Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Oscars and the Fury

Hello and welcome to … OK, let’s be honest, probably the Oscar Red Carpet show, which is probably what’s on your TV right now because we probably didn’t get this published until like a half-hour before the Oscar telecast began and you’re probably only glancing over this while being distracted by Susan Sarandon’s cleavage or something. In any case, it’s Oscar Night! And for us here at The Only Oscar Article Longer Than the Oscars™, we are celebrating our Quindecennial. Please congratulate us and give us, as tradition dictates, a gift of crystal. (As long as it’s not a skull.)

In case you didn’t know already, we are Jeremy Mathews and Chris Bellamy. (We’ll let you guess which is which.) (I’m the handsome one.) Back by popular demand, we are here to preview the Night of Giving Awards That Belong to Mad Max: Fury Road to Different Movies Instead 88th Annual Academy Awards. It is a night for us to celebrate postapocalyptic wastelands, bright-eyed immigrants, resourceful astronauts, cold wars, financial collapse, bear rape, abduction and rape, child rape …. jesus, this got dark really fast, can we run that back and try it again? OK: Tonight is a night for us to celebrate … Powerful women kicking ass to take down tyrannical dystopian overlords! Plucky reporters kicking ass to expose religious corruption and abuse! Plucky astronauts surviving off their own urine, feces and botany skills! Plucky Wall Street guys kicking ass to make money off even worse Wall Street guys! Adorable Irish immigrants falling in love with adorable Italians! Adorable mountain men fighting Grizzly bears and doing other MAN shit! Adorable semi-feral children escaping from captivity!

Oh, and that Cold War thing, too.

In any case, this year’s slate of Oscar nominees rev---

[Stephen Daldry bursts in.]

Stephen Daldry: Yo … guys, what the fuck?

You’re having an Oscars without me? I … I don’t understand.


Academy Voter 1: Oh, Stephen, I uh ….

Academy Voter 2: Uh….

Academy Voter 3: Listen, we … I mean …

Academy Voter 4: We didn’t …. er, we tried to tell … um … .

Academy Voter 5: Look -- it’s just that your movie wasn’t very good.

Stephen Daldry: That never stopped you before. Look, this isn’t how it’s supposed to work. I made a movie, now I’m supposed to be nominated! No fair!

Chris: Sorry, dude. No nomination for you.

Stephen Daldry: But I’m white! I didn’t ask you to nominate any of my brown cast members!

Academy Voter 6: Yeah, but what about this Christian Duurvoort guy who co-directed the film with you?

Stephen Daldry: He’s white too!
Academy Voter 6: Oh. Well we didn’t know that.

Stephen Daldry: In fact, you know what? I know how to fix this. I’m going to get Harvey on the phone and he’ll sort this whole thing out.

Jeremy: Harvey? Like, Weinstein?

Chris: You mean the guy who couldn’t even get Carol or The Hateful Eight nominated for Best Picture, even with two empty slots, even with a wide-open field that has no dominant frontrunner? That Harvey Weinstein?

Jeremy: Hate to break it to you, Stephen Daldry, but the Harvey you’re looking for—[lights up cigarette]—is dead.

Now if you’ll excuse us, we need to move things along and give out some fucking awards.

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

In honor of the 30th anniversary of his documentary Shoah, please welcome Claude Lanzmann!

Claude Lanzmann says: If I had a single-use time machine, the one thing I’d do is go back in time and submit Shoah as a documentary short. Surely my 566-minute opus could’ve beat “Witness to War: Dr. Charlie Clements,” right? In case you’re wondering, if I had a two-use time machine, after that I’d probably go back and buy one of Hitler’s shitty paintings. It might be worth something now!

On a note completely unrelated to any of this, let’s see which one of these indisputably supporting actresses is going to win!

Jeremy says: I'm having trouble accepting Alicia Vikander as the frontrunner here. Of course it makes sense that her Oscar-friendly and more emotionally overt performance in The Danish Girl would get the nod over her oblique and intriguing performance in Ex Machina. And while Vikander pulls off a big ask of showing both her character's hangups and love for her husband who wants to be a woman, I can't say that character has much staying power, unlike her work in Ex Machina, which leaves you thinking about her motivations. Plus, unlike this one, her role in Ex Machina could arguably be considered supporting.

As long as we're awarding a lead performance in the supporting category, Rooney Mara delivered a gripping, heartbreaking performance, and in the better movie, too.

If we want to look at nominees who were actually in supporting roles, all three of them slide into their roles very comfortably, but Jennifer Jason Leigh's work as the most hateful of the titular eight is a true belter.

And in case you think there were only three supporting performances this year and that's why they had to pad the category with lead work, watch Cynthia Nixon in James White, Nina Kunzendorf in Phoenix or Marion Cotillard in Macbeth, to name a few.

Jeremy’s prediction: Rooney Mara with the upset!
Jeremy’s preference: Jennifer Jason Leigh if you take into account that Rooney Mara should be winning Best Actress

Chris says: Yeah, I’m glad someone mentioned Cotillard in Macbeth, because she knocked the hell out of that performance, despite the fact that Lady Macbeth seemed strangely under-utilized at times. Or maybe it was just that the performance was so strong, we greedily wanted more of it. In any case, she was great.

But the big story here, once again, is category fraud. Like True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld or The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’s Casey Affleck before them, Mara got pushed to the supporting category even when she’s so obviously the lead. I mean, if it’s not enough that she’s the narrative’s clear protagonist, you can just do the math and look at the screen time. It’s a lead role, and a great one - in fact, if she were nominated in lead, I’d be voting for her. Now, I’m voting for her anyway, but if things were as they should be, I could go for Mara in lead and Jennifer Jason Leigh in supporting, after she turned in what I’m convinced will go down as a defining role in The Hateful Eight.

Like Mara, Vikander is also a lead role, and she’s also excellent. She’ll be a deserving winner … for Ex Machina. In any case, having Mara and Vikander relegated to “supporting” status means this category loses the chance to honor Nixon in James White or Greta Gerwig in Mistress America. (Gerwig is in one of those situations where it’s patently obvious she’s an Oscar-worthy performer but it will probably take a decade and a contrived biopic before she ever actually gets honored.)

Chris’ prediction: Alicia Vikander
Chris’ preference: Rooney Mara

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Beasts of No Nation may not have a whole lot of support around The Same Dame offices, but it is a bit odd that the guy who won the SAG Award for Best Supporting Actor wasn’t even nominated for the Oscar, while the guy who’s going to win the Oscar wasn’t even nominated for the SAG. It’s almost like SAG is less racist than the Academy or something.

Oh, but what are we saying. The Academy’s membership is a whole 2 percent black, so what is everyone complaining about?

Chris says: At the risk of being accused of going soft, I really don’t have a problem with this group of nominees. Would they have been my five selections? No, but I do think these are all good performances, and worthy of recognition. In the case of Bale and Ruffalo, they won their respective films’ Ensemble Cast Lottery, earning nominations that could just as well have gone to one of their cast members. I do think the Academy erred in nominating Ruffalo instead of Michael Keaton, who not only gave the most seamlessly, unnoticeably great performance in Spotlight, but could have earned some much-needed Oscar redemption by pulling off a win here after falling short last year.

I mean, remember that stupid thing that happened last year when Eddie Redmayne beat out Keaton for Best Actor? Remember that shit?

Anyway, Bale’s nomination also could have easily gone to Ryan Gosling, our captivating, hilarious, hotshot guide through the exciting world of subprime mortgages. (I wasn’t as high on Carell’s performance as others were, so I’m glad it was Bale and not him.)

But personally? I’d trade all five of these (admittedly solid) nominations for one Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina nomination. Why? Well, among other things, did any of the five nominees do THIS?

Yeah, I didn’t think so. Mark Rylance—as great as his understated Bridge of Spies performance is—couldn’t pull that off, could he? Shit no. He’d start dancing and accidentally slip into a soliloquy from Hamlet or something.

In any case, the one hangup I have with these nominees is that they’re all exceedingly safe. Four actors in Best Picture nominees, and one Hollywood legend in his most iconic role. But in a perfect world we’d see more daring nominees - like Sly’s fellow Expendable, Jason Statham, for spectacularly dominating every moment he appeared on screen in Spy. I’ve always felt ol’ Chev was an underappreciated as an actor, and in Spy he got to show off both his command of the screen and lights-out comic timing.

But OK OK, Statham is a pipe dream. Then how about rewarding Adam Driver for his kick-ass year with a nomination for While We’re Young? Or Sly’s fellow Expendable Harrison Ford for his astonishingly expressive supporting turn in The Age of Adaline? Or how about Benicio del fucking Toro for Sicario, ya know? And for a real darkhorse, let me suggest Billy Crudup, brilliant in the role of a snake-like antagonist in the under-seen Glass Chin.

But we pretty much know where this is headed. Stallone, giving the type of performance we’ve known him capable of but have rarely gotten, will likely take home the prize, because nothing says showbiz like recognizing a movie with a predominantly black cast by honoring the only white guy.

If I had a vote—and boy, I’d sure like to become one of those not-at-all-out-of-touch Anonymous Oscar Voters one day—I’d actually go with Tom Hardy, who energizes the exceedingly up-and-down The Revenant every moment he appears on screen. Plus, it’d be a just reward for the fantastic year Hardy had. We’ll call this the Rockatansky Bump.

Chris’ prediction: Sylvester Stallone
Chris’ preference: Tom Hardy

Tom Hardy says: I hope you enjoy your Oscar, Stallone! It won’t bring the years you threw away on shit movies back!

Jeremy says: What a very on-the-nose comment, Mr. Hardy!

I personally wouldn’t have singled these nominees out, but I’ll allow it as there are some nice people there. Ruffalo’s oddly hunched reporter is continuingly compelling, and perhaps got the nomination for giving “Spotlight” much of its drive. But my favorite of the bunch is Mark Rylance, whose quiet demeanor, contrasting with Tom Hanks’s leading man, really carried “Bridge of Spies.”

Also, I’m pretty sure Chris purposefully made sure he go first in this category so he could show Oscar Isaac dancing.

You’re a real son of a bitch, Chris.

Jeremy’s prediction: Sylvester Stallone
Jeremy’s preference: Mark Rylance

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

Oscar makeup technician says: Alright, you two, it’s time apply your makeup for the big show!

Jeremy says: Uh, shouldn’t you have done that before the telecast started?

Oscar makeup technician says: Whatever. I’ll be quick.

*Oscar makeup technician sprays gold paint all over our heroes’ faces.*

Jeremy and Chris say: Aaaaaahhhh! Our eyes!

Chris: WITNESS ME!!!!

Jeremy says: Since the campaign for “The Revenant” has been based upon the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio actually got attacked (and, uh, raped), then crawled around the woods lighting his wounds on fire, it may come as a shock to some voters to learn that there was in fact make-up involved. That should be enough to give “Mad Max: Fury Road” the edge.

“The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” says: Hey, what about me?!?

Jeremy says: Did you hear something, Chris?

Chris says: No.

Jeremy says: Anyhow, from the chapped lips to the tattoos to the grotesque representations of humanity, “Fury Road” nails this category in both craft and style. We often talk about the Oscars favoring the most of something rather than the best of something, but in this case, but in this case they are one and the same.

Jeremy’s prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road
Jeremy’s preference: Mad Max: Fury Road

Chris says: Let me get this straight, Academy. Holy Motors, which was basically a passionate love letter, written in lipstick, to makeup artists everywhere, was too obscure for a nomination in 2012 … but now an even more obscure Swedish movie gets your attention? Can you explain to me how this works?

Not that I don’t understand the nomination or The 100-Year-Old Forrest Gump Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. The makeup is central to the entire narrative and to the character on whom the film focuses every scene. But … well, I guess I’m still just holding onto that Holy Motors grudge. I mean no offense.

In any case, you’re going to be shocked to discover that I believe Mad Max: Fury Road is the deserving winner here.

Chris’ prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road
Chris’ preference: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Costume Design
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant

Cinderella has been a controversial nominee because many people, Donald Trump included, don’t believe that singing, dancing mice should be nominated for Oscars. But hey, at least they’re white mice.

Chris says: Alright, let me just go ahead and get this out of the way now. My preferences this year are going to be really predictable and really boring. I’m pretty much going to be rooting for Mad Max: Fury Road for all these technical categories. I can’t help it. Believe me, I’ve gone up and down the line looking for places to go in another direction, and I just can’t do it. So be forewarned.

But I do have nice things to say about the other nominees. Honest, I do! In fact, Sandy Powell’s costumes for Cinderella were one of the only things I unabashedly loved about a movie that I otherwise found dull, uninspired and completely unnecessary. (The other things I unabashedly loved, for the record, were Cate Blanchett’s strangely eccentric evil laugh, the gorgeously noirish way Cate Blanchett was shot, and Cate Blanchett’s performance in general.) And speaking of Cate Blanchett, you know who wore the shit out of some Sandy Powell costumes? Cate Blanchett in Cinderella, that’s who. The way Powell’s color choices wittily reflected the characters’ personalities (Blanchett’s Evil Stepmother has an almost-abrasive green in one sequence where she’s being particularly odious) was consistently great, and Powell singlehandledly made the Crown Ball scene work, with a vast collection of muted a spring colors filling the ballroom, drawing just the right amount of attention on Cinderella’s bold blue gown.

(It should also be noted that Blanchett wore the shit out of some Sandy Powell period costumes in Carol, too.)

If not for Mad Max: Fury Road - which is such a strong contender in all of these categories because the film itself is such a stunningly imaginative piece of world design - Cinderella would be my choice. But in a close call, I’ve gotta go with the former, if for Immortan Joe’s breathing apparatus alone. And I think it probably will end up taking the prize. My big concern is whether The Revenant turns out to be an unanticipated juggernaut in the technical categories, which I don’t necessarily expect but which also wouldn’t surprise me. If not, I suppose Powell could take one home for Carol, a much more likely surprise winner than either Cinderella or The Danish Girl.

Oh, and before I forget, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. totally should have been nominated for costume design.

Chris’ prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road
Chris’ preference: Mad Max: Fury Road

Jeremy says: Yeah.

Jeremy’s prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road
Jeremy’s preference: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Documentary Short
Body Team 12
Chau, Beyond the Lines
Claude Lanzmann: Spectre of the Shoah
A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
Last Day of Freedom

Best Animated Short
Bear Story
We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
Sanjay’s Super Team
World of Tomorrow

Best Live-Action Short
Ave Maria
Day One
Everything Will Be Okay

Claude Lanzmann says: OK, so I couldn’t get my stupid time machine to work. I’m pretty sure there’s a Zionist conspiracy against me. In lieu of that, I inserted myself into this year’s nominees.

Jeremy says: Let's start by saying that World of Tomorrow better win. Don Hertzfeldt made Oscar history 15 years ago when he directed the first film nominated in which a character repeatedly said, "My anus is bleeding." Now, his playful sci-fi meditation on what it means to live and grow old stands out as a showcase of creativity.

As usual, the Animated Short category stands out as a showcase for visual storytelling, with none of the other four nominees using any dialogue. The two most likely to steal Tomorrow's thunder are We Can't Live Without Cosmos with its fun 2D animation, and Bear Story, which uses 3D animation to pay charming tribute to mechanical windup theater.

On the live-action front, the prize ought to go to German director Patrick Vollrath's Everything Will Be Okay, a taut, finely acted drama about a divorced father desperately trying to keep his daughter. I don't think its bleak, devastating ending will woo voters, however.

Stock Live-Action Oscar War Zone Shorts™ Shok and Day One will likely fade into memory, leaving funny conflict-zone short Ave Maria and British hipster romance Stutterer. I'd argue that Stutterer is more charming where Ave Maria is cringe-inducing, but don't know if the Academy will agree. But hey, Stutterer So White.

On the documentary end, Last Day of Freedom is interesting for approaching the form via animation, but only pulls it off half the time, and inexplicably waits to provide a lot of key information until the closing title cards. It'd be as if Chris and I presented this article as a slew of dick jokes and then listed the categories and nominees at the end. Obviously you have to intersperse the dick jokes between the lists of nominees. That's just how things are done.

Ultimately, I see this going to the movie with the most engaging story: A Girl in the River: The Price of Freedom. It's an incredibly enlightening film about the act of honor killings in Pakistan, from the perspective of a victim who survived her attempted murder. It cracks deep into the culture and the court system, and has a show-stopping interview with an unrepentant father from behind prison bars.

A potential spoiler to my prediction could be Adam Benzine's Claude Lanzmann documentary, which the Academy could atone for snubbing Shoah oh so many years ago. Benzine presents a very interesting character study of the pompous master, with one particularly harrowing story from the making of the 566-minute epic, but voters might feel as if too much comes from Lanzmann's past work to merit an award.

Jeremy's predictions: A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, World of Tomorrow, Stutterer
Jeremy's preferences: A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, World of Tomorrow, Everything Will Be Okay

Chris says: I think I was firmly in the camp of Last Day of Freedom until the closing title cards Jeremy mentioned. It’s not because I necessarily thought the information was so necessary that it should have been incorporated better, but because I actually thought that information wasn’t really the purpose of the documentary to begin with, and its inclusion made me reconsider whether the filmmakers even knew what that purpose was.

To me, up until then it had largely been about the morality of a death-penalty system within  a society that inevitably and even necessarily involves mitigating factors that defy such a cut-and-dried concept. The fact that it’s explored in hand-drawn shapes and sketches and shadows make it feel like more of an abstraction, as if its ideas and experiences could happen everywhere and to anyone. The title cards make it too specific, in a way that makes it seem like it had a more limited point. So I’m torn. I still thought it was the best experience of the five doc shorts, but I’m not as confident as I was during the half-hour leading up to those final revelations/explanations.

As Jez suggested, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness from HBO Documentary Films is otherwise the strongest documentary nominee. Although it’s competing with two more likely winners, also from HBO Documentary Films, Body Team 12 (which seems to be the favorite despite barely scratching the surface of its subject) and Spectres of the Shoah, which with the exception of the one story Jeremy mentioned, doesn’t accomplish much beyond reminding people how important Shoah is.

On the animated side, World of Tomorrow is so far beyond any of the other nominees that I genuinely feel sorry for them - even the ones I enjoy, like Bear Story and We Can’t Live Without Cosmos. Apparently the Pixar name has made Sanjay’s Super Team the frontrunner despite being yet another lesser short-film effort from the studio that used to knock them out of the park …

The male volcano from Lava says: You mean you don’t la-va me?

Chris: Fuck you, Lava. Go home. I don’t ever want to see you again.

Male volcano from Lava: Hold on, hold on! Let me see if I can ineptly force a narrative into song form --

[Jeremy and Chris pull out pistols, Jules and Vincent-style, and kill that fucking volcano execution-style. The crowd roars.]

Chris: OK, it’s me again. (And by the way, I’m Jules in that scenario; Jeremy is Vincent.) So like I was saying, World of Tomorrow is an astonishing piece of imagination and humanity, that also happens to be simultaneously uproarious and depressing as fuck.

The Academy only likes depressing-as-fuck when it comes to Documentary Shorts, so … maybe they give it to Sanjay?

Eh, fuck it. I’ll just say they do the right thing and give it to Hertzfeldt.

And in live action, the only fully successful entry is Everything Will Be Okay, which is nerve-wracking and desperate and haunting and uncomfortable, and which features a performance from a young girl that I’m still not sure is possible. Ave Maria is the most likely winner - and to its credit, does feature the best shot of all the nominees, regardless of anything else - but I’m also woefully bad at picking shorts winners, so don’t listen to my dumb ass. Stutterer definitely fills the hipster niche that we’ve seen take this category so often, so … maybe that wins it?

Or hell, for all I know, they’ll give it to Shok. I mean, just because it’s a pile of shit doesn’t mean it won’t get an Oscar. The Academy did give one to The New Tenants, after all, and Jeremy hasn’t forgiven them since.

Chris’ predictions: Body Team 12, World of Tomorrow, Stutterer
Chris’ preferences: Last Day of Freedom, World of Tomorrow, Everything Will Be Okay

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

We were going to have the Hulk introduce this category, but we ran out of money.

Chris says: See, now it really is going to seem like I’m going soft, because we’re on to Visual Effects and I don’t have a cruelly bitchy thing to say about the effects in any of these five nominees. I repeat: These are five worthy and impressive candidates for Best Visual Effects. Not a single movie in the bunch filled with flat, rubbery CGI eyesores.

Even with something like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which has a few noticeable blemishes within its flurry of computer-animated creations, the good still far outweighs the bad. And that’s especially refreshing, considering our most recent VFX memories in the Star Wars universe were almost entirely green-screen-based and almost entirely ugly.

George Lucas says: Oh yeah? Well that’s how I always wanted my movies to look. It just took 30 years for technology to catch up with my visionary ideas!

Chris says: So you wanted to fill all of your original movies with arbitrarily placed spaceships and creatures flying around everywhere…

Lucas: Yeah … ah, yeah, yeah, I totally did …

Chris: And you wanted all of your images to be overloaded with cartoon sets and backgrounds …

Lucas: ...oh! ...yes! Cartoon backgrounds …

Chris: ...and digital Yodas …

Lucas: oh god! oh god!

Chris: ...and Jar Jar Binks?

Lucas: ahhwwwwwwhhwuh! … agh...yeah … yes! [Lucas explosively ejaculates millions of pixelated, computer-generated sperm.]

Chris: Well. It’s our humble opinion at The Same Dame—and I believe I speak for myself as well as Jeremy—that J.J. Abrams and his team restored a sense of visual practicality to the universe you, George, created. And by and large, The Force Awakens’s mixture of real sets, practical effects and CGI worked nicely, and it’s one of the three prime contenders in what seems to be a bit of a wide-open race, along with Fury Road and The Revenant, once again depending on how much overall support the latter has (which may end up being a lot).

Despite my problems with the movie, The Revenant’s effects are terrific, especially the bear that attacks Leonardo DiCaprio in the film’s most famous scene ...

Matt Drudge says: That wasn’t a special effect, you guys! That was a real bear, and that was a real, giant, erect bear-penis buttfucking DiCaprio in that scene. For realz! Trust me. It was real, and that shit was rape. No means no, Bart. No. Means. No.

Chris: Everyone, everyone, just calm down, and let me urge you to ignore him. Just ignore this piece of shit. Remember that time a couple months ago when everyone forgot to ignore this gargantuan scumbag and gave him free publicity for a week? Remember that?

Anyway, let’s move on before M*** D***** makes up some bullshit story about the Requiem for a Dream-like activities of Rey’s dual-sided light saber. In case you’re keeping track of my Mad Max picks so far - or better yet, using them as a drinking game—let me say that this is one of the categories that gives me pause, and that’s because the effects—in particular, the primary special effect—in Ex Machina are so strong that I would kinda love to see it win (and because it deserves some sort of recognition and this is its best shot). What’s so impressive about the effect that is Alicia Vikander’s Ava is that its presence is a near-constant, a persistent on-screen reminder that who/what we’re seeing is artificial. And yet not only does Vikander pull it off in performance, but the robot body that we see in her every scene for the first hour or so accomplishes everything seamlessly. It’s rare to see CGI pull off such expressive body language, and so gracefully.

But with apologies, I’m still going with Fury Road. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind seeing the (extraordinarily unlikely) Ex Machin-upset (see what I did there?), but Fury Road is so masterful on every technical level (every level, really), and I can’t help but get behind a film that pulled off so many practical effects so brilliantly. The CGI was an enhancement, a sidekick—not a crutch. And the result was a perfect marriage.

Chris’ prediction: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Chris’ preference: Mad Max: Fury Road

Jeremy says: Yeah, there have been years when, if any of these titles were contenders, I might have picked them over the tacky CG on offer. But this year is this year, and it’s a good year if you judge your year solely on the quality of the Best Visual Effects nominees. And who doesn’t? But Mad Max: Fury Road  uses every tool at its disposal in exceptional fashion, making it the clear standout.

Jeremy's prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road
Jeremy's preference: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Sound Mixing
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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

Tamás Zányi says: Hey, what the fuck?

Shane Carruth and Pete Horner say: Hey, get in line, buddy.

Jeremy says: Well, I think it's pretty obvious that the best sound design of the year was the chaotic hellscape of "Son of Saul," but seeing as that wasn't nominated, I guess it'll just have to join the ranks of "Upstream Color" as an Oscar never-ran (except for the whole Best Foreign Language Film thing).

Both these categories come down to two films that use sound as a huge part of their atmosphere: "The Revenant" and "Mad Max: Fury Road." The latter builds a strong sense of environment and brings every crazy-ass vehicle to life with its own distinct personality. The former isn't quite as showy (always a danger when an Oscar is on the line), but is key to painting the natural environment. That's why this one seems like a possible split: "Max" for its bold creations in editing, "The Revenant" for its sonic landscapes.

Jeremy's prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road for editing, The Revenant for mixing
Jeremy's preference: Mad Max: Fury Road for both


Ha! Now you guys are all drunk. Actually, you might have alcohol poisoning. You should really see a doctor.

Look, if you die on us right now, we’re not going to feel guilty about it. Sorry. You should have thought about that when you decided to turn my Mad Max picks into a drinking game.

Chris’ prediction: The Revenant for mixing, Mad Max: Fury Road for editing
Chris’ preference: Mad Max: Fury Road for both

Best Documentary
Cartel Land
The Look of Silence
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

Jeremy Scahill says: What happened, Miss Simone, you ask? Hi, I’m Jeremy Scahill, and I’m here to tell you what happened to Miss Simone, through the eyes of me, Jeremy Scahill.

I’ll also be examining what Ukraine’s fight for freedom was like from the viewpoint of an intrepid, daring reporter bravely traversing the battlegrounds of political upheaval in what one Jeremy Scahill termed the “Winter on Fire.”

As the emcee of this category, I, Jeremy Scahill, would like to point out that my colleague Mr. Oppenheimer did his documentary all wrong. He should have had the camera pointed at himself, like a real artist would.

I will now look on knowingly as we find out who won the Best Documentary Oscar, presented by Jeremy Scahill (that’s me).

Chris says: This year’s selections are pretty much exactly what you’d expect, checking the only two types of documentaries anyone ever makes: the celebrity profile, and the Important Social Document. And in fairness, you could do worse than these nominees. And just to make my snarky complaint look like gross hypocrisy, let me admit that I thought the best doc of the year was, yes, a celebrity profile, Stevan Riley’s Listen to Me Marlon, which never feels like a televised Wikipedia entry but instead as one legend’s personal evocation on fame, family and politics, as Riley weaves through the actor’s volatile relationship with his industry and with his own image, using Brando’s own personal voice recordings as our guide.

But alas, it didn’t quite make the cut. I can’t say I understand quite this level of affection for Amy, an interesting and competently made but otherwise pretty basic VH1 Behind the Music-style documentary. But it seems like the likely winner at this point, edging out the more critically acclaimed Candid Camera: Indonesian Genocide Edition, which is fascinating, but severely limited in both concept and impact.

Still, if anything is likely to pull the upset, it’s probably that. As for Amy, even among “enigmatic, troubled female singer” documentaries, it is second in this category behind the stronger, more cohesive What Happened, Miss Simone?

Of these five, I would probably give the nod to Cartel Land, Matthew Heineman’s examination of the ongoing drug war and the various factions on either side of the border presumably committed to doing something about it. The film - which, incidentally, was shot by my old college roommate - isn’t perfect (the material on the American side of the border never comes alive as much as the Mexican narratives), but it’s a nice piece of on-the-ground filmmaking that takes an impressively detached (if also urgent) approach to an impossible-to-distill subject.

Chris’ prediction: Amy
Chris’ preference: Cartel Land

Jeremy says: I would question exactly where Amy falls on the competence spectrum. I mean, it isn’t overtly incompetent, but it could also stand to be a bit more polished. In the effort not to get monotonous with talking heads, director Asif Kapadia instead gets a bit monotonous with the collages of archival material, and the editing is often clunky rather than graceful. Don’t get me wrong, there’s interesting content, but it never feels as if it’s being relayed by a particularly assured storyteller.

I didn't feel like The Look of Silence was over-reliant on the hidden camera aspect (for that, see The Russian Woodpecker). It provide a contrast to Joshua Oppenheimer's previous Indonesian genocide documentary, The Act of Killing, in both form and perspective. It delves into the psyche of Adi Rukun as he confronts the people responsible for his brother's murder, as well as the way those responsible confront or avoid the topic.

Also, you can't trust Bellamy anymore because he's a beltway liberal Hollywood insider with former roommates in high places.

Jeremy’s prediction: Amy
Jeremy’s preference: The Look of Silence

Best Original Score
Bridge of Spies - Thomas Newman
Carol - Carter Burwell
The Hateful Eight - Ennio Morricone
Sicario - Johann Johansson
Star Wars: The Force Awakens - John Williams

John Williams’s Calculator says: Did you know that a certain percentage of a score has to be original for it to qualify for a nomination? That’s why I was so instrumental in my owner’s nomination.

Carter Burwell’s Abacus says: Does he also use you to tally all his nominations? Because I’ve just been collecting dust for a couple fucking decades.

Jeremy says: At some point, it became apparent that Ennio Morricone was one of the most iconic film composers of all time, and that his themes made many spaghetti westerns—most notably Sergio Leone’s—what they are. For Academy voters, that moment came some time after Morricone was done cranking out his greatest work. This year gives them the chance to finally toss him a statuette, thanks to Quentin Tarantino bringing the maestro in for “The Hateful Eight.” Surprisingly, considering the film’s content, Morricone didn’t simply create pastiches of his most famous scores, but crafted a minor-key journey that sets an ominous tone and makes an impression without screaming for attention. It seems like a shoe-in.

Apart from the obvious winner, Johann Johansson’s horror-tinged “Sicario” cues fed the film’s descent-into-darkness themes. My personal favorite is first-time nominee (seriously, WTF?) Carter Burwell’s navigation of “Carol’s” delicate psychological dance.

Jeremy’s prediction: The Hateful Eight
Jeremy’s preference: Carol

Chris says: Not to turn this into a Spielberg-bashing party (because c’mon, I love the guy), but you could argue that he’s largely to blame for both of this category’s undeserving nominees. Newman, because it’s for Spielberg’s own Bridge of Spies. And Williams, because Spielberg made him so famous that he’s now a shoo-in every year he scores something, even if in this case I can’t recall from memory a single piece of music in The Force Awakens that wasn’t either directly or referentially a piece of the original trilogy. Oh, well. The guy’s got Emeritus standing, and I get it. But if Newman and Williams hadn’t gotten their by-reputation-only nominations, it might have given room for truly outstanding work like Disasterpeace’s nerve-wracking It Follows score, or Dan Romer’s inventively ’80s-infused work on Digging for Fire.

As faithful readers know—

...I’ve been clamoring for more Carter Burwell recognition ever since we started doing this damn Oscar preview, and I’m happy to see that he’s not only finally been nominated, but that it’s for one of his very best scores—and one of his most important, since his music is so vital to the delicate emotional texture of Carol’s central romance.

But in this case, the best nominee is also the likely winner, and that’s Morricone, who so brilliantly helped Tarantino make an icy, claustrophobic Western feel like an Italian horror film. Morricone has long made music that doesn’t sound like anyone else’s, Tarantino has long used music in ways that no one else does. Both of those things are true in The Hateful Eight, and it makes for a beautiful, unnerving, haunting and exceedingly playful collaboration.

Chris’ prediction: The Hateful Eight
Chris’ preference: The Hateful Eight

Best Original Song
“Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey
“’Til it Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground
“Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction
“Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre
“Simple Song #3” from Youth

Oh, fuck this.

Chris says: Look everyone, Lady Gaga’s going for the EGOT, and there’s nothing you can do about it. The train has left the station, and Academy voters are going to dutifully get out of her way by just giving her the votes. You don’t have to like it, I don’t have to like it, but this is happening, people. You might say the songwriting … [puts on sunglasses] is on the wall.

And that’s the silver lining here, folks. Lady Gaga winning for “’Til it Happens to You” will mean that Sam Smith’s terrible Bond theme song “Writing’s on the Wall” - which literally every person on the planet fucking hates but which somehow got a fucking nomination anyway and even more inexplicably is considered one of the frontrunners—will not win. This will be a victory for all of us, a victory for the Academy, a victory for James Bond, a victory for Great Britain, if not the world.

This year’s group of nominees is also a one of the best arguments yet for getting rid of this category altogether and using the saved time to nominate an extra person in each category, or adding a new category for collaborative performance or stuntwork or something more worth our while. But don’t make us listen to a list of nominated songs this uninspired ever again, Academy. Even the best of the nominees works exclusively on the strength of Sumi Jo’s voice, and she’s not even allowed to sing at the Oscars. So what the fuck, just shut this category down, for the love of god.

But while we’re on the subject … I mean, would it have killed you guys to nominate The Forbidden Room’s “The Final Derriere” in this category? How amazing would that have been?

Chris’ prediction: “’Til it Happens to You,” The Hunting Ground
Chris’ preference: “Simple Song #3,” Youth

Jeremy says: So it'll have taken Diane Warren eight nominations and Lady Gaga's coattails to finally win an Oscar.

Roger Deakins says: Eight? How cute!

Jeremy says: But if "'Til It Happens to You" doesn't win, Kirby Dick might make a self-righteous documentary about it, so let's just roll with it.

Plus, don't blame Sam Smith. No one told him Bond themes were supposed to have personality. Funny story: I threw the songs on for one last listen as I was working on this category, and “Writing’s On the Wall” somehow ended up on repeat. I didn’t even until I became hyper-aware of the boredom that had engulfed the room.

Jeremy's prediction: "'Til It Happens to You"
Jeremy's preference: "Simple Song #3" or “Manta Ray”

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

Guy playing guitar/flamethrower while suspended on a badass truck says: Does there even need to be a vote here?

Guys swaying back on forth on poles say: Nah, probably not.

Jeremy says: Uh… Is there anything to be said apart from Mad Max: Fury Road?

Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson say: Yeah, how about, “Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson realized George Miller’s post-apocalyptic vision in such an immersive, bonkers and thrilling way that not even the Academy can ignore it for a period piece?”

Jeremy says: Well sure, I guess I could say that.

Jeremy's prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road
Jeremy's preference: Mad Max: Fury Road

Chris says:Yeah, I mean … not that I enjoy uttering the phrase “Jeremy’s right,” but Jeremy’s absolutely fucking right. Fury Road is the most comprehensive and interesting piece of world-building I’ve seen in a movie in years. I joked when I saw it that I couldn’t wait to see what bullshit period piece beat it for the production design Oscar, but to my surprise, it seems to have retained frontrunner status throughout Oscar season. Good for you, Academy. Good for you.

I mean, you’re still fucking idiots for not nominating Crimson Peak in this category - not just for how gorgeous and inventive it was, but for how it was arguably the most important part of the narrative, the shapes and angles constantly imposing on the narrative and shaping our understanding of it. But OK OK, you’re about to give an Oscar to Mad Max, so I forgive you this terrible oversight.

Also … considering how much Jeremy and I harp on it … does The Martian kinda, like maybe halfway, count as a contemporary movie nominated in this category? I mean I know, technically the movie has to take place in some kind of future, but the production design is pretty firmly rooted in 21st Century technology, fashion and architecture.

What I’m trying to say is, good job nominating something that looks like realism.

Chris’ prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road
Chris’ preference: Mad Max: Fury Road

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

Let’s see … we’ve got 16mm, 70mm, digital, large-format digital ... All we need is 35mm and we’ve got Yahtzee.

Chris says: Remember the good old days when we gathered here every year around this time and lamented the fact that neither Roger Deakins nor Emmanuel Lubezki had ever won an Oscar (despite so many nominations)? Oh, how we laughed and laughed. In failure, Roger and Chivo at least had each other.Well, flash forward a couple years and we’re now at the point in the story where the two perpetual losers have gone their separate ways, one finally embraced by the cool kids and the other languishing behind, doomed to be a loser forever.

Let me put it this way: Lubezki is now Lindsay Weir, and Deakins is poor Millie, still stuck hanging out with the Mathletes.

With Lubezki now primed to win his third consecutive Oscar—a list of victories that, let us remind you, somehow does not even include Children of Men or The Tree of Life—the idea that he was ever an Oscar bridesmaid seems like ancient history. And even though his likely victory for The Revenant will be a deserving one, I can’t help but wish it would go to someone else here. This may be the strongest overall category, top to bottom—five radically different aesthetics, spanning four different formats, all magnificent captured—and Lubezki does a hell of a lot here, capturing a certain unforgiving massiveness of the landscape that surrounds the story one moment, then getting almost uncomfortably intimate the next. There’s not been a movie that visually behaves quite like The Revenant does.

However, the same could be said for John Seale’s Mad Max: Fury Road (take a drink!), which is not only able to nimbly, brilliantly capture the chaos of the film’s action, but which plays with various different looks and emotional temperatures as the chase narrative builds and transforms throughout. But while that would be my pick, sentimentally I certainly wouldn’t mind a win for Deakins, whose work in Sicario is more traditional than those other two but no less impressive (and might boast the best shot of the year). A surprise win here would be a great moment (and hey, at least Seale already has an Oscar), but let’s not kid ourselves.

I don’t see an upset on the horizon for Robert Richardson for his glorious work in 70mm for The Hateful Eight, if for no other reason than the movie itself doesn’t have momentum. Then again, it’s not as if he hasn’t stolen an Oscar from Emmanuel Lubezki before *cough*2011*cough.

And then there’s Ed Lachman’s gorgeous, evocative, mysterious 16mm photography in Carol, its textures warming up the burgeoning romance between Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett. In fact, I’m not sure if you know this, but we love the look of the movie so much that Jeremy has changed his band name to Edward Lachmann’s Grain Structure, which for legal reasons will be shortened to ELGS in forthcoming years.

Despite my contention that this category has five unassailable nominees, I’d still like to offer a few shout-outs. Considering the aesthetic diversity of the category, it would have been nice if the Academy could have honored one of the several films shot in Academy ratio this year—among them Jauja, Son of Saul, Horse Money and The Assassin. And the elsewhere-honored Victoria (which imaginatively pulls off its one-shot conceit) and Macbeth (with its bold coloring and dreamlike visual offerings) would have been worthy considerations as well.

Chris’ prediction: The Revenant
Chris’ preference: Mad Max: Fury Road

Jeremy says: This is indeed a very strong category, although I wouldn’t mind seeing István Borbás and Gergely Pálos for A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence or Mátyás Erdély for Son of Saul or James White. Lubezski’s use of natural light and landscapes makes The Revenant an excellent choice for a winner, but I’d rather see Lachman’s delicate colors or Seale’s wildly varied yet still cohesive tones win the prize.

Roger Deakins says: Hey, fuck you too.

Jeremy says: Sorry, Roger. But yes, as Chris pointed out, your shot of silhouettes descending into darkness may be the best of the year.

Jeremy’s prediction: The Revenant
Jeremy’s preference: Carol or Mad Max: Fury Road

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, Mary Jo Markey

I don’t know if you guys can tell (because we’ve done it so seamlessly), but this entire Oscar preview has been done in one continuous shot, so it didn’t even need any editing. (Disclaimer: We did disguise an edit when Jeremy went into that elevator.)

Jeremy says: Margaret Sixel’s editing on “Mad Max: Fury Road” ticks all the boxes for a win here. Showy enough for voters to notice? Check. Perfectly paced? Check. Exhilarating action? Double-check. Sixel’s work is frenetic while also being coherent, and while it could possibly rub some old-guard folks the wrong way, it’s also going to attract a lot of attention to itself.

Speaking of drawing attention to itself, what’s up with the editing in “The Big Short?” I’m not blaming Hank Corwin so much as Adam McKay’s belief that he suddenly became part of the French New Wave, but the film is at odds with itself. While highly entertaining, the film often feel clunky with mistimed scenes. And the handheld, jump-cut aesthetic doesn’t match the slick, fourth-wall violating tone that the film simultaneously goes for. I’m sure the filmmakers thought they were pushing the limits by combining these aesthetics, but they were more just trying to blend two things that don’t mix, like Roger Deakins and Oscar victories.

Jeremy's prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road
Jeremy's preference: Mad Max: Fury Road

Chris says: Mad Max: Fury Road is a motherfucking ballet, and so much of that has to do with Sixel’s editing, and the way the film’s perpetual motion - of bodies and machinery floating, dancing in space - is so immaculately pieced together into a coherent and propulsive whole. She and Miller also savvily splice in narrative ideas and peripheral milieu details amidst the action that get so much across without bogging the film down with exposition.

I suppose there’s not a whole lot else to say, although I would like to point out how underrated certain aspects of Spotlight’s filmmaking are - notably the ways in which the early scenes in particular follow a similar principle as Fury Road on a smaller, slower scale. The emphasis on movement as characters begin to chase the story - Tom McArdle constantly cuts from one character’s brisk, determined walk to to another, which is paramount to the way the film establishes the specific sense of pace the narrative requires.

Chris’ prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road
Chris’ preference: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Big Short - Charles Randolph and Adam McKay
Brooklyn - Nick Hornby
Carol - Phyllis Nagy
The Martian - Drew Goddard
Room - Emma Donoghue

There have been a lot complaints about The Ridiculous 6 being snubbed in this category, but little known fact: It’s actually an original screenplay. It just feels so classic and iconic that people assume it was adapted. Oh, and by “original,” we mean that it deeply insults the original inhabitants of this country. And planet.

Chris says: The adaptation process for these five nominees posed some pretty interesting challenges. For Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, they had to transform the minutiae and labyrinthine complexities of the world of high-finance into something digestible, robust and funny (and for the most part pulled it off, succeeding despite what was perhaps the year’s greatest degree of difficulty). For Phyllis Nagy, it was converting pulpy melodrama into something both subtle and achingly romantic. For Drew Goddard, it was taking Andy Weir’s terrifically plotted but abominably written novel into something equally well-plotted but much less annoying (and largely succeeding). In the cases of Nick Hornby’s work on Brooklyn and Emma Donoghue’s for Room, perhaps they were more straightforward, seemingly faithful adaptations of their source material (in Donoghue’s case, for her own novel). It’s those last two scripts that give me the most trouble. The problems I had with Room seem to begin with Lenny Abrahamson’s vanilla direction, but it has its roots in the script as well, which turns a story fundamentally about the experience of the characters into something that feels oddly plot-heavy. We keep bouncing from one Event to the next - something you can pull off in a novel, when you can take your time build up to each event, but which in the land of consolidated two-hour narratives becomes something of a nagging problem. Room is a faithful adaptation of an outstanding novel, and yet that’s kinda part of the problem.

I know Jez here is a big Nick Hornby backer, but I can’t garner much support for his Brooklyn script, which is WAY too tidy, constrained by what it thinks is a cute structure - a structure that actually somewhat strangles the romantic relationships, preventing them from coming alive the way a fuller (and perhaps longer) version would have.

But I shouldn’t have to worry too much about it, as Randolph and McKay pretty much have this win in the bag. While I’d personally love to see Nagy pull off the upset for her part in creating one of the year’s best films, The Big Short is nonetheless an impressive, against-all-odds success as a screenplay. Not that we want every movie to narrate or break the fourth wall, but there are legit lessons to be learned about this script, which manages to actually make explanation and exposition not just functional necessities but entertaining and thematically relevant components. (And hey, the more comedy can get recognized at the Oscars, the better.)

Chris’ prediction: The Big Short
Chris’ preference: Carol

Jeremy says: I am a Nick Hornby fan, but not specifically a fan of “Brooklyn,” which I liked but agree had issues. However, I do think it is the most likely upset in this category, because a lot of people love it, and this would be the place to give it an award. But then again, the cute screenplay for “The Martian” could also have tickled people’s hearts.

Ultimately, “The Big Short’s” screenplay carries it when other aspects of the film come up a little short (get it?? a LITTLE short?). And seeing as a lot of those other aspects were also nominated for Oscars, it did a lot of carrying. So I don’t see it losing here.

If it did, I too would like to Nagy win for her brilliantly empathetic and observant character study in “Carol.” If I weren’t confined to nominees, I’d opt for Christian Petzold and Harun Farocki’s “Phoenix,” which perfectly distills a story to its essence. And, if you want to give points for the creativity of an adaptation, you’ve gotta mention Kevin Willmott  and Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq.”

Jeremy’s prediction: The Big Short
Jeremy’s preference: Carol

Best Original Screenplay
Bridge of Spies - Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Ex Machina - Alex Garland
Inside Out - Pete Docter, Meg LaFeuve, Josh Cooley, Ronnie Del Carmen
Spotlight - Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer
Straight Outta Compton - Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus

Remember that time they made an NWA biopic and it was somehow written by not one, not two, not three, but FOUR white people? Hey everyone, maybe the bigger problem is the actual studio filmmaking system, even more than the nomination process.

Jeremy says: While Spotlight has run out of steam as one of this year’s frontrunners, it would be a huge upset if Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer didn’t win this one. Their character-rich procedural has just the right blend of nuance and grandstanding to keep everyone on its side.

However, the Inside Out committee went above and beyond in a screenplay that could have felt very routine. Pete Docter and Co. turned in and refreshing script that’s not only intelligent about the way the human mind works, but endlessly creative in its barrage of insight and gags. Ex Machina also deserves credit for presenting some extremely creative and engaging sci-fi intrigue.

If not tied to these nominees, however, I might opt for Josh Mond for James White, Roy Andersson for A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence or Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck for Mississippi Grind.

Jeremy’s prediction: Spotlight
Jeremy’s preference: Inside Out

Chris says: For a race that seems generally pretty open - I mean, there are favorites, but in many categories an upset would not come as a huge shock - the screenplay races seem pretty much locked. The precursor award shows and groups have all had their say, and there is absolutely nothing to indicate that anything but The Big Short and Spotlight will take these categories.

I suppose it’s possible that the Academy will impose a The Cobbler tax on Tom McCarthy (sorry, all of you folks playing a drinking game around mentions of The Cobbler - that’s the first reference and likely the only one; the Mad Max game is much more fun and dangerous) (drink!), but unlikely.

I’ll be fine with the win - it really is a terrific piece of writing, in a decidedly old-fashioned, stripped-down tradition of journalism movies. And it’s efficient in just the right ways; I often bristle at “efficient” screenplays that hit every dot perfectly but strip themselves of depth or exploration, but Spotlight works nicely - it’s very to-the-point, but it settles in and breathes and unfolds instead of rushing to get through each bullet point.

Still, like Jeremy, I’d most like to see Inside Out get the nod, for reasons I’ll explain in our very next category. (Hint: It rhymes with Schmest Schmanimated Schmilm.) And yes, I held out no hope that certain of my favorite films of the year would factor into the Oscars, but this category could have used a little Noah Baumbach action (for either While We’re Young or Mistress America). And as much as I love the Coen Brothers, their contemporary pal Quentin Tarantino would have been a better option here.

Also, I’d like to take a moment to commend the Academy for finally recognizing the great screenwriter Alex Garland, who we’ve been fans of for years (and who should have been nominated for adapting Never Let Me Go a few years back), and who finally got much-deserved recognition for his excellent Ex Machina script. And he got nominated despite being represented by A24.

Robert Redford says: Sick burn, bro.

JC Chandor says: Sick burn, bro.

Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain say: Sick burn, bro.

A24 Films Representative: Rude.

Chris’ prediction: Spotlight
Chris’ preference: Inside Out

Best Animated Film
Boy and the World
Inside Out
Shaun the Sheep Movie
When Marnie Was There

2015 was a big year for animated films, with even a few major and generally well-regarded studio offerings being left out in the cold when the nominations were announced, among them The Good Dinosaur, The Peanuts Movie and Minions. But take heart, Good Dinosaur—at least you weren’t the worst thing Pixar made this year. Yeah, that would be Lava. What does that have to do with this category? Nothing, really. Look, we’re just trying to make The Good Dinosaur feel better.

Only now Lava is sad. Ugh, fine. Hey Lava, at least you weren’t the worst animated musical that came out this year. Yeah, that would be Strange Magic.

Actually, wait a second … isn’t Lava dead at this point? Does this Oscar preview have narrative continuity or what? One continuous shot my ass.

Chris says: I’m not sure if you know this about us, but Jeremy and I are not just co-hosts of The Only Oscar Article Longer Than the Oscars, but also good friends who have conversations about movies even outside the contractually bound obligations of this annual preview. And just recently we were having a conversation about this category as a whole, and what a damn strong one it is this year. There’s rarely been a stronger Best Animated Film slate (2009 is pretty stiff competition), a category that usually offers at least one head-scratcher, and which in recent years has been awarded to the likes of Big Hero 6 and Brave. But no such middling efforts will get the prize this year, because there are no such middling efforts in contention.

Not only are all five excellent films in their own right, but they’re all wildly different. We’ve got computer animation, hand-drawn, and stop-motion. We’ve got nominees about (and for) kids, films about (and for) adults, nominees about (and for) animals. We’ve got political nominees, absurdist nominees, heartwarmingly emotional nominees. We’ve got ghost stories, metaphysical stories, existential stories.

You can’t really go wrong this year. Especially considering - and I can’t emphasize this enough - fucking Big Hero 6, with its rather awful second half, won this category last year.

For my money - and I know, this makes me a boring status-quo type once again - I’m going with Inside Out, which as we mentioned above, takes a fundamentally simplistic idea and turns it into a wildly complicated idea (both emotionally and narratively) that emphasizes not the segregation of emotions, and not the “good” or “bad” emotions,” but the vital importance of each one, and the collective harmony of them that, frankly, makes us human. (I know, I know, I pulled out the “what makes us human” chestnut. It’s late, and I’m tired.) But due consideration is owed to the likes of When Marnie Was There, one of Studio Ghibli’s best efforts in years, and Charlie Kaufman’s outstanding, hilarious, twisted, depressing Anomalisa. If nothing else, that movie once again proves how much the industry is selling animation short by typically limiting it to child-friendly fare.

Chris’ prediction: Inside Out
Chris’ preference: Inside Out

Jeremy says: I would go so far as to dub this the strongest category. In fact, I’d be delighted if they opened up the envelope and announced a five-way tie. Like Chris said, you’ve got 2D drawing used for a gorgeously told personal story and an expressionistically told political dream. You’ve got 3D stop-motion used for existentialism and sight gags. And you’ve Pixar back at its Pixar-y best. I suppose if we were selfish we could ask for a feature-length backlit-sand-and-cutouts film to enter the mix, but that’d be asking too much.

Jeremy’s prediction: Inside Out
Jeremy’s preference: All of them

Best Foreign-Language Film
Embrace of the Serpent
Son of Saul
A War

Leonard Cohen says: There is a war between the rich and poor, a war between the man and the woman…

Jeremy says: Uh… Lenny?

Leonard Cohen: What? It’s time for my song. A War is like Take This Waltz, in that it’s named after and uses one of my songs. Am I right?

Jeremy: Well, not exactly. The film is a morally ambiguous exploration of military procedures, the life of a soldier and civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

Leonard Cohen: But this song is fucking badass. Fine, whatever. Have fun with Sam Smith, assholes.

Jeremy says: If I’d gone as soft as Chris, I’d probably talk about what a strong group of nominees this category has. Not only are we free from painful contrives and full narratives, we’re deep in real moral dilemmas and personal struggles. The category’s weaker films aren’t bad, just not as good as the best.

As for which one is the best, well, that’s a bit tricky. A War is a superb depiction of blurred morals and responsibilities, and how difficult it can be to do the right thing. Mustang hits the right emotional buttons as its fine performances boost a sharp attack on the oppression of women in Turkey. Theeb ably depicts changing times in 1916 Afghanistan through the eyes of a child who witnesses tragedy.

But the two remaining films are absolutely transcendent. Embrace of the Serpent’s exploration of colonialism in the Amazon via two parallel storylines reaches a transcendent poetic meditation on science, culture and purpose that’s so profound it justifies all the bullshit buzzwords I just used. Son of Saul comes from a very different angle, portraying the Holocaust as a horrifying, visceral nightmare that will leave you battered and bruised. Both would be wholly deserving winners, though I favor the less likely one: Serpent.

In the age of mandatory screenings for this category, I might have predicted that voters would lean toward something a little more accessible, like Mustang. But in this day and age of screeners gathering dust on kitchen counters, I have to lean toward the film that will be the most talked about, hence the most watched and, by chance, more worthy: Son of Saul.

Jeremy’s prediction: Son of Saul (unless voters saw Mustang)
Jeremy’s preference: Embrace of the Serpent, although Son of Saul is right up there.

Chris says: Damn, I didn’t realize you loved Embrace of the Serpent THAT much. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, too. But Son of Saul was so high on your top-10 list this year … I suppose I can now make an educated guess on at least one of your selections for your best of 2016.

This is one of the categories I usually fuck up because I give the Academy too much credit for its taste, and then I end up looking the fool. So with that in mind I’m going to go ahead and give the Academy too much credit for its taste yet again, and predict that hey go with Son of Saul, instead of the slightly more accessible but much more flawed Mustang.

I mean, do you guys really want to live in a world where, among Holocaust films, motherfucking The Counterfeiters has an Oscar but Son of Saul—with its remarkable sense of purpose and focus—doesn’t?

I didn’t think so.

Chris’ prediction: Son of Saul
Chris’ preference: Son of Saul

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Fun fact: This is the first time Saoirse Ronan has been nominated since everyone figured out how to pronounce her name. Just another reason Song of the Sea kicks ass.

Fun fact #2: Brie Larson’s character in Room is actually named Joy, and Jennifer Lawrence’s character in Joy is coincidentally named Room. Charlotte Rampling’s character is named 45 Years, after the movie.

Fun fact #3: “Brooklyn” and “Carol” are also female names.

Chris says: Remember last year, when the Best Actor category was so overflowing with good candidates that we put together at least four completely different groups of five nominees, all pretty much equally deserving? Well that’s kinda how it was for Best Actress this year. There were so many great lead actress performances this year that you could eliminate all five of the current nominees and still make up a great slate (or two) (or three). With due respect to Jennifer Lawrence, hers was largely a token nomination—a combination of residual expectation for the movie itself, as well as her enduring popularity—but, even though I was a tad higher on Joy than some are, it’s a bit frustrating to see her get a spot that could have gone to so many other great performances. It may be a pipe dream to wish for a nomination for Nina Hoss’s sublime work in Phoenix, but failing that, could the Academy not see past the mayhem and madness of Mad Max: Fury Road (take a drink!) to recognize Charlize Theron’s ferociously powerful turn as Imperator Furiosa (as physically potent at it is emotionally charged, the former rather beautifully expressing the latter)?

Or, if they were not going to recognize Chi-Raq anywhere else (and let’s be honest, if this year’s Academy voters couldn’t show any love for Creed in the picture/director/screenplay categories, they weren’t going anywhere near Spike Lee’s volatile, passionate satire), could they at least have considered Teyonah Parris’ shoulda-been-star-making lead performance? Or how about The Diary of a Teenage Girl’s Bel Powley, Sicario’s Emily Blunt, Heaven Knows What’s Arielle Holmes or Queen of Earth’s Elisabeth Moss? I could keep going if you want me to. And—oh yeah—that’s not even taking into account the nominated-in-the-wrong-category Rooney Mara, but we already went over that so we’ll leave it there for now.

In place of any more of my silly complaints, let’s recognize the qualities of the four deserving nominees. The performances in Room are the primary reason it works to whatever extent it does, and Brie Larson’s combination of despair and forced hopefulness as a woman caught in the worst circumstances imaginable is a really lovely thing to watch.

Saoirse Ronan has been one of the best actresses working for years now - I keep raising an eyebrow when people refer to Brooklyn as a “breakout role,” as if they never saw Hanna, Atonement, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Byzantium or even How I Live Now. (I understand this may be her first widely recognized Grown-Up Role, or whatever, but she’s been doing great work for years, is all I’m saying.)

And then, category shenanigans notwithstanding, Cate fucking Blanchett is still Cate fucking Blanchett, typically outstanding as the conflicted title character being pulled in all directions, emotional, social, familial and otherwise. It’s another great showcase for her (even if Mara’s Therese is the actual lead character, not Carol), but the Academy seems unlikely to give her a third statuette this time.

While Larson is the likely winner - and a strong one - my vote would go to the great Charlotte Rampling, because as we all know, not giving her the Oscar would be racist to white people or something.

Oh, but I kid. In all seriousness, 45 Years, in its simplicity and observational awareness, allows Rampling’s emotions to creep in slowly, surprisingly, at times worryingly, and she absolutely kills it. It’s a performance of incredible subtlety—where at times what her character is feeling seems to be a mystery even to her—and I’m happy she finally got herself a nomination after so many years of such great work.

Chris’ prediction: Brie Larson
Chris’ preference: Charlotte Rampling

Jeremy says: Yes, if Nina Hoss can’t have it, Rampling should for her superb work, which is usually conveying at least three different things at once. I think Chris is right about Larson being the eventual winner, and I agree with what Chris said about her performance as well. So that was pretty conflict-free. Just like that diamond I just bought.

I would argue that it’s acceptable to consider Blanchett a co-lead, even if Mara was technically the protagonist, so her inclusion here isn’t the problem so much as Mara’s exclusion. I demand justice!

Chris better not be sub-Oscar-previewing me, because I’ve always been an on-the-record Ronan-lover.

Chris: Fuck no, I’m not sub-Oscar-previewing you at all. We’ve both been Ronan fans for years. I just keep seeing other people refer to this as a breakout for her. Don’t be so sensitive, big guy.

Jeremy: Glad we got that sorted. (Also I didn’t really think you were, bro. Calm down.)

Chris: You and me, we’re fuckin’ done professionally.

Jeremy’s prediction: Brie Larson
Jeremy’s preference: Charlotte Rampling

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

Fox doesn’t like to play it up, but while shooting The Revenant, a bear tore off Eddie Redmayne’s penis and raped Leonardo DiCaprio with it. Three days later, DiCaprio ate that penis, raw, just to survive.

Michael Fassbender says: Did somebody say penis? Because hey, look what I just whipped out!

Jeremy says: This category shows that it isn’t always #OscarSoWhite but also #OscarSoMediocre. There are plenty of eligible aryans who could have been nominated in this category. Ben Mendelsohn in Mississippi Grind? White! Christopher Abbott in James White? The color of his skin is in the name of the movie! Tom Hanks is the whitest of Oscar favorites, and his carrying of the movie is the only reason it managed a Best Picture nomination, so I find his exclusion odd too, even if no one’s going shed any tears over him getting passed over.

This field of nominees is downright uninspiring. It’s as if for part of the bid to finally get Leonardo DiCaprio an Oscar, there was a conspiracy not to have very many people who are that good. DiCaprio is fine in The Revenant, but it isn’t the most challenging or best-acted role of his career.

The most compelling nominee is Michael Fassbender for his performance in the Take Your Daughter to Work Day promo, Steve Jobs. Even when the film itself wears thin and feels repetitive, Fassbender and his co-stars keep things as lively and entertaining as possible.

Jeremy’s prediction: Leonardo DiCaprio
Jeremy’s pick: Ben Mendelsohn Fine, Michael Fassbender

Chris says: Yeah, while I did like DiCaprio’s performance—particularly because I feel physicality is overlooked, and his abilities as a physical actor (which he proved so memorably in The Wolf of Wall Street, the movie he should have won his Oscar for)—it seems silly that this is the movie he’s going to get his first (only?) Oscar for. Then again, giving great actors Oscars years too late and/or for the wrong performance is a time-honored tradition, so at least Leo can say he’s in good company.

I can’t help but notice that Jeremy failed to even mention Bryan Cranston, and I’m guessing that’s probably out of guilt. We all love Bryan Cranston, and we probably agree he deserves good film roles. But Trumbo was not one of them, and he, frankly, was not very good in it. It’s not just that Trumbo is a glorified ’90s cable TV movie, because even by ‘’90s cable TV movie standards it wouldn’t hold up. It’s an infantile examination of Hollywood’s blacklisting era, and requires so little of its actors on a script level that it’s perhaps not surprising that Cranston just SNL-hams his way through it for two hours. Poor Bryan Cranston.

My preference among the nominees—with respect to DiCaprio and Matt Damon, two good performances from great actors who’ve done much better work—would be Fassbender as well. If nothing else, Steve Jobs is an acting showcase, and not in the showy, theatrical sense—it’s a movie that allows its strong cast to sink its teeth into the dialogue. And if I needed a tiebreaker, I could also point out that Fassy gave another strong lead performance this year in Macbeth. So there’s that.

But Jeremy is correct that this could have been such a stronger category if we’d wipe this slate away altogether and honored, for starters, Mendelsohn, who for my money probably holds the Best Fucking Actor on the Planet championship belt at the moment, with his lovable, tragic, devastating and empathetic portrait of a lonely gambler in Mississippi Grind coming on the heels of an all-timer of a TV performance in Bloodline last year.

Ah, yes, I almost forgot. While we’re on the subject - and, for that matter, on the subject of #OscarsSoWhite - it’s gotten to the point where everyone just takes Samuel L. Jackson for granted. Fact is, the dude’s a great actor who commands the screen like pretty much no one else, and he absolutely tore into his role in The Hateful Eight, surely a stronger performance than any of the nominees. The same could be said for a whole host of other performances - including, as Mr. Mathews mentioned above, Christopher Abbott, but also Géza Röhrig in Son of Saul, Koudous Seihon in Meditteranea, Jason Bateman in The Gift, Michael B. Jordan in Creed, Josh Lucas in The Mend and even Hardy in an overlooked performance in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Oh, and a bit of trivia: Did you know that the best performance given by any member of the cast of The Revenant this year was not DiCaprio, and not Hardy, but newcomer Joshua Burge in Buzzard? It’s true! Take my word for it.

And then remember this day five years from now when Burge is nominated for Bill Paxton’s The Buster Keaton Story.

Chris’ prediction: Leonardo DiCaprio
Chris’ preference: Michael Fassbender

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

George Miller says: I mean, are you fucking kidding me with these other nominees? For directing?

Chris: Yeah. What George said.

Chris’ prediction: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Chris’ preference: George Miller

Jeremy says: Yeah, I mean, the Academy could have at least made this a contest by nominating Roy Andersson (A Pigeron Sat on a Branch, Reflecting on Existence), Christian Petzold (Phoenix), Bruno Dumont (L’il Quinquin) or László Nemes (Son of Saul), but I guess #OscarSoAmerican.

You certainly can’t claim that Alejandro G. Iñárritu doesn’t take risks and doesn’t go for big cinematic achievements, and you’ve got to admire that. But you’ve also got to admire the ability to sort the good decisions from bad. The Revenant has some jaw-droppingly great moments, but it also has some embarrassingly trite ones. And while this will surely bite me in the ass, I’m going to say that no, he doesn’t win for a second year in a row.

George Miller may not have had to survive months in the wilderness with below-average craft services, but he did have to orchestrate a huge slew of ideas into one brilliant, coherent symphony. You look at how Chris and I have gushed over Mad Max: Fury Road in all the technical categories, but what makes those achievements so special is how they all work in harmony with one another. And for that, I’m calling a motherfucking ballot-split.

Jeremy’s prediction: George Miller
Jeremy’s preference: George motherfucking Miller

Best Picture
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant

Fun fact: This is the final award of the night!

Fun fact #2: Five of the eight nominees were directed by non-Americans, but eight of the eight nominees were directed by non-black people. And non-women.

White Men: Yeah!! We rule!

Jeremy says: So you may have predicted that Mad Max: Fury Road is my favorite of the bunch. If there’s one way into my heart, it’s to structure your film as an inverse of Buster Keaton’s The General. If there’s another way into my heart, it’s to show an exhilarating sense of invention and daring. We live in an era where loud, big-budget action films are commonplace. To make movies that are full of explosions and collapsing landmarks is the norm. But to make something as one-of-a-kind nuts as Mad Max, well, that takes some balls. Bravo, George. Bravo.

While none of the other nominees were in my top eight (or 10), my second favorite is Spotlight, which has been rather unfairly maligned as uncinematic. Tom McCarthy actually has a lot of smart visual cues that make the movie more than the TV procedural some make it out to be. Add in a killer ensemble, and it’s really an exciting drama in its own quiet way.

But while I suppose that some people think Spotlight or The Big Short could still win this, it seems like all the support is on The Revenant’s side. While it may not be my favorite film, I can’t deny it’s a unique cinematic experience with a precise sense of place. I just wish it had a better sense of pacing, discipline, taste and… wait, I’m supposed to be diplomatic here. Congrats, Alejandro. Sorry George Miller beat you for Best Director.

Jeremy’s prediction: The Revenant
Jeremy’s preference: Mad Max: Fury Road

Chris says: I’d like to second Jeremy’s comments on Spotlight’s filmmaking, which I touched on in our Best Editing preview. McCarthy does a lot of subtle things with framing and camera movements that make the film the drama that it is. He’s not the most technically talented director here, but what he does, he does very well. This obviously isn’t a Best Director rundown, so I’ll move on, but I’m glad Mathews here saw what I saw.

I haven’t made much of a secret of my disdain for Bridge of Spies, despite its two great performances and typically outstanding production values and technical skill. But it also seems, increasingly so in retrospect, like a colossal narrative miscalculation, a film at odds with itself. The other nominees I all like to one degree or another. But nothing here compares to Mad Max: Fury Road. And since only in my dreams would the Academy ever nominate the year’s best film, Lisandro Alonso’s mesmerizing and puzzling Jauja, I this is a pretty damn great backup option, and the clear standout among nominees in pretty much all categories. It’s a rare thing indeed for a straightforward action movie—even a great one—to create and accomplish so much, and so perfectly, but this movie does exactly that. It may not be able to topple The Revenant, but Fury Road will be the one that lasts.

Chris’ prediction: The Revenant
Chris’ preference: Mad Max: Fury Road

Chris: Oh yeah, thanks for reminding me.

About that final shot, Alejandro …

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I read it before I finished watching the Oscars!