Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Oscar Update: 'Spotlight' and 'The Martian' surge, while 'Joy' and 'The Revenant' hold strong

It's November now and that means that Oscar season is starting to really heat up. An infinite amount of Oscar contenders will be shuttled into theaters over the next few weeks and for many studios, it'll be a rush to see who can make the cut and who ends up getting the short end of the stick. The last time I did an Oscar update for the Best Picture category, it was in the immediate aftermath of the Toronto International Film Festival, and although I still had Leonardo DiCaprio's The Revenant on top, I knew that Spotlight and The Martian were surging. Now, they're even higher up in the ranks and it's going to get interesting. Also becoming quite competitive are the Best Actor, Actress and Director categories- all of which I will examine today in this November Oscar update. Let's start with Best Picture:

BEST PICTURE

Before I get into the movies that are contenders and will be around for a long time in this race, I need to get a few movies out of the way. These are films that entered the year as Oscar hopefuls, but now have a next-to-zero chance of making it into the race. That list includes:

-99 Homes
-Burnt
-Pawn Sacrifice
-Everest
-The Walk
-Spectre
-Our Brand is Crisis
-Freeheld
-Truth
-The End of the Tour
-Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
-Legend
-By the Sea

All of these movies either were big hits that peaked too soon, critical favorites that flopped at the box office, or highly anticipated films that disappointed everywhere. I'm calling it now, not a single one of them has a chance. In my mind, there are only about 27 films that have an even remote chance of getting a Best Picture nomination. Those films range from art house dramas to big blockbusters, but all of them have an equal chance of getting a nomination.

Right now, the only sure thing is Spotlight. That film will get a nomination, no questions asked. It has all of the hallmarks of an Oscar hit. The Martian is 99% of a sure thing, but there's still the chance that it could fall apart completely. I don't see that happening, but you never know- the history between the Academy and science fiction is pretty bad. Below those two favorites, Room and Carol have held a significant amount of momentum, and Brooklyn is in a pretty good place as well. Steve Jobs' poor box office performance is certainly going to hurt it, while Bridge of Spies seems like a pretty solid pick for a nomination at this point. Inside Out is slipping in the Gold Derby polls, partially because of the insurgence of Anomalisa, another animated film that has driven attention away from Pixar's latest classic. Mad Max: Fury Road still has a pretty good shot, and so does Beasts of No Nation, Cary Fukunaga's stark Netflix drama.

Below that, there are quite a few contenders that will need a big push to make it into the top ten. Films like Sicario, Straight Outta Compton, Black Mass, Son of Saul, The Danish Girl and Youth have support, but it just may not be strong enough.

However, there are several question marks left in this race and they will honestly determine the results. Joy and The Revenant are the big ones, of course, two highly anticipated dramas from Oscar-nominated filmmakers. Joy recently received a PG-13 rating, which is somewhat baffling, but maybe director David O. Russell has made more of an Academy-friendly pick- even friendlier than American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook, which received a combined 18 nominations. It will certainly be a force to be reckoned with if it's good. The Revenant is the opposite of Academy-friendly, a graphic, hard-R bit of frontier violence that will throw Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy in some terrible situations. But the filmmaking on it looks astonishing and director Alejandro G. Inarritu is a favorite after Birdman last year. It might not win, but if it's as terrific as some have said, expect plenty of Oscar attention.

But in terms of unseen contenders, those aren't the only two. Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight cannot be ignored, simply because of the storied director's recent track record with the Academy. In addition, The Big Short premieres tomorrow night and I just have a feeling that it's going to sneak up on a lot of people. The buzz on Creed from those who have seen it is fantastic, and Ron Howard's In the Heart of the Sea was moved to Oscar season from March and I have to presume that there was a reason for that. Finally, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the billion dollar elephant in the room, and I know that many think it will receive a Best Picture nomination. For right now, we need to just wait and see.

With all of that said, here is my current top ten, with the five below that just missed the cut.

1. Spotlight
2. The Revenant
3. The Martian
4. Joy
5. Brooklyn
6. Inside Out
7. Room
8. Steve Jobs
9. Bridge of Spies
10. The Hateful Eight

11. Carol
12. Mad Max: Fury Road
13. The Big Short
14. Beasts of No Nation
15. Creed

BEST DIRECTOR

This category is a little trickier, simply because in recent years, the Best Picture and Best Director categories haven't seemed to line up. But I'm starting to get a sense here, and after listening to a podcast from Tom O'Neil and Pete Hammond, I think that my mind is made up pretty well on who's going to be victorious in this category. As much as Spotlight is beloved by critics and voters, Tom McCarthy won't be getting the win. A nomination is a sure thing, but most seem to think that the film is too subdued and workmanlike. Alejandro Inarritu would be a favorite because of how intense the shoot was for The Revenant, but he just won last year. In my mind, this is a year where the Oscar voters bring in the consolation prizes. I do think that both Ridley Scott and George Miller get nominated, and as of right now, Scott is going to get the win. David O. Russell is the main competition, but I can't see the Academy turning down the opportunity to honor a 77-year old director who made a film as good as The Martian.

1. Ridley Scott, The Martian
2. David O. Russell, Joy
3. Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant
4. Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
5. George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST ACTOR

Best Actor has been fiercely competitive in years past, but thankfully, it's cooled down a bit this year. The question of who will win is still intense, but the sheer volume of candidates isn't as high. In my mind, this category will play out like this. Eddie Redmayne will get nominated because of how topical The Danish Girl is and because of his physical transformation. Matt Damon will get nominated because everybody loves that movie, and he's fantastic in it. And Johnny Depp will get nominated for doing "serious" work again. But the race will be Leonardo DiCaprio and Michael Fassbender all the way to the end. Fassbender is next-level brilliant in Steve Jobs and it looks like DiCaprio has pushed himself to his physical limits for The Revenant. This will get interesting.

1. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
2. Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
3. Matt Damon, The Martian
4. Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
5. Johnny Depp, Black Mass

BEST ACTRESS

Finally, we arrive at the Best Actress category, which seems relatively empty- again. Seriously, we need more big films with female protagonists, this is getting kinda ridiculous. Brie Larson is at the top of most prognosticator lists, with Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Lawrence falling shortly behind. Saoirse Ronan is in contention too, but that fifth spot is up for grabs. And that's where Charlize Theron comes in. She gave an iconic performance in Mad Max, and I hope and pray that the Academy recognizes that. But we'll see. Gold Derby has Charlotte Rampling in that position and Theron all the way down at 9, so I might be way off.

1. Cate Blanchett, Carol
2. Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
3. Brie Larson, Room
4. Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
5. Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road

That's it for this time. Next time, I'll get a bit more comprehensive with a look at the Supporting and Screenplay categories! If you want more awards info, check out Gold Derby, which is my favorite source for everything that's going on in the Oscar race.

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