For the Neurotic and Mindless: Thoughts on the Oscar Nominations

Every year, I find myself playing the “guess all the Oscar winners correctly” game. Sometimes I’ve done well (2012, 22/24); other times, not so hot (last year, 16/24). I’m still not sure why I do it, and I’m pretty sure by any standard it’s a complete waste of time. The Oscars are far from the gold standard of American cinema, seeing as the Academy has given awards to rather middling movies like Argo, Crash, and GladiatorFor all the people nominated, watching all the frantic discussion and betting on the awards must truly be the ultimate exercise in ego-boosting narcissism. And honestly, I doubt anyone really enjoys sitting through the three-hour-plus award ceremony anymore, since nobody really cares about the Oscar for Best Sound Editing or Live Action Short, even though they still use at least 5 minutes apiece to cover each of them.

And yet, 88 years on, we still follow the Oscars. We all like testing our abilities to predict the future. We may scoff at the high-minded, super-egocentric lifestyle of many of our more flagrant Hollywood celebrities, but we all like following our favorite actors and watching good new movies. And we all need something to do in the middle of winter, the dreary season in which nobody really wants to do actual, meaningful work. So here we go:

Best Picture Nominees

The Big Short

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Room

Spotlight

Interestingly enough, the Academy actually deigned to pop the movie critics’ art-house bubble and nominate a couple “popular” box-office successes instead (Mad Max, The Martian)Mad Max in particular seems like a movie most of the old white men who run the show at the Oscars would hate…but apparently not.

What’s annoying this year is that the film with the most buzz (over – who else – Leo DiCaprio) and most number of nominations (12), The Revenant, might not have what it takes to win on Oscar night. For one, director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu just won for Birdman last year. Oscar shies away from giving consecutive awards to the same person. For two, in spite of its many nominations in categories as far-flung as make-up and production design, The Revenant didn’t get a nom in either screenplay category. No movie since Titanic has won without at least a screenplay nomination. Leo might win…but the movie itself? Who knows?

The usual safe bets are the movies that have nominations for either screenplay category, directing, film editing, and some acting category. The only two movies that meet all those criteria are The Big Short and Spotlight, which have a mere five and six total nominations respectively. It might seem kinda sad a movie with so comparatively few nominations could steal the show from Mad Max and The Martian, but it has been done before (Crash had only six noms in 2005). Spotlight in particular seems to be getting a lot of buzz from critics’ awards circles. Michael Keaton might just get the honor of starring in two consecutive Best Picture winners by the time this cycle is over and done.

Most of the other movies don’t really stand a chance. Poor Ridley Scott. Looks like he won’t get his Life Achievement Award for The Martian after all.

Best Director Nominees

Lenny Abrahamson, Room

Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, The Revenant

Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

Adam McKay, The Big Short

George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

Aside from Iñárritu, the other four directors, with the possible exception of George Miller, are all but nonentities. That doesn’t mean Iñárritu will win, since, as noted above, he won just last year, and Oscar hasn’t given consecutive directing awards to anyone since 1950. Also, Oscar does have a record of rewarding previously obscure filmmakers (see Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist, and Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech). We’ll just have to wait and see for what the Directors Guild says, since whomever it recognizes is virtually guaranteed the Oscar…but for now, since Picture and Director usually go hand in hand, I suspect McCarthy might be in for a good night this coming February.

Best Actor Nominees

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

Matt Damon, The Martian

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

We can quickly eliminate the non-contenders. Sorry, Bryan Cranston, but being great in Breaking Bad won’t do you no favors here. Eddie Redmayne won just last year, so no. Michael Fassbender did a nice job in Steve Jobs, but Apple didn’t exactly get much love from Oscar this year, with only two acting nominations and not even a nod to Aaron Sorkin’s Golden Globe-winning script (which, on a side note, makes predicting the screenwriting categories a lot more painful). So Fassbender will probably have to wait for his turn onstage.

That leaves Damon and DiCaprio, two young actors hungry for recognition but who have been repeatedly snubbed by the Academy over the years. (Although Damon did win a screenwriting award for Good Will Hunting. But I’m not sure that’s something he should be proud of.) Both won a Golden Globe, but Damon didn’t even get a nomination from the Screen Actors Guild. And as mentioned earlier, there’s been tons of buzz over DiCaprio’s tortured role as vengeful 19th-century explorer Hugh Glass. Almost 20 years after his sappy lover-boy turn in Titanic, it looks like DiCaprio might finally come full circle.

Best Actress Nominees:

Cate Blanchett, Carol

Brie Larson, Room

Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

This category is a little trickier than Best Actor to delineate, but we can still make some guesses. Charlotte Rampling – no chance, alas. This is only Saoirse Ronan’s second Oscar nomination ever, but given she lost to Brie Larson at the Golden Globes, I’ve a feeling she may have to wait longer for her statuette. Blanchett and JLaw have both won Oscars very recently (Blanchett in 2013 for Blue Jasmine, Lawrence in 2012 for Silver Linings Playbook), and neither of them got much attention in other categories – surprising for Carol considering the major critical acclaim it generated, not surprising for Joy since it wasn’t very well-received anyway. So no to them as well.

The winner could end up being Brie Larson, the actress who immersed herself in the role of a psychologically and physically abused mother in Room. It’s the kind of performance about dealing with suffering and pain that Oscar voters absolutely adore. This is also Larson’s first big role (read: role that brings major critical/awards acclaim), and the Academy likes to recognize breakout stars (see: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave, Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds). Given the emotional weight around Room, Larson should probably start thinking about a possible acceptance speech.

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We can’t say too much yet about the other categories (except Best Animated Film, which automatically goes to Inside Out), since lots of awards groups still haven’t announced their winners yet and those results often (but not always) decide who wins what. As of right now, however, this does look to be a more interesting year for the Oscars. No one movie has a complete lock. Hopefully, time will make things clearer so I can get a 24/24 on predictions this season. Until then, we can only wait and see.

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