The 2016 Academy Award nominations set off an even bigger firestorm than last year, proving that for every step forward there seems to be two steps back (or at least that the Academy is overwhelmingly old and easily swayed by the types of movies they’ve always gravitated towards). Regardless, the crazily overblown Oscars provide another opportunity to look back on the year in film and discuss our favourites, snubs and underdogs, while secretly hoping that maybe, just maybe, the long-suffering supermodel-dating millionaire Leonardo DiCaprio will stop being a perennial bridesmaid and finally win his own little golden statue.
At the very least host Chris Rock should keep the show lively (before he succumbs to the inevitable fatigue that plagues the too-long show). Here are my picks and previews for the upcoming 2016 Academy Awards (likely to win in bold, my preference in italics and click any underlined nominee to go to the full review):
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Hollywood loves a comeback story and Stallone’s had so many ups and downs in his career that I can’t keep track. Returning to the role that made him famous nearly 40 years ago, his understated Rocky Balboa in Creed marks a fine capper to a lengthy career, and should net him a deserving win. It’s also the only category that Creed is nominated for hence the only chance to fete the fine pugilist tale.
Possible dark horse: Tom Hardy was typically amazing in The Revenant, and a win here could also act as the Academy showing the Fury Road star some love, as Mad Max was iced out of the acting categories.
Who was snubbed?: Surely someone in Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight could’ve snuck in here? Walton Goggins as the conflicted Sheriff Mannix would be my pick.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
I expect the ascendant Alicia Vikander to win for The Danish Girl, as she managed to out-act last year’s Best Actor winner Eddie Redmayne in a movie that’s ostensibly about his character and not hers. Vikander was also solid in Ex Machina, so a win here could reward her overall great year.
Possible dark horse: Rooney Mara’s likely got a shot, as Carol didn’t receive as many nominations as expected and Mara is solid in the role. I’d like to see it go to Jennifer Jason Leigh who was ferocious in The Hateful Eight and phenomenal in the animated 2015 release Anomalisa.
Who was snubbed?: Cynthia Nixon was heartbreaking as the cancer stricken mother of the title character in the little-seen James White, giving a career-best performance.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
The emotional powerhouse Inside Out was Pixar in fine form and proved to be one of the best films of the year period, let alone animated entries, so it deserves its almost certain win…
Possible dark horse: …but stop-motion masterpiece Anomalisa may be the better movie and would give the Academy a chance to award the rare adult-oriented animated film.
Who was snubbed?: Ummmm… SpongeBob SquarePants: Sponge Out of Water? I got nothin’ here.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
The Look of Silence
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
Amy, about troubled pop star Amy Winehouse’s tumultuous life and death, seems to be the odds-on favourite going into the telecast.
Possible dark horse: Of the nominees, I’d like to see the award go to the devastating The Look of Silence, director Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to his searing 2012 doc The Act of Killing that continues to probe the fallout of the 1965 Indonesian Genocide.
What was snubbed?: Every year there seems to be more and more worthwhile documentaries released, and my favourite of 2015 was The Wolfpack. The film’s relatively lightweight coming-of-age themes may have kept it off this list, but it certainly merits another look.
It’s hard to imagine that Brie Larson won’t get an Oscar for Room (NOT The Room), as she’s won most of the awards leading up to this point and is legitimately great as the imprisoned mother of a young boy.
Possible dark horse: If anyone is poised to upset Larson, it’s likely Saoirse Ronan who gave a fine performance in the pleasant period piece Brooklyn.
Who was snubbed?: Bel Powley was frank and sincere in the revelatory Diary of a Teenage Girl, while Nina Hoss gave a layered masterclass of subtlety and nuance in the Hitchcockian thriller Phoenix.
This is it – it’s Leo’s year! He ate raw Bison liver, hunted Tom Hardy and even slept inside a dead horse like a tauntaun sleeping bag, much of which was done on camera for The Revenant. The academy likes to award physicality and obvious hard work for a role, and in that sense no one deserves it more than DiCaprio.
Possible dark horse: I highly doubt it, but Fassbender could sneak in for his title role in Steve Jobs. He had to wrangle Aaron Sorkin’s hyper-verbose script and play a known asshole with some degree of empathy – not an easy feat.
Who was snubbed?: Michael B. Jordan as boxer Adonis Creed in Creed. A highly physical role that could’ve been just another stepping stone in Jordan’s ascent to stardom, instead he imbued the character with heart and charisma, making a strong case for the Rocky franchise’s continued survival with Creed at its core.
Iñárritu’s unconventional choice to shoot The Revenant in the bitter Canadian cold using only natural light will likely be vindicated when he takes home Best Director (which would mark back-to-back wins with last year’s Birdman).
Possible dark horse: It’s too bad that a win for The Revenant would cost a loss for George Miller and Mad Max: Fury Road. Miller orchestrated a symphony of beautiful violence using mostly practical effects, setting a new standard for not just action movies, but visual storytelling on the big screen with a movie that would play nearly as well absent any dialogue.
Who was snubbed?: Ryan Coogler for Creed, for not just technical proficiency (an unbroken tracking shot during the 2nd fight astounds) but for creating a fresh visual language for a long-standing series. The only solace at Coogler’s exclusion comes with the knowledge that the young director will surely be nominated for a future effort.
Again, The Revenant seems to be leading the pack for the big prize of the night, further proof that a clear narrative about the making of a film (in this case that is was a very long, very arduous, and hence very realistic shoot) is like catnip for Academy voters.
Possible dark horse: I’m not alone in rooting for the shiny and chrome brilliance that is Mad Max: Fury Road. Time will likely prove that Miller’s mad masterpiece is a bonafide classic, it just seems unlikely that Oscar voters will agree. As with the Best Director category, it’s possible that The Big Short could sneak in on a wave of timeliness and outrage at the financial collapse that’s elevated the movie’s chances.
Who was snubbed?: Creed, Sicario, Anomalisa, countless others… Here’s my personal favourites from last year, which overlap slightly with the nominees but also illustrates that many smaller movies often get overlooked. The Academy rarely gets it completely right, but hopefully there’ll be a few surprises at the 2016 Oscars.
(click here for last year’s picks)