As the Oscars nudge the Republican primary out of the news cycle for the weekend, there isn't a better time to take an intense gander at this year's nominees.
For whatever reason, I have seen the bulk of the nominees in nearly every category--the key exceptions being the Best Animated Feature and Best Foreign Film categories--so I'll give my take award by award.
Best Live Action Short
Remember when I said I'd seen the bulk of the nominees in nearly every category? I didn't see any of these. I bet they're really good. Or maybe not. Every time I've seen the nominees in the past I was totally wrong on which one I thought would win and clearly had a divergent take on which was best.
Best Animated Short
Unlike the previous category, I've seen part of one of these. World of Tomorrow. Somehow I doubt the Academy is recognizing this one as the best in this category. Since the Academy loves bears, I think it's safe to say that Historia de Un Oso will walk away with the hardware.
Best Documentary - Short Subject
Strike three. Let's see a show of hands. Who has seen any of the nominees in any of these first three categories? Who has seen any not named World of Tomorrow, which is on Netflix? I'm guessing Body Team 12 wins because of extraordinary subject matter and because Olivia Wilde is an executive producer on the film. As I contend that she and Royals fan Jason Sudeikis named their child Otis Alexander after Amos Otis and Alex Gordon, this pretty much has to win, right?
Best Documentary - Feature
Now that the shorts are out of the way, we get to the nitty-gritty. Having seen each of these, the only one I didn't care for was the Amy Winehouse documentary, which spent way too much time waxing ecstatic about her jazz vocalizing. Joshua Oppenheimer's companion piece to the incredible 2014 nominee in this category The Act of Killing could end up taking the award, but if The Look of Silence wins, it will be as much an acknowledgement of its predecessor, which surprisingly lost to 20 Feet from Stardom. The two clear standouts in this category this year are Cartel Land and Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom. Both of these are on Netflix currently, as is What Happened, Miss Simone? Cartel Land is seriously awesome, but I personally prefer Winter on Fire. The Academy can't go wrong with either one of these. That said, they love movies championing the entertainment industry in its many forms, and since they have been lambasted for a slate of nominees lacking in color, What Happened, Miss Simone? will probably win.
Best Achievement in Visual Effects
Star Wars: Episode CXI - La Forza Somethings didn't get many nominations. More than any other film in the category, it was fueled by them. I'd imagine it wins, though The Revenant's seamless integration of effects, particularly the bear attack might be more impressive. As the spectacle of Mad Max: Fury Road was stunts driven and/or practical, it probably is the worst fit in the category unless the Academy kicks it old school. The Martian and Ex Machina both relied on effects fairly heavily, but they'll probably lose out to Star Wars.
Best Achievement in Sound Editing
If you remove Ex Machina from the previous category and replace it with Sicario, you have your nominees here. The Sicario nomination actually makes a ton of sense in this category. My vote is for Mad Max: Fury Road because of Coma-Doof Warrior.
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
Apparently Bridge of Spies kicks Sicario's ass in this category because it replaced the Denis Villeneuve flick from the nominees in the last category. They should go with Mad Max: Fury Road for reasons relating to its awesomeness.
The only way Fifty Shades of Grey ever gets nominated is in this category. I have never heard of two of the movies with songs nominated in this category. There may not be a less relevant category to the world today in the Oscars than this one. Randy Newman's not nominated, but I'm guessing he wins.
Best Original Score
Two behemoths in the field are nominated in this category: John Williams and Ennio Morricone. Somehow Morricone has never won the Oscar in this category. It seems clear that he should here, at least as a de facto career achievement award.
Best Achievement in Hair and Makeup Styling
There are only three nominees in the category, and one of them is only nominated in this category. The other two are The Revenant and Mad Max. Both are seriously impressive in this department, but the scope of the work in this category has to tip the scale in Mad Max's favor.
Best Achievement in Costume Design
With no ado, the films nominated are Carol, Cinderella, The Danish Girl, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Revenant. Again it seems like the world created through costume design is most impressive in Mad Max: Fury Road. There's just so much more costume work being done here than in the other films with the possible exception of Cinderella, and let's face it, Cinderella ain't winning an Oscar, especially since Sandy Powell is also the nominee for Carol.
Best Achievement in Production Design
Here, the nominees are Bridge of Spies, The Danish Girl, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, and The Revenant. Clearly I've skewed toward scope in the rest of the technical categories. Why stop now?
Best Achievement in Editing
This category actually gets a little fresh blood in the mix. The Big Short and Spotlight jump into the mix with obvious nominees Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant with Star Wars added to the quintet. Here, I'd say that The Revenant deserves to win.
Best Achievement in Cinematography
For the third straight year, Emmanuel Lubezki is nominated. It's his eighth nomination since 1996. For the third straight year, he'll be walking away with the trophy for his work on The Revenant, the trophy going on the mantle next to his statuettes for Birdman and Gravity.
Best Foreign Language Film
We get to the second-to-last category that I can't make an educated guess about. Haven't seen any of these nominees.
Best Animated Feature
And here's the last of the "I got no idea" categories. I saw Inside Out. It was good. I have no reason not to have seen Anomalisa. I'll guess Inside Out wins since I don't have a preference. It's got the name recognition.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Former Buffy scribe Drew Goddard is nominated for the surprisingly funny (if you didn't know who Drew Goddard was) Ridley Scott joint The Martian. Popular novelist Nick Hornby is nominated for his work on Brooklyn. Charles Randolph and Adam McKay got a nomination for their adaptation of Michael Lewis's book by the same name, The Big Short. Emma Donoghue was nominated for the brilliant Room, and Phyllis Nagy got a nod for Carol, an adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel named The Price of Salt. Goddard's work was great, but I'd probably give the edge to either Randolph and McKay or Emma Donoghue. It feels like this is the only category The Big Short has a good shot to win, and the Academy probably wants to recognize it in some form. There was a lot more to juggle with The Big Short, and they were dealing with subject matter that can feel a bit impenetrable, so the edge goes to them.
Best Original Screenplay
Unlike the adapted category, there aren't a couple that stand out as front runners. The four credited screenwriters of Straight Outta Compton represent that film's only nomination, but as none are black, the Academy can't vote away the perception of prejudice on this award. Writer/director Alex Garland got a nomination for the brilliant Ex Machina. The Coens and Matt Charman were nominated for Bridge of Spies, but the film itself was pretty ordinary. Inside Out and Spotlight seem like they might be the best of the category, and the Academy will probably use this category as the chance to recognize Spotlight, one of the year's very best films.
Adam McKay, George Miller, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Lenny Abrahamsom, and Tom McCarthy are all deservedly nominated in this category. It seems like the Award is Inarritu's to lose, but I'm holding out hope that Miller wins.
Best Supporting Actress
Of the five nominees, I didn't see The Hateful Eight to be able to say whether or not Jennifer Jason Leigh should have won. I also didn't see The Danish Girl before writing this, so I can't speak to Alicia Vikander's performance. Rooney Mara's performance in Carol was very strong, but it was so subdued and restrained that it's hard to say that it's an easy win. Rachel McAdams was great in Spotlight, but it's hard to point to a moment that floored me. With a hole in my viewing, I'll give the edge to Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs.
Best Supporting Actor
This category is LOADED. It does often end up being a career recognition award, so Sylvester Stallone could win. If that happened, it probably wouldn't be a travesty, as Creed was really damn good and he was, too. Tom Hardy might win for The Revenant but probably shouldn't when measuring his performance against his two prime competitors if the Academy doesn't go with Stallone. The two standout performances in the category belong to Christian Bale and Mark Ruffalo. Bale was brilliant, but Ruffalo had one of the best platforms to snag the award in the one scene in Spotlight in which anyone raised their voice. It was startling, enthralling, and if career achievement is a factor, where is Ruffalo's award for the same reason. I'd give it to Ruffalo, who aside from the many victims in Spotlight was the heart of the film.
The only one I didn't see was Joy. As there is little reason to believe that Jennifer Lawrence will win for what was regarded as a disappointing movie, I feel confident in saying that Brie Larson should and will win for her breathtaking, heartbreaking turn in the phenomenal Room. Saoirse Ronan and Cate Blanchett were both very good, but Larson was amazing.
Last year's winner in this category Eddie Redmayne is nominated again for finding the middle ground between James from The Vanderpump Rules and Molly Ringwald in The Danish Girl. I'm now 13 minutes into watching it. I can't imagine he does anything to warrant the Award in the next 1:45:00. I didn't really like Bryan Cranston's performance in Trumbo. I dug Matt Damon and Michael Fassbender in The Martian and Steve Jobs, but it seems pretty obvious that Leo finally gets an Oscar for his work in The Revenant.
I've got a lot of thoughts about this category. For starters, Bridge of Spies has no business being nominated. It's completely ordinary. Furthermore, there are a handful of films, namely Straight Outta Compton, Sicario, Creed, Tangerine, and The Diary of a Teenage Girl that should have been nominated in its stead.
With that out of the way, Brooklyn and The Martian were both really good but seem to be a clear step behind the other five nominees. By the same standard, The Big Short was great, but it wasn't in the same tier as the four remaining films.
Spotlight was an outstanding film. While much of the press talked of Spotlight in comparison to Tom McCarthy's last film The Cobbler which was rightfully panned by the entirety of the universe, most of that press chose to turn a blind eye to the brilliant Win Win that preceded it. McCarthy's got it in him, and Spotlight is probably his best film. It is a heartbreaking work featuring a brilliant ensemble cast. The direction is smart and restrained. There are times when I convince myself it should win the award. If it does, I will not protest.
Room might have been the most emotionally affecting movie in the bunch. It is much smaller in scope than its counterparts, but it is beautiful and life-affirming and will make you cry even more than the movie about a sweeping molestation scandal. These tears are of a different brand. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay play so well off of one another. If the Academy didn't tend to favor spectacle, I'd say this would win. But they do. Room made me feel more than any other film in this category. That should and does count for something. I don't think it will win, but one could argue that it should. I'd be happy if it did.
The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road actually had a lot of the same things going for them. In terms of plot, both are relatively thin. A man is almost killed by a bear, watches as his co-worker kills his son, and then tracks his son's killer down to kill him. A man hitches a ride with a woman trying to rescue slave brides from a sad fate as a warlord's bevy of concubines and ends up having to fight off two armies while searching for a promised land that doesn't exist. What each lacks in story, they more than make up for in spectacle and artistry. The Revenant features stunning cinematography and serves as a testament to what is possible in the medium of film. Mad Max: Fury Road is a completely enthralling two-hour balls-to-the-wall stunt spectacular that makes you think 200 people must have died making this film. Where one has the edge over the other is in vision. The Revenant is a continuation of Inarritu's brilliance. Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the most breathtaking realizations of a world created from scratch, a post-apocalyptic vision that has seen no equal.
The Revenant will probably win, but for reasons that don't hold water, as Mad Max: Fury Road surpasses The Revenant in those areas of strength.
That said, any of those last four could win without drawing my ire.
What say ye?