For the Neurotic and Mindless, Part II: What Happens on Oscar Night

Update (02/29/16): Welp. The Academy decided to opt for Spotlight, leaving both The Big Short and The Revenant cold.

Almost all the eventual winners, with the exception of Visual Effects (which, for the first time, went to a non-Best Picture movie when there were Best Picture nominees), had some chance of winning based on the pre-Oscar awards circuit. Poor Sylvester Stallone couldn’t complete his arc of redemption, Iñarritu gets to feel accomplished two years in a row…and Leo, at last, can rest easy. As for me…well, 16 isn’t too awful. Until next year, when the guessing game goes on…

Original Article (02/28/16):

This year’s Oscar race has been interesting in more ways than one. Leaving aside the irritatingly tight race for the top prizes, the Academy proved once again that straight Caucasian men are very good at recognizing the works of straight Caucasian men. Except for Alejandro González Iñarritu, this year’s ballot, as a variety of celebrities have pointed out, is noticeably monochrome.

In its defense, Oscar has tipped its hat to non-SCM filmmakers in the past. The last two Best Director awards went to two different Hispanics; 12 Years a Slave, a gruesome examination of the United States’ greatest sin, won in 2013; and Kathryn Bigelow won big in 2009 with The Hurt Locker. We’ve thankfully come a good way from the early days of Oscar, when Hattie McDaniel almost couldn’t attend her own award ceremony because of her race. But for all the examples of inclusion the Academy has provided in recent years, there have been just as many examples of snubs: Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Ava DuVernay (Selma), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), Ang Lee (no Best Pic for Brokeback Mountain, nothing for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)…you can go all the way back to Spike Lee (Do The Right Thing) and Sidney Poitier (In the Heat of the Night) with this exercise. It’s only one more manifestation of Oscar’s general tendency to go for safe, standard, feel-good movies (The King’s Speech, Argo, Gladiator, Rocky, etc.) that avoid edgier, artsier, bolder fare (almost every film considered “great” in American cinema).

Granted, since it is movies we’re talking about, there’s no objective standard for determining what’s good and bad. For all we know, the Academy voters might have simply thought Beasts of No Nation and Selma just weren’t good movies. There’s only so far you can go with the desire to include more diversity before you start running into things that probably have nothing to do with why certain movies and filmmakers were ignored. But if this year’s controversy reminds Academy voters to pay a little more attention next time to the works of African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, women, and the LGBT community, it certainly doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t seem like much, but aside from altering the voting rules (as has been done), it’s really the only way such diversity can be more consistently, fairly recognized in the future.

This scuffle has also clarified why the Oscars still matter. For better or worse, Oscar is the face of the movie industry. That little golden statuette has become so ingrained in popular culture that we’ve unconsciously come to equate it with Hollywood and the movies in general. If a movie is “good,” we instinctively ask whether it won any Oscars; if a movie won an Oscar, we naturally find ourselves thinking it must be worth a watch. So the choices the Academy makes in whom to nominate and whom to choose say something about Hollywood and its concerns, however implicit or tangled in a web of other factors that something may be. Awarding a silent film, rejecting a film about cutting-edge tech, nominating indie-film directors no one’s ever heard of, snubbing hugely successful films about gay romance or the civil rights movement – these all reflect on Hollywood’s character and beliefs. The values they imply may not be entirely accurate or universally shared within L.A. But because it’s the Oscars, they become the standard, what’s accepted. And the more people outside of Hollywood see the movies Oscar chooses, the more that standard becomes accepted nationwide, perhaps even internationally.

Even naysayers who say the Oscars don’t matter are admitting the contrary just by the act of attacking the Oscars. Spike Lee and Will Smith may think the Oscars are terribly flawed and a poor representation of the modern movie industry, but you don’t spend two months furiously criticizing something if you don’t care about it or appreciate its power. In some ways, the controversy over this year’s nominees reflects the concern of a large, younger generation of filmmakers. They look at the parade of SCM movies that usually end up being more like Chariots of Fire than 2001: A Space Odyssey and realize the show that gets put on every year just doesn’t reflect the right values for our time. It’s easy to get caught up in a paranoid analysis of who’s going to win what, but the Oscars are more than just a numbers game. They’re a statement of principles that 40 million people see every year. The stakes are high.

That all said, resisting a dive into the microscopic world of the Oscars number game is impossible, especially for such a high-profile event. For the neurotic and mindless at heart – hopefully mostly correct predictions for what will happen later tonight:

Best Picture: The Big Short.

Why: The race for Best Picture usually follows one of two possible trajectories:

  1. Movie A sweeps awards circuit, guaranteed win.
  2. Movie A wins big awards (Golden Globe, BAFTA), but Movie B wins all the little guild awards (Producers Guild, Editors Guild, etc.). Movie B ends up triumphing.

This year´s race has given rise to a slight twist on the second trajectory, where Movie A (The Revenant) gets tons of nominations and the big awards, but Movie B and Movie C (Spotlight, The Big Short) have split the little awards. Movie A probably doesn’t have much of a chance, since its director just won last year for Birdman. As for Movie B and Movie C…well, the guilds split fairly evenly this year, with Spotlight winning the Screen Actors Guild and The Big Short the Producers and Editors. Producers and Editors have a better track record of predicting the eventual winner, so The Big Short has the edge. But Spotlight could still sneak in a victory. And if the “Give Leo the Oscar!” mania has completely swept over the Academy, The Revenant might get lucky…

Could WinSpotlight. Or The Revenant in a complete, John Kasich-like upset.

Best Director: Alejandro González Iñarritu, The Revenant

Why: The Academy has almost always followed the lead of the Directors Guild, which this year decided to make history and award the same dude two years in a row. The fact that the Academy doesn’t usually do this might hold over Iñarritu, but unless they choose to instead go for the virtual nonentity director of The Big Short, Adam McKay, Iñarritu looks set to win.

Could Win: Adam McKay, The Big Short. If Spotlight wins Picture, Tom McCarthy. Or even George Miller, the only other guy in this category who has a bit of a name to himself. Lenny Abrahamson of Room is the only one with absolutely no chance.

Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant. 

Why: Um, duh.

Could Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, I Finally Won an Oscar.

Best Actress: Brie Larson, Room

Why: Brie Larson is the other star who’s completely swept the awards circuit. (The first one is that guy who got attacked by that bear.) Virtually guaranteed.

Could Win: Nobody. Larson or naught.

Best Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Why: Step aside, Daniel Radcliffe, Vin Diesel – when it comes to sustaining entire film careers on one role or idea, Sylvester Stallone’s easily got you both beat. 40 years of Rocky and Rambo has brought Stallone some acclaim (two Oscar nominations way back in the good ol’ 70s)…and a lot more flak. 20 Razzie Award nominations, after all, is no small feat. But his latest turn in Creed as a decrepit Rocky Balboa (who else?) seems to be making waves – both the Critics’ Choice and Golden Globes saw fit to recognize him. This race is less clearly defined than the others, since many groups did not even nominate Stallone and instead recognized the un-nominated Idris Elba. But Stallone has so far managed to win the nod of every major award organization that’s chosen to consider him. All he needs to do now is give a good shout-out to Adrian in his acceptance speech.

Could Win: Mark Rylance, since he won the BAFTA. Or if the Academy likes The Big Short a lot, mayyyybe Christian Bale.

Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Why: Kate Winslet and Alicia Vikander have split the pre-Oscar awards for this one, with Kate Winslet taking the biggies (Golden Globe, BAFTA) and Vikander digging out the rest (Screen Actors Guild, Critics’ Choice). Vikander probably has a slight advantage, since Winslet has won before, the Screen Actors Guild has a nice track record (remember 2013, when Jennifer Lawrence won the Globe and the BAFTA, but Lupita Nyong’o won both the Screen Actors Guild and the Oscar), and The Danish Girl has an LGBT factor Steve Jobs doesn’t.

It’s also worth noting that Vikander has been getting recognition for two roles this year, both in The Danish Girl and as Ava in Ex Machina. Whenever she’s been nominated as a supporting actress for The Danish Girl (the Golden Globes and BAFTA chose to recognize it as a leading role, where Brie Larson was already clearing the field), she’s never lost. In fact, both of Winslet’s victories came over Vikander’s role in Ex Machinanot The Danish Girl. So Vikander it is.

Could Win: Kate Winslet.

Best Original Screenplay: Spotlight

Why: It’s a critics’ darling that’s swept all the writing awards this past month. What’s not to like?

Could Win: Zilch.

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short

Why: Another critics’ darling that’s swept the awards. Not much to see here.

Could Win: The Revenant‘s nonexistent screenplay nomination.

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From here on, we enter the minor categories, most of which shouldn’t contain too many surprises. But some, as marked below, might have surprises in store:

Best Animated Film: Inside Out

Best Documentary: Amy

Best Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul, Hungary

Best Original Score: The Hateful Eight

Best Original Song: “Til It Happens to You,” The Hunting Ground. This category has always been tricky to predict, but especially this year. While Sam Smith’s “Writing’s On The Wall” won the Golden Globe, the Golden Globe’s track record is fairly shoddy (only a 30% accuracy rate in the last 10 years), and the song hasn’t managed to win over other awards organizations – Critics’ Choice gave it to the not-nominated “See You Again,” Satellite to “Til It Happens to You.” (On a more subjective note, compared to Adele’s “Skyfall,” this James Bond theme song just isn’t very good.) On the other hand, Lady Gaga’s song for The Hunting Ground has earned major acclaim, is a fairly good piece of music, and has an important message on campus rape. James Bond could win. But I suspect Lady Gaga has the better shot.

Best Cinematography: The Revenant

Best Film Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Production Design: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Costume Design: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Makeup: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Visual Effects: Mad Max: Fury Road. This category is surprisingly hard to predict this year. Star Wars VII won both the BAFTA and the Visual Effects Society awards, usually enough to guarantee a win. But Star Wars is facing stiff competition from three Best Picture nominees (The Martian, Mad Max, The Revenant) – and in the last 20 years, whenever there’s been a Best Picture nominee in the category, Oscar has *always* given it the award.

Even then, the guessing gets tricky. In the past, this award usually had only three nominees total. There wouldn’t be more than two Best Picture nominees competing, and the one with more nominations always walked away with the prize. To have three Best Picture nominees jousting for the prize is unprecedented. But we can easily eliminate The Martian, since that’s been completely overshadowed by Mad Max and The Revenant throughout the awards process. If we’re going purely by which movie has the most nominations, The Revenant should win, but aside from the bear-attack scene, The Revenant barely seems to deserve a nomination in this category. In fact, Iñarritu made a huge deal about filming all the brutal scenes on-site instead of with a green-screen. On the other hand, Mad Max garnered the Critics’ Choice Visual Effects award, *and* it has a ton of special effects. So Mad Max probably has the advantage. But The Revenant or Star Wars both could definitely win as well.

Best Sound Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road. This one is also tricky, since there aren’t many other organizations that recognize this category and the only one that does awarded both Mad Max and The Revenant. My guess is Mad Max will win, since this award has tended to go to boomy, “action” films in the past (American Sniper, Inception, The Dark Knight, etc.). Still, it doesn’t hurt to watch out for The Revenant.

Best Sound Mixing: The Revenant

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The last three categories are the most annoying ones, since no other major award organizations consistently give out awards to short films. Russian roulette is more predictable. But with a flip of the coin, here we make our bets:

Best Animated Short: World of Tomorrow

Best Documentary Short: Chau, beyond the Lines

Best Live Action Short: Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)

The final tally, in order of most number of awards won:

Mad Max: Fury Road (6 – Production Design, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup, Visual Effects, Sound Editing)

The Revenant (4 – Director, Actor, Cinematography, Sound Mixing)

The Big Short (2 – Picture, Adapted Screenplay)

Spotlight (1 – Original Screenplay)

Room (1 – Actress)

The Hateful Eight (1 – Original Score)

Inside Out (1 – Animated Film)

The Danish Girl (1 – Supporting Actress)

Creed (1 – Supporting Actor)

Son of Saul (1 – Foreign Language Film)

The Hunting Ground (1 – Original Song)

Amy (1 – Documentary)

Chau, Beyond the Lines (1 – Documentary Short)

World of Tomorrow (1 – Animated Short)

Everything Will Be Okay (1 – Live Action Short)

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And now, we wait and see…

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