Projection: Oscar – Thoughts on a Still-Unclear Oscar Race


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After nearly five months of screenings, discussion, and prognostication, one might expect something of a catharsis after the nominees are finally announced. The lead-up to the nominations announcement is so long and the speculation so thick that, once the nominees are unveiled, it feel like The Answer.

In the wake of this morning’s 88th Academy Awards announcement, we did indeed receive plenty of answers – 121 of them, in fact, in the form of every nominated film and filmmaker within the 24 Oscar categories. And yet what’s most striking – but should not be viewed as surprising, especially this year – is how many questions are still leftover. The nominations seem to clarify who is in the race, but have yet to confirm who will cross that finish line on February 28th.

Most would likely presume The Revenant is clearly in the lead, having earned 12 nominations, leading the entire field. On the heels of its big night at the Golden Globes, one might get the feeling that a juggernaut is forming with Alejandro G. Inarritu’s film. And yet the competition is stout, with at least a few other films with legit chances of winning Best Picture.

SpotlightTom McCarthy’s Spotlight is chief among them, having led the awards race since its debut on the fall festival circuit and carrying through to now, when it has emerged as the clear favorite among the critical precursors and is one of only two films to figure prominently in the SAG, PGA, DGA, and the Oscar nominations (not even The Revenant can make that claim, having missed out on SAG’s Best Cast). The only other film in that exclusive grouping: Adam McKay’s The Big Short, which is still a hot commodity with a huge upside. And then there’s Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller’s masterpiece of cinema, another favorite on the critics circuit that also amassed a sizable nomination tally, as expected, garnering 10 total. In terms of films with Best Picture winning potential, those films make up the clear Top Four. And let’s be honest – for the Best Picture category to run four-deep in terms of legit threats for the win this late in the game is something of a marvel.

If I were to tag a fifth onto that grouping, it would be Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, somewhat unbelievably. After being hit-or-miss along the precursor circuit, its only consistent player being Brie Larson in Best Actress, the film wound up tallying four major nominations. Larson, of course, is chief among them, but also Emma Donaghue’s screenplay, Abrahamson’s direction, and the big one, Best Picture. Note that I did not place The Martian in the top five, because it seems pretty clear that the Academy didn’t, either. Ridley Scott was left off the Best Director list in one of the morning’s biggest surprises, and the film failed to earn a Best Editing nomination, thus appearing to kill its Best Picture chances. The film still tallied 7 total nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay, so it’s in the mix, but not a real Best Picture threat. And for those stray folks who are positing this as somehow analogous to Ben Affleck’s 2013 omission, which led the groundswell for Argo to win Best Picture…think again. Argo was far more established as a frontrunner than The Martian ever was, and fervor over Affleck’s Best Director miss was more severe.

Brooklyn and Bridge of Spies rounded out the Best Picture category and have already been relegated into the “Happy To Be There” box. The most glaring omission in Best Picture is, obviously, Todd Haynes’ Carol, and my Twitter feed is appropriately tear-streaked. Small consolation, sure, but the film did land six total nominations, and I do believe it won’t walk away empty-handed on Oscar night. Straight Outta Compton, which landed in SAG’s top five and PGA’s top 10, was also left out in Best Picture, as were PGA nominees Sicario and Ex Machina, as well as Pixar’s Inside Out, which some had still pegged (though not me) as likely to be included here.

file_607874_carol-clip-cannesPredictably, some of the morning’s prevailing themes skew negative. “Category Fraud” has dominated the pundit commentary all season, with studios submitting various performances to be considered in the Supporting categories when they were clearly leads. The Academy toed the studio line, however, handing Best Supporting Actress nominations to Rooney Mara in Carol and Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl. That sound you hear is Film Twitter EXPLODING. Another, more serious theme of the morning is a holdover from last year: Oscars So White. Remarkably, this year is, somehow, even whiter than last year, with no representation for people of color in any of the acting categories, and this year not even a Best Picture nomination. Sure, that BP nod for Selma seemed like a token last year, but this year the Academy couldn’t even manage a token. Compton and Creed, the two most prominent contenders to be directed by and starring African-Americans, did each earn one nomination apiece – though in both cases those nominations went to white folks, Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff in the Best Original Screenplay category for Compton, and Sylvester Stallone in Best Supporting Actor for Creed. Stallone’s nomination in particular is well-deserved, but come on, AMPAS…

Prediction-wise, I did pretty well. I got all the Best Picture nominees, though you might consider that a false positive, since I predicted a total of nine nominees and included Carol, a miss that hurts on multiple levels. Four out of five on Best Director (and who the hell could’ve predicted Abrahamson over Scott, though I don’t mind that miss one bit). A perfect five-for-five on both lead acting categories, though a less happy three-for-five in both supporting categories, in each case the victim of overthinking and overtweaking. On most below-the-line categories I went four out of five, which is pretty standard, and which I will take with pride.

What comes next? Well, a certain degree of waiting over the next month-and-a-half, though the landscape is dotted with certain milestone that have the potential to clarify the race…or not. Pay special attention to the major industry guilds, all three of which announce winners within a soon-forthcoming three-week span – the PGA on January 23rd, SAG on January 30th, and the DGA on February 6th. Consensus on those three is quite indicative, as we learned with Birdman last year. Though the only two films in position for a three-guild sweep are Spotlight and The Big Short, and both are still very capable of doing so.

On we forge, into Phase Two. The field is now set, but there’s still much to decide.


About Author

I married into the cult of cinema at a very young age - I wasn't of legal marriage age, but I didn't care. It has taken advantage of me and abused me many times. Yet I stay in this marriage because I'm obsessed and consumed. Don't try to save me -- I'm too far gone.