Oscar nomination analysis and predictions from Daily Cal Arts

Julie Liu/Staff

For the 2016 Academy Awards, we have another controversial year of #OscarsSoWhite, the first back to back years since 1997 and 1998 without any racial diversity in the major awards. Despite this troubling institutional issue that the Academy is now attempting to fix, the overall lineup of films seems mostly deserving. “The Revenant,” with 12 nominations, and “Mad Max: Fury Road,” with 10 nominations, dominated the proceedings. The other Best Picture nominees “Spotlight,” with six nominations, and “The Big Short,” with five nominations, got the typical awards needed to be challengers for the top prize.


“The Big Short”
“Bridge of Spies”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
“The Martian”
“The Revenant”


There are two films that have garnered (rightfully so) the most outrage from fans for being snubbed: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Straight Outta Compton.” Yes, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is a box office phenomenon, breaking all kinds of domestic box office records (though it’s not likely to pass the international record set by “Avatar”), but that doesn’t mean it’s the Best Picture of 2015. While the film is way better than the prequels ever were, and is the best “Star Wars” film since the original two, it really is just a competently made, incredibly entertaining remake of “Star Wars: A New Hope,” which itself couldn’t even beat “Annie Hall” for Best Picture in 1977. The fact that “The Force Awakens” managed a Best Editing nomination, along with four other technical award nominations, shows that many people did really admire the craft of the film, but they just didn’t think it was quite original enough to get in.

As for “Straight Outta Compton,” I thought it was going to get a nomination. It’s a hell of a film with a sprawling story, a uniformly excellent cast of unknowns and social relevance that you don’t tend to see in Hollywood films these days. The film even managed to obtain Screen Actors Guild Best Ensemble, Producers Guild Best Motion Picture and Writers Guild Best Original Screenplay nominations, showing that the film was loved by many in the Academy. But, more than likely, due to mostly male, mostly white and mostly old Academy voters, the film was snubbed for Best Picture of the year. It’s a shame really, because after seeing “Selma” snubbed last year and then the Academy allowing more members in, especially people who are younger and of color to prevent this type of issue, the Academy has shown the institutional problems still inherent in the classical Hollywood system.

Luckily, at least in my opinion, the films that were nominated and in the best position to win the Best Picture Oscar, are all deserving.

“The Revenant” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” are both huge spectacle driven films, shown by both being nominated for every technical category, including Best Editing and Cinematography. Ultimately, the edge for Best Picture probably goes to “The Revenant,” because of the film having the most nominations of the year, the Oscar winning director Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Birdman”), and two acting nominations for Leonardo DiCaprio (Best Actor) and Tom Hardy (Best Supporting Actor). “Mad Max: Fury Road” could easily win Best Director, as many people respect George Miller’s uncanny eye and attention to detail in his world building, but at the same time, the film just may be too gonzo and unhinged to pull off the Best Picture win. Either way, these two are my personal favorites of 2015, as both are gigantic films of incredible art and craftsmanship, and represent the most auteristic and bold visions Hollywood has produced this century.

Then we have two films that have done incredibly well in the Guild precursor nominations, “The Big Short” and “Spotlight.” “The Big Short” is a brutal satire and informatively clear-eyed look at the corruption in America that eventually led to the housing market crash and the recession we all felt. Starring Best Supporting Actor nominee Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt, the film is a star-driven mix of tragedy and comedy, one that has incredible current relevance. Oscar nominated director and co-writer Adam McKay could walk away with the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, even if the film doesn’t win Best Picture or Best Director. But after “The Big Short” surprisingly won the Producer Guild Award for Best Film on Saturday, it may be the frontrunner now.

Almost all of the same can be said for “Spotlight,” as it features a huge, gifted cast including Best Supporting Actor and Actress nominees Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams, along with subtle, yet thoroughly researched, direction and writing by Tom McCarthy. “Spotlight” has been the critical favorite since it was released, as it accurately and honorably shows what journalism and journalists can and should be. Following the Boston Globe’s investigative reporting team that discovered the Catholic Church sex scandal, the film has extra relevance as many newspapers and reporting teams are being hit by the impending death of print journalism. Because of this, “Spotlight” definitely can’t be counted out for the Best Picture win.

Will win: “The Big Short”
Could win: “The Revenant” or “Spotlight”
Should win: “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Snubbed: “Straight Outta Compton”


Adam McKay, “The Big Short”
George Miller, “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Alejandro González Iñárritu, “The Revenant”
Lenny Abrahamson, “Room”
Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight”

Any one of the nominees could realistically win, but even if their films don’t win Best Picture, I believe the director’s branch is going to reward Iñárritu or Miller for handling two massively scaled, intimately told blockbusters.

“The Revenant” weaves a story about a man seeking vengeance after being left for dead in the Northwest Territory in the 19th century, and throws in many auteurist flourishes, that while not sitting well with everyone who sees it, clearly took a strong vision to create. Deciding to shoot in natural lighting and freezing conditions, Iñárritu took the most risks to create the film.

Yet, considering he just swept the Oscars last year, the Oscars may decide to award the 70 year old George Miller, who is hugely respected by many filmmakers, despite never being nominated for Best Director before. He has had a Best Picture nominee in the family film “Babe” (yes, the movie about the talking pig) and won Best Animated Feature for “Happy Feet.” Miller has somehow created one of the most violent franchises of all time, “Mad Max.” The biggest complaint anyone has had about “Mad Max: Fury Road” is that the film neglects traditional story elements in order to create an unbridled action film that vrooms from beginning to end with unmatched energy. But I think most of the industry will see this as the marking the change for Hollywood, when major studios began to let talented filmmakers make the films they want without any studio intervention.

Will win: George Miller, “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Could win: Alejandro González Iñárritu, “The Revenant”
Should win: George Miller, “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Snubbed: Ridley Scott, “The Martian”


Bryan Cranston, “Trumbo”
Matt Damon, “The Martian”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”
Michael Fassbender, “Steve Jobs”
Eddie Redmayne, “The Danish Girl”

Quite frankly, and finally, this is DiCaprio’s to lose. He has been snubbed of nominations so many times (Best Picture recipients and nominee “The Departed,” “Titanic” “Django Unchained”) and given so many deserving of wins in nominated films (“The Wolf of Wall Street,” “The Aviator,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”), that it has become comical of how he hasn’t won an Oscar yet despite being one of the biggest movie stars of all time. That all changes this year, as he can begin writing his Oscar speech now for giving the most physically and emotionally demanding performance of 2015. The only actor that could upset him, but they won’t, is Matt Damon’s affecting, funny and extremely likeable performance in “The Martian.”

Will win: Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”
Could win: Matt Damon, “The Martian”
Should win: Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”
Snubbed: Abraham Attah, “Beasts of No Nation”


Cate Blanchett, “Carol”
Brie Larson, “Room”
Jennifer Lawrence, “Joy”
Charlotte Rampling, “45 Years”
Saoirse Ronan, “Brooklyn”

Jennifer Lawrence and Charlotte Rampling are just lucky to be nominated. Lawrence gave a solid performance in a poorly reviewed film and Rampling gave a masterful performance in a rarely seen film. The other three are going to duke it out for the win, but since Blanchett just won an Oscar in this category two years ago, I’m going to guess they’ll reward one of the young but great actresses in the Best Picture nominees. Ronan has been nominated before for “Atonement” when she was in her teens — clearly, people like her. Yet, since “Room” seems to have more overall love this year, shown by the Best Director nomination for “Room,” I think the Academy will give Larson the award.

Will win: Brie Larson, “Room”
Could win: Saoirse Ronan, “Brooklyn”
Should win: Brie Larson, “Room”
Snubbed: Charlize Theron, “Mad Max: Fury Road”


Christian Bale, “The Big Short”
Tom Hardy, “The Revenant”
Mark Ruffalo, “Spotlight”
Mark Rylance, “Bridge of Spies”
Sylvester Stallone, “Creed”

The most egregious snub of an actor was in this category. That actor was black, illustrating the whitewashing within the Academy and adding insult to injury. Idris Elba in “Beasts of No Nation” gave one of the best performances of the year, period. However, “Beasts of No Nation” was completely snubbed after performing well in the Guild awards and even the British Academy Award nominations. Elba may have not won, but a nomination would have been completely deserved. Luckily though, the rest of the nominees gave great performances, so I can’t complain too much. Stallone is probably the favorite, for giving a sympathetic portrayal of an aging Rocky, the character that made him famous. However, Bale, Hardy, Ruffalo and Rylance all give incredible performances in Best Picture nominees. Hardy seemed to be the one who knocked out Elba, and also seems to be the most likely to upset Stallone for giving three great performances this year in “The Revenant,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and “Legend.” If Hardy wins, it’s because it’s a consolation prize for all of his performances more so than one individually.

Will win: Sylvester Stallone, “Creed”
Could win: Tom Hardy, “The Revenant”
Should win: Tom Hardy, “The Revenant”
Snubbed: Idris Elba, “Beasts of No Nation”


Jennifer Jason Leigh, “The Hateful Eight”
Rooney Mara, “Carol”
Rachel McAdams, “Spotlight”
Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl”
Kate Winslet, “Steve Jobs”

This is going to be one of the hardest to predict, as all of these women gave amazing performances. Yet, sort of unfairly, two of the performances are more lead performances than supporting ones, and thus, are likely the frontrunners. Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander were relegated to the supporting race, despite being the central characters in their respective films. While all are deserving, in the same sense that Tom Hardy may receive an acting award as a consolation for his body of work for the year of 2015, I think Vikander will receive and deserves the Oscar for her performances across “The Danish Girl,” “Ex Machina,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “Testament of Youth.”

Will win: Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl”
Could win: Rooney Mara, “Carol”
Should win: Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl”
Snubbed: Alicia Vikander, “Ex Machina,” just because this was more of a supporting performance and felt a lot less like Oscar bait in comparison to “The Danish Girl.”


Contact Levi Hill at [email protected].