Friday, February 26, 2016

2016 Oscar Predictions: Part 2


Here's the second batch of my Oscar predictions. If you haven't yet, be sure to check out Part 1 here.

Although most people are familiar with the nominees for things like Best Picture or Best Actor or Actress, far fewer seem to care about things like sound mixing or production design. And that’s a shame, because the talents in these fields deserve just as much recognition and are critical to a film’s success. And if you’re participating in an Oscar ballot, it’s worth noting that the “big” awards make up less than half of the categories. Everyone can predict that Leonardo DiCaprio will win, but not as many are up to date on who the frontrunners are for best Documentary Short Subject. Never fear! I’m here to give a rundown of my predictions for these categories too!

I’ll start with the short films. I say this every year, but if you have an opportunity to see these, please do yourself a favor and check them out! I look forward to the short selections every year, and often they’re brilliant. And some of them are available online! You can watch World of Tomorrow, Chau Beyond the Lines, and Last Day of Freedom on Netflix, and can check out We Can’t Live Without Cosmos here.

Awww! Look at these two friends from the movie Shok! They're having so much fun and I bet nothing terrible happens to either of them at all! Wh...what do you mean this is a war movie?
Best Live Action Short:
Nominees:
Ave Maria
Day One
Everything Will Be Okay
Shok
Stutterer

This is probably the weakest of the shorts categories this year. While all ten of the nominees in the other categories are excellent, the live action shorts have two films which I think are somewhat weak. The frontrunner, according to most experts, is Ave Maria, but this is primarily because it won the top award at Cannes. However, I didn't find it nearly as funny as I think it was trying to be, and it came across as really lightweight to me. Despite what the experts say, I can't understand how this one would possibly win amongst voters who have seen all the entries. It was this same gut instinct which allowed me to correctly pick Helium to win over the heavily favored The Voorman Problem in this category two years ago. So, if you want to trust the experts, go with Ave Maria, but I simply don't see it being named the best out of this group. That being said, it's not the worst of the nominees--that would be Day One, which was downright bad. But the other three nominees are all great, and I could see any of them winning. Shok, the tragic story of two young friends during the Kosovo War, is well done and I could see generating lots of votes, and a lot of what I've read online seems to think this is the frontrunner. But for me, it's only the third best. If I were giving out this award, it would be a tough race between Everything Will Be Okay and Stutterer. Everything Will Be Okay is a German film about a divorced father who goes to extremes to spend time with his daughter. It's devastating, and one of the most powerful films of the year. By contrast, Stutterer is a charming and quirky film about a typographer who tries to overcome his profound stutter to form a connection with those around him. Both are really well done, and I could easily see Stutterer gaining a lot of votes because of how enjoyable it is. But, I have to give the edge to Everything Will Be Okay. This film is heartbreaking, and stayed with me far longer than any of the other nominees, thanks especially to the wonderful performances of Simon Schwarz and Julia Pointner as a father and daughter.

Will Win: Everything Will Be Okay
But Don't Count Out: Stutterer, Shok, Ave Maria
Should Win: Everything Will Be Okay

World of Tomorrow is not just my favorite short film of the year, I think it's one of the best works of sci-fi in film history.
Best Animated Short:
Nominees:
Bear Story
Prologue
Sanjay’s Super Team
We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
World of Tomorrow

This is an excellent lineup. In past years, I’ve always felt there were one or two weaker entries, but all five of these films have a lot of merit. Even my least favorite nominee, Bear Story—a story within a story about a bear who is taken from his family to work in the circus—is beautifully done and better than the majority of nominees in the past few years. I also like these nominees because each one is so different. Sanjay’s Super Team, Pixar’s offering this year, is an adorable story of a young boy who uses his imagination to combine his favorite TV show—Super Team—with the Hindu traditions his father attempts to teach him. This cute and appealing short couldn’t be more difficult from Prologue, which has to have a warning before it’s played due to its graphic content, depicting an incredibly violent fight between two pairs of roaming savages. It packs the same brutal devastation of, say, The Revenant, but I would argue with greater effect due to its short runtime and the beauty of its simplistic pencil animation. Then there’s We Can’t Live Without Cosmos, a Russian short about the relationship between two astronauts training for a space mission. At times funny, at times heartbreaking, it’s an incredibly poetic and touching short. Any other year, I would have named We Can’t Live Without Cosmos the clear winner…but this year had World of Tomorrow. Ever since it premiered at Sundance, there has been buzz surrounding this movie that short films don’t usually receive, and with good reason. World of Tomorrow is on another level. It’s unlike anything else, featuring a brilliant script that runs a full gamut of ideas and emotions. All the films are great, but World of Tomorrow is transcendent.

It’s hard for me to imagine World of Tomorrow not winning, and it’s widely seen as the favorite. But I suppose there is an outside chance that the somewhat more conventional and still excellent Cosmos could take the title away. And then it’s difficult to completely count out Pixar, but as good as Sanjay’s Super Team is, if it wins then it has everything to do with studio interference as opposed to artistic merit. And usually this category is able to stay out of those sorts of politics.

Will Win: World of Tomorrow
But Don’t Count Out: We Can’t Live Without Cosmos, Sanjay’s Super Team

Last Day of Freedom, an animated documentary, plays with the format to create an unforgettable short film.

Best Documentary Short:
Nominees:
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

Another great lineup, just like with the animated shorts, all five of these are excellent and all five are quite different. This category is almost always incredibly depressing, and this year is no exception, although despite the difficult subject matter, all five are engaging and compelling to watch. The most upbeat is probably Chau, Beyond the Lines, about a young Vietnamese artist who is disabled due to the effects of Agent Orange, but is pursuing his dream of being a painter. It’s a great portrait of a fascinating artist, much like Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah, which profiles the later life of Lanzmann, best known for directing the 10-hour cinematic masterpiece Shoah. While those two films are about people, the other three are more about ideas, and are what I see as the three frontrunners in the category. Body Team 12 is by far the shortest of the films, and takes a look at the only woman in Body Team 12, responsible for removing the bodies of Ebola victims in Liberia. A Girl in the River is about 19-year-old Saba Qaiser, who survived an honor killing in Pakistan. The film looks at Qaiser harrowing and brave story, while also examining the terrifying practice of honor killings and the culture that surrounds them. Last Day of Freedom is, surprisingly, an animated film, utilizing an interview with Bill Babbitt, who tells the story of his brother Manny who was executed on death row. The film is deeply personal, and is in equal parts about the relationship Bill had with his brother and some of the numerous flaws with our justice system. These last three films all tell great stories, and all inspire deserved outrage about their topics of choice.

I could see any of these five winning, but I think the most likely winner is A Girl in the River. It’s the only one of these titles which has received more widespread attention thanks to its distributor (both it and Claude Lanzmann are produced by HBO) and the film’s release has already been inspiring change in the Pakistani government to end the practice of honor killings. That’s pretty powerful stuff. But, my favorite is Last Day of Freedom. At first I thought the animation might be unnecessary, but it ended up being incredibly effective and interesting. What I think sets this one apart from the others for me is just how personal it is. It doesn’t feel like a documentary, it feels like we’re taking a look at Bill’s soul. The issues that it highlights are important, and essential to discuss, but ultimately, it’s a movie about the relationship between two brothers, and due to its personal nature, it affected me in a way that the other films simply weren’t able to.

Will Win: A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
But Don’t Count Out: Any of them. It’s a strong field, and any of them could win, but I guess the most likely upset might be Body Team 12.
Should Win: Last Day of Freedom

Film scholars agree that the film editing in Mad Max: Fury Road was "awesome as fuck."
Best Film Editing:
Nominees:
The Big Short
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Spotlight
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Now we're moving back to the world of feature films to focus on the technical awards, starting with Best Film Editing. More often than not, this category goes hand in hand with the winner for Best Picture. And yet, of these five films, Best Picture frontrunner Spotlight is the one where the editing is the least apparent. The other four nominees here simply have more editing going on, and therefore are more likely winners. I hate that The Big Short is nominated here, because I found the editing really distracting and sloppy. And I don’t think that Star Wars will be able to win, as in the past twenty years, there have only been four winners in this category which have not been Best Picture nominees. That leaves The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road. This final two is hardly surprising. They’re the two most nominated films this year, and it’s likely that the two of them will absolutely dominate all of the technical categories. You’re going to see these titles a lot in the rest of this blog post. Really, the biggest question mark of the night is whether these films will split the technical awards, or whether one film will sweep the awards over the other. Personally, I think that for this category, the much faster pace and more frequent use of quick cuts makes Mad Max both the likely, and the more deserving winner in this particular category.

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
But Don’t Count Out: The Revenant
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is going for his third consecutive win. And he didn't have to eat a single raw animal heart to do it.
Best Cinematography:
Nominees:
Carol
The Hateful Eight
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Sicario

There could potentially be a surprising spoiler with Sicario, if only because the nominee is Roger Deakins, who has been nominated twelve times previously and never won. But, barring the Academy throwing an overdue bone to Deakins, we can again pretty much assume that this category will come down to The Revenant or Mad Max: Fury Road. While I personally thought that the camera work of Mad Max was truly spectacular, pretty much everyone agrees that this award will go to The Revenant. And that’s hard to argue with—even those like myself who didn’t love the film will agree that the cinematography was gorgeous. Also, if The Revenant wins, it will mean an unprecedented three consecutive wins for cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who has already taken home back-to-back trophies for his work on Gravity and Birdman the past two years.

Will Win: The Revenant
But Don’t Count Out: Mad Max: Fury Road, Sicario
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Which Production Design nominee should I post. How about Bridge of Spies? No one's talking about Bridge of Spies. Cheer up, Bridge of Spies--I haven't forgotten you! Keep your chin up, you're directed by Spielberg!

Best Production Design:
Nominees:
Bridge of Spies
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant

Production design basically deals with all of the elements of how a film looks. Does the film achieve a certain aesthetic? You have the production design department to thank! Personally, I thought that the two standouts out of these nominees were Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian, but it is very rare for this category to not go to a period piece like the other three nominees, which means that my favorites are at a bit of a disadvantage. Instead, I think The Revenant and its almost ghostly, naturally-lit color palette is going to take this award home, but don’t count out The Danish Girl which has the most period-piecey feel of these five.

Will Win: The Revenant
But Don’t Count Out: The Danish Girl, Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

How far have Visual Effects come? If Maz had been in the original Star Wars films, she would have just been the actress Linda Hunt spray painted yellow.

Best Visual Effects:
Nominees:
Ex Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I’m so happy that Ex Machina managed to score a nomination! It’s the little film that could, amongst some much bigger titles, all of which operated with a far bigger budget. Unfortunately, while the visual effects are really well done in both Ex Machina and The Martian, they’re not quite as flashy as the other three nominees, and so they’re kind of out of the running. Star Wars and Mad Max are the two juggernauts, and either could easily take this, but I think that the widely known reliance on practical effects over CGI in Mad Max is going to put it over the edge. That is, unless The Revenant can ride the much talked about CGI bear scene all the way to the Oscar podium.

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
But Don’t Count Out: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Revenant
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

The old age makeup in The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is really impressive and also has no chance against two movies that people have actually heard of.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:
Nominees:
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant

The two films competing for all of the technical awards are here once again nominated, and are somewhat amusingly joined by probably one of the least recognizable titles of the year. If you’re wondering, The 100-Year-Old-Man is a Swedish comedy, and one character spends more than half of the movie in what seems to be very convincing old age makeup. Certainly impressive, but there’s no way it or The Revenant can compete with the out of this world makeup design in Mad Max: Fury Road. I don’t even know what The Revenant is doing here, although I guess it had some fake blood and bruises and stuff?

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
But Don’t Count Out: Johnny Depp appearing on stage in his makeup from Black Mass and burgling the award from the Mad Max team.
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

One of the many incredible and intricate costumes from Crimson Peak, which was somehow not nominated even though EVERY SINGLE COSTUME IN THIS FILM WAS A WORK OF ART AND HOW THE FUCK DID IT NOT GET A NOMINATION?! I WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND THIS!
Best Costume Design:
Nominees:
Carol
Cinderella
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant

Rather amazingly, this is a category where Mad Max and The Revenant might NOT win, as this category tends to go for pretty rather than gritty. Although Mad Max is still a strong contender and shouldn’t be counted out, I think there’s a good chance that the Oscar will go to three-time Oscar-winner Sandy Powell, who is in contention for both Carol and Cinderella this year (she must really like Cate Blanchett). Of the two, I think that the stylish costumes in Carol might have an edge—they’re pretty, but they’re also restrained and elegant in a way that the Cinderella weren’t.

Will Win: Carol
But Don’t Count Out: Mad Max: Fury Road, Cinderella
Should Win: Carol

I couldn't find a picture of Demian Bichir playing the piano from The Hateful Eight. That would have been such a perfect picture for Best Original Score, but...oh well. Here's another still from The Hateful Eight. I know it has nothing to do with the score, though, and I'm sorry I've let all my readers down.

Best Original Score:
Nominees:
Bridge of Spies
Carol
The Hateful Eight
Sicario
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

This is actually a really exciting category this year. Veteran film composer Carter Burwell, who has scored countless films, has finally received his first ever nomination for Carol, which is great! But the excitement around Burwell is overshadowed by the inclusion of two genuine legends. Ennio Morricone and John Williams, both octogenarians, are two of the most iconic film composers in the business, and are proving that they’re still more than capable of producing great work with The Hateful Eight and Star Wars: The Force Awakens respectively. They’re the two frontrunners not just because of how beloved they are, but because they did genuinely create the two best scores this year. While it’s hard to bet against Williams, I think that Morricone will take home his first ever Oscar for his brilliant and mysterious score for The Hateful Eight.

Will Win: The Hateful Eight
But Don’t Count Out: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Should Win: The Hateful Eight

What's that? You don't care about sound editing? Well, without sound editing there would be no flamethrowing guitar so maybe you should care about it a little bit more! Didn't think of that, did you?

Best Sound Editing:
Nominees:
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Sicario
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Once again, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant are major contenders here, although Star Wars: The Force Awakens shouldn’t be counted out. Given the film’s overwhelming success, it’s like the Academy might want to give it something, and one of these categories would be its best shot at joining the winner’s circle. So, this category is definitely up in the air, but it’s just too hard to bet against Mad Max in any of these technical categories.

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
But Don’t Count Out: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Revenant
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Bridge of Spies, the only sound mixing nominee not also nominated for sound editing. The sound editors for this film must really feel like they dropped the ball.
Best Sound Mixing:
Nominees:
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

My reasoning here is the exact same as it was for Sound Editing, although with a different outcome. While I think The Revenant and Mad Max still have a chance here, I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is the category for Star Wars: Force Awakens to finally win. Its sound mixing was featured fairly prominently. You know how you could hear the dialogue over the space fights? That’s due to sound mixing, as opposed to editing!

Will Win: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
But Don’t Count Out: Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant
Should Win: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

So, I'm just saying...Lady Gaga's going to be at the Oscars. And you KNOW her red carpet outfit has to top Bjork's swan dress and I'm really excited to see it. My hope is that Lady Gaga's outfit will actually just be a life-sized doll of Bjork in the swan dress which Lady Gaga drapes over her body.
Best Original Song:
Nominees:
“Earned it”—Fifty Shades of Grey
“Manta Ray”—Racing Extinction
“Simple Song #3”—Youth
“Til It Happens to You”—The Hunting Ground
“Writing’s on the Wall”—Spectre

This is a great category for predictions, because all five nominees are easily accessible! Every one of these songs is on youtube, and I encourage you to check all of them out. I must admit it’s a weird lineup, and features five films which otherwise received no nominations. There are some definite oddball choices here, including the operatic Simple Song #3, and very slow and reflective Manta Ray, but my favorite song happens to be the frontrunner to win. Til It Happens to You is an excellent song, and since it’s written and performed by Lady Gaga, it has the star power that often gets recognized by the Academy here. So, get used to saying “Oscar-winner Lady Gaga,” because she deserves the award and is likely going to win it.

Will Win: “Til It Happens to You”—The Hunting Ground
But Don’t Count Out: “Simple Song #3”—Youth, in case the old white men on the Academy decide to say fuck you to all the changes to make the voting committee younger and more diverse by voting for the most explicitly old-fashioned song in retaliation.
Should Win: “Til It Happens to You”—The Hunting Ground


And there you have it--my predictions in every category! Be sure to watch the Oscars on Sunday to see how I do, and leave your own predictions in the comments!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

2016 Oscar Predictions: Part 1

Well, here we are again. Another Academy Awards is upon us, and once again, I have compiled my predictions for who will win. This year's nominations were defined by unpredictability. A lot of the films that, early in the year, people thought would be major contenders ended up decidedly out of the running, while movies that no one saw coming became major contenders. At this time last year, who would have thought that Mad Max: Fury Road would be a Best Picture nominee? And who would have thought that Sylvester Stallone would be nominated for acting? And (here's the most amazing part) who would have thought that they'd deserve these nominations?! So here are my predictions. As I say every year, I feel good about my individual predictions in each category, but am increasingly feeling less than confident about how I'll do in the long-run. Below, you'll see my picks for what will win (and what should win) in all of the major categories.



Best Picture:
Nominees:
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room
Spotlight

As more and more film awards have gained respectability over the years, the Oscars seem to have become more predictable. If a movie wins the top prize at every awards ceremony before the Oscars, it’s likely that it will take home Oscar glory too. So while there are still sometimes surprises, most categories have already been narrowed down to at most two genuine contenders by the time the Oscars finally come around. But this year is different. The typical precursor awards seem unable to agree. Usually, the best predictor for the Oscar comes from the Guild Awards, with multiple Best Pictures winning the top prize from the Screen Actor’s Guild, the Director’s Guild of America, and the Producer’s Guild of America. But this year, for the first time in a decade, these awards have gone to different movies. And those three movies are the natural frontrunners. At the moment, Spotlight and The Revenant seem to be the ones competing for the top prizes, as they’ve won the most awards leading up to this point. Spotlight has been the frontrunner for a while, but The Revenant has picked up a surprising amount of momentum recently, especially thanks to its recent BAFTA wins. But it would be unwise to count out The Big Short. Although it hasn't won a ton of Best Picture awards from the precursor ceremonies, it did grab the PGA Award, which has typically been the most reliable predictor. Even though it’s currently seen as being in third place, if The Big Short doesn’t win Best Picture, it will be the first time the PGA has not predicted the Best Picture winner since 2006. So, really, any of these three could win.

But the fact that this awards circuit has already been so unpredictable leaves the door wide open for a spoiler. The fact that Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn and The Martian failed to grab Best Director nominations means that these three are unlikely to pull an upset victory. And then there’s Room, my personal favorite of these nominees, but which hasn’t had the monetary backing to launch a large acting campaign (the producers have focused all of their energy on the campaign for Brie Larson and largely ignored the Best Picture race). That leaves Mad Max: Fury Road. And while I can’t say for certain that it will win…a part of me thinks it’s a huge possibility. People love this movie, and it has actually been performing really well on the awards circuit. The main reason people don’t think it will win is because of its genre, but when was the last time any action film received this level of acclaim? It’s still a huge wild card, to be sure. But I just can’t dismiss its chances outright.

No matter what, this Oscar race has already been intriguing, and will be up until the envelope is opened. For my prediction, I’m going with the default: no movie has done well enough to dethrone Spotlight as the frontrunner in my mind. But this Oscar race is going to be close to say the least.

Will Win: Spotlight
But Don’t Count Out: The Revenant, The Big Short, Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Win: Room

George Miller, calmly explaining what sort of torture device they were strapping Tom Hardy into on that particular day of shooting.

Best Director:
Nominees:
Adam McKay—The Big Short
George Miller—Mad Max: Fury Road
Alejandro G. Inarritu—The Revenant
Lenny Abrahamson—Room
Tom McCarthy—Spotlight

Typically, Best Director and Best Picture are linked. So you’d think that, given that it’s the frontrunner for Best Picture, Spotlight would be a major contender for Best Director. But the problem is that, while McCarthy directs it capably, the direction really isn’t the star of the film, and in this category he has certainly done the least to distinguish himself from the rest of the crowd. So this is shaping up to be one of the rare years that Best Picture and Best Director are split. The situation feels similar to two years ago, where the director of Best Picture (Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave) was overlooked for the contributions of a director with more of a technical focus (Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity). This time, the race seems to be between Miller and Inarritu. Both have earned plenty of accolades this year already, so just like Best Picture, it’s too close to call. Also, it’s worth noting that both of these choices have things going for them outside of the quality of their work this year. Miller is a beloved figure in the industry who has never won an Oscar (or even been nominated before), and the Academy loves recognizing those who are overdue. Plus, he’d be the second oldest winner ever in this category. Inarritu, meanwhile, is an Academy favorite after winning the award last year. If he wins, this would be the first time a director won this award in two consecutive years since 1950. Personally, I’m on Team Miller. I did find Inarritu’s direction impressive, even if I wasn’t a huge fan of The Revenant, but what George Miller did with Mad Max: Fury Road wasn’t just artistically brilliant, it was truly groundbreaking and unique. But I'm giving Inarritu the edge to win simply because he won the Director's Guild Award, which is always a good indicator.

Will Win: Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant
But Don’t Count Out: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Win: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

"ME LOOK SAD ENOUGH FOR OSCAR NOW?!?! PLEASE SAY NOW!!!!" -Leonardo DiCaprio, overheard on the set of The Revenant

Best Actor:
Nominees:
Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo—Trumbo
Matt Damon as Mark Watney—The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass—The Revenant
Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs—Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne as Lili Elbe—The Danish Girl

Even before the movie came out, people were saying that DiCaprio would finally win an Oscar this year for The Revenant. But then the movie came out and I personally was kind of unimpressed. DiCaprio is good in the movie, and certainly very committed, but ultimately I think he’s one of the weaker nominees in this category (the only nominated performance in this category I liked less was Redmayne’s). As much as DiCaprio shivers and winces and screams, there’s not much room for textual interpretation, and that’s a big part of what acting is. I could see many actors doing what DiCaprio did, but it’s far more difficult to fully inhabit a character the way I feel Fassbender, and especially Cranston did. The appeal of DiCaprio’s performance comes down to the amount of effort he put into it. DiCaprio suffered the most, but he definitely didn’t give the best performance.

But as the awards season has gone on and on, DiCaprio has continued to rake in awards and is the undeniable frontrunner. Plus, there’s of course a sense that he’s overdue (even though Redmayne is the only one of these nominees to have ever won before). When he wins, it won’t be for this performance, it’ll be in recognition of his entire career up until this point. Also contributing to the seeming inevitability of DiCaprio’s win is the fact that there isn’t really much of an alternative. The performances of Cranston, Fassbender, and Redmayne have all been well-received, but their movies have not been, which has hurt all of their chances. If there is some secret hidden rule of the universe that Leonardo DiCaprio can never win an Oscar, the only person who might be poised to overtake him is Damon, whose performance in The Martian might have been too good. He made it look easy, which masked how truly difficult that role was to pull off. His performance is infinitely more impressive than it appears to be at first glance. Plus, Damon was the only one whose character was not based on a real person, which makes him stand out in this lineup.

Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
But Don’t Count Out: Matt Damon, The Martian (but not really...it’s going to be Leo)
Should Win: Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

You're about to read the name "Brie Larson" a bunch.
Best Actress:
Nominees:
Cate Blancett as Carol Aird—Carol
Brie Larson as Joy “Ma” Newsome—Room
Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano—Joy
Charlotte Rampling as Kate Mercer—45 Years
Saoirse Ronan as Eilis Lacey—Brooklyn

After all the wordiness above and talks about how these are races that are really close, I’ll be brief. Brie Larson is going to win. Brie Larson deserves to win. Brie Larson is amazing and this movie is amazing and no other actress can compete with the work that Brie Larson did and everyone agrees. She has won every award up until this point, and has deserved every award up until this point. Brie Larson. Brie Larson Brie Larson Brie Larson. Brie Larson is going to win. It’s the most set-in-stone category of the night.

Will Win: Brie Larson, Room
But Don’t Count Out: A meteor crashing into the theater on Oscar night and killing everyone before they announce that Brie Larson has won the award.
Should Win: Look, how many times do I have to say Brie Larson? It’s Brie Larson.

If Sylvester Stallone's performance wins over Mark Rylance's, it'll be oddly fitting that Rocky Balboa triumphed over a Soviet foe.
Best Supporting Actor:
Nominees:
Christian Bale as Michael Burry—The Big Short
Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald—The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes—Spotlight
Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel—Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa—Creed

In case you were worrying that this year’s Oscars was getting too easy to predict, we’re back to a close race! One of the most competitive categories when it came to nominations, lots of potential contenders for this award ended up getting completely snubbed (most notably Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation, but I’d also include Jacob Tremblay for Room and Michael Shannon for 99 Homes). Now that the nominations have been decided, we’re down to a two-person race. Rylance has been seen as a frontrunner ever since the rave reviews for his work in Bridge of Spies, and the veteran stage actor seemed unbeatable for a long time. He’s certainly picked up his share of accolades this year, including a SAG Award, but there’s been a surprise dark horse that has emerged as a potential winner. And, fittingly considering the role, he has gone from underdog to potential champ. Sylvester Stallone is incredible as he reprises Rocky Balboa, and truly earns the acclaim that he has received. He understands this character in a way that most actors can only dream of, and it’s wonderful watching as he simply exists on screen, every move feeling deliberate but natural. There are many arguments for why Rylance should still be seen as the frontrunner—most notably that he won the SAG Award which Stallone wasn’t even nominated for—but Stallone has a Critic’s Choice Award and a Golden Globe under his belt. It really could go either way, with perhaps a few more ticks in Rylance’s corner. But, I think Stallone will triumph just as a gut instinct. If Rylance wins, everyone will be happy and applaud. If Stallone wins, everyone will flip out with excitement and give him a standing ovation.

Will Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed
But Don’t Count Out: Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Should Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

You know the problem with this category this year? There's nothing all that funny to say about any of these categories. Anyway, here's Alicia Vikander.
Best Supporting Actress:
Nominees:
Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue—The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara as Therese Belivet—Carol
Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer—Spotlight
Alicia Vikander as Gerda Wegener—The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman—Steve Jobs

This has been yet another strange category. Vikander seems to be the frontrunner, having won multiple awards up until this point. She does a great job in the The Danish Girl—she’s easily the best part of of the movie—and has had a fantastic year in general. Plenty of people might vote for her just because of how great she was in Ex Machina. But despite the statistics implying Vikander being the winner, she simply doesn’t have that same set-in-stone feel that, say, Brie Larson has. Winslet has also done surprisingly well, picking up a Golden Globe and a BAFTA despite her pretty wonky accent. Then there’s Rooney Mara, who won Best Actress at Cannes, and who might get extra support from Oscar voters who want to make up for the fact that Carol was largely snubbed. And, hey, Jennifer Jason Leigh was really good too! Basically, it’s Vikander’s award to lose, but it won’t be all that surprising if an upset occurs.

Will Win: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
But Don’t Count Out: Rooney Mara, Carol, or Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
Should Win: Rooney Mara, Carol

"And then, some weird fucking dancing shit happens."--excerpt from the Ex Machina screenplay

Best Original Screenplay:
Bridge of Spies
Ex Machina
Inside Out
Spotlight
Straight Outta Compton

As nice as it is to see surprise nominations here for movies like Ex Machina or Straight Outta Compton, it’s unlikely that they will actually take this category. Spotlight has gotten to its frontrunner status precisely because of how good the screenplay is, and it has been sweeping this category everywhere else.

Will Win: Spotlight
But Don’t Count Out: Nothing. None of the others really have a chance. If Inside Out's weak screenplay somehow pulls an upset, then the tiny red Lewis Black in my head will flip out.
Should Win: Ex Machina

Fun fact: there are exactly four instances in the shooting script for The Martian where Drew Goddard accidentally called the main character "movie star Matt Damon" instead of "Mark."
Best Adapted Screenplay:
The Big Short
Brooklyn
Carol
The Martian
Room

This year, this category was especially strong. Aside from the five nominees here, there were multiple high profile films with adapted screenplays (such as The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road) and plenty of films which didn’t receive much Oscars attention but had excellent adapted screenplays (such as Creed and Anomalisa). Still, the nominees here are a great lineup. Four of these nominees have, I think, really great screenplays. Phyllis Nagy put forth a more than capable screenplay for Carol. Nick Hornby’s script for Brooklyn, I would argue, actually improves upon Colm Toibin’s novel which I really liked. Emma Donoghue’s adaptation of her own novel for Room is truly a thing of beauty, and remains faithful to the book while still finding its own identity. And Drew Goddard’s script for The Martian was unbelievably smart and wonderfully paced, filled with a wonderful energy and (despite the complaints that the Golden Globes called it a comedy) plenty of humor.

And in a year where there were so many great adapted screenplay, it irritates me to no end that this award seems destined to go to the absolute turd that is the screenplay for The Big Short. I’ve already expressed my dislike for this movie, but the screenplay in particular I thought was lackluster. It was so sloppily done, so obnoxious in tone, and absolutely terrible at truly setting up characters or establishing stakes. Every time this screenplay wins an award over the other nominees, I scratch my head. The problem is that I’ve been scratching my head a lot. Especially after the Writer’s Guild saw fit to award this prize to The Big Short, it is inconceivably the clear frontrunner to win in this category. Although Brooklyn or Room pulling an upset is not outside the realm of possibility.

Will Win: The Big Shit. That’s not a typo.
But Don’t Count Out: Brooklyn, Room
Should Win: The Martian

A shot from the Oscar-nominated film Boy & The World, which you had no idea existed until reading this caption right now.

Best Animated Feature:
Anomalisa
Boy & the World
Inside Out
Shaun the Sheep Movie
When Marnie Was There

What a great year for animation! When this category was introduced for the first time fifteen years ago, there was a lot of skepticism from the distinguished academy over whether the category should exist at all. And, in fact, it wasn’t until five years ago that there were consistently five films nominated in this category, demonstrating how each year, this medium has continued to grow. And these five aren’t the only good animated movies this year has had to offer. The Peanuts Movie was very well-received, and the gorgeously animated The Good Dinosaur is only the third Pixar movie to not be nominated in this category since its introduction (and the first non-sequel). Personally, I find it exciting that, in a category always dominated by Pixar, Disney, and Dreamworks, the past two years have erred on the more independent side, recognizing international and smaller scale films.

Of course, Inside Out is going to win. It’s not exactly a close contest. The film was one of the best received movies of the year, and even picked up a screenplay nomination. But, if you follow this blog, you know that while I liked Inside Out, I wasn’t as much a fan of it as most were, and view it as one of Pixar’s weaker efforts. Compared to the rest of the nominees, it’s actually my least favorite of the five, and I encourage everyone to seek out the less famous titles in this category. The particular standout to me is, easily, Anomalisa. From the ever-cerebral and brilliant Charlie Kaufman, Anomalisa was one of the smartest, thoughtful, and overall best films of the year. If you liked Inside Out for its originality, wait until you see Anomalisa. Side by side, I just don’t see how anyone could judge Inside Out as the superior film. I still hold out hope that the artsy-fartsy elitist intellectuals of the Academy might lead Anomalisa to a surprise victory, but that’s just the na├»ve person in my brain taking control.

Will Win: Inside Out
But Don’t Count Out: Anomalisa
Should Win: Anomalisa

The wonderful young cast of Mustang.
Best Foreign Language Film:
Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia)
Mustang (France)
Son of Saul (Hungary)
Theeb (Jordan)
A War (Denmark)

This is the category which I’m the least familiar with, having only had a chance to see Mustang and Son of Saul, although I’ve heard great things about the other nominees (Theeb in particular). But, for the purpose of predicting a winner, the two I’ve been able to see are the designated frontrunners. Mustang, France’s entry, is a wonderful look at a group of Turkish sisters as they grow up. It takes a little bit to get going, but ultimately is incredibly engaging, and offers excellent social commentary and storytelling. But, it seems destined to come in second place to Son of Saul, which has been the presumed winner in this category since its premiere at Cannes. The story of a Sonderkommando in a concentration camp who attempts to procure a proper burial for the corpse he believes to be his son is quite depressing, and many have found it quite powerful. Personally, I feel like it verges on the edge of being torture porn, and for all its artistic merit, lacks insight and ends up being brutality without purpose. Unfortunately, I’m in the minority, and Son of Saul will win this award, as it has won every Foreign Language Film award up until this point.

Will Win: Son of Saul
But Don’t Count Out: Mustang
Should Win: Mustang (although I haven't had a chance to see all the nominees)

A man watches an interview with the people who brutally murdered his brother, in the feel-good family movie of the year The Look of Silence.
Best Documentary Feature:
Amy
Cartel Land
The Look of Silence
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
 
This has been one of the strongest years for documentaries in recent memory. There were many acclaimed documentaries which failed to even score a nomination, such as He Named Me Malala, Listen to Me Marlon, The Wolfpack, Best of Enemies, and Where to Invade Next? The result is five excellent documentaries which make up one of the strongest field of nominees this category has ever had. But two titles have emerged as frontrunners—Amy and The Look of Silence, and it’s a close race between these two. The Look of Silence, from documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer, is a follow-up to his film The Act of Killing which was nominated in this category two years ago. The Act of Killing was an absolutely brilliant look at those who served as executioners during the Cambodian genocide, while The Look of Silence focuses more on the victims. While I didn’t find it to be quite as brilliant as The Act of Killing, it’s still excellent and incredibly profound. It’s also hard to watch, and might be off-putting to the Academy as a whole. It is generally accepted that The Act of Killing was the best documentary of 2015, but its difficult subject matter caused it to lose to the far more crowd-pleasing 20 Feet From Stardom. And while Amy does delve into some darker subject matter, it’s far more conventional and is the definite projected winner. It doesn’t hurt that it’s an excellent film—this is a brilliant portrait of a troubled figure that examines Amy Winehouse’s life with respect and curiosity. It reveals her demons thoroughly while still preserving her artistic spirit and genius.

Will Win: Amy
But Don’t Count Out: The Look of Silence
Should Win: It’s really a toss-up because they’re all so good. But as much as I enjoyed the frontrunners, I’m going to go out on a limb and pick Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom. Based on synopsis alone, this was the nominee that interested me the least, but ended up being incredibly engaging and fascinating. This is an important film that everyone should see. And, you’re in luck—it, Cartel Land, and What Happened Miss Simone? are all currently streaming on Netflix!



So, those are my thoughts on the major categories. What do you think will and/or should win--let me know in the comments! You can read my predictions on the minor categories in Part 2!