Oscar Race 2016 — The Key Categories

Once again the lack of diversity in the Oscar race grabs headlines from really important things — for example, what gowns the stars will wear — but here’s my take on who should win accolades and even a golden statute or two.

Instead of engaging in what really should be my best choices — so many of mine didn’t even make the short lists — I’ll just look at the nominees and address what I’d like to see happen on Oscar night.

There are some omissions on my part; sadly I haven’t seen The Big Short and Creed, or 45 Years yet.

Still I’ll tackle the biggie first: The Best Picture award. I don’t get this — they have room for 10 films so why didn’t they add two others they were entitled to add. It might have deflected the whole diversity conversation. I would have preferred Carol or Beasts of No Nation be on that august list.

Danny-boyle-directorAcademy members feel Spielberg can do no wrong; his films usually get into the running. But Bridge of Spies is not top flight Steven S. The Tom Hanks helmed spy thriller makes for serviceable drama and tells of an interesting chapter in the history of the Cold War.

Of the batch,  Spotlight and the scifi-oriented The Martian are best constructed. Their storytelling and pacing fulfill and both offer intriguing tales that unravels with twists and turns that may be expected but unfold predictably.

The one-word-titled Room and Brooklyn are female-centric films deserving accolades and nominations. Both offer looks into worlds we never want or can’t experience and do it in convincing and compassionate ways, aided by sterling performances by their female leads (both of whom have been nominated for Best Actress).

Nonetheless, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant lay down the tough dramatic challenges with grit. But given director George Miller’s long rep (as the creator of the Mad Max/Road Warrior saga) and his unlikely chance of making it on this list again, I'd throw to him the award for either the Best Picture or Best Director. Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s The Revenant is equally powerful — lead Leo DiCaprio is tested in many ways throughout and equits himself throughout — but since it he’s likely to win Best Actor, the to picture and director awards should land elsewhere.

There’s a further caveat: Miller was also nominated for best director so he could take that award; Best Picture could then go to veteran Ridley Scott for the Martian — easily one of the year’s best films. And since Scott wasn’t recognized by his peers for best director — where he should have been acknowledged — the statue deserves to be in his hands one way or another.

kurt-jenSadly Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl and Todd Haynes’ Carol, should have been on this Best of 2015 list — and would have helped eliminate the Oscars’ diversity gap. And for unfathomable reasons, Beasts of No Nation also escaped this august acknowledgement (as did Creed and Concussion).

Which brings us to the Directing Nominees. Adam McKay’s The Big Short notwithstanding, I’ve already acknowledged the others choices — Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, Iñárritu’s The Revenant, Lenny Abrahamson’s Room and Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight. In an ideal world, the award would be split between several of these directors, but I would lean towards Spotlight, if Miller doesn’t get the big paperweight on February 28th.

S-Ronan brooklynNext are the key actor nominations. The two biggies — Best and Best supporting — really should be two non-sex specific 10 person categories called nominees for Actor in a Leading Role but this isn’t an ideal world where gender, sexual preference and ethnicity is only incidentally an element of a person or the character they play.

So, that a'int where we’re at.

Back to the five facing a win on that Sunday in February. The Best of Actor crew includes Trumbo’s Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo; The Martian’s Matt Damon as Mark Watney; The Revenant’s Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass; Steve JobsMichael Fassbender as Jobs and The Danish Girl’s Eddie Redmayne as pioneering transexual Einar Wegener/lili Elbe.

And since I’m tired of British actors seizing jobs that A-list American actors could handle, I’m inclined towards Cranston for his uncanny transformation (or for the matter of transformation, Will Smith in Concussion). But if it goes to DiCaprio — as is expected — I won’t be disappointed; the trials his character endures tax the best of actors and audiences, and Leo lives to smile about it.

For actor in a supporting role, the contenders list includes: Christian Bale as Michael Burry in The Big Short; Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald in The Revenant; Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes in Spotlight; Mark Rylance as Abel Rudolph in Bridge of Spies; Sylvester Stallone as Rocky in Creed. I’m weakest in this category not knowing Creed or The Big Short, but the general money is on Stallone and mine is on Hardy for disappearing into his character. Nonetheless, Ruffalo is equally deserving for being the moral center of a film that profoundly questions conventional judgements.

alicia-vIn the best lead actress category, there’s Brie Larson as Joy "Ma" Newsome in Room; Saoirse Ronan as Eilis in Brooklyn; Cate Blanchett as Carol Aird in Carol; Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano in Joy and Charlotte Rampling as Kate Mercer in 45 Years.

What a conundrum — to give it to Rampling for one of her finest roles or Ronan for her sensitive portrayal? Bets are on for Larson to win for her portrayal of a rape/kidnapping survivor — which she does handle with aplomb.

Winding down to the final key category, best supporting actress. From Rooney Mara as Therese Belivet in Carol to Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer in Spotlight; Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman in Steve Jobs; or Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue in The Hateful Eight.

But the accolade really should go to Alicia Vikander who plays the all-suffering wife Gerda Wegener in The Danish Girl (though some cognoscenti felt her nom should have been for Ex-Machina). She’s been this year’s it-person and getting an Oscar would be her just reward for all the work.