Oscarathon 2016 continues with the second in a five-part series predicting this year’s Academy Award winners and losers. Each of these posts will take on one or more awards, and we’ll keep coming back to each in the run up to the official ceremony in our continuing coverage of the 2016 Oscar race. Enjoy!
Now it’s time to talk about the people that we watch in the movies with the Acting Awards.
Before we do, though, first, the elephant in the room. I touched on this a bit in this week’s Seafood for Thought, but the Academy finds itself in a bit of a bind after the nominees for a second year in a row are all white. As I discuss each category, I will get into individuals snubs, but it once again must be said that this is a sad state of affairs. It is true that there are only so many nominees, so to some degree this type of thing can always happen, but it really shouldn’t, and Hollywood needs to do better.
I say Hollywood, and not the Academy, because until Hollywood fixes the way it casts and produces movies, this problem will continue. Minority actors and actresses just don’t get the same opportunities to make so-called prestige films as their white peers, and worse, when they do get an opportunity, it is generally for a very limited type of role that fits how Hollywood likes telling stories with minorities. Spike Lee is right that the gatekeepers at Hollywood are the problem, and until that is fixed, this issue is not going away. Now, the Academy must continue to open its doors to as diverse a group of people as possible, because right now a majority of the Oscar voters are older white men. This is a change that would take a long time by itself, which is why he Academy has decided to kickstart their progress with changes to the voting electorate that will shake-up the mix of voters going forward. These changes are a good start (even if there are a lot of small consequences from this that still need to be worked out), but the Academy must do more. There has been a lot of chatter about permanently raising the Best Picture numbers back to ten, which is definitely a good idea; but it is also time to consider upping the nomination totals for all major categories. The Emmys have been doing this slowly for years, and no one has really made a big fuss about it. It is true that it won’t fix everything, but it certainly couldn’t hurt. Even with these changes, there are no quick answers. The key is to continually expect and demand Hollywood to do better, and not stop until things get fixed.
With all that said, this year’s group of Acting Nominees are all deserving in one way or another, so let’s get to looking category by category.
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE NOMINEES
Let’s start with the category with the least objectionable nominations, because all five of these women are deserving candidates who gave superb performances. Of course, this category comes with a major caveat. There were seven performances this year worthy of nomination: the five actual nominees, plus Alicia Vikander for her performance in The Danish Girl and Rooney Mara for her performance in Carol. A similar situation arose with the Best Actor category, but unlike in that category, the Academy was able to get around the issue here by putting both Vikander and Mara into the Supporting Actress category. It’s a bit silly, especially considering both of them are really leads in their respective movies (especially Mara). That said, the argument that Mara and Vikander should count as supporting actresses isn’t a terrible one. Although Mara is the point of view character in Carol, she still shares much of her story with Blanchett, whose storyline is the more captivating one. (And Blanchett benefits from being the second coming of Meryl Streep at this point in terms of awards recognition.) Meanwhile, Vikander is for better or for worse still the wife of the main subject of The Danish Girl. Sure, the movie does quite a bit to showcase Vikander’s perspective and make it a better role than you’d expect, but she’s still basically playing the supportive wife. So this allowed the Academy to avoid the trouble of having to eliminate one of these seven women’s performance from consideration by pretending that Mara and Vikander were supporting actresses. It’s silly (especially because this kind of thing would never happen on the actor side), but that is where we are at.
All of this also means that there weren’t the same degree of snubs in this category as there were in the other acting nominations. That doesn’t mean there weren’t other deserving candidates: Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road, Amy Schumer in Trainwreck, Melissa McCarthy in Spy, Maggie Smith in The Lady in the Van, Lily Tomlin in Grandma, Karidja Touré in Girlhood, Sarah Silverman in I Smile Back, and Helen Mirren in Woman in Gold all would have been deserving. But most people were pretty happy with these choices–other than potential quibbles about Jennifer Lawrence, which are more about people getting tired (maybe even a little jealous) of Lawrence and David O. Russell getting awards attention. But overall, from a merit perspective it would not be a total surprise if any of these women happened to win, a state shared only by the (even more wide open) Supporting Actress category. But only one actress can win, so let’s get to handicapping this race.
You Can Never Count Them Out
- Joy is a really problematic movie, but none of that is Lawrence’s fault. She does what she can to hold together a movie that doesn’t have much to it. David O. Russell is already an acquired taste, but he really seemed to phone it in this time. At this point it would probably beneficial to both of them to take a break from each other and make separate movies. This is especially for Lawrence, who has somehow grown stale at the old age of 25. It’s nice to see one of Hollywood’s better directors actually work to mentor and give good roles to a talented actress for once, just like Scorsese and De Niro/DiCaprio, or Spielberg with Cruise/Hanks, but at this point it is starting to feel like Russell and Lawrence are making the same movie over and over again. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that Lawrence does an excellent job of bringing humanity into the soulless mess that is Joy. She definitely has the longest shot of winning, and already had her moment for this role with her Golden Globe win; the only reason why she can’t be counted out entirely is because she is Jennifer Lawrence, and even if the tide is somewhat turning against her, most people still love her.
- While it’s questionable if Blanchett is the true lead in this movie, that doesn’t change the fact that she is remarkable in it. Blanchett has an energy in this film, and while she may not be the main point of view character, she is the main subject, playing Carol in the film Carol. Her performance is captivating and even intriguing as she gets to play the kind of role that generally only men get. Blanchett effortlessly conveys the struggle of a woman torn between being there for her daughter and being who she truly is. It is true that she gets the flashier role in Carol, so it is not surprising she stands out so much, but that doesn’t change the fact that she is amazing in this movie. Plus, everything I said about the love for Jennifer Lawrence goes double for Cate. Everyone loves her, and she really does feel like she is in Meryl Streep territory at this point, where no matter what role she does, she is going to get Oscar attention. She even benefits from being one of the three nominees (along with Larson and Ronan) who also got SAG and BAFTA nominations. Really, the biggest thing hurting Blanchett’s chances is that she just doesn’t have the narrative that other nominees do, and when it comes to an Oscar race, that matters more often than not.
Would Have Been a Contender But…
- I was going to say a lot of different things about Rampling. This is one of the only performances I have yet to see, so much of my initial analysis was based on other people raving about her in this film. I also planned to talk about how Rampling is an Oscar outsider who, after years of solid work abroad, was finally getting her due stateside, and that she is also one of the older nominees Best Actress has ever had at 69 (she would be the third oldest winner in this category ever). While Brie Larson has been soaking up a lot of spotlight, Rampling had been quietly picking up a lot of steam, and everything seemed to be heading toward a strong narrative that could have led Rampling to victory. Then she went and did this. On the list of things white people shouldn’t do, claiming that white people are being racially targeted is pretty high up. After these statements, for Rampling to win this year would make an already precarious PR situation even worse, so it is likely that voters will go out of their way not to vote for her (even if she is now desperately trying to walk back her comments). Now, to be fair, even if she hadn’t made those comments, there was a lot against her winning. Her film is one that few would have already seen, so a majority of her support would have to come from screeners, never a place you want to be in. Her narrative of being an outsider and an older actress is generally of the type that garners nominations, not wins. Finally, she didn’t receive a SAG (or BAFTA) nomination, which means her support in her own branch is suspect. All of these taken together made a win unlikely for her, but Rampling’s remarks really put the last nails in the coffin. So why is she not at the bottom of the heap? Well… the thing is, one of the reasons this diversity dilemma is happening in the acting categories is that the Academy is full of older white people, mostly men, and quite frankly they may not think her comments are anything worth worrying about. This is a cynical take, admittedly, but a realistic one. Furthermore, a number of voters may have already voted before she made these remarks, so she could already have some built in support. Ultimately, though, people really love her work in this film, and may decide she should be honored regardless. There have been plenty of other past actress nominees who have turned off voters (though admittedly not with anything potentially this bad), like Mo’Nique, Anne Hathaway, and Melissa Leo, and still won. So Rampling can’t be entirely counted out just yet–but I imagine things will only go downhill from here.
Picked The Wrong Year to Give The Performance of Her Life
- Ronan is a revelation in Brooklyn. She does a wonderful job of showing a girl growing into a woman and coming into her own as she struggles as an Irish immigrant trying to find her way in America. She marvelously uses different types of acting to express that transition. Especially impressive is her use of behind-the-beat acting to show her meek nature at the beginning of the film; then, as the character grows out of this meekness, Ronan slowly transitions to more on-the-beat acting. It’s subtle, marvelous work. And Ronan has a great narrative going for her: she already has awards pedigree from her role in Atonement in 2007, which gives her a bit of name recognition, and after years of figuring out how to find her way as she went from child actor to adult actor, this performance is seen by many as her now truly breaking out as a star. Add in that she is the center of an indie darling that got a Best Picture nomination, and in many other years she would be the favorite. Unfortunately, the problem is that many of Ronan’s strengths are shared by fellow nominee Brie Larson, and Larson’s narrative just seems so much stronger right now. The other issue is that the Academy loves to honor actresses right as they begin their rise to stardom, but generally the actress doesn’t actually win for that nomination, under the thinking that young actresses will have plenty of other chances. All this means that while Ronan has a really strong case, she just doesn’t have the same support Larson has.
- Larson is on quite a roll. As a young actress, she’s been consistently well-liked but spent years toiling in supporting roles before she really caught everyone’s attention with her work in Short Term 12. She used that capital to soar even higher with Room. Her work is astounding as a kidnapped woman who survives only because she must raise the son she conceived with her captor. She is a force on screen. Her struggle to hold everything together for the sake of her son is mesmerizing and emotionally resonates in a way that few roles do. Hollywood really loves Room, in a large part due to her performance, and this is the film’s best bet for winning an Oscar. Larson has handled herself well on the circuit, and she is starting to build a very strong narrative. This should be a more competitive race, but Larson may make it a laugher if she picks up one more major win. The only things that could stop her at this point? If people start nitpicking about the fact that the nature of Room means that she is not in the film as much as you would expect; if Ronan can somehow wrestle control of the narrative both actress share; if she comes out in defense of Charlotte Rampling’s statements. Unlikely.
Current Predicted Winner: Brie Larson
- Brie Larson
- Saoirse Ronan
- Charlotte Rampling
- Cate Blanchett
- Jennifer Lawrence
Who Should Win: Saoirse Ronan (though I’ll admit, the more I think about Blanchett’s performance, the more it grows on me)
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Rooney Mara, Carol (I am really not okay with this being considered a supporting role), or if we are going with complete snubs, Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road.
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE NOMINEE
Sigh. This category is a mess. Not so much for any one nominee, but more just because there doesn’t seem to be any stand out performance that, in past years, one might look to. (The closest two are Leo and Damon.) In fact, in a lot ways, this feels like a year made up of people that you would be fine with as nominees, but not as winners. This has left me rather underwhelmed with any of the actual or potential choices. That makes the whitewashing of this particular category even more discouraging, because while none of the actual choices are bad choices per se, they certainly aren’t very inspiring. Will Smith in Concussion or Michael B. Jordan in Creed may not have been any better than the actual nominees, but they are far more interesting choices that say something with their nominations, as opposed to sticking to the status quo with these mostly boring choices. Unfortunately, both were doomed due to other factors. Will Smith suffered from the somewhat indifferent critical response to Concussion, even if audiences mostly loved it.
On the other hand, Michael B. Jordan was held back not by response to the film (critics and audiences loved Creed) but by the complicated relationship the Academy has with sports movies in general. Only 16 have ever even received a Best Picture nomination, and one of those winners was a remake of another. In general, the Academy never gives enough credit to actors or actresses for the talent it takes to correctly portray a professional athlete. This is especially a problem because screenwriters tend to have difficulty giving an actor playing an athlete enough traditional material to play, especially when it comes to leads. This is why you rarely see the actual lead and main athlete in a sports movie get nominated. Instead, generally the awards attention focuses on actors who are around sports, such as Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side or like Nick Nolte in Warrior, that are giving more traditional performances as opposed to athletic feats. The best example of this may be The Fighter, where every one of the major actors in the film (Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Melissa Leo) except the lead (Mark Walhberg) received an Oscar nomination. (Admittedly, Walhberg’s performance didn’t help, but the other three got far better roles to work with.) There are exceptions, but they all have other circumstances around them. For example, it is true that Sylvester Stallone was nominated for in the original Rocky, but he had a great narrative to spin because he spent so many years shopping the movie around. Other examples would be Robert De Niro for Raging Bull, which had the added weight of being considered a cinematic masterpiece, and Hillary Swank for Million Dollar Baby, because that film took the unique tack of highlighting a female fighter. So Michael B. Jordan was kind of in a no win situation; his role was always going to struggle for support because voters tend to not respect actual athlete roles all that much.
Smith and Jordan were not the only other two potential snubs. Tom Hardy had quite the year with both Mad Max and his turn as twins in Legend (which I think factored into his supporting actor nomination, but I’ll get more into that later). It is unclear how the actors of The Big Short tried to submit themselves, but Steve Carell certainly gave a performance of note that probably could be classified as a leading role. No one has heard of Mark Ruffalo’s Golden Globe nominated film, Infinitely Polar Bear, but he is really fantastic in it and deserved more praise for that than he got. Al Pacino showed that he still gives a damn sometimes with his role in Danny Collins. Tom Hanks is praised for his work in Bridge of Spies, and is probably pretty underrated at this point, as is the non-Rampling half of 45 Years, Tom Courtenay. Still, none of these performances really stick with you. Like the year in general, this category seems weaker than the other acting categories, so let’s just get on with the race.
We Get It, Everyone Really, Really Loves Breaking Bad
- Look, Cranston is fine, and so is Trumbo, so he isn’t undeserving, exactly. But this role is in a nothing movie that should have been so much more considering how juicy the subject matter is. Trumbo is the kind of film Hollywood loves giving awards attention to: it tells a story about the industry, has some cause it can champion, and stars a lot of famous people. So that meant it was always going to be well liked (look at its SAG nominations). Add in that at this point Cranston is basically bulletproof after Breaking Bad, and this nomination is not that surprising. Still, this is the slot that really should have gone to someone else, whether that had been Smith, Jordan, or really a number of other people. I have already spent too many words on Cranston. He is not winning, unless the SAG Awards decide to do something stupid, so I’m moving on.
The biggest thing these three men have in common is that they are not Leo, which is why they are probably not winning, but here is a bit more for each.
- From all appearances, Damon is in this race because everyone seems loves The Martian, Damon absolutely makes that movie as entertaining as possible, and while it’s not as talked about as Leo’s constant Oscar futility, Damon has always been an underrated actor. The problem, is Leo’s version of that narrative is better, Damon did not receive a SAG nomination so he may not have the support of the biggest branch of the Academy, The Martian‘s chances in all the big categories has been trending down lately, and, well, Damon has spent the year repeatedly saying controversial shit like this and this, things that have kind of turned people against him to some degree. So at this point it is hard to really take Damon seriously as a contender, unless he just starts winning everything. Still, he is Matt Damon, and if ever there was a way to derail Leo this year, it still feels like the once and always Will Hunting would be the guy to do it.
- I haven’t seen Jobs yet, so this is all based on what I have picked up, but Fassbender has kind of become the forgotten man this year. His turn in Jobs was met with great praise, but the film itself was a box office disaster, garnered disappointingly mixed reviews considering its pedigree, and dealt with some bad press to boot. No one is really talking about Fassbender anymore, so it is hard to see him winning at this point. Still, he has the potential because he has been nominated in just about every awards show this season, so if he picks up some wins this could all change really quickly.
- Like Ronan, Redmayne just has bad timing in a lot of ways. His role in The Danish Girl is exactly the kind of thing the Academy loves to reward (physical transformations, progressive causes), but he just picked the wrong year to do this film. Part of this is because he is going against Leo, but the other part of it is that after his (to many, somewhat questionable) win last year for The Theory of Everything, people seem hesitant to give him the same praise again. This is sad, because he gives a better performance in The Danish Girl than he does in The Theory of Everything, and if nothing else, deserves more credit than he is getting. The problem is that in a lot of ways The Danish Girl is close enough structurally to The Theory of Everything that it doesn’t feel as fresh a performance as it should. Also, arguably in the case of both films he is out shined by his female co-star (Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl and Felicity Jones for The Theory of Everything). All of this has made it hard for Redmayne to build any type of narrative that could spur him to victory. He still has plenty of chances to build momentum, though.
The Long Awaiting Frontrunner
- At this point this is starting to feel like a foregone conclusion. The buzz for this role has been building since well before The Revenant even came out, when it was clear that the Lead Actor field might not be all that strong. Leo would have had to be absolutely horrible to overturn the hype that had built for this role, and, well, he wasn’t. In fact, Leo is quite good. The intensity in this role is amazing, and for once DiCaprio is actually able to find the verisimilitude of playing an actual human being. Add in the fact that pretty much everyone agrees that Leo should have won an Oscar by this point, and this has all the makings of a lifetime achievement Oscar for a performance deserving of merit, which is a pretty unbeatable combination. At this point, the only thing that could stop Leo from winning: if everyone completely turns on The Revenant as a whole, if he makes some sort of stupid comment (which is never happening), if people realize this is a weak field and start scrutinizing his performance unfairly compared to the others, or if he is actually subject to some sort of ironic demon curse, where he wished for acting talent but the twist is that no one will ever give him an award for it. Those unlikely possibilities aside, this looks like Leo’s year.
Current Predicted Winner: Leonardo DiCaprio
- Leonardo DiCaprio
- Eddie Redmayne
- Matt Damon
- Michael Fassbender
- Brian Cranston
Who Should Win: I don’t know! It’s a toss up between Leo and Damon. They are about the same, and I am fine with either winning. Gun to my head, I guess Damon is slightly better.
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Mark Ruffalo for Infinitely Polar Bear or Michael B. Jordan for Creed (but seriously, this category is a mess).
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE NOMINEES
Welcome to the most interesting acting category. There is a lot of chaos in this nomination field, and this is by far the most wide open race, one that could go in any direction. A lot of that is because of the reassigning of two leading roles, Mara and Vikander’s, to supporting ones. That shift is not entirely consistent with the way other award shows have treated the roles (especially with Mara), so the already existing and upcoming award season results may not be as predictive as one would expect. Their inclusion also bumped some other fine performances out of the Supporting Actress category. Helen Mirren gives by far the most interesting performance in Trumbo, Jane Fonda’s turn in Youth is inspired (and her exclusion sadly means we will not get her annoyed reaction to bad award show jokes, like we did at the Golden Globes). Also worthy of recognition: Jada Pinkett Smith’s raucous role in Magic Mike XXL, Tessa Thompson’s surprisingly deep performance in Creed, and Alicia Vikander’s other critically acclaimed role of the year in Ex Machina. All of these actresses would have been fine choices and even could have won in other years, so this is a very deep category, which is why it is the most competitive of the acting categories and there is no frontrunner at this time.
Solid Performer in a Best Picture Contender
- Like everything in Spotlight, the strength of McAdams’s performance is in its understatement. There is nothing showy, but what you do get is McAdams showcasing her abilities by playing a real person. It is subtle work, to be sure, and not for everyone. (A description that applies to everything else in this film.) It’s the kind of realistic role McAdams was looking to play in True Detective Season Two (albeit a different type of realism). The biggest thing she has going for her here is that she is the only nominee from a Best Picture Nominee. This can be really helpful, because it gives an added layer of press and recognition (like when McAdams was one of the people who accepted the Critics Choice Award). Adding to the narrative, McAdams kind of disappeared from the spotlight (sorry) for a couple of years and now returns front and center in 2015. If True Detective Season 2 had been better received, she would probably have a lot better built-in narrative, just like Matthew McConaughey did the year he won for Dallas Buyer’s Club (although the fact that True Detective Season 1 actually played in the lead up to the 2014 Oscars helped as well), but alas, it did not. If Spotlight is able to rally after its loss at the Producers Guild Awards, a win for McAdams is sure to be a part of it. But if Spotlight is destined to burn out and ultimately not win the Oscar for Best Picture, McAdams is also likely to fall short. The role is just too understated to stand on its own, especially compared to the flashiness of the other nominated performances.
The Amazing Year
Jennifer Jason Leigh
- What a year for Jennifer Jason Leigh. It is hard to think of two more different roles for one actress to play in one year than Leigh’s in Anomalisa and The Hateful Eight (something Kyu alluded to in our Best of Movies in 2015 post). This has helped return Leigh to prominence for the first time in a while, and it’s gratifying to see the amount of praise being heaped upon her. She more than holds her own in the star-studded ensemble that is The Hateful Eight, where her performance as Daisy Domergue is chilling and brutal. Her shrieking laughs are haunting, and the havoc that surrounds her is impressive. This feels like a role that would easily in win any other year because of the physicality involved (voters love when actors or actress really work at a role, as long as that work isn’t for playing an athlete). In a lot of ways, though, if Leigh wins it will be because of the impressive depth she has shown as a performer this year as a whole. She also has the nomination support she needs to stay in voters’ consciousness, which can be important. The problem is that a lot of what gives Leigh a good narrative also applies to Alicia Vikander, whose nominated role is afforded much more prominence in the film than Leigh’s. Also tricky is Mara’s “supporting” performance dropped in from the Lead category. These things might be more possible to overcome if Leigh had the momentum that Kate Winslet got from winning at the Golden Globes, but she does not. Leigh has a high chance of winning, but it also seems that she could very easily be pushed out at any time.
- Vikander benefits from much of the same “big year” buzz that Jennifer Jason Leigh is getting, only more so. Part of that is because this year crowned Vikander as the reigning Hollywood Young Woman of the Moment (there can only be one, because sexism). Everyone loves her, and she is a big hit on the red carpet scene and the awards circuit. The kind of capital she has banked there generally leads to wins. Add that Alicia could have been nominated this year for two different roles (and in fact was at the BAFTAs), and she could win symbolically for both of these roles in a lot of voters’ minds. Even without all that, though, Vikander’s performance in The Danish Girl doesn’t really need any help. She is excellent, and in a lot of ways the film is just as much her movie as it is Eddie Redmayne’s. (Which is actually kind of a problem with the movie, in a strange way.) She takes the supportive wife role and completely transforms it into something different. Beyond the quality of the performance, it is just hard for true supporting roles to compete against what is a really a lead role, because a lead role simply allows for more character depth and exploration. If there was a frontrunner in this category it would be Vikander (especially after her Critics Choice Award win), but there are still a few things going against her. One is that both of her narratives compete with two other nominees (Leigh and Mara). The next thing is that the Academy loves Kate Winslet, and this could end up being a case where that is enough for Winslet to win, considering Kate also gave a critically heralded performance. Finally, there is always the strong chance that voters will decide that Vikander is young and doesn’t need to be rewarded this year because she will be back in future years. This happens much less often in the Supporting categories than the Lead ones, but is still a possibility.
The Role Too Big To Be In This Category
- I don’t even… this is so not a supporting role. It would be one thing if Mara had a lot of screentime but was not a POV character; but the thing, is she spends even more time as the POV character than Blanchett does, albeit in a much less flashy role. It is better that Mara is recognized than not recognized at all, but this still feels a bit unfair to the other people in this category (and to some degree Mara herself). Still, it is understandable why even the stars of Carol would want to be separated: the two of them would have split a lot of votes and made it impossible for either to win. At least in this case, it is possible for both actresses to be recognized. But the fact that Mara has gotten support as both Lead and Supporting Actress in this award season has given her a leg up on the competition. Add in that she gets to do more with her character than anyone else nominated, other than maybe Vikander, and Mara could easily sneak away with a victory. The problems for Mara, though, are that she just doesn’t have Vikander’s buzz that Vikander or Winslet’s name recognition, which is where the exclusion of Carol from the Best Picture race really hurt her. What she really needed in order to win was a constant discussion about the merits of Carol and its two main performances. That would have allowed a narrative to build about awarding both actresses, one that could have carried Mara to victory. Instead, Carol is left out, and Mara is finding herself being quickly left behind in the conversation. That isn’t guaranteed to doom her, but it doesn’t look good.
- Winslet has a lot going for her: she has the nominations she needs to stay in the conversation, she struck early with a major win at the Golden Globes, and most importantly, she is Kate Winslet. Kate has fallen behind Blanchett a bit in terms of Academy love, but make no mistake, the Academy still adores her. Add in the genuine shock Winslet showed during her Golden Globe win, and she has a lot of people rooting for her to keep winning. I don’t want to be cynical and say that she could gain votes purely from name recognition if some voters don’t have time to see all the movies, but it is very possible, because no one is going to cry foul at a Kate Winslet win. So all of this has Winslet right near the top, only another win or two away from making this really interesting. Still, Winslet suffers from the fact that her performance just may not be able to hold up against Vikander’s or Mara’s; and as a movie, Jobs was a financial disaster, and not nearly as critically praised as expected. So a lot of Winslet’s chances are going to be based on how much organic support she can get before the voting is done to counteract the fact that Jobs‘ poor overall performance makes it hard to keep her role fresh in people’s minds.
Current Predicted Winner: Alicia Vikander
- Alicia Vikander
- Kate Winslet
- Jennifer Jason Leigh
- Rooney Mara
- Rachel McAdams
Who Should Win: Depends–if this was a race of true supporting nominees, Jennifer Jason Leigh, but it isn’t, so Rooney Mara.
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Helen Mirren, Trumbo
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE NOMINEES
This category is just as deep (possibly deeper) than the Supporting Actress category, but there is such a clear frontrunner at this point that the actual race is far less interesting. What a year, though, for supporting performances, and man were these all way more exciting to talk about than the Lead Actor roles.
On top of the crop of deserving nominees, there we many others that were unfortunately left out. The biggest example is Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation. Elba’s performance is universally praised, and is the biggest so-called snub from this year’s awards other than Ridley Scott for Best Director. The real unfortunate thing is that his exclusion is almost entirely based on the bullshit politics in Hollywood surrounding Netflix. Major theatrical exhibitors are not thrilled that Netflix is getting into the movie business, because Netflix can cut them out of the equation entirely if the company wants to. It would be one thing if Netflix made films but abided by the same rules as everyone else when it comes to home releases, but Netflix isn’t going to do that, because the whole point is to allow people to watch these films on Netflix the same day they could see them on the big screen. So I was always dubious about Elba’s chances of getting a nomination, because the big exhibitors were going to do whatever they could to get Beasts of No Nation buried to penalize the film for going with Netflix. (One could argue that this is overblown, considering two Netflix documentaries were nominated for Best Doc, but major chains care less about documentaries than they do about critical indie darlings like Beasts.) Of course, this just ended up hurting Hollywood, because it knocked out the most obvious minority nominee: so good job, exhibitors, your pettiness also made you look racist.
Elba wasn’t the only snub, though, as both Michael Keaton and Liev Schreiber could have been honored for their great performances in Spotlight. Oscar Isacc’s role in Ex Machina has drawn high praise. Benecio Del Toro is menacingly brilliant in Sicario. With Michael Shannon in 99 Rooms, Jacob Tremblay in Room, Paul Dano in Love & Mercy, Stanley Tucci (also) in Spotlight, and even Harrison Ford in Star Wars, and you could have made a new nominee list using only those left out, and no one would think any were a mistake. This is a deep category that in any other year would have an unclear frontrunner. This year, however, there is a Rocky, and that means this race is basically over.
What a Year!
- Whether or not Ruffalo was the most deserving of the Spotlight men is questionable. It feels like in a lot of ways he was picked because he gave the closest thing to a flashy performance in this movie (except for maybe Stanley Tucci). Still, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t remarkable. The way that Ruffalo seems to physically become Mike Rezendes is impressive and subtle. This is the kind of acting that is just not seen in movies right now. Between this and Ruffalo’s fantastic performance in Infinitely Polar Bear, this is a good year to show him some love. If Spotlight had more momentum, there is a world where I could see Ruffalo having a chance of winning. But this is not that world.
This was the biggest stunner of the nominations, and Hardy probably benefitted a bit from The Revenant bump, but it’s not underserved. Hardy is quite good in this film, and is actually able to give a rather subtle performance in what is otherwise an unsubtle movie. Hardy also benefitted from having a strong year in general, between this performance, his Max in Mad Max, and playing twins in Legend. There is absolutely no way he is winning, though, so let’s just move on.
The Presumptive Best Picture’s Favored Son
- Christian Bale is predictably great in this movie, giving a performance that mixes flashy and subtle in a way that should be impossible for a big, loud movie like The Big Short. While Bale gained some momentum on his own with a Critics Choice Win for Best Actor in a Comedy, the only thing giving him a chance is that The Big Short is surging overall, and it is possible that surge could bring Bale with it. The Academy has improved in recent years, but block voting can still happen, as voters go with one of the few films they’ve seen or assume that the Best Picture must have the best of everything else. Still, this generally applies more to the non-acting awards, so I don’t put much stock in Bale’s chances, but he does actually have one.
You Would Have Won, But Unfortunately You’re Not Rocky Balboa
- Before Creed, Rylance seemed like a lock to win the trophy. His turn in Bridge of Spies is beloved, and seem to set up a way for the Oscars to make sure Bridge of Spies isn’t completely shut out (it likely will be now). The Academy loves period pieces about the Cold War, so Rylance also had that going for him. After Creed, though, the narrative got away from him, as the love for Stallone’s return to the role that made him famous was immense, and people were even more excited that the Rocky franchise was on the right track again. Rylance just hasn’t been able to keep up, narrative-wise, which is so often what matters most in an awards season. Despite all that, Rylance started out strong with a slew of critic awards, and proved at the very least that he can be a real threat to win. If Rylance could have won either the Critics Choice Award or the Golden Globe his chance would be much higher, but he did not. Rylance does still have plenty of chances though, and might still turn this around if he builds momentum winning an award here or that (such as at the BAFTAs). Probably not going to happen, but Rylance definitely can’t be discounted.
The Return of the Italian Stallion
- You want to know when I knew Stallone was a lock to win? When at the Oscar nomination announcements he got by far the loudest cheer for his nomination. Or maybe it was when he got the loudest ovation at the Golden Globes. Or maybe… you get the point. The narrative is just completely in Stallone’s favor right now, and it seems unlikely that that will change. And it’s not just the narrative: Stallone is phenomenal in Creed. All the history of the Rocky franchise and what it meant to Stallone plays into his performance as he expertly shows the struggle of an old great man trying to find reasons to live when the world has moved on without him. It’s the kind of performance Stallone just stopped bothering to give as he grew older, and it reminded people what he can do. Michael B. Jordan may have been the lead, but Stallone was the melancholy heart of the film. The only thing that could stop Stallone from winning at this point are the bad optics of him being rewarded for this movie when neither Ryan Coogler nor Michael B. Jordan were even nominated. Jordan’s performance is what makes the film work, and Coogler is responsible for breathing life back into a tired franchise, so Stallone is only able to succeed as much as he does because of their work. If that did stop Stallone from winning, though it would be a shame. Stallone deserves all the praise he’s getting for this role and the win he’ll no doubt receive.
Current Predicted Winner: Slyvester Stallone
- Slyvester Stallone
- Mark Rylance
- Christian Bale
- Mark Ruffalo
- Tom Hardy
Who Should Win: Slyvester Stallone (though I think Tom Hardy is pretty damn close)
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Micheal Keaton and/or Liev Schrieber, Spotlight, or Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation (Lord, this was a super deep category as well).
That’s it for the Acting Awards. Oscarathon 2016 is in full swing, and there is still so much more to come, so keep checking in for constant updates.