Saturday, February 27, 2016

2015 Oscar predictions: The envelope, please...

Let’s deal with the elephant in the room.

As of a few weeks ago, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had 6,261 voting members. All of them submit nominations for best picture.

Alejandro González Iñárritu, left, and Leonardo DiCaprio are certain to win Oscars for
Best Director and Best Actor. But will their film, The Revenant, also take Best Picture?
Nominees in most of the remaining categories are selected via balloting by various Academy branches: editors for editing, cinematographers for cinematography, and so forth. The same is true of the four acting categories, where — again, as of this year’s balloting — 1,138 Academy members, all actors, determined the nominees.

So: 6,261 overall voting members, 1,138 of whom are in the actors branch. And all of whom are limited by one incontrovertible fact: They’re only able to consider the product booked into U.S. movie theaters during the previous calendar year. To put it another way, not one of those Academy actor members is, was, or ever will be in a position to determine which movies get made and/or released, in order to be voted upon.

Those decisions come from a couple dozen different studio heads: almost all male, and white, and young, and guided entirely by bean counters, focus groups and the panicked certainty that more than one flop in a row likely will cost them their jobs. Ergo, they all too frequently stick to the tried and true.

So why — why — is everybody so upset with the Academy, when an absence of diversity clearly isn’t their fault?

If people are unhappy about racial diversity in any category — and yes, I share their absolutely legitimate frustration — then the anger needs to be channeled toward Hollywood’s studio board rooms, and nowhere else. It’s a separate conversation.

The Oscars, one hopes, are presented to honor the best work in the best movies available during a given year. Anything else would be quota pandering, which would make a mockery of an institution celebrating its 88th anniversary this year.

So let’s embrace the tradition for what it is, and what it does — and should — represent. And let’s also enjoy the time-honored pastime of trying to predict what’ll win this year.

But before we get down to cases, some fun facts:

The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road are only the fourth and fifth films ever to receive nods in all seven technical categories — cinematography, costume design, editing, production design, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects — after Titanic, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and Hugo.

Bridge of Spies brought Steven Spielberg his 11th nomination for best director, a category he won twice, for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. Director William Wyler still holds the record, at 13 nominations and three wins: Mrs. Miniver, The Best Years of Our Lives and Ben-Hur. (But Spielberg still has plenty of time!)

• On the other hand, the total number of nominations accrued by Spielberg’s various films now sits at 128 ... to Wyler’s 127. That makes Spielberg the top nomination-gathering director of all time.

• All six of director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s films have earned at least one Oscar nomination.

• Jennifer Lawrence has become the youngest actress to earn four Oscar nominations, having snatched that honor from Kate Winslet.

• With a span of 39 years between Sylvester Stallone’s Oscar nod for 1976’s Rocky and last year’s Creed, he has broken the previous record of 38 years, held by Helen Hayes, Jack Palance and Alan Arkin. Stallone also has become only the sixth actor to be nominated twice for playing the same character, after Bing Crosby (Father O’Malley), Peter O’Toole (King Henry II), Paul Newman (“Fast Eddie” Felson), Al Pacino (Michael Corleone) and Cate Blanchett (Queen Elizabeth II).

• Good ol’ John Williams has broken his own record, for having the most nominations of any person alive. His soundtrack nomination for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is his 50TH. (Wow!)

• Speaking of music, this is the first time in Oscar history that all five nominees for original song are the only nominations for their respective films.

• Speaking further of music, composer Ennio Morricone, 87 years young, has a jaw-dropping 245 score credits, stretching back to 1962’s Crazy Desire. This is his sixth Oscar nomination, with no victories thus far (but I believe that’s about to change).

• Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson was lucky (talented?) enough to have starred in four of 2015’s Oscar-nominated films: The Revenant, Brooklyn, Ex Machina and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

• Double nominees in the same category are unusual, and we have two this year: costume designer Sandy Powell, for both Carol and Cinderella; and sound mixer Andy Nelson, for both Bridge of Spies and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

• Composer Thomas Newman and cinematographer Roger Deakins, having both earned their 13th nominations, have yet to win.

• Thanks to Mustang, France has garnered 40 nominations for best foreign-language film ... but Italy has won more: 14 to France’s 12.

The Hunger Games has become the highest-grossing film franchise of all time not to earn a single Oscar nomination.

But enough stalling, I hear you cry; let’s get on with it. OK, fine: Let’s see how many right answers I can talk myself out of this time...

Mad Max: Fury Road is bound to win a bunch of technical awards.
Visual effects

Despite the impressive work done in Ex Machina and The Martian, this is a race between the two obvious front-runners. Much as Star Wars: The Force Awakens absolutely deserves this award, I fear that Academy voters view the whole Star Wars franchise as been there, done that. I therefore expect to see Andrew Jackson, Dan Oliver, Andy Williams and Tom Wood take the stage, for Mad Max: Fury Road.


Tough call. A massive sweep by The Revenant easily could include this category, and it would be hard to argue. But most of the make-up work in that film is confined to the story’s star, as opposed to the scores of wild ’n’ crazy characters in this alternative ... so I expect to congratulate Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damian Martin, for Mad Max: Fury Road.

Sound mixing

This category represents the totality of the sound-mixing process – the music, the dialogue, the background noises and everything else – whereas the next category focuses more specifically on fabricated sound (sound effects, like visual effects).

The Motion Picture Sound Editors’ annual Golden Reel Awards generally aren’t much help, since they divide the spoils within additional sub-categories. On top of which, their 63rd annual ceremony isn’t taking place until tonight (Saturday evening): too late for the results to be cited here.

More often than not, both sound categories go to the same film; both of this year’s categories also are dominated by strong fantasy/sci-fi nominees. I couldn’t complain if either Star Wars: The Force Awakens or The Martian swooshes home with the awards, but that seems unlikely. I’m expecting Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo, for Mad Max: Fury Road.

Sound editing

Same answer, different names: Mark A. Mangini and David White, for Mad Max: Fury Road.

Production Design

The annual Art Directors Guild Awards, presented Jan. 31, were divided into three branches, for period, fantasy and contemporary; the winners were, respectively, The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian.

All three are excellent choices, but — at the risk of sounding like a broken record — none of them built an entire post-apocalyptic future, complete with labyrinthine work farm, crazy-quilt vehicles and industrial bric-a-brac. I’m therefore going with production designer Colin Gibson, and set decorator Lisa Thompson, for Mad Max: Fury Road.

Costume Design

A very, very tough call.

Finally, thankfully, we’ll likely move away from the road warrior. (Sorry, Jenny Beaven, and Mad Max.) The Revenant seems a weak also-ran, and Cinderella is a lightweight option (although, it must be mentioned, it’s favored by odds-makers). That leaves two exquisite period dramas, both highlighted by outstanding costume work.

Paco Delgado would be an excellent choice, for The Danish Girl. So would Sandy Powell, for Carol. Delgado has been nominated twice now, with no wins; Powell has 11 nominations and three gold statues.

The annual Costume Designers Guild Awards, which were presented Tuesday evening, also are divided into the same three branches: period, fantasy and contemporary. The winners were, respectively, The Danish Girl, Mad Max and Beasts of No Nation.

Ordinarily, I’d say Powell has this category locked up ... but she’s also the talent behind Cinderella. The question, then: Will her two nominations dilute the vote, and send Delgado up to the stage? I believe so ... ergo, it’ll be Paco Delgado, for The Danish Girl.

Original song

Oscars aren’t given to bad movies, so (with pleasure) we can discount “Earned It,” from Fifty Shades of Grey; and “Simple Song #3,” from Youth. Actually, the best choice here has both politics and career dedication going for it. I’m comfortably betting on The Hunting Ground — documentarian Kirby Dick’s scathing exposé of rape cover-ups on U.S. college campuses — and its song, “Til It Happens to You,” written by eight-time nominee (with no wins yet) Diane Warren and Lady Gaga.

Original score

No contest. Ennio Morricone, for The Hateful Eight.

Inside Out seems a lock for Best Animated Feature.
Animated feature

A win by Anomalisa would be highly annoying, but there’s no denying Charlie Kaufman’s popularity in certain circles. When Marnie Was There certainly is the prettiest choice, and Shaun the Sheep Movie is the funniest. That said, I’m pretty sure Pixar has the inside track this year, because their nominee also scored a rare second nomination, for original screenplay: recognition that it’s a clever, intelligent film.

I therefore expect Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera, for Inside Out.

Foreign-language film

Well-made Holocaust dramas rarely fail here, and we’ve got an impressive one this year: winner of the Golden Globe, four Cannes Film Festival awards, and scores of other regional, critics circle and festival awards.

It’ll be Hungary, for Son of Saul.


The American Cinema Editors’ 66th annual Eddie Awards ceremony took place Jan. 29; their awards are divided between drama and comedy/musical, and the winners were, respectively, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Big Short.

A sweep by The Revenant also could include this category ... but that’d be highway robbery.

Because, let’s face it, whatever the other merits of this choice — and there are many — it is absolutely an editing masterpiece. Give a cheer to Margaret Sixel, for Mad Max: Fury Road.


Just in case you thought Mad Max was going to take everything, the lower-category sweep stops right here (sorry, John Seale). This is a very strong category, with five excellent candidates; the others include Sicario, Carol and The Hateful Eight. But I’m inclined to agree with what went down at the 30th annual American Society of Cinematographers Awards banquet, which took place Feb. 14. This fellow is about to make history as a triple-dipper, because he also won last year, for Birdman, and the year before, for Gravity. Emmanuel Lubezki will take a third bow, for The Revenant.

Adapted screenplay

I love the opportunity to reward truly smart and innovative scripting, particularly when attached to films with scorching social relevance.

These guys definitely deserve it, for the most entertaining and brilliantly audacious economics lesson ever conceived. They won the BAFTA, and they also won the Writers Guild Award, which was presented Feb. 13; the latter is important, because screenwriters tend to vote as an unstoppable block when it comes to Academy Awards.

Easy choice: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, for The Big Short.

Original screenplay

Also a lock, and for the same reason.

We haven’t seen such a triumphant saga of newspaper reporters besting impossible odds since All the President’s Men, and the scales were arguable just as important ... perhaps even more so.

These guys also won the BAFTA and the Writers Guild Award, and they deserve the Oscar as well: Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, for Spotlight.

Supporting actor

Oh, boy.

Sentiment clearly favors Sylvester Stallone, but will the acting category “color controversy” torpedo his chances? On top of which, all four of the other nominees arguably did much better, stronger work; I’d frankly prefer to see the award go to either Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight) or Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies).

Even so, John Wayne finally won an Oscar for True Grit, and odds-makers across the country (and the Internet) feel comfortable betting on sentiment. So I’ll go with Sylvester Stallone, in Creed.

Supporting actress

This category is a farce.

The infamously crafty mogul Harvey Weinstein successfully campaigned to get Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander into this category for, respectively, Carol and The Danish Girl. That’s ridiculous; both are clearly, categorically starring roles. Goodness, Vikander has more screen time in The Danish Girl than her male co-star Eddie Redmayne.

This makes the competition grievously unfair to legitimate “supporting” nominees Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rachel McAdams and Kate Winslet.

But since we’re forced to go along with the charade, the result is inevitable: Alicia Vikander, for The Danish Girl.


Like there’s any question? Leonardo DiCaprio, for The Revenant.


Just as easy: Brie Larson, for Room.


I’d vastly prefer to see Adam McKay (The Big Short) or Tom McCarthy (Spotlight) take this category, but that’s a vain hope. This other fellow won the BAFTA, the Golden Globe and the 68th annual Directors Guild of America Award (the latter presented on Feb. 6). It’s gonna be Alejandro González Iñárritu, for The Revenant.


Oh, dear.

You would think, with director and actor sewn up, that this category also would fall to The Revenant. And it did win the Golden Globe and the BAFTA.

But it’s not the sort of “feel-good” drama that Academy voters like to acknowledge as the year’s best film. They prefer choices that reflect social relevance: films that speak to us as a society. Stories with genuine heroes who do courageous work.

The Producers Guild of America, at their 27th annual awards ceremony on Jan. 23, gave the top award to The Big Short.

Late last week, odds makers favored Spotlight, at 9/4; The Revenant and The Big Short followed, at (respectively) 11/17 and 6/1. But the momentum has shifted; as these words are typed, The Revenant has moved into first place, at 4/9, with Spotlight and The Big Short trailing at a more dismal 3/1 and 13/2.


I don’t care, so here’s where I yield to personal satisfaction. My heart belongs to journalists, so I’m going with Spotlight.

Save me some popcorn...

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