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Oscars 2016

BEST PICTURE

Even though this category is appearing first, it’s actually the last one I’m writing up. Most years, whether there’s five nominees or 10, the race is really only between 2 with a possible dark horses. But really, between the two, usually one has more of an edge, and then no one is really surprised when the final envelope is opened. This year, however, there are three that definitely aren’t winning. The rest get a little murkier.

I think I’ve finally decided that my pick is Spotlight. I kinda need to rewatch it to regain the fire I had the first time, but this is truly master filmmaking. My thought leaving the theater was that films like this are why I go to the movies, and more specifically, why I chase prestige pictures. It’s won a decent amount of precursor awards, so it’s got as good a shot as any for the win.

After taking home the PGA win, a fairly reliable crystal ball for Oscar night, The Big Short is looking like it could pull an upset. I did enjoy the movie, and I appreciated a lot of the filmmaking skill that went into it, but it doesn’t feel like an Oscar winner to me. True, that’s probably why I was happy for it to get that nomination to begin with, but it’s also why I’m skeptical that it could take it all home.

Seeing as how it got the most nominations, there’s a possibility of Mad Max swooping in for the win (there are some who have predicted as much). You’ll see this as a theme through the rest of this post, but a film of this genre being made of this quality and receiving this recognition is amazing, and I hope that it really elevates the future of action movies.

Right behind Max with nominations comes The Revenant. From the list, this is the best execution of film as art. It’s beautifully done, and highlights the skill of all involved. Those who are drawn to those types of things may be inclined to vote accordingly. Personally, I like a bit more of an entertainment factor in my films, but I do not dispute the quality of this at all.

Speaking of entertainment factor, my favorite movie of the year The Martian also made the list. Besides the director snub factor (I’ll discuss further under director), it did get a lot of nominations and was universally loved. It’s one of those movies that _everybody_ saw, and pretty much everybody loved. Maybe a little atypical for an Academy film, but this is an example of exactly the type of film they wanted to bring into the race when the category got expanded.

And that brings us to the three that we know aren’t winning. Bridge of Spies was good, but in a sort of generic way. I’m still surprised that it made it in, but not really when you consider the Spielberg factor. Brooklyn is a beautiful picturesque film, but does not have enough weight to gain any traction. Room was a surprise entry, and very much a worthy contender (I absolutely loved it), but it really doesn’t stand much of a chance against its larger competitors.
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ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Is this finally Leonardo DiCaprio’s year? Survey says: Quite possibly. I’ve said before that as much as I love him as an internet meme, the fact is, the boy is long overdue and his performance in The Revenant is certainly deserving. I mean, c’mon, after all the physical torture he put himself thru to shoot this movie (long cold hours, eating a raw bison liver, the beard), what more does the guy have to do? But he really captured the triumph of the human spirit, as cheesy as that sounds, and delivered a performance that was as emotional as it was physical.

Matt Damon would probably be my next choice, for The Martian. I’m always impressed by solo performances, which his pretty much was. He has the charisma to make you care about him (why else has the world spent billions of dollars trying to rescue Matt Damon?).

Next I would probably place Bryan Cranston and not just to speed his way to having ¾ of his EGOT complete (he would just need a Grammy then). Of course I thought he was brilliant as Walter White, but watching him as Dalton Trumbo, I started to get a grasp on how abundant his talent is. He really dives into what his character is feeling and exudes those emotions so completely and convincingly. Just watch him act about baseball in this MLB promo from some time back. Now see how fully he commits to that and multiply that times the complexity of Trumbo.

That brings us to Michael Fassbender. He’s not several spots down on the list because he wasn’t impressive, I’m just more impressed by the others at this juncture. Still, anchoring an Aaron Sorkin penned film is no easy feat, and he set the pace and kept the film steady. That’s a partnership I could get behind seeing again.

And finally Eddie Redmayme. Yes, fantastic, but I wasn’t quite as wowed as I was with last year’s performance. I think I saw too many similarities in the portrayal. Besides, I don’t see him being the first guy since Tom Hanks to win two in a row.

Who’s missing? Will Smith was the next one in the conversation. He killed it in Concussion, but the guys who made it in killed it harder. Johnny Depp could maybe have snuck in, but I still think the Academy chose the right guys.
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ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

All signs seem to point to Brie Larson for Room. I’ve sung her praises before, so I can absolutely get behind this. Her performance in Room is absolutely powerful and dynamic. I could also get behind Saoirse Ronan pulling an upset. Although while I absolutely believe she’ll win one day, I don’t think it’s her day yet.

The rest, eh. Cate Blanchett has a lot of support, but she’s already won twice. It took the Academy nearly three decades to give Meryl #3, so this one ain’t happening (for me at least). Jennifer Lawrence basically got in because she’s an Awards darling. Solid performance, but not her strongest work or the strongest role. Charlotte Rampling’s victory is basically the nomination.

Who’s Missing? Is this the part where I go off about category fraud? Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander are both co-leads in their films (Carol and The Danish Girl), but campaigned for supporting where they’d have a better chance. I can more easily forgive Mara since going lead would put her against her costar, but Vikander has no excuse, especially when she could have potentially picked up a second nod for Ex Machina. But since their slots were opened up, I really wish Charlize Theron would have snuck in for Mad Max.
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ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

This was probably the most competitive category this year. And while I should be grateful that my top 3 made it in, I’m mostly bummed that #4 didn’t. I know that when I saw Spotlight, I called Mark Ruffalo winning from one particularly intense scene towards the close of act 2. While he’s absolutely deserving, and I wouldn’t mind seeing that, that prediction was made before seeing Sylvester Stallon in Creed. Oh man, he’s just got all the right narratives for the win. Beloved actor with a long and illustrious career, breathing new life into an old and beloved character, and turning in a surprisingly emotional performance. Tell me you didn’t cry when Rocky found out that *spoiler redacated*. My number three was Tom Hardy, mostly because he’s Tom freakin’ Hardy and deserves to have “Academy Award Nominee” before his name in trailers.

Mark Rylance didn’t really impact me much. I can’t hate, though. He’s a Tony winning Broadway actor, so mad respect there. Christian Bale is the one that could be accused of stealing that last spot. I mean, he was good, and it was a different and understated performance from this chameleon, but this nod felt more like favoritism for a past winner than merit for a stellar performance.

Who’s Missing? - Jacob Tremblay for Room!!! The kid’s performance is devastating, and would be impressive for someone ten times his age. Not to mention the fact that the kid has been owning the Awards circuit. Kid’s got a promising career ahead of him.

Also missing, I hadn’t realized until last week or so that Jeff Daniels has never been nominated. While the two were fairly similar, I think his turns in both The Martian and Steve Jobs were awards worthy. Maybe they cancelled each other out? Maybe they weren’t showy enough. Maybe people are stupid.

I’d also thought that Michael Keaton would make it in for Spotlight, if only to make up for his narrow loss last year. Another Michael, Michael Shannon also got some precursor nominations for 99 Homes. While I love him, I don’t think there was much too different for him from previous roles, so I’m fine sacrificing that one
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ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

So many mixed feels about this one. I still think we’ve got some category fraud on our hands, but here’s what we’re left with. I’m really not sure who I’m rooting for, so I think that by default, that has to mean that I go for team Tarantino, Jennifer Jason Leigh for The Hateful Eight. I typically don’t care too much for Leigh (she always seems high or bored), but she’s never been more alive than as Dasiy Domergue. Alicia Vikander seems to be getting a bunch of the precursor awards, but she should be up here for Ex Machina instead (and up in lead for Danish Girl). I like the idea of Rooney Mara winning, even if I didn’t like Carol, but because she’s just tremendous is everything she does (starting with her Lizbeth Salander). I’m stoked that Rachel McAdams scored the nod (it wasn’t particularly guaranteed), but that’s likely as far as she’s getting this year. Kate Winslet is putting up a bit of a fight for the gold, but I’m opposed only because she’s won before. Then again, someone who puts their Oscar in the guest bathroom for friends to play with is someone I could support earning a second.

Who’s Missing? - There was talk at one point that Joan Allen could squeak in for Room. That would have been very welcome. Everyone talks about how awesome Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are but Allen is right up there with them. Jessica Chastain had a pretty solid year, and I’d have loved to see her here either for Martian or Crimson Peak. Commander or villain, both solid turns from one of the most formidable actresses today.

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ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
It’s so weird to have only seen 2 of these nominees, but this category has been going less and less mainstream. Makes sense because mainstream (with the exception of Pixar) has dropped in quality in recent years. I find myself going to less and less of these each year. Anyways Inside Out has to be the clear winner here. It’s yet another picture perfect picture per Pixar, that’s resonated with audiences young and old, and introduced even more new animation techniques (I’m thinking of the sparkly emotions). I like Shaun the Sheep Movie for it’s use of claymation/stop motion animation. While it was super cute, I found the movie as a whole kinda dull. Not a whole lot was going on to further the plot. I almost went to see Anomalisa the weekend before nominations were announced, but then I decided I didn’t really wanna. The animation looked great, but the trailer bored me. I haven’t even heard of those other 2
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CINEMATOGRAPHY
I know just enough about cintematography to appreciate some of the nominees, but not enough to authoritatively speak to any. Carol and Sicario, I really have nothing to say about. Congrats on the nominations. For Mad Max, I don’t really know any specifics, but just maintaining the pace of the film and the action is a pretty great achievement, so I can see how it’s on this list. The Hateful Eight is notable for it’s use of extra wide 70mm, which is particularly visible in it’s outdoor sweeping shots. Those are then contrasted with the majority of the film taking place within four walls. Not entirely sure what that means in context of this race, but at least I can point out some of it’s characteristics!

The Revenant’s cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, won the past two years in a row for Gravity and Birdman, both of which actually did teach me something about the craft. Gravity’s effects were mostly pullled off by well choreographed camera motion. Birdman also was fairly choreographed with the long tracking shots. For the Revenant, one of the most notable points is that Lubezki only used natural light (lighting being another factor in cinematography). That also forced some quick shooting and minimal takes, giving similar contraints as Birdman, and creating even more beautiful sweeping shots of the outdoors. The idea of someone winning 3 Oscars in a row for anything seems impossible to me, but seeing as how those films have already achieved the impossible, he could very well do it.
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COSTUME DESIGN

Cinderella is the type of movie this category was created for. The costumes were the one redeeming quality in this otherwise dull film, and I immediately called that it would be on this list, if not the eventual winner. Period costumes tend to win big here too, but we don’t have anything particularly old fashioned. The Danish Girl is probably the closest thing, and indeed the costumes are rather elegant. The Revenant is old time-y, but there’s nothing particularly special, unless we’re talking about the bear skin. I do love that Mad Max was included, to give us something a little different and atypical. And yes, while I didn’t care for Carol I can’t deny the beauty of those outfits.

What’s Missing? - Crimson Peak! The costumes may not have been as hauntingly beautiful as the production design, but they were still gorgeous and worthy of praise. You’d think given the time period and large fancy dresses that it’d have been a shoo-in for this category. Alas.
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DIRECTING

I really want this to go to Mad Max. What Miller did with this film is revolutionary for the action genre. The practical effects, the visuals of the landscape, the meaningful thematic elements, everything was perfection and unheard of for this kind of film. Plus his attention to detail is unreal. He’s said to have a backstory for every character, even some we only see glimpses of.

But speaking of revolutionary, Inarritu has once again turned the industry upside down with The Revenant. An entirely different challenge from his win last year for Birdman, he had to juggle the natural elements and bring out the best in his cast with their minimal dialog. Okay, some of that sort of matches what Miller did.

I also like that McKay was nominated for The Big Short. I love so much of the creativity that was brought in, and most of that comes from a guy who’s best known for comedy. Anyone else would have taken a heavier approach, and it would not have resonated as well.

And then Spotlight was pure perfection, even if it’s not as showy as the other nominees. Room should just be thrilled to have earned the unexpected nomination.

What’s Missing? - Ridley Scott for The Martian! To think that this Hollywood treasure has yet to be nominated for an Academy Award is a travesty. There’s some talk that this omission could have The Martian pull an Argo and win it all, but that seems like a longshot.
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DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

I don’t do docs
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DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

Nope
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FILM EDITING

I’m actually starting to learn a little bit of what this category’s all about, mostly from closely watching last year’s winner Whiplash. My inconsequential vote goes to The Big Short for how it melded together scenes with stock footage and real life newsreals to maintain the playful tone throughout. I don’t think I’ve paid enough attention to the other nominees in this area to be able to comment on them.
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FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Didn’t catch any this year. It’s rare that I do
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MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

I’m kind of split between Mad Max and The Revenant (The 100 Year Old Man doesn’t so much count since I’d never even heard of it, nor do I intend on seeing something just for makeup). I lean more towards Max. There’s some real creativity going on with the look created for the characters, and how distinct various clans are for each other. But The Revenant has some skilled low-tech work at play. DiCaprio was on Ellen I think explaining how it’d take hours to do all the scars, and how the artist used candle wax to simulate frost in his beard. Still, between Furiosa’s dark eyes and Nux’s Chrome mouth, I think I’m team Mad Max.
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MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

I’ve seen all these movies, and except for the already iconic Star Wars score, I don’t really remember any of them. I’m in favor of The Hateful Eight because I’m always in favor of anything that involves Tarantino.

What’s Missing? - Inside Out is one of the few movies from this year where I remember the score sticking with me. It had a different quirky sound, which I thought would get it on this list. Alas.
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ORIGINAL SONG

Skipping first to my What’s Missing, “See You Again” from Furious 7. It was a very touching song, whose use in the final scenes as a tribute to Paul Walker brought me to tears. And there’s something very endearing about how often Vin Diesel croaks out this tune on camera.

As far as what’s actually there, as a song, I do kidna like Earned It, but God knows I don’t want to reward that movie. When I played the song after the announcements, I knew I’d heard it somewhere before (that was not the movie). Took me some time and some YouTube-ing but I found it! You’re welcome internet

I haven’t heard Manta Ray or Simple Song #3 and I don’t particularly care to. Writing’s on the Wall is a pretty lame Bond song, and really shouldn’t have been up here. Sam Smith has even admitted he doesn’t enjoy singing it (although he claims that’s because it’s a difficult song to sing, but we all know what’s up). Til it Happens to You isn’t very good as a song (I didn’t think it was particularly melodic), but it represents an important film with an important message. I don’t know if the Academy will be so quick to give the gold to Gaga, but she’s teamed up with the respectable and as-yet-un-awarded Diane Warren, so maybe?
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PRODUCTION DESIGN
I think my pick here is Mad Max. They created such a unique world and no detail was overlooked. It was the type of environment that permeated everything in the film, and the overall style of every element was consistent and looked pretty awesome. I also really like The Martian and it’s juxtaposition of the spacecraft environments with the surface of Mars. I’m not sure how much The Revenant counts since so much of it relied on nature, but they did find absolutely gorgeous natural settings to use. For The Danish Girl I don’t really remember anything too specific, but given the artist background of our main characters, I do recall it being appropriately picturesque. And Bridge of Spies, I don’t remember anything remarkable at all.

What’s missing?Crimson Peak, oh my God, Crimson Peak. That is quite possibly (without thinking about it too hard) my favorite production design ever. The decrepit Gothic style house with the bright red blood-like thick clay dripping down the walls. The contrast of the muted and dark colors with the bright ones was very jarring and unsettling. Absolutely perfect for the film, and beautiful in its own macabre way.
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SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)
I don’t think I’ve seen any of these
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SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)
Nope
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SOUND EDITING
I actually know the difference between the two sound categories! Sound Editing is more about the creation of the sounds themselves. So if you think something has convicing sound effects, it’d be here. My gut tells me The Martian since there were definitely a lot of sounds that had to be manufactured, for various explosions and machinery and such. Similarly Star Wars has a lot of the same thing going on. I don’t really have much of an opinion on the others, except Mad Max might also have a leg up here for their technical advances in general.

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SOUND MIXING

Okay so sound editing was about the effects, sound mixing is about the overall sound, striking the right balance between levels. The easy ones to go for here tend to be musicals or at least music heavy. There’s no easy pick this year, so gut instinct says Mad Max. Martian and Star Wars could also fare well for similar reasons to editing.
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VISUAL EFFECTS

I wanna give this to Mad Max on principle for their use of so many practical effects. This is something to be encouraged. Although, Star Wars is said to have utilized a bunch too (BB-8 in particular), and those flowed seamlessly into the CGI. The Martian also did pretty well, nailing some complex situations. And oh Ex Machina was flawless in how they created Ava. The Revenant is really only here cause of the one scene with the bear, but it was also flawless.
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WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

I’m guessing the Academy will likely follow the WGA and go with The Big Short, which is very deserving. I’m sure that story was very difficult to adapt, and even though I was still confused by the details, they had very creative ways to minimize that. However, my heart says The Martian. At first it was just because writer Drew Goddard worked with Joss Whedon on Cabin In the Woods. Now that I’ve read the book (Martian, no Cabin), I support him fully. The book has such a unique humor to it that was captured perfectly, along with just enough of the technical stuff.

Don’t know where I’d go next, but I think I’d pick Brooklyn over Room simply because I think adapting your own work is cheating. Without having read their source materials, I still think they were incredible screenplays. Brooklyn is absolutely beautiful and Room says so much with so little. Carol’s last again because I really was just not impressed.

What’s missing I get it that Steve Jobs wasn’t as universally loved as originally expected, but I’m dumbstruck that Sorkin missed out on the writing nod. The man is the best in the business. Another interesting addition, despite it not being part of the awards conversation this year, would have been Stanford Prison Experiment. I thought the screenplay was very solid in it’s pace and structure, and I like that it included actual dialog recorded from the experiment

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WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)
This is the highest category where I’m actually missing one. While I was on the fence for a while, I never did get around to seeing Straight Outta Compton. I went back and forth as to whether or not I’d enjoy it, and now I’m mad at myself (but not enough to shell out twenty bucks for the DVD).

As far as what I did see, Spotlight gets my vote. Brilliant brilliant story telling about some brilliant storytellers themselves. Next I’d put Inside Out. Just so imaginitive and touching. The other two left me moderately unimpressed. Bride of Spies wasn’t particularly memorable, and Ex Machina had such a messy third act, it ruined much of the film for me. Really surprised to even see it here.
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