cinecist vs. oscar 2015

back to main menu

 

Can the Oscars really be upon us again?It seems like no time at all since Spike Lee was last raking the Academy over the coals for one offense or another.(I love Spike, actually, and his is a voice we still need quite desperately, however grating it might get at times.Look closely at his commentary on racial diversity at the Oscars and youíll see far more intelligence and thoughtfulness than youíll find in most celebrity rants on the subject.Spike loves to provoke, but he understands what the real problems are and what they are not.)

 

But yes, here we are once more, gathering around TVs for our one chance all year to see our favorite actors gussied up in formal attire, biting our nails over who will walk away with the trophies, thrilled by the glamour and excitement and suspense of it all.Oh wait, no, Iím sorry.That was 1978.This year, weíll be watching the live stream at oscar.go.com on our individual iPhones, after spending 4 hours tweeting about the gowns on the E! red carpet show and Instagramming our faves, and weíre pretty sure we know whoís going to win everything because weíve been following GoldDerby and Indiewire and FiveThirtyEight since January.

 

The world is getting strange for the cinecist.

 

But as long as you keep coming back, Iíll keep doing my bit.That Ďbití being loads of prolix, semi-informed analysis of things cinematic, and foolhardy speculation on what a shadowy group of wealthy entertainers will decide is worthy of their accolades in any given year.All with way too many adjectives and way, WAY too many adverbs.Youíre welcome.

 

To the extent that my being correct in any of my predictions matters, I expect this will be a pretty good year.There is suspense in Best Pictureómuch more than we have grown used to seeingóbut the other major categories look pretty well decided, and I readily admit that I donít depart from general consensus on any of them.Some years one feels compelled to push back on Ďprevailing wisdomí here and there, and thatís always good exercise, but it doesnít seem necessary this year.I think everyone basically has it right.I guess weíll see.

 

Please clap.

 

© 2016 dondi demarco

 

 

Before we start, the usual notes, definitions, and disclaimers:

   Prediction:The nominee that will win.In red, for your convenience.

   Pick:The nominee that should winóand would, if my preferences held any sway within the corridors of power. (They do not.)

   Percentages:My arbitrary, inexact, self-designed means of assigning probability to certain outcomes.The whole thing just begs for an independent investigation.

 

 

Shhhhhhh.

 

 

____________________________

 

Best PictureDirector Actor Actress Supporting Actor Supporting Actress

________________________________

 

 

Best Picture

Nominees:

Prediction:

The Revenant

 

 

Pick:

The Big Short

The Big Short

30%

Bridge of Spies

--

Brooklyn

--

Mad Max: Fury Road

--

The Martian

--

The Revenant

35%

Room

2%

Spotlight

33%

 

If thereís any surprise in this list of nominees, itís that Carol isnít on it.It wouldnít have been a serious contender, but I expected it to receive a nod.Less surprising is the absence of Straight Outta Compton, a strong player on paper that was never better than a crap shoot in the real world of Academy voting.Sicario might have shown up, had a few more voters seen it.Otherwise, this list is pretty much what I would have predicted, had I bothered.

 

First, let me dispatch the two nominees I did not see, Bridge of Spies and Mad Max: Fury Road.Iím not usually one to miss a Spielberg film with a shot at an Oscar, but Bridge of Spies was an appropriately stealthy operation, slipping into and then out of theatres so quietly (even here in NYC) that I didnít even realize there was anything to see until it was already too late.No matter in the end, as itís a contender in name only.Mad Max: Fury Road, for its part, has garnered enough critical plaudits and fanboy raves to make me almost regret not joining in on the fun.But, truth be told...the frenzied previews I saw gave me a megrim, the fantods and mild nausea.I would say I might be too old for such furious, unthrottled fare, but the director responsible for it is 25 years older than I am, so there goes that excuse.I guess the truth is even more disheartening.Anyway, Fury is not going to win Best Picture, but itís a genuine player in the Directing category, so clearly itís a boat (or speeding desert death-vehicle of some sort) that I missed.

 

I did see the remainder of the nominees, of which three are runners in this race and three are not.Letís start with the nots.

 

The Martian is not the aching, introspective movie I went into the theatre expecting to see based on the trailers, not a new entry in the man vs. universe philosophical sub-genre started by 2001: A Space Odyssey and lately reinvigorated (or perhaps just reawakened) by Gravity and Interstellar.As one might gather from its much-noted inclusion in the comedy/musical category at the Golden Globes, The Martian is rather less serious-minded than all that.Now, to be fair, itís not a comedyónot at all.Nor, God have mercy, a musical.But all in all itís still a pretty jolly affair, considering itís the story of a man abandoned on a mercilessly uninhabitable planet whose numerical odds of, respectively, surviving beyond the short term, re-establishing communication with humanity, and ever setting foot on Earth again form a diminishing series that starts out already pretty damned close to zero and goes south from there.Itís to Matt Damonís credit that he finds a (usually) believable and rather charming balance between black gallows humor, true despair, and nothing-left-to-lose goofiness.He is a likeable and sympathetic presence anchoring the film and giving it a weight that, in light of its fluffy handling of some pretty serious themes, it might not quite deserve.The Martian misses nearly every opportunity to say something substantive about human perseverance, scientific ambition, or even earthbound politics.But itís fun to watch.And there are some killer one-liners.

 

Brooklyn is a lovely little film.Lovely.It is impossible not to feel affection for and a rooting interest in Eilis (pronounced AY-lish), a quiet and necessarily naÔve young woman setting sail for the US to improve upon the dead-end small-town life Ireland seems to have lined up for her.There will be much homesickness in the story, and love and heartbreak and friendship and regret, some jarring crises and unanticipated forks in the road.And director and actors will navigate them all beautifully and touchingly, with intelligence and humor and nary a false step.And in the end we will learn a bit about trusting oneself and living authentically, and a bit more about what it means to have a home.And did I mention itís all quite lovely...?If I seem to be damning Brooklyn with faint praise, thatís not my intent.Iím just finding that the praise I come up with for it, while not exactly faint, is rather kind of...boring.Iím damning it with boring praise.Truthfully, I loved watching Brooklyn, and I would recommend it heartily to just about anyone.But I canít for the life of me make a very interesting case for why that is.Youíll just have to trust me.†† I suspect, though, that my difficulty is not entirely unrelated to the reasons why this movie was 100% certain to get nominated for Best Picture, and yet is equally certain not to win.

 

Room is a scrappy independent that deserves its spot on this list for several reasons.First and most notably, thereís the performance of 8-year-old Jacob Tremblay, which is a wonder.We love to recognize child actors when they manage a turn that feels authentic, instead of the typical precocious sitcom nonsense to which we have become so inured.But thatís a low bar, and Tremblay vaults over it with ease in the first three minutes of the film, going on to capture a complexity and confliction of emotion that would challenge an actor of any age, with a natural ease that is just remarkable.I really thought the Academy would follow SAGís lead and nominate him for Best Supporting Actor (Best Actor was out of the question, even though it is in every way a leading role).They did nominate Brie Larson, whose performance is another reason Room deserves its time in the spotlight.More on that in my Best Actress discussion.But what I admire most about this film is the tiny circumscribed world of mother and son that it shows us, a world in which the most intense forced intimacy creates not only claustrophobia, (though it does certainly create that) but also, paradoxically, an expansive universe of imagination, possibility, and unlimited love.It seems necessary at this point to provide some narrative context for that remark, for those who arenít familiar with the story.I will only say this:The first half of the movie shows us a mother and her young son living, day in and day out, within the confines of a single very small room.We learn gradually why their lives have taken this shape, and the reasons arenít pretty.You can easily find them, I suppose, by searching out any of the countless reviews of Room written by casually disrespectful critics who donít mind tramping mud all over your movie-going experience by telling you things the filmmakers meant for you to learn in the course of watching the film.Thatís your choice.But Iím not going there.I went into this movie knowing virtually nothing about it, not even the most basic storyline, and I am grateful for that.Itís not a real contender for Best Picture, but itís a movie I will remember for a long time.

 

Now to the crux of things.There are three films this year that actually might winónot exactly an infinite field of possibilities, but still more than there are many years.Which, if I may digress, is another reason why the Academyís decision several years ago to start naming more than five nominees in this category is not on my list of favorite decisions ever.Whether there are five nominees or eight or ten, there are almost always only two or sometimes three who have a real shot at winning.Everyone knows Bridge of Spies isnít going to win, or Mad Max, or Brooklyn.All that is accomplished by including them is that the poor put-upon amateur critics like your humble cinecist, who already struggle to shuffle around their weekend chores and errands to clear a couple of hours in their schedules here and there for important cinematic releases, have twice as many movies they have to somehow wedge into the ridiculously short window of time between the release of The Good Stuff in late November/early December and the actual awards ceremonyówhich, by the way, was just a few years earlier bumped up from March to late February!I ask you, how can I be expected to maintain the quality of my critical output under these barbaric conditions?Iím all for the Academy recognizing a greater diversity of quality than it has for most of its history, but the answer isnít to nominate more movies, itís to take greater care in nominating the best movies.The fact is, with only five nominees, a couple are generally already throwaways. So inflating that list doesnít accomplish much, and Iím tempted to argue that, over time, it has the effect of diluting the value of a nomination. So there.

 

Anyhow.... Weíve got three contenders this year, and itís still a horse race.

 

If you havenít seen The Revenant, itís probably enough to have seen the trailers.Thatís not as dismissive as it sounds, and in fact it could be considered high praise to whoever put together the trailers for so fully capturing the primal grit and brutality of the film.OK, maybe they didnít quite capture the brutality.When Iíve mentioned to people that I saw The Revenant, the most common reaction has been, ďIsnít it really violent and bloody?ĒUh, yes it is.I couldnít possibly recommend it to anyone who has trouble with onscreen blood.But as a level-headed guy, I can see that it does fit very comfortably into a long cinematic tradition of violence-as-moral-conflict.Thereís nothing gratuitous about it.The bloodshed is always there to teach us something, because you just donít tell a story like this, in this way, if youíre not trying to get a message across.So just as with Peckinpah, Scorsese, Tarantino or Woo, the harder the violent goings-on are to watch, the more acutely we should be tuning our ears to the moral message behind them.Iíll leave opining on the message of this particular film to another discussion.The Revenant isnít for everyone. Truthfully, itís not even entirely for me, though I canít help waxing a little rapturous about its prodigious technical achievement.Shooting under the most grueling physical conditions imaginable (and using only natural lighting to boot), director Alejandro IŮŠrritu, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and a whole slew of really committed individuals have created a magnificent, fearless, gruesome, unforgettable...I was going to say Ďepicí but I think Ďordealí might be more like it.Itís relentlessly gripping, but there is a point at which that grip might start to feel, to some viewers anyway, like a kind of punishment.If that doesnít turn you off (and Iím not saying it should) then by all means see this movie.

 

Did you ever know someone who gets a charge out of asking people provocative questions and then answering them himself with even more provocative answers, and then laughs at himself for being such a jerk?Thatís what The Big Short is like. Hereís the question:What if you were the one person who knew there was going to be a catastrophic earthquake that (in addition to ruining millions of homes and lives) would bankrupt the earthquake insurance industry, and when you went to warn the people who sell earthquake insurance, they all laughed at you and said it was absolutely impossible and you were deluded for thinking it could happen?Is there any chance at all that, given their steadfast and condescending refusal to believe you, you might, say...decide to start buying up their earthquake insurance?And is there also a chance that when they keep offering to sell you more and more and more insurance policies because they think youíre nuts, that you might go ahead and take them up on that offer?That you might, in fact, sell all of your belongings and take out a second mortgage on your house to buy as much earthquake insurance as you possibly could, because you know the earthquake is coming and when it does, youíre going to become insanely wealthy?And do your answers change at all if, as it happens, youíre also an earthquake insurance salesman yourself?Or, better, the CEO of a natural gas company that conducts the fracking that is ultimately going to cause the giant earthquake?And then, finally, when the earthquake does come and buildings falls and lives are ruined and the insurance industry starts failing, is there any chance that you would choose not to collect on all those policies you bought?

 

Thatís roughly the scenario in The Big Short, but instead of an earthquake, itís the 2008 collapse of the mortgage-backed securities market and subsequent global financial crisis, and instead of insurance policies, itís credit default swaps.Of course, itís way more complicated than that, and The Big Short unravels (or pretends to unravel) this complication just enough that we feel, for a couple of hours at least, that we actually understand what the hell happened eight years ago.But what makes this my favorite film of the year is the joy is takes in the unraveling.This is a kitchen-sink kind of movie, full of bells and whistles and jokes and gimmicks, a cynical narrator who tells you lies and then tells you he was lying, actors addressing the camera directly, celebrity chefs and models and pop singers showing up on command to elucidate complex financial concepts, the whole works.This manic, free-wheeling style bolsters the sense that the financial world we are seeing is increasingly out of control, that itís been so long since anyone stepped on the brakes that no one even remembers where the pedal is anymore.And what better than these bizarre narrative intrusions to highlight the absurdity of a market in which the essential product is the Collateralized Debt Obligation (CDO), a multi-tiered repackaging of terrible sub-prime loans that the ratings services plug as pure gold, allowing banks to legitimately sell them off to investors to replenish their cashóso they can go make more terrible sub-prime loans to turn into more CDOs?It turns out writer-director Adam McKay, whose previous work has consisted mainly of Will Farrell vehicles (the ďgoodĒ ones, thankfullyóAnchorman, Step Brothers, Talladega Nights) was the perfect guy to helm this craziness, leveraging his loony energy to create a film that manages to be enormously fun without shortchanging the deadly serious nature and human reality of its subject matter.Those Will Farrell movies are generally semi-mindless wacky laughs, but there is also a strangely somber undercurrent that makes them feel heavier than your average stupid comedy.McKay tweaks the recipe quite a bit here, upping the seriousness and dialing way back on the stupid, but the main ingredients are the same.It works like a charm.Kudos to the cast too, particularly Steve Carrell, who doesnít really need to prove his dramatic chops anymore after Foxcatcher but does so anyway, and Christian Bale, whose unflinching and egoless commitment to the truth of his character, here and in every other performance he gives, continues to make him one of the most compelling actors in the business.

 

The final and in many ways most conventional nominee is Spotlight, the true story of the team of Boston Globe investigative journalists who uncovered the systematic long-term efforts of the Catholic Archdiocese to cover up widespread sexual abuse of children by priests.(That unadorned synopsis of the story seemed appropriate to the genre.I promise Iíll loosen up a bit going forward.)A journalistic procedural is not inherently the most exciting of forms, but when it gets everything just exactly right, it captures our imagination in a unique way, because it lets us taste the thrill of slowly discovering something that we know is important.Spotlight does get everything just exactly rightóthe tone and the pacing, the writing, the editing, the flawless ensemble acting.Which is not to say itís ďrealisticĒ in the sense that the people weíre watching onscreen actually look or talk or act just like the actual people they are portraying; I suspect the real reporters were somewhat less attractive, had a few more pounds on them, had thicker accents, etc.And I suspect in real life there were fewer obvious Ďa-haí moments, fewer dramatic looks exchanged during conversations that would turn out to be critical, fewer last-minute discoveries of key facts, etc.But in watching the movie, one gets the sense that Spotlight really understands what being an investigative reporter is like.The work is almost all pure drudgery:sifting through cases of old court records hoping to find something meaningful, slogging through neighborhoods in the rain to knock on the doors of people who donít want to talk to you and usually wonít, leaving an eleventh voicemail for someone who didnít respond to the first ten.And doing all of this 12 or 14 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week, for a very small paycheck, and kind of getting addicted to it, because you can taste that you are never too far away from discovering something that will actually make a difference to people if you can just figure out what it is and tell them about it.Thatís the story of Spotlight, and it couldnít have been told any better.

 

So whoís going to take the prize?The Revenantís 12 Oscar nominations seem to make it the favorite.And although Golden Globe voters and Oscar voters are most definitely not the same sort of animal, Revenantís Golden Globe win canít be ignored; if you watched the Globes ceremony, you got the sense of a film with huge popular momentum.Itís that final part that I really canít shake.When I first started this little write-up, The Revenant and Spotlight seemed to be in a dead heat, and I was inclined to give the edge to Spotlight.But just in the last couple of weeks, Iíve gotten the sense that Revenant is pulling ahead and is going to hold onto that lead.Of course Spotlight has taken more top honors from criticsí associations and other secondary awards than either of the other contenders, and it was the first movie to be widely considered a front-runner long before it was even released.It is, as I mentioned earlier, the most conventional of the nominees, which can be a blessing or a curse but certainly seems to have worked in Spotlightís favor so far.Itís in a very close second place.A lot of people are predicting The Big Short because of its surprise win of the Producerís Guild awardóhistorically the most accurate predictor of the Oscar for Best Picture.Agreed, thatís a very big deal.Without it, everyone would be considering this a two-way race between Revenant and Spotlight.But hereís the thing:The Big Short (despite receiving the cinecistís seal of righteousness) hasnít really won anything else of consequence.Not that Academy voters care about that, but it does give an indication of the prevailing popular cultural sentiment, the buzz on the street, of which the Academy is by definition a part.In short (so to speak...), Iím not quite feeling the love out there for My Pick.

 

All that brilliant analysis aside, this is still a wicked close race.Youíll notice that I did give Room a nominal shot at a win.Hereís what thatís about:A lot of people, not just me, really do love this small but surprisingly affecting little film.And unlike all the other award-giving bodies, the Academy has a preferential voting systemómeaning that each member votes for their 1st, 2nd and 3rd favorite films.So if no single film wins a simple majority of first place votes, then a formula kicks in that calculates which film is the Ďmost favoriteí overall, based on combined 1st, 2nd and 3rd place slots.In a tight year like this one, in which it seems impossible that any of the three well-matched front-runners will secure 51% of #1 votes, the preferential voting formula will undoubtedly come into play.So if there are enough voters who decided that they would cast their #2 or #3 vote for Room, and just a few who decided they would go ahead and make it their #1 pick, then we could see perhaps the most shocking upset ever in this category.My meager estimate of the likelihood of this outcome is probably still overly generous, but in the unlikely event it actually happens, how smart will I look?Thatís good ROI on an investment of 2%.

 

 

 

Best Directing

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Alejandro IŮŠrritu

 

Pick:

Alejandro IŮŠrritu

Adam McKay, The Big Short

10%

George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

35%

Alejandro IŮŠrritu, The Revenant

50%

Lenny Abrahamson, Room

--

Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

5%

 

Deserving though he is of the nomination, weíre very safe counting Lenny Abrahamson out of this contest.His prize will be the higher-profile, larger-budget projects that will start showing up at his door.And I think weíre nearly as safe counting out Tom McCarthy and Adam McKay.Which is a little weird, right, since both directed genuine contenders for Best Picture?And both did a cracking good job of it, absolutely good enough to take home the prize on merits.But they are facing two veteran directors doing visionary work this year, which makes it a steep uphill climb for either of them.If the stars align correctly and enough voters get that headachy feeling from the front-runners, then one of the Mcís could eke out a win, McKayís chances being better than McCarthyís.Donít expect to see this happen, though.

 

Yes, the real contest is between the auteurs IŮŠrritu and Miller, even if Spotlight or The Big Short picks up Best Picture.IŮŠrritu looks like the obvious winner at first glance, having won the DGA and his film being front and center for the top prize.But itís turned out to be damned hard for him to shake George Miller off his tail.I think there are two factors at play.One is simply that IŮŠrritu won last year for Birdman.Whether out of a sense of fair play or because success breeds contempt, the Academy really doesnít seem to like giving out back-to-back Oscars to directors.It hasnít happened for 65 years.The other thing keeping Miller securely in the race is the passionate enthusiasm his work has engendered among a very vocal cult of fans.Iím guessing most of you reading this donít even know who George Miller is.Youíre in good company.But among a certain breed of action film aficionado, the kind who crave a universe defined by violent struggle, in which action isnít just chase scenes and fight sequences, itís the only reality, the only currency, the only purpose left to the inhabitantsófor these people, George Miller is The Man.Because he made Mad Max and The Road Warrior and now Fury Road.Heís made other films, some quite popular and well regarded (Babe: Pig in the City, The Witches of Eastwick, Happy Feet) but itís the Mad Max franchise that will be remembered as his lifeís work.And the people who love it really love it.And they talk about it and write about it.And as it turns out, a good many of those people are the same film geek sorts who end up in some branch of the moviemaking or movie-critiquing business.So thatís how an Australian action director youíve probably never heard of, whose film hasnít a shot at winning Best Picture, has become a real contender for Best Director.

 

That, and the fact that just about everyone agrees Fury Road is a wild-eyed masterpiece of the genre, conceptually audacious and visually brilliant (look for it to take home a number of technical awards).Again, Iím really starting to regret not seeing it in the theatre when I had the chance.Maybe Miller would have ended up as my personal pick.But as it is, I have to go with IŮŠrritu. The Revenant wasnít my favorite movie of the year, and as I said before McKay did excellent work in The Big Short.But itís hard to argue with the blazing ambition of IŮŠrrituís work, or the bold mastery, both cinematic and environmental, on display in it.He earns my vote by brute strength, and I think the Academy will feel the same.

 

 

Best Actor

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Leonardo DiCaprio

 

Pick:

Leonardo DiCaprio

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

5%

Matt Damon, The Martian

-

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

90%

Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

5%

Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

-

 

Hereís a little game:You go search the internet and try to find a respectable film critic or industry expert predicting a win in this category for someone other than Leonardo DiCaprio.Go ahead, spend a little time on it and then come back, Iíll wait.

 

[...............]

 

See?Leo is going to win.Heís been nominated for four acting Oscars before and heís never won.The Academy is dying to give him the prize, and conditions this year finally make it possible:there are no other giant performances he has to contend with, and he has already won the SAG, the Golden Globe, and the BAFTA.So he will win the Oscar.Does he deserve it?Iíll come back to that.

 

First, I didnít see Trumbo or Steve Jobs, so I canít comment on those performances, other than to say the word on the street is that they are both really, really good.Cranston has years of goodwill and acting cred banked thanks to his brilliance in Breaking Bad, which probably has something to do with his nomination here.Fassbender, for his part, is just a super-interesting and charismatic actor who is impressive in every role he takes onóand he takes on quite a variety.No one will beat DiCaprio this year, but if someone were to do it, it would be one of these guys.

 

Why doesnít Matt Damon have a chance here, having won the *other* Golden Globe (in the comedy/musical category)?Well, letís look at the context.The Martian, clearly not a comedy, was placed into that category by the Globe eligibility committee, presumably after being heavily lobbied by the studio to do so because the competition in comedy is never as stiff as it is in drama.If youíre a studio looking to garner nominations and awards for your film and actor, wouldnít you prefer not to face off against the dramatic heavy hitters?Of course you would.So you push to get your movie into the comedy/musical category.Because there, instead of going up against The Revenant and Spotlight, you get to go up against Spy and Trainwreck...and, in an unexpected twist, The Big Short (also not a comedy), because they pushed to get admitted to the easier category too, for the same reason.And in this category, your lead actor Matt Damon gets to compete against Al Pacino in a mediocre film almost no one saw (Danny Collins), Mark Ruffalo in a slightly better film literally no one saw (Infinitely Polar Bear???), and Steve Carrell and Christian Bale in The Big Short, both excellent performances but also supporting performances, not leads.Damon takes the prize by default.None of which is to diminish his work; as I said, I thought he was the best part of the movie.But winning this award in this particular field does not translate to any kind of shot at an Oscar against the DiCaprio juggernaut.

 

As for Eddie Redmayne, his work in The Danish Girl is really very good.In this film and last yearís The Theory of Everything, he is proving to have an uncanny ability to adapt his entire physicality to roles that require a great deal in that respect.It won him the Oscar last year, and that alone would make a win for him this year highly unlikely, even if DiCaprio werenít in the race.But DiCaprio is, so for all intents and purposes, Redmayne isnít.

 

Now back to the question of whether DiCaprio deserves to win.He has been, at times in his career, an excellent actor.And his performance in The Revenant is strong.If itís a little tough to buy that still-boyish face as the grizzled countenance of man hardened by tragedy and tribulation, he at least finds a way to keep us from being distracted by it.He is always credible in the role of Hugh Glass, an enigmatic hunting/trapping guide who has endured much suffering before the story even begins and endures much, much more once it does.But as I watched the movie, I started to feel that beneath all the physical demands of the roleówhich, to be sure, were enormous and dauntingóthere wasnít all that much going on in the way of great acting.DiCaprio is effective in the role, but truthfully that seems to me more a product of physical exertion and stamina than of anything else.Is The Revenant the hardest job heís ever had?I have to think it is, and for his sake I certainly hope so.But is it the best acting heís done?Nah.Heís been better, in Gilbert Grape and Catch Me If You Can and Basketball Diaries and others.Iím naming him my pick out of respect for the hard work, but remember Iím obligated to pick someone, and I didnít even see two of the performances, so this is far from being an enthusiastic endorsement.I think my favorite performance of the year was actually Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger in Black Mass.That one was really something to see.

 

 

 

Best Actress

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Brie Larson

 

 

Pick:

Brie Larson

Cate Blanchett, Carol

5%

Brie Larson, Room

75%

Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

-

Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

-

Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

20%

 

Hey, guess what?Letís play that game again.

 

Thatís right, you will be hard-pressed to find any smart money betting against a win for Brie Larson. If thereís a difference between this category and Best Actor, itís only that the likelihood of an upset isnít quite as remote here.But make no mistake, Larson is extremely likely to win.Which I think is great.As a mother trying to make daily life interesting, fun and educational for her young child in the most impossible of conditions, she is a marvel of patience and generosity.And when she realizes that the time has come for things to change, the fierceness of her love and her blind determination are equally awesome.Yet she is always a real person, always struggling and sometimes nearly failing to do what she knows needs doing.She is, simply, Mom, embodying all that means:the warmth, the protectiveness, the doubt, the pride, the fear, the sacrifice, and always above all the pure and potentially heartbreaking love.Itís a perfectly human performance that will very probably win, and ought to.

 

If anyone can take the award away from Larson, itís Saoirse Ronan (pronounced SIR-sha, apparently).Ronan has a delicate balancing act she has to pull off in Brooklyn, starting out innocent enough that we instinctively feel sympathetic and protective of Eilis, but not so naÔve that we donít think she can survive the dramatic change of venue from a small town in Ireland to the hub of the New World, and by the end making us recognize the import of her choices without holding against her the pain they might cause others.This is Eilisís story, after all, so the success of the movie depends on us casting our emotional lot with her.We do, because Ronan makes it impossible not to.She is in a distant second place this year, but had the currents of public opinion rippled just a little differently, we could have seen Larsonís and Ronanís chances for a win in this category completely reversed.

 

To my shame, I once again didnít see two of the nominated performancesóJennifer Lawrenceís in Joy and Charlotte Ramplingís in 45 Years.Joy looked to me like a joyless and lackluster affair from the previews, and nothing Iíve heard makes me doubt that early assessment. We can all be forgiven for feeling a touch of schadenfreude that David O. Russell couldnít quite keep up his artistic winning streak this year, even with the help of beautiful and talented cronies J. Law and Bradley Cooper.I love Russell and (some of) his work, but if Joy had been a critical home run and Oscar behemoth like American Hustle a couple of years ago and Silver Linings Playbook the year before that, I would have started to have ungenerous thoughts about the man.This comparative dud helps keep the universe in balance.But more to the point, it makes a poor vehicle to carry Lawrence to a win on Oscar night, and it wonít.Charlotte Ramplingís nomination might seem to be coming out of left field, no one having seen 45 Years, but she was always toward the top end of the list of maybesóperhaps a little lower than Helen Mirren (Woman in Gold) or Sarah Silverman (I Smile Back) but higher than Charlize Theron (Fury Road) and Lily Tomlin (Grandma).That said, itís not the sort of nomination that wins in a lead acting category. I actually thought that instead of Rampling we might see Alicia Vikander in this category for The Danish Girl, instead of in Supporting Actress where she is.More on that in a bit.

 

 

 

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees:

Prediction:

Sylvester Stallone

 

Pick:

Christian Bale

Christian Bale, The Big Short

7%

Tom Hardy, The Revenant

7%

Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

6%

Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

20%

Sylvester Stallone, Creed

60%

 

Well, I really blew this one.As in the previous acting categories, there are two nominated performances I didnít see.But the difference is that in this one, the two I didnít see have ended up being the front-runners.Damned bad luck, that.

 

Stallone is clearly the dominant favorite here, and it would take a particularly pinch-faced sort of curmudgeon to begrudge him his prize.He created Rocky Balboa four decades ago, and as much as we all admit that the artistic and intellectual trajectory of that franchise has been mostly downward from very early on, itís impossible not to recognize the monumental influence it has nonetheless exerted on our cultureópopular, political and other.Everybody knows Rocky.And at some level, everybody loves him.After all this time, we are all still stirred by the mythology.I donít even have to describe it here, because you know the story.We all do.We know the wins and the losses of it, the joys and the disappointments, the triumphs and the tragedies.We know that feeling of struggling up those steps, of slugging those sides of beef, of getting told your whole life youíre nothing but a bum, of getting knocked down and getting up, and getting knocked down again and getting up again, of giving everything you have to a stupid and impossible dream, of falling heartbreakingly short of the win but at least knowing that nothing could keep you from going the distance, of screaming for the woman you love through the blood and the crowd and the pain because at that defining moment thatís all there is, just you and what you love and everything youíve ever done to try to prove youíre worthy of it, worthy of being seen and heard, worthy of something.Thatís all Stallone, man.He created this.He wrote the first Rocky and every one after it, he directed most of them, and heís the only actor to ever play the character.This guy, with the face half-paralyzed from an accident at birth and a voice thatís about one notch above how you figure a talking gorilla would sound, he invented this whole thing.Creed isnít his movie, it was written and directed by others, and Stallone is just a supporting player in it.But thatís kind of perfect, right?If this is the last chapter of the Rocky Balboa story, his final appearance in our shared mythology, shouldnít it be like this?With him finding himself in the Mickey role, an old man physically spent and his days numbered, eventually and reluctantly persuaded that the fire in him canít just die, that he has to pass it along to the next fighter while he still can, because the fight never ends, it goes on and on no matter whoís actually in the ring.

 

Thatís a pretty good story, right?Stallone didnít win Best Actor for Rocky all those years ago, but then he had the bad luck of going up against Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver.He won for Best Original Screenplay, but thatís not really the same.I think the Academy sees this award as a career-topper for Stallone, and a giant much-belated thank you.I doubt they will miss the opportunity to bestow it upon him, because they know there wonít be another.

 

But.Assuming Academy voters are colder of heart than I imagine, what happens then?Well, it seems they give the award to Mark Rylance.Again, I didnít see Bridge of Spies so I canít judge his worthiness, but there arenít many experts who donít put him in the #2 slot. (For what itís worth, I did see him onstage last year in Shakespeareís Richard III.He was hilarious! And horrifying! As RIII should be....)

 

Whatís great about Best Supporting Actor is that, just about every year, itís the showcase of the most exciting, innovative and entertaining performances weíre likely to see on the big screen.Freed of the burden of carrying a story like a lead actor, and shamelessly benefiting from the heavy bias toward the masculine (or at least the male) across all functions of moviemaking except perhaps (but only perhaps) costume design and makeup, actors in supporting roles consistently outdo themselves and turn in astoundingly creative and very often iconic and indelible performances.Supporting actors can swing for the fences with relative impunity, and thereís no better argument for ambition in general than the quality of work we see, year after year after year, in this category.Itís no different this year.Stallone and Rylance are a hulking #1 and a humble #2, but the performances of the other three all require us to pause and consider the possibilities.My pick is Christian Bale (for reasons Iím not going to reiterate hereóI kind of feel like Iíve talked about him too much the last couple of years), and heís not entirely out of the running.Nor are Tom Hardy, who for my money gave a much more emotionally complex and morally intriguing performance in The Revenant than DiCaprio did, or Mark Ruffalo, who in Spotlight proved once again how irresistible a combination rumpled quirk and ethical uprightness can be.Plus each of these three has the added advantage of standing on the shoulders of a Best Picture contender.If Stallone doesnít win, I will be surprised.But I wonít be absolutely shocked, no matter who takes it home.

 

 

 

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Alicia Vikander

 

 

Pick:

Alicia Vikander

Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

-

Rooney Mara, Carol

20%

Rachel McAdams, Spotlight

-

Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

75%

Kate Winslett, Steve Jobs

5%

 

Iíll say right out of the gate that this is not a list of five supporting performances.Itís a list of three supporting performances and two leads.Iím going to tell you what I think happened.Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander were both nominated for Golden Globes (the earliest of the major awards) for Lead Actress in a Drama, which is appropriate since both of their roles are leads in every meaningful way, as critical to the filmís central narrative and emotional impact as their co-leads (Cate Blanchett and Eddie Redmayne, respectively), and, at least as far as I can gauge, sharing equal screen time with them.But neither was able to beat out Brie Larson for the Globe.So thatís when the studios started doing their awards calculus and figuring that, since these are both in truth strong lead performances, they would probably have a great shot at the major awards later in the season (SAG and Academy) if they could compete against supporting performances instead of other leads.†† So the studios adjusted their ďFor Your ConsiderationĒ campaigns to lobby for supporting nominations for Mara and Vikander.They can justify this tenuously, in spite of already-cited evidence to the contrary, because, after all, Vikander doesnít actually play the Danish girl in The Danish Girl and Mara doesnít actually play Carol in Carol.So they must not be the leads, right?Itís cynical and opportunistic, and it works.Mara and Vikander both end up on the nominee list for Best Supporting Actress for the SAG Awards, and then for the Oscars.So we have two lead performances competing against three supporting performances.

 

Now, none of this would matter if the performances werenít any good.But of course they both are.Alicia Vikanderís, in fact, is fantastic: intelligent, heartfelt, sexy, moody, strong but vulnerable, open but still measured.Iíve never seen her before (though she had a hell of a year, racking up awards, nominations and immoderate praise not only for Danish Girl but also for her work in Ex Machina), but I was knocked out by her rich, fully inhabited and heartbreaking performance.I missed out on two of the nominated performances (maintaining my perfect streak for the year), but Vikanderís is my favorite by a mile, and I doubt that would be any different had I seen The Hateful Eight or Steve Jobs.In fact, had Vikander landed a nomination in the Best Actress category, I would have to seriously reconsider my pick there, and I think a lot of Academy voters would too.Thatís why she is so likely to win.

 

If she doesnít, conventional thinking overwhelmingly says that the upset will be dealt by Kate Winslett, who won the Golden Globe for Supporting Actress.And sure, itís true that Winslett is almost always a formidable opponent, but itís also true that when she won the Globe, she didnít have to go up against Vikander or Mara, who were properly situated far away in the Best Actress category for that contest.Facing them here, I donít like her chances, especially given the lack of popular affection for Jobs.If thereís going to be an upset here, Iím putting my money on the other misplaced lead Mara, whose gentle, naÔve charm and understated strength in Carol make her a believable and altogether fitting object, and subject, of desire.

 

 

© 2016 dondi demarco