Picking Winners at the 88th Annual Academy Awards

For those handicapping at home, here are the guesses of Buffalo film fanatics Christopher Schobert, William Altreuter, and myself.

Jared Mobarak: Here’s hoping Chris Rock does his best Ricky Gervais as far as not caring about political correctness or duty to kissing up to the celebrities all dressed-up nice because having him host the 2016 Oscars ceremony amidst the whole #OscarsSoWhite controversy is an opportunity not to be squandered.

Two years in a row with no black actor/actress up for gold? That’s a major problem with The Academy and the entire industry at large. I admittedly don’t see much fault with those nominated, but that doesn’t mean saying “the best people are being recognized regardless of color” either. To say such only connotes your belief that non-white artists aren’t picking good enough roles. Well, it’s not up to them. Hollywood isn’t making many available because Hollywood still believes “black” is a genre. They still believe “woman” is too. I think Straight Outta Compton‘s box office brilliance can change that.

Will it happen overnight? No. The Academy is still almost completely white (and old) so you won’t see any risks as far as nominations go unless that’s rectified (steps are being taken). Do I think a non-white actor should be voted in as a sort of affirmative action? No. But don’t hide behind the party line of “they just weren’t good enough.” They were. We’ll highlight some below that would fit perfectly on Oscar night if the current picks weren’t so safe, safe, safe.

No one can deny things aren’t tainted—it just goes beyond the glitz and glamour. Rock has the wit to make sure it won’t get swept under the rug, but will he buck The Academy’s probable words to “play nice?” I don’t know. He’s a repeat host so he may not want to rock the boat. Before the night’s over, however, someone surely will.

Christopher Schobert: The real disappointments, for me, are centered around Straight Outta Compton and Creed. I truly believe the former deserved a Best Picture nod, and certainly Jason Mitchell should have earned a Supporting Actor nod. Michael B. Jordan was wonderful in Creed, and at the very least, should have been more prominent in the conversation. I’d also say Samuel L. Jackson gave one of his best performances in The Hateful Eight. In fact, I think he’s the best thing in the movie.

William Altreuter: Speaking as an old white guy, I have to say that the utter cluelessness of Meryl Streep, Charlotte Rampling, Michael Caine, and all of the other old, white people is astonishing, particularly when considered in the context of Hollywood’s supposed liberal bias. The Academy is at risk of becoming irrelevant, I think, and although the self-laudation of the industry has pretty much always been hilariously narcissistic, the tolerance of the audience may well be wearing thin. As evidence I would point to the success of both the movies you cite, Jared. People want the movies they liked to be recognized, and they won’t watch the show if the nominees aren’t movies they saw or were interested in seeing—unless Chris Rock rips in. Since that’s what Chris Rock does, I’m looking forward to watching. Next year I expect that the show will be co-hosted by Ms. Streep and, I don’t know, Steve Martin?—two people who are so white Pantone has shades named after them; and I hope a remake of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song wins Best Picture.

Jared: There were a lot of great performances by supporting players this year and I’m not afraid to say two on this list don’t belong in the top ten let alone top five. Sorry to Christian Bale and Mark Ruffalo—two of the best actors working today. Their roles were more eccentric than captivating.

Bale is possibly the weakest of the main players from The Big Short because his role is a bit thankless as far as trajectory goes. As in it goes nowhere. He’s a man alone at the beginning and a man alone at the end. He was right from the start so he doesn’t learn anything. He just plays around with his real-life counterpart’s Asperger’s and fake eye: an Oscar nomination that doesn’t make.

As for Ruffalo, people LOVE his performance. I’m not as sold. He’s goofy—the comic relief. I’m not saying comic relief can’t be excellent, but there are too many other players from Spotlight alone that blew me away much more than his eager beaver willing to do whatever’s necessary for the story. Michael Keaton definitely outshines him and I’d say Stanley Tucci does too in a much smaller role.

Of the remaining three, Tom Hardy is probably is barely a dark horse despite deserved recognition. I’d put six guys (along with Keaton) ahead of him (maybe seven if I finally watched 99 Homes‘ Michael Shannon). They include Paul Dano from Love & Mercy, Jason Segel from The End of the Tour, Jacob Tremblay from Room, Michael Stuhlbarg from Steve Jobs, Harvey Keitel from Youth, and Jason Mitchell from Straight Outta Compton. The first three deliver astounding performances and the second three come before Hardy because of personal preference. Tom is great and I’m glad he finally got a nomination, but this won’t be his year.

No, victory is between Mark Rylance and Sylvester Stallone. But it shouldn’t be. In a perfect world Rylance would run away with this. Unfortunately sentimentality plays too huge a role with the Academy Awards. Stallone’s peers are voting and they would love to give “Rocky” a lifetime achievement trophy—especially for that iconic role. Does he deserve it? I don’t think so. His victory should be the nomination because he’s phenomenal in the role, though. Rylance is simply one of the year’s best actors regardless of supporting or lead. I hope The Academy agrees, but Sly will probably get the glory.

#OscarsSoWhite: Mitchell was great and I’d have loved seeing him here. But Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation? I guess. He’s a fantastic actor and he’s very good in the role, but if anyone from that film deserves a vote it’s Abraham Attah. Yes, he’s the lead, but Attach easily could have been included here with so much “category fraud” in play elsewhere. More on that in the next category.

Christopher: I’m not sure why Bale was seen as the breakout in the cast of The Big Short, and I think Michael Keaton was as strong as Ruffalo in Spotlight. I’m with you on the real race here coming down to Rylance and Stallone. I’ve had the feeling for some time that this was Stallone’s to lose, but perhaps this is his Mickey Rourke moment. In other words, the nomination is the victory. Mark Rylance is of course quite good in Bridge of Spies, but would be a very dull winner. If we’ve learned anything from the Academy in 2016, it’s that its members love dull. My money’s on Rylance.

William: I love the Supporting categories because they are where the actors get to show off their chops. And because they occur early enough in the show to give us handicappers a sense of whether momentum is developing. I hate the categories because they are frequently a valedictory award, recognizing actors for the work they have done in the past that was not laurel-bedecked. I’m not seeing that happening this time with Stallone, who got the prizes he deserved out of his franchise, but still saw fit to appear in things like Rhinestone, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, and Judge Dredd. I’ll pretty much go to anything that Mark Ruffalo is in, just because he is Mark Ruffalo, but context matters, I think, and clerical sexual abuse is not the issue of the moment. Hating on the finance industry is the hot button, and I don’t know anyone who saw The Big Short that wasn’t knocked out. The same forces that are driving Bernie Sanders’ campaign are going to give The Big Short a big bump—but I see Rylance taking the prize here. When I think about how the vote might go I see Ruffalo, Hardy and Bale splitting the vote amongst themselves, leaving Rylance the field.

Jared: Category fraud has been happening for decades now. It’s why Timothy Hutton can be listed as Oscar-winning Timothy Hutton for every role he lands until the end of time. He earned that trophy, but never would have taken it home had he been competing for Lead Actor instead of Supporting.

It’s a shame the industry allows publicists to dictate who we should be considering and for what, but that’s the way it is. Sometimes it gives a worthwhile thespian a chance at walking up those stairs; sometimes it just makes people angry. Did The Martian “steal” Trainwreck‘s Golden Globe for comedy as Judd Apatow’s rant proclaims? No. But I’m in the minority as far as my not having a problem with Ridley Scott’s dramedy falling under the comedy label (not to mention my lukewarm reaction to Amy Schumer’s vehicle).

With that being said, I do have trouble ignoring the fact that Rooney Mara (Carol) and Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) are competing for Supporting Actress instead of Lead. Whereas the latter is impossible to defend considering she’s the woman onscreen the most and rivals her costar Eddie Redmayne for co-lead status, the former fits right behind Hutton’s Ordinary People mix-up since her co-star Cate Blanchett is nominated for Lead. Some might say it’s more egregious considering his co-star Judd Hirsch competed against him for Supporting in 1981. Instead Blanchett is riding her character being the film’s namesake. But while she catalyzes the plot, it’s Mara’s character that we empathize with and follow forward.

Do they have a shot at “stealing” the Oscar from a performer who better fits the definition of Supporting? You bet they do. I’m shocked Mara isn’t getting more accolades thus far, but she’s a definite dark horse for the win. Vikander is fresh off a Critic’s Choice win and should be the frontrunner in my book. But it’s not called Critic’s Choice for nothing and The Academy is pretty much the antithesis of critics. So who knows if she even has a shot?

I’d love to see Jennifer Jason Leigh win because she owns The Hateful Eight. She’s number one on my “category fraud”-less, personal spreadsheet. Unless The Academy feels sad they didn’t throw Quentin Tarantino a bone, however, she’s a longshot at best. The only person she’d handily defeat is Rachel McAdams from Spotlight. Hers is also a great turn, but hardly a standout compared to her fellow nominees.

That leaves Kate Winslet as my guess for taking it. She’s great too, but her performance wasn’t one that stuck with me after watching Steve Jobs twice. Coming off the Golden Globes with a win vaults her to the top of voters’ consciousness and her pedigree and likeability won’t have anyone saying “No” sight unseen. I’d personally put Cynthia Nixon (James White), Joan Allen (Room), and Helen Mirren (Trumbo) above her, but I won’t begrudge her taking the stage.

#OscarsSoWhite: One other person I’d put above Winslet and McAdams, however, is Gail Bean from the wonderful yet under-seen dramedy Unexpected. She owns that film like Leigh does hers and delivers a performance that will hopefully open some doors for bigger roles and more opportunities to crack this top five in the future.

Christopher: Carol was my pick as 2015’s best film, and I’m still miffed it did not land nominations for Best Picture and director Todd Haynes. It’s Rooney Mara’s film, really, and if there is any justice, she will take it. I’m counting on voters having already forgotten Steve Jobs (sorry, Jared).

I must say, my first instinct was Jennifer Jason Leigh in an upset. I was mixed on Hateful, but her performance is undeniable. It’s probably the most memorable of this bunch. But I think things have turned in Alicia Vikander’s favor. She’s immensely likable, and gave an even better performance in Ex Machina. Her ascension to major star should be complete on Oscar night.

William: Rooney Mara. Absolutely. Was she the lead? I thought so, but what that may be telling us is that she was so good that she might as well have been. It wasn’t so long ago that playing a gay character was viewed as an act of tremendous courage, and although that was perhaps less the case when the role was a lesbian character I think Mara will still get a boost because of that.

Why doesn’t Alicia Vikander get the same benefit? Well, for starters, I think, because The Danish Girl wasn’t as good a movie. It felt prurient to me, and at the same time kind of dull. I get the feeling that the industry is a little tired of Quentin Tarantino, and that will hurt Jennifer Jason Leigh. Say what you will about Tarantino, he is an actor’s director and Leigh was excellent, but this is not her year. Rachel McAdams was terrific, and this might be the slot where Spotlight gets its recognition. I didn’t see Steve Jobs­—it had the look of something I might watch on Netflix someday, so I can’t comment on Kate Winslet in it—does the movie pass the Bechdel Test? I’ll bet it doesn’t.

Jared: Of the four acting categories, Lead Actor probably has the stiffest competition. While I can approve all five nominees, however, I can also think of at least six more on the fly who were as good or better. Two at the top of that list are Richard Gere for Time Out of Mind and Tobey Maguire for Pawn Sacrifice. Both excel in roles just as meaty as Dalton Trumbo was for Bryan Cranston in Trumbo, but without the overt flashiness it afforded to set him apart in voters’ memories. That unfortunately matters—as does Trumbo being a much higher-profile release by comparison.

Cranston isn’t in my Top Ten, but the other four here are. Of them I believe Eddie Redmayne and Michael Fassbender can be officially crossed off.

Redmayne won last year and while it’s not unheard of to win consecutive trophies, there has been a lot of backlash with his casting. The Danish Girl on the whole has also been pushed to the fringes besides Vikander’s continued visibility. There’s always a chance The Academy is out-of-touch enough to vote him victor due to playing a transgender person because that equals “diversity,” but that would only prove how necessary those new rules are to lop off dead weight voters.

Fassbender on-the-other-hand may simply disappear because Steve Jobs already did. It’s a great turn that literally carries the entire film, but it’s not his year. He’s my personal #3 and yet I was utterly shocked he even got a nomination after the movie released DOA. I’m glad he did, though, and hopefully more people see my favorite film of 2015 as a result.

That leaves the race down to Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon. It should be a no-brainer win for Leo, but his luck has been so atrocious at the Oscars that nothing is one-hundred percent. He’s deserved it in past years and whether he ate raw bison meat or not during The Revenant, his performance in Wolf of Wall Street will always be better. But it’s finally his time now. Right?

Well, not if Damon has anything to say about it. I rewatched The Martian recently and he’s deceptively amazing. His line delivery coupled with Drew Goddard’s script is what made the Golden Globes comedy nod okay in my mind (a position no one seemed to agree with me on) and he captivates for two-plus hours of which most keeps him isolated from anyone else. It’s a real longshot, but don’t be surprised if Matt takes this home.

If he does it will be the final nail in Leo’s acting coffin and might prove The Academy simply doesn’t like him.

#OscarsSoWhite: Rounding out my Top Ten with DiCaprio, Redmayne, Fassbender, Gere, Maguire, and Damon are Steve Carell for his turn in The Big Short and three black actors who easily could have relieved the albatross’ hold on The Academy’s shoulders. Anthony Mackie had virtually no shot considering how little-seen Shelter was, but it’s a brilliant performance that deserves recognition. Will Smith in Concussion is higher-profile, but that might have hurt his chances. It’s not his best role, but he does it with grace. Far from “impression,” he instills a full range of emotion, compassion, modesty, and intelligence to his Bennet Omalu.

So what happened to Michael B. Jordan for Creed? I thought snubbing him for his last collaboration with Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) was bad, but this might be worse. Not only does he deliver the goods in a critical and box office juggernaut, he’s the epitome of the “new blood” The Academy must embrace. Young, black, and successful on TV, the indie scene, and Hollywood (save Fantastic Four)—there’s nothing about him you can possibly dislike. A couple months ago I’d have said he’s on the ballot over Cranston nine times out of ten. I was wrong.

Christopher: The “Leo is due” narrative is getting a bit old—with so many nominations over the years, the idea that the Academy is ignoring him seems silly to me—but I do think he is due, and will win. But if for some reason there is pushback against The Revenant, the winner would be Bryan Cranston. He’s incredibly likable in the so-so Trumbo, and seems a hugely respected star. Mind you, that is only if there is a Leo-spiracy …

William: These are all the sort of tour de force performances that win prizes. I think the casting decision backlash about The Danish Girl is—actually, I’m having a hard time coming up with a polite word. Listen, actors are actors, and short of blackface (and wouldn’t that have been funny this year?) I don’t have any problem with actors taking on roles that are different types of people than they are when they go home at night. Still hated The Danish Girl, but I don’t put that on Redmayne.

Bryan Cranston is the dark horse, I think. Hollywood loves stories about how brave Hollywood is, even when it wasn’t, and Dalton Trumbo really was a sort of hero. The entire point of The Martian was to showcase how gosh-darn likable Matt Damon is, and it worked. But I agree that this year is DiCaprio’s “Hey, we owed you one”.

Jared: There’s no safer category than Best Lead Actress. The fact that Jennifer Lawrence is included for Joy (despite my agreeing she’s the best part of a mess of a movie) proves it. She’s fantastic and one of the best working actresses today, but she doesn’t need to be included as a rule. I guess that’s what happens when you’re anointed the new Meryl Streep, though. At four nominations in six years, she may surpass the legend’s prolific resumé before reaching fifty.

Of the rest I only see one other that may not belong here: Cate Blanchett. I don’t say that because Mara may in fact be the lead (they earn co-lead status), but because it’s another safe choice wherein a past winner delivers a very good performance and The Academy can’t help but throw her in the mix. Is she great? Yes. Is she so spectacular that you leave Carol praising her above the rest? In my opinion the movie itself, Todd Haynes’ direction, Carter Burwell’s score, and Mara’s turn all surpass Blanchett at the front of my memory banks. And only two of those found nominations beside her.

The final three nominees aren’t necessarily safe, but they are obvious and they need to be here.

Brie Larson is my personal favorite of the year and I really believe she’ll get that gold statue come Oscar night too. Room has been championed hard this awards season and it received nominations in Oscar categories I didn’t believe it’d ever have a chance of acquiring. That means The Academy has seen the film and I believe they’ll check Brie’s box when all is said and done.

As for Charlotte Rampling and Saoirse Ronan: the former’s 45 Years praise is a victory in itself after scoring her first nomination despite a long, illustrious career while the latter’s inclusion for Brooklyn sets her up as the dark horse. If anyone should beat Larsen it’s Ronan with a quiet, nuanced, and impeccable portrayal. The film itself has lost the momentum it rode last Fall, but it’s hung on nevertheless. Its star is its best commodity save the snubbed art direction and she has already been nominated once. Never underestimate The Academy voting for the veteran (no matter how loosely the term is used) so the newcomer (Larson) is made to wait her turn.

#OscarsSoWhite: If you take Vikander and Mara out of the equation, the two women I saw as the year’s best besides Larson, Ronan, and Rampling were Bel Powley for The Diary of a Teenage Girl (I desperately hoped she’d sneak in) and Teyonah Parris from Chi-Raq. Parris is sensational in a very worthwhile film that often goes over-the-top (to its success and detriment in equal measure). As the centerpiece of the rhyming musical, however, she never does. Spike Lee has provided her a bona fide cinematic coming out party after a lengthy stay on television’s “Mad Men” and I really hope we see a lot more of her in the near future.

Christopher: I finally caught up with Diary of a Teenage Girl recently, and you are so right—Bel Powley! If she were included here I’d argue for a victory. But alas, she is not. My number two choice would be Brie Larson, and happily, all signs point to success. A few months ago I seriously believed Room was a possible Best Picture winner, and while I no longer believe that’s the case (sadly), I don’t see anyone else topping Larson. Charlotte Rampling had a shot before her unfortunate (to say the least) comments, and a win for Ronan would not be a shock. But I see the luminous Brie Larson winning a well-deserved Oscar for Best Actress.

William: I’ll start by joining in on the love for Diary of a Teenage Girl. I was familiar with the source novel, and really surprised that someone had the guts to make a movie about it. Unlike The Danish Girl I did not find it prurient, but it made me uncomfortable in the way that good art should—it challenged my prejudices.

We are in danger of ruining Jennifer Lawrence, I’m afraid. She is wonderful, but we shouldn’t see her being nominated once a year, even so. Joy is the sort of thing I’d watch with my parents, and although there is nothing wrong with that, or with her performance, it’s no Winter’s Bone.

I’d have said that the smart money would be on Rampling, but then she opened her mouth about #OscarsSoWhite. That was dumb, so instead of rooting for her, I’m going to re-watch The Night Porter.

That leaves us with Brie Larson and Saoirse Ronan. Room is exactly the kind of movie that actors get awards for, but I’m going with Ms. Ronan, who was clear-eyed, intelligent and vulnerable in Brooklyn. The only thing that might have made her more of a lock would have been if she didn’t actually already have that accent.

Christopher: The Big Short, the weakest nominee on this list by far, wins easily. Quite honestly, a win for Nick Hornby would make me happiest. But Short takes it.

Jared: Interesting. I’d agree that The Big Short is the one that probably doesn’t belong here (and I liked the movie a lot more than you did). To me it was a director/editor’s movie and I’m glad we’ll be talking about McKay shortly despite his less than appealing oeuvre and his inclusion causing another director’s snub. I get that the book it’s based on doesn’t necessarily have a story (I remember Michael Lewis’ Moneyball adaptation was highly lauded for this fact too), but if that’s the case just call it original.

I don’t see it winning, though.

The same goes for Hornby’s Brooklyn and Donoghue’s Room. The former is a very nice adaptation, but the film doesn’t scream accolades like the others. The latter was adapted by the writer of the novel and I feel voters might see that as a bit easier of a job.

To me this category comes down to Nagy’s Carol and Goddard’s The Martian. Even though Carol has a ton of nominations, the lack of Best Picture and Best Director makes Screenplay its big ticket crew chance. The Academy may see that as a reason to throw it extra love.

Ditto The Martian. Its feel-good tale was adored and yet it has been positioned as runner-up in almost every section of the ballot. Ridley Scott didn’t get notice, Damon will lose, and it’s a longshot at best for Picture. It’s not like Goddard didn’t do a bang-up job balancing the drama, suspense, and comedy throughout either. The fact he’s the only credited writer on a film with such a huge budget and Hollywood director only proves how great his work was. My vote is Goddard for gold.


William: I kind of hate this category, at least this year, because I feel as though in order to evaluate it I should have some idea about what the source material was like. Except for Carol I don’t.

I’m a Nick Hornby fan, so I hope he wins. I think The Big Short has the advantage of being a zeitgeist-y movie. It seems to me that the source material for both Room and The Martian must have seemed difficult to adapt for the screen, and I suppose that’s part of the criteria—The Martian solved it by casting, and Room, I think, solved it through direction. It’s been years since I read The Price of Salt, but Patricia Highsmith adapts to film so well that the degree of difficulty metric is essentially due to its homoeroticism, which ain’t no thing in 2015.

I’m calling this one for Room.

Jared: Is it too much to wish for an Inside Out victory? Sadly, yes. I don’t think the whole Pixar creative hive mind helps (writing it as production went along) and the animation factor doesn’t either. It’s my number one of the year but I’m shocked it actually snuck in.

An even bigger shock? Straight Outta Compton. I loved the film and would have rejoiced with it being jammed into Best Picture, but the screenplay wasn’t something I left the theater in amazement about. Maybe that’s why it’s so good? Because it’s so natural? I don’t know. Maybe it was the voters inadvertent plea to defuse the whole #OscarsSoWhite campaign before it began.

Bridge of Spies is a surprise too when you look beyond the pedigree of its writers. I saw Love & Mercy or The Hateful Eight pushing it aside so maybe I need to just starting picking this category out of a hat because I was obviously very wrong. Charman and the Coens do craft a taut spy thriller, though.

Where does that leave Ex Machina? In the position of happy to be included. I’m ecstatic that Garland’s film got notice besides just Special Effects and Screenplay was the place to do it. Is The Academy appear an establishment likely to crown a quiet sci-fi the winner? Absolutely not. Although it would be delightful if they do.

There’s no situation where Spotlight loses this one. But I would have said the same about it for Best Picture a couple months ago too. So anything is possible. The Academy has to give it something, though, and this is definitely the category where it excelled the most. The research Singer and McCarthy had to conduct to get the facts right must have been exhausting without a book to cull from. They put in the time and the result speaks for itself.

Christopher: Boy, a win for Ex Machina would make my night. But it’s very unlikely. I’m in agreement with you, Jared—pretty sure Spotlight takes it. Still, don’t count out Inside Out. I would not find a win all that surprising, considering the level of respect the film and concept have.

William: This looks like a pretty good start on a list of my favorite movies of the year. I wonder why Ex Machina slipped so many people’s minds, because I thought it was amazing. I’m rooting for the Academy to redeem itself by giving it up for Straight Out of Compton, and I’m wondering, Jared, if it didn’t impress you as much as it did me because I’m probably less familiar with the background of it then you may be.

Funny how it goes with the Coen brothers—sometimes they just nail it, and sometimes I find that I have to go back to their movies to realize just how really good they are. Bridge of Spies is one that nailed it. I agree that this is probably Spotlight’s award to lose, but I can’t help but think that if Room wins for Adapted Screenplay there would be a nice symmetry if Inside Out also won.

Jared: The big story here is Todd Haynes’ omission for Carol. It’s as impossible to fathom as Ben Affleck’s snub back in 2013 for Argo. There won’t be a repeat of that year’s Best Picture win making up for it though.

Where’s Danny Boyle for Steve Jobs? Where’s Ryan Coogler who expertly merges his indie sensibilities with an iconic Hollywood franchise, gets the best performance a veteran has ever delivered, and orchestrates awesome one-take fights in Creed? Scott? Spielberg? Well, those last two have enough noms and while they did excellent work I’m glad they’re missing.

Instead we get Adam McKay who admittedly outdid himself on The Big Short; Lenny Abrahamson who got everything firing full blast for Room’s transition from literal claustrophobia to psychological; and Tom McCarthy: the big surprise for me. He killed the script and got a major cast to support each other, but excellence in directing is the last thing I think with Spotlight.

If nothing else, though, you have to love The Academy applauding new blood in these three as they each receive their first nod in the category (McCarthy was previously nominated for his contribution to Up’s screenplay). Add George Miller (who won for Happy Feet, but not as Director specifically) and this may be the most un-boring category of the whole show.

For my money Miller is light years ahead of the rest with what he pulled off on Mad Max: Fury Road to reinvigorate his long-dormant franchise and inject it with high-octane action and a kinetic pace the previous entries did not have. He, along with McKay, owe a lot of their success to their editors, but that’s okay. George conducts cast and crew impressively.

But, just as I call Best Director un-boring, we have to come to the most boring possibility of all. Alejandro G. Iñárritu and his The Revenant have received a massive push of late and last year’s reigning champ may find himself on stage again. Would it be deserved? Yes. The film’s production is widely publicized. Do I want him to win? No. He stole Richard Linklater’s award last February and I don’t want him to steal Miller’s. Unfortunately, I give him a 45% chance of doing just that.

Christopher: I actually consider the Ridley Scott snub far more surprising. If you’d asked me a few months ago I would have predicted a Spotlight win for Best Picture and Scott taking Best Director. Alas … No luck for Sir Ridley. I’m going to throw a curveball here and predict George Miller wins. Fury Road has hung around in the conversation, and I think voters are aware of what a strong achievement it is, regardless of how they felt about the film overall. Iñárritu is very possible, and so is Adam McKay. But I see George Miller winning, and I’ll be pleased if that is indeed the case.

William: Fury Road annoyed the hell out of me. A 90-minute chase scene is not a movie, damnit. On the other hand, it is a pretty impressive accomplishment. Spotlight seems to be on this list because McCarthy got such great performances, and certainly that’s a valid criteria, but on the other hand look who he was working with. I think the same argument applies to The Big Short. The Revenant belongs to Iñárritu every bit as much as it does to DiCaprio, and maybe more—the look of the thing was amazing.

All that said, I think Room put all the pieces together: great performances, great storytelling and great visual style. I doubt that I will ever watch it a second time, but there is no denying the work.

Christopher: This might be the most up in the air Best Picture category in recent memory. Quite honestly, any one of these could be a winner in any other year. As I mentioned previously, after seeing Room I thought it had a real shot at winning. Kudos to all involved in sticking around, and earning a Best Pic nom. The Martian and Spotlight were two others I thought had a chance, as well. Then came The Revenant, and, I thought, here it is—the clear winner. It’s a pretty stunning achievement, although not for all tastes, and certainly open to mockery. But it seemed to reek of Best Picture. Now, I’m not so sure. In fact, I think all signs are pointing to a victory for The Big Short, a smart, ambitious, disappointing film. It’s an “issues” drama, which allows for the required degree of self-congratulation, it’s star-studded, and crucially, it has not been force-fed to the Academy for months. Friends, I hope I’m wrong, but I believe The Big Short is your Best Picture winner.

Jared: I’m in total agreement about it being up in the air because it feels as though a new “frontrunner” appears every week. It was Spotlight for the longest time. Then suddenly The Revenant took control after the Golden Globes. And now the coveted PGA win goes to The Big Short.

That last one is a telling development and you could be completely right about McKay’s Will Ferrell-less debut winning, Chris. I too hope you’re wrong. Although, it’d definitely be a change of pace. With The Artist being the only bona fide comedy to win since Shakespeare in Love way back in 1999, I wouldn’t be heartbroken.

What I can say with certainty is that it’s been a great year at the cinema. I personally only have two nominees on my Top Ten list (Spotlight and Mad Max: Fury Road)—that’s how great I think it’s been. I have to believe Carol just missed the 5% cutoff to be included and maybe something like Straight Outta Compton or Creed followed closely behind. Either of those last two would have quieted some of the #OscarsSoWhite criticism and both would have been perfect complements to the eight nominees.

To me Room, Brooklyn, and Bridge of Spies are all out of the running. No chance. Slightly above them I’ll place The Martian and The Big Short as dark horse upsets. Now it’s a three-horse race between Mad Max, The Revenant, and Spotlight. They are the three that have been receiving the most love from critics, audiences, and industry members alike and I’m giving each a 33.3% chance at victory.

The Revenant should be the odds on favorite, but I can’t help feeling it’s too dark for The Academy to truly embrace. Had the new rule changes gone in effect before the vote I’d put Mad Max at the top because a younger, hipper crowd would totally crown it like so many critics organizations already have. However, since everything is as it has been for decades, I’m going with the safe choice: Spotlight. It’s an Academy film and a lot of voters are pissed. But since there’s no use in trying to be “cool” since those the new rules target are gone anyway, they’ll vote one more solid if unsurprising selection before fading away.

William: What a funny list. How is Creed not on this? Or Ex Machina, probably the 2015 movie that I am the most likely to revisit? Where’s Inside Out? Wasn’t part of the point of expanding the field to eight movies to make room for genre movies and animated features? How about a documentary here sometime? Amy, say, or Best Of Enemies? And yes, I’m serious about the Buckley/Vidal doc—the culture wars we are living now originated then, and besides that the movie was hilarious. And obviously Straight Outta Compton deserved a nod.

I agree that there are no upsets on this list, but how dull that is. It seems to me that Bridge of Spies is out of place here—a very good movie, but not a big splashy one, or a small, intimate one which tend to be the sorts of pictures that take this prize. Brooklyn fits into that dichotomy, but how does Brooklyn win in a field like this? If Mad Max: Fury Road wins it will be a sad commentary on how empty headed we have become, but neither Spotlight nor The Big Short feel like big issue movies that have captured the attention of the public. The Revenant? Funny how little I hear people talking about it, but if it won I suppose that would change. Room is probably the least re-watchable movie on the list, but that doesn’t seem to be a consideration most of the time.

This award belongs to The Martian¸ I think, which has the thrills, chills and excitement of Fury Road, with the claustrophobia of Room. Does it have a social message? Not really, apart from “government bureaucrats are bad”, but it is affirming, and that is probably enough.


Supporting Actor:
Sylvester Stallone

Supporting Actress:
Kate Winslet

Lead Actor:
Leonardo DiCaprio

Lead Actress:
Brie Larson

Adapted Screenplay:
Drew Goddard
(The Martian)

Original Screenplay:
Josh Singer
Tom McCarthy


George Miller
(Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Picture:


Supporting Actor:
Mark Rylance

Supporting Actress:
Alicia Vikander

Lead Actor:
Leonardo DiCaprio

Lead Actress:
Brie Larson

Adapted Screenplay:
Charles Randolph
Adam McKay

(The Big Short)

Original Screenplay:
Josh Singer
Tom McCarthy


George Miller
(Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Picture:
The Big Short


Supporting Actor:
Mark Rylance

Supporting Actress:
Rooney Mara

Lead Actor:
Leonardo DiCaprio

Lead Actress:
Saoirse Ronan

Adapted Screenplay:
Emma Donoghue

Original Screenplay:
Josh Singer
Tom McCarthy


Lenny Abrahamson

Best Picture:
The Martian

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