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2016 Oscars Preview

Who will win, who should win, who really should win...and more!

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Short Film (Animated)

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Nominated:
Bear Story: Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala
Prologue: Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton
Sanjay’s Super Team: Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle
We Can’t Live without Cosmos: Konstantin Bronzit
World of Tomorrow: Don Hertzfeldt

Who Will Win: World of Tomorrow
Sanjay’s Super Team is a good bet, as voters are definitely freaking out over trying to throw as many statues at as many non-white people as possible—which is in no way a comment on the quality of Patel and Grindle’s film—but I have a feeling that Pixar burn-out (especially since they’re going to give the studio the obligatory yearly nod with Inside Out) will help Hertzfeldt finally win the Oscar many thought he was robbed of 16 years ago. World of Tomorrow truly was one of last year’s best films, regardless of length, and this is a pretty simple way for the Academy to acknowledge that they aren’t as out-of-touch with the critical community as pretty much everyone assumes they are. —DS

Who Should Win: World of Tomorrow
More times than not, Oscar viewers tend to automatically tune out when it comes to the “Short Film/Short Documentary” category, which is a shame since a lot of the nominated shorts throughout Oscar’s history are definitely worth seeking out. Never was this more the case than this year. Not only is World of Tomorrow by far the best film of its category but it’s one of the two or three best films of the year. Period. In a sparse 17 minutes, director Don Hertzfeldt pushes his signature stick-figure characters through a digitally rendered short story worthy of Asimov, Le Guin or Gibson. To describe the plot at all would be to deprive anyone who hasn’t yet had a chance to view it. One thing I will signal out, however, is how astounding it is that a film with such a heady, cerebral premise never lets its expert world-building obfuscate its emotional core. The short is currently available on Netflix so check it out when you have the chance and prepare to have this masterpiece linger in your head for days, even weeks, afterwards.—Mark Rozeman


Short Film (Live Action)

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Nominated:
Ave Maria: Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont
Day One: Henry Hughes
Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut): Patrick Vollrath
Shok: Jamie Donoughue
Stutterer: Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage

Who Will Win: Ave Maria
The more one invests oneself in the many narratives of Oscar season, the more one hears of the “fear” Academy voters harbor toward watching certain nominees. Be it the moral imperative of 12 Years a Slave or the underdog status of Room, time and time again the idea that the people who are voting in these categories simply don’t watch the films that may challenge them most is not only astounding, but patently unethical. Which is why in this case, a socially “relevant” issue like the Israel/palestine divide distilled through a more heartwarming, lighter short like Ave Maria will be appealing to those voters who are too afraid of a more devastating (or at least difficult) film like Shok.—DS

Who Should Win: Shok


Sound Editing

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Nominated:
Mad Max: Fury Road: Mark Mangini and David White
The Martian: Oliver Tarney
The Revenant: Martin Hernandez and Lon Bender
Sicario: Alan Robert Murray
Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Alan Robert Murray

Who Will Win: Mark Mangini and David White for Mad Max: Fury Road

Who Should Win: Mark Mangini and David White for Mad Max: Fury Road


Sound Mixing

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Nominated:
Bridge of Spies: Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Drew Kunin
Mad Max: Fury Road: Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo
The Martian: Paul Massey, Mark Taylor and Mac Ruth
The Revenant: Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom and Chris Duesterdiek
Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson

Who Will Win: Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo for Mad Max: Fury Road

Who Should Win: Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom and Chris Duesterdiek for The Revenant
If anything, The Revenant is a visceral, immersive experience, meant to be indulged on the big screen, intended to be as clear a translation of audience “presence” as any virtual reality video game. As opposed to “Editing”—which could be a short-hand way to think of “creating” sound for film—“Sound Mixing” is the layering of sound: placement, focus, volume, intensity. The sound in that theater is just as intrinsic to that full-bodied enthrallment as Chivo’s use of light and Iñárritu’s violating camera movement. If Iñárritu needed us to feel his pain, to understand what making a movie like The Revenant could be like, the way sound intertwines in the film is the closest we can get to actually being on set, suffering the pretension of something careening way, way, recklessly, shamelessly over budget. —DS


Visual Effects

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Nominated:
Ex Machina: Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett
Mad Max: Fury Road: Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver and Andy Williams
The Martian: Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence and Steven Warner
The Revenant: Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron Waldbauer
Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould

Who Will Win: Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver and Andy Williams for Mad Max: Fury Road

Who Should Win: Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver and Andy Williams for Mad Max: Fury Road

Making a Case for: Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett for Ex Machina
I like to think of Ex Machina—a gorgeous, two-hour long Turing Test between bright, young programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) and a pretty android (Alicia Vikander)—as performing its own Turing Test on the audience. Is this a real film, or is this the perfect distillation of what we as a culture think of when we are confronted with the dangerous-but-seductive idea of artificial intelligence? Regardless, in order to place its audience in the deepest trench of the Uncanny Valley, the film’s effects had to be both convincing and ineffably unnerving, just slightly too real for comfort. Without such accomplished visuals, the film would struggle to be more than just a Terminator-tinged bedroom drama. —DS


Actor in a Leading Role

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

Who Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Duh. While Bryan Cranston is getting out there and campaigning, doing his damndest to be a contender, Leo has this so locked he might as well be pontificating about the environment from inside of a vacuum. Just—duh.

Who Should Win: Really: Anyone else. DiCaprio is one of our generation’s finest actors, but maniacal physical exertion does not an apex performance make. It’d be pretty cool to see Cranston get an award, hey? Though Fassbender still needs some love after getting snubbed for Shame. —DS

Making a Case for: Michael B. Jordan, Creed
Let’s not make the Academy’s race problem the subject of discussion about Michael B. Jordan, or then again, let’s, because nominating Sylvester Stallone for Best Supporting Actor without nominating Jordan for Best Actor is pants-on-head absurd. Stallone is the peanut butter to Jordan’s jelly, the crème to his brûlée, the cream cheese frosting to his red velvet cake—the, yes, eye to his tiger. You can no more celebrate one of these men without naturally celebrating the other, and celebrating the white dude in a film that is chiefly about a black experience makes exactly zero sense. Creed is, after all, the best argument anyone can make for inclusion both in a vacuum and in context with the Oscars themselves.

But as good as Jordan and Stallone are together, and as much as they enrich each other’s performances through chemistry, Jordan is stellar on his own merit. Creed is the movie he has deserved for years, which is saying a lot: Films like Fruitvale Station and Chronicle wonderfully showcase his talent for courting his audience’s empathy while giving him plenty of room to test drive his innate swagger. In his second outing with director Ryan Coogler, Jordan gets to weave both of those facets together with greater unity than we’ve seen before, to flex his muscles as a performer, to let his charisma stoke our joy, break our hearts and impel us to root for a kid who only wants to justify his very existence to the world. —AC

Jason Segel, The End of the Tour
Even more than in most years, 2016’s category is one ripe with “big” performances—from charismatic and loquacious grandstanders (Fassbender’s Steve Jobs and Cranston’s Dalton Trumbo), to depictions of extreme physical hardships and transformations (DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass and Eddie Redmayne’s Lili Elbe, respectively), to one of our premiere movie stars putting on a quasi one-man show (Damon’s Mark Watney). Yet, lest audiences mistake various combinations of affectations and volume for quality work, it’s important to highlight how “smaller and quieter” can be equally as potent. Enter Jason Segel’s David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour. While boasting only a superficial resemblance to the late novelist, Segel nevertheless manages to capture the author’s enigmatic essence, hinting at the darkness that lies just beneath the character’s affable, Midwestern façade. Often, Segal can communicate volumes with just the slightest tweak to his even-keeled cadence: In the one or two key instances where the character is upset or angry, his voice rarely cracks above a stern whisper. Given where Wallace’s life will lead, it’s certainly a quietly devastating portrayal, but one also defined by great poignancy and humor. In any just year, Jason Segel would be an Oscar frontrunner. In an unjust year, if nothing else, it’s a role for the actor which we can only hope will lead to a wider variety of parts in his immediate future.—MR


Actor in a Supporting Role

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

Who Will Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Who Should Win: Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

Who Really Should Win: Emory Cohen, Brooklyn
It’s rare for any performance these days to be genuinely worthy of comparison to young Marlon
Brando, but damned if Emory Cohen doesn’t often recall the legendary actor at his sensitive best. His feat is even more astonishing considering the character he plays in Brooklyn. Tony, the Italian-American who takes a liking to recent Irish immigrant Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), is perhaps too good to be true: a character without a negative bone in his body, near-angelic in his aw-shucks sincerity. It would seem an unplayable part…which makes the fact that Cohen somehow manages to locate an authentic sense of humanity in the character all the more miraculous. More than just being a “good” person, he radiates an optimistic belief in the power of goodness to combat life’s difficulties; no wonder Eilis gravitates toward him, especially as she struggles valiantly to get her footing in a world terrifyingly unfamiliar to her. As great as Ronan is, Cohen’s vibrant emotional display is, if anything, even more memorable—making his neglect in this year’s lineup of Oscar nominations a real shame. —Kenji Fujishima


Actress in a Leading Role

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

Who Will Win: Brie Larson, Room

Who Should Win: Brie Larson, Room (just inching out Blanchette; if she got the little gold man, no one should complain—NO ONE)

Who Really Should Win: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
It happens, every now and again, that a movie about a man and his struggles arrives amid the whirlwind of awards season brouhaha, and that the person playing that man snags a Best Actor nod from the Academy: Jean Dujardin in The Artist, say, or Colin Firth in The King’s Speech. It also happens, more often than not, that the women playing co-lead to these men only manage to secure Best Supporting Actress nods when they should in all honesty get Best Actress nods, a’la Bérénice Bejo and Helena Bonham Carter, respectively. Maybe you can make the argument that The Artist and The King’s Speech are not about their female characters, but you can’t really say that about The Danish Girl, which is equally the story of Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener.

So why is Alicia Vikander relegated to the Best Supporting Actress category? In fairness, studios tend to campaign for awards they think they can win, so it stands to reason that Focus Features believed Vikander had a better chance of scoring a victory on the Best Supporting Actress ballot than on the more thoroughly stacked Best Actress ballot. And yet: The Danish Girl sparkles whenever Vikander is on screen. She is simply stunning, a spirited beacon in a movie that is otherwise bereft of a pulse. Moreover, though, she has as much screen time as Eddie Redmayne, who has frustratingly been singled out for achievement yet again as Best Actor. (Her performance is also far, far better than his, but perhaps let’s consider the iniquity on less subjective grounds.) Applying logic to the Academy’s nomination process is a fool’s errand, but even so, the rationale behind Vikander’s awards candidacy is quite as baffling as it is infuriating. —AC

Making the Case for: Cynthia Nixon, James White
Full disclosure: I have never really seen a full episode of Sex and the City. As such, my exposure to Cynthia Nixon has been strictly through her occasional guest star roles in various TV shows. With no preconceived notion, perhaps I set myself up to be bowled over by her turn in director Josh Mond’s James White. Playing the cancer-afflicted mother of the titular character (I know, I know—seems Oscar bait-y on first glance), Nixon is a revelation. In addition to a shocking physical transformation, the actress attacks her character with volcanic intensity. She’s utterly heartbreaking while never shying away from illuminating the character’s less-than-admirable qualities. While the overall arc of the film concerns the abrasive James stumbling his way through an early life transition, it’s unquestionably Cynthia Nixon’s performance that gives the film its pulsing heart.—MR


Actress in a Supporting Role

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

Who Will Win: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Her win here will be some gladhanding for the fact that she should have been nominated in a leading role. See Andy Crump’s defense above, and then, as you will every year, take shallow solace in the award going to someone who deserves it—somehow.

Who Should Win: Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Though she currently holds the bottom spot as far as odds go. —DS

Who Really Should Win: Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road
It’s certainly nice to see Mad Max score a token Best Picture nomination—whether it actually gets a vote would be actually interesting—but a more telling and appropriate way to honor the year’s best action film/”genre movie” would have been a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Charlize Theron. The fact that she was completely unrecognized by the Academy for the role is perfectly indicative of the way that crowd-pleasing (but still artistically brilliant) films like Mad Max continue to be shut out of the awards spotlight for daring to not be self-important dramas. If an actress the caliber of Theron, who has already taken home a Best Actress statuette, can’t get nominated for this type of film, then who possibly could? Certainly not Alicia Vikander, who scored a nomination for The Danish Girl as a way of sneakily recognizing that she was as good, if not better, in an un-nominatable genre movie, Ex Machina.

If you want to know who Theron should replace, why not start with Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight, who likely wouldn’t have been nominated for the same film if it didn’t bear the Academy-approved Quentin Tarantino name on the marquee? Just compare their two characters in each film. Theron is the soul of Mad Max, inarguably more central and important to the narrative than Max himself: She’s an emotionally complex warrior woman with well-defined motivations and commanding presence. Leigh, by comparison, is one of the least important and interesting characters in The Hateful Eight, whose role primarily amounts to being the human chattel/MacGuffin that drives the plot. It’s by no means a bad performance, but you’d be hard-pressed to argue that she isn’t upstaged by the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, etc, etc. Not so, with Mad Max, which is a legitimate star vehicle for Theron’s Furiosa. Unfortunately, though, the only way she’d get a nomination is if her War Rig was tearing through the desert on its way to the home of her ex-husband for a tearful reconciliation. —Jim Vorel


Directing

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Nominated:
The Big Short: Adam McKay
Mad Max: Fury Road: George Miller
The Revenant: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Room: Lenny Abrahamson
Spotlight: Tom McCarthy

Who Will Win: Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Who Should Win: Tom McCarthy

Making the Case for: George Miller
DS: I’ll let Chet Betz, in his feature about the action direction of Mad Max, say whatever I was going to say even better:

“The action in George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road is a thing of beauty, poetry, rhythm and detail and momentum. The film is action—it understands the geography, the ballet of it. Excruciatingly, it executes its craft with a lot of real shots of real vehicles and actors and brave, brave stunt players doing mad things for real cameras, which accomplished cinematographer John Seale guides to giddy heights. The unholy crusade of such a venture bleeds gasoline dreams and literal buckets of sweat, and it pours all that into the engine of the film’s final cut, finely tuned by editor Margaret Sixel. Fury Road understands how action itself can be a vehicle that with breathless pace carries forward narrative and character and theme inside of it—its passengers rather than its burden of a load, driven by those things even as it drives them forward—into the realm of the tragic, the mythic and the indelible. What’s that? The rattling, guzzling maw of our mortality and our sentience waging war.”


Best Picture

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

Who Will Win: The Revenant

Who Should Win: Spotlight

Who Really Should Win: Chi-Raq
For many a budding filmmaker of my generation, those in high school and/or college when his first few movies came out, especially those of us interested in or passionate about African American art and culture, Spike Lee was a revelation, and will always occupy a special place in our hearts. In 1989, Do the Right Thing felt like a revolution in filmmaking—and maybe even in society at large.

In 2015, Lee has done it again. Not only is Chi-Raq the best film of the year, it’s also the most vital, the most urgent, the most—let’s just say it—important. It’s more than just a modern retelling of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata (in which a group of women stop a war by going on a sex strike) in the modern day ’hood. It’s more than just a tour de force of rhymed couplets that shouldn’t work, but do. It’s more than just a heartbreaking tale of real people trying to make a sense out of the madness surrounding them. It’s more than just a blistering series of broadsides aimed straight at many of the political sacred cows in our culture. It’s a moment when, along with all the other criticisms offered, one of our most gifted filmmakers stands up in the middle of his own people and shouts (as his characters often do), “WAKE UP.” It’s a moment of staggering importance.

Spike Lee has defiantly called Chi-Raq “a righteous movie.” It’s as good a description as any. It may be the most important American film since…well, since Do the Right Thing. It’s one of the very best films he’s ever made, a true masterpiece. And in some ways, it’s the film his entire career has prepared him to make. But in the end, “a righteous film” is exactly what Chi-Raq is. —MD

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