Saturday February 27, 2016


- In my Pre-AA Rambling Thoughts/Predictions column last year, I mentioned the outcry due to the lack of African-American nominees.  Hollywood obviously didn't listen and only compounded the controversy this year by not including any African-Americans in the 20 acting categories.  Maybe the powers that be thought they could avoid the uproar by pre-selecting the brilliant Chris Rock as host last fall - months before the nominations were announced.  The irony isn't lost on this reviewer, who almost expected Rock to initially back out of the thankless job when the noms were released in January.  Instead, we all can expect him to rip to smithereens the outrageous diversity snub which has resulted in a planned boycott of several of Hollywood's distinguished.  And Rock, in his second stint since his debut in 2005, was reported to be the second choice when Ellen DeGeneres declined to repeat her 2013 hosting gig.  Personally, I'm ecstatic Rock will be on hand and should be a huge upgrade over last year's annoying Neil Patrick Harris who underwhelmed throughout, which made the already overlong extravaganza seem interminably longer. 

- Well deserved:  The Revenant gathering up 12 nominations followed by 10 for Mad Max:  Fury Road.  (More on this below.)

- Not well-deserved:  The Martian nominated as Best Picture.  (Also, more on this below.)

- The two biggest nomination snubs:
(1) Lack of diversity-especially African-Americans (see above)
(2) Not only was the performance by Jacob Tremblay in Room the greatest supporting acting this year, it may be the greatest acting performance by a child actor ever!  Here's hoping his career doesn't goes the way of Macaulay Culkin (Home Alone). 

- Two nominations that were nice to see:  The acknowledgment of Sylvester Stallone recreating his Rocky Balboa character in Creed 40 years after he lost to Peter Finch (awarded posthumously for Network) in 1977 despite Rocky winning Best Picture; and the great Tom Hardy for his bad-ass supporting role in The Revenant.  Although he was ignored by the SAG and Golden globe awards, Hardy is unlikely to win (see below)

- The trend continues:  The most lucrative film of the year (and, likely, of all time), Star Wars:  The Force Awakes, which also was critically praised, fails to be nominated in the top categories (it was included in the lists for five technical awards and minor awards).  Director J. J. Abrams should have been considered as Best Director, if only for taking on and successfully continuing the greatest franchise in filmic history.

- The Hollywood love affair continues:  Yet another nom for Jennifer Lawrence (Joy) who was outstanding in a so-so film.   In that vein, Will Smith (Concussion) was also worthy of a nomination in an equally mediocre film.  However, Hollywood obviously doesn't extend its romance to this African-American actor (see above).  Lawrence, age 25, has already been nominated 4 times - the most by any actor that young.  By comparison, Meryl Streep, who has been nominated an astounding 33 times, didn't receive her 4th (for Sophie's Choice) until age 33.

- The biggest shocker:  No film backed by film producer/studio mogul Harvey Weinstein was represented in the top categories.  That hasn't happened since 2008.

- First time isn't a charm:  Netflix' inaugural Beasts of No Nations, despite glowing reviews and a SAG ensemble nomination, is a no-show on the nom lists.  (However, Netflix did garner two documentary nominations.)

- No respect for Michael Keaton:  He should have won Best Actor last year for Birdman, losing out to Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything).  This year he was equally outstanding again in a lead supporting role as part of the excellent ensemble group in Spotlight.  Yet he was the only one not nominated for Best Supporting.  Go figure.

-No love for the best sci-fi film of the year:  In recent year, indies have been represented well.  The independent movie Ex Machina was clearly the best representative of the sci-fi genre this year (comedies and sci-fi flicks are usually a major award afterthought by The Academy).  There clearly was a spot in the Best Picture list as again this year, only eight of the ten slots available were filled.  A nomination nod should have been granted in the film as well for Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, whose physicality as an A.I. with a mind of its own was nothing short of amazing.  Instead, she was acknowledged in the Best Supporting list for The Danish Girl.

The envelope, please . . . 


What will winThe Revenant
What should winThe Revenant
Upset possibility:  Spotlight
(Extreme) Upset possibility:   The Big Short
A masterpiece of filmmaking and story telling, director Alejandro G. Iñárritu's 19th century tale of uncompromising revenge is far superior than any of the eight on the list on so many levels.  Already gathering in most of the 2015 major awards on the planet, this raw portrayal of human will and determination against all odds will be listed among the all-time classics and is a sure slam-dunk to win the big one Sunday night.  A special mention to George Miller's Mad Max:  Fury Road.  Although it has no chance of winning, George Miller's latest in the post-apocalyptic series would be heading my list if not for the eventual winner.  And it is too bad there are not separate categories (think Golden Globes) for the brilliant dramas Brooklyn and Room.   Separate classifications should exist for small quiet effective dramas that would include movies such as these outstanding 2 films.  I The latest buzz gives Spotlight and even The Big Short a shot at the big one.   However, my money is on The Revenant.

FOR THE RECORD:  here are the eight nominated films I rated from best to least: 
(1)  The Revenant
(2)  Mad Max:  Fury Road
(3)  Brooklyn
(4)  Room
(5)  The Big Short
(6)  Spotlight
(7)  Bridge of Spies
(8)  The Martian
        Ex Machina (I would have placed this sixth on this list and removed The Martian.)       

Who will win:  Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant)
Who should win:  Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant)
Upset possibility:  (None)
Another lock as the world will observe the Mexican director revisiting Hollywood's Dolby Theater stage for the second consecutive year - and it couldn't be more deserving.  If he receives the Oscar, it will be the first time in 65 years for back-to-back wins for a director; and if his film is honored as well, it would be the first time ever a two-peat director had his film win Best Picture.

Who will win:  Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
Who should win:  Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
Upset possibility:  (None)
Finally!   Another shoo-in as Leonardo wins his first Oscar.  Hollywood's pretty boy is nearly unrecognizable under a scruffy beard and persona that is, hands-down, his greatest acting achievement in a career repeatedly marked with high praise after bursting onto the scene with much promise as a teenager in What's Eating Gilbert Grape in the early 90's.  He throws his heart, body and soul into his characterization of Hugh Glass, a man left for dead who embarks on a merciless quest for revenge.  The actor, who speaks minimum dialogue, is otherwise so richly expressive that his portrayal should be held as a be standard for future actors.

Who will win:  Brie Larson (Room)
Who should win:  Brie Larson (Room)
Upset possibility:  Saorise Ronan (Brooklyn)
(Extreme) Upset possibility:  Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)
Almost a sure lock is Brie Larson whose unremarkable career until now has consisted mainly in supporting roles.  In Room she breaks out in a big way as a fiercely protective mother who raises her child under devastating, unimaginable circumstances.  She, like Leonardo, has been walking away with most of this years acting awards and should do so here as well.  However, Ronan shows remarkable range and maturity as a young Irish immigrant who begins a new life in America. Another consideration is that because Hollywood likes to reward longevity, Rampling's distinguished 50 years in the business might be finally acknowledged with an Oscar, which would be one of the few possible upsets during the ceremony.       

Who will win:  Sylvester Stallone (Creed)
Who should win:  Tom Hardy (The Revenant)
Upset possibility:  Tom Hardy (The Revenant)
Hollywood loves to wrong a right.  Ignored as Best Actor in 1976's Rocky, Stallone will be the overwhelming sentimental choice to receive the golden statuette.  However, for me, Hardy's take as the evil tapper John Fitzgerald, DeCaprio's nemesis, will go down as one of cinema's most memorable villains.  Hardy has slowly accumulated a memorable catalogue as one of the great character actors of his generation, and has been quite busy this year appearing also in Mad Max:  Fury Road and Legend.  Christian Bale was wonderful and totally against type in The Big Short;  however, his competition in this category is too much to overcome this year. 

Who will win:  Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
Who should win: Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)
Upset possibility:  (None)
The only real tossup among the acting categories.  An argument could be made for any the nominated actresses here.  I'll predict Alicia if only because she produced two outstanding performances and could have easily have been chosen for her uncanny robotic role in Ex Machina.  Winslet gives another credible rendition in the biopic.  However, her previous multiple nominations and win could work against her, with the voters being swayed by excellent acting from the newcomers.  So this award selection should provide the only real drama in the telecast.

What will win:  Inside Out
What should win: Inside Out
Upset possibility:  (None)
The return of Pixar!  After a two year hiatus, the computer animators return to their winning ways with this brilliant full-length addition to their incredibly successful catalogue that began with 1995's Toy Story.  Seven of Pixar's films have won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film (Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, Toy Story 3, and Brave), and two of the films were even nominated for Best Picture(Up and Toy Story 3). This year, Inside Out is even competing for Best Original Screenplay - an outstanding coup and honor for this sure winner in the animated feature film category.

What will winSpotlight
What should winSpotlight
Upset possibility:  Straight Outta Compton
The true story of how the Boston Globe Spotlight reporting team uncovered the sexual abuse by Boston clergy, will more than likely win in this category.  The important film, co-written by Josh Singer and director Tom McCarthy, is sure to recognized the literate words acted beautifully by the talented ensemble cast.  However, there is that diversity brouhaha, and the Academy might just consider the movie about the rise and fall of the rappers N.W.A. and award it to co-writers Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff - despite the fact they are white.  If Straight Outta Compton wins, the follow-up remarks by Rock should be priceless!

What will winThe Big Short
What should winThe Big Short
Upset possibility:  Room
Adam McKay and Charles Randolph's entertaining quick-witted script, deftly adapted from Michael Lewis' non-fiction book about the 2008 financial collapse, is the clear odds-on favorite.  Best-seller Emma Donoghue (Room) adapted her own best-selling novel and has an outside chance of upsetting.  If so, it would be a first for a female doing a screen adaptation of her own source material.

What will winAmy
What should winAmy
Upset possibility:  What Happened, Miss Simone?
Director Asif Kapadia's doc on the tragic life of British singer extraordinaire Amy Winehouse has been a box office and critical success and should easily win the prize amongst this years extremely strong field. 

What will winThe Revenant
What should winThe Revenant
Upset possibility:  Mad Max:  Fury Road/Carol
Poor Roger Deakins.  The extremely talented cinematographer for the mob drama Sicerio is about to be 0 for 12.  Although Deakins is the all-time nominee in this category, Emanuel Lubezki will be three-peating, winning the previous two years for Gravity and Birdman.  Beautifully shot and exquisitely realizing the 19th century western wilderness, expect Lubezki to continue his amazing streak after missing out for years.  All Deakins needs now is an agent that finds him the right film.  Oh well.  Look for a lifetime achievement Oscar down the road for this incredibly gifted artist.

What will winSon of Saul (Hungary)
What should winSon of Saul
Upset possibility:  Mustang (France)
The Holocaust has always been a topic that gets Hollywood's attention - as it should.  No exception will be Hungary's haunting entry this year by director László Nemes which won the grand prize at Cannes.  Since this category has been notoriously unpredictable in the past, I'll throw out Mustang here as a possible upset.

What will winThe Hateful Eight
What should winThe Hateful Eight
Upset possibility:  Carol
Look for sentimental Hollywood to honor 87-seven-year-old composer Ennio Morricone .  Although he was bestowed an Honorary Oscar in 2007, he finally wins one outright and the right way after six previous tries.  I can't see long-time winner 83-year-old John Williams, nominated for a whooping 45 scores and 5 songs in the past, accepting for yet another Star Wars composition.  So, if you want to wager on a possible upset, the Oscar could go to Cater Burwell for his beautiful score for Carol.

What will winDay One
What should winDay One
Upset possibility:  Ave Maria
Day One, which follows an army translator's harrowing first day on the job in war-torn Afghanistan, was the best of the shorts with a wonderful story that was beautifully acted.  The only comedy, Ave Maria, about an observant Israeli family's dilemma when their car breaks down in front of a silent nun's convent, might garner enough votes to upset.  My personal second favorite short was the heartfelt Stutterer.  I recommend seeking out all of the fabulous nominees online which are available for screening for free.

What will winBear Story
What should winBear Story
Upset possibility:  World of Tomorrow
A multiple festival award winner around the world is this amazing animated fantastical short about a melancholy bear who takes a diorama to a street corner.  For a coin, a little boy observes from a peephole an incredibly realized story of a circus bear trying to escape his captors and return to his family.  However, the talented second time nominee (2000's Rejected) Don Hertzfeldt could win for his story about a visitor from the distant future who instructs a little girl about the fate of humanity. One  can never rule out Pixar and their entry Sanjay's Super Team, a semi-autobiographical short by animators Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle.  However, the voters will have already bestowed their Best Animation feature to Pixar and I predict this award to go to first-timers Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala for Bear Story.

What will win:  "Til It Happens To You"  from The Hunting Ground
What should win:  "Til It Happens To You"  from The Hunting Ground
Upset possibility:  "Writing's On The Wall" from Spectre
Diane Warren will finally mount the Dolby Theaters stage after seven failed nominations with her song from the documentary The Hunting Ground.  It certainly won't hurt that she corroborated with Lady Ga Ga who is currently on a roll.  By the way, this song, along with Sam Smith's Spectre theme and The Weekend’s "Earned It" from 50 Shades of Gray are the only three being performed tomorrow - which bodes curtains for the remaining two nominees. 

Stop back next week for my post-AA report