Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Waiting game: 2015 Oscar nominations predictions

The critics’ awards are pretty much behind us, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association handed out its honors on Sunday, and with the announcement today of the Directors Guild nominations, the most important industry groups have had their say. All that is left is for the Academy to announce its nominations, which it will do bright and early Thursday morning. Before that, let’s take a look at which films have dominated the awards season thus far and what we might expect from the Academy.

We discussed the critics’ groups around this time last month, when it seemed like writer-director Tom McCarthy’s journalism drama Spotlight would be the runaway champion. With the critics, anyway, that trend held true as Spotlight was awarded best film by group after group across the country, with a stray mention for George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road here and there.

Tom Hanks in Bridge of Spies.
As the industry started to chime in, though, the ground started to shift. The craftspeople such as the cinematographers, the art directors, the sound designers, etc., flocked to films such as Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant, while Spotlight has been left in the dust. This was to be expected since Spotlight is not exactly the kind of flashy film that draws a lot of appreciation for its technical achievements. However, Spotlight has hit with the four industry groups that matter most – Screen Actors Guild, Producers Guild, Directors Guild, and to a lesser extent, the Writers Guild.

Even after its shutout at the Golden Globes, Spotlight is still sitting pretty. The same goes for The Big Short, which was also shut out Sunday but has done fine with the guilds. The Revenant has obviously been a technical juggernaut, and its triumph with the HFPA certainly gives it some momentum. Remember, though, that the Academy nominations were submitted before the Golden Globes, so that momentum only means something if the Academy has already gone for The Revenant in a big way.

So, let’s take a look at what the guilds have given us to work with:

Producers: The Big Short; Bridge of Spies; Brooklyn; Ex Machina; Mad Max: Fury Road; The Martian; The Revenant; Sicario; Spotlight; Straight Outta Compton

Directors: Adam McKay (The Big Short); Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road); Ridley Scott (The Martian); Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant); McCarthy (Spotlight)

Actors: Best ensemble – Beasts of No Nation; The Big Short; Spotlight; Straight Outta Compton; Trumbo

Writers: Best original screenplay – Bridge of Spies; Sicario; Spotlight; Straight Outta Compton; Trainwreck. Best adapted screenplay – The Big Short; Carol; The Martian; Steve Jobs; Trumbo

For good measure, let’s throw in the British Academy nominations, which came out late last week:

BAFTA: The Big Short; Bridge of Spies; Carol; The Revenant; Spotlight

If you look closely, the only two films to show up on all five lists are The Big Short and Spotlight. No other movie shows up more than three times. Regardless of anything else you here, those are your frontrunners right now for Best Picture at the Oscars. The Revenant is close behind, though the likelihood of Iñárritu winning Best Picture and Best Director the year after winning both for Birdman is slim. Bridge of Spies, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, and even Straight Outta Compton look strong based on what we know now.

Still, what we know now does not amount to much. Everything could change – or nothing could, admittedly – with the Academy’s announcement Thursday. So, let’s make some guesses as to how the top categories might shake out.

Best Picture

My reasoning in this category is pretty much outlined above, so I will not go over it too deeply here. The big question now is how many films the Academy will choose to nominate. It could be anywhere from five to 10 but usually ends up on the high side around nine. So, that is where we will draw our prediction line. Based on everything that has happened up until now, here are the nine films I think are most likely Best Picture nominees (in order of likelihood): Spotlight; The Big Short; The Revenant; The Martian; Mad Max: Fury Road; Bridge of Spies; Brooklyn; Carol; Trumbo.

Best Director

This category rarely lines up directly with its guild counterpart, but most of the time, four out of the five make it. Last year was anomalous in that Bennett Miller was nominated for Foxcatcher despite that film not being nominated for Best Picture. I would not predict that happening again. The weakest name on the DGA list might be Scott for The Martian, but it is hard to know who else might slip in besides maybe Steven Spielberg for Bridge of Spies. So, against my better judgment, I am predicting it to match the DGA exactly (in order of likelihood): Inarritu for The Revenant; McCarthy for Spotlight; McKay for The Big Short; Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road; Scott for The Martian.

Best Actor

Not much has changed in this category since we last covered it, except that a few contenders have probably fallen by the wayside. Paul Dano in Love and Mercy for instance is likely to be shifted to the supporting category, while Will Smith (Concussion) and Johnny Depp (Black Mass) really have not picked up any momentum. For the win, Leonardo DiCaprio may finally be in line for an Oscar. Regardless of his feelings about it, which I covered here and here, his peers sure seem to want him to win, based on the standing ovation he got at the Golden Globes. Anyway, here are my Best Actor predictions, which have not changed since last month (in order of likelihood): DiCaprio for The Revenant; Bryan Cranston for Trumbo; Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs; Matt Damon for The Martian; Eddie Redmayne for The Danish Girl.

Best Actress

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn.
On the other hand, Best Actress is very much in flux since we still do not know how the Academy will choose to categorize Rooney Mara in Carol and Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl. Both have been campaigned as supporting contenders, but the Academy could still choose to place them (correctly) in the lead category. Either way, both are almost surefire nominees. The rest of the lineups in both categories simply depend on their placement.

Brie Larson’s performance in Room is picking up steam as the most likely winner, while Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) and Cate Blanchett (Carol) are right there as well. Despite the film’s lackluster reception, Jennifer Lawrence should still make it in for Joy, which leaves one space. I am guessing the Academy will place Vikander in lead and Mara in supporting, giving us (in order of likelihood): Larson for Room; Ronan for Brooklyn; Blanchett for Carol; Lawrence for Joy; Vikander for The Danish Girl.

Best Supporting Actor

Despite the mild controversy, which really should not have been any controversy at all, over his acceptance speech, it sure was fun to see Sylvester Stallone win an award at the Golden Globes. It is possible he will repeat that performance – with a better grasp of his thank-you list – at the Oscars, but I still have serious reservations about his chance for a nomination. Creed has not caught on with any of the guilds, and its heat seems to have died down since it was a considerable box-office hit in November and early December.

The heat on Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies, though, just seems to be picking up as he has pretty much run the table with the critics’ awards. Michael Shannon, well liked and universally admired by his peers, seems a safe bet to be 99 Homes’ only recognition, while both Spotlight (Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton) and The Big Short (Steve Carell and Christian Bale) have multiple performances that could be highlighted. Bale seems like a sure thing, and while I cannot imagine the Best Picture frontrunner not getting an acting nomination, it is possible Ruffalo and Keaton split the vote and neither makes it.

Other than that, Jacob Tremblay (Room) and Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation) have dropped off the radar a bit, but I would not be shocked to see one or either end up with a nomination. Then, there is Dano as well. My predictions right now are (in order of likelihood): Rylance for Bridge of Spies; Bale for The Big Short; Shannon for 99 Homes; Dano for Love and Mercy; Stallone for Creed.

Best Supporting Actress

If we guess that Mara will end up here, she is a definite nominee and the biggest threat for the win, especially considering it is a co-lead performance. Winslet, who just won the Golden Globe in a bit of a surprise victory, is probably safe. Jennifer Jason Leigh has showed up on most lists for The Hateful Eight, and the Academy loves Quentin Tarantino, so she seems likely to benefit, plus she is great in the movie.

Helen Mirren has received a few mentions for Trumbo, and Kristen Stewart has been a critical darling for her turn in The Clouds of Sils Maria, but I expect only one of them to be nominated as I am going on a limb and predicting a double nomination for Vikander, here for her stellar performance in Ex Machina. Rest assured, if it happens, it will be one of the most pleasant surprises of the morning for me. Rachel McAdams also has an outside shot for Spotlight. My predictions (in order of likelihood): Mara for Carol; Winslet for Steve Jobs; Leigh for The Hateful Eight; Mirren for Trumbo; Vikander for Ex Machina.

Below the line & final thoughts

Cate Blanchett in Carol.
In the crafts categories, we can expect Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, and Stars Wars: The Force Awakens to dominate. All three could get in for Editing, Art Direction, Sound, Sound Editing, and Visual Effects. Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant are also frontrunners for Cinematography, along with Carol. Carol could be a more low-key force in the crafts given its gorgeous design elements, so look for it in Costumes and Art Direction as well. The same goes for Brooklyn and The Danish Girl. Bridge of Spies has showed strength with the crafts guilds, and it could be in for well-deserved recognition in Art Direction and Cinematography.

The Best Editing category is usually the strongest bellwether of Best Picture, and in addition to The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road, expect to see The Big Short and possibly The Martian. If Spotlight fails to nab an Editing nod, that will be its first real sign of weakness. I am not expecting that to be the case, but it could happen.

When the final tally comes in, I expect The Revenant to lead the list and for Mad Max: Fury Road not to be far behind. Iñárritu’s Western epic could hit in the following categories: Picture, Director, Actor, Cinematography, Editing, Art Direction, Sound, Sound Editing, Costumes, Makeup, Visual Effects, and possibly Adapted Screenplay. That would give it 12. Mad Max: Fury Road could show up in all those places except Actor or Adapted Screenplay and wind up with 10.

As I said back in December, this is a wide-open year, and that makes it a fun year. Even after the nominations come out, we still will be flying mostly blind. When the guilds start to announce their winners at the end of this month and the beginning of February, we will know more, but for now, let’s enjoy the feeling that any movie we love is a potential nominee and maybe even a winner.

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