Oscar Predictions: Round 1 - Where's the Story, Oscar Glory?

Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d’Arcy, Michael Keaton and John Slattery in Spotlight, an Entertainment One release. Photo by: Kerry Hayes
Where’s the story, Oscar glory? Oscar predictions are later than usual this year at Cinemablographer, but that’s all right. Simply put, there just isn’t much of a story to be found in this year’s Oscar race, aside from the overall absence of a narrative that is yet to emerge. Few frontrunners are present, and those that seem ahead are ambiguously and uncertainly so. A few fragments of Oscar talk are kinda/sorta shaping up so far, though, and give enough to start with in this slow and relatively wide open season.

Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs.

Story #1: Spotlight and Steve Jobs – Frontrunners?

Out in front (ish) are Spotlight and Steve Jobs. Both films carry strong word from the festival circuit, as Spotlight opened to raves at Venice, Telluride, and Toronto, while Steve Jobs wowed Telluride and New York. Critics give mad props to the strong scripts and ensembles of both films, but Spotlight might have the edge so far for one simple reason: it’s played consistently. As one of the few films to hit the triple crown of the festival circuit (i.e.: Venice/Telluride/Toronto) with a third place ranking for the People’s Choice Award at TIFF, it seems to have the crossover appeal for smarthouse and general audiences alike. (I can’t see Spotlight until November 16—so there’s just the story (ish) for now.)

Steve Jobs, on the other hand, had a wild debut at Telluride based on reports and reviews, but the premiere was relatively insular given the festival’s emphasis on exclusivity. (It’s worth noting that the Danny Boyle film skipped TIFF even though the director credits the festival with saving Slumdog Millionaire from the bargain bin, so the film’s outcome on Oscar night could be a great loss/gain for either Telluride/TIFF.) The film appeared to be on solid ground, especially for performers Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, until it went into wide release last weekend tounderwhelming results. The film ranks among several adult dramas strugglingalongside showier films like The Martian and Sicario, and many of the same reasons Variety cites for the film’s box office disappointment could also be detractors for its frontrunner status given the film’s resemblance to The Social Network, which fell short for similar reasons, like unlikable characters, among others. Steve Jobs is better than The Social Network, though, and the sure-fire nominations for Sorkin’s script and for the performances will keep in play. Box office is no indication of merit, anyways!

Room, on the other hand, emerges as the dark horse in a recent narrative taking shape in awards corners with Awards Daily citing reasons why it could be a major playing and with Variety saying it has the goods to win. The film’s an obvious contender given its enthusiastic (but not unanimous) raves on the festival circuit and with its People’s Choice Award win from TIFF offering a bellwether of wide appeal and emotion that invites people to vote for it. Room, which adapts the spectacular novel by Emma Donoghue, strikes me as a contender for major awards like Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actress for Brie Larson, but not necessarily Best Picture, since it’s more of a film that one feels strongly in the moment than one that stays with a viewer forever. (I really have to see it again to be fair, since I saw it just hours after sampling far too many cocktails at the Septembers of Shiraz.)

Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl

Story #2: Category Fraud for All!

Category fraud, the scenario in which a distributor campaigns a lead or supporting performance in the opposite category to gain an advantage, is an annual affair, but it’s worse than ever this year. Several awards watchers note that the supporting categories are replete with lead performances, with blatant lead roles such as Rooney Mara in Carol, Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl, Paul Dano in Love & Mercy, and Jacob Tremblay in Room competing in the supporting categories despite heavy support and praise for their work as headliners of their respective films. Mara is a favourite given her Best Actress win at Cannes and gets a supporting mention presumably for the shape of Carol, which puts her subdued Therese as a counterpart/observer to the comparatively more dynamic Carol, played by Cate Blanchett. Blanchett competes against herself in the Lead category with Carol and Truth. Tremblay, alternatively, has more screen time in Room than Brie Larson does and he is presumably being campaigned in the supporting category for the sole reason that he is a child. Give The Academy some credit for being open minded—remember Quvenzhané Wallis and Keisha Castle-Hughes?

Alicia Vikander, on the other hand, deserves to win the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for her spectacular work in The Danish Girl, and Focus Features’ efforts to secure her a Best Supporting Actress gong instead almost diminishes the strength of her work by placing it in the less showy category. (And simply isn’t fair to legitimately smaller parts that can’t compete elsewhere.) Focus’s strategy is understandable, since it also has Best Actress contender Carey Mulligan in Suffragette, and it risks cancelling out two leading ladies, while putting Vikander as the supporting player arguably makes her the one to beat in that category, as performers with heavy screen time (ex: Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls, Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained, Patricia Arquette in Boyhood) often beat out true supporting roles. It’s worth comparing Vikander’s supporting billing to Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne’s co-star in The Theory of Everything and Best Actress nominee for the film, for she and Vikander have comparable screen time with Redmayne while Jones’s role in The Theory of Everything receives less dramatic weight than Vikander’s does in The Danish Girl. Vikander has as much screen time as Lead Actor contender Eddie Redmayne does and The Danish Girl goes to pains to give both Gerda and Einar/Lili equal dramatic significance, so the move feels especially unfair. Once again, Oscar logic says that a ‘supportive’ role becomes a ‘supporting’ one, or that a ‘wife’ can be a leading lady.

But the biggest category fraud of all: There’s a Golden Globes campaign for The Martian as a COMEDY?

Amy Winehouse with Juliette Ashby, Jamon Jamon restaurant, Camden Town, 2003.
Copyright: Juliette Ashby.

Story #3: Foreign Films and Docs Bring the Fight!

The only real legitimate frontrunner to win in any category so far is Hungary’s submission Son of Saul, which has been out in front since Cannes. Calling anything a frontrunner in the Best Foreign Language Film race is silly, though, given the category’s highly dubious history of sidelining favourites. It’s a flawed system that needs an overhaul. Saul, however, nevertheless stands a decent chance of being among the nine films shortlisted in December out of the total eighty-one submissions since it’s consistently wowing festival crowds and its tough subject matter (re: the Holocaust) often fares well with the nominating committee. It has enough hype, traction, and support to merit a pull from the special committee if the voters pass it over. As does Brazil’s beloved domestic drama The Second Mother, and potentially arthouse hits like The Assassin that have enthusiastic pockets of support. Canada, on the other hand, probably isn’t getting a nomination this year for the lovely Felix and Meira, although the film could make the shortlist of nine, since its understated power could make it either equally memorable or forgettable

On the doc front, which has 124 contenders, Amy has the bonus of critical acclaim and box office bills to give it a strong lead. 2015 is the year of the music doc with other (better) films like What Happened, Miss Simone? and Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck adding to the art form and showing that films about art and culture can do more than rest on the appeal of their subjects. One must say the same for Amy, though, since Asif Kapadia’s thorough archival film builds a montage of complicity that says we all killed Amy Winehouse. It’s a worthy doc to take the title for best of the year.

Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence mustn’t be discounted either, since his Act of Killing lost in a heated race to Morgan Neville’s 20 Feet from Stardom in 2013. Silence is more conventional in form than Killing, yet it’s equally daring and resonant. Oppenheimer’s likely to face-off with Neville again, since Neville’s Best of Enemies is a popular and acclaimed doc that plays well to political junkies and celebrity seekers alike. One also count discount the fact that Neville debuted three feature documentaries this year (the others are The Music of Strangers and Keith Richards: Under the Influence), which counts for something since they’re all pretty great.

Paul Dano as Jimmy, Harvey Keitel as Mick, and Michael Caine as Fred in Youth.
Photo by Gianni Fiorito. © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Oscar Predictions:

Best Picture:


Almost put: Inside Out

What about: By the Sea, The Hateful Eight, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, Sicario, Son of Saul, Straight Outta Compton

Best Director:

Tom Hooper, The Danish Girl
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Ridley Scott, The Martian
Paolo Sorrentino, Youth
Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies

Almost put: Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs

What about: Lenny Abrahamson (Room), George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), David O. Russell, (Joy), Ridley Scott (The Martian), Quentin Tarantino (The Hateful Eight), Denis Villeneuve (Sicario)

Best Actor:

Michael Caine, Youth
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Jake Gyllenhaal, Southpaw
Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Almost put: Johnny Depp, Black Mass
What about: John Cusack (Love & Mercy), Matt Damon (The Martian), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Ian McKellen (Mr. Holmes), Brad Pitt (By the Sea)

Best Actress:

Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Carey Mulligan, Suffragette
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Almost put: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

What about: Cate Blanchett (Truth), Emily Blunt (Sicario), Marion Cotillard (Macbeth), Rooney Mara (Carol), Carey Mulligan (Far from the Madding Crowd), Nina Hoss (Phoenix), Angelina Jolie (By the Sea), Helen Mirren (Woman in Gold), Meryl Streep (Ricki and the Flash), Charlie Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road), Lily Tomlin (Grandma)

Best Supporting Actor:

Benicio Del Toro, Sicario
Michael Keaton, Spotlight
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Jacob Tremblay, Room

Almost put: Harvey Keitel (Youth)

What about: Emory Cohen (Brooklyn), Bradley Cooper (Joy), Paul Dano (Love & Mercy), Jeff Daniels (Steve Jobs), Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Domhnall Gleeson (Brooklyn), Tom Hardy (The Revenant), Robert Redford (Truth), Seth Rogen (Steve Jobs), Michael Sheen (Far from the Madding Crowd), Michael Stuhlbarg (Steve Jobs)

Best Supporting Actress:

Joan Allen, Room
Jane Fonda, Youth
Rooney Mara, Carol
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

What about: Elizabeth Banks (Love & Mercy), Rachel McAdams (Spotlight/Southpaw), Virginia Madsen (Joy), Kristen Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria), Julie Walters (Brooklyn), Rachel Weisz (Youth)

Best Original Screenplay:

Anomalisa – Charlie Kaufman
The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino
Joy - David O. Russell and Annie Mumolo
Spotlight – Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer
Youth– Paolo Sorrentino

What about: Clouds of Sils Maria, Inside Out, Mistress America, Sicario, Straight Outta Compton, Trainwreck

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Bridge of Spies – Mark Harmon; Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Brooklyn – Nick Hornby
The Danish Girl – Lucinda Coxon
Room– Emma Donoghue
Steve Jobs – Aaron Sorkin

Almost put: Carol
What about: Beasts of No Nation, The Martian, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, The Revenant, Truth

Best Documentary Feature:


Almost put: The Hunting Ground

Best Foreign Language Film:

The Clan - Argentina
The Second Mother – Brazil
Son of Saul – Hungary
Theeb - Jordan
A War – Denmark

Other submissions reviewed: Bota (Albania)  Felix and Meira (Canada), The Fencer (Finland), Ixcanul (Guatemala), Koza (Slovakia), Labyrinth of Lies (Germany), NN (Peru), Our Everyday Life (Bosnia and Herzegovina),  (Brazil), The Wanted 18 (Palestine), The Wave (Norway)

Best Animated Film:

The Good Dinosaur
Inside Out
The Peanuts Movie
When Marnie Was There

Best Cinematography:

Almost put: Brooklyn

What about: The Martian, The Revenant, Steve Jobs

Best Film Editing:


What about: The Danish Girl, The Revenant, Room, Sicario, Spotlight

Best Costumes:

The Hateful Eight

What about? Cinderella, Crimson Peak, Far from the Madding Crowd, Love & Macbeth, . Mercy, The Revenant, Suffragette

Best Production Design:

The Hateful Eight 

What about: Brooklyn, Carol, Crimson Peak, Mad Max: Fury Road, Pan, The Walk

Best Original Score:

What about: Ex Machina, Far from the Madding Crowd, Inside Out, Room, Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Original Song:

Love Me Like You Do” – Fifty Shades of Grey
One Kind of Love” – Love & Mercy
Cold One” – Ricki and the Flash

What about: “See You Again,” Furious 7; “Hands of Love,” Freeheld; "Kings Never Die," Southpaw

Best Visual Effects:

In the Heart of the Sea
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

What about: The Walk

Best Sound Mixing:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Steve Jobs

Best Sound Editing:

Furious 7

Jurassic Park
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Make-Up:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

What about: Black Mass, Crimson Peak, The Revenant, In the Heart of the Sea, Pan

Best Animated Short

Awaiting shortlist

Best Live Action Short

Awaiting shortlist

Best Documentary Short

Boy Team 12
Chau, Beyond the Lines
Claude Lanzmann:Spectres of Shoah 
50 Feet from Syria
Last Day of Freedom
My Enemy, My Brother
Starting Point
The Testimony