This past week, critics groups have started revealing their end-of-the-year awards winners enmasse confirming that it is indeed the most wonderful time of the (entertainment) year: Oscar Season. This is the first of several entries that will track the Oscar race as it takes shape over the coming months all leading up to The 88th Annual Academy Awards on February 28th, 2016.
While the winners of any of these awards rarely line up exactly with the eventual Oscar winners, they’re the starting pistol for the marathon that is The Oscar Race. They can also boost a film’s chances. This year, several films have gotten a big boost of buzz due to the National Board of Review (NBR), New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC), Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), Boston Online Film Critics (BOFCA), Boston Society of Film Critics (BSFC), and New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) revealing their annual winners. It seems that Mad Max: Fury Road could benefit most from these condolences. It got numerous mentions for Best Picture (NBR, BOFCA), Best Director (LAFCA, BOFCA), Best Cinematography (LAFCA, BOFCA, NYFCO), Best Editing (BOFCA, BSFC), Best Original Score (BOFCA) and Best Production Design (LAFCA). Carol showed itself to be a true contender with wins for Best Picture (NYFCC), Best Director (NYFCC, BSFC), Best Supporting Actress (NYFCO) Best Screenplay (NYFCC), Best Cinematography (NYFCC, BSFC), and Best Music (LAFCA). Spotlight secured its spot as a frontrunner with bids for Best Picture (LAFCA, NYFCO, BSFC), Best Director (NYFCO), Best Actor (NYFCC), Best Screenplay (LAFCA, NYFCO, BSFC, BOFCA), and Best Ensemble (NYFCO, BSFC, BOFCA).
Individual players also saw their stock rise this week. Sylvester Stallone (NBR, BOFCA) and Mark Rylance (NYFCC,NYFCO) each picked up two Best Supporting Actor wins apiece for Creed and Bridge of Spies, respectively. Kristen Stewart jumped into the race too, taking home Best Supporting Actress (NYFCC, BOFCA, BSFC) for her performance in Clouds of Sils Maria. Best Actress was split between three great actresses; Soairse Ronan for Brooklyn (NYFCC, BOFCA), Brie Larson for Room (NBR, NYFCO), and Charlotte Rampling for 45 Years (BSFC, LAFCA).
These winners (namely Mad Max: Fury Road) have finally added a little spice to what, quite frankly, has been a rather dull year in awards prognosticating. Many hopefuls stumbled out of the gate whether critically (Our Brand is Crisis, Burnt, The Secret in Their Eyes, By the Sea), commercially (The Walk, Steve Jobs, Truth), or just from lack of buzz (The End of Tour, Sicario, Suffragette). Meanwhile, many of the agreed-upon best films of the year are of the ilk that are rarely nominated for Oscar’s big prizes; Mad Max: Fury Road (summer blockbuster), Ex Machina (sci-fi), Inside Out and Anomalies (animated). So where does that leave us? If you answered “confused” or “all over the place” you’re starting to get the picture.
I am going to attempt to carve a path through all this madness and predict the likely nominees in all the major categories. I will update these predictions as the race progresses in the hopes that each of us will win our respective Oscar betting pools this February.
Unlike every other category at the Oscars, Best Picture is no longer limited to five nominees. For the 2010 ceremony, the Academy bumped the nominees up to ten. Two years later it was revised so there would be between five and ten nominees, depending on how many votes each film received. I’m really not sure what’s going to waltz up to the Dolby stage and claim this highest honor early next year, but looking at the state of the race now here is what is most likely to get nominated:
From the buzz it has, the reviews it’s received, and the awards it’s winning, clearly Spotlight is the frontrunner at this point. It’s spectacular, but feels a bit like a placeholder to me. Every year we have an early front runner that is loved by critics and seems like a sure-fire contender for the win only to be surpassed by something flashier or more mainstream at the end. Boyhood, The Social Network, and Up in the Air are all recent examples of this. Maybe I’m wrong and Spotlight takes it home, but until all is said and done, I fully expect one of the next six films to eventually claim the prize. The question is… which one?
2. The Revenant
The Revenant holds the number two spot for sheer spectacle. Stories have leaked from the set about the rough conditions and perfectionism of director and current Best Director champ, Alejandro G. Iñárritu. Last year he proved himself an incredible visionary with Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance and he seems to be taking it to the next level here with extensively choreographed war scenes lit only with natural light and a savage bear attack captured in one gruesome take. Early word from screenings has been generous, but critics awards have been nonexistent save for a Best Actor tie for Leo (BSFC). Iñárritu has a uphill battle to fight if he wants to win the Best Picture Oscar two years in a row— a feat no director has ever accomplished.
3. Carol 4. Room 5. Brooklyn
Room, Carol, and Brooklyn are three incredible examples of the wealth of women-led films that are dominating this year. They are all very well respected and will likely all receive Best Picture nominations as well as Best Actress and Best Screenplay nominations.
6. Joy 7. The Hateful Eight
While press has finally seen these two, the rest of us have to wait until they’re released Christmas Day. Early word is that both could be contenders in multiple categories. Directors David O. Russell and Quentin Tarantino have amassed a staggering 38 nominations and 6 wins–including five Best Picture nominations– between their last five respective films, yet neither has ever claimed the top two prizes. With the right awards narrative, either one of these could become our winner.
8. The Martian
I’ll be honest, I’m surprised The Martian makes this list. It came out last October to positive, but not glowing reviews. It seemed an enjoyable crowdpleaser but now, due to its massive financial success and top notch pedigree, a narrative is forming around the overdue status of its director, Ridley Scott. Despite directing Gladiator to a Best Picture Oscar in 2000, Scott has never won one. The potential to reward one of the best loved directors alive seems to be driving the buzz here.
9. Bridge of Spies
Spielberg is always a safe bet. Bridge of Spies is far from his best work, but its far from his worst. It’s an inspiring story told in a way that only Spielberg can and that should be enough to land it among the best of the year.
10. Mad Max: Fury Road
Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the best films of the year and absolutely deserving of a nomination. Will it get one? A week ago I would have told you, sadly, no. However due to the critics awards its experiencing a resurgence at the best time it possibly could. Is it going to win Best Picture? Likely not, the Academy isn’t that cool. But it’s looking more and more likely that it could be up for Oscar’s biggest prize. All we can do is cross our fingers and hope.
Waiting in the Wings
11. Inside Out
12. The Danish Girl
13. Steve Jobs
Outside of the top ten we have a couple of hopefuls peering in. Inside Out is a very worthy selection, but could be left out just due to the fact that it’s animated. Anomalisa is in the same boat. The Danish Girl has a very timely narrative, good reviews, and director Todd Hooper’s last two films have both been nominated here. Creed came out of nowhere but is appearing to be a real threat in Best Supporting Actor. The first Rocky won Best Picture. If the Academy is feeling nostalgic, Creed could get in. Steve Jobs is also one I may be underestimating because I disliked it so much, but its buzz has all but died since it crashed and burned at the box office.
1. Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant
2. Tom McCarthy – Spotlight
3. Ridley Scott – The Martian
4. Todd Haynes – Carol
5. Lenny Abrasion – Room
Predicting Iñárritu’s second consecutive victory may be unwise since it’s a feat that’s only been accomplished twice and not since 1950, but from what we’ve seen and heard about The Revenant, it could do the trick for him. McCarthy is a safe pick that, in all likelihood, will be rewarded by winning screenplay. A consolation win for Scott is currently the biggest obstacle in Iñárritu’s journey to back-to-back victories. The other two would just be lucky to get their first directing nominations.
6. David O. Russell – Joy
7. Quentin Tarantino – The Hateful Eight
8. George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
9. Steven Spielberg – Bridge of Spies
10. Danny Boyle – Steve Jobs
This is one category that will probably do a lot of changing over the next couple months because two of the best directors working today (Russell and Tarantino) are both coming out with projects that could land them in the final line up. Spielberg is a threat for nomination just due to his consummate skill and respect in the industry. Boyle could pop in if Steve Jobs experiences a resurgence. Miller is the dark horse here, arguably more deserving than anyone else in the category. What he accomplished on Mad Max: Fury Road is nothing short of revelatory, and it would be fantastic if he were rewarded in kind.
1. Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
2. Will Smith – Concussion
3. Johnny Depp – Black Mass
4. Matt Damon – The Martian
5. Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl
Leo’s year! Leo’s year! Leo’s year! Leo’s year! It’s finally the time the internet has been waiting for! Leonardo DiCaprio looks poised to win his first Oscar after five nominations (four for acting, one for picture). In what’s turning into quite The Showdown of the Un-Oscared Movie Star, Leo’s biggest competition seems to come from fellow A-listers and occasional co-stars: Johnny Depp, Matt Damon, and Will Smith. Reigning champ, Eddie Redmayne is still in the race as transgendered painter Lili Elbe, but doesn’t seem to have the buzz for a repeat win. All these men give very good performances in pretty good films, but none seem strong enough to topple Leo for his long-overdue win.
6. Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
7. Tom Hanks – Bridge of Spies
8. Michael Caine – Youth
9. Bryan Cranston – Trumbo
10. Samuel L. Jackson – The Hateful Eight
The five waiting in the wings are no less movie stars themselves, but with quieter performances in smaller films. These gents would need quite the boost to unseat any of the five above, save for Fassbender in some kind of Steve Jobs love avalanche (which isn’t that far outside the realm of possibility).
1. Brie Larson – Room
2. Jennifer Lawrence – Joy
3. Cate Blanchett – Carol
4. Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn
5. Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years
Most years there are so many incredible lead actor performances that narrowing it down to five nominees is a nearly impossible task. The number of incredible actress performances however usually fit all too nicely into a category of five each year. This is much more due to the amount of well written roles for women in films than a lack of talented actresses. This year, however, there is a wealth of fantastic female performances unlike we’ve ever seen, so much so they’re being pushed to other categories. There are many incredible young actresses making (or continuing to make) their mark on the industry as well as a number of older veteran actresses doing some of the best work of their lives in smaller independent films. Charlotte Rampling has won accolades for her performance in 45 Years, propelling her to the top five. Cate Blanchett gave two incredible leading performances this year, but it looks as if Carol, as opposed to Truth, holds her best change at a nom. Soairse Ronan’s work (it’s pronounced ‘ser-sha’) in Brooklyn was enough for the NYFCC to grant her their Best Actress honor but can she surpass the current frontrunners; Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence and Brie Larson? Unless the Academy decides to give Lawrence a second Best Actress Oscar before she’s 26 or Blanchett a second in three years, expect Brie Larson will win her first for her incredible, affecting performance in Room.
6. Emily Blunt – Sicario
7. Carey Mulligan – Suffragette
8. Blythe Danner – I’ll See You in My Dreams
9. Lily Tomlin – Grandma
10. Maggie Smith – The Lady in the Van
It would be fantastic, if unlikely, to see Emily Blunt receive her first career nomination for Sicario, but a guy can hope. Mulligan has been doing consistently impressive work since her first nomination for An Education, but has yet to find a role to get her back to the ceremony. Could Suffragette be it? She’s spectacular, but buzz is dying. Sadly the majority of the aforementioned veterans are relegated to the lower spots on totem pole at the moment. Most years reserve at least one spot for a respected older actress. Rampling holds that spot currently but sheer industry respect for Danner or Tomlin could easily propel them into it. Danner is a beloved actress who’s never been nominated and Tomlin is an national treasure who’s work is experiencing a bit of a resurgence as of late. Maggie Smith is Maggie Smith and therefore always in contention at all times always (and deservedly so).
Best Supporting Actor
1. Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight
2. Michael Keaton – Spotlight
3. Sylvester Stallone – Creed
4. Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies
5. Tom Hardy – The Revenant
Supporting Actor, more than any other race, is an absolute mystery this year, and will likely continue to be until nominations are announced. Due to the sheer size of the category– close to twenty men are all vying for five spots– the line up now could look very different than it does three months from now. For instance, before Creed came out this weekend most would have scoffed at the idea of Sylvester Stallone as a nominee but after the positive reviews and the NBR win, he’s looking like a real contender. Keaton is the frontrunner currently for no other reason than he lost last year and people are looking to reward him, but I’m anticipating a shift towards Ruffalo later in the season. He has the “scene” and he’s been so good for so long in so many things, I think it’s about his time to be rewarded.
6. Jacob Tremblay – Room
7. Idris Elba – Beasts of No Nation
8. Benicia del Toro – Sicario
9. Paul Dano – Love & Mercy
10. Jason Segel – The End of the Tour
Due to the the fluid nature of this race that I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple gents from above found their way in, namely Elba’s powerhouse performance in Netflix’s Beast of No Nation or Tremblay absolutely astounding introduction in Room. Either would be a welcome edition to this crowded category. Benicio del Toro does some truly commanding work in Sicario, but the buzz seems to have faded in favor of other contenders at the moment. Lack of buzz has also plagued Jason Segel’s transformative performance in The End of the Tour. He has his fans but will it be enough? Paul Dano has been on the cusp of a nomination since 2005’s Little Miss Sunshine. Sadly, without an upset, it doesn’t seem that this will be his year either.
Best Supporting Actress
1. Rooney Mara – Carol
2. Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
3. Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl
4. Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs
5. Kristen Stewart – The Clouds of Sils Maria
This category could also shift significantly on nomination morning, but not due to an overstuffed category, instead due to a fraudulent one. Both Rooney Mara and Alica Vikander are leads of their respective films, but due to the unusual heat of the Best Actress race, they are being campaigned here in supporting so they have a better shot at a nomination. This technique has worked in the past for contenders like Julia Roberts in August: Osage County or Hailee Seinfeld in True Grit, but it can also cause confusion. In 2008, despite campaigning for supporting actress, the academy denied Kate Winslet’s placement and nominated her for lead actress for for The Reader. She went on to win, but I doubt Mara or Vikander have the same steam. If either is left off of supporting, don’t expect to see their name anywhere else nomination morning. Winslet will deservedly receive her seventh nomination (and first since her win) for her fiery turn in Steve Jobs. Earlier this year, Kristen Stewart (yes that Kristen Stewart) was the first American actress ever to win a Cesar— a French Oscar— for her performance in The Clouds of Sils Maria. It was a very deserving win that few expected to translate to an Oscar nomination, however it seems we underestimated her. Leigh is a threat to win if she delivers the kind of performance it’s rumored she does, but if the Academy doesn’t take to the film expect Mara to claim the prize for her lauded turn in Carol.
6. Rachel McAdams – Spotlight
7. Elizabeth Banks – Love & Mercy
8. Jane Fonda – Youth
9. Marion Cotillard – Macbeth
10. Joan Allen – Room
Most of the ladies above are also-rans with Rachel McAdams holding the best shot at breaking into the top five for her work in Spotlight. It just depends on how much love is poured on Spotlight nomination morning.
Well that’s the state of the race for the time being. We have an exciting week ahead of us as two of the biggest precursors to the Oscars announce their nominees this week: the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) on Wed. the 9th and the Golden Globes the following day on the 10th. I’ll be covering the nominations and updating my predictions in the week that follows!
I want to hear what you think! Who do you think is the front runner for the Oscars? Who do you think deserves them (which is often another question entirely)? And what films have you seen this year that you would most like to see take home the gold next February? Blow up the comments with your answers!
Author: Radcliff Weir, @radcliffweir
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