Every year, Oscar bloggers put on a pretty good show in pointing out how, unlike all previous years (which were inevitably forgone conclusions long before the ballots were even tallied), this year is truly a wild, unpredictable free-for-all. Maybe it’s only an affectation that allows them an opportunity to furtively inflate their own sense of accomplishment when they end up nailing at least 85 percent of the eventual nominees. But damned if this isn’t one of those years where you can at least forgive the indulgence.
Every day for the last week has seen some guild slate or another either kill or revive almost every film’s chances at least once, each twist and turn cueing a chorus of “I told you so” from those momentarily proven right. “You see? I told you Carol was too cold and cerebral.” “No way they’re going to be able to restrain themselves from nominating Star Wars: The Force Awakens when it’s slaying box-office records.” “I knew you were all underestimating how much people loved Ex Machina when it was literally the only quality studio film in theaters for a three-month span.”
While it would be an exaggeration to categorize all this sound and fury about something signifying next to nothing “fun,” at the very least the hubbub this Oscar year offers welcome respite from the grinding monotony of the presidential race. Though even there, and most certainly unlike this year’s Best Director prospects, at least the possibility exists that a woman will get a nomination.
Standing at the calm center of the Oscar race storm is Spotlight, which has been the presumed taster’s choice of 2015 since before it even opened, but really cemented its status as the only mortal lock in the category when it started defeating the Film Comment poll-winning Carol among some of the loftiest of critics’ groups. You know we’ve stepped through the looking glass when the group that sidestepped the Boyhood locomotive last year in favor of Jean-Luc Godard’s 3D dog-and-poop show say, with a straight face, that a Tom McCarthy film trumps all this year. Even Spotlight’s precursor performance hasn’t been entirely spotless; some started chewing a fingernail or two when it failed to get nominated for an ACE Eddie Award (unlike Ant-Man), but there’s no one betting against it earning a seat at the Eucharist.
Beyond that, you could at least entertain arguments against nearly every one of the remaining hopefuls. The Big Short was a late-arriver, but its performance in the guild heats has been nothing short of impressive (only cinematographers understandably shrugged their shoulders, as they also did over Spotlight). One of the two most BAFTA-nominated movies, Carol, missed out on the PGA nod, and also the SAG’s speciously “important” best ensemble category. But it’s maintained position as the most viable option for the AMPAS demographic that got The Tree of Life and Amour into the main drag recently.
Unless, of course, that honor goes to Mad Max: Fury Road, a movie absolutely no one knows how seriously to take as a major Oscar contender, but might just earn the highest number of first-place ballot placements. Well, that or Bridge of Spies. Post-War Horse, it’s difficult to determine just where the Academy’s limit for embracing late-Spielberg classicism is, but as Bridge of Spies tied with Carol for the most BAFTA nods, we’re guessing this movie isn’t it.
The sense that there’s anywhere from 15 to 20 movies with legitimate shots at a nomination is making it difficult for some to know whether the sliding scale in this category will tip toward the minimum or the maximum. But until we see evidence to the contrary, and because these changes were implemented by the AMPAS specifically to get more films into best picture and avoid any further embarrassment over their shameful preference for historical dramas over superhero movies, we’re going to keep betting on more, not fewer.
And because the system honors consensus, this year might see a lot more well-received populist entertainments—for sure The Martian, though perhaps not Straight Outta Compton (despite its guild nods from actors, writers, and producers)—and fewer divisively received, slogging wankjobs. (Well, okay, maybe one, given The Revenant’s warm reception at the Golden Globes.)
You’d think it would be more insulting that Ridley Scott is a long-standing frontrunner in the category for delivering a sci-fi movie so comparatively light on its feet that people are marveling at how much if doesn’t feel like a Ridley Scott film. Then again, Thomas McCarthy’s certainly going to get nominated for Spotlight, which doesn’t feel like a movie directed by anyone at all (BAFTA certainly felt that way), so maybe the stakes are just lower all around in this race.
Given the Altman-esque cast of dozens all jockeying for attention in the Best Picture race, Best Director doesn’t feel like it has all that many names on everyone’s lips. One of them, Alejandro González Iñárritu, just took the prize last year and his chest-puffing pomposity has only gotten more pronounced since, but for every person who sees in The Revenant a heroic statement on man’s legacy of inherited violence, there’s another who’d find lukewarm bison liver more palatable than Iñárritu’s warmed-over Terrence Malick-Werner Herzog overtures. That said, if the warm reception he received during last night’s Golden Globes ceremony is any indication, he’s still fooling enough people that a nomination seems inevitable.
The BAFTA nominations confirmed the undeniable groundswell for The Big Short. And though even Thomas McCarthy isn’t intimidated by Adam McKay’s visual sensibilities, McKay’s film delivers its NPR-listener-courting infotainment with the smirk of Nero fiddling away. That leaves George Miller and Todd Haynes dueling for the last spot. Though Miller huffs enough testosterone to dissolve Iñárritu on contact, the likelihood the latter is in play at all suggests voters prefer their toxic masculinity to at least have the courtesy of being insufferably self-important, and not irrepressibly fun. Ergo, we’re betting on there being a lot of disappointed fanboys when the architect behind Imperator Furiosa takes a back seat to Haynes’s Her-Sapphic Park.
Easy, easy, easy, easy, hard. That’s how choosing the five nominees for Best Actress will feel to voters this year. You’ll find few people arguing against nominations for Brie Larson, Cate Blanchett, Saoirse Ronan, and Charlotte Rampling. But then, oy. First and foremost, will the category fraud police prevent Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) or Rooney Mara (Carol) from slumming in supporting? And, if so, would the reasonably level playing field for the fifth slot here allow one of them an easy nod? If Rampling is in the category, what does that do for or against the chances of Lily Tomlin, Maggie Smith, or Blythe Danner? Are Sarah Silverman and Helen Mirren’s surprise SAG nominations anything other than respectively welcome and less-than-welcome flukes from early on in the precursor season? Will there be enough anti-MRA voters in the actors’ branch to engineer a path for Charlize Theron to slip into the mix? Is Sicario’s late surge in the game real enough to benefit Emily Blunt? Or will the AMPAS look at all their options and simply default to the candidate whose prerelease buzz can outweigh her movie’s subsequent nosedive? Congrats, Jennifer Lawrence, you are the likely beneficiary of voters’ disinterest in overthinking tough decisions.
Speaking of voter disinterest, the only category with what everyone is presuming to already have a winner-elect this year, Best Actor, suffers from an entirely different problem than its distaff cousin. Whereas everyone is expected to have one slot reserved for Leonardo DiCaprio’s Night of the Living Pelt Trader, the other four choices are likely to be filled by a combination of serviceable star performances lifted by the popularity of the films containing them and, like with Jennifer Lawrence, roles that put actors on “the list” when the films were still in preproduction. And though their film’s fortunes have since fallen in best picture, well, why change course here at this late stage of the game?
In the former camp is Matt Damon’s disco-bashing, poop-hoarding cosmonaut Robinson Crusoe in The Martian. Damon’s performance is a solid fit for the movie’s profile, lightly likable without ever really getting ugly for art. And then in the latter category are Michael Fassbender’s Shakespearean spin on Steve Jobs and Eddie Redmayne’s trembling, wilting, blushing transgender pioneer in The Danish Girl. Fassbender has proven among the few actors capable of devouring Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue instead of the other way around. But Redmayne’s disastrously miscalculated feints, nervous tics, and nosebleeds will probably appeal to exactly the same crowd that can’t fathom citing Tangerine’s vibrant Mya Taylor. Pencil all three in.
Bryan Cranston is a legitimate threat for the last spot for yielding to dull biopic shenanigans (though we’re frankly smelling whiffs of Hitchcock), as is Johnny Depp’s latest masquerade ball. But if you ask us it’s down to Steve Carell, who serves as the conscience of The Big Short (crying and dry-heaving at each new fiduciary obscenity) and Michael B. Jordan, who may be the Academy’s only hope to avoid another year of #OscarSoWhite.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
So far as the critics are concerned, there’s only one choice here. And in recent years, when critics have really rallied around a performance that wouldn’t otherwise be considered standard Oscar fare, Oscar has started listening. (Just ask Emmanuelle Riva.) But this time it’s a pretty big ask. Kristen Stewart? The actress who moped her way through the Twilight series? For an Olivier Assayas movie that maybe only critics actually saw? No one’s going to convince us a performance this nuanced isn’t on the bubble, but given last year’s Best Actress-winning Still Alice gave Oscar voters a dry run to consider the idea of Stewart as serious thesp, we think she’s in.
And then, of course, so are the two leading performances being fraudulently demoted to supporting—at the expense of Alicia Vikander’s fascinating albeit far more fanboy-friendly work in Ex Machina. Because Stewart plus Rooney Mara plus Vikander makes for an awfully introspective, internalized slate, we could easily see voters getting thirsty to include Jennifer Jason Leigh’s turn in The Hateful Eight, regardless of their widely-presumed disinterest in the movie as a whole. Most prognosticators favor Kate Winslet’s dazzling display of unpredictable accent changes in Steve Jobs, though it’s beyond us why no one notices how clearly superior Katherine Waterston is in that same film. Instead, we’re playing it risky, ignoring precursors and betting on Joan Allen earning her first nomination since swiping Björk’s back in 2000.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Jennifer Jason Leigh can rest easier than the rest of her cast-mates who are bloodily cancelling each other out over here, which especially pains us to say in the cases of Tim Roth and Walton Goggins. But not half as much as it pains us to say there’s virtually no chance for the incredibly endearing Emory Cohen to land a nomination along on-screen wife Saoirse Ronan’s for Brooklyn. It should chide us that Jacob Tremblay’s clearly leading performance in Room is getting the same second-class treatment fellow child actor Hailee Steinfeld’s did, but at least he’ll get invited to the dance (and we’re so looking forward to his eventual pop single). Category fraud works a treat with kids, but probably won’t do anything for Paul Dano’s chances in Love & Mercy.
And though vote-splitting will affect The Hateful Eight cast’s chances, the same probably won’t be said for the cast of Spotlight. Michael Keaton’s Best Actor award from the New York Film Critics Circle may have just sealed his fate, allowing the focus to turn to Mark Ruffalo, who gets the only traditionally splanchnic Oscar clip in the whole movie, as Spotlight’s best shot at an acting nod. Michael Shannon in 99 Homes emerged as nearly as big a critics’ choice as Kristen Stewart, but his impending omission feels like the classic Oscar boondoggle that rankles the awards blogosphere. It’s looking like the rest of the category will be filled with vets of three distinct varieties—movie star (Sylvester Stallone), character actor (Mark Rylance), and perpetual Oscar nominee (Christian Bale).
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Eligibility issues routinely plague the WGA’s status as a legitimate Oscar precursor, ensuring some of the Academy Award frontrunners have to be assessed blindly. Of course, WGA nominees Spotlight, Bridge of Spies, and, arguably, Sicario would’ve been to varying degrees probable here even if they hadn’t been WGA-eligible. Spotlight is going to get nominations in nearly every viable category, Bridge of Spies affords the writers the chance to honor the Coens for a film they didn’t also direct, and Sicario feels nearly as red-hot at the guilds as The Big Short.
And as divisive as his film has proven, Quentin Tarantino’s brand name seems likely to at least earn him a ticket to ride. That narrows the odds for WGA-nominee Straight Outta Compton, which will have to fight off Ex Machina, 99 Homes, and Inside Out. We’re betting voters will take most strongly to Pixar’s cotton candy-delicate version of thorny child psychology.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Our boldest prediction of the year? That the writers’ branch will summon within themselves enough restraint to ignore a hagiographic tribute to an Oscar-winning screenwriter, if only because it bends the life and difficult times of Dalton Trumbo into the most unflattering biopic-friendly format. It’s a big gamble on our part, especially given Trumbo’s shockingly healthy precursor performance up to this point. Fortunately, this is among the most crowded fields of the year, with only Adam McKay and Charles Rudolph’s ambitious, if sporadically condescending, distillation of one of the most complex financial cataclysms of our era sure to be included.
Nick Hornby’s adaptation of Brooklyn is lovely, warm, and humorous. Carol and Room both boast attractive structural architecture—one circular, the other sharply bifurcated—and the former in particular puts glorious things in Cate Blanchett’s mouth. Aaron Sorkin and Charlie Kaufman are big enough screenwriting superstars that anything they do automatically merits the benefit of the doubt, though it’s a lot easier to see Sorkin’s latest three acts in support of American exceptionalism making a bigger impact than Kaufman’s aching wallow in American alienation and paranoia.
And then there are the two last men standing, between which we’re presuming Oscar will favor The Martian’s sardonic quips. Unless, of course, they like their grand gestures to climax with dialogue that would be specious coming from Freddy Krueger’s mouth, much less Tom Hardy’s.
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Sound Editing
If it were biologically possible to do so, both Ed and I would happily switch places with A Quiet Place’s Emily Blunt.
If it were biologically possible to do so, both Ed and I would happily switch places with A Quiet Place’s Emily Blunt, because we’d much rather give birth in a tub while surrounded by murderous blind creatures than have to once again write our predictions for the sound categories. As adamant as we’ve been that the Academy owes it to the nominees to air every category, which they agreed to after an extended “just kidding,” it might have given us pause had the sound categories been among the four demoted by Oscar. But no, we must now endure our annual bout of penance, aware of the fact that actually knowing what the difference is between sound editing and sound mixing is almost a liability. In other words, we’ve talked ourselves out of correct guesses too many times, doubled down on the same movie taking both categories to hedge our bets too many times, and watched as the two categories split in the opposite way we expected too many times. So, as in A Quiet Place, the less said, the better. And while that film’s soundscapes are as unique and noisy as this category seems to prefer, First Man’s real-word gravitas and cacophonous Agena spin sequence should prevail.
Will Win: First Man
Could Win: A Quiet Place
Should Win: First Man
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Actress
Sometimes it’s important to just step back and pay your respects to a remarkable actress.
Sometimes it’s important to just step back and pay your respects to a remarkable actress for having given a performance that, while not your, um, favourite nominated one, is still deserving of an Oscar victory lap. Now, if only others felt the same. Very early on in the awards season, there was already a sense that this award could become a career-achievement coronation for the six-time losing Glenn Close—and that people were going to have a problem squaring that with the fact that her Oscar would be tied to a film perceived to be a piffle. That’s not an inaccurate perception, but it’s difficult to remember a time when critics have used that as an excuse to not do their homework.
In short, have you seen The Wife? Indeed, until the awards-media system’s attention shifted full time into covering AMPAS’s A Series of Unfortunate Oscar Decisions, it seemed as if every day brought us a new article by some pundit about the Oscar race in which it strangely sounded as if the The Wife was still a blind spot for the writer. Which is shame, because Close gives good face throughout the film. Certainly, few Oscar-nominated films this year are as absurd as The Wife, but I’ll do battle with anyone who thinks Close is getting by on her legend alone. Close’s triumph is recognizing The Wife’s inherent ludicrousness and elevating it, and without condescension, with a kabuki-like verve that seeks to speak to the experiences of all women who’ve been oppressed by their men. It’s a turn worthy of Norma Desmond.
Today, the most reliable Oscar narrative is the overdue performer. And if you take stock in that narrative, then you’ll understand why I texted Eric, my fellow Oscar guru, the following on the morning of November 29: “I think Close is going to Still Alice at the Oscars.” After that morning, when the New York Film Critics Circle officially kick-started the Oscar season (and gave their award for best actress to Regina Hall in Support the Girls), no actress ran the table with the critics and guilds, but most of the cards that matter did fall into place for Close, and much as they did for Julianne Moore ahead of her winning the Oscar for Still Alice.
This was a done deal when Close won the Golden Globe, received a standing ovation, and gave the night’s most impassioned speech, immediately after which Eric conceded that my instincts had been right. Of course, that was no doubt easy for him to admit given that, by that point, the oxygen had already seeped out of A Star Is Born’s awards campaign, leaving only Olivia Colman in Close’s way. Colman has worked the campaign trail in spectacular ways, giving speeches that have been every bit as droll as this, but in the end, she doesn’t have the SAG, and as bold and subversive as her performance certainly is, it isn’t sufficiently big enough to convince enough AMPAS members that Close should continue waiting for Oscar.
Will Win: Glenn Close, The Wife
Could Win: Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Should Win: Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Film Editing
Sigh, can we just edit this whole Oscar season from our memories?
Sigh, can we just edit this whole Oscar season from our memories? AMPAS has officially brought more queens back from the brink than this year’s season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars. Now that the academy has reneged on its plans to snip four categories from the live Oscar telecast, after first attempting damage control and assuring members that it will still run those four awards as not-so-instant replays in edited-down form later on in the show, we can once again turn our attention to the other editing that’s so vexed Film Twitter this Oscar season. We yield the floor to Twitter user Pramit Chatterjee:
People, actual fucking people, are watching scene after scene like this and are saying “bruuuh! best. movie. of. the. year”?
This is objectively bad. Someone with no idea about editing will notice it. My brain is on fire thinking that this is an OSCAR NOMINATED MOVIE! FUCK! pic.twitter.com/QVDCxe2iaf
— Pramit Chatterjee 🌈 (@pramitheus) January 26, 2019
Very fuck! The academy would’ve been shooting itself in the foot by not airing what’s starting to feel like one of this year’s most competitive Oscar categories—a category that seems like it’s at the center of ground zero for the voters who, as a fresh New York Times survey of anonymous Oscar ballots confirms, are as unashamedly entertained by a blockbuster that critics called utterly worthless as they are feeling vengeful against those who would dare call a film they loved racist. Interestingly enough, the New York Times’s panel of voters seems palpably aware that Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman is the nominee this year that’s going to go down in history as the “right thing” they’ll be embarrassed for not “doing.” No arguments from this corner. Lee’s film is narratively propulsive and knotty in ways that ought to translate into a no-brainer win here. (My cohort Ed recently mused that he’d give the film the Oscar just for the energy it displays cutting back and forth during phone conversations.)
We’re glad that the academy walked back its decision to not honor two of the most crucial elements of the medium (editing and cinematography) on the live Oscar telecast, but what we’re left with is the dawning horror that the formless flailing exemplified by the clip above might actually win this damned award. Guy Lodge sarcastically mused on the upside of Pramit’s incredulous tweet, “I’ve never seen so many people on Twitter discussing the art of film editing before,” and honestly, it does feel like Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody getting publicly dog-walked like this stands to teach baby cinephiles-in-training the language of the cut as well as any of the myriad montages the show producers intended on airing in lieu of, you know, actually awarding craftspeople. But only a fraction of the voting body has to feel sympathy for John Ottman (whose career, for the record, goes all the way back with Bryan Singer), or express admiration that he managed to assemble the raw materials from a legendarily chaotic project into an international blockbuster. The rest of the academy has their ostrich heads plunged far enough into the sand to take care of the rest.
Will Win: Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody
Could Win: BlacKkKlansman
Should Win: BlacKkKlansman