Welcome to 2016.
In other words, welcome to the last two months of the Oscar race.
We are a week away from the transition from Phase One, where we grouse about which films and performances can squeeze into those narrow Oscar categories, into Phase Two, where we still grouse, but at least the field is set so we can hone said grousing. Nominations for the 88th Oscars will be announced bright and early on January 14, and in the next week final predictions will settle, but not before a fever pitch of churn.
Because let’s be honest: this season more than any other in recent memory, it’s hard to tell which end is up.
There are things we know for sure…but even those few things seem somewhat tenuous. Spotlight is in for Best Picture and is the odds-on favorite to win, yet there is the late onslaught of love for The Big Short, which is shuddering certain pundits into presuming it will swoop in and steal Best Picture. And it is one of only three films to pull a SAG and PGA double-dip; Spotlight is another, and the third is…Straight Outta Compton – go figure. Brie Larson and Saoirse Ronan are duking it out in Best Actress, with Larson in the lead by virtue of winning more critics prizes, but that’s all we have to go on right now. Best Actor appears to be Leonardo DiCaprio’s to lose, though I haven’t heard a single piece proclaiming his performance as legendary or some insane work of genius. I haven’t even heard anyone say it’s his best work (cuz, well, it isn’t). So he’s kind of a de facto frontrunner. So much for certainty, eh?
From where I sit, the screenplay categories seem locked up by the two Best Picture frontrunners – Spotlight in Original and Big Short in Adapted. Animated Feature should safely return to Pixar’s possession since Inside Out seems like a sure winner. And in terms of the big categories, that’s about it in terms of speaking with certainty. Son of Saul and Amy feel likely in Foreign Language Film and Documentary Feature, respectively, but both have legit competition for the win (Mustang in Foreign Language and The Look of Silence in Doc Feature). Star Wars: The Force Awakens may well sweep the tech categories, but I’d still only peg it at 80% in VFX and 60% in the two sound categories. I’d bet on Mad Max: Fury Road to walk away with the most Oscar nominations AND the most wins, though what that combination will be is up in the air…and it’s hard to pin down.
Supporting Actress is a mess, thanks to Category Confusion (or “Fraud,” if you want to be harsh about it). I’d say Rooney Mara has it locked up…but what if she is nominated as a Lead? Maybe then it falls to Alicia Vikander…but in The Danish Girl or Ex Machina? Does she get a double nomination? Does she split her favor? And what if both Mara and Vikander end up out of the Supporting conversation? Who wins in that case? It’s a boondoggle.
Supporting Actor felt like a Spotlight kind of category…until no one bothered nominating any of the Spotlight men. With that being the case, Mark Rylance was poised to walk off with the Oscar…but along came Sly Stallone in Creed, the first time ever that Rocky Balboa could be considered a “supporting” character, and it may result in Oscar glory. That makes sense to me…but it’s not set in stone just yet. The churn persists.
Best Director? Gonzo. If Spotlight wins Best Picture, one would assume that respect would trickle down to Tom McCarthy…but go look at any aggregation of Oscar pundits. Most of them split their predictions between George Miller for Fury Road and Ridley Scott for The Martian, with even a little bit of love thrown Adam McKay’s direction for The Big Short. Even with most everyone predicting Spotlight to win BP, very few are picking its director to win alongside it…and there are even some folks ready to presume McCarthy doesn’t even get nominated. That’s asinine from my perspective…but again, in this climate anything is possible. Picture-Director splits are not normal…and they aren’t even the “New Normal,” as some would lead you to believe. But Spotlight’s power is in its writing, and Fury Road’s power is in its visual bombast…so I wouldn’t be surprised with Spotlight claiming Picture and ceding Director to Miller.
But I also wouldn’t be surprised with Spotlight taking both categories…or, for that matter, Fury Road taking both. Both films have been dominant in the precursor circuit (though in all fairness, Spotlight has garnered more Best Film prizes and Miller has garnered more Best Director prizes…split split split), and with Fury Road being a craft juggernaut and a potential Best Director winner, Best Picture is not out of the question. Maybe it will be this year’s Gravity – easily winning the most Oscars but failing to win the Big One. Or maybe all that below-the-line love will culminate in a Best Picture win. Difficult to say…guild results should be helpful in gauging the Academy’s thinking, though that hasn’t always been the case.
Original Scores? Weird that the frontrunners – Ennio Morricone for The Hateful Eight and John Williams for Star Wars: The Force Awakens – have firm bases in other historical sources.
Original Songs? WERE there any original songs in movies this year??? Other than the auspicious Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack, that is….
And what of Best Picture? Forget the ultimate winner, but what will be nominated? And how many films will be nominated? The vote tabulation system is likely to yield 6-10, according to AMPAS. But in the three years of this model, we’ve seen two years with nine nominees and one year with eight. It seems mighty hard to hit that magic number of 10…but I suppose if any year could do it, it would be a year like this one, where love was intense and spread across a wide swath of movies. My prediction remains nine, but only about six of those are firm – Spotlight, Fury Road, Big Short, Martian, The Revenant, and Bridge of Spies. The Producers Guild added Brooklyn, Ex Machina, Sicario, and Compton to reach their annual list of 10 nominees. But what about Room? What about Inside Out? What about Carol? PGA doesn’t always match up film-for-film with Oscar, so there will be a slight shift…but where will that shift occur?
I’m guessing Sicario and Ex Machina won’t make the Best Picture cut at the Oscars…at least one of them will be left out, and more likely both. Compton, by virtue of being embraced by both SAG and PGA, seems like a safe bet…tenuous but safe. Brooklyn appears to have appropriate prestige and widespread appreciation to make the cut. So add those two to my original six and you have eight. Only one spot left…or a max of two. Does that leave room for Room? That would be my guess…though I find it hard to believe that even in a year in which he proclaimed the Oscar race to be garbage, Harvey Weinstein would let a year go by without getting at least one of his films into the Best Picture category, and Carol seems a better bet than Hateful Eight. So maybe they hit 10 nominees this year so Room and Carol can sneak in. Or Room and Inside Out. Or Sicario. Or……
“Or” will be both our favorite word and our most vexing rhetorical crutch over the next week as we try to curate final picks for a category of indeterminate size, with seemingly endless possibilities with various-but-valid rationales.
So cruel, this guy Oscar.