Has The Revenant become a juggernaut?
That’s what you’re probably hearing in many circles in the wake of last Sunday’s BAFTA Awards, in which Alejandro G. Inarritu’s film claimed five trophies, including Best Film and Best Director. As expected, it split the tech categories with Mad Max: Fury Road (although it was a lopsided split in that regard; Fury Road claimed four below-the-line wins, including Editing, Costume Design, Makeup and Hair, and Production Design). It was the above-the-line categories, the Big Ones, in which Revenant nudged ahead, adding a Best Actor win for Leonardo DiCaprio to the aforementioned Film and Director awards.
Plus, Revenant cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki won the American Society of Cinematographers award later that evening. And lest we forget, Inarritu took the DGA award one week prior. So in that way, it does seem as though the stars are aligning at just the right time.
And yet – I’m still not sure. Very few are – and if they are, they’re a little foolish. This Oscar season is still a three-horse race, with a path to victory for The Revenant, certainly, but also for The Big Short and Spotlight. The latter two hold sway in AMPAS’ preferential balloting, and that’s what Best Picture is going to come down to. BAFTA, in contrast, doesn’t use a preferential ballot, nor does it push its Best Film nominees past a total of five. No matter how you slice it, a BAFTA win for The Revenant does not directly lead to an Oscar win. I still find it hard to believe that a film as demonstrably divisive as The Revenant will score the right combo of first- and second-place spots to win in a preferential system – especially after it already lost on a preferential count earlier this season, having lost the PGA to The Big Short.
All other categories are tallied by popular vote. As a result, the Best Director win for Alejandro G. Inarritu is just about undeniable. Ditto the Best Cinematography win for Emmanuel Lubezki…though I’m not quite willing to give up on my Roger Deakins dark-horse selection just yet (the Academy has exhibited maverick tendencies in the Cinematography category in recent years, in spite of their lockstep Lubezki selections the past two). But in all likelihood, the two top visual categories will go to the film viewed as the “technical achievement.” But does “technical achievement” lead inexorably to a Best Picture win? Not necessarily, and especially not in an open year like this one. The Revenant doesn’t have a screenplay nomination, which isn’t entirely damning but also isn’t helpful when its two top competitors will be *winning* in their respective screenplay categories. One could counter with “well, the screenplay wins will be consolation prizes for Big Short and Spotlight.” Perfectly valid argument, and one that many are already proliferating. But there’s a flip perspective, one in which screenplay ties directly into a film’s themes and narrative, which more naturally leads to a Best Picture vote. There’s also the notion that the technical achievement of The Revenant will be awarded with Best Director and a handful of tech wins, with DiCaprio as the cherry on top of that Consolation Sundae.
One could also say, “but if Revenant wins Director, Actor, Cinematography, and a couple other below-the-line categories, why wouldn’t it also be a shoo-in for Best Picture?” Fair enough, but remember, the modern-day Oscars needn’t be a landslide event anymore. In the years since AMPAS returned to the preferential ballot, the highest total Oscar count for a Best Picture winner was The Hurt Locker, which won six. The Artist won five. The King’s Speech and Birdman won four. Argo and 12 Years a Slave won three. The sliding scale doesn’t really work in the favor of a Revenant sweep. To be fair, if Revenant took Picture, Director, Actor, Cinematography, and both sound categories, it would tally six, tying the modern record. But it doesn’t directly correlate to Hurt Locker, since that film’s winning narrative was much stronger (the David v. Goliath battle with Avatar), and it won PGA, and it won Screenplay. (FYI - the only recent Best Picture winner to not win Screenplay was The Artist, but it at least garnered a nomination.)
The bottom line remains: no one can be sure of anything. But there are legitimate things to consider before defaulting to The Revenant across the board in your predictions. It’s a contender, but it’s not THE contender.
Since, this year, no film is THE contender. It’s a year, a season, and a race unto itself. That is our blessing, and that is our curse.