The Academy Awards are a day away, and unlike most years, several of the top awards are still up for grabs. Typically, most categories would have a clear-cut winner by now, but this year has proven to be anything but ordinary. Here is my assessment of the top races and predictions of how the night will shake out:
The Big Short, The Revenant and Spotlight are embroiled in a battle royale for the Academy’s top prize.
Spotlight was the early favorite until The Revenant swooped in and won the Golden Globe. Spotlight quickly rebounded with two Critics’ Choice Awards (one for Best Picture and another for Cast Ensemble) and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award for Best Cast Ensemble. On Feb. 14, The Revenant struck back with a win at the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA). When The Big Short took home the top prize from the Producers Guild Awards (PGA), the race was turned on its head (the winner of the PGA has gone on to win the Oscar the past eight years).
The Revenant has stellar acting, dynamite directing and some of the most innovative cinematography in modern history, but it’s resonance fades. The script has too many prolonged digressions, which causes the story to lose its emotional grip and detach from the tension.
The Big Short and Spotlight have it all: energy, endurance, passion and and relevance.
Both films are ripe for the current social climate with relatable stories of truth and consequence. However, only one can dance with Oscar, and that honor shall go to Spotlight. There is an electric charge that surges through your body as the “Spotlight” team of reporters builds its story against the Catholic church, and the adrenaline doesn’t wear off until long after you’ve left the theater. Every actor is on point, Tom McCarthy’s directing is crisp and concise, and his screenplay is magnificent. Spotlight is by far and away the most vibrant film of the year.
It was a shame to see Tom Hanks passed over for his performance in Bridge of Spies, but in the end, it will have been nice for nominees Brian Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs) and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) to have simply shown up. Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) has this one in the bag.
With his portrayal of frontiersmen Hugh Glass, DiCaprio delivers a once-in-a-lifetime performance. His collaboration with director Alejandro G. Inarritu allowed him to surrender himself to his craft and capture the essence of his character. DiCaprio has already collected the Golden Globe, SAG, Critics Choice Award and BAFTA, and come Sunday night, his name will finally be etched into Oscar’s history books.
In a field of powerful lead actresses, Brie Larson (Room) sails above her fellow nominees.
After being held captive for seven years and bearing the son of her captor, Joy (Larson) stares fear in the eye and seizes her chance at freedom. She harbors no resentment toward her son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), but instead relies upon him as a partner and lifeline — she spent five years prepping him to execute her escape plan. There is a mutual respect between mother and son, which allows Joy to accept her past, own her emotional battle wounds, and imagine a future of beautiful unknowns.
Larson delivers one of the most convincing performances in recent history. She is able to pull audiences into the room with Joy and Jack to experience her agony, drive and commitment. The film is all dialogue, and scenes rarely contain more than three people. Larson has intention behind every line, and an intensity that transcends the screen. Joy must plot with a 5-year-old, explain herself to medical staff, attempt to reconnect with her parents and battle her inner demons. Audiences attach to her journey and become committed to the love story between Joy and Jack.
First things first: George Miller has no business taking Steven Spielberg’s spot on this list of nominees. Mad Max: Fury Road has mind-bending visual and audio effects, but it begins and ends there. The storyline is lost, the script is weak and the acting is forced. Worse yet, the most profound moments are suffocated by over-production. Miller did win Best Director at the Critics’ Choice Award, but the move felt more like a token win for the 70-year-old revered director.
For the Oscars, all signs point to Alejandro G. Inarritu taking home his second consecutive statuette after cleaning house at the Globes, SAGs, BAFTAs and Directors Guild Awards.
In his early career, Inarritu settled into a familiar style of directing with Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel. But last year, he unleashed some new tricks by filming Birdman as a single shot, and this year, he has dug even deeper into his bag of tricks by shooting The Revenant in natural light. This bold move limited production to 2 1/2 hours a day, but the end result is beauty on an unparalleled scale. If Miller pulls the upset, it will be a sucker punch.
Best Supporting Actor
This category is a ball of confusion. Early on, it felt as though a three-person race was brewing among Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) and Jacob Tremblay (Room). However, when the pre-Oscar award show nominations were announced, bewilderment took hold as Tremblay was left out of the running in place of Sylvester Stallone (Creed). Confusion exacerbated when Stallone won the Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Award. Then, Elba was snubbed of an Oscar nomination, but took home the SAG two weeks later. And, most recently, Rylance won the BAFTA.
Now it all boils down to a two-man race between Rylance and Stallone. If the Academy is judging on merit, Rylance would win unanimously. He gives the film grace, and personifies the role of supporting actor — elevating Tom Hanks’ performance in every one of their scenes.
Stallone’s performance as Rocky Balboa is flat, and there is no chemistry between he and Adonis (Michael B. Jordan). All of the relationships are desperately contrived, and the film plays out like an Oscar campaign for Stallone. Unfortunately, the campaign worked. Another token win is at play this year, which will hand Stallone an Academy Award… But if Rylance sneaks in the upset, it would be divine reverie.
Best Supporting Actress
This is a tight race between Academy veteran Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs) and darling newcomer, Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl). Winslet took the early lead with a win at the Globes, but Vikander came storming back with wins at the Critics’ Choice and SAG awards. Then, Winslet evened the score with a BAFTA win.
Both of the women’s performances are exceptional. Winslet shines as Jobs’ assistant and closest companion, Joanna Hoffman — the only person who can stand up to Jobs on matters both professional and personal. The snappy dialogue allows Winslet and Fassbender to play off each other like Simon and Garfunkel, and Winslet matches Fassbender’s energy producing on-screen fireworks.
Vikander is consuming as artist Gerda Wegener. Gerda’s innocence is endearing as she embarks on a journey of self discovery, and Vikander translates every thought and intention through silent reflection. The chemistry between she and Redmayne is lightning in a bottle. Each actor pushes the other to reach their highest potential, and in the end, it is Vikander’s performance which resonates more deeply. This is her year and no other nominee is more deserving of the Oscar.
This category showcases an illuminating field of artists. Nick Hornby takes flight with Brooklyn by adapting a simple story into poetic prose. Drew Goddard injects spirit and charm into a sci-fi thriller with The Martian. Phyllis Nagy elicits a cascade of emotions with Carol and Emma Donoghue envelops audiences with simultaneous feelings of torment and wonder with Room.
Standing atop this mountain of virtuosos is Adam McKay and his screenplay, The Big Short. Through mad intellect, McKay weaves together an informative, entertaining, humorous and emotional account of the housing crash. His nuanced storytelling allows this relatable tale to dive into the hearts of audiences where it resonates to the bone. On Sunday night, his genius will be rewarded with the Oscar gold.
The past year saw an eclectic mix of authentic storylines. Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton) infuse charm and tenderness into a hard-hitting plot line of severe relevance. Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley (Inside Out) allow the thoughts of an 11-year-old girl to become one of the most enchanting films of the year. Alex Garland (Ex Machina) builds a story about a mad scientist, a computer geek and an A.I. into a profound piece of humanity. Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen (Bridge of Spies) erect a Cold War spy thriller anchored by loyalty and compassion.
Similar to the Adapted Screenplay category, a single mastermind has risen above the rest: Tom McCarthy (Spotlight). He eases into the story, steadily building momentum and tension, which turns into an all-out sprint to the finish.
Dialogue is the driving force behind this film, as the team’s sharp verbal swagger is their greatest resource. They push and probe until every barrier before them is shattered. Spotlight is a salute to the honor and duty of our nation’s Fourth Estate. It will be a special moment when McCarthy delivers his Oscar speech on Sunday.
*This story also appeared in the Loyola Phoenix.