Little Gold Men… Again

Previewing Oscars 2016 The Oscars are stupid. Let’s get that out there up front. Any attempt at positioning the annual ceremony as anything other than silly, self-congratulating fluff is entirely fruitless. Awards are silly, fancy clothes are fun, and so forth. The problem is that those that make up the Academy and many of those pumping millions of dollars and hours and hours of time into campaigning for awards recognition every year take the whole thing very seriously. And when they screw up, in a clash of ideologies that creates shockwaves like #OscarSoWhite, and yet still furiously defend their lack of inclusion, their garbled politics, and their retrograde, regressive beliefs about filmmaking… it all gets sort of ugly.

And that’s the cloud that’s hanging over tonight’s ceremony. It’s an ugliness that might be covered in golden gauze or a slinky Dior gown, but an ugliness still.

While it’s arguable that the Oscars are being used as a scapegoat for an industry-wide problem, treating the Academy with a level of importance and relevance that it frankly doesn’t deserve, what is pretty inarguable is one cold fact: The Oscars are pretty damn boring. Awards are reserved for those works deemed somehow ‘important’ – but always ‘important’ in ways that are removed, modest and quaint. The new cottage industry of Oscar predicting means certain films and certain actors ride a wave of ‘buzz’ from their very first announcements in the trades, practically guaranteeing them a spot in the ceremony even if it turns out those films are terrible.

And films with no-name casts and under-the-radar directors wind up struggling to get through, the ‘anointed ones’ already sucking up all the oxygen in the room. And it often happens that those surprises are populated with non-white faces, or made on tiny budgets, because it’s rare that industry power players are going to set up a big-budget, pre-ordained Oscar project with a black lead. Unless, of course, it’s about slaves or maids or inspirational black people. Then they might have a shot. Asian, Indian or Latino? Pfft. You’re not even part of the conversation.

See what I said about ugliness? When so much dirt is being thrown around, the mainstream media finally catching on to a systemic grossness that has long enveloped Hollywood, it makes Oscar predictions seem kind of ridiculous. But when you look at the year in film and realise how many fantastic films and performances were either snubbed or completely absent from even the thinnest of buzz, predictions and ‘shoulda been’ proclamations become just another means of sticking it to the little gold man. Which is sort of fun. Because, as we all know, the Oscars are stupid.

Best Picture
The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room, Spotlight

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Will Win While it’s been an awful year for the Oscars, it’s actually been a pretty interesting one in terms of mystery. Even at this late stage, it’s tricky to nail what will win Best Picture. Though that might be because so many of the nominees more likely to win are grade-A mayonnaise. The Revenant seems like a strong bet, but I’m not sure voters would go for an Iñárritu film two years running. Spotlight could work, but its such an interestingly small-scale film, in spite of the enormous stakes of its premise, that I’m not sure it’ll create enough passion amongst the Academy. Or the result could wind up being sort of nuts, like Mad Max taking home the win. Though, come on, that just doesn’t seem likely. Meh. I’ll vote The Revenant.

Part of me really wants The Big Short to take it, though. Just because it would be fitting for a year of so much controversy to be capped by the whitest, most male, most self-congratulatory and self-important eye-roll of a film taking home the big prize.

Should Win While The Revenant and Spotlight are fantastic, Mad Max: Fury Road transported you into a whole different universe that was so unlike anything conventionally seen that it probably warrants the win. Plus, the fact that it got this far in the first place is pretty nuts in itself. Scrappy to the end, that movie.

Shoulda Been a Contender Were the gay characters at the centre of Carol just not miserable enough? Would it have been more palatable if Therese fell down that storm grate they kept panning to? Was the unapologetically sexual longing of two gay women just sort of icky for the Academy? In comparison to, say, the completely sexless, sanitised mannequin that Eddie Redmayne played in The Danish Girl? Carol is a masterpiece, something that just aches with feeling. The fact that it missed out on both the big two categories and completely fell out of any real conversation months ago continues to be absurd.

It’s also sort of nuts that Inside Out didn’t break out from the Animation category. Too many ladies in that one too, probably.

Then there’s Creed and Straight Outta Compton. I feel like we’ve been conditioned to avoid blaming things on race, as if it’s regarded as such a supposedly ‘easy’ card to pull, but it’s just so baffling that two incredibly well-made and pretty narratively conventional movies missed the boat. Like they’re exactly the kind of thing the Oscars typically love. Characters overcome adversity, everybody defies the odds stacked against them, any truly difficult complexity is sort of vetoed. It’s ugh. Especially when the Best Picture race is stacked this year with similarly conventionally-told films that have none of the real-world relevance or sheer freshness of something like Straight Outta Compton. Blah.

My Ballot Carol, Chi-Raq, Inside Out, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, Sicario, Spotlight, Straight Outta Compton

Best Director
Lenny Abrahamson (Room), Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant), Adam McKay (The Big Short), George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)

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Will Win I don’t know if it’s wishful thinking, but am I crazy to think George Miller has a real shot here? It would have been a different story if Iñárritu didn’t win last year, but I can really see them picking Miller out of the five nominees. Then there’s McCarthy, for a bit more of a safe choice. Still thought he did a fantastic job with Spotlight, though. Plus, he birthed The Station Agent, which is brilliant.

I still don’t know what Adam McKay is doing here.

Should Win Miller crafted something so strange and alien and unlike anything we’ve ever seen or likely will see any time again soon. He turned an ordinarily flashy, bland genre into true art, and really ought to win.

Shoulda Been a Contender I mean, did you read the Carol stuff up top? Todd Haynes is the big misstep here. It’s sort of atrocious. Spike Lee also did really, really great stuff with Chi-Raq, morphing Greek tragedy into an adrenalin-soaked opera that felt like an experimental, socially-relevant rock video. In pipe-dream-land, it would have been nice to see something for Sean Baker, too, just for his technological experimentation with Tangerine. The fact something so visually striking and beautiful was made on a damn iPhone continues to be nuts. F. Gary Gray for Straight Outta Compton would have been a cool nod here, too. Oh, well.

My Ballot Sean Baker (Tangerine), Todd Haynes (Carol), Spike Lee (Chi-Raq), George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant)

Best Adapted Screenplay
Emma Donoghue (Room), Drew Goddard (The Martian), Nick Hornby (Brooklyn), Adam McKay and Charles Randolph (The Big Short), Phyllis Nagy (Carol)

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Will Win It’d be nice to see The Martian take this, both because it’s a nicely well-written movie and the fact that I have residual Buffy love for Drew Goddard. But this will undoubtedly go to The Big Short. For some reason it’s struck a chord. Despite being smug and charmless and generally a shit-show. Meh.

Should Win This is getting repetitive, but it ought to be Phyllis Nagy taking the award for Carol. Though Carol just hasn’t clicked with the Academy this year, which is dispiriting and frankly odd.

Shoulda Been a Contender This is a tough category to create a ballot for, since I didn’t care for Emma Donoghue’s script for Room, and I haven’t seen Brooklyn. Other than Marielle Heller’s funny and brilliant adaptation of The Diary of a Teenage Girl, which really should be here, there weren’t a ton of great adapted screenplays this year. Which might be sort of positive?

My Ballot Drew Goddard (The Martian), Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl), Phyllis Nagy (Carol)

Best Original Screenplay
Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman, S. Leigh Savidge, and Alan Wenkus (Straight Outta Compton), Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen (Bridge of Spies), Josh Cooley, Ronaldo Del Carmen, Pete Docter and Meg LeFauve (Inside Out), Alex Garland (Ex Machina), Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer (Spotlight)

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Will Win It’s nice to see Ex Machina in here, even if it’s totally landed that ‘weird, one-shot Original Screenplay nomination’ spot for something cool and indie, as is Oscar tradition. Inside Out will likely, and deservedly, take home the prize, though.

Elsewhere, it’s pretty funny that Straight Outta Compton‘s one nomination went to arguably its weakest element. I loved the movie, but it sure suffered from a lot of that traditional biopic clunk-itis. That and it excised a lot of the more unsavoury incidents of certain members of the group, which sort of sucks. Meh.

Should Win It would be pretty outrageous if Inside Out didn’t take this. It’s arguably the most thoughtful, ambitious film in Pixar history, something that can’t help but burrow into your own consciousness and stay there long after you’ve seen it. Also absolutely hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measure.

Shoulda Been a Contender I really, really dug Love & Mercy, which was completely snubbed this year. Balancing two timelines in the life of Beach Boy Brian Wilson, it managed to do the near-impossible in creating a family-endorsed biopic that is also revealing, complex and refuses to entirely deify its protagonist. It’s a lovely film, which in the hands of better distributors would have probably scored a ton of nominations.

My Ballot Josh Cooley, Ronaldo Del Carmen, Pete Docter and Meg LeFauve (Inside Out), Spike Lee and Kevin Wilmott (Chi-Raq), Michael Alan Lerner and Oren Moverman (Love & Mercy), Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer (Spotlight), Taylor Sheridan (Sicario)

Best Actor
Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

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Will Win Really? Even before the internet decided it, this was always Leonardo DiCaprio‘s award. It’s also an easier win that it probably would have been anyway, purely because the competition is so weak. Matt Damon is very, very charming in The Martian – but it’s a ‘nice’ performance, not something that necessarily warrants gold being flung his way. Likewise Fassbender in Steve Jobs. While there’s nothing wrong with his performance, the film goes so far out of its way to make Jobs a self-consciously “complex character” that it all comes off a little phony. It also doesn’t help that Fassbender’s other two 2015 roles were so spectacular, and therefore spectacularly snubbed.

Neither Damon or Fassbender are bad nominations though. At least in comparison to Eddie Redmayne’s, which is just staggering. His performance in The Danish Girl is appallingly ill-judged, something that reduces a complex, challenging real-life pioneer into a barrel of unintentionally comedic tics – hands constantly clutching imaginary pearls, self-conscious daintiness, the cheesy grin of a perpetually fragile loon. His slithering, dinner-theatre Alan Rickman impersonation in last year’s Jupiter Ascending looks almost subtle in comparison. Ugh. It’s such an awful performance, so much that it’s hard to even wrap your head around it.

Should Win Even if it wasn’t such a bland year for Best Actor, DiCaprio still deserves the win for his performance. I’m also not here for the recent detractors against it, along with the film itself. While The Wolf of Wall Street still ranks as his greatest work, a steaming, beautiful whirlwind of grotesque, he’s fantastic here. It’s easy to shrink in a movie of so much visual excess, even more so when you have basically no lines, but he still completely anchors it. It’ll be a very nice win.

Shoulda Been a Contender Michael Fassbender delivered two equally incredible performances in Macbeth and Slow West, but his interesting take on the former (I haven’t seen madness so wildly depicted in that character before) gives it the edge. I’d also thrown a bone to Samuel L. Jackson, who pulls off one of the strangest, most uncomfortably funny monologues I’ve ever seen in The Hateful Eight. He also successfully anchors what is a very unwieldy movie. I don’t know which member of the Academy’s Wheaties he’s peed in, but he can’t seem to catch a break with those guys.

Then there’s Jacob Tremblay in Room, who seemed to have suffered from A24 Films pushing him in Supporting… which makes no sense at all. Tremblay is spectacular in Room – natural, unpolished and fiercely compelling. None of that iffy child-actor weirdness either. On a completely different note, Youth featured the best use of Michael Caine in years. While the film itself continues to slightly baffle me, he gave an incredibly nuanced, graceful performance there.

But I also adored Paul Dano in Love & Mercy. It’s a tricky performance, having to play somebody unbearable and frustrating, but also incredibly vulnerable. He’s such a fantastic actor.

My Ballot Paul Dano (Love & Mercy), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Michael Fassbender (Macbeth), Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight), Jacob Tremblay (Room)

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett (Carol), Brie Larson (Room), Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), Charlotte Rampling (45 Years), Saiorse Ronan (Brooklyn)

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Will Win Brie Larson presumably had her name engraved on that little gold man back in September, her so-called competition merely going through the motions ever since. It’ll be a fine win – she gives an earnest, compelling performance, if not enormously remarkable. But pfft. Elsewhere, it was a lovely surprise to see Charlotte Rampling here, since her performance in 45 Years is so clenched, muted and subtle – usually the sort of things that fly over the heads of Academy voters.

Jennifer Lawrence has no chance of winning, but she also shouldn’t be here at all. She’s completely fine in Joy, but the movie is a directionless slog, presumably cut together by Helen Keller. Who is probably also drunk in this scenario. On a related note, the Academy needs to stop handing nominations to likeable people who are merely serviceable in Oscar-bait movies. Like pretty much everybody agreed Joy was a car crash. Throw somebody else a bone, guys.

Should Win Based on the actresses in contention, and even though it comes just two years after her last win, it ought to be Cate Blanchett walking off with the trophy. Her Carol Aird is theatrical, sexy and commanding – she plays her interaction with the young, impressionable Therese with an irresistible mix of romantic longing and carnivorous randy-ness, adding yet another stunning performance to an already crowded line-up of career highlights.

Shoulda Been a Contender Well, there’s Rooney Mara… but more on her later. Considering the surprising number of nods Mad Max received, it was a shame Charlize Theron missed out. Imperator Furiosa was one of the most engaging action heroes in a long-ass time, completely steam-rolling over the character allegedly leading the movie. It’s a truly whole performance, tough and brutal, but also tortured and compassionate. In a movie with so much noise, she still managed to stick out. On a similar wavelength was Emily Blunt in Sicario. While largely a reactive role and audience surrogate, she also created a character of full form and weight, similarly stuck in the middle of a world of unimaginable horror and brutality. Only, you know, a place that isn’t fictitious.

For movies that weren’t ever really on the radar, Elisabeth Moss gave one of the most chilling, unusual performances of the year in Queen of Earth, but it’s no surprise a film so deliberately strange got snubbed. Her time will come, though. Teyonah Parris also did striking, commanding work in Chi-Raq, creating a kind of sex-strike comic-book superhero in the process. A quick mention is needed for Bel Powley’s lovely work in The Diary of a Teenage Girl but, again, her time will come. These young, white indie girls usually get bigger opportunities down the line.

My Ballot Cate Blanchett (Carol), Emily Blunt (Sicario), Rooney Mara (Carol), Charlotte Rampling (45 Years), Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale (The Big Short), Tom Hardy (The Revenant), Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

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Will Win Sylvester Stallone is by all accounts a very nice guy, is very good in Creed, and a win would cap a really interesting story for the Rocky Balboa character – he was nominated for the same role 40 years ago. His toughest competitor is probably Mark Rylance, but I can’t see really Stallone getting snubbed.

Should Win It’s a pretty boring category here, so I’ll be happy with a Stallone win. Hardy is brilliant in The Revenant, though – menacing and nasty and pretty much repulsive. But Stallone brings the warmth. Bale and Ruffalo are equally as bland in both of their movies, while I haven’t seen Bridge of Spies.

Shoulda Been a Contender I have a theory that most of the Academy doesn’t actually pay attention to these movies, and just throw nominations at whoever they generally like. Particularly in an ensemble. How Ruffalo was the anointed Spotlight cast member as opposed to somebody like Stanley Tucci, who is brilliant in it, is all kinds of ridiculous. And I completely didn’t see whatever Bale did to warrant a nod.

For snubs, Benicio Del Toro is a barrel of intensity in Sicario, enigmatic and oddly likeable, responsible for one of the most provocative third acts of 2015. I also really loved Walton Goggins’ barely-functioning sheriff-in-waiting in The Hateful Eight – a slippery hick with the most pronounced arc of all the film’s protagonists. It’s unfortunate he never caught any of Jennifer Jason Leigh’s buzz. Jason Mitchell’s performance as Eazy E was also the heart and soul of Straight Outta Compton. Sure, he had the most Oscar-friendly story in the film, but he was such an endearing, tragic figure in the movie, and Mitchell stormed it. Finally there’s John Cusack, achingly vulnerable as the older Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy, wonderfully mirroring Paul Dano’s performance, even if they never properly share a scene.

And in complete curveballs, how about some shout-outs to a haunted, unexpected Harrison Ford in The Age of Adaline? Or Jason Bateman turning out to be absolutely monstrous in The Gift? Or, drumroll please, Jason goddamn Statham for his frankly masterful comedic work in Spy? A lot of great supporting roles this year…

My Ballot John Cusack (Love & Mercy), Benicio Del Toro (Sicario), Walton Goggins (The Hateful Eight), Tom Hardy (The Revenant), Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton)

Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Rooney Mara (Carol), Rachel McAdams (Spotlight), Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl), Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

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Will Win This is one of the year’s lamer categories. Rooney Mara is spectacular in Carol, delivering one of 2015’s most sumptuous, endearing performances – but she’s fraudulently placed in the wrong category, purely to keep her away from her co-star. Likewise, Alicia Vikander being here is silly, her placement failing to even make sense on a ‘competition from a co-star’ level. She’s also bafflingly terrible in the film, all smudged make-up and weepy grandstanding. Not quite as bad as Redmayne, but that would be quite a task even for the most awful actress.

Rachel McAdams is fine if not particularly memorable in Spotlight, but her nod works as a nice testament to her generally strong filmography over the years (particularly her majestically evil Regina George), so pfft – no complaints here. Kate Winslet is very good in Steve Jobs, criticism about a wavering accent eluding these ears, and could be a last-minute spoiler for the win. But it’ll undoubtedly go Alicia Vikander‘s way. She’s worked the circuit well, has had a banner year, fills the ‘mysterious ingénue anointed one’ spot, and will most likely walk away with the gold.

Should Win If we’re talking genuine supporting performances, it ought to be Jennifer Jason Leigh taking home the prize. Her work in The Hateful Eight is masterfully nuts, full of prickly humour and guttural nastiness. It’s a shame the film surrounding her wasn’t as strong.

Shoulda Been a Contender The inclusion of Mara and Vikander meant an irritating steamroll over an array of genuine supporting roles this year. There’s the effervescent Elizabeth Banks in Love & Mercy, Rose Byrne as the most deliciously campy femme fatale this side of an Austin Powers movie in Spy, and a revelatory performance from Mya Taylor in Tangerine. In her very first film, she is alternately funny and heartbreaking, evoking a tender, underlying desperation to cling onto her already fragile sense of hope.

Elsewhere, Tessa Thompson invoked what could have been a stock girlfriend role in Creed with a smooth, effortless radiance, while Angela Bassett completely stole the show in the busy Chi-Raq supporting cast. Rachel Weisz had that thunderous monologue in Youth, Olivia Colman turned on a dime with terrifying ease in London Road, while Julia Roberts continued her late-career renaissance with a spectacularly rich performance in Secret in Their Eyes. Pity the movie itself was a dumpster fire. Finally, there’s Alicia Vikander again, doing far more interesting, challenging work in Ex Machina, in what actually was a supporting role. Political Oscar bullshit once again rules supreme.

My Ballot Elizabeth Banks (Love & Mercy), Rose Byrne (Spy), Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Mya Taylor (Tangerine), Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina)

The 88th Annual Academy Awards are held tonight, to be hosted by Chris Rock – recently ordained the unluckiest man in Hollywood for having to somehow pull this whole shitstorm together.

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