Saturday, February 27, 2016

Oscar Predictions 2016

After months of campaigning, coverage of lesser award shows, and countless interviews in which certain people talk about how fucking tough it is to shoot in the snow, the 88th Academy Awards are upon us, which means it's time for me to try and figure out what will win and what should win on Sunday night. My track record over the last couple of years has been pretty woeful, and I'm sure that this year will be no different. My only hope is that I will manage to get more than 50% of them right, which is a pretty low threshold but one I would be more than happy to meet.

Let's start off with a few predictions for the ceremony itself, which I feel a little more confident about pre-judging than I do the awards:

  • It will run long by between 30 minutes and two days.
  • Chris Rock will be a great but underused host, and will spend much of the broadcast fighting against the inherent unwieldiness of a bloated awards show.
  • Related: there will be lots of jokes about the lack of diversity which will be met with uncomfortable silence.
  • If Quentin Tarantino gets up to speak at any point, that will be a good time to go and grab a drink, make a sandwich, or read twelve chapters of War and Peace.
  • There will be at least five montages, two of which will be completely inessential and will leave the audience wondering why they couldn't cut them and include performances of the two nominees for Original Song which were left out due to "time constraints".
  • The In Memoriam segment will lead to worldwide exclamations of "oh, right, he/she died this year" and will probably include slightly more of David Bowie's work than might be expected given how limited his filmography was.

Below are my predictions for all 22 categories, so let's put on our suits and gowns, suffer through awkward musical numbers, and be blinded by how incandescently white everyone is!

Best Short Film - Live Action

Ave Maria - Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont
Day One - Henry Hughes
Everything Will Be Okay - Patrick Vollrath
Shok - Jamie Donoughue
Stutterer - Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage

I have seen none of these films, know nothing about them, so I'm going to say - with absolutely no evidence or context - that Day One will win because it's got a really strong, declarative title.

Best Short Film - Animated

Bear Story - Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala
Prologue -  Richard Williams and Imgoen Sutton
Sanjay's Super Team - Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle
We Can't Live Without Cosmos - Konstantin Bronzit
World of Tomorrow - Don Hertzfeldt

Okay, I actually have some thoughts on this one. Sanjay's Super Team is a lovely, sweet film that reimagines struggles from co-director Sanjay Patel's own life in ways which are visually imaginative and hugely fun to watch. However, World of Tomorrow is one of the best films I've ever seen, short or feature, and testament to what an underrated talent Don Hertzfeldt is. I would be happy with either winning, but I think Pixar's clout will push Sanjay's Super Team over the finish line ahead of World of Tomorrow.

Should: World of Tomorrow

Will: Sanjay's Super Team

Best Documentary Short Subject

Body Team 12 - David Darg and Bryn Mooser 
Chau, Beyond the Lines - Courtney Marsh and Jerry Franck
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah - Adam Benzine
A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness - Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
Last Day of Freedom - Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman

We're back to the land of educated guesses on this one as I have seen precisely zero minutes of any of the nominees. I'd probably go for Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah because the Academy loves films about filmmakers and because Lanzmann's titanic work on the Holocaust has tended to go unrecognised, which would add an extra layer of irony if a film about him, but not directed by him, won an Oscar.

Best Sound Mixing

Bridge of Spies - Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Drew Kunin
Mad Max: Fury Road - Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo
The Martian - Paul Massey, Mark Taylor and Mac Ruth
The Revenant - Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom and Chris Duesterdiek
Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson

This category tends to go to films that are heavy on special effects and which use sound to help create a world. No film did that better than Mad Max: Fury Road, which I expect to dominate the technical categories on account of just how huge a feat it was to carry the whole thing off. It could get shut out by The Revenant if that sweeps the whole night, but I think that Fury Road fits nicely into the mold of a film like The Bourne Ultimatum, which won a bunch of technical awards back in 2008 through the sheer force of their application.

Should and Will: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Sound Editing

Mad Max: Fury Road - Mark Mangini and David White
The Martian - Oliver Tarney
The Revenant - Martin Hernandez and Lon Bender
Sicario - Alan Robert Murray
Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Matthew Wood and David Acord

This and Best Sound Mixing tend to go together because they are indelibly linked, which would explain why there is an 80% overlap of nominees between the two. Since they are so often paired together, I think this will be another victory for Fury Road.

Should and Will: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Visual Effects

Ex Machina - Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett
Mad Max: Fury Road - Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver and Andy Williams
Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould
The Martian - Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence and Steven Warner
The Revenant - Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron Waldbauer

This is another category where excess tends to be an advantage, so while the subtle effects in Ex Machina are very impressive, they also run the risk of being ignored. The Revenant probably doesn't have too strong a case in this one since it's most significant effect (other than the seamless blending together of shots to make them look continuous) comes in the bear attack, which looked pretty fake. That leaves the three science fiction films to battle it out and I think that Fury Road will probably triumph thanks to its blending of digital and physical effects. There are aspects of that in The Martian and The Force Awakens as well, but those films didn't do as good a job of emphasising their physical elements in their campaigns, something which the people pushing Fury Road did masterfully.

Should and Will: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Production Design

Bridge of Spies - Adam Stockhausen (Production Design); Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard Henrich (Set Decoration)
The Danish Girl - Eve Stewart (Production Design); Michael Standish (Set Decoration)
Mad Max: Fury Road - Colin Gibson (Production Design); Lisa Thompson (Set Decoration)
The Martian - Arthur Max (Production Design); Celia Bobak (Set Decoration)
The Revenant - Jack Fisk (Production Design); Hamish Purdy (Set Decoration)

This is somewhat related to Special Effects because one key aspect of Production Design is creating a believable, or at least a consistent and striking, world. That world could be the distant past, the far-flung future, or another world entirely, and all of these films did a really good job of creating believable spaces within which their stories could take place. For sheer volume of Production Design, and for the way in which it was used to set a tone, Fury Road will probably take this one.

Should and Will: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Mad Max: Fury Road - Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damian Martin
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared - Love Larson and Eva von Bahr
The Revenant - Siân Grigg, Duncan Jarman and Robert Pandini

This is probably a two-way fight between Fury Road and The Revenant, if only because literally no one was talking about T100YOMWCOTWAD (as all the cool kids are calling it) before the nominations were announced. Both are pretty heavy on using makeup to define their worlds, and The Revenant's makeup department did a phenomenal job making Leonardo DiCaprio's back look real fucked up after the bear attack. The constant use of closeups in The Revenant show off the makeup and hairstyling more, which will probably swing this category for it.  

Should: Mad Max: Fury Road

Will: The Revenant

Best Costume Design

Carol - Sandy Powell
Cinderella - Sandy Powell
The Danish Girl - Paco Delgado
Mad Max: Fury Road - Jenny Beavan
The Revenant - Jacqueline West

Sandy Powell would usually be the odds-on favourite to win in this category since she is a force of nature, but her two nominations could probably count against her since she'll be splitting votes against herself. It is a testament to what a great talent she is that she did fantastic work on two films which could not be more different in their aesthetics than Carol and Cinderella, though. The Danish Girl is something of a non-entity, so probably won't get much of a look-in, which leaves us, again, with a choice between The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road. The period details of The Revenant will probably help it win this one, even if the unfettered imagination on display in Fury Road is more impressive.

Should: Mad Max: Fury Road

Will: The Revenant

Best Music - Original Score

Bridge of Spies - Thomas Newman
Carol - Carter Burwell
The Hateful Eight - Ennio Morricone
Sicario - Jóhann Jóhannsson
Star Wars: The Force Awakens - John Williams

A lot of great work on display in this category, even though I thought that Thomas Newman's work in Bridge of Spies was a little too John Williams-lite to the point that it was distracting, while the nomination for the actual John Williams for The Force Awakens feels like a mix of nostalgia and the fact that he almost always gets nominated these days. Seriously, this is his fiftieth Oscar nomination since 1968. That's a rate of more than one Oscar nomination a year!

I intensely disliked Sicario, but one of the only things I didn't dislike about it was its score, which is as foreboding and interesting as the film itself is tedious. Carol is probably my favourite, even if it sounds enough like a Philip Glass composition that he should probably file a repetitive lawsuit. Ennio Morricone's score for The Hateful Eight will probably win because a) it's amazing, and b) Morricone is a legendary figure who has somehow never won an Oscar. This seems like the last chance the Academy will have to right this particular wrong.

Should: Carol

Will: The Hateful Eight

Best Music - Original Song

"Earned It" from Fifty Shades of Grey - Music and Lyric by The Weeknd, Ahmad Balshe, Jason Quenneville and Stephan Moccia
"Manta Ray" from Racing Extinction - Music by J. Ralph; Lyric by Anohni
"Simple Song #3" from Youth - Music and Lyric by David Lang
"Til it Happens to You" from The Hunting Ground - Music and Lyric by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga
"Writing's on the Wall" from Spectre - Music and Lyric by Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith

If there's a sentence more terrifying than "President Ted Cruz" it's "Oscar-winner Sam Smith". While one of those can safely be confined to the realm of dystopian fiction, the other is almost certain to come true tomorrow night because "Earned It" is probably not exactly The Academy's scene, and "Til It Happens to You" is not especially high profile. "Manta Ray" and "Simple Song #3" are both better songs, but they also aren't being performed at the ceremony, which is pretty suggestive about their chances of winning. Even though it is as dull as a song can be while still technically being called music, "Writing's on the Wall" will probably win.

Should: "Manta Ray"

Will: "Writing's on the Wall"

Best Cinematography

Carol - Ed Lachman
The Hateful Eight - Ralph Richardson
Mad Max: Fury Road - John Seale
The Revenant - Emmanuel Lubezki
Sicario - Roger Deakins

Like Best Score, this is a uniformly strong group which happens to feature one of the few things I liked about Sicario. Roger Deakins is a perennial Oscar bridesmaid - this is his thirteenth nomination without a win - and I've given up predicting that he will ever win at this point (which probably means that he is going to win this year, just to spite me). The battle in this category seems to be between The Hateful Eight, which as everyone knows was shot on 70mm and looked gorgeous, and The Revenant, which went to great pains to making its cinematography as immersive and experiential as possible. Lubezki has won the last two years in a row and, as someone whose style is arguably more recognisable than those of the directors he works with, I see no reason why he won't make it a hat trick.

Should: The Hateful Eight

Will: The Revenant

Best Editing

The Big Short - Hank Corwin
Mad Max: Fury Road - Margaret Sixel
The Revenant - Stephen Mirrione
Spotlight - Tom McArdle
Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey

It has often been the case that Editing and Director go together on account of how editing is such a crucial part of shaping a director's vision of a film. That has not always been a hard and fast rule, though, and I think that in this instance The Revenant, which I suspect will win Director, won't take Editing because so much of its editing is by design invisible. Seamlessness is crucial to the visual style of the film, and hiding edits, while a good way of demonstrating how skilled an editor is, actually makes it harder for viewers to appreciate their work. As such, this category probably favours a film that has lots of apparent and unmistakable editing, and no film fits that description better than Fury Road.

Should and Will: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Foreign Language

Embrace of the Serpent - Colombia
Mustang - France
Son of Saul - Hungary
Theeb - Jordan
A War - Denmark

This is probably the most difficult category to judge because there is a long history of The Academy ignoring the presumed favourite and awarding the Oscar to a film that is relatively unheralded (for example, The Lives of Others beating Pan's Labyrinth in 2007). That could easily happen this year, but Son of Saul has shown up on a lot of best of lists, and the idea of someone finding a new, innovative way of telling a story about the Holocaust will probably help it to stand out.

Should and Will: Son of Saul

Best Documentary Feature

Amy - Asif Kapdia and James Gay-Rees
Cartel Land - Matthew Heineman and Tom Yellin
The Look of Silence - Joshua Oppenheimer  Signe Byrge Sørensen
What Happened, Miss Simone? -  Liz Garbus, Amy Hobby and Justin Wilkes
Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom - Evgeny Afineevsky and Den Tolmor

For the third year in a row, Netflix managed to land Oscar nominations for their original properties (two, in this case, for What Happened, Miss Simone? and Winter on Fire), a sign both of the extent to which the streaming service has changed the game when it comes to documentary distribution, and the intransigence that the other branches of the Academy have shown towards their dramatic features. The world of film distribution is shifting dramatically, but you'd never know based on the Oscar nominations.

Anyway, I would prefer The Look of Silence to win, both because it's a phenomenal film and because it would function as an acknowledgement of the great work that Joshua Oppenheimer did on both it and its predecessor, The Act of Killing. However, I think that Amy will probably have the edge due to its greater commercial success and the more high-profile subject matter (and because most people don't seem to be as disturbed by how exploitative it is of Amy Winehouse's legacy, even as it denounces people for exploiting Amy Winehouse, as I am).

Should: The Look of Silence

Will: Amy

Best Animated Feature

Anomalisa - Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson and Rosa Tran
Boy & The World - Alê Abreu
Inside Out - Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera
Shaun The Sheep Movie - Mark Burton and Richard Starzak
When Marnie Was There - Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura

This is probably the strongest category of the whole ceremony, both in terms of the quality of the nominees and the variety of styles on display. Any year that features one computer animated, two hand-drawn, and two stop-motion films has to be a considered a good year, especially one in which the hand-drawn an stop-motion films could not be more different from each other. Pixar have dominated this category for years now and the general consensus that Inside Out is something of a return to form will probably carry them to another victory. Anomalisa strikes me as more of an artistic achievement, particularly when it comes to using the form of animation and making it central to the story being told, but I'd be happy if any of these won.

Should: Anomalisa

Will: Inside Out

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Big Short - Charles Randolph and Adam McKay
Brooklyn - Nick Hornby
Carol - Phillis Nagy
The Martian - Drew Goddard
Room - Emma Donaghue

It can be hard to judge what qualifies as a criteria for judging an adapted screenplay. Is a screenplay good because it faithfully recreates its source, or is it good because it does the best job of transferring the concepts of the source to a new medium? Three of the five nominees fall into the first category, The Big Short falls into the second, and Room straddles the two. That's why Room is my personal favourite of the nominees - it keeps the tone and perspective of the novel while opening it up enough to work in a visual medium - but The Big Short will probably win due to degree of difficulty, and because its fourth wall-breaking moments make for a writerly conceit that stands out.

Should: Room

Will: The Big Short

Best Original Screenplay

Bridge of Spies - Matt Charman and Joel & Ethan Coen
Ex Machina - Alex Garland
Inside Out - Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley; Story by Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen
Spotlight - Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy
Straight Outta Compton - Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff; Story by S. Leigh Savidge & Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berloff

A lot of people have pointed out that it's bitterly ironic that the only people who were nominated for Straight Outta Compton, a film with a predominantly African-American creative team, were the white writers. While the optics of that situation are pretty damning when considered within the broader context of the discussion of the Oscars' lack of diversity, it's also notable that Straight Outta Compton's one Oscar nomination came for its weakest element. It's a film which is exhilarating for its editing, performances and the élan that director F. Gary Gray displays in bringing the L.A. of the late '80s/early '90s to life, but the script is pretty standard music biopic fare. That will probably kneecap its chances.

As for the other nominees, Ex Machina probably doesn't have much a chance because it's a film which hasn't been talked about all that much in terms of awards. Ditto Bridge of Spies. Inside Out has a decent chance, but Pixar have a long history of being nominated for Best Original Screenplay Oscars and not actually winning them, even though their scripts are usually superb. That leaves Spotlight, which will probably win because Tom McCarthy is well-liked (and was previously nominated for co-writing Up for Pixar, funnily enough) and because the Academy has a tendency to give something to all the Best Picture nominees, and this is probably Spotlight's strongest category.

Should: Inside Out

Will: Spotlight

Best Supporting Actress

Jennifer Jason Leigh - The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara - Carol
Rachel McAdams - Spotlight
Alicia Vikander - The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet - Steve Jobs

My favourite of these nominees is Rooney Mara in Carol, but I have to disqualify her because she is clearly a co-lead, and her being nominated here is just a case of the Weinsteins  reclassifying her as supporting in order to avoid splitting the vote between her and Cate Blanchett in Best Actress. It's an understandable rationale, but it's also the kind of politicking that smacks of cynicism and disrespects the artist while simultaneously honouring them, which an impressive bit of awards season judo.

So, setting Mara aside, my favourite would be Jennifer Jason Leigh, who had to embody one of the trickier characters in The Hateful Eight and did it with aplomb. She probably won't win, though, because over the last few weeks it has come down to a two-woman race between Alicia Vikander for, ugh, The Danish Girl and Kate Winslet for, eh, Steve Jobs. I go back and forth on who has the better chance - Vikander had something of a breakout year with The Danish Girl, Ex Machina and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., while Winslet is an Academy favourite who hasn't been nominated since she won for The Reader in 2009 - but at this moment I think that Vikander has the edge for being a newcomer, and the shock of the new can have a big impact in these races.

Should: Jennifer Jason Leigh

Will: Alicia Vikander

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale - The Big Short
Tom Hardy - The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo - Spotlight
Mark Rylance - Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone - Creed

Although the work on screen should be the main consideration when it comes to voting, the broader story of an actor can be even more powerful (something we'll probably see in the Best Actor contest). For that reason, even though everyone in this category did some fine work, and it would be great to see Mark Rylance recognised for being the indisputable highlight of Bridge of Spies, the idea of Sylvester Stallone winning an Oscar for reprising the character who earned him two Oscar nominations 40 years ago - and giving a funny, soulful performance to boot - will probably carry the day. It's a hell of a comeback story.

Should and Will: Sylvester Stallone

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett - Carol
Brie Larsen - Room
Jennifer Lawrence - Joy
Charlotte Rampling - 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan - Brooklyn

Back at the start of awards season, Cate Blanchett looked like the inevitable winner in this category for her brilliant, brittle performance in Todd Haynes' adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt. But about two months ago, it became apparent that the critical love for the film was not reciprocated by the people who vote for industry awards, and support started to pool around Brie Larsen for her revelatory turn in Room. There's honestly not a bad performance in this group - even though I thought Joy was pretty middling, Jennifer Lawrence was great in it - and I'd be happy if any of them walked away with the statue tomorrow night. The smart money is on Larsen, who has the momentum and also happened to give the best performance, two things which don't always go together, but when they do, it can make someone unstoppable.

Should and Will: Brie Larsen

Best Actor

Bryan Cranston - Trumbo
Matt Damon - The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio - The Revenant
Michael Fassbender - Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne - The Danish Girl

Any category that includes Eddie Redmayne's laughable turn in The Danish Girl should probably be dismissed out of hand, but even if you ignore him, you're still looking at one of the weakest Best Actor slates in years. After all, the frontrunner is a guy who demonstrated that he could act cold in the snow. What an innovator! The idea of acting as an endurance contest doesn't interest me, but is a good enough selling point that it has allowed Leo to dominate the field for months.

Bryan Cranston's performance in Trumbo is a collection of affectations in place of a character. Fassbender is decent as Steve Jobs but is undermined at every stage by Danny Boyle's frenetic style, which steps on his line deliveries and undercuts Aaron Sorkin's script. Matt Damon may be my favourite in this category purely because he's the only one who wasn't trying to win an Oscar (though I'd have preferred to see Michael B. Jordan in there for Creed if we're going by that criteria). The thirst on display from the other candidates is embarrassing.

Should: None of them? Okay, fine. Matt Damon, just because he's the only one whose performance didn't annoy me.

Will: Leonardo DiCaprio, who will probably have to cut the Oscar out of the stomach of a dead pig with his bare hands before he really feels like he earned it.

Best Director

Lenny Abrahamson - Room
Alejandro G. Iñárritu - The Revenant
Tom McCarthy - Spotlight
Adam McKay - The Big Short
George Miller - Mad Max: Fury Road

First off, Adam McKay does not deserve to be nominated (especially over, say, Ryan Coogler for Creed or F. Gary Gray for Straight Outta Compton) yet I'm kind of delighted that he is. His work on The Big Short was scattershot and distracted, and it felt like much more of a writer's movie than a director's movie to me. But if you had told me a year ago that the guy who co-created the Bill Brasky sketches and filmed his infant daughter arguing with Will Ferrell would be nominated for Best Director, I'd have laughed at the sheer absurdity of it. It still seems nuts, so I can't get too mad about it.

As for the rest of the nominees, I'm a big fan of Tom McCarthy's work in general, and Spotlight is great, but it's probably too subdued to win out over its much more bombastic competition. The same goes for Room, which is rigorous and minimalistic in a way which makes for a powerful experience, but doesn't draw attention to itself. It's a film of smart choices that can be easy to miss. That leaves The Revenant and Fury Road, and while my heart belongs to George Miller, I think that Iñárritu has the advantage on the "best=most" front. As much as I thoroughly disliked The Revenant, it was undeniably directed.

Should: George Miller

Will: Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Best Picture

The Big Short - Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner
Bridge of Spies - Steven Spielberg, Marc Platt and Kristie Macosko Krieger
Brooklyn - Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey
Mad Max: Fury Road - Doug Mitchell and George Miller,
The Martian - Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Michael Schaefer and Mark Huffam
The Revenant - Arnon Milchan, Steve Golin, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Mary Parent and Keith Redmon
Room - Ed Guiney
Spotlight - Michael Sugar, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin and Blye Pagon Faust

As should be apparent by now, I'm pretty much in the tank for Mad Max, which I thought was an amazing work of cinema and one of the most purely enjoyable action films I've seen in years. Its improbable nomination is enough of a victory in this case, since I don't think a film quite so gleefully strange, distinctive and crazy has ever been nominated for Best Picture. A win would be an amazing result, but probably too much to hope for. My second choice for which film should win, Lenny Abrahamson's Room, couldn't be further away from Mad Max in tone and scope, but it's a brilliant adaptation of a heart wrenching book, and about as unsparing and claustrophobic as Oscar nominees get.

However, it's probably going to be The Revenant, if only because it's the one that I least want to win. Fox Searchlight have done a very good job of pushing the narrative about how difficult it was to shoot, and that will probably be enough to make it look more significant and deserving than it actually is.

Should: Mad Max: Fury Road or Room

Will: The Revenant

Thanks for reading! Be sure to check in on Monday when I'll publish my Oscar scorecard. For the moment, let's see how wrong I can be.