Let’s be clear. The Oscars has never been a barometer for excellence despite its careless brandishing of the word best in all of its awards. It is a show, one that is overlong with very few entertaining bits in between to justify the couple of hours that it would take to release a list of winners. (READ: FULL LIST: Nominees, Oscars 2016)
If the awards show is already unjustifiably long, the guessing game is even longer. It starts in January, where films that are set to be released during the year are already being touted by pundits as being Oscar-worthy.
Then there are the various film festivals, from Sundance to Cannes, whose lineups would reveal films with crossover appeal. Of course, very few of those early frontrunners would actually make it to December’s crowded line-up.
The nominations are then announced, and the guessing game turns more scientific, with predictions now supported by statistics and precursors. It’s much ado about nothing. Despite that, it’s actually a lot of fun. So let’s begin.
Again, all of these are just products of speculation with a little sprinkling of observations and my personal thoughts and feelings about the films, so feel free to argue and disagree.
Adam McKay’s The Big Short, a surprisingly playful take on the gravely tragic 2008 Financial Meltdown, won the Producer’s Guild prize, which has accurately predicted the Oscars Best Picture winner since 2007 (Gravity and 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture in a tie at the PGAs).
Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, which soberly tackles the role of journalism in unmasking the role of the Catholic Church in the prevalence of sexual abuse by the clergy, took home the ensemble prize of the Screen Actors Guild, whose members compose the largest chunk of Academy voters.
Alejandro G. Inarritu’s survivalist tale The Revenant won both the Best Drama prize at the Golden Globes and Best Director at the Directors Guild Award.
It would be a very pleasant surprise if George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road won the top prize. The film, which is the clear underdog in the race, is that rare blockbuster that delighted both critics and regular moviegoers.
However, it seems that the Academy isn’t ready to taint its imaginary reputation with a film whose roots do not appear as serious as the rest, so they will probably give the prize to McKay’s star-studded charmer whose glittered relevance feels just right in a year where America is in the process of choosing its next leader.
Except for 2012 where Ang Lee won Best Director for Life of Pi instead of Ben Affleck for Argo, the main prize in the Directors Guild of America awards in recent years has accurately predicted who will win the Best Director accolade at the Oscars.
This year, the honor went to Inarritu. However, if the Academy gave the prize to Inarritu, that would make the Mexican director the third person to win two consecutive Best Director prizes from the Oscars, after John Ford (for The Grapes of Wrath in 1940 and How Green was My Valley in 1941) and Joseph L. Mankiewicz (for A Letter to Three Wives in 1949 and All About Even in 1950).
It is a great feat, one that Inarritu deserves, most especially since The Revenant is a showcase of impressive filmmaking. However, there are at least two other better directed films this year. The first one is Spotlight, which is the antithesis to Inarritu’s flashiness. It matches its somber topic with admirable restraint. The second one is Mad Max: Fury Road, whose coherence is astounding and whose vision is unmatched.
This is clearly Leonardo DiCaprio’s year. Sadly, if he is to win this year, it would be out of sympathy and an impressive filmography rather than the specific performance for which he is to be rewarded.
It is not that DiCaprio’s performance in The Revenant is subpar. It is just inconsistent. The physicality of the performance clearly outweighs every emotion Di Caprio manages to squeeze out of a character that was borne out of the wilderness.
Michael Fassbender, whose performance as Steve Jobs in Danny Boyle’s clever biopic cleverly steps out of the arena of mimicry, deserves the award.
His performance is one that has a clear understanding of both the complexity of the real life he is portraying and the slant for which Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wants to depict his story and success.
Brie Larson, who in Lenny Abrahamson’s Room portrays a mother who cares for her son while they are held captive, is the favorite to win. What is most interesting however is that it is not her performance that is the emotional center of the film for which she is nominated.
The performance of young actor Jacob Tremblay, who plays a boy whose world is limited to the four corners of his prison, is just heartbreaking.
Saoirse Ronan however is the core of John Crowley’s impressively grounded Brooklyn. Without resorting to the convenience of histrionics, Ronan was able to convey the passion, frustration, hope and confusion of a woman struggling between two homes, one that she is forced to abandon and one that she is trying her best to fit into.
Sadly, Ronan’s performance is not as spectacle-filled as Larson’s. Also, there is Charlotte Rampling, whose lovely performance in Andrew Haigh’s equally lovely 45 Years is beyond sublime.
Best Supporting Actor
By generously revealing an aching humanity to a character that has been transformed by pop culture into a legend, Sylvester Stallone deserves a golden statue.
In a Ryan Coogler’s overlooked Creed, he shatters myths by serving as the melancholic counterpoint to Michael B. Jordan’s angst-filled rising star. It is a performance that requires both starpower and skill, and Stallone delivers in both departments.
He should win the award, if only for us all to hear his beautiful eloquence in gratitude.
There are however other remarkable performances. Mark Rylance’s performance in Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies is wonderfully precise. He starts out as a calculated enigma and evolves into this well-rounded human being, whose plight blurs politics and ideologies.
Tom Hardy’s turn as villain in The Revenant seems clichéd at first. However, there is a veiled intellect in how Hardy attempts to humanize what seems to be a heartless and opportunistic frontier man.
Best Supporting Actress
The Best Supporting Actress race is one rife with confusion. Two of the nominees, Rooney Mara for Todd Haynes’ Carol and Alicia Vikander for Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, could very well be leads in their respective films.
Interestingly, if we are to base the prize on merit alone without any regard to how the studios backing the films managed to distort the rules, it feels like Vikander’s performance is the strongest in the line-up.
In a film whose biggest acting spectacle is Eddie Redmayne’s transformation into a lovely woman, Vikander manages to arouse warmth and affinity in portraying a wife in crisis.
Kate Winslet however also delivers a noteworthy performance alongside Fassbender in Steve Jobs.
Jennifer Jason Leigh is repeatedly humiliated in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight but rises above the explicit violence committed against her to become the film’s sole soul.
Who do you think will take home an Oscar this year? Let us know in the comments below. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ 'Tirad Pass.' Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema. Profile photo by Fatcat Studios