Here we are again. What an exhausting and exhilarating season it’s been. I watched 78 films in order to compile my annual Top Ten list, and this weekend I expect to pop in my 10th 2015 release since posting that annual ranking. That will be 88 films total, in time for the 88th Annual Academy Awards. I beat my friend on the SAG nominating committee by three. Pretty impressive, I think. But every critic misses something. And outside of the Foreign Film nominees (which have a bizarre release schedule, and are usually impossible to get to in time–but expect all five to be reviewed before the end of the year), I’ve missed exactly three nominees. Let me explain again what that means. Discounting foreign language, I’ve seen every nominated film, in every single category, except for three. That’s 35 films out of 38. What did I miss? I can’t believe I have yet to experience my favorite actress’s first nominated performance ever! Jennifer Jason Leigh is apparently marvelous in “The Hateful Eight”, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. In January, I had a choice between the two Oscar-nominated JJL starrers, and I chose the great “Anomalisa”. And after that, “The Hateful Eight” virtually disappeared. And Tarantino is notoriously stingy with FYC screeners. So, I’ll have to catch Quentin’s latest sometime during March. And besides…no one expects Ms. Leigh to actually grab the Oscar this weekend, so it’s not like I’m out of the loop. But root hard for her to win Best Actress at the Spirits, pre-Oscar, for her “Anomalisa” vocal performance. That would be sweet. Also, I’ve yet to see Charlotte Rampling in “45 Years”. There’s an outside chance I could squeeze it in right ahead of the big show, but again…Charlotte’s not expected to be a serious contender. I understand she’s marvelous though. So anyway, my 4-out-of-5 in both actress categories should prove more than enough to nail the proper prediction. Also, I didn’t see “Youth”, which is up for “Best Original Song”. Everything else is in the bank. Including “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared”. Never heard of it? It’s up for Best Makeup & Hairstyling. Yeah…I strive to bring my readers everything. You’ll see a review of that one soon. So, here it comes. My i’s are dotted, my t’s are crossed, and after hours of exhaustive research and analysis…here it comes. In summation, it’s been a real bear.
Best Supporting Actor: the winner will be Sylvester Stallone for “Creed”. That’s right, the Razzie winner for WORST ACTOR OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, is about to win an Academy Award for a character he has played in SEVEN FILMS NOW. Of course, the first time was the original “Rocky” back in 1976, the scene of his first, and until now only, Oscar nomination for acting. That’s back when he was being compared to a young Marlon Brando. Don’t believe me? Google away. There’s been such an overwhelming amount of love and attention for Stallone in this pre-Oscar season, that it’s hard for me to imagine him losing. But if he does, it will be to Mark Rylance–a solid performance, in Steven Spielberg’s worst film. Mark Ruffalo is my personal favorite, for the 2nd year in a row in this category, this time for “Spotlight”, but I can’t envision him winning. Tom Hardy is a long shot if “The Revenant” sweeps everything up. But no one is talking about Christian Bale for “The Big Short”. And that’s because he won this award 5 years ago for “The Fighter”, and his buzz for this movie is non-existent. Big night for Sly!
Best Supporting Actress: is going to Alicia Vikander for “The Danish Girl”. It’s not a very good film, and her performance is really the lead, but she’s very solid–as well as being exceptional in 2015’s “Ex Machina”. So, some people have decided she’s really winning for that movie. Whatever…she’s young, beautiful, and talented. It’s not a lock though. Kate Winslet is an Academy favorite, and despite an occasionally shaky accent, she’s very strong in “Steve Jobs”. Kate has won the Golden Globe and BAFTA in this category, but each time she was up against Vikander for “Ex Machina” in this category, while Alicia lost for “The Danish Girl” in the LEAD Actress category. It’s an imperfect system, but the switch will make the difference. Rooney Mara is superb in “Carol”, but her buzz died a month ago. Jennifer Jason Leigh is my FAVORITE FILM ACTRESS, getting her first ever nomination for Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight”, but she’s not going to win. And Rachel McAdams is fine in “Spotlight”, but overall just happy to be mentioned. Vikander edges Winslet.
Best Actress: will be won by Brie Larson for “Room”. I think Saoirse Ronan in “Brooklyn” is THE performance of 2015, but the 21-year-old, two-time nominee will have to wait her turn apparently. Damn. Cate Blanchett is practically royalty at this point, but she will come up empty for “Carol”. Jennifer Lawrence has already won for a much better David O. Russell film in “Silver Linings Playbook”, so you can count her out for “Joy”. And if 70-year-old Charlotte Rampling had any prayer for her respected turn in “45 Years”, she canceled it out with some controversial comments, concerning the OscarSoWhite campaign. Larson looks like a lock.
Best Actor: LEO, LEO, LEO. It’s not even a question, that Leonardo DiCaprio is emerging victorious for “The Revenant”. It’s the sure thing of the night. Michael Fassbender is magnificent in “Steve Jobs”, and probably wins in practically any other year. Just not this one. Eddie Redmayne won last year, but his fine work in “The Danish Girl” won’t be enough for a repeat. “The Martian”‘s Matt Damon might as well still be lost on the red planet. Bryan Cranston has enjoyed some late buzz for “Trumbo”, but it’s not a very good movie, and some late trending won’t be nearly enough to overtake DiCaprio. A Leo landslide.
Best Animated Feature: Disney/Pixar’s win for “Inside Out” will hardly be a crime…so I can deal with it. But “Anomalisa” is simply one of the most astonishing achievements of this decade. Even “Boy & the World” is probably superior to the animated summer blockbuster, but barely anyone has even seen that one (I have, of course). “Shaun the Sheep Movie” was a delight, but Oscar likes substance. And “When Marnie Was There” is substantive, but one of Studio Ghibli’s lesser releases. “Inside Out” takes this easily.
Best Adapted Screenplay: expect the award to go to Charles Randolph and Adam McKay for “The Big Short”. Like it, or not, the screenplay awards have been considered consolation prizes for YEARS now. YOUR highly touted film DIDN”T grab Best Director OR Picture? Well, here’s a kewpie doll for writing it! That’s not meant to minimize the script awards–its a fine honor. Just stating the obvious. Also, I believe “The Revenant” DIDN”T get a screenplay nomination, because folks would have felt it silly, being that half the movie has almost NO dialogue. So, no competition from one of the night’s big boys. Oh, how I would love to see Oscar shine on the talented Nick Hornby for “Brooklyn”, or the superb work from Phyllis Nagy for “Carol”. Not happening. However, Emma Donoghue CANNOT be discounted, and is most likely “The Big Short”‘s strongest competition here. Academy voters really may want to see her getting honored for adapting her own novel, plus writing the dialogue that ushered Brie Larson to a Best Actress victory. Drew Goddard’s screenplay for “The Martian”? Maybe on some distant planet he would win. Expect “The Big Short” to triumph, holding off late support for “Room”.
Best Original Screenplay: the award goes to Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy for “Spotlight”. Why? See above. Oh, and did I fail to mention previously that co-screenwriter Adam McKay directed “The Big Short”? Ditto with Mr. McCarthy for “Spotlight”. It’s the Academy’s way of saying, “nice try” when you lose the night’s biggest prize. It’s a way of honoring them…but not TOO much. Plus, “Spotlight” makes viewers feel like they are being socially conscious, because it’s got that “important subject matter” stench all over it. Whatever. It’s a strong script, so I’ll be perfectly okay with it winning. There is some support, however, for the FOUR screenwriters that gave us “Inside Out”. It’s possible. Also, due to the very real issue of OscarSoWhite, there has been late talk about the FOUR screenwriters for “Straight Outta Compton” winning. Less possible, but not entirely out of the question. I think that ‘FOUR’ will end up canceling them both out. I mean, really, it’ll take a wheel barrel to get the awards up to the podium. Want to know who those eight contenders are? Google away. I believe Alex Garland is a major talent, but he’s going to lose for “Ex Machina”. And “Bridge of Spies” is terrible, even if the Coen brothers wrote it. Maybe they should have directed it too…it could only have improved on Spielberg’s vision. Oh, Matt Charman had a hand in it as well…distance yourself Matt. “Spotlight” takes this one.
Best Director: is going to be Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for “The Revenant”. And two DGA wins in a row, coupled with two Oscar wins in a row, has never been accomplished. Until now. Sure, he borrows heavily from Herzog and Malick, but your average viewer doesn’t even know who those giants are. So, it’s all original to them. “The Revenant” is a very good movie. It is better than last year’s “Birdman”. Oh, how I wish Oscar showered Richard Linklater and “Boyhood” (like they should have) last season, and anticipated that Alejandro would have a big year this time around! Oh well. There is a chance, however, that George Miller could still eek this out for “Mad Max: Fury Road”. He’s very well respected, this was a HUGE comeback for him, plus the film has TEN nominations. In fact, “Mad Max” could be the night’s big winner regarding number of awards, with all the tech prizes its expected to garner. But the DGA is too powerful of a predictor. Sorry, George. Maybe next time? Adam McKay for “The Big Short” and Tom McCarthy for “Spotlight”? See above in my screenplay analysis. Lenny Abrahamson for “Room”? It would be interesting. But he’s an under-40 outsider. So…no. Inarritu makes history for “The Revenant”, squeaking by the adored Mr. Miller.
Best Picture: it looks like a big night for “The Revenant”. It’s a BIG motion picture, with a BIG cast, and BIG scenery, and a BIG bear. Oscar likes BIG even more than ‘important’. So, the ‘importance’ of worthy contenders “Spotlight” and “The Big Short” will be trumped by size. And size matters. Do your research…it almost always has. For instance, easy question–what do you like better “Goodfellas” or “Dances With Wolves”? I thought so. SIZE! I believe “Spotlight” has a better upset shot then “The Big Short”, but the ‘three-way’ race has all been trending towards “The Revenant” lately. So, I expect the other two contenders to cancel each other out. In so many ways, I find “Mad Max: Fury Road” to be the film of the year, but I don’t believe it has a real shot. I can make a strong case for “Brooklyn”‘s excellence too, but no way does it win the night. “The Martian”? Enough already about “The Martian”. “Room”? Way…too…small. “Bridge of Spies”? When do I stop laughing?! And…would it help? “The Revenant” will muscle its way to the title over the two screenplay champions.
9-for-9 would be some accomplishment, and I’m confident in my chances. I haven’t pulled that trick off since the year 2000 (when 1999’s “American Beauty” was all the rage), so it would be a long time coming. I usually miss one or two. But I almost ALWAYS surpass the big predictors like Anne Thompson on Hollywood and Entertainment Weekly magazine, among others. And Anne could edge me this year, if she’s correct on Best Director–it’s the only category we differ on. And ACTUALLY, I’d love it if SHE were right. Anne is calling for the upset with George Miller edging Alejandro Inarritu. It would please me greatly to be wrong here, and bow before Ms. Thompson. We will see. Lastly, but certainly not least, a big THANKS to the national radio program, “America Weekend with Ed Kalegi & Christina Stoffo”. I am proud to be the film and arts contributor for that fantastic weekly show, and my gracious hosts give my a vast platform for my film reviews and special features like this. What you are reading is the long form of the 11-minute interview segment that is being broadcast in scores of American cities on Oscar weekend. Wolfgang Puck is featured this week on the Oscar-heavy program too…so be certain to tune in!!! I’m very proud to be a regular part of that radio show, and I’m looking to exciting new adventures with it in the near future. It’s popularity just keeps increasing. Thanks, Ed & Christina! And the Oscar broadcast will officially close out the 2015 film season, so…forward we March! 2016 is still just beginning.