My relationship with the Academy is rather odd. I very much enjoy the Academy Awards as a spectacle and for it’s ability to shine a light on many deserving films. There is also no organization that inspires within me more suspicion and bone-deep cynicism than the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and it’s voting Academy.
The 2015 Oscar season has been among the most distinctly controversial, even as the Academy was gifted with a glut of brilliant films to honor. #OscarsSoWhite rocked the Academy in the wake of the annual pageant-like announcement of the nominees that was notably non-diverse, to put it mildly.
The #OscarsSoWhite controversy however, is more of a systemic Hollywood problem than an Academy issue. The Academy is a reflection of the industry as a whole which has failed to integrate from the executive offices to the technical, behind the scenes industry, to a reactionary star system which reflects the desires of an evolving culture which has only begun to move toward a more inclusive atmosphere.
If we can however, put aside #OscarsSoWhite for a moment and deal with the nominees we have rather than the nominees we should have, there is ever more reasons to be cynical about the Academy itself. Year after year calculation and controversy cause the Academy to make choices that are safe, predictable and reflective of the desire to honor a good PR story over the actual best films.
Every year there is at least one nominee who becomes the de-facto favorite to win their respective nomination category because they have toiled for years or have the best story rather than being the best among the group of nominees. In 2015 both Leonardo DiCaprio and Sylvester Stallone became favorites to win their respective categories not because there is a consensus that they gave the best performances of 2015 but because each is a veteran with a ratings friendly back story.
DiCaprio is a perennial Oscar bridesmaid who received 5 nominations without a victory before receiving his 6th nomination for his work in “The Revenant.” The narrative of DiCaprio having been passed over 5 times previous has led to much talk that he will be rewarded for his persistence this year, if not for his actual performance as a tracked who is mauled by a bear and watches a man murder his son before launching a dangerous campaign of revenge.
Sylvester Stallone’s story is equally as audience friendly. A star who’s light dimmed over the years after shifting from underdog auteur Oscar winner to box office star to bloated ego has been, Stallone returned to ‘Acting’ in 2015 after returning to the role that made him a beloved underdog and future superstar, Rocky, in the movie “Creed.” Stallone has been the odds on favorite to win Best Supporting Actor for “Creed” not because his performance was the best of those nominated but because he has the most sympathetic arc.
Year after year, members of the voting Academy make cast their votes based on the narrative of the season rather than the actual quality of the performances, how else to explain such bizarre choices as “Forrest Gump” over “Pulp Fiction,” “Crash” over “Brokeback Mountain,” or Michael Caine’s hilariously awful performance in “Cider House Rules” winning over Tom Cruise’s incredibly powerful performance in “Magnolia.”
Year after year there are more stories, confessions really, from voters who admit to not watching many of the movies they are sent via screeners or attending industry screenings. Instead, Academy voters allow other awards and members of the media to dictate which films need to be seen or which ones are the most deserving and base their votes on that narrative rather than on the quality of the actual film or performance.
It is from this cynical perspective that I make my predictions for this year’s Academy Awards. The narrative this year seems to be ‘Everyone Gets Something.’ With no consensus frontrunner among the major nominees, the Academy seems prepared on Sunday night to divide the major Awards among the Best Picture nominees with everything other than “Bridge of Spies” and “Brooklyn” likely to take home one of the high profile Oscars.
While there has been a rising tide for “The Revenant,” “Spotlight” will win Best Picture. With DiCaprio the designated winner for “The Revenant,” there is no need to give the film Best Picture. Whereas, with “Spotlight” unlikely to win in Best Supporting Actor for Mark Ruffalo or Best Supporting Actress for Rachel McAdams or Best Director for Tom McCarthy, Best Picture is really the only chance for the Academy to show the film some love, this being the ‘Everyone Gets Something’ version of the Academy Awards.
Leonardo DiCaprio will win his first Academy Award on Sunday and rather ironically it will come for his most audience friendly performance. “The Revenant,” aside from it’s artful direction and cinematography, is really a dressed up action movie. DiCaprio plays a role in “The Revenant” that would not be out of place on any number of well known action heroes, minus his talent and gravitas. With five nominations and no wins, DiCaprio has the sympathy of voters and in the end that will matter more than whether his performance was truly the best in an obviously subjective vote.
“It Girl” is the narrative of the Best Actress race. Brie Larson is the new ‘It Girl,’ the future star of blockbusters who also happens to be an incredible actress. No other nominee in this category even has a specific narrative. Jennifer Lawrence has, in the eyes of many Academy members, already received her Oscar, same for Cate Blanchett who just won two years ago. Charlotte Rampling is a loved and respected veteran but her movie isn’t a hit and she’s not about to make anyone any money at the box office in the future. As for Saorise Ronan, at 21 years old industry folk likely feel she will have plenty of time to be nominated again and thus there is no urgent need to award her now. Larson on the other hand is on the precipice of major stardom and stamping her with an Oscar is good for business. (That’s some cynicism for you). Incidentally, Larson’s performance in “Room” is remarkable, this merely my cynical take on the Academy and not the actual performances of any of these fine actors and actresses.
Best Supporting Actor
I’ve laid out the narrative for Stallone already so there is no need to rehash. Stallone will win on Sunday night.
Best Supporting Actress
Returning to the narrative of this year’s Oscars ‘Everyone Gets Something,’ we arrive at Best Supporting Actor and the desire to acknowledge Quentin Tarentino’s contribution to film in 2015. After all, “Spotlight’ is going to win Best Picture so we’re covered there and “Steve Jobs”, “The Danish Girl” and “Carol” committed the unconscionable sins of not being hits, so that leaves Jennifer Jason Leigh and her work in “The Hateful Eight,” a film that has the star power and cache of Tarentino and a sizable box office performance. Fair point that box office doesn’t always matter, “The Hurt Locker” famously was not a hit movie but that film created a star in Jeremy Renner and a bankable director in Katherine Bigelow, not to mention the industry wide schadenfreude that was sated when the self proclaimed ‘King of the World’ had to sit by and watch as his behemoth “Avatar” lost to the tiny indie movie directed by his ex-wife, narrative tops all with the Academy.
To this point I haven’t mentioned “Mad Max: Fury Road.” That’s simply because the film doesn’t have any major nominations outside of Best Picture and Best Director. Since this is the ‘Everyone Gets Something’ Oscars and George Miller is a beloved industry veteran who reinvented genre film-making in 2015, of course he will be honored as Best Director. It also helps that “Mad Max: Fury Road” was a blockbuster and that Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu won last year for “Birdman.” Heaven forbid someone win two Oscars in a row without a great narrative behind the win, a story to be told like say Tom Hanks moving from beloved actor of hit movies to serious actor and star of hit movies at the same time.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Process of elimination should tell you that among the Best Picture nominee favorites, only “The Big Short,” has not received an ‘Everyone Gets One’ Oscar win. That’s the narrative for Best Adapted Screenplay which will go to Charles Randolph and Adam McKay for their funny, smart, and powerful script for “The Big Short.”
Best Original Screenplay
I would say that “Bridge of Spies” could win here based on my incredibly cynical narrative for this year’s Awards but the fact is, if they are going to give “Spotlight” Best Picture, as I believe they will, they can’t ignore the film’s exceptional screenplay.
The rest of my predictions are listed below. I Hate Critics will be offering a special Oscars bonus episode immediately following Sunday’s Academy Awards and we hope you will listen and enjoy the Oscars fun with us on Monday or whenever Bob finishes editing.
Best Animated Feature
Emmanuel Lubezki “The Revenant”
Best Costume Design
“The Look of Silence”
Best Documentary Short Subject
“Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of Shoah”
Best Foreign Language Film
“Son of Saul”
Best Makeup and Hair
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
Best Original Score
“The Hateful Eight”
Best Original Song
“Til It Happens to You” Lady Gaga
Best Production Design
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
Best Animated Short
“Sanjay’s Super Team”
Best Live Action Short
Best Sound Editing
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
Best Sound Mixing
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
Best Visual Effects
“Mad Max: Fury Road”