It’s back again! The backslapping, body-shaming and mandatory Jennifer Lawrence nomination are here again for the 88th Academy Awards. Also back, bigger and more disgraceful than ever, is Hollywood’s insistence on slamming the door on non-white talent, with a second consecutive year of zero people of colour nominated for any acting, directing, or writing awards. Even the non-whitewashed films that managed to poke through were recognised only for their white contributors. Creed? Nominate Stallone, not Michael B. Jordan. Straight Outta Compton? Nominate the white writers, not the black director or any of the black actors. It must be remembered that the problem is much deeper than such performers just being overlooked – the problem is that they simply aren’t considered for the jobs in the first place. A damning study out this week found that of the 109 films released by major Hollywood studios in 2014, only two were directed by black women. Consider the most lucrative franchise in modern film, the Marvel cinematic universe, with thousands of comicbook storylines to choose from: twelve films with white male directors and lead writers, starring a white man fighting a white man. Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs has promised the Academy will “lead, and not wait for the industry to catch up.” I’ll believe it when I see it. On with the show …
Best Picture Nominees
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
Should win: Room
Will win: The Revenant
There doesn’t seem to be a standout candidate this year, with big hitters like Spotlight and The Revenant inching ahead in the betting. I’m not sure how The Martian sneaked in there when the likes of Carol didn’t. I thought Fury Road was tremendous but those kind of movies don’t win Best Picture. Alejandro Iñárritu’s frosty, macho frontier tale will probably take the top prize but I’d give it to Room – Lenny Abrahamson’s mother/son abduction drama is a beautiful and well-balanced exploration of parental love with some incredibly tense and moving scenes, shot in a little over a month for just $6m. No bear attack though.
Best Director Nominees
Adam McKay – The Big Short
George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant
Lenny Abrahamson – Room
Tom McCarthy – Spotlight
Should win: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Will win: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Adam McKay has come a long way since Talledega Nights and deserves high praise for turning Michael Lewis’ book into an extremely entertaining film. And let’s take a moment to celebrate George Miller, reviving Max Rockatansky thirty years after the Thunderdome, rescuing Fury Road from almost 20 years of development hell and spitting out a fiery, supercharged, adrenaline dreamscape that blew critics away. Any other year he’d be my choice hands-down, but while Iñárritu flattered to deceive last year with the flashy but insubstantial Birdman, this year there’s no arguing with the gongs that are surely coming the way of The Revenant’s director, lead actor and cinematographer. If you’re unconvinced, watch the opening battle, the bear attack and the horseback chase, then think again. The Revenant was a bit long, it lost focus occasionally and it left certain elements unexplored but it still showcased a director at the top of his game pulling off things that most filmmakers wouldn’t even dare to attempt.
Best Actor Nominees
Bryan Cranston – Trumbo as Dalton Trumbo
Matt Damon – The Martian as Mark Watney
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant as Hugh Glass
Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs as Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl as Lili Elbe / Einar Wegener
Should win: Leonardo DiCaprio
Will win: I think you know.
Dealing quickly with the winner, let’s be clear: the other four are just turning up for the music and the buffet. This is Leo’s year and who are we to argue – he climbed inside a horse. 5th time lucky for Original Manbun then, but what about the rest of the field? Can anyone explain to me how Matt Damon got nominated for The Martian (he didn’t even lose the weight, it was a body double!) and Idris Elba is nowhere to be seen for Beasts of No Nation? I’d have given Ralph Fiennes a nod for that wicked dance in A Bigger Splash (check it out if you want to see what Voldemort keeps under his cloak, ladies). Fassbender was much more interesting in MacBeth than in Steve Jobs. I also loved Colin Farrell in The Lobster. They’re all window dressing though – bravo Leo. I hope he thanks the bear, and the horse, in his speech.
Best Actress Nominees
Cate Blanchett – Carol as Carol Aird
Brie Larson – Room as Joy “Ma” Newsome
Jennifer Lawrence – Joy as Joy Mangano
Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years as Kate Mercer
Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn as Eilis Lacey
Should win: Brie Larson
Will win: Brie Larson
Nearly every Christmas, David O. Russell gets Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro together for a knockabout lightweight comedy-drama that always somehow ends with J-Law getting an Oscar nomination (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, Joy). Don’t ask me why – she can handle much more testing material (Winter’s Bone, The Hunger Games films). This curiosity aside, there are some interesting things going on in this category: Cate Blanchett being deemed the lead and Rooney Mara the support in an even two-hander; Saoirse Ronan garnering rave reviews all round for Brooklyn; and Charlotte Rampling coming out firmly and robustly on the wrong side of the #OscarSoWhite controversy. I’d have loved to see Sidse Babbette Knudsen nominated for The Duke of Burgundy but calendars and foreign language requirements probably rule that out. Brie Larson will win this for her shatteringly good performance in Room – no arguments there.
Best Supporting Actor Nominees
Christian Bale – The Big Short as Michael Burry
Tom Hardy – The Revenant as John Fitzgerald
Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight as Michael Rezendes
Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies as Rudolf Abel
Sylvester Stallone – Creed as Rocky Balboa
Should win: Mark Rylance
Will win: Sylvester Stallone
Christian Bale’s turn as glass-eyed, metal-obsessed finance savant Michael Burry was the best thing he’s done in years, possibly since The Fighter in 2010. Tom Hardy’s nasty, borderline-inaudible Fitzgerald was certainly compelling, but I suspect Mr Hardy will not lack for awards as his career progresses. I’d have picked Benicio del Toro, at least for a nomination, for his chilling Alejandro in Sicario. Sly Stallone beat the likes of Paul Dano (Love and Mercy) and Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation) to take a surprise win at the Golden Globes and the bookies have him as the favourite to take the Oscar too. He was excellent in Creed but still, that would be some result, over the likes of Marks Rylance and Ruffalo, the latter of whom is perhaps the archetypal ‘Supporting Actor’ nominee, and yet is an 80-1 outsider to win for Spotlight. At least ageism is less of a concern for the Oscars than racism.
Best Supporting Actress Nominees
Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight as Daisy Domergue
Rooney Mara – Carol as Therese Belivet
Rachel McAdams – Spotlight as Sacha Pfeiffer
Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl as Gerda Wegener
Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs as Joanna Hoffman
Should win: Rooney Mara
Will win: Kate Winslet
I have a feeling that Kate Winslet will complete the Titanic awards reunion by snatching this one, but don’t ask me why – she did decent work in Steve Jobs but there just wasn’t much substance to that film. Alicia Vikander had a tremendous year and deserves the spotlight (she’s the bookies’ favourite for this) but I’d have nominated her for bewitching us as Ava in Ex Machina rather than playing Gerda in The Danish Girl. Rachel Weisz probably deserved a nod for The Lobster too, but I’d give this to Rooney Mara for her superb, delicate portrayal of Therese in Todd Haynes’ Carol. It would be a grossly unfair if her only recognition was to be thanked in Cate Blanchett’s speech.
Best of the Rest
The safest punts at this year’s ceremony are Emmanuel Lubezki for The Revenant’s cinematography (making it three in three years for the Mexican lenser) and Inside Out for Best Animated Feature Film. I have yet to hear a good explanation as to why the likes of Inside Out and Charlie Kaufman’s visionary Anomalisa can’t be considered as outright Best Picture nominees – again, I refer you to The Martian. Best Original Score is an interesting category this year, with iconic heavyweights Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight) and John Williams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) throwing their hats into the ring. Morricone is the favourite, though I loved Sicario’s unsettling score from last year’s nominee, Johan Johannsson.
The white writers were nominated for Straight Outta Compton’s screenplay, which is odd considering the screenplay (which left out rather important elements of the NWA story like misogyny) was one of its weakest elements, against strengths like O’Shea Jackson Jr’s portrayal of his father, or the energetic sound mixing. Spotlight will win this one though, and Adam McKay and Charles Randolph should also win for their adaptation of The Big Short from Michael Lewis’ book.
Joshua Oppenheimer was robbed for the Best Documentary award in 2014 for The Act of Killing, though that doesn’t mean his follow-up, The Look of Silence, will fare any better. Asif Kapadia’s interesting but morally questionable Amy has the momentum in this category. Finally, although The Martian somehow picked up seven Oscar nominations, there are other heavily-tipped films that have yet to really feature in this write-up – Mad Max: Fury Road is nominated in ten categories but I’d be surprised if it picked up anything outside of technical awards, production design, visual effects and so on. Bear in mind it’ll be competing with Star Wars: The Force Awakens in most of those. One consequence of the staggering lack of diversity at the Oscars is its predictability – with the odd exception like Room, all the main categories this year feel pretty safe and uneventful. The Oscars must do better next year – the Academy’s credibility is on the line.