to get your ass in a goddam X-Wing and use the Force or whatever to blow up the Death Star - JUST LIKE LAST TIME!"
Many are asking: Is The Force Awakens the best Star Wars movie of all? No, silly, that distinction still clearly goes to the original, A New Hope. Most "true" fans argue that The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the series - but they are fools. A close second, to be sure, but the original is the most complete story, the one that stands alone, a nearly perfect film. Empire is basically a chess match, with neither side gaining much ground; it's essentially a zero-sum game, with no resolution. What I do love about Empire, though, is that Darth Vader, not Luke, is the main character. It becomes his story, his quest to find and convert the young Jedi. Luke is basically just running away or doing what other people tell him to do. Vader is the active character, he's the one that makes the decisions that dictate the narrative, and he gets one of the most important arcs in cinema history. We take it for granted, but making the bad guy the main character is an incredibly bold move, especially for the second installment in a nascent franchise. What if Voldemort was the main character in the 2nd Harry Potter movie? Or President Snow was the main character in the 2nd Hunger Games movie? It's something you may never see again in such a large film.
SHOULD WIN: Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)
WILL WIN: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Ryan Reynolds (Woman In Gold)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina)
The question everybody is asking is "After five nominations, isn't it time for Leo to win?" While the real question should be: "Did he even deserve any of the nominations in the first place?" The answer, of course, is no. (Shocker, for those of you who have read my Oscar articles before.) The Revenant is, admittedly, probably the best work of Leonardo DiCaprio's career (and to be fair, he's starred in dozens of films over three decades, directed by many of the all-time greats). And even if I feel he does deserve it, I'm sure as hell not going to admit it. I have begrudgingly conceded in the past that Leo's real talent is elevating the performances around him (e.g., Cate Blanchett's Oscar-winning turn in The Aviator). But this movie is decidedly the Leo Show, and that I cannot endorse. I can endorse, however, Leo getting attacked by a bear and being left for dead. (So then maybe The Revenant is the feel-good movie of the year after all.)
It was audacious and reckless, daring and doomed, a fool's errand for Michael Fassbender. No, not choosing to play revered tech icon and prickly visionary Steve Jobs while looking and sounding absolutely nothing like him. Trying to out-perform Ashton Kutcher, who played Jobs two short years earlier. Let's face it, any role that Kutcher plays is definitive, the unattainable gold standard. I mean, have you seen anybody try to top his celebrated performances as luminaries Jesse Montgomery III, Jack Fuller, or Kevin Federline? (Okay, his K-Fed on SNL was actually spectacular.) How can you possibly follow in Kutcher's footsteps? (That's also a pretty good question for Demi Moore's future boyfriends.) Well, Fassbender tries. Whether it was the specter of Kutcher, the film's abysmal box office, or the publicity machine of Leo, his chances of victory faded quickly, which is a shame. He seems primed for future awards, so voters are in no rush to anoint him just yet. But if he does win the Oscar, I'm guessing he won't accept it because he'll be too busy prepping his next role: Method-channeling the all-too-enigmatic Kelso.
Practically unknown two years ago, Eddie Redmayne has exploded on the Oscar scene, landing a nomination for The Danish Girl a year after winning for The Theory Of Everything. Talented as he may be, last year's win effectively eliminates him from this year's race. You, sir, are no Tom Hanks. In 20 years, he'll either be sitting on a pile of Oscars, or wondering how he could have had such a meteoric rise only to squander it all. My prediction? Hint: I always lean in favor of schadenfreude. (Sorry Eddie.) The more interesting question is whether his Stephen Hawking portrayal would have beaten Leo this year. Voters would have had a dilemma, but I wager Redmayne would have blown Leo out of the water.
Matt Damon's nomination for The Martian is a little puzzling. His character is affable, charming, witty, rakish, humorous, rascally, polished, and relatable… just like the Matt Damon on talk shows. So why the fuss over the performance? (His peers certainly didn't make a fuss - SAG passed him over in favor of Johnny Depp). The main argument I keep hearing is that he has to capture our attention by himself and have us root for him in order to keep us engaged in his character's journey for 2+ hours. Wait, what?? That just means he's a movie star, not that he gives a spectacular performance. I mean, Ben Affleck could have pulled that off. Don't be deceived by the showy dialogue about botany and thermodynamics. I could name half a dozen movies where Damon was better without getting nominated (for films with a similar dramedy tone, The Informant! comes to mind.) He's probably the least likely to win here.
SHOULD WIN: Brie Larson (Room)
WILL WIN: Brie Larson (Room)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Madison Davenport (A Light Beneath Their Feet)
If there was any doubt, winning the SAG award pretty much locked up this award for Brie Larson, for her role in Room. Her case is not as strong as Leo's, since this is her first nomination, but anybody else winning would be a shock. While she's clearly this category's "discovery", she's no novice either. At age 26, Larson is an 18-year acting veteran, and is somehow not the youngest or even the second-youngest Best Actress nominee this year (and the younger ones - Jennifer Lawrence and Saoirse Ronan - even have previous Oscar nominations).
It would seem like Cate Blanchett and Lawrence (for Joy), both previous winners, would factor heavily into this year's race, right? Wrong. Blanchett (for Carol) is the likelier upset, but she already has two Oscars, winning as recently as two years ago for Blue Jasmine. And let's face it, she's not Meryl Streep, so she's not getting a third Oscar this year. Lawrence (in Joy) seemed like an early front-runner (based solely on her name, it now seems), but then tepid reviews and a lack of SAG nomination almost booted her out of the race completely. Her saving grace was the fact that Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander successfully lobbied to get themselves into the Supporting category (despite playing true "leading" roles), where the competition was less fierce (read: no Brie Larson). The kicker: Blanchett and Lawrence both play the title role in movies with a single-name title. Coincidence… or conspiracy? I think we know better than to ignore patterns when it comes to the Oscars.
Perhaps the most intriguing woman in this category is first-time nominee Charlotte Rampling, for 45 Years. Age 70 is a surprising time to have a career breakthrough. In the US, she's hardly famous, mostly known for small roles in big films and esoteric art-house fare. But in Europe, she's ubiquitous, a timeless icon, with a Cesar award (French Oscar) and five nominations. In the 1960s and 1970s, she was an undeniable bombshell. She started as a model, and was a fixture in French and Italian art-house films to start her film career. It seems odd to say about a grandmother, but she's been known for unabashed nudity throughout her career; even outside of films, she posed for Playboy at age 29 and nude in front of the Mona Lisa at age 63 (the resulting photos were displayed in a London art museum). She'll be a sentimental favorite with some of the old guard who remember her heyday (clothed and otherwise). More importantly, while almost nobody has seen her film, those who have are calling her performance the best in this category. So do those factors give her a chance as a dark horse? No (especially after some controversial remarks about Oscar boycotts), but she'll get more votes than you would guess.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
SHOULD WIN: Mark Rylance (Bridge Of Spies)
WILL WIN: Sylvester Stallone (Creed)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Idris Elba (Beasts Of No Nation)
Let's work backwards on this one. So who WON'T win? Tom Hardy for The Revenant - yet another role where he uses a silly, nearly incomprehensible voice; he rode the "It Actor" wave (barely) into this race, but the film is ultimately the Leo Show. Anybody named Mark R. So, Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies. Who? Exactly. And Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight. With nomination #3, he seems primed to win sometime, but not yet. And finally Christian Bale for The Big Short, who already won in this category recently, for a much showier role. Bale and Ruffalo both managed to get nominations for playing real-life non-celebrities with personalities, attitudes, idiosyncrasies, quirks, and individual tics - in other words, regular people. What a… stretch? Basically, they play nice, brainy, but moderately annoying guys who sit near you at work (and since I work in I.T., they play pretty much everybody in my department, including me). In their defense, they both play "regular" well enough that I forgot (momentarily) that they were Batman and The Hulk. Why are these regular-person performances so rare, to the point that we feel compelled to reward them with trophies? Stupid question. We go to the movies to pay to see extraordinary people, not normal people; we go to the EVERYWHERE ELSE to see normal people - for free.
So that leaves… Sly. Even after winning the Golden Globe, which smelled suspiciously like a sentimental publicity stunt, I really didn't think Sylvester Stallone was going to be nominated for Creed. He was left off the SAG shortlist and ignored by many other critics' groups; it seemed almost silly to nominate him again for a role (an astonishing 39 years after the first one), after the Rocky series had dipped into ridiculousness over seven installments. And yet here he is - fill in your own boxing underdog cliché here - poised to become the third person to ever win an Oscar after missing a SAG nomination altogether (the other two: Marcia Gay Harden and Christoph Waltz). Had Idris Elba or Michael Keaton been in the mix, or had there be stronger competitors, I think Stallone would have been in trouble. But as it stands, there's enough old blood in the Academy that Stallone's victory seems inevitable. (That said, this category is ripe for an upset, with everyone a possibility.)
Speaking of Creed, with its success, it's not surprising that a sequel is in the works (which would make it "Creed 2: Rocky VIII"??). In fact, I've learned that there are a slew of planned sequels: You've of course heard of next year's "Assassin's Creed", which will star Scott Stapp of the band Creed as Adonis's adopted brother Assassin, fighting for the title of World's Wussiest Rocker. Then there will be "Apostle's Creed", with Robert Duvall reprising his character from The Apostle, who's revealed to be Apollo's long-lost friend, part-time lover… and maybe Adonis's mother. It will be followed by "Apollo Creed 13", which will not be the 13th film in the series, but will resurrect Apollo Creed as a biogenetically engineered clone, who joins Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon on a NASA trip to Mercury… until things go horribly wrong (Tom Hanks's agent has not returned calls; Carl Weathers signed on before he even heard the end of the title). The next installment, "Captain Apollo", will serve as another Battlestar Galactica re-boot, with Apollo Creed's clone as the titular captain, and Apollo Creed's clone's clone playing all the Cylons. Finally, we can look forward to "Apollo, Oh No!", where Apollo Creed's clone is coached by now-retired Adonis to compete in the Olympics… in speed skating, taking on his nemesis Apolo Ohno (played by Dolph Lundgren). It's comforting to know that the Rocky franchise will continue to be handled with the dignity it deserves.
As much as I loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I have to give my Gloriously Omitted slot to Adam Driver - he plays Kylo Ren as a sulky, blow-dried, bratty teenage hipster whose daddy wouldn't buy him a unicycle. On the Snubbed side, I mentioned Idris Elba (Beasts Of No Nation) earlier, who unfortunately became the first-ever SAG winner to get passed over for an Oscar nomination. Honorable Mentions go to the Mad Max Fire Guitar Guy, and to Daniel Craig, in perhaps the greatest uncredited cameo ever, as a random stormtrooper in Star Wars.
It would be foolish not to mention the passing of Alan Rickman, member of the Snubbed Hall of Fame, never getting an Oscar nod. Most egregious of all snubs, of course, was his lack of nomination in the greatest Christmas movie of all time, Die Hard, playing the greatest villain of all time, Hans Gruber. That role was, astonishingly, his first movie (!). Rest in peace, good sir.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
SHOULD WIN: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
WILL WIN: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Kristen Wiig (The Martian)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Taryn Manning (A Light Beneath Their Feet)
When this race started, Alicia Vikander seemed like the long shot, her campaign downgraded from Lead Actress to Supporting Actress, and too fresh-faced to compete with award-circuit veterans Kate Winslet, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Rooney Mara. But then people actually saw The Danish Girl, where she holds her own as a co-lead against Eddie Redmayne, and she started winning precursory awards (SAG and Critics' Choice). Add the "It Girl" votes she'll get for Ex Machina (but probably not any for Man From U.N.C.L.E.), and suddenly she's the front-runner. (And let's face it: being hot never hurt.)
But realistically, this race is tighter than most "experts" would lead you to believe. The award could easily go to Winslet for Steve Jobs or Mara for Carol. I could even see it going to Leigh, despite her lack of SAG nomination - there will be a small but convicted group of voters who want to honor Quentin Tarantino and The Hateful Eight (which will already be a shoo-in for Original Score). (I don't think we have to worry about Rachel McAdams factoring in here. I have no idea why she's nominated. I guess for starring in something other than a bad romantic comedy?) The Supporting categories are often the most volatile, and this year is a prime example. The only thing I feel confident about is that I'll get at least one of these categories wrong.
If Winslet does in fact win, I guarantee it will be painful to watch. Ugh. She was ALMOST back in my good graces, making the rounds with charming, gracious, grounded, and surprisingly sane interviews and talk show appearances. Then came her Golden Globe acceptance speech last month. Good god. It was a night-terror flashback of 2009 all over again, when she cleaned house at all the award shows. The insincerity, the faux-surprise, the manufactured emotion, the transparent "modesty". And the hyperventilating! I've never seen so much fake hyperventilating on so many different occasions from one person. Let's hope we don't get another repeat performance. (But as it happens, her performance in Steve Jobs is excellent.)
Why, you ask, would I single out Kristen Wiig with my Gloriously Omitted spot? Quite simply, she is bafflingly miscast in The Martian. This complaint isn't really aimed at her, since I think the film completely wastes her enormous talent. This complaint is about the casting of the film - so I guess I blame director Ridley Scott. Wiig has shown considerable dramatic range to complement her impeccable comedy chops, but this role calls for neither. I realize the film has a quirky comedy-ish vibe, but she's relegated to being a space-filler in surprised-face reactions shots. (It seems like at least an opportunity for her to do some mugging - which she excels at - but she doesn't even do that.) Next time, let her be the Martian.
My Snubbed choice goes to Taryn Manning for A Light Beneath Their Feet, an underseen indie that showcases her best work ever. I give an Honorable Mention to Tilda Swinton in Trainwreck… for actually looking like a woman. (She gets extra credit for the 180-degree turn from her androgynous and eminently quotable role in Snowpiercer: "Know your place. Keep your place. Be a shoe.")
SHOULD WIN: Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant)
WILL WIN: Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Doug Ellin (Entourage)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Alex Garland (Ex Machina)
This category is surprisingly tough, and far from locked up. So let's begin with what we know. Well, you can start with the original presumptive favorite, Ridley Scott for The Martian. With three previous nominations and decades of classic movies under his belt, it seemed that people would fall all over themselves casting a ballot for him. But then he shockingly was not nominated. So scratch him off.
The annual hipster nomination went to Lenny Abrahamson for Room, swiping a slot from boldface names like Spielberg, Russell, and Tarantino. Psst, the hipster nominee never wins. Next.
Then there's Adam McKay, for directing The Big Short. To clarify, this is the same Adam McKay who directed Anchorman. The same Adam McKay who's best known to many as the father of Pearl the Landlord (the foulmouthed toddler berating Will Ferrell in the FunnyOrDie video - which, by the way, is actually featured in The Big Short). The same Adam McKay who was described by Ferrell as "just dumb". He's also randomly Jeremy Piven's brother-in-law. It's very cool to see him nominated (he's long been a titan in the comedy world, and he makes inventive use of simple images and sounds to convey his story), but he's the next guy you can X out.
How about Tom McCarthy? His film, Spotlight, is one of the favorites for Picture and Original Screenplay, so why not Director? McCarthy is an interesting case: He's seemingly unknown (he's Tom McCarthy number "XXII" on IMDB!), but he's actually fairly recognizable as an actor (for things like the Meet The Parents movies and The Wire), and already has an Oscar nomination as a writer, for Up. He's also an accomplished filmmaker, gaining a fervent fan base and generally cleaning up at the Independent Spirit Awards with his small, quiet films like The Station Agent, The Visitor, and Win Win. (For the moment, out of politeness, let's ignore - since paying audiences did - his other award contender this year, the Adam-Sandler-starring and Razzie-nominated The Cobbler.) Spotlight is a commercial and critical breakthrough for McCarthy, but it's still seen more as a writing and character piece. Part of its strength is that it that it's not visibly technical, over-choreographed or overtly showy; to put it condescendingly: McCarthy doesn't let the directing get in the way of the story. His claim on Best Director will have to wait.
Incongruously, I am very much in favor of George Miller's nomination for Best Director, despite my misgivings about Mad Max: Fury Road's Best Picture nod. It's a technical marvel. And its strength is in its execution. The film is visually arresting, almost to the point of being difficult to digest: an operatic, jarring, grotesque, homoerotic, noble, gonzo, luscious fever dream. Ordinarily that would not be enough to win in this category, but with Ridley Scott shockingly absent, Miller is the de facto elder statesman, revered and overdue. And he's a bit of a Renaissance man, netting a career total of six nominations in surprisingly (and refreshingly) varied disciplines (writing, directing, and producing), formats (live-action, animation, and talking-animal), genres (drama, action, kiddie, and comedy), and ratings (G, PG, PG-13, and R). His previous nominations were for Lorenzo's Oil, Babe, and Happy Feet, if you can believe it - the last of which landed him an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. (Yet he still gets confused with the George Miller who directed the movie Andre - yes, the girl-and-her-seal movie.) He may not be prolific (directing only 9 features over 45 years), but he sure isn't pigeon-holed either. It's pretty clear he controls his destiny. And with Fury Road, he's made a statement: "I can do as I please. You can ignore me, but you won't. Two unrelenting hours of maximized carnage, combustion, and cacophony? Red-carpet beauty Charlize Theron with a shaved head, amputated arm, and violent disposition? Our hero Max speared to the front of a tank, in an S&M mask, being used as a human blood bank for the entire first act? A fire-shooting guitar player bungee-strapped to a speeding war machine? A villain driving a dune buggy 100 MPH in a clown mask, fright wig, iron lung, and Speedo? Yes, all of the above. Now where's my Oscar?" It appears he could get it.
Last but not least: Alejandro González Iñárritu, for The Revenant. Hot off last year's win in this category, with a shoo-in for Best Actor and a strong case for Best Picture, boasting the grittiest and most ambitious of all the nominated films, he's got to be the undisputed favorite, right? Wrong. Last year's win actually hurts him; plenty of directors have been nominated the year after winning, but the Academy seems to want to spread the love around a bit in this category. There have only been two back-to-back Director winners in history (the esteemed John Ford and Joseph Mankiewicz) - and NONE since 1950. So, history is against him.
So it comes down to Miller and Iñárritu. The scales seemed tipped in Miller's favor, until Iñárritu won the Directors Guild Award. A typical guild award doesn't necessarily guarantee an Oscar, but the DGA is special: it's the most accurate, predicting the Oscar 84% of the time. I can't say I'm completely confident, but I'm putting my chips on Iñárritu.
Thought I was going to name J.J. Abrams for my Snubbed spot? Well, I was tempted. But for the most fascinating and inventive film I saw this year, it rightfully goes to Alex Garland for Ex Machina. In such a crowded year, it's not surprising that he was passed over here. But with a nomination in the Original Screenplay category and a DGA for First-Time Director, it's good to see him getting recognition that he deserves. (Apologies to Doug Ellin for calling him out in my Gloriously Omitted slot for Entourage, because I loved the show… but the film is unnecessary and unsatisfying.)
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
SHOULD WIN: Alex Garland (Ex Machina)
WILL WIN: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer (Spotlight)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Too many writers to name (Jurassic World)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Amy Schumer (Trainwreck)
Ah, the consolation prize. At least one of the Best Picture and Best Director losers will take home a Screenplay statuette as a parting gift. Since it's going to lose in every other category (after being an early front-runner), a win here for Spotlight is a pretty safe bet (especially since Tom McCarthy both wrote and directed).
Is there a chance for Bridge Of Spies to steal it? Seems impossible, until you realize the script is co-written by the Coen brothers. Commence Academy drooling. Ultimately, it just doesn't have enough momentum in any category to make it a real threat here.
While I was hoping for a Best Picture nomination (and Best Director as a reach), I was happy to see that Ex Machina at least scored a screenplay nomination. One of the most original films I've seen in years, it could have gone any number of sci-fi/thriller/psycho directions, but it stays relatively grounded, considering its central question: Can you really be seduced by a robot? Apparently if the robot is Alicia Vikander, then the answer is yes. (Cast Tilda Swinton as the robot and I think we'd get a different outcome.)
While it ultimately wouldn't get my vote, I have to make a strong case for Inside Out (which I think deserved a Best Picture nomination in addition to this one). It's being lauded for capturing the mentality and complex feelings of a child, but as a parent, I was more affected by the examination of how parents try to understand children. It had the emotional impact on me that Boyhood had intended (and lacked), which I did not expect. Cleverly, the screenwriters achieve this not through the characters of the parents, but through Joy. She is our window into the mind of the child, reacting with surprise (as parents do) to every one of the child's emotional outbursts. What Joy uncovers is almost a horror story for parents: most of the things that we cherish about our children are the things that they naturally grow out of and forget. Your favorite memories of your toddler, that seem to shape the little person they are becoming, filled with excitement, learning, and awe? Those memories will be forgotten by your child, slowly withering and dying in the recesses of her subconscious. Replaced by goddam One Direction. Deal with it.
Straight Outta Compton has four credited writers (and who knows how many uncredited ones). Screenplay by committee = tough luck at the Oscars.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
SHOULD WIN: Adam McKay, Charles Randolph (The Big Short)
WILL WIN: Adam McKay, Charles Randolph (The Big Short)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Nico Lathouris, Brendan McCarthy, George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Aaron Sorkin (Steve Jobs)
It's refreshing to see a number of women crack the boys' club of the writers' room in both screenplay categories this year. But it appears the winners will probably all be the male writer/directors.
It's looking pretty clear that The Big Short will take home the gold here, and I think it's the right choice. I'm fascinated by the way the story is told by Adam McKay and Charles Randolph. And I don't mean how the book was adapted, which is what most people are marveling at. And I don't mean the focus on the wacky nerds who saw the economic collapse coming. And I don't mean the way the confusing market concepts and financial terminology are explained to the audience (ahem, Margot Robbie's memorable cameo). Though those things are all great. I mean the way the traditional Hero's Tale is turned on its head. Of course, we know the ending going into it: the housing market (and the economy) collapses, and the nerds are proven correct. McKay takes these unknown dorky characters, makes them the heroes of the story, and casts big likable movie stars in the roles (Christian Bale, Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt). He sets them up as the underdogs, getting laughed at by all the cocky bankers who think the system can't fail. Since we know the system will fail, we are waiting for our traditional movie-star heroes to prevail, to bask in victory, and for the financial evil-doers to get their comeuppance. But then… that doesn't happen. Without a doubt, the collapse happens, and the heroes are proven right. But there's no victory. There's no celebration. There's barely even recognition that they were right all along. The horribleness of the situation consumes any sense of triumph, happiness, or pride. And yes, they profit - thematically speaking, that's exactly the point: they realize the sad truth that the money they made was taken from the savings of millions of average people, not from the bad guys. The last act of the film almost feels like a war film - in a conflict where there are countless casualties on all sides, nobody really wins. And the guiltiest parties walk away unscathed.
Part of me is disappointed that Aaron Sorkin's script for Steve Jobs was not nominated, and part of me understands why it wasn't. For somebody that loves movies and appreciates screenwriting, I found it to be a fairly inventive way to deliver a biopic, which by its very nature tends to be unwieldy. I also appreciate the so-sharp-it's-impossible dialogue, which I find thoroughly entertaining. On the other hand, for casual filmgoers, I can see why the film would seem flat and inaccessible. There is literally no action; it's two hours of static conversations and arguments that take place improbably in the minutes before Jobs unveils new computers at three different launch events. Only once do the characters actually step outdoors. And the dialogue, which is forced to be expository due to the script's structure, tends to sound more like Sorkin's unique language than real-life characters. We know nobody talks like that; whether or not you think it's fun probably determines whether you liked the movie. The final factor that probably pushes viewers one way or the other is the decision to distill the source of Jobs's motivation to a Rosebud-like nucleus. Is it brilliant, or painfully oversimplified? Academy voters evidently felt the latter.
P.S. William Goldman, you have my sincerest apologies.