For my last prediction article of this arduous awards season, I had hoped to post only a screencap of Facebook’s new angry-face emoji before crawling into a horse carcass until the Oscar ceremony was over, but decided that I shouldn’t respond to Hollywood’s laziness in kind. As such, I’m forced to relate another true story, of how, following the announcement of how much money The Revenant made in its first weekend of wide release, I fired off an email to my fellow Oscar guru, Eric, too laden with expletives to reprint, but whose gist had to do with at least two major races now being “done” deals.
Many myths have been trotted out throughout the awards season by pundits desperately looking to make it seem as if we were heading into a more unpredictable than usual Oscar ceremony this year. One of the more reasonable ones announced that the socially conscious Spotlight was your frontrunner for best picture, by virtue only of the hot-button issue at its center. Much has been made of Tom McCarthy’s bone-dry artistry, which I find to exhibit more nuance than most film nerds care to acknowledge. McCarthy’s aesthetics are practically a metaphor for the very objective enterprise undertaken by the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team. And it’s precisely the very purposeful workaday-ness of his aesthetics that has made Spotlight always seem, to me at least, closer to a longshot in Oscar’s top category.
Which might lead you to believe that I bought the line that George Miller, nominated for a film that’s essentially a two-hour middle finger to any and all notions of aesthetic propriety, had this in the bag. And you’d be right. I swallowed the Kool-Aid that declared no one could win this award two years in a row (even though John Ford and Joseph Mankiewicz both did back in the day), and that Miller was a veteran of the industry who was “due” (how many Oscars did Altman and Hitchcock win again?), but most of all I was suckered by my own wishful thinking that a film so heart-stoppingly balletic in its artistry as Mad Max: Fury Road, where the hands of its director can be felt in every shot, every splice, every grain of sand it seemed, couldn’t be ignored.
And then Alejandro González Iñárritu won the DGA award for the second year in a row and I was transported back to that moment when I emailed Eric. Almost a month earlier, I had seen The Revenant and witnessed an expensively made bauble so gut-wrenchingly indifferent to human feeling that it seemed destined for both critical and box-office failure. But through the sheer force of its PR chutzpah, it avoided becoming a film maudit to rival the likes of Heaven’s Gate. Both the little engine that could and the most expensive engine in the room, The Revenant is some kind of proof that Hollywood can make a successful film with the appearance of art-house ambitions on a mega-budget. An Oscar for González Iñárritu is, then, a reward for the return on the industry’s investment.
Will Win: Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant
Could Win: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Win: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road