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2016 Oscar Nominees, My Picks, and Stray Observations

Earlier today, the nominees for the 88th annual Oscars were announced, and this is the first time Plot and Theme has existed during an Oscar season, so I am going spout my nonsense preferences and commentary for all who wish to read. Before we get started, it is important to understand that these are not the films that I think will win the award, but the films that I think deserve to win. It is a slight difference, and if anyone cares about predicting the actual winners, I may do that on the eve of the ceremony (or, I could even live Tweet as the Oscars are happening).

There are some surface-level observations to make before the first categories are discussed. Obviously, the big winners today are The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road, as these films top the list of “most nominations” with 12 and 10, respectively. This is especially helpful for The Revenant, which just entered into a wide release this last weekend (and placed 2nd with $38 million, a mere $3 million behind Star Wars). Expect some new marketing material on your television screens in the coming days hyping The Revenant and its 12 nominations.

Now, for the order in which I will tackle these: I will start with the four categories for which I will offer no opinion. In all of these categories, I have seen exactly zero of the films / shorts in question, so I won’t pretend I know what I am talking about. Then we’ll get to technical categories, acting awards, and then the big filmmaking / best film awards. Here we go, the bold nominees will signify my choice in each category:


Embrace of the Serpent, Mustang, Son of Saul, Theeb, A War


Body Team; Chau, Beyond the Lines; Claude Lanzmann, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Last Day of Freedom


Bear Story, Prologue, Sanjay’s Super Team, We Can’t Live Without Cosmos, World of Tomorrow


Ave Maria, Day One, Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut), Shok, Stutterer

Like I said, I saw none of these, so no Bolds yet. Though, I would put my money on Son of Saul in the Best Foreign Film category because it did very well at Cannes. Hopefully I can catch one of those “Oscar Nominated Shorts” marathon things at a local theatre. If I get a chance to actually watch these, I’ll update this section at a later date.


Carol, Cinderella, The Danish Girl, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant


Mad Max: Fury Road, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, The Revenant

I love a good period piece, but are you really going to be able to compete with the world-building of Mad Max in these categories? The costumes, makeup, and everything were completely immersive, and gave the whole world of the film a lived-in feel. So much of what made Fury Road great was in every little detail, so don’t be surprised if it competes for most Oscar wins overall after nabbing up a bunch of these technical awards.


Mad Max: Fury Road, Sicario, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Martian, The Revenant

Mad Max also completely crushed it in the sound effects department (particularly with all the weird explosion sounds, cars, and environmental stuff). The Martian would be another great choice here, as that film had so many interesting sound effect elements to it. For example, I can think of explosions, vacuums (the space kind), and rocket maneuvers which sounded fantastic and quite innovative. But, I think Fury Road did everything just a little bit better.


Bridge of Spies, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Now, what about mixing all those sound effects with dialogue, score, and everything else to create a cohesive whole? I think The Revenant did this the best, as watching that film is like traveling to a different world, and the sound mixing aids that sense of immersion. Further, without anything resembling a musical (which often do well in this category), the better overall film tends to take this award.


“Earned It” – Fifty Shades of Grey, “Manta Ray” – Racing Extinction, “Simple Song #3” – Youth, “Til It Happens to You” – The Hunting Ground, “Writing’s on the Wall” – Spectre

I must admit, I had only heard the Bond song before this morning, but I have been listening to these all on Youtube for the last hour or so. “Earned It” is your standard industry garbage, which is expected given that it is attached to the worst movie that got an Oscar nod this year. “Manta Ray” is beautiful and weird, and “Simple Song #3” is heavily instrumental and classical. I think both of these songs’ chances are hurt by being a little off-the-wall. Speaking of walls, the Bond song is equal in quality to the Bond film, so it has no chance. Therefore, I think we’re in for another great Gaga performance at the Oscars and a win for “Til It Happens to You”. It will be interesting to see exactly how the producers of the show decide to play all of these songs during the ceremony, at least.


Bridge of Spies, Carol, The Hateful Eight, Sicario, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

It is no secret that Ennio Morricone scored his first western in decades when he teamed up with Quentin Tarantino to do The Hateful Eight, and the result was magnificent. In fact, it may have been the best part of the movie (you don’t see many other nods to The Hateful Eight – except for one that we’ll get to later!) If Ennio doesn’t take it home, I hope it goes to Sicario, as that creepy score really made everything in that film weirdly alien and scary.


Bridge of Spies, The Danish Girl, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant

The culmination of everything we’ve talked about already, there was no better world-building production design than that which we saw in Mad Max. Honorable mention to The Martian, because the Mars habitat that sustained Matt Damon’s character was similarly awesome.


Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

This is one of those “no way in Hell” wins. It is probably more likely for any of these other films to take this one (I’d put my money on Mad Max again, probably). But, for me, the best visual effects of this year went into the creation of the artificial person Ava from Ex Machina. From the moment she appears on screen you are captivated by how good the effects look, and it really made the film:  if this effect had failed, the whole film fails.


The Big Short, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, Spotlight, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

When you watch Spotlight, the first thing you realize is that this entire story could have been completely botched in the editing room in a thousand different ways. Instead, it all comes together magnificently, and that is due to some crucial editing choices, especially in scenes where sexual abuse is being described (quick camera movements / cuts between the actors does wonders here). Honorable mention goes to The Big Short, which succeeds similarly in the world of finance gone awry.


Edward Lachman – Carol, Robert Richardson – The Hateful Eight, John Seale – Mad Max: Fury Road, Emmanuel Lubezki – The Revenant, Roger Deakins – Sicario

First: the academy needs to make a point of placing the name of the cinematographer in the nomination, just like they do for Best Director. Cinematographers have more to do with what actually appears on the screen than anyone else involved in the filmmaking process besides maybe the director (particular directors delegate the responsibilities in different ways). And yet, because almost nobody draws attention to them, few outside of big film buffs can even name two cinematographers. On IMDB, you can’t even see the cinematography credit unless you click on “full cast and crew” and scroll past every member of the cast and every production credit. These people are important – give them the attention that they deserve.

And for the winner, it is The Revenant. Deakins may be the odds-on favorite as Sicario was absolutely gorgeous and Deakins has a pile of Oscars already, but Lubezki and Iñárritu put together something special, and it shows from the first frame to the last. I also think that if the academy is going to award The Revenant something for the particularly grueling production of the film, this is where they do it.


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

I would rather have seen Alicia Vikander nominated for Ex Machina, because I haven’t seen Carol yet, but I think this award is Rooney Mara’s to lose. Rachel McAdams is the lone weird one here, as I don’t think her performance offered anything outstanding in Spotlight. Maybe it is just hard to gauge because practically every person on screen in that film is near perfection.


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

Christian Bale and Mark Ruffalo suffer because it is debatable whether or not they are even the best supporting role in their own movies. Sly is an awesome and welcome nomination, as he was definitely the stand-out in Creed, and gave the film nearly all of its heart. Mark Rylance was often dismissed as a potential nominee, but he really does kill it in Bridge of Spies, and might actually be the best part of that film. But this has to go to Hardy. There isn’t a lot of acting needed in The Revenant, but paradoxically Hardy gets most of the juicy stuff to do. Though his accent almost approaches his Bane performance for comprehensibility, he creates a frightening and believable figure – and there is even a time where you feel like rooting for him despite his despicable nature. This is a category where any of the five would be deserved winners.


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

Here’s another one of those picks that is most likely wrong. The smart money is on Brie Larson for Room, as has been the case since that film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival. But I absolutely adored Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn, and Room opens in my local theatre tomorrow, so I haven’t seen it yet.


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

As has been the case in the recent past, most of the best actor nods go to someone playing a real-life person (this was not the case for the best actress category, though). In that sense, a win for Matt Damon would be amazing, but I think this one goes to Fassbender. I would like to see DiCaprio get an Oscar at some point, but he will have a hard time beating out Fassbender, and was out-performed by Hardy in his own movie. He simply wasn’t asked to show much range in The Revenant, and likely will suffer for it. Though there is always the chance that he grabs a win just from the preponderance of losses he has piled up in the past, it shouldn’t happen this year.

And one comment on the acting categories in general: it is disappointing to see exactly zero non-white actors nominated. 0/20. That’s not a good thing. The academy often skews white anyways – but rarely this much. Deserving minority actors include: Benecio Del Toro for Sicario, Will Smith for Concussion, Michael B. Jordan for Creed (a stretch, but possible), Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation, O’Shea Jackson Jr. (among others) for Straight Outta Compton, Smakeik Moore for Dope, and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez for Tangerine. Weirdly, there are a whole bunch of extenuating circumstances which could explain (but not excuse) these “snubs”: Beasts was Netflix, so the academy may be punishing it for cramping their style. Most of them probably didn’t see Straight Outta Compton or Dope or Tangerine, and likely went in different directions for Creed and Sicario. Still, this is a very white Oscars – and it didn’t have to be.


Anomalisa, Boy and the World, Inside Out, Shaun the Sheep Movie, When Marnie Was There

I wouldn’t have thought anything could give Inside Out a run for its money in this category, but by all accounts the stop motion puppet film from Charlie Kaufman called Anomalisa has a good shot. I haven’t been able to see this one yet, and likely very few of the academy members have seen it either, so the likely winner will be the Pixar film, which really should have gotten a Best Picture nod as well.


Amy, Cartel Land, The Look of Silence, What Happened, Miss Simone?, Winter on Fire

A real good show from Netflix in this category can’t dissuade me from casting my vote for Asif Kapadia’s Amy, which I even put at #5 on my Best Films of the Year list.


The Big Short, Brooklyn, Carol, The Martian, Room

These are all fantastic films, but the trickiest one to adapt had to be The Big Short. The others are all fairly linear stories with relatively few players (except maybe The Martian), but The Big Short has many moving pieces and it isn’t even clear exactly how to adapt it into a single story. Regardless, Charles Randolph and Adam McKay adapted Michael Lewis’ book to perfection, and should be holding Oscars as a result of their fine efforts.


Bridge of Spies, Ex Machina, Inside Out, Spotlight, Straight Outta Compton

This category is, without a doubt, the hardest one for me to choose, because three of these films occupy the #1, #2, and #3 spots on my Top 10 of the year list. And, since I can’t go with a three-way tie between Ex Machina, Inside Out, and Spotlight, I am going to lean towards the film that I liked the best: Spotlight. The other two are fantastic as well, and offer a little more in terms of being completely fabricated (Spotlight at least had the basic true-life plot to lean on), but Spotlight just does too much too well to bow to these two here.


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

Similarly, Spotlight director Tom McCarthy gets the nod here. McCarthy was able to make a journalistic procedural with the excitement of an action film and the weight of a high drama – no easy task. Honorable mention here to Adam McKay, who did something similar with The Big Short, and whose direction is evident in that film.


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

I’ve been saying it since I saw the film: this is Spotlight’s Oscar to lose. I would not be surprised if The Revenant snuck in and stole this one, but that would give Iñárritu back-to-back Best Pictures, so there might be a bit of voter fatigue there. It also would simply be wrong, as The Revenant is a better-looking film than it is a major tour-de-force of filmmaking – but it did get 12 nominations in total, so maybe I am wrong on that account. The Big Short may also have a small chance on account of its relevant subject matter, and would be quite deserving. I love that both The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road got nominations, as it is great to see “genre films” like these get the recognition that they deserve for doing everything well. I would have like to see the other two available slots filled with the best science fiction film of the year (Ex Machina) and the best animated film of the last 10 years (Inside Out), but I think Mad Max getting in really pushed any other genre flicks out.


Overall, this was a very strong year for film. There is something for everyone in the Best Picture category, and a whole bunch of films that didn’t get nominated that were absolutely fantastic. What do you folk think – were there particular performances or films that you think got snubbed, or nominations that were undeserved? Who do you pick to win the big 6 (Actor, Actress, Original Screenplay, Adapted Screenplay, Director, Film)? Chime in below, and be sure to share the post, follow on twitter, and call me out on any nonsense you have detected.

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Derek Jacobs

Chicago,IL 60606

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