Projection: Oscar – The 5th Annual Official Projection Oscar Ballot


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As Oscar Night approaches, it’s time to indulge in one of my favorite annual features of the season. Time to momentarily shed the worries and uncertainties of the prediction grind and cut loose with a pointed discussion of not what will win, but what should win…at least, from my humble perspective.

Yes, at long last, it is time for the 5th Annual *OFFICIAL* Projection Oscar Ballot, in which I simulate what my ballot would look like if only I was saddled with the blessing/curse combo of being an Oscar voter. For the next few minutes, while reading through my selections, remember to turn off the snap judgments of “Is This Bloviating Pundit Correct in His Predictions?!” and replace them with the snap judgments of “Does This Bloviating Pundit Possess Opinions That Match My Own?” Alas, this is a subjective enterprise – no groupthink employed – but rather a reflection of what I am passionate about…at least among the given nominees.

Another fair warning: remember that I can only work with what the Academy has provided me. I can’t vote for Clouds of Sils Maria anywhere, since AMPAS failed to nominate it. I can’t vote for Todd Haynes in Best Director, though I might want to. And, as we’ve well-established at this point, I can’t vote for any people of color in the major categories…or many categories at all, for that matter. This is, unfortunately, the state of the race as dictated by the Academy membership (FYI – I only apply my fictional Academy membership for the purposes of submitting this would-be “official” Oscar ballot for your consumption and claim no ties and no responsibility for the nomination process. Thank you for your time).

Here I go. My selections in all categories. As usual, I will save the big ones for last. But in a twist for this year, I will provide my Best Picture preferences in line with the preferential ballot, ranking the nominees from 1 to 8.

Best Documentary – Short Subject

  • Body Team 12
  • Chau, beyond the lines
  • Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
  • A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
  • Last Day of Freedom

Since this is the best of the short categories in terms of overall quality, it’s the most difficult to make a final voting decision. All of these documentaries are important and brilliantly made. But the two most powerful in terms of fusing urgency with filmmaking prowess are A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness and Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah. So magnificent are these two works that it feels wrong to even elevate one over the other. But, if you put my back against a wall, I would have to opt for the latter, because in terms of filmmaking, it adds a certain gracefully meta element that enhances our existing knowledge of Lanzmann’s Shoah, reintroduces audiences to that film’s utmost important in both film and cultural history, and opens us to the lingering weight of Lanzmann’s soul in the years since Shoah’s production.

Best Animated Short Film

  • Bear Story
  • Prologue
  • Sanjay’s Super Team
  • We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
  • World of Tomorrow

This one is a fairly easy choice – Bear Story is the best of the lot – powerful, inventive, and beautifully rendered. The only bittersweet part of the choice is that World of Tomorrow is wonderful as well. But there can only be one, and Bear Story is it.

Best Live Action Short

  • Ave Maria
  • Day One
  • Everything Will Be Okay (Ailes Wird Gut)
  • Shok
  • Stutterer

There are strong choices across this category, and I would venture to say that I didn’t dislike any of the nominated films. But Everything Will Be Okay was the most powerful both in form and in content, a film that slowly reveals its narrative and then pulses with tension and dread.

Best Original Song

  • “Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey
  • “Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction
  • “Simple Song #3” from Youth
  • “Til it Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground
  • “Writing’s On the Wall” from Spectre  

In a year light on quality original songs in movies, importance and thematic context within a given film became a deciding factor for me. That’s what tips “Til it Happens to You” to the front of the pack here.

Before watching The Hunting Ground, I was ready to own my decision to cast an Oscar vote for an element from Fifty Shades of Grey. Why? Because purely in terms of the music itself, “Earned It” is the most enjoyable song. It’s hot, and The Weeknd kills it. The movie is an abomination, but the song is great (allow me to invite further ridicule by stating that I also like “Writing’s On the Wall” – another one that, musically, soars in a way that most seem reticent to embrace. Weirdos).

But “Til it Happens to You” is powerful and important, attached thematically to a film that also fits those two descriptors. And, frankly, it kind of offers diametric opposition to the sexual repugnance of Fifty Shades, which is important in and of itself.

Best Original Score

  • Carol, Carter Burwell
  • Sicario, Johann Johannsson
  • The Hateful Eight, Ennio Morricone
  • Bridge of Spies, Thomas Newman
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens, John Williams

A truly tough choice between Johannsson’s tense, pulsating work on Sicario and Morricone’s invigorating recreation of Western movie menace. The scale is tipped when I think about the fact that Morricone’s is the one I have returned to for multiple repeat listens and I’m still riveted each time…even if I loathe the film it’s attached to.

Best Sound Mixing

  • Bridge of Spies
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

As joyous as Fury Road is to watch, it’s just as joyous to listen to.

Best Sound Editing

  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Sicario
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

A much tougher choice than Sound Mixing due to the inclusion of Sicario – and truth be told, if Sicario were included among the Sound Mixing nominees, my vote would’ve gone in that direction – but in terms of Sound Editing, Fury Road wins out.

Best Visual Effects

  • Ex Machina
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Another tough call. I’m not down on The Force Awakens like so many others are – it’s perfectly solid CG work. The creativity and thematic integration of the work in both Ex Machina and Fury Road, however, put them both ahead. Perhaps it’s my analog soul, but the remarkable employment of practical effects in Fury Road wins out for me this time around. It fuses analog effects with the digital world, which is a kinky triumph in my book.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  • The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Revenant

This is turning into a sweep at this point, but it’s undeniable and the competition isn’t remotely compelling enough to compete.

Best Foreign Language Film

  • Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia)
  • Mustang (France)
  • Son of Saul (Hungary)
  • Theeb (Jordan)
  • A War (Denmark)

My heart beats for France’s brilliant entry, a film that is oh-so-relevant for this time and culture we live in. The film is itself an act of defiance, and a call to action, but also a brilliant human story.

Best Documentary Feature

  • Amy
  • Cartel Land
  • The Look of Silence
  • What Happened, Miss Simone?
  • Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

Great work abounds in this category, but there’s still no contest. Joshua Oppenheimer accomplishes something unthinkable with The Look of Silence – it’s a soul-shattering, earth-shattering work of both journalism and humanism.

Best Animated Feature

  • Anomalisa
  • Boy and the World
  • Inside Out
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie
  • When Marnie Was There

Another category that is strong across the board results in a decision that’s not as close as one might expect. But Inside Out represents Pixar at its very best, which represents modern animation at its very best. Can’t deny it.

Best Production Design

  • Bridge of Spies
  • The Danish Girl
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant

If Carol were in contention, we’d have a battle on our hands. And even in its absence, the period work in The Danish Girl is quite a strong alternative to the punk fantasy of Fury Road. But still, not a real tough decision here.

Best Film Editing

  • Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Hank Corwin, The Big Short
  • Tom McArdle, Spotlight
  • Stephen Mirrione, The Revenant
  • Margaret Sixel, Mad Max: Fury Road


Best Costume Design

  • Jenny Beavan, Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Paco Delgado, The Danish Girl
  • Sandy Powell, Carol
  • Sandy Powell, Cinderella
  • Jacqueline West, The Revenant

Impeccable, understated work from a master like Powell imbues Carol a sense of place and an emotional state of being every bit as much as its art direction. Not showy, but perfect.

Best Cinematography

  • Roger Deakins, Sicario
  • Edward Lachmann, Carol
  • Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant
  • Robert Richardson, The Hateful Eight
  • John Seale, Mad Max: Fury Road

For me, this is unquestionable. From opening shot to closing shot, Deakins – a modern master – delivers what may be his best work ever, and that’s really saying something.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • Emma Donaghue, Room
  • Drew Goddard, The Martian
  • Nick Hornby, Brooklyn
  • Adam McKay, Charles Randolph, The Big Short
  • Phyllis Nagy, Carol

What Nagy accomplishes with this sterling adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt is convey enormous human complexity in precise written economy. The reason so many fail to engage with the film’s narrative and thematic mastery is because it is so pristinely subtle. But once you lock in, it carries you away.

Best Original Screenplay

  • Matt Charman, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Bridge of Spies
  • Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Inside Out
  • Alex Garland, Ex Machina
  • Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, Straight Outta Compton
  • Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer, Spotlight

A wealth of great choices here – truly no undeserving nominee in the group. But again, the remarkable subtlety with which McCarthy and Singer carry out a story that could’ve easily gone far over the top, or dipped into manipulation, is what gives them my vote. The screenplay functions from a journalistic perspective, identifying eye-to-eye with its characters. And, just like those characters, these screenwriters are moved to outrage and action by the horrors that are uncovered.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Christian Bale, The Big Short
  • Tom Hardy, The Revenant
  • Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
  • Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
  • Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Sylvester Stallone, returning to Rocky Balboa nearly 40 years since first stepping into this most iconic character’s shoes, accomplishes something nearly impossible: he’s an absolute revelation as a character we all presumed had no additional shades to portray. Creed is itself a revelation, a film that should’ve sailed to multiple nominations, including Best Picture, but Stallone is more than just a worthy representative. His work is unmatched in this category this year, and what a fitting and deserving winner he will be.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
  • Rooney Mara, Carol
  • Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
  • Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
  • Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

The intense scrutiny on “Category Fraud” this season puts me in an awkward quandary here. Should I ignore the two nominated performances – Mara and Vikander – that are, in fact, shared leads in their respective films just on snitty principle? Or do I go ahead and reward the best performance in the category? Would I be betraying my ideals or selling out? Would I be promoting a broken system?

You know what? Screw it. Here’s my logic: I would not have nominated Rooney Mara in this category. I would’ve nominated her in the lead category. However, she was nominated here. And she gives the best performance in the category. Not just the biggest role in the category, the best performance. Vote cast.

Best Actor

  • Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
  • Matt Damon, The Martian
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
  • Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
  • Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Sorry, Leo. Not this year. But take solace in the fact that I have voted for you before – multiple times, in fact – for more deserving performances. The best performance this year, in this category, is Michael Fassbender’s work in Steve Jobs – another criminally under-nominated masterwork. Fassbender has willingly acknowledged that he looks nothing like Steve Jobs, and that is just as irrelevant for his performance as the film’s lack of resemblance to the standard biopic is for its ultimate power. Fassbender’s performance is a deep-dive into a very specific psyche – seeking, finding, and dwelling on the infuriating essence of genius. It’s a psychic channeling writ large, albeit on an intimate scale. Remarkable work all around, and Fassbender is the driving force.

Best Actress

  • Cate Blanchett, Carol
  • Brie Larson, Room
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
  • Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
  • Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Larson was never a revelation to me in Room. To me, she had already revealed her brilliance many times over, in United States of Tara and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Rampart and The Spectacular Now and, of course, miraculously, in Short Term 12 (which should’ve been her first Oscar nomination and win). I didn’t need a revelation from her this time around. What she delivered this time around, however, was equal parts grace and resentment, the centered maturity of a mother and the restless anger of a still-young victim. “Room” is all little Jack knows of the universe, but Ma knows what else is out there, what was stolen from her, and that’s an even crueler fate in its own way. As Ma, Larson must shoulder the responsibility of aiding her child’s transition while also wrestling with her own, which is itself plagued with so many perils, both explicit and implied. What a journey she charts, with not a single false note.

Best Director

  • Lenny Abrahamson, Room
  • Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant
  • Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
  • Adam McKay, The Big Short
  • George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

Sometimes directorial prowess is just plain undeniable. Perhaps all my previous below-the-line votes are explanation enough, but George Miller is the guy who envisioned fusing all these elements together in this dazzling chaotic symphony. He’s always been an ambitious visualist, but never before have his images yielded such incessant visceral power. He’s made three other Mad Max movies, but here is one so entirely separate and unique that it feels like the year’s most original creation. What’s so breathtaking about Fury Road’s originality is that it seems entirely contradictory to our understanding of the word; it’s based on an existing franchise and shot with largely practical effects. And yet 2015 delivered no more trailblazing cinematic endeavor. That’s all Miller.

And now, Best Picture, with nominees ranked in order of preference:

Best Picture

  1. Spotlight
  2. Mad Max: Fury Road
  3. Brooklyn
  4. Room
  5. The Big Short
  6. Bridge of Spies
  7. The Martian
  8. The Revenant

I know, right? Surprise twist? Expected Fury Road to be my Best Picture vote, yes?

Well, it was close. Fury Road is a marvel that has grown for me over multiple viewings. It’s completely masterful. But Spotlight was, in its way, even more emotionally riveting. Its importance is self-evident. Its anger is palpable. And its reverence for the craft of investigation, research, and truth-seeking – the journalistic endeavor – vibrates through every beat, imbues every frame. Tom McCarthy’s film has been charged as being too modest, not aggressive or showy enough to move the meter. From my point of view, however, McCarthy’s filmmaking economy is thematically exacting, looking one of humanity’s horrors squarely in the face, taking us on a journey of shattering discovery, and teaching us a very current, valuable lesson – though one battle may be won, the larger war wages on.

In terms of my ranking, Fury Road was obviously a close second. Brooklyn and Room were both Top 20 movies for me, easily landing in spots 3 and 4, respectively. In terms of 5 and 6, The Big Short is a film that grew for me upon a second viewing, and it is culturally relevant in a similar vein as Spotlight. However, it is still riddled with problems, most of which stems from its rough, messy, not-fully-accomplished filmmaking. Bridge of Spies, on the other hand, is pristine classical filmmaking, but in service to an old-fashioned story that largely adheres to standard tropes. I weigh the cultural value of Big Short slightly over the filmmaking mastery of Bridge. Spots 7 and 8 could also flip – and have, in my mind, several times in advance of this writing, including once during this writing. The Revenant is more accomplished on a technical level, and The Martian is a more enjoyable experience. There’s plenty to admire about the former, but material to engage with in the latter. Neither film, for me, should be a Best Picture nominee (for that matter, I would only personally vote to nominate my top two choices in this category, clearing deserved space for films like Clouds of Sils Maria, Carol, Steve Jobs, Creed, and a couple others). But the intervening months since screening The Revenant have not treated it well. As visually accomplished as it is, there really is no question that it’s the simplest of the Best Picture nominees in terms of narrative and theme, a melding of one-note survivalist tale and one-note revenge picture that still somehow only amounts to one note.

So, there you have it. Another Oscar ballot filed. Looking over my paper trail, I’d wager that at least eight of my choices will come through with wins on Oscar Night…though there is a small but legit outside chance for my Best Picture choice to prevail. And if, like me, enough Oscar voters put Big Short at 5 and Revenant at 8, that likelihood greatly increases.

Now, back to that agonizing prediction grind…one more day to go…


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.