Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Thoughts on the Oscar Race Part II

Some more thoughts on this year's race following yesterdays.
Category Fraud
There has been a lot of talk about Category Fraud this year – in particular as it relates to two nominees – Rooney Mara for Carol and Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl, both of whom were nominated for Supporting Actress, when many (including myself) think they should be leads. What’s egregious in both of these cases is not only are the performances leads, they are THE leads of their films – Mara has the more passive role than Blanchatt to be sure – but she also has more screentime, one of the major problems with The Danish Girl is that it understands Vikander’s character in a way it doesn’t understand Redmayne’s – and that because it focuses more on her Vikander’s journey than Redmayne. There are other examples – Mark Ruffalo is arguably a lead in Spotlight for example, and there was plenty of debate as to where the likes of Paul Dano for Love & Mercy and Jacob Tremblay for Room belonged (for the record, lead, both of them – and I really do think had the Love & Mercy camp not screwed up by putting Dano in supporting, he could have been nominated).

Yes. Mara and Vikander are leads, and yes it bugs me – but not that much. Personally, I’d still vote for Mara – because her performance is the best of the lot (although I also love Jennifer Jason Leigh, and would be tempted to vote for her as well – given the great year she had, not to mention her great career), and Vikander probably will win. Perhaps I’ve just gotten used to Category Fraud over the years, and while it’s silly, I cannot get as worked up about it as many seem to be able to.

Leonardo DiCaprio
Let’s get this out of the way first – I am a big fan of Leonardo DiCaprio, and agree he is overdue for an Oscar. For my money, he should have won in 2006 for The Departed (when they stupidly nominated him for Blood Diamond instead), and out of the nominees in 2013, his work in The Wolf of Wall Street was the best, and should have won. His performances for which he has been nominated like What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Aviator were both excellent, he has been great in other films – like Catch Me if You Can, Revolutionary Road, Shutter Island, Inception, J. Edgar, Django Unchained – for which you can argue he deserved more recognition than he got. I also think it’s great that DiCaprio has refused to coast on his talent and looks to make a series of blockbusters that are beneath his talent, and that’s he arguably the only actor who can consistently get adults to the theater to see adult dramas. In short, DiCaprio’s career has been great, and an Oscar on his shelf would be richly deserved.

But for The Revenant? Come the fuck on! I think DiCaprio is fine in the role of Hugh Glass – I may even go as far as to say that he is as good in that role as the role allows him to be. But – there isn’t much there, is there? He trudges along in the snow for two hours and forty minutes looking pissed off. There’s no subtlety there, no range. Yeah, okay, it was a hard shot (poor Leo got cold) and he had to eat a bison liver – but eating gross stuff wins you an episode of Fear Factor, not an Oscar.

In short, I love Leo and think he deserves an Oscar. I just don’t want him to join the long list – including John Wayne for True Grit, Henry Fonda for On Golden Pond, Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman, Geraldine Page for The Trip to Bountiful Paul Newman for The Color of Money and the most recent recipient, Julianne Moore for Still Alice – of great actors, who deserved at least one Oscar, who win for a performance that is nowhere near their best. It’s not like Leo’s dying here – make him wait until he does something the equal of The Wolf of Wall Street again. Somehow, I’m sure he’ll survive.

Tight Three Way Race
Like most years, at this point, most of the Oscar races are already decided. Leo is winning actor, Brie Larson is winning actress, and while I could see an upset brewing in either supporting category, Stallone and Vikander seem like safe bets as well. Spotlight and The Big Short will win screenplay, Inside Out has animated film in the bag – and while you can never really be sure, because both categories have seen surprises in recent years, Amy and Son of Saul both so dominated the documentary and Foreign Language film categories, they are also the frontrunners. On the tech side, Mad Max and The Revenant will fight it out almost everywhere – except Visual Effects, which I suspect will go to Star Wars, Score, which will likely go to The Hateful Eight, and Costume Design, which will likely go to Sandy Powell – either for Cinderella or Carol.

There are, however, three races that are interesting to watch. Editing will be an early bellweather for the rest of the night – if Mad Max or The Revenant win, then I suspect The Revenant wins Best Picture. If it goes to Spotlight or The Big Short, then they will likely win. The Best Director race is a tight, two way race between George Miller for Mad Max and Alejandro G. Innaritu for The Revenant – who is looking to become the third director in history to win back-to-back Best Director Oscars – and the first since Joseph L. Mankiewicz did it in 1949 and 1950 (no one has directed two back-to-back Best Picture winners – something else Innaritu is trying to achieve).

The Best Picture Race is a three way spot – and oddly, two of the films in it – Spotlight and The Big Short – are not in the Best Director race really (their directors will both win Screenplay Oscars, and I suspect the Academy will see that as enough for them) – as they join The Revenant in vying for the top prize. Nothing would make me happier than Mad Max: Fury Road winning the Best Picture Oscar – but I don’t see it happening. They may well give him director (I think they will actually – but that could be wishful thinking) – but Picture? Nope.

This year’s Oscar race has been strange in that it hasn’t really offered that much clarity. For much of last season for example, it seemed like Birdman vs. Boyhood – but as Birdman won the SAG Ensemble, PGA and DGA awards, it became clear it was winning the Best Picture Oscar, and nothing would stop it. But this year, those three awards went to three different films – with Spotlight winning the SAG, The Big Short winning the PGA and The Revenant winning the DGA.

You can read the tea leaves for what this means in any number of ways. The actors make up the largest branch of the Academy, so winning the SAG Ensemble award is a good indication that actors may love it most, meaning it rises to the top. On the other hand, the PGA is the only precursor who uses the same balloting system as the Academy for Best Picture – and they haven’t been wrong since they expanded to more than 5 nominees – and The Big Short won there, which may well mean that The Big Short will pick up votes throughout the rounds, which it will need to win. The fact that Innaritu won the DGA award, even though he won last year, shows there is some real passion for that film – which may mean a lot of #1 votes, that could carry it through.

You can, of course, argue everything the other way. Pay no real attention to anyone who tells you that they know what will win because of the precursors – they don’t. Stats become meaningless in a season like this. You can narrow the field down to three – and then you’re just guessing – some guesses will be more educated than others, but they are all guesses. My guess is The Big Short. But that’s for today. Ask me tomorrow, and I could have easily have changed my mind.

Who I’m Rooting For
In general, I’m rooting for Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s my favorite of the Picture/Director nominees – and of its 10 total Oscar noms, it would be a worthy winner in every category, even if there are a couple of categories I’d go with something else (namely Cinematography and Costume Design, where I would love Carol to win). I’d really love to see Miller win Director – which I have convinced myself will happen (which means, almost assuredly, a crushing moment when Innaritu wins his second Director Oscar in a row) – and would be ectastic if it pulled off the biggest upset in history, and actually won the Best Picture Oscar. That won’t happen – but it would be amazing if it did. The Academy hasn’t embraced a film like this before – not for the major prizes – so if it pulls off something big (Director), I’d be happy.

I’d love to see Carol do well – Rooney Mara for Supporting Actress, even though she’s a lead – and upsets for Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography and Costume Design would be fine as well – same for Score, since I have been a longtime fan of Carter Burwell – but there is a better score this year. Failing Mara for Supporting Actress, I’d love to see a shocking upset and Jennifer Jason Leigh winning there – she has had such a great career – and a great year with Anomalisa as well – and the Academy has ignored her until now. I know it won’t happen – somehow, Alicia Vikander has run away with the Supporting Actress field this year, but it is the least locked down of the acting races.

Other than that, I’d love Mustang to shock in Foreign Language Film – I love Son of Saul, but I love Mustang more, and would love even more The Look of Silence to win Best Documenary – the two films on the genocide in the Phillipines that Joshua Oppenheimer have made are among the best docs in a long time, and really should win an Oscar. I’d love Ennio Morricone to win an Oscar for The Hateful Eight score – not only is he one of the best composers in film history, who has never won an Oscar (aside from a Lifetime Achievement award) – his is also the best score of the year. The aforementioned Carter Burwell would be fine here too.

I would love to see The Revenant shut out – it won’t happen, but still, not only because I think the film is a rather dull slog, but also because I’d rather Leo win for one of his great performances that he will surely give in the future, and because as great as Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is, I think we can all agree he’s being an incredibly greedy bastard, winning three Oscars in a row here (I kid, of course, but considering two of the other nominees are the great Edward Lachman and the greater Roger Deakins, neither of whom have ever won, I’ll be pulling for an upset).

Finally, perhaps my biggest rooting interest is oddly in the Best Animated Short film category. Like everyone else, I was thoroughly charmed by Pixar’s Sanjay’s Super Team, and it would be a worthy winner. Still, Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow is an absolute masterpiece – a film I almost put on my top 10 list this year, because it deserved it. Hertzfeldt has been toiling away at his brilliant films for 20 years now, and dammit, an Oscar would be great for him. Pixar has enough.

So that’s it, really. I’ll do my official predictions soon

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