Alex: Ready or not, it is Oscar season. Earlier this week, the National Board of Review (Best Film: Mad Max: Fury Road) and New York Film Critics’ Circle (Best Film: Carol)both gave out their annual awards. So, Andrew, that means it is high time for you and I to dive into this season and have a chat about what the race looks like right now and what we’re rooting for.
I’ll start us off with the chaos that is the scramble to grab a Best Picture nomination. Unlike the past few years, when the season started with some clear favorites, 2015 seems genuinely wide open. Part of that comes from how curiously back-loaded the release schedule is. December 25th will see the release of Joy, The Revenant, and The Hateful Eight. Those films are directed by, respectively, David O. Russell, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Quentin Tarantino. You don’t even have to be an Oscar nerd like us to know that those three filmmakers have been hugely popular with the Oscars of late. Russell has had his last three films (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle) all get Picture, Director, and Screenplay nominations and a collective 12 acting nominations and 3 wins. Iñárritu, much to my chagrin, won Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay just last year for Birdman. Tarantino has had his last two films (Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained) nominated for Picture, winning Original Screenplay himself for the latter and watching Christoph Waltz pick up Supporting Actor trophies for both. So not only do we have three films coming in with tons of prestige and hype being released on the same date, but none of them have been seen yet. Test screenings for all three have been rumored for weeks and reviews for The Revenant can be released today, but these probably Picture nominees are currently unknown quantities to all but a few. As such, they hover over the race like gold-plated Schrodinger’s Cats. Yes, that metaphor is strained, but I don’t care. How those three movies are received will dictate an awful lot.
Outside of those three, other films widely expected to be nominated include smaller films like Spotlight, Bridge of Spies, and Room and blockbuster contenders like Inside Out, Creed, and Mad Max: Fury Road. Of those, Spotlight seems like the kind of contender that can sweep up critics awards and then fizzle once it gets to the Oscars. But it’s certainly one to keep an eye on, not least because it is fantastic. (Also, I promise to write an article about it sometime soon.) So, Andrew, what race(s) are on your radar right now?
Andrew: I need to start by saying that this is probably my favorite year for moviegoing since 2007 thanks to a collection of smart, moving, beautifully-produced films on epic and intimate scales alike, so I think I am going to be thrilled with this year’s lineup. But I have a feeling that we will be surprised by the final slate of nominees. There are two movies I’m surprised you didn’t mention: Carol, which of course already proved itself to be a deserved darling of critics and awards voters, and The Martian, which mixed strong reviews and over $200 million at the box office, all of which it genuinely earned and will be remembered throughout the season, although the disastrous decision to push it as a comedy for the Golden Globes may cost it a lot. All of that said, ask me to a pick a winner and I’d be terribly pressed.
What fascinates me is that every other major category save one is as unpredictable as Best Picture right now, which for me is the ideal state of affairs for an Oscar geek. The exception in my mind is Best Actress: despite the presence of Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, and a charming Saorise Ronan who took the New York Film Critics prize (for a supremely New York movie, although that wasn’t the reason), Brie Larson appears to have mastered both sides of the Oscar equation. One, she gave a performance of a lifetime in Room that was truly great, naturalistic acting as opposed to showy “Oscar” acting. Two, she is terrific with both big media and social media in an age when your campaigning presence during Oscar season is as important as the work you do.
Every other category feels wide open. Best Actor is a complete head-scratcher: an “overdue” Leonardo DiCaprio will be challenged by Eddie Redmayne in a role that screams awards bait, an almost out-of-nowhere Michael B. Jordan, and, interestingly enough, Sir Ian McKellen, whose combined status as one of the world’s most beloved actors and The Man Without An Oscar has hit a tipping point in a growing buzz for his reteaming with Bill Condon, Mr. Holmes. (Ideally Michael Fassbender would be in this conversation as well, but the box-office crashing and burning of Steve Jobs has put this in doubt.)
The Supporting categories are pure toss-ups right now, in large part because of the fuzzy borders that the Actress side illustrates: the nominees are divided between between true supporting parts (Kate Winslet), co-leads demoted for awards consideration (Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander), and members of ensemble pieces (Rachel McAdams). If Actress is a mystery, then Actor is even more of an insane toss-up of “take your pick” from Spotlight, Mark Rylance for his acclaimed but currently under-promoted turn in Spies, Sylvester Stallone taking it seriously again, and a wild card gamut running from Paul Dano to Samuel L. Jackson. My problem with these picks, as you may imagine, is that if Jordan and Jackson aren’t in the conversation, then we’ll be seeing another lily-white field–as if Hollywood learned nothing from last year.
Then there’s the big behind-the-camera categories. Director, for me, will be between the bombast of Tarantino and George Miller, the quiet classicism of Thomas McCarthy and Sir Ridley Scott, and the “whatever it is they do” of Iñárritu and Russell. Tarantino and Russell will compete for Original Screenplay, while Adapted should be a duel between Drew Goddard’s intricacies, Aaron Sorkin’s wildly ambitious three-act drama, and the knowing retroisms of Phyllis Nagy. Spotlight is the puzzle for me depending on if it’s classified as “original” or “adapted.” (Alex – it’s original)
There are a few more categories I’d like to touch on, but what do you think about those above?
Alex: My first thought is that I think you’re wildly over-estimating how open Best Actor is. Why? Because Leonardo DiCaprio is gonna win that thing and no one else will come close. His lack of an Oscar and transparent thirst for one has been one of the Internet’s favorite jokes for the past half-decade, but it will come to an end in a few months. The overdue narrative is already in place, everyone involved in The Revenant has been talking up the challenges and rewards of its difficult shoot, and the movie can’t/won’t win any bigger prizes, so giving DiCaprio his little golden man will be a way of honoring him and the film. Everyone else in that category will be invited along to smile broadly and clap politely.
I wanted to remark upon Supporting Actor as well, since that field’s result has come into sharp focus in the past week. Be warned, this may shock those with weak hearts or anyone who remembers Stop! Of My Mom Will Shoot, but Sylvester Stallone is going to take Supporting Actor. Creed has turned into a bonafide critical and box office smash and seems likely heading towards a Best Picture nomination. What better way to celebrate the revival of an old Oscar favorite than by rewarding the man who was its creator and constant presence (for good and ill) for nearly 40 years. Somewhere Chris Walsh is more interested in the Oscars than ever before.
Beyond that, I can’t see through the fog clearly enough to get a sense of what’s coming. So, before I turn it over to you, I’ll end with my rooting interest for the season. Last year, I had a slim hope that Oscar voters would remember how much they loved The Grand Budapest Hotel. They did remember, of course, and Wes Anderson’s triple nomination was one of my happiest Oscar-watching moments (though his losing all three to goddamn Iñárritu is one of my lowest). So, this year, I will again cast my hopes upon voters’ memories and root for Mad Max: Fury Road. New York‘s film critic Bilge Ebiri called it “the Sistine Chapel of action filmmaking” and I don’t think anyone can top that. It was stupendous and audacious and almost guaranteed to wind up being the movie from 2015 that is mos talked about in 2065. If it can somehow swing nominations for Picture, Director, and Actress than the Academy can do anything short of hand David O. Russell an Oscar and I will call this year a win.
Andrew: As if to add one final bit of confusion, Michael Keaton won the first major Best Actor prize of the year. We’re still not going to know.
All of that said, I agree that Mad Max: Fury Road is a masterpiece of action AND feminist cinema–there were at least three moments which made my head nearly explode–that deserves Oscar love and should definitely receive it. I’m also thrilled that the Recorder reviewed four of the fifteen shortlisted film for Best Documentary, all of which were terrific and deserve a spot at the table (Amy, Best of Enemies, Going Clear, and The Hunting Ground). And I’ll be very interested to see how Best Original Score shakes out, as this year veteran Harry Gregson-Williams and the less well-known (though not for long) Michael Brook, Daniel Pemberton, and Stephen Rennicks created some of the most beautiful music I’ve heard in film.
We’ll revisit this after the Christmas trio comes out, but how much more we’ll know, especially regarding Best Picture, remains to be seen. William Goldman’s classic adage that nobody knows anything in Hollywood never dies, especially for awards watchers like us.
Photos from Starpulse, Variety, Kidzworld, and Vanity Fair