And now: the final part of my Oscar predictions, as we approach the kick-off to the big event.
Best Animated Short
Sanjay’s Super Team
We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
World of Tomorrow
What Should Win: World of Tomorrow/Sanjay’s Super Team
What Will Win: Sanjay’s Super Team
Right up until I actually saw Sanjay’s Super Team, this seemed like another one of those grudging “can’t stop it” categories. After all, Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow is the obvious winner, a smart, moving and powerful examination on the basics of humanity that says more in its 15 minutes than most films say in two hours. Bear Story was an amazing, intricately made expose on the subtler evils of fascism, while We Can’t Live Without Cosmos was a bittersweet look at friendship, set around the trappings of the Russian space program: both were good but, compared to World of Tomorrow, just didn’t have the big vision and reach. Prologue? Way too strange and head-scratching, despite some amazing visuals. I figured that Sanjay’s Super Team would win simply for being the resident Pixar offering: combined with its superhero focus, that seemed unbeatable. And then I actually watched it. Let’s be clear: World of Tomorrow is a phenomenal piece of art, deep, moving and important. Sanjay’s Super Team is, likewise, a deeply moving bit of art with the added benefit of a visual style that, for lack of a better word, is next-level. The short will win and it will absolutely deserve it, despite a lot of very worthy competition.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Mad Max: Fury Road
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared
What Should Win: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared
What Will Win: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared
Up until I actually watched The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared, I was fully prepared to give this to Mad Max, part and parcel. The Revenant was truly impressive (that bungled scalping…shiver…) but, like the rest of the visual effects, a little to organic to really stand out. Mad Max, on the other hand, was a virtual cornucopia of varied makeup, a cast of thousands with a thousand different looks, style sand quirks to go with it. Case closed.
Not quite. Turns out that not only is The 100-Year-Old Man Who…one of the best, most original and flat-out funniest films of 2015 (maybe the best: I have some serious re-evaluating to do), the makeup effects are equally impressive. Just the aging makeup of the lead character, alone, puts this over the top (the actor is in his mid-40s, in real-life, yet realistically ages from his twenties through to hundred across the span of two hours). Add in all of the really great historical figure impersonations (the Stalin, Bush and Reagan ones are spot-on) and you have a nominee that upholds excellence in every measure of the category. For me, this is an absolute no-brainer.
Best Original Screenplay
Bridge of Spies
Straight Outta Compton
What Should Win: Ex Machina
What Will Win: Inside Out
Caveat: I never got around to Spotlight, so if that was the best script, I defer to more knowledgeable souls. Of the remaining four, it’s a bit of a shoving match. To not put to fine a point on it, Straight Outta Compton had a terrible script, one of the most tone-deaf, obvious and awkward of the entire year. The film might have had its share of problems but the script was absolutely at the top of the list. Bridge of Spies was a consistently twisty, thorny screenplay, yet wasn’t always as clear as it could’ve been: perhaps one needed a scorecard to tell the players during the event but one shouldn’t need the same for a fictional cinematic adaptation. Inside Out has a really smart, sensitive and mature script, with a profound insight into not only childhood but depression, mania and other mental conditions. This seems like a lock and I wouldn’t complain in the slightest.
For my money, though, Ex Machina had the best, most subtle and most intriguing script of the bunch. The ideas were less conventional than the others, the dialogue was smart and the big questions that were raised had a genuine sense of impact and importance. Perhaps it speaks more to my particular sensibilities but this was the film that I found myself returning to the most (of the nominees) and I credit that in no small part to the excellent screenplay.
Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Who Should Win: Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Who Will Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Since I only saw two nominees here, my opinion probably won’t carry much weight. Of the performances I saw, Hardy did a phenomenal job portraying a true cretin with just enough self-doubt to prevent him from becoming a sub-human monster, while Rylance subtly portrayed a wry, unflappable spy with a charming mixture of understated humor, stoicism and grim acceptance. I lean towards Hardy, here, although either one seem equally worthy.
In the grand scheme, however, is anyone really going to beat Sly here? Not only does his return performance as Rocky tick off pretty every box on the Academy’s “What We Like” list, it also “corrects” the error of never awarding him a trophy for his initial go-round with the character. They’ll see it as proper and that’s probably as good a reason as any.
Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
Who Should Win:
Who Will Win: Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Despite my intentions, I only ended up seeing one of the nominated performances, which is a real shame. Despite enjoying Jennifer Jason Leigh’s full-blooded, foul-mouthed and vilely exuberant performance as the condemned centerpiece in Tarantino’s Hateful Eight, it was still a pretty cartoonish performance and devoid of much nuance or shading. A great performance, mind you, but the kind I would consider one of the year’s best.
Of the ones I didn’t see, I’m going to pull McAdams’ name out of my magician’s hat. I’m not sure how much love Spotlight will see at the Oscars but all reports have indicated that McAdams was a pivotal point in the film’s acting ensemble. At this point, however, it’s definitely a coin toss.
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
What Should Win: Mad Max
What Will Win: The Revenant
At long last, the main event. I ended up screening five out of the eight Best Picture nominees (I didn’t get to Brooklyn, The Big Short or Spotlight, unfortunately), so at least this will be a bit more informed than the Supporting Actor/Actress categories. I enjoyed Bridge of Spies but never found it more than a pleasant diversion: call it Spielberg-lite (very lite), an enjoyable film but altogether forgettable. The Martian was duly impressive when it stuck with the core idea of Damon lost on Mars but became too conventional and rather uninteresting whenever it left the Red Planet and returned to ground control. The Room was an impressive, tense rape/abuse analogy that suffered from the same basic issues as The Martian: when it left the confines of the titular location, the film became much more familiar and infinitely less spectacular.
This leaves us with the final two in the running: Inarritu’s ode to vengeance, The Revenant, and George Miller’s return to the wasteland, Mad Max: Fury Road. Quality-wise, both films are on par, for different reasons: they’re both fully immersive, in their own way, are the furthest things from spoon-fed multiplex pap and demand that audiences keep up if they want the full experience. They’re both technical marvels, The Revenant utilizing nothing but natural light and adverse weather conditions to produce an unparalleled vision of the unforgiving natural world, while Mad Max throws everything (including the kitchen sink) at the screen in an overwhelming successful attempt to portray a world spun completely off the wheels.
At the end of the day, this will be a contest decided by two very different, yet equally exacting, takes on the art of filmmaking. Will the Academy award Inarritu’s hell-and-back approach to filmcraft or will old master Miller finally get recognition for a truly stunning, outsider career that’s managed to spring like Lazarus from the dead? Can Inarritu score back-to-back Oscar wins or is that one lottery ticket too many?
When all is said and done, my gut instinct tells me that The Revenant will end up standing tall. Production narratives have as much to do with a film’s Academy success as anything else and, regardless of what one thinks about the actual film, there’s no denying that The Revenant is pretty much a one-of-a-kind production. I would, personally, rather see Mad Max take the prize but I just don’t think that’s in the cards.
Perhaps I’m wrong, however. One way or the other, we’ll all find out soon. Happy viewings, friends and cyber-neighbors!