The Academy Awards are approaching, and unlike most years, there are some big unknowns floating around. Typically, most categories would have a clear-cut winner by now, but this year has proven to be anything but ordinary. Here is my assessment of the top races and predictions of how the night will shake out.
Best Picture: Spotlight
Spotlight was the early favorite until The Revenant swooped in and won the Golden Globe. Spotlight quickly rebounded with two Critics’ Choice Awards (one for Best Picture and another for Cast Ensemble) and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award for Best Cast Ensemble. On Feb. 14, The Revenant struck back with a win at the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA). When The Big Short took home the top prize from the Producers Guild Awards (PGA), the race was turned on its head (the winner of the PGA has gone on to win the Oscar the past eight years).
The Revenant has stellar acting, dynamite directing and some of the most innovative cinematography in modern history, but something is missing — it doesn’t resonate as deeply as it should. The Big Short and Spotlight have it all: power, emotion and relevance. Both films are ripe for the current social climate with relatable stories of truth and consequence. However, only one can dance with Oscar, and that honor should go to Spotlight. There is an electric charge that surges through your body as the “Spotlight” team of reporters builds its story against the Catholic church, and the adrenaline doesn’t wear off until long after you’ve left the theater.
Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio
It was a shame to see Tom Hanks passed over for his enduring performance in Bridge of Spies (his name is better suited to this year’s list of nominees than Bryan Cranston‘s). But in the end, it will be nice for Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs) and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) to have simply shown up. Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) has this one in the bag.
With his portrayal of frontiersmen Hugo Glass, DiCaprio delivers a legendary performance. His collaboration with director Alejandro G. Inarritu allowed him to surrender himself to his craft and capture the essence of his character. DiCaprio has already collected the Golden Globe, SAG, Critics Choice Award and BAFTA, and come Oscar night, his name will finally be etched into Oscar’s history books.
Best Actress: Brie Larson
After being held captive for seven years and bearing the son of her captor, Joy (Larson) stares fear in the eye and seizes her chance at freedom. She harbors no resentment toward her son, Jack, but instead relies upon him as a partner and lifeline. She has been prepping him for five years to execute her escape plan.
Larson delivers one of the most convincing performances in recent history. She pulls audiences into the room with Joy and Jack to experience her agony, drive and commitment. The film is all dialogue, and scenes rarely contain more than three people. Joy must plot with a 5-year-old, explain herself to medical staff and attempt to reconnect with her parents. Larson has intention behind every line and is commanding of every scene. Audiences are attached to her and become committed to the love story between Joy and Jack.
Best Director: Alejandro G. Inaarritu
audio effects, but it begins and ends there. The storyline is lost, the script is weak and the acting is forced, and the most profound moments are suffocated by over-production.
Miller did win Best Director at the Critics’ Choice Award, but the move felt more like a token win for the 70-year-old revered director. For the Oscars, all signs point to Alejandro G. Inarritu taking home his second consecutive Oscar after cleaning house at the Globes, SAGs, BAFTAs and Directors Guild Awards.
In his early career, Inarritu settled into a familiar style of directing with Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel. But last year, he unleashed some new tricks by making his film Birdman seem as if it was filmed as a single shot. And this year, he has dug even deeper into his bag of tricks by shooting the entirety of The Revenant in natural light. This bold move limited production to 2 1/2 hours a day, but the end result is beauty on an unparalleled scale. If Miller pulls the upset, it will be a sucker punch.
Best Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stallone
This category is a ball of confusion. By early November, it felt like this would be a three-person race between Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) and Jacob Tremblay (Room). However, when the pre-Oscar award show nominations were announced, bewilderment took hold as Tremblay was left out of the running in place of Sylvester Stallone (Creed). The confusion was exacerbated when Stallone won the Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Award. Then, Elba was snubbed of an Oscar nomination, but took home the SAG two weeks later. And, most recently, Rylance won the BAFTA.
Now it all boils down to a two-man race between Rylance and Stallone. If the Academy is judging on merit alone, Rylance would win unanimously. He is the embodiment of a supporting character, elevating Tom Hanks’ performance in every one of the scenes. Rylance’s character, Rudolf Abel, gives the film grace. Audiences fell in love with his quiet resolve and matter-of-fact approach. Stallone’s performance as Rocky Balboa is flat, and there is no chemistry between he and Adonis (Michael B. Jordan). Nonetheless, it feels as though another token win is at play, and Stallone will go home a winner Sunday night. But if Rylance sneaks in the upset, it would be divine reverie.
Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander
This is a tight race between Academy veteran Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs) and newcomer Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl). Winslet took the early lead with a win at the Globes, but Vikander came storming back with wins at the Critics’ Choice and SAG awards. Then, Winslet evened the score with a BAFTA win.
Both of the women’s performances are exceptional. Winslet shines as Jobs’ assistant and closest companion, Joanna Hoffman — the only person who can stand up to Jobs on both professional and personal matters. The snappy dialogue allows Winslet and Fassbender to play off each other beautifully. Moreover, Winslet is able to match Fassbender’s energy — a feat in and of itself.
Vikander is consuming as artist Gerda Wegener. Audiences are endeared by Gerda’s innocence as she embarks on a journey of self discovery. She experiences an internal metamorphosis, during which every thought and intention is translated through silent anguish. The chemistry between Vikander and Redmayne is lightning in a bottle. Each actor pushes the other to reach their highest potential, and in the end, it is Vikander’s performance which resonates more deeply. This is her year and no other nominee is more deserving of the Oscar.
Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short
This category showcases an illuminating field of artists. Nick Hornby takes flight with Brooklyn by adapting a simple story into poetic prose. Drew Goddard injects spirit and charm into a sci-fi thriller with The Martian. Phyllis Nagy elicits a cascade of emotions with Carol and Emma Donoghue envelops audiences with simultaneous feelings of torment and wonder with Room.
Standing atop this mountain of virtuosos is Adam McKay and his screenplay, The Big Short. Through mad intellect, McKay weaves together an informative, entertaining, humorous and emotional account of the housing crash. His nuanced storytelling allows this relatable tale to dive into the hearts of audiences who carry the film with them long after its conclusion. And, on Sunday night, his genius will be rewarded with the Oscar gold.
Original screenplay: Spotlight
Last year saw an eclectic mix of original storylines. Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton) employ grace and tenderness to soften a hard-hitting plot line of severe relevance. Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley (Inside Out) allow the thoughts of an 11-year-old girl to become one of the most enchanting films of the year. Alex Garland (Ex Machina) evolves a story about a mad scientist, a computer geek and an A.I. into a profound piece of humanity. Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen (Bridge of Spies) erect a Cold War spy thriller anchored by loyalty and compassion.
Similar to the Adapted Screenplay category, a single mastermind has risen above the rest: Tom McCarthy (Spotlight). He eases into the story and slowly builds momentum and tension, which turns into an all-out sprint to the finish.
Dialogue is the driving force behind this film, as the team’s sharp verbal swagger is their greatest resource. They push and probe until every barrier before them is shattered. Spotlight is a salute to the honor and duty of our nation’s Fourth Estate. It will be a beautiful moment when McCarthy delivers his Oscar speech on Sunday.