Tonight we finally get the relief of closure from a season that’s been fraught with controversy and, for me, felt almost punishing in its increasing exclusivity. I’m sad for the films unlikely to go home with any award and already frustrated about the films likely to sweep several awards, regardless of how much or how little I think of them. If nothing else, tonight will at least put this at times thrilling, frustrating and entirely unpredictable season to rest.
This is always where I predict wrong, because it’s always where I let my most sincere hopes get in the way of my rational judgment. I don’t want to believe that a film I find frustrating for a multitude of irreconcilable reasons could win this year, and yet the two recent frontrunners are the only films I struggle finding agreeable worth in. I understand everything that makes The Big Short resonate in the zeitgeist, skewering the selfish carelessness of Wall Street’s one-percenters. It’s a topic I sympathize with, and yet find totally ill-served by Adam McKay’s reckless, even immature, treatment. While I had my grievances about The Wolf of Wall Street, that film was frequently fascinating in how carefully it walked the line of indulgence and ambivalent reprimanding. I don’t feel even that level of intellectual consideration behind The Big Short, more rampantly active than it is genuinely angry.
I’m to some degree more likely to revisit The Revenant sometime in the future, though I feel certain it’d treat me as pitilessly as it did the first time. I’ve gone from hot to progressively colder with Alejandro Inarritu’s work, and The Revenant brings him to sub-zero temperatures with me. A feverish saga of wilderness struggle, misery and revenge, pulling the audience rigorously through the dirt and chill with Leonardo DiCaprio’s grizzled fur trapper, it’s in-your-face spectacle of a brand similar to Mad Max: Fury Road. Here, though, it feels obnoxious in how it shoves blunt themes of nature and incongruous flourishes of spiritualism in our face. It’s an ambitious work, but one I never found moving me as vigorously as it tried to.
Steven Spielberg’s stylistic collaborators could hardly be paler than in Bridge of Spies, and yet there’s something I found surprisingly moving about his latest that I’ve felt missing since 2002’s Catch Me If You Can. The basic human goodness of his brand is in more endearingly low-key form than ever, with Tom Hanks’ James Donovan shining in affably subdued fashion. It’s the care and specificity of the film’s details, in where Spielberg’s political gaze is directed and how the astonishing production design is meticulously assembled, that ultimately stick with me. Like the films’ own lawyers and agents, Spielberg and his time are united in doing their jobs to the most honorable degree possible, and that’s nothing to scoff at.
One theme that nicely unifies many of the films nominated here is that of communal effort towards a greater, redemptive good. That’s a most positive message in The Martian, a film about collective accomplishment and exploration against all odds, where human crisis is a catalyst for necessary scientific discovery. In a year where diversity is the desperate keyword, no other Best Picture nominee has quite this enriching scale of racial, ethnic or gender diversity, even if they’re all working to rescue a white man. Even so, Matt Damon’s performance is no feat of empty showmanship, showing the emotional compromises one makes to cope with inevitable isolation, and the film’s uplifting emotional payoff makes up for how safe a narrative path Ridley Scott’s film trudges.
Perhaps this lineup’s most sobering piece of collaborative filmmaking, however, is Thomas McCarthy’s investigative drama Spotlight. Inevitably a favorite among critics – it’s about the necessities of great, society serving journalism, after all – I’ve been disheartened to see it sidelined in the late days of the race. That’s largely due to the films that surpassed it in the cultural conversation, but also because of how rarely a dramatically underplayed film like Spotlight becomes the center of conversation. While we’re meant to appreciate the team of journalists for their dutiful, ego-discarding work, but also to recognize how carelessly we let social crises, like the Catholic Church’s defending of sexually abusive priests, slip away for fear of facing them.
It’s a shame to see The Revenant be the only nominee praised for being physically engrossing. After all, Lenny Abrahamson made Room for the tiniest percentage of Inarritu’s budget, yet totally rivals him for emotional immediacy. There’s no way of escaping the emotional or psychological conditions of the film’s characters, at first coping with the limited possibilities of confinement, then later overwhelmed the dark, post-traumatic implications of the wider world. Even so, Abrahamson never smothers us. Even in the most devastating of circumstances, the film finds kernels of joy and resilience, as well it must. There’s no way of surviving life-destroying trauma without finding the faintest slivers of happiness.
If there’s any film I fear will be forgotten even before the night is over, it’s John Crowley’s absolutely lovely Brooklyn. Otherwise nominated only for Actress and Adapted Screenplay, it has practically zero chance of walking away awarded. A shame, since this is such brightly moving, deeply empathetic filmmaking, emulating an era’s style and golden age optimism, in spite life’s disheartening setbacks. Saoirse Ronan’s so vast in her expressions of melancholy and curiosity, but she’s aided by an ensemble full of delightful characters, enriching every corner of Eilis’ life, both in sprawling Brooklyn and earthly Ireland. ‘Feel good’ may not exactly be the term for a film so expressively formed by sadness and loss, but nearly every viewer undeniably walks out feeling inarguably splendid.
I’d like to think, in this unpredictable season where everyone says that anything is possible, that Brooklyn or Room or even Bridge of Spies could win the top prize completely out of left field. Some things are truly impossible, but I’m not as convinced that Mad Max: Fury Road is a total impossibility as the statistics indicate. It’d be reckless to predict it, but is it not impossible that the year’s most ambitiously expressive, sprawling, subversive studio film could work its way to being the consensus favorite. Nearly everyone I talk to about it finds it an astonishing anomaly, delivering boisterously silly big-screen entertainment without sacrificing sociological dexterity or coherent, streamlined spectacle. It’d be a markedly non-traditional winner, but an unwanted one? No way in Valhalla.
Will Win: The Revenant
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Really Win: Carol
Dream Oscar Ballot
- 45 Years
- Arabian Nights
- The Look of Silence
- Mad Max: Fury Road
- Magic Mike XXL
- The Tribe
I’ve already written about 7 of these here and 3 of these here. I know I don’t have to go all the way to ten, but this year truly merits it. Wish I had room for Timbuktu, Tom at the Farm, Victoria and White God, but cutoffs exist for a reason.
Best Picture: The Revenant
Best Director: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road – Obviously the DGA went a different way, but I wonder if voters would really go for Inarritu two years in a row. McCarthy and McKay are also a bit televisual to gather deep adoration. This may be the Academy’s best chance to honor Miller’s extremist genius; somehow I don’t think Happy Feet will reverberate quite as much as Mad.
Best Actress: Brie Larson, Room
Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Best Supp. Actress: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Best Supp. Actor: Sylvester Stallone, Creed – I’m half tempted to predict Christian Bale, for all his affable mannerisms, but Stallone really cuts to the core.
Best Original Screenplay: Spotlight
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short
Best Animated Feature: Inside Out
Best Documentary Feature: Amy
Best Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul
Best Animated Short: World of Tomorrow
Best Live Action Short: Stutterer
Best Documentary Short: The Girl In the River: The Price of Forgiveness
Best Original Score: Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight
Best Original Song: “Till It Happens to You”, The Hunting Ground
Best Sound Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Sound Mixing: The Revenant
Best Production Design: Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant
Best Makeup & Hairstyling: Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Costume Design: Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Film Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Visual Effects: Star Wars: The Force Awaken