We know that every year we have huge surprise nominees and even more, shocking snubs, at the Oscar nominations. This year, the craziest year I think I’ve ever seen in my years of Oscar watching, is going to prove no different. Although, the craziness of this season could be preparing us for those shocks.
Best Picture alone is a stressful gambit with the preferential voting system and the ‘could be 5, could be 10’ set up. Passion votes count for so much. You need those #1s to make it in. With so many films spreading that wealth, some think we’re going to see a new low in total Best Picture nominees (8 is the lowest so far) this year. It seems like you can make an argument for five as much as you can for ten.
Looking at the ‘locks’ (and boy is that word hard to use this year) we have The Big Short, Spotlight, The Revenant and The Martian. Everything else is pretty much up for grabs. Mad Max: Fury Road seems like it should be on that list but understandable trepidation based on The Academy’s history towards films like this (re: The Dark Knight) is what gives us pause. It missing would definitely qualify as a huge snub.
Next up is a combination of Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Carol, Room and Straight Outta Compton. Even SAG nominee Beasts of No Nation stands a chance here. Its inclusion would be a big surprise but a welcome one in such a white-washed Oscar year. The aforementioned Straight Outta Compton is on many prediction lists but is it a passion pick or something more ‘have to’ based? The PGA nominations could put Ex Machina in a la District 9 back in 2010. Although it must be noted that year was a solid 10-nominee slate and a different voting structure. All I know is if at least one of Brooklyn, Carol, Room or Mad Max: Fury Road (or PGA nominee Sicario) don’t make Best Picture we’ll have no female-led film in the top category, which is an awful thought. So much for ‘Year of the Woman.’
In a season of ever-changing frontrunners the Best Picture race is up in the air. What that could happen is that the fragmented support of too many films gives us a low total of Best Picture nominees. The five films I listed at the beginning (The Big Short, Spotlight, The Revenant, The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road) make up the five films that should have the biggest voting block contingents and the most guild support going into tomorrow’s nominations. Spotlight and The Big Short, with their big ensembles (and SAG nominations) can shore up actor support easily. The other three are giant action blockbusters that will see the tech branches go for them in huge numbers. Sound, Visual Effects, Film Editors – those are blocs that will go big for those big films. Just don’t ever, ever count out the massive numbers for the Producer, Executive and Public Relations branches (each in the 400s). Those tip the scales all the time.
Will the Academy go 5/5 with the DGA in Best Director this year? Many people think so, but some think that someone from the DGA five will be dropped for Todd Haynes (Carol), who has Globe and BAFTA nominations. The question is, who? Globe winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant) should be fine. As should The Martian’s Ridley Scott. If Mad Max: Fury Road underperforms it could be George Miller left out but the directing branch of the Academy can be kind of brave in their choices. What aboutThe Big Short‘s Adam McKay? He has DGA and BAFTA, a huge combo. And his film’s style is clearly a director’s film. How vulnerable is Spotlight’s Tom McCarthy? He hit the Globes and DGA but missed BAFTA. So that’s six men vying for five slots.
Best Actor, while a clear road for Leonardo DiCaprio this year, is a category looking for correlation with Best Picture. Currently, only Matt Damon (The Martian) is a widely predicted candidate there. Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Bryan Cranston (Trumbo) and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) aren’t looking like their films have a good chance. So that brings in Steve Carell (The Big Short) as the possible spoiler. His lack of awards traction outside of the Golden Globe nomination doesn’t bode well but if the acting branch is looking for a lead to represent a top film, he’s the guy. What about Room’s Jacob Tremblay? He is the co-lead of his film (Scott Feinberg has him getting in) and he could round out that top five. He could be this category’s huge shock. Also, don’t be totally surprised if Michael Keaton (Spotlight) ends up being the lead from a BP frontrunner.
Best Actress seems very close to locked. Seems. Brie Larson (Room), Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn), Cate Blanchett (Carol) are in, no one is contesting that. But then we have two spots with two strong contenders (Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years and Jennifer Lawrence in Joy) and two shaky ones (Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl and Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road). The Academy has proven that it can and will move a person campaigned in supporting up to lead many times (Keisha Castle-Huges in Whale Rider, Kate Winslet in The Reader). But then it’s also shown that it’s utterly willing to swallow category fraud (Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind) too. With Vikander also in contention in supporting with Ex Machina, they could push her up. Or, it’s as most people suspect and both Rampling and Lawrence make it in and we’re done. Don’t even be too surprised if SAG nominee Helen Mirren shows up for Woman in Gold. Mirren has two individual SAG nominations this year and to date no one has ever not been Oscar nominated for one of those when it happens. But, this is going to be a year when stats are made and broken.
Best Supporting Actor is, by far, the most contentious race of the year. As I’ve mentioned in every podcast and post on the category, there are ten men vying for five spots and each of them have an utterly valid narrative to make it in. Be it precursor support, Best Picture strength or iconic sympathy, there will be snubs of an epic degree here. Golden Globe winner Sylvester Stallone (Creed) might seem to have the hardest road here; he’s likely the sole nomination from his film (unless it gets into Original Song or a Sound nom) but the standing ovation he got at the Globes speaks the support for him. That SAG miss is a question but more of a question of timing and there hasn’t been a Globe winner in that category who has missed an Oscar nom in 30 years.
Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation) has gotten all three major precursors: SAG, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations. He’s a lock, right? Nope. He’s done almost no campaigning, didn’t even show up to the Globes. Voting blocks don’t like it when they can’t meet a contender or at least see them wanting the award. It takes more than a great performance to put and keep you in the game.
Same goes for Michael Shannon (99 Homes). He’s got SAG and Globe mentions but he’s nowhere. Christian Bale (The Big Short) hasn’t heavily campaigned but his film is top 3 and he could be its sole acting nomination.
Spotlight is also suffering, even more so, as a top 3 contender looking for an acting nomination. Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo didn’t show up at SAG or the Globes, prompting many people (myself included) to posit that Open Road Films, new at this Oscar game, really blew it by campaigning their entire cast in supporting. Keaton should have been pushed lead, where he could have had an easier road and where he actually won from NYFCC. Last week, Ruffalo earned a BAFTA nomination and that could be enough to get him in here.
Tom Hardy (The Revenant) hasn’t showed up anywhere yet but when you’re the supporting male to Leonardo DiCaprio, sometimes that doesn’t matter. Just ask Jonah Hill.
Jacob Tremblay (Room) has a SAG nom but that’s it. He could suffer category confusion but I don’t think it’s that likely. With kids, if there is an adult counterpart the chances are they will stay (or be relegated) to supporting. Only when they are the clear and sole lead (Keisha Castle-Hughes, Quvenzhané Wallis) are they given lead status. Plus, there hasn’t been a Best Actor nominee under 10 since Jackie Cooper in Skippy back in 1931. I’m not going to mess with that stat.
At this point there doesn’t seem to be a path for Paul Dano (Love & Mercy). He’s likely going to get more votes in Lead than Supporting but not enough in either to get him a nomination. If we’re looking for a real surprise though, look to Benicio del Toro in Sicario. He didn’t show up until BAFTA but the film’s guild performances (outside of SAG) has been extraordinary.
Best Supporting Actress is full of risky bets with two performances (Rooney Mara in Carol and Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl) that could find themselves moved up to lead, opening the door for a fringe contender or two here. For argument’s sake, if both Mara and Vikander end up here (which is the more likely scenario) that leaves three spots open and about six women looking for a place there. Golden Globe winner Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs) is in. That’s down to two. Spotlight’s Rachel McAdams is the only person from her film to snag an individual SAG nomination but she hasn’t landed a nomination anywhere else. Alicia Vikander has won more critics awards than any supporting actress…for Ex Machina. Will the Academy go for a killer sex robot? What if she gets in for that instead of The Danish Girl? To me that seems really unlikely. The Danish Girl sits in the Academy’s wheelhouse for a supporting actress character more than her turn in Ex Machina. Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight) scored Globe and BAFTA noms but Academy voting ended the same day as BAFTA nominations so that could be moot. She’s a never-nominated actress that’s been in the business for over 30 years. But is this the role that changes that? There are two to watch out for in this category and for pretty much the same reason; Joan Allen in Room and Julie Walters in Brooklyn. Although Walters earned a BAFTA nom she hasn’t showed up anywhere else. Allen even less so, but she’s in the film with the Best Actress frontrunner and could be the very definition of a coat-tail nom. It doesn’t hurt that both are previous Oscar nominees. The problem is that in order to invoke ‘the Jacki Weaver rule’ (just dubbed, btw) either Room or Brooklyn need to be top 5 players come Oscar morning. That doesn’t seem likely for either. But in this year I’m not counting anything out.
So, does that leave you more confused than before? Probably. I might be more puzzled just having written it. Whatever happens, major stats are going to fall tomorrow. I’m just not how big or how many there will be. I’ll be waiting with bated breath tomorrow morning just as I’m sure you will be too.