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88th Annual Academy Awards Poster

88th Annual Academy Awards - Oscar Picks by Reviews by Matthew

Good year to you my friends. And what a fantastic year at the movies it’s been. Here’s hoping that Oscar night is just as exciting and fulfilling. I got a feeling that it’s bound to be. This year’s nominees, despite any controversy, are a thrilling group. A clear front-runner is arguable and almost every category is up for grabs, I mean I only have “The Big Short” winning in one category (it might also win Editing) and “Mad Max: Fury Road” winning in six (it could lose Editing and pick up Costume), and I just can’t believe that that’s going to be the case in the end. Call it hedging my bets, go ahead, after last year’s score card I can take it. Let’s get to the picks.


Oscars at a glance How many will I get Correct ? Totals - 17 out of 24 picked
Category -m-'s Picks The Oscar goes to
Best Picture – The Revenant Spotlight
Best Director – Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant) Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant)
Best Actor – Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
Best Actress – Brie Larson (Room) Brie Larson (Room)
Best Supporting Actor – Sylvester Stallone (Creed) Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)
Best Supporting Actress – Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
Best Animated Picture - Inside Out Inside Out
Best Screenplany (Original) – Spotlight Spotlight
Best Screenplay (Adapted) – The Big Short The Big Short
Best Cinematography – Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki (The Revenant) Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki (The Revenant)
Best Art Direction – Best Production Design Mad Max: Fury Road Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Costume Design – Cinderella Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Makeup – Mad Max: Fury Road Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Film Editing – Mad Max: Fury Road Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Original Score – Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight) Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight)
Best Original Song –

“Til It Happens To You” by Lady Gaga & Diane Warren (The Hunting Ground)

“Writing’s On the Wall” by Sam Smith (Spectre)
Best Sound Mixing– Mad Max: Fury Road Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Sound Effects Editing – Mad Max: Fury Road Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Visual Effects – Mad Max: Fury Road Ex Machina
Best Foreign Language Film - Son of Saul Son of Saul
Best Documentary (Feature) - Amy Amy
Best Documentary (Short Subject) –

Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah

A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
Best Short Film (Animation) – Bear Story Bear Story
Best Short Film (Live Action) – Day One Stutterer

PICTURE – There just might be a race here this year. And though I’d personally love to be surprised, in my opinion, the favorite is “The Big Short”. Please know that I have no love for this movie. Admittedly, it’s the best made bad/boring movie of the year and I think the Academy is gonna eat it up. Considering its opponents, I can’t even say that it will be one of those “in hindsight, the Academy got it wrong” wins either because like its running mate, “Spotlight”, regardless of the quality of filmmaking, it’s an easily forgotten film.
Considering the remaining nominees, “Brooklyn” is the only film that I did not see but it certainly stands as the smallest contender on this list. “Room” is well sized, and its child star, Jacob Tremblay is unforgettable and also not nominated.
“Bridge of Spies” didn’t seem to receive that much attention upon its original release but I have to say that’s it’s a much better film than I originally thought it would be.  I have no qualms about it losing here but it should be noted that the film itself is worth a look. It’s a soothing reminder that Steven Spielberg is still a world class filmmaker, and Supporting Actor nominee Mark Rylance’s performance is not to be missed.
“Mad Max: Fury Road” I think would be a great pick, for the cumulative reasons listed in other categories below, but c’mon, this is the Academy of Arts and Sciences here. Which leaves us with “The Martian” and “The Revenant” as hopeful upsets.
“The Martian” has the typical Hollywood “feel good” written all over it, almost too much, and so I think that, and other category omissions, hurt the film’s chances at taking home the Best Picture Oscar. Equally, “The Revenant” has the typical Hollywood “drama” written all over it, almost too much, and I’m left wondering if the Academy hasn’t had enough of Alejandro G. Inarittu and his clear superior filmmaking talent for the time being. All of that being said, “The Revenant” IS the best and most memorable picture on this list, just like the scene with Goldilocks (Mr. DiCaprio) and his 3 bears.
I think it’s a long shot, the Academy doesn’t like to repeat itself so fast but they’d be dead wrong to pick “The Big Short” so I’m all in on this year’s deserved winner, “The Revenant”.

DIRECTOR – Lenny Abrahamson (“Room”) and Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”) are the easy outs. Both of their films are fantastic though so do yourself the favor and don’t skip them. Andy McKay (“The Big Short”) has potential here, as Hollywood really seems to love his film, though I think it’s the most boring thing, in like, forever. The thing here is that McKay is known for films like, “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”, “Step Brothers”, and “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”. All of which have their own merit but have left a different impression on the Academy. That being said, “The Big Short” is his first “Real” film, and the Academy is obviously impressed. They’ve trained their eye on him, and I can hear them asking, “So, what else have you got?”. Expect to hear more from McKay in the Academy’s future. The race this year has got to come down to George Miller (“Mad Max: Fury Road”) and Alejandro González Iñárritu (“The Revenant”). Most people think this would be tough picking but the Academy doesn’t really go for the lighter, action fare that is Mad Max. I think the Academy will respect George’s film but they’ll respect it in the Technical categories. You can argue about equality and the age of the majority of the Academy members being a factor, and I’ll agree with you when it comes to picking their vote. The negative for Iñárritu is that he won this award last year for “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”; the Academy doesn’t like to double up in these premier categories. With that said, did you see the DGA (Director’s Guild of America) awards? They’ve correctly awarded the last 9 out of 10 Best Director winners, the one exclusion was Ben Affleck (“Argo”). Ben won the DGA that year but wasn’t even nominated for the Best Director Oscar, it was the scandal of that year. Iñárritu won the DGA, the Golden Globe, and the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts). After collecting his lump of previous wins this year, he’ll be in Hollywood picking up his second Oscar.

ACTOR – The only cast off, here, for me is Eddie Redmayne. This, of course, has nothing to do with his work in “The Danish Girl”, it’s just that he won an Oscar last year. A shame, because this year’s grouping could have been the Must Watch category of the year, if only the Academy had rightly honored Michael Keaton last year instead of Redmayne, but alas… The Academy instead, decreases its options at dishonoring Leonardo DiCaprio by one. Bryan Cranston is certainly a viable vote but I’m not actually sure who saw “Trumbo” at this point. The movie was here and gone. The same, unfortunately, could be said about Michael Fassbender’s turn in “Steve Jobs”, which I’m actually in. A shameless plug but hey, I’m an unpaid extra in two of the auditorium shots, 1988 and 1996 respectively, so I’ll promote it if’n I want to, Yo! Meanwhile, the real competition for Leo this year is Matt Damon’s portrayal of Mark Whatney in “The Martian”. Damon is an Academy favorite and I think that if they shun Leo this year, it’s to give Matt as good as he gave the audience, and that’s not a bad thing. I just think that Leonardo DiCaprio has waited out, with respect, the Academy’s reluctance to award him. I don’t see how they can treat him with indifference this year.

ACTRESS – A talented set of ladies and a categorical opportunity for the Academy to award some new talent. With that in mind, let’s set Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Lawrence, both recent previous winners, aside. Instead let’s open the field for a class act in Charlotte Rampling, sprinkle in a little Brie Larson, and top it all off with my favorite, Saoirse Ronan. The bummer here is that “Brooklyn” hasn’t got the steam behind it that “Room”, and subsequently, Brie Larson have. Admittedly, Brie’s not the best thing about her movie, but she gives the better performance, from the best film, in this group.

SUPPORTING ACTOR – Christian Bale’s character, Michael Burry, was by far, the least interesting thing is this already tough-sell of a movie. It’s a bad nomination, one that would’ve been better served to Steve Carell whose work in “The Big Short” was far more moving and entertaining. Tom Hardy, who is stellar in “The Revenant” has unfortunately received no awards this season for his performance, ugh…What? Mark Ruffalo, who I like a lot, looked like a guy who needed to shit for the entire length of “Spotlight”. Winning the Oscar this year will cause future generations to write that line over and over again as his performance will be immortalized and constantly re-examined/referenced. Mark Rylance is getting a lot of attention, and rightly so, for his performance in “Bridge of Spies”. It’s a performance worthy of Oscar gold but I don’t know. See, the Academy has brushed off it’s recent opportunities to award Hollywood icons with statues. And every year, I look to them to pay tribute to their own history and demonstrate that an actor or actress, well beyond their marketable prime, still has the ability to knock one out of the park. My hope this year is that the Academy will turn to Hollywood royalty, Sylvester Stallone. Sly turned in the most touching supporting performance of the year as Rocky Balboa. A performance that summed up the heart of a franchise and the emotional connection to a character that we all forgot we had.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS – This one is an absolute free-for-all. Kate Winslet has the awards pedigree, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA for her performance already this year. “Spotlight” has picked up two supporting category nominations for a reason, and Rachel McAdams is one of them. Rooney Mara’s character in “Carol” really has the meatier and more interesting journey over Cate Blanchett. Yet, Jennifer Jason Leigh suffered the slings, arrows, elbows, and brains of enough Tarantino men in “The Hateful Eight” to sneak out with the Oscar gold, Alicia Vikander, however, has the momentum of a stellar year behind her and the Screen Actors Guild Award; they vote for Oscars. From her equally deserving turn in “Ex Machina” to the wife of Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl” Alicia is doubly heartbreaking and doubly deserving of this year’s Supporting Actress Oscar.

ANIMATED FEATURE- I’m only a little crushed here and that’s only because I’m one of the few who didn’t care for the winner, “Inside Out”.

SCREENPLAY ORIGINAL – I feel pretty good with my pick this year, even amongst this list of deserving contenders. “Bridge of Spies” is, to me, an overlooked gem as a film. No reason I can see for that to change in this category. “Ex Machina” is fantastic and I think has a real shot at pulling out an upset victory here. The Academy likes to demonstrate its forward thinking in this category as much as in the Supporting Acting ones. I just think it’s got stiffer competition. “Inside Out” being one of those opponents. As one of the film’s non-admirers I simply can’t advocate for the film or see why the Academy would doubly award it. People have called it smart but it ain’t that smart. “Straight Outta Compton” certainly has the credit to win here. It even has a sympathy vote as the only recognizable vote against #OscarsSoWhite, but I think 2 things work against it. 1) The screenwriters are white, and 2) it’s not winning many awards in the writing categories, especially when compared to this year’s winner “Spotlight”.

SCREENPLAY ADAPTED – The major division here this year is between large and small. The small, and therefore out of contention films, are “Brooklyn”, “Carol”, and “Room”. Leaving enough of a quandary, to the point that a hopeful coin toss could determine the victor between “The Big Short” and “The Martian”. In the end, it’s due to the surprising lack of love for “The Martian” all awards season that sets “The Big Short” apart for this Oscar victory.

ART DIRECTION – The 2 early outs, though not easy, are “Bridge of Spies” and “The Danish Girl”. Each masterful in their period depictions, especially ‘Bridge of Spies” and it’s recreation of the building of the Berlin Wall. The pair are simply not as interesting to look at as the 3 remainders. The problem with handicapping this race is that all 3 were awarded prizes by the Art Directors Guild while never competing against each other in their respective categories: Period Film, Fantasy Film, and Contemporary Film. “The Revenant” seems to be the easiest to dismiss. For all of it’s filmmaking brilliance, it’s still a bit drab, I mean this is the 1820s, what do you expect to see on the screen, Yo? So do you roll with the tried and true designs of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi team behind “The Martian” or do you go head down/horns up for “Mad Max: Fury Road”? This year I think, the 7 Oscar Nomination Curse roots out a home in Sir Ridley Scott’s Mars film and the spoils fall free in the Wasteland.

CINEMATOGRAPHY – After winning consecutive Best Cinematography Oscars for “Gravity” and “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”, the eight time Oscar nominee and two time winner Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki looks to threepeat this year with “The Revenant”. His opponents begin with the incomparable thirteen time nominee and no win, Roger Deakins, who holds a firm grasp on second place with “Sicario”. Keep an eye on him to score a win with Denis Villeneuve’s (dir. “Sicario") Bladerunner sequel. John Seale has performed some worthy upset work with the cinematic behemoth that is “Mad Max: Fury Road”. Robert Richardson falls farther back with the 70mm stylings of “The Hateful Eight”. While Edward Lachman scores the head scratcher nod with “Carol”. In my opinion, this last nod should have gone to Dariusz Wolski for “The Martian” but it’s of little difference as Lubezki has proven his clear dominance of this category and the art form in recent years.

FILM EDITING – There’s a similar division here, as in the Adapted Screenplay category. “The Revenant”, “Spotlight”, and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” all pale when comparing them to “The Big Short” and “Mad Max: Fury Road”. “The Big Short” is the favorite and does as masterful a job of entertaining its audience as it does of getting its message across clearly, if not excitingly, for such a boring topic. It’s almost impossible to deny it the award. But… “Mad Max: Fury Road” already has a very small amount of dialogue. I mean there’s supposed to be a silent, black & white edit of this film released at some point. And how else do you tell a story, hell, an emotional journey, of this magnitude without any or next to no dialogue? With Oscar winning editing, that’s how.

COSTUME  – If you follow the Academy pattern, “Carol” is out. The 50s garb is drab, drab, drab. “The Revenant” does the 1820s justice but it’s entirely too brown and dull, dull, dull. “The Danish Girl” has some colorful highlights and the lengthy flow of the 20s down pat, pat, pat. “Mad Max: Fury Road” has the wasteland leather and its accouterments, and man is it hot, hot, hot. But it’s this year’s winner, “Cinderella” that has the OMGYG!

MAKEUP – I like the nominees here this year. “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared” looks incredibly cute and it’s historical character makeup is impressive enough to have landed a nomination. Yet, I can’t help but wonder just how many people have heard of this film and, of those, how many have actually seen it? Most likely not enough to vote for it over “The Revenant” which boast some great makeup, for Tom Hardy certainly, but all of this is radically overshadowed by the clear distinction of “Mad Max: Fury Road” which wins this award in a landslide.

ORIGINAL SCORE – I think this year it’s about excitement. And the score for “Carol” just doesn’t have any. “Sicario” has a great score, when complimenting the film but plays as lively as a dead parrot when taken on its own. “Bridge of Spies” has a few Spielberg themes but not enough to set it up against the likes of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. Speaking of Star Wars, John Williams is the most lauded musical Academy winner (5 statues and over 41 nominations). As recognizable as he is, the bulk of these themes have already been awarded, and there’s nothing so new as… Wait, is that “The Hateful Eight” listed there amongst the nominees? Ennio Morricone, hmmm, that’s interesting. He’s been nominated for 6 Oscars, receiving an Honorary award in 2007. He scored, “A Fistful of Dollars”, “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, “The Thing (1982), “The Untouchables”, and “Hamlet” (1990). He scored friggin’ Hamlet? Oh, well that’s exciting.

ORIGINAL SONG – Oh my goodness, these songs Suck! ‘Manta Ray’ (J. Ralph & Anohni) from “Racing Extinction” and ‘Simple Song #3’ (David Lang) from “Youth” are the pits. Only slightly less boring is ‘Earned It’ (The Weekend) from “50 Shades of Grey”. The most recognizable song of the bunch is ‘Writing’s On the Wall’ (Sam Smith) from 007’s “Spectre” but it pales in comparison to the last Bond winner, ’Skyfall’ (Adelle). No, this year I think it’s going to be about the most recognizable artist, and that belongs to ‘Til It Happens To You’ (Diane Warren & Lady Gaga) from “The Hunting Ground”. Gaga’s quickly becoming an Academy darling. She floored the Academy last year when she sang with, and in tribute to, Julie Andrews. She won a Golden Globe for her performance in TV’s “American Horror Story: Hotel”. She just sang the national anthem at Super Bowl 50 and performed a tribute to David Bowie at the Grammys. What the hell has Sam Smith done for you lately?

SOUND MIXING – I don’t think there’s any doubt about the sound categories this year. There’s a total of 10 nominations in both categories, with four films picking up 8 of those 10 nominations. The lone wolf in the Mixing category is “Bridge of Spies” which doesn’t hold any weight against it’s competitors, the least impressive of which is “The Revenant”. “The Martian” has a bit more play, but it’s arguable that it’s play is overshadowed by its extensive use of Disco music. So while “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” stands as a reasonable option, it simply cannot compare to the mix of dialogue, score, and sounds on the highways of The Wasteland provided by “Mad Max: Fury Road”. It’s as aurally impressive as it is visually commanding.

SOUND EDITING – There’s no arguing with the sounds of a flaming guitar and the drums of war. Together, they lead the charge to Oscar gold on the “Fury Road”. Witness!

VISUAL EFFECTS – A big category year this time with some seriously stiff competition. Usually this is a pretty straight forward pick but not so this year. I have to remove “The Revenant” early. All the discussion about the harsh realities of the shoot leave one thinking that everything you see is real and not an effect. I mean that bear is great, but it’s not Richard Parker (See “Life of Pi”). “Ex-Machina” is certainly viable, providing some amazing character effects. It’s as viable as “The Martian”, which provides equally amazing other worldly landscapes, etc. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is certainly a pedigree, and one would think deserves the win, almost by name alone, but the film is kinda missing the imagination and craftsmanship of its 9 time Oscar winning godfather, Dennis Muren (Note: he was a creative consultant on The Force Awakens). In it’s favor though is the fact that it won the Visual Effects Society award this year. The society has correctly picked the Oscar winner 9 out of the last 13 times. Certainly not a lock but tips the scales in favor of. Speaking of, it should be noted that the franchise award scales are dead even, with Episodes IV, V, and VI winning this honor. While Episodes I, and II lost, and Episode III wasn’t even nominated. So the issue, or film, that each of these undercards face is “Mad Max: Fury Road” which effectively combines the best this category has to offer: realism, transportation, imagination, craftsmanship, character, landscapes, matte painting, visual and practical effects, etc into the most visually dominant film of the year.

Non-Picks but Guesses Just the Same:
Best Foreign Language Film – Son of Saul
Best Documentary (Feature) – Amy
Best Documentary (Short Subject) – Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
Best Short Film (Animation) – Bear Story
Best Short Film (Live Action) – Day One


Turn Down The Lights, Turn Up The Sound.

Matthew Gilbert © 1999-2017 All Rights Reserved

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