Thoughts on Oscar 2016 Nominations

Today seems like a fantastic time to get the site rolling with oodles of content again, so consider this my relaunch post.


I missed the live stream of the 2016 Oscar nomination announcements and all the hubbub with John Krasinski, Guillermo del Toro and Ang Lee presenting, because the Academy were inconsiderate by running it while I was hiking with Everett in the jungle (or what people who aren't four years old would call walking to school). I don't know if there were any funny mispronounced names this year or if Krasinski had a scandalous nip slip, but I do know the official Oscar nominees for 2016.

This was an interesting year, because usually before Christmas we have a solid idea of who will be all the major nominees in the key categories. There was plenty of shuffling and debating as the weeks went by with some movies being really hot then losing all steam to another suddenly sizzling contender. The biggest example is how almost non-entity The Big Short (initially not even slated to be released this year) went from decent little comedic drama to full-blown legit Best Picture heavyweight that is now shoving its way into a lead contender spot (which baffles me because yes, it is Adam McKay's most ambitious picture and it has great performances, but it doesn't captivate emotionally at the level of a Spotlight or The Revenant).

You can get the full list of nominees here. You can get my thoughts on specific nominations by continuing to read.

Best Picture: Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, Room, Spotlight, The Big Short, The Martian, The Revenant

In 2009, the Academy increased its potential nominees for Best Picture from five to ten, with the idea it would increase exposure to a variety of pictures and to allow some genre fare to get recognized. Outside of 2009 and 2010, where movies like Avatar, District 9, Up, Inception, and Toy Story 3 got nominated, genre movies have largely been shunned unless they have a traditional Oscar sheen on them like Gravity or have director heavyweight like Django Unchained with Quentin Tarantino.

At first glance, the nominations of The Martian, Bridge of Spies and Mad Max: Fury Road would demonstrate the Academy taking a "risk" and actually giving genre fare some spotlight. Except I'd argue it was just another year of them playing it safe, even if it is pretty cool to see the feverish dream of an action movie in Mad Max getting a nod.

When I praised Mad Max: Fury Road as a year best way back in May, I did add a caveat that its genre label would likely stop it from any Academy consideration outside of technical awards. That all changed in what turned out to be a pretty crazy December where Mad Max landed on the top of many major critics' best of the year lists and got several nominations from other award organizations. By January, it was clear Mad Max had a strong shot in getting nominated and movies like Carol were suffering from losing a lot of momentum. Mad Max got in due to the major critical praise and hype, and if it didn't get declared best of the year by so many then it would have suffered the same genre fare fate of being swept under the rug (even if it was the exact same movie). This was Academy following the crowd and if it really wanted to try something new it would have nominated a movie like Star Wars: Force Awakens or Ex Machina.

The Martian and Bridge of Spies are really good movies for popcorn munchers, but likely the fact they have two big name directors and got strong box office runs is how they earned nominations. Though I don't think any of the three have a shot at winning the actual award this year, I do think it will help the ratings to have Best Picture nominees that people actually watched and enjoyed.

I'm bummed that Creed got the pass, and from what I've heard, this is largely due to Warner Brothers completely being caught off guard by the critical reception this movie garnered and how it ranked high on most best of the year lists. They didn't have a proper promotional campaign in place to get members thinking about it. This means that studio executives don't watch their own movies or they're just oblivious to quality.

This was also the year that Academy really should have taken advantage of their ten slots rather than just nominate eight movies. There were many great movies that deserved those final spots including Straight Outta Compton (which along with Creed would have significantly helped the Academy's diversity problem) Inside Out (why has the Academy just stopped putting animated fare in the Best Picture spot since 2010?) and Carol.

Carol, Brooklyn, and Room all had a significant amount of momentum and hype back in November, and then things started getting derailed right along with the different award show nominations being announced in December. All three seemed to start suffering by being labelled "performance movies" rather than getting praise for the whole package.

The nominations weren't a surprise once the new year hit and it was clear what the favourites were, but this turned out to be a very different crop then I was expecting back in the summer. This initially looked like it would be a great year for diversity or at least a great win for woman and the LGBTQ community, but then Suffragette didn't capture the imagination like I expected and The Danish Girl was a critical disappointment. I haven't seen Carol, but this is the snub that may catch the most fire among many critics that were championing it.

This isn't a total groin kick for diversity. Yes, we're stuck with eight movies about white people again, but at least three have females in significant roles, and two of those would be aimed towards a female audience.

I've seen six of the Best Picture nominees (Room and Brooklyn haven't made it out here), and if I had any voting power, The Revenant and Spotlight would be the two I'd consider Best Picture worthy, though Mad Max: Fury Road is so different and ambitious that I have no problem with it owning a slot. For the last few weeks I've been predicting Spotlight as the likely winner, though recent buzz has been increasing for The Big Short to the point it may be squeaking ahead (plus you can't discount The Revenant winning at the Golden Globes and landing 12 Oscar nominations as a huge boost for its chances as well).

Best Directing: George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), Lenny Abrahamson (Room), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), Adam McKay (The Big Short), Alejandro G. Inarritu (The Revenant)

Ryan Coogler should be on here. I know, he wasn't really ever in the running, but he made a dramatic and emotional and fresh movie from what was a part seven from a franchise people passed off years ago. Creed was intimate and touching while also having some of the best action and thrills of the year; he made an excellent prestige picture and a delightful popcorn muncher at the same time. I'm glad that George Miller made it and his vision was audacious and imaginative and very worthy, but Coogler did a lot of the same things just with less special effects and eye-popping set pieces. A best director isn't about creating spectacle but driving the story right into the heart of the viewer where they eagerly follow the characters to the very end, and Coogler did that (yes, Miller did that too).

This is kind of the problem with the best directing voting. It typically awards grand visual extravaganzas where the challenges of directing are overt and obvious. I definitely think both Miller and Inarritu deserve their slot, but at the same time, the directing in that type of movie is indisputable. Often the more subtle and nuanced directing in intimate and quiet pictures often gets ignored even though at times that requires even more skill. I haven't seen Carol, but I know its fans were arguing Todd Haynes did a masterful job but due to the fact it was done in warm and cozy settings that his work would be ignored.

Adam McKay's The Big Short is the director of Anchorman trying to do Martin Scorsese. That isn't a negative but the stylish story breaks and talking to the audience disconnected me from the narrative rather than enhance the story like it always does in a Scorsese picture. It was McKay's best work, but I'm not really convinced it was awards worthy.

I'm shocked that both Ridley Scott and Steven Spielberg got shunned here, especially when their movies got nominated. I'd say that hurts both movies from getting the Best Picture. I thought The Martian was some of Scott's best work in a long time and did a great job balancing tones, but his absence from the nominees list allowed a black horse in Lenny Abrahamson to sneak in, which I'm totally happy about.

Tom McCarthy's work in Spotlight is magnificent as he crafted a riveting thriller with amazing performances without leaning on the typical thriller tropes or having that token melodramatic "Oscar scene." This was an understated picture that was more powerful and engrossing due to dialing things down and trusting the material. I'd like for him to win here, but his major challengers at this point are Alejandro G. Inarritu (though I don't know if they'd let him win back to back) or McKay.

Actor in Leading Role: Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Matt Damon (The Martian), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)

Leo is winning, so everyone else is just here to fill up the five spots. Leo would be winning even if it wasn't one of the best performances of the year because he has missed out so many times now and Academy gives out awards for actors who are due (see Denzel Washington for Training Day and Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman as past examples).

Yet there are still some major disappointments here, especially considering every actor category is filled up with white folks. There were definitely some very worthy performances that could have taken a spot here like Michael B. Jordan for Creed, Benicio del Toro for Sicario, Will Smith for Concussion, and in other categories, Idris Elba was hands down one of the best in a supporting role for Beasts of No Nation and Gugu Mbatha-Raw showed her superstar potential in an actress supporting role in Concussion. We got stuck with a second year of a white wash.

Michael B. Jordan's performance was integral in Creed emotionally connecting with the audience and feeling a conflicted fighter battling with self-doubt, accepting his past, and a need to prove his worthiness. This was further evidence that he is a future superstar. Benicio del Toro delivered one of the most haunting performances of the year with a character you didn't know if you wanted to cheer or dread, and his master work elevated a movie that was visually engaging but had a rather formulaic plot. Will Smith is one of the biggest stars in the world, which means it can be hard for us to not see "Will Smith" on the screen, yet within minutes he transformed into his character, Dr. Bennet Omalu and delivered one of the best performances of his career. Elba was both intimidating and fragile as the leader of child soldiers and was someone who was both commanding authority but deep down rather pathetic and insecure. Elba is one of the few great talents that was able to pull off the complicated character so expertly. Mbatha-Raw has an amazing screen presence but in Concussion she was understated and quiet but still projected strength. Yet Academy decided to not acknowledge any of these actors.

I haven't seen Trumbo or The Danish Girl. Eddie Redmayne was a big favourite until the movie was screened. He still got a nod, because he physically transforms himself again this year and the Academy loves that kind of thing. Bryan Cranston was top pick to win at one point, but I don't see him outshining DiCaprio this year.

Michael Fassbender was fantastic, because even though he looked nothing like Steve Jobs, you stopped noticing once the movie started rolling. He totally embodied the role and stopped acting but rather immersed himself into the character. I loved Steve Jobs and glad it is at least getting some recognition in the acting categories even though I thought the script, directing, and story were top notch. It likely suffered by not trying to soften the Jobs character and for over two hours being about a rather abrasive and polarizing figure.

I am little bummed about Steve Carell not getting a nod here, since this was probably his best performance yet and my favourite part of The Big Short. I'm sure some may sharpen the pitch forks over Johnny Depp getting passed over for his job in Black Mass, but compared to the showings on this list that I've seen, it definitely wasn't as good.

Actor in Supporting Role: Christian Bale (The Big Short), Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Sylvester Stallone (Creed), Tom Hardy (The Revenant)

Back in December, most award pundits predicted this was Mark Rylance's to win. After the Golden Globes, it appears the momentum has gone entirely with Sylvester Stallone. Stallone winning is also the feel-good story, and Rylance is talented enough to take away the prize any other year. This is likely Stallone's only chance, and it is fun for an action star that many gave up on years ago to strike back with a performance of a lifetime. Stallone brought so much empathy and authenticity to his character (a lot of credit to Coogler), and I sense he put a lot of himself into that role. Out of all the nominees, my favourite was likely Tom Hardy who was one of the best villains of the year, and he may have a chance if The Revenant is poised for a ruling of the Oscars.

Actress in a Leading Role: Brie Larson (Room), Cate Blanchett (Carol), Charlotte Rampling (45 Years), Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

Sadly, I've only seen Joy. I think that speaks volumes about the state of roles for woman in Hollywood. It is real easy being in a small city and seeing the majority of movies with the top male performances but the woman are stuck in limited release pictures. From everything I've heard, Saoirse Ronan is a heavy favourite here and it was a career making performance, though she has proven her skill in the past with great movies like The Grand Budapest Hotel. Since Meryl Streep's movies all fizzled this year (though both Ricki and the Flash and Suffragette have their champions), Cate Blanchett gets the established veteran slot this year. Since Academy also likes their lifetime achievement type awards, Charlotte Rampling may give Ronan a challenge. Brie Larson will always have another shot in future years because she is a clear acting powerhouse. Of course, Lawrence will continue to be a regular in this spot as well. I should add that Lawrence by far is the best thing about Joy, and she delivers all the nuance and emotion of the movie, but she won recently so Academy will probably think she got her moment for now. Even though I didn't see it, I really hoped that this would be the year Carey Mulligan gets recognized, but Suffragette unfortunately disappointed and didn't turn out to be the launching pad that I expected.

Actress in a Support Role: Alicia Vikander (Danish Girl), Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs), Rachel McAdams (Spotlight), Rooney Mara (Carol)

Kate Winslet is just as crucial as Fassbender in making Steve Jobs work. Her character Joanna Hoffman's relationship is the constant in Jobs' life and their connection and friendship is believable. She has a great wit and energy and allows Fassbender to play off her as well. She has been a stand-out for years, but she proves her immense talents here.

Rachel McAdams has a low key performance and doesn't have character with noticeable tics and quirks that she can latch on to like Mark Ruffalo's in Spotlight, but it is just as good in a different way. It isn't showy or extravagant, but she brings a calm and professionalism that makes it feel real rather than acting. She is also someone who has been great for years but often gets ignored.

I haven't seen any of the other movies due to the curse of living in Brantford and not driving. Many are calling this the year of Alicia Vikander, but I'd guess she doesn't win here, even though Hollywood is eager for her to be the next "it girl." Winslet got the Golden Globe so that  makes her a strong candidate, but I think Rooney Mara also still has a good shot to win here. She is another that deserves way more recognition and opportunities. To be honest, all these woman deserve many more chances to showcase their talents.

Animated Feature: Anomalisa, Boy and the World, Inside Out, Shaun the Sheep Movie, When Marnie was There

I really need to try to catch the very intriguing non-mainstream animated features on this list, because this has a much more diverse and eclectic selection than the Best Pictures. Inside Out will likely win and I have no problem with that since it was one of the best movies of the year. Shaun the Sheep Movie was cute and maybe the second best animated feature that I saw this year, but then again, I really enjoyed The Good Dinosaur for the kid-friendly adventure it was aspiring to be.

I'm going to skip the documentary and foreign pictures, because all it proves is that I really need to see more 2015 foreign pictures and documentaries. Though I have no excuse for not seeing Cartel Land and What Happened, Miss Simone? yet. It is rather interesting that the critically acclaimed Going Clear documentary that teared down Scientology didn't get the expected nomination, and I think it entirely has to do with material that likely bothered a significant number of voters for an obvious reason. Though as a quick prediction to make me seem smart, Son of Saul is a sure thing for best foreign picture, even though its material is pretty crushing and tough.

Writing Adapted Screenplay: Brooklyn, Carol, Room, The Big Short, The Martian

Interesting that Carol nails screenplay and acting nominations, but still misses the Best Picture. It really does seem the low-key directing style of Todd Haynes did it in. My sense right now is The Big Short will win this, but I can see The Martian having a strong chance too due to it being so breezy and likable. And likable is exactly the reason that Steve Jobs and Aaron Sorkin were robbed of the nomination that they deserved. I absolutely adored the wit and sharpness of the Steve Jobs script and the dialogue was like poetry even if it was abrasive and prickly. It was such a complex and deep movie with a strong character arc without it being overt or didactic. I'm not shocked it got snubbed because I have to admit that during my screening Scott and I seemed to be the only ones in the theatre feeling its groove. I really hope to see Brooklyn and Carol before Oscar time (nudge nudge, Brantford Cineplex).

Writing Original Screenplay: Bridge of Spies, Ex Machina, Inside Out, Spotlight, Straight Outta Compton

Three of the best original screenplays are based on real events that you'd think would have source material for the screenwriter, but apparently, they just came up with it all on their own. I'm really glad that Straight Outta Compton got some props, even if I'm not entirely convinced it was actually the screenplay that made it a great movie but rather the solid directing and spot-on performances.

Quentin Tarantino had a rough go this time around, as the rule is almost always he loses out on Best Director (but gets nominated) but wins for screenplay, but this time he missed out on both. The Hateful Eight got a much chillier reception than most of his other movies, but I can't speak into it because well you know, Brantford.

On the genre front, it is great to see Ex Machina breakthrough for a nomination and clearly the Academy was able to look past it being sci-fi. The Academy tends to be a little less stuffy when it comes to the screenplay categories as long as there seems to be whiffs of complexity. This is a deep and compelling script that makes it a movie that you can get a new experience with each viewing. Which reminds me, I still need my second, third, and fourth.

I want Inside Out to win here, but Spotlight could win it too. Inside Out is one of the most complex and richest stories of the year that abound with symbolism and emotion. I had a spiritual experience with my viewing both times and this proved that animated fare can be more powerful and rewarding than most live-action pictures. Right now I'll vote it wins, because that is where my heart is at.  I'm a pretty big champion for Spotlight as well, but I still have strong hopes it is taking home a Best Picture.