2016 Oscars–first thoughts

OK, they nominations are out. And the celebrating, sniping and whining has begun. But the nominations are not exactly shocking, and are in fact fairly predictable. There are a few surprises, though, and while not shocking, are at least attention-getting. Here are some thoughts on the whole thing….

Best Picture

The Revenant (https://film-prof.com/2016/01/11/the-revenant/) came up with 12 nominations, the most of any film this year. Nothing is guaranteed in terms of capturing the top prize, however, and those who watch the Oscars closely notice that there is a rise and fall with certain films. Some appear certain to win and then seem to fade; others gain steam and attention during the voting season. (That’s exactly what happened last year with Boyhood and Birdman.) This year, the early money was on Spotlight (https://film-prof.com/2015/12/15/spotlight/), but the recent win of The Revenant at the Golden Globes, combined with its relatively recent release, may shift weight toward this epic.

Probably the only surprise here is the presence of Room, which was thought to be admired more for Brie Larson’s performance than for the film itself.

Bridge of Spies is not first-rate Spielberg, and I was a little surprised to see it in the list. But with the expanded list—now allowing for up to 10 films instead of the former five—a solid film by a first-rate director may well belong here.

There is no Straight Outta Compton, Carol or The Hateful Eight nominations for Best Picture. Let the endless and mostly groundless speculations continue. Whatever anyone tells us that it means, it doesn’t.

Best Director

The big “snub,” a term I have to dismiss when it comes to Oscar nominations, is Ridley Scott, who should have been nominated for The Martian. This one I can’t understand, especially since “his spot”–another thought I don’t have a lot of respect for–was taken by Room’s Lenny Abrahamson. That’s a surprise, but it’s probably more a sign of respect for the film than a rejection of Scott.

If The Revenant’s Iñárritu wins Best Director, it will be the first back-to-back directorial win since 1950. Since The Big Short’s Adam McKay and Spotlight’s Tom McCarthy might cancel each other out, it may well be Iñárritu’s year again. Then again, if the group gets in a short-lived cutting edge mood, they may go for George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road as a combination comeback/career award.

Best Actor

Leonard DiCaprio in The Revenant. For this performance and for his career. End of story.

Best Actress

It is likely to be Brie Larson, recent Golden Globe winner for Room. The Academy put lead actress Rooney Mara into the Supporting Actress category for Carol, as they did with lead Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl. So that takes those two completely out of this race. In a year of excellent performance with none that towers over the others, there are other considerations. Cate Blanchett (Carol) already has two Oscars, so she’s out. Jennifer Lawrence’s nomination for Joy is her sign of respect, with no hope of a win. Charlotte Rampling’s nomination for 45 Years is a sign of respect for a solid career and a great performance. No win here, either. It seems to come down to two young women—Larson for Room and Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn. I would be happy with either, but Ronan is a few years younger and is a rather sure thing for a future Oscar, and her performance was woven in so tightly into the fabric of Brooklyn that it doesn’t quite call attention to itself as much as some Oscar-winning performances do. My early call: Larson.

Best Supporting Actor

The big question here is not who is the best. The question is whether or not the Academy is going to go sentimental and give it to Rocky, I mean Sylvester Stallone, for Creed. This is the best performance of Stallone’s career, in a well-made culmination of a franchise with lots of feel-good history. The other players in this category are excellent actors, but they don’t stand out as much as the Sentimental Favorite does. My personal favorite is Tom Hardy from The Revenant. But my guess is that the other four performances will cancel one another out, as they are all good work from good-to-great actors. I think sentiment reigns in this category.

Best Supporting Actress

Having taken two leads and put them in this category, things are a little shaky. Kate Winslet won the Golden Globe for Steve Jobs, to her obvious complete surprise. Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight) may win as a sign of respect for this performance and her career. Alicia Vikander may well win for The Danish Girl for her work. This one has me wondering at this point….

Best Foreign Language Film

Hungary’s Son of Saul has gotten great buzz. Great reviews. First film from this country to be so nominated. And it’s about the Holocaust! It’s got all the signs of a winner.

Best Visual Effects

This technical category is exciting only because of the variety of effects, and how they are used, in these films. The nominated films use effects to create dystopia, life on Mars, frighteningly realistic bear attacks, and aliens. Star Wars: The Force Awakens may get the nod here as an award for helping make the year a fiscally successful one.

Best Animated Feature Film

I thought that Inside Out had it wrapped up, but then Anomalisa opened to great reviews. But now that the buzz for that has subsided, the money is on Inside Out again.

Ho, Hum

First of all, let me repeat that these awards are SUPPOSED to be about what people in the various guilds of the industry think is best in their respective categories. Social experiments occur in and around Hollywood, as they should. But striving for some kind of “diversity” in nominations is, how do I say this gently?—ludicrous.

Of course there is racism in the industry, as there is anywhere humans are present. #OscarsSoWhite is the latest harrumph from some corners of the world, as only The Revenant’s Iñárritu, as a Mexican, meets the proper criteria for being considered diverse. It’s true that Michael B. Jordan could have been nominated for Creed, but he got a lot of attention for it, and it didn’t necessarily belong in the top 5. He has a great career ahead of him, nomination or not. Idris Elba’s lack of a nomination for Beasts of No Nation was something of a surprise, as there was a great deal of energy invested in getting him one.

But instead of griping about the lack of diversity, why don’t we look at who got the nominations and the quality of their work? Maybe, just maybe, these were the best five in terms of quality. True racism (whether we call it reverse racism or not) would be to nominate someone because there were black, or Asian, or transgender, or whatever. Let’s just look at the work, shall we?

It could easily be argued that in 2002, when Halle Berry won for Monster’s Ball and Denzel won for Training Day, that this was because they were black, and the Academy wanted to grab the moment for social significance (and the self-patting on the back that accompanies such moves) rather than sheer quality. Hers was an excellent performance, but was it really better than Judi Dench as Iris or Sissy Spacek for In the Bedroom. And surely Denzel wasn’t the best actor that year. Sean Penn’s I Am Sam, and Russell Crowe’s A Beautiful Mind were as good, if not better. (Crowe, in fact, was just a phone’s throw away from getting his second Oscar for this film.) And is the Academy racist for not voting for Will Smith as Ali that year (see how ridiculous this can get?)

There is racism galore in this world, in our country, and in this industry. But we have to look more deeply into the whys of the lack of “diversity” in the nominations than in the nominations themselves. But those thoughts are for another time entirely! For now, let’s enjoy the “race” as it plays out.

About Mark DuPré

Retired (associate) pastor at a Christian church. Retired film professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. Husband for 45+ years to the lovely and talented Diane. Father to three children and father-in-law to three more amazing people. I continue some ministry duties even though retired from the pastoral position. Right now I'm co-writing a book, working on a documentary (screenwriter and assistant director), and creating a serious musical drama (I am writing the book and lyrics).
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