Each year, predicting the Oscar winners is a balancing act of who should win and who will win. This week, I share my choices for the Academy Awards on Feb. 28. How do my favorites compare to yours?
Best Picture: The Revenant
In a tight race for the year’s top Oscar, this bold epic from director Alexander G. Iñárritu – who won last year’s Best Picture and Director awards for Birdman – soars above the competition with daring moviemaking. There are moments when Iñárritu delivers sequences unlike anything we have seen at the movies. As he breaks the rules of how to use a camera, he creates new ways to tell a story. And, while the narrative can feel familiar at moments, how the director tells this survival tale is anything but conventional. Adding to its impact is the backstory of how the film was made, the endless shoots in remote locations, Iñárritu’s insistence on using natural light, and breakthrough performances from nominees Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. Iñárritu deserves to become the first director to helm back-to-back Oscar-winning films because of his bravery. In these two years he has rewritten the book of how cameras can tell stories.
Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
We have waited years for Leo to cop an Oscar, from his first nomination in 1993 for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape to being snubbed for Titanic to his nominated performances in Blood Diamond, The Aviator and The Wolf of Wall Street. This year, Leo will make it happen for giving us so much that is new in his screen work. This role of a man trying to survive gives the actor a chance to work against a backdrop big enough for the intensity he brings to his craft. Nothing DiCaprio has done prepares us for what he accomplishes. With minimal dialogue and, at moments, severe physical limitations, he conveys everything we need to know about a man who refuses to let anything define his life. The actor makes us believe how a man can navigate a brutal world.
Best Actress: Brie Larson, Room
Even though Saoirse Ronan is incandescent in Brooklyn, Brie Larson penetrates the screen with her intense portrayal of a determined, loving mother in this moving tale of persistence and caring. The camera rarely strays from this intuitive actress who makes us believe how a woman – with every reason to be bitter – refuses to let her anger haunt her child’s view of the world. Larson never lets herself, or the character, feel sorry for the realities. Without shining a spotlight on her Oscar-worthy moments, the actress lets us feel how a mother can create life for her son within extraordinary borders. Her selfless approach to the role frames the character’s authentic view of motherhood. The performance commands, surprises and grabs our senses.
Best Supporting Actor: Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Even though the Academy can get sentimental in supporting races – with Sylvester Stallone an odds-on favorite for creed –Oscar should not overlook the power of Ruffalo’s work as an investigative journalist with a conscience. This chameleon actor, always touching and only occasionally predictable, fills his portrayal of reporter Mike Rezendes with surprise. From the curl of his lip to the shadings of his voice, Ruffalo delivers a fresh portrayal that we haven’t seen from him before. And, yes, he was nominated last year for Foxcatcher. Sometimes the Academy waits to recognize the deserving.
Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
As the woman behind the man who wants to be a woman, Vikander gives this ambitious film its energy. While Oscar nominee Eddie Redmayne may be somewhat predictable in his mastery of suggestive gestures, Vikander surprises in every sequence, making this lady a fascinating mix of love, anger, resentment and longing. Her reactions to his crisis lift the movie from its lush surroundings to create a fascinating look at how a relationship can withstand change. With each gesture and glance, she lets us see inside a woman who wants to believe in the freedom she grants even as her husband’s choices force her to reinvent herself.
Best Director: Alexander G. Iñárritu, The Revenant
With this Oscar, this movie master will join John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz as the only directors to win back-to-back awards in this category. A year ago, Iñárritu brought innovative styling to the wordy proceedings of Birdman, lifting its dialogue into a new place with the creativity of his camera. The Revenant could not be more different. With minimal dialogue, and an unconventional structure, Iñárritu creates a new genre of wilderness adventure, a character driven study that refuses to rely on traditional action. He makes us want to watch every moment as we wonder what the next will bring.
More Reel Dad Oscar Predictions
Here are – exclusive to online readers of Arts and Leisure – additional choices for the Academy Awards this Sunday.
Best Original Screenplay: Spotlight
In this complicated Oscar year, The Revenant could become one of the few films to win Best Picture without a nominated screenplay (joining Titanic and The Sound of Music). That puts pressure on its competition to score in the writing categories. The original Spotlight reminds us of the importance of investigative journalism. Writers Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy celebrate the persistence, commitment and craft the best reporters bring to their work. Even with changes in how people may receive and absorb news, the film helps us see how a journalist’s commitment to truth will prevail.
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short
While the economic meltdown of 2008 was no laughing matter, The Big Short chuckles at the absurdity of its secrets. As if dissecting layers of disease, the film explores what can happen when greed overwhelms common sense. And because the movie never takes itself too seriously, while respecting the subject matter, it makes the realities of the situation all the more frightening. The film works as a comedy because of its integrity as a drama. The screenplay by Adam McKay and Charles Randolph – based on the book by Michael Lewis – contains enough factual information to fill an economics class. But, don’t worry, there’s no test.
Best Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul
While all contenders in this category impress, the power of Son of Saul transcends the boundaries of language. While many films have focused on the tragedies of World War II, this stands apart in its look, feel and characters. No matter how dim the setting may be, we see rays of light in people. As if to suggest layers of life beyond the immediate, the movie radiates so that, for a moment, we can forget we’re in the middle of a tragedy of senseless torture and death.
Best Animated Feature Film: Inside Out
While conventional films look at behavior from the outside – by showing steps and words that emotions inspire – the animators at Pixar can journey anywhere they wish to explore the ins and outs of all those emotions that drive how people act. Inside Out follows an 11-year-old girl who’s upset about moving to San Francisco. And, rather than watch what happens, Pixar gives us front-row seats on a first thrill ride through the complex collection of feelings we call emotions.
Best Cinematography: The Revenant
Once again, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki makes us believe a camera can be a bird flying through air as he explores the rugged landscapes of Alexander G. Iñárritu’s epic. As with Birdman and Gravity – for which Lubezki won Oscars the last two years – his work again reimagines what a camera can capture. And he did it all in natural light. Amazing. If he wins, he will establish a new Academy record for three wins in a row in this category.
Best Costume Design: Carol
While the look of Cinderella may sway Oscar voters, the more subtle work in this Todd Haynes film illustrates the power of effective costuming. So, while I hope Oscar chooses Carol over Cinderella, the winner will be the same because Sandy Powell designed the clothing for both. With these nominations, she now has the most nominations – 12 – for any living costume designer.
Best Film Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road
While this category can predict a Best Picture winner, look for George Miller’s action smash to dominate the technical categories. Anyone who likes roller coaster rides will thrill at the pace of this wondrous adventure through a land far, far away.
Best Original Score: The Hateful Eight
At age 87, composer Ennio Morricone has thrilled movie audiences with his music for the Sergio Leone films as well as Bugsy and In the Line of Fire among many others. But he has never won an Oscar despite six nominations. Thanks to director Quentin Tarantino, who always makes music central to his films, Morricone should get his moment. And he is the oldest nominee in this category in Academy history.
Best Original Song: Til it Happens to You from The Hunting Ground
I am not sure what will be more exciting – to hear what Lady Gaga will say when she wins an Oscar (given her speech at the Golden Globes) or to finally get the chance to see Diane Warren win a well-deserved award. This song captures the essence of this meaningful documentary. And it makes for good listening, too.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Mad Max: Fury Road
What could be more challenging for stylists than to make Charlize Theron look haggard? In George Miller’s wild adventure she has a wild ride and wears the dust of the road. This brilliant work suggests a world far away that we can immediately recognize.
Best Production Design: Mad Max: Fury Road
It’s no surprise that this visual thrill ride will dominate the visual awards. Its depiction of desolation is so specific in its detail yet epic in its scope that the design immediately transports us to a new world. Never do we believe we are in Kansas, Toto.
Best Sound Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road
Yes, George Miller’s film is as dazzling to listen to as to watch, with a collection of sounds that continually surprise. The movie becomes a symphony of sounds that contributes to the sense of desperation it explores.
Best Sound Mixing: The Revenant
The second sound category honors the creation of non-dialogue and non-music elements to enhance a film’s sound. The Academy should reward the film that uses sound most effectively to tell its story. That will Alexander G. Iñárritu’s film, with sound work as striking as its cinematography.
Best Visual Effects: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
While Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant are only the fourth and fifth films to be nominated in all technical categories, look for this latest chapter of the Star Wars franchise to capture an Oscar for its breathtaking action sequences. Yes, that bear is something fighting Leo, and the Charlize Theron fights epic battles, but the force should prevail in this category.
Best Documentary Feature: Amy
In a category filled with thrilling work – and several worthy candidates left without nominations – this moving documentary of singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse captures the heart with inevitable tragedy. The film defines, in ambition and impact, what documentary can be.
Best Documentary Short Subject: Body Team 12
This timely film – focusing on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa – pays tribute to Red Cross workers with respect and awareness, offering more substance than its short running time would suggest.
Best Live Action Short Film: Shok
This 21-minute drama – the first Oscar nominee from Kosovo – tragically reveals the impact of war on the friendship of two young boys. By focusing on their friendship, moviemaker Jaimie Donoughue uses his limited screen time to paint a picture of war far more personal than what news broadcasts might report.
Best Animated Short Film: Sanjay’s Super Team
The animators at Pixar stretch their imaginations with this humorous and touching tale of a child’s conflict between the Hindu traditions of his parents and the temptations of his immediate world. And filmmaker Sanjay Patel reminds us how children can find the essence of an issue in just a few minutes.
Enjoy the Oscars on February 28!