Actual Oscar nominees: Lenny Abrahamson/Room, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu/The Revenant, Thomas McCarthy/Spotlight, Adam McKay/The Big Short, George Miller/Mad Max: Fury Road
Likely Oscar winner: Innaritu
Should win: Miller
Alterna-ballot: Sean S. Baker/Tangerine, Ryan Coogler/Creed, Cary Joji Fukunaga/Beasts Of No Nation, Todd Haynes/Carol, Ridley Scott/The Martian
My ballot: Coogler, Haynes, McCarthy, McKay, Miller
My winner: George Miller
I really can’t come up with a better way of describing Miller’s work than io9’s Rob Bricken already did last May, in describing all the ways that Fury Road is an impossible movie. I daresay it may be the perfect action movie — for Miller to deliver this at age 70, more or less out of nowhere, is an incredible achievement. It’s really too bad that Inarritu is seemingly going to sweep to the Oscar on the wave of the “what an achievement this was to make” argument when Miller has just as strong an argument, not to mention making the more interesting film and is more overdue for an Academy Award. And in fairness, directing any film is difficult, whether it’s overseeing a big-budget song of fire or ice like Fury Road or Revenant, or directing a “smaller” character piece like Room or Spotlight. In a way, those “smaller” films are harder since you’re working on a smaller canvass and one tiny misfired scene or poor choice could throw off the whole movie.
The five actual nominees were very strong and the Academy allllllmost got it right….but I dunno, I can certainly see a case for a nomination for, say, directing a delicate period piece or reviving an often-cheesy franchise in its seventh instalment.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Actual Oscar nominees: Jennifer Jason Leigh/The Hateful Eight, Rooney Mara/Carol, Rachel McAdams/Spotlight, Alicia Vikander/The Danish Girl, Kate Winslet/Steve Jobs
Likely Oscar winner: Vikander
Should win: McAdams
Alterna-ballot: Annette Bening/Danny Collins, Rose Byrne/Spy, Jennifer Jason Leigh/Anomalisa, Phyllis Smith/Inside Out, Kristen Stewart/The Clouds Of Sils Maria, Alicia Vikander/Ex Machina, Julie Walters/Brooklyn
My ballot: JJL (for Anomalisa), McAdams, Smith, Stewart, Vikander (for Ex Machina)
My winner: Kristen Stewart
Let’s be clear: Rooney Mara had the best performance of the five nominees. If she were to win, I wouldn’t even be *that* upset since she was very good in the movie and it would be fun to see Carol get rewarded in the wake of its semi-inexplicable Best Picture snub. Even Alicia Vikander, who’s actually going to win, gave a fine performance trying to prop up a poor movie. The issue, however, is that neither Mara or Vikander were in any way “supporting” performances. Their inclusion is category fraud in the highest order. Studios often do this, trying to maneuver performers into categories that give them a better shot at an Oscar, or when you have two leads (i.e. Mara and Cate Blanchett), the veteran actor will get pushed as the lead and the younger one will go in supporting. It’s ridiculous, and the Markademy Awards won’t stand for it!
So anyway, this really opens things up considerably in my ballot and, ironically, Vikander is still here for an actual supporting performance. (Well, ‘actual’…admittedly, you could make a case that her Ex Machina character is also a lead.) Jennifer Jason Leigh is still here, for another performance; it’s really kind of combo of both performances. This is also the first year that a Markademy category has featured not one, but TWO voice performances, since you can’t tell me that Phyllis Smith as ‘Sadness’ didn’t absolutely rock the house. McAdams ‘should’ win if the Academy actually cared about category fraud, and also because maybe she’ll read this and want to date me.
My winner is, get this, Kristen Stewart. Here’s the thing about Kristen Stewart: she gets an unheard-of amount of crap for the Twilight movies when in reality, she’s basically a character actor. Most actors, really, are character actors — they have particular skills that fit best in certain roles, and when cast in other roles, they can struggle. I certainly wouldn’t say that Stewart has the most range of anyone, yet when she gets a part in her comfort zone (i.e. Still Alice, Adventureland, this movie), she hits it out of the park. Her part in Clouds Of Sils Maria is also kind of a borderline lead though I can justify it since Binoche has a clear edge in screen time. What I like about Stewart is that since the Twilight movies gave her the money to do whatever she wants, she’s open to picking all sorts of odd projects rather than jump into other blockbusters. She keeps it up and she’ll end up an actual Academy ballot someday, as opposed to the just-as-prestigious Markademy listing.
Actual Oscar nominees: Cate Blanchett/Carol, Brie Larson/Room, Jennifer Lawrence/Joy, Charlotte Rampling/45 Years, Saoirse Ronan/Brooklyn
Likely Oscar winner: Larson
Should win: Larson
Alterna-ballot: Juliette Binoche/The Clouds Of Sils Maria, Olivia Cooke/Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Rooney Mara/Carol, Maggie Smith/The Lady In The Van, Charlize Theron/Mad Max: Fury Road, Lily Tomlin/Grandma
My ballot: Binoche, Blanchett, Larson, Mara, Ronan
My winner: Brie Larson
Larson has the misfortune of missing out on a Markademy Award back in 2013 when her role in Short Term 12 (a winner in just about any other year) lost to the unstoppable Cate Blanchett/Blue Jasmine train. I’m glad she gets another crack at the top prize here, outpacing a very competitive field — Blanchett again, Mara in her proper category, Saoirse Ronan* and the close runner-up Juliette Binoche. This is one of those cases where Binoche (who’s very hit-or-miss) was absolutely on the top of her game…she and Stewart made a great team.
* = turns out I’ve been pronouncing her name wrong for years. I’ve been saying ’Sore-shah’ when it’s apparently ’Sir-shuh.’ And even crazier, turns out that Robert De Niro wasn’t playing her in that 1998 action movie. But De Niro has such range! My spellcheck recognizes ’Saoirse’ as ‘satires,’ so maybe the joke’s on me.
I’ve been riding the Brie Larson bandwagon for years, so it’s pleasing to see Hollywood at large take notice of her in such a big way. “Room” kind of floored me, since I was one of the apparently few people who had no idea what it was about going into the film, so the horror of the plot really caught me off guard. Talk about a very fine line to walk in keeping a movie on track, not to mention the added challenge Larson faced in having to carry a child actor for virtually the whole film. With Larson now on the verge of becoming an Oscar-winning star, who will be the next under-the-radar actor from the cast of 21 Jump Street who I champion? If Jake Johnson wins Best Actor next year, something’s definitely up.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Actual Oscar nominees: Christian Bale/The Big Short, Tom Hardy/The Revenant, Mark Ruffalo/Spotlight, Mark Rylance/Bridge Of Spies, Sylvester Stallone/Creed
Likely Oscar winner: TBD
Should win: Stallone
Alterna-ballot: Idris Elba/Beasts Of No Nation, Nicholas Hoult/Mad Max: Fury Road, Oscar Isaac/Ex Machina, LeBron James/Trainwreck, Richard Kind/Inside Out, Jason Mitchell/Straight Outta Compton, Stanley Tucci/Spotlight
My ballot: Elba, Kind, Mitchell, Stallone, Tucci, the guy who played the flame-throwing guitar in Mad Max: Fury Road
My winner: Sylvester Stallone
This is one of those rare cases when an Oscar category is very much a tossup as we go into the ceremony. Stallone and Rylance have captured the majority of critics’ awards and probably have to be considered the favourites, though it wouldn’t at all be surprising if any of the other three won given the lack of true consensus. In fact, this is also looking like a big bellwether category for Best Picture —- if Hardy, Bale or Ruffalo win, that’s a big indicator that their film really caught the Academy’s fancy. (Same deal for Spotlight if McAdams pulls off the upset in supporting actress.) The fact that Hardy was a surprise nominee whatsoever gives him some heat in the category, and his late entry into the race may make him the winner in a musical chairs kind of way, like how momentum shifted Tilda Swinton’s way (in another very contested category) just before the 2007 Oscars and she might’ve lost had the ceremony been a week later.
Narrative-wise, a win for Bale or Ruffalo is essentially a win for their entire ensemble, and the Hulk has the edge over Batman here since Ruffalo is overdue (this is already his third nomination) and Bale has already won. Hardy is finally an Oscar nominee after delivering good work all decade long, and if Revenant is really poised to sweep, he could surely get caught up in the wave. Rylance has no Best Picture heat since his movie was a snoozer but he’s also one of the most respected stage actors alive, so the British voting bloc in the Academy could reward his long-awaited breakthrough into film.
And then there’s Sly. It’s kind of absurd to say that Stallone is “overdue” since it’s not like he’s been delivering fine performances or making great movies for the last 40 years. You can probably count all of Stallone’s good movies and performances without needing all of your fingers, frankly. Yet here’s the thing…the whole ideal of Oscar voting is to be objective about the performance itself. Nobody is saying (nobody COULD say) that Stallone is a better actor than Mark Rylance, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hardy or Christian Bale since that’s objectively not true. Judging it on just the performance alone, however, Stallone is the pick. As goofy and maudlin as the Rocky movies have been over the years, there’s no denying that Rocky Balboa himself is a great character and Stallone is never better than when he’s in this role. Actually, my “judge the performance only, not the baggage” idea doesn’t work in this case since the beauty of Stallone in Creed is that he’s wearing all the baggage of Rocky’s life. You can’t think of Creed without thinking of the entire Rocky series (well, you can still ignore Rocky V) and this character’s entire journey. I have only cried during three movies* in my life, and Stallone’s “my whole life is behind me” speech to Adonis in the locker room came within a hair of making Creed the fourth. I mean, if Sly is killing it hard enough in a movie that he almost moves me to tears, that’s worth a Markademy Award.
* = the scene in E.T. when it looked like he was dead, the final 10 minutes of Rudy (saw that with my family and we were all crying) and the first 15 minutes of Up, which literally had half the theatre openly bawling.
It’s a sign of how deep this category is that I’m still able to easily come up with four alternate nominees. Speaking of crying in a theatre, Mr. Bing-Bong’s final scene made things a little dusty in the theatre so props to Richard Kind. Elba became the poster boy for the latest #OscarsSoWhite controversy and it really is kind of amazing that he was somehow snubbed. You’ve also got Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, who did his best to elevate a pretty routine biopic. Pretty much anyone in Spotlight was a justifiable nominee but Tucci’s quiet and tired defiance stood out the most to me.
The flamethrower guitarist’s character name, by the way? Coma the Doof Warrior. Game over, man. Game over.
Actual Oscar nominees: Bryan Cranston/Trumbo, Matt Damon/The Martian, Leonado DiCaprio/The Revenant, Michael Fassbender/Steve Jobs, Eddie Redmayne/The Danish Girl
Likely Oscar winner: DiCaprio
Should win: DiCaprio
Alterna-ballot: Abraham Attah/Beasts Of No Nation, Tom Courtenay/45 Years, Paul Dano/Love & Mercy, Johnny Depp/Black Mass, Tom Hardy/Legend, Alex Jennings/The Lady In The Van, Jason Segal/The End Of The Tour
My ballot: Dano, Depp, Hardy, Jennings, Segal
My winner: Paul Dano
Real talk: is this the worst Best Actor field of all time? You have a half-assed Bryan Cranston, the Assbender not playing Steve Jobs as much as falling back on a Josh Lyman impression to get through the Sorkinese, Eddie Redmayne giving a legitimately poor performance, Damon pretty much playing himself, and DiCaprio’s gruntfest. The jury’s still out on whether or not Redmayne is actually a good actor but as for the other four guys….we know they’re better than this. This looks like a strong category on paper but in terms of actual quality roles, yikes.
So needless to say, there’s nothing stopping DiCaprio from finally capturing an Oscar. In the “whoops, let’s do a make-up award” tradition of Al Pacino winning for Scent Of A Woman, Henry Fonda winning for On Golden Pond or Paul Newman winning for Colour Of Money, here you have DiCaprio getting his long-overdue Oscar for a film that’s far from his best work. Is Revenant even in the top 20 of DiCaprio performances? The top 25? I’m not upset at Leo finally getting his Oscar due since it’s not like he’s beating anyone worthy this year, yet it’s a bit annoying that the “DiCaprio is overdue” narrative seems be sweeping Revenant towards Best Picture as well. If DiCaprio had won Best Actor two years (when he truly deserved it for Wolf Of Wall Street), would Revenant have half as much momentum?
As you might guess, my Markademy ballot is completely different. Playing very different twins is a gimmick, yet Hardy made it work in the entertaining Legend. Alex Jennings is a major star of British theatre and television, and he’s kind of playing a bit of a ‘twin role’ himself in Lady In The Van, as well as matching the great Maggie Smith line for line. Depp made for a genuinely sociopathic villain, even if his Whitey Bulger was still less frightening than his Willy Wonka. Segal clearly adores David Foster Wallace yet didn’t let any hero worship infect his quietly great performance.
And then there’s Paul Dano, who may be Larson’s true heir as my “how is this actor not more appreciated?” pet cause. Dano’s always needed that one big breakout role to firmly establish himself as a major talent, and Love & Mercy was it. It’s an interesting idea for a film in having two actors (Dano and John Cusack) play Brian Wilson at different times in his life, and a tip of the hat to Cusack as well for playing a role other than “John Cusack.” Dano had the meatier role of the younger Wilson, yet it’s also the more difficult part since you have to set the stage for what Cusack does later in the narrative. The only downside is that the split role probably hurt Dano’s Oscar chances, as he was pushed as a supporting actor by the studio in yet another case of the older actor/younger actor category fraud split when you have two leads.
Actual Oscar nominees: The Big Short, Bridge Of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room, Spotlight
Likely Oscar winner: The Revenant
So as you may have gleaned, I’m not really big on Revenant as the probable Best Picture winner even though it makes my forthcoming list of the year’s best movies. It’s one thing if a Best Picture winner doesn’t make my personal cut of the ‘best,’ yet it’s another if I can easily rattle off 22 better films (including six of the eight other BP nominees). Revenant is quite the achievement from a technical standpoint and I can firmly believe that it was a hell of a difficult shoot, as its Oscar campaigners push down our throats at every opportunity. “Toughest picture to film,” however, is not “Best Picture.” As I said before, DiCaprio’s Oscar drought is dragging the film to glory as well. It’s a pretty basic plot, it takes some very sharp liberties with the actual Hugh Glass story, the “metaphor for the environment” message DiCaprio and others are trying to shoehorn into it seems questionable at best, and I couldn’t help but feel that the movie would’ve been better had Hardy and DiCaprio switched roles. What part do you think fits DiCaprio better: the taciturn badass frontiersman or the weaselly mercenary looking out for number one?
Revenant’s victory puts a bit of a damper on the fact that this was overall a hell of a year for the Best Picture field. Seven of the eight nominees made my top 23, while the eighth nominee (Bridge Of Spies), uh, let’s just say it missed out and never speak of it again. Seven films made my personal Best Picture field, with four movies appearing on both lists…
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
3. The Martian
6. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
7. The Big Short
Martian is just a superbly done popcorn movie from start to finish. Carol was wonderfully moving, with Blanchett and Mara both in prime form (Blanchett is another one of those ‘great-or-awful’ actors with seemingly nothing in-between). M&E&TDG is an indie movie that didn’t make a huge impact aside from, y’know, being awesome and breaking the careers of at least three fine young actors (Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler and Olivia Cooke). I’ve never seen a film so completely shift from legitimately funny teen high school film to legitimately moving drama at the drop of a hat and be equally great in both halves. Big Short does a wonderful job of conveying both explanation and outrage at the financial crisis while somehow making an actual narrative of Michael Lewis’ book. Anomalisa is Charlie Kaufman’s latest bit of completely unique brilliance, with a narrative gimmick so amazing that I hesitate to even hint at it lest I ruin the feeling of dawning comprehension when you ‘figure it out.’ Spotlight is perfect in its straight-forwardness, with incredible performances all around and nothing added for any Hollywood flourish (even Ruffalo’s somewhat criticized “big scene” feels fitting for the character).
Then there’s Mad Max, which has more or less had this award locked up since the moment I saw it (open-mouthed with wonder), back in May. As I said earlier, this has a case as the best action movie of all time. Three epic car chases, each more intricately filmed than the next…instantly memorable characters and setpieces….an *actual* message about preserving the environment, coughcoughRevenantcough…a thoroughly badass Charlize Theron performance and a highly-underrated Nicholas Hoult supporting role (he just missed my supporting actor list)….and just overall, a truly singular movie the likes of which I’ve never really seen before. Put it this way: this movie was so good that it still earned 10 Oscar nominations despite being just about the most non-Academy film ever made. If it were to somehow pull the upset of the century and actually win, it would be my single favourite Oscar result of all time. A guy can dream, can’t he?
Onto the rest of my top 26. Just to be clear, the top seven were the ones that passed the hard-to-define “this was one of the year’s very best films” bar within my head, whereas everything else listed here is “only” an outstanding movie, not “Best Picture” outstanding.
8. Inside Out
10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
13. Danny Collins
14. Cop Car
15. Sleeping With Other People
16. The Hateful Eight
18. Love & Mercy
20. Beasts Of No Nation
21. The Lady In The Van
22. Mistress America
23. The Revenant
24. Ex Machina
25. Mississippi Grind
And now, here’s arguably my favourite thing to compile every year: my list of the year’s best scenes. Some of these are from my favourite movies of the year, some are from my least-favourite movies of the year…that’s the beauty of picking out singular moments. Some of these scenes contain spoilers, so go back and watch every movie that was released in 2015 before going ahead with this list. I’ll wait.
25. Pete Townshend introduces “Glittering Girl” to Kit and Chris (Lambert & Stamp)…there’s just a slight glimpse of the gleam in Lambert & Stamp’s eyes as they’re both like, “man, this song.”
24. The Green Bay Packers come to aca-battle (Pitch Perfect 2)….needless to say, this one really appealed to me. I somehow had no idea this cameo was happening and I literally laughed out loud seeing Clay Matthews and company inexplicably pop up.
23. Agu walks through the trenches (Beasts Of No Nation)
22. The car/motorcycle chase (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation)
21. Rey and Finn go with the old piece of garbage (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
20. Nathan and Kyoko start dancing (Ex Machina)…if you haven’t seen the movie, you’ve probably seen the GIF a hundred times
19. BB-8 gives the thumbs up (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
18. Greg is chewed out by “Wolverine” (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl)…this was actually Hugh Jackman doing the voice. Hugh Jackman may be the coolest man alive.
17. Lainie dances with the kids (Sleeping With Other People)….bonus points for the use of “Modern Love,” one of my all-time favourite songs. More bonus points for Alison Brie dancing.
16. Liam Neeson buys Trix (Ted 2)
15. Celebrities explain stock market concepts (The Big Short)
14. Lisa sings “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” (Anomalisa)
13. Brooke and the kids show up at Mamie-Claire and Dylan’s house (Mistress America)…okay, this is one of those “is it a scene or a sequence?” debates I had with myself, since this ‘scene’ is like 20-25 minutes long.
12. Xander and Naomi wait for Jake and Lainey to get married (Sleeping With Other People)…as much as I enjoyed this movie, if it had been just Mantzoukas and Savage improvising for 90 minutes, that would’ve been fine with me.
11. The "Freebird" church battle (Kingsman: The Secret Service)
10. Mr. Bing Bong sacrifices himself to save Joy (Inside Out)
9. Brian composes “God Only Knows” on the piano and in studio (Love & Mercy)
T6. Any of the three major car chases (Mad Max: Fury Road)….I couldn’t separate them in my mind, they’re all just so awesome in their own ways. Also, another case of “scene or sequence?” given how long and elaborate all these chases get
5. Philippe’s walk (The Walk)….I’m really glad I didn’t see this movie in IMAX or 3D, since this scene might’ve actually given me vertigo
4. Luis explains how he heard about the job (Ant-Man)….Michael Pena is so underrated
3. The tribute to Paul Walker (Furious 7)….there was no worse Oscar snub this year than “See You Again” not getting a Best Song nomination.
2. Greg and Rachel argue over her decision to stop treatment (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl)
1. Rocky’s “most of my life is behind me” speech (Creed)….well, duh