Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Predicting the 2016 Oscar Nominees

It's that time again--predicting what the Oscar nominations will be for the eight major categories. The goal is always to go 45 for 45, but this year is much more of a crapshoot than normal, as there's very little consensus on what the best films are, and the huge differences in the nominations for the Golden Globes and the various major guilds prove that Tuesday morning could have a lot of surprises. So let's get right to the wrong answers!


The Sure Things:
The Martian
The Big Short

The Safe Bets:
The Revenant
Mad Max: Fury Road
Inside Out
Steve Jobs

The Possibles:
Bridge of Spies
Ex Machina

The Long shots:
Straight Outta Compton
The Danish Girl
Beasts of No Nation
Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens

The most important thing to remember here is how the nomination process works in this category: for a film to receive a Best Picture nomination, it must get at least 5% of the first place votes. Translation: In the nomination phase, it doesn't really matter how many Academy members like a film, it matters that at least 300 of them think it was the best film of the year. That's why I'm discounting the six long shots right off the bat; no matter how well-liked they may be, I just don't picture 300 Academy voters thinking any of them were the year's best film. 

After that, it gets really tricky. I'l start by assuming the five "Safe Bets" will get a nomination, though all of them are at least slightly vulnerable. I'll also make a daring prediction that this is the first year we'll get the full ten nominations since the rules changed in 2011. In picking which two "possibles" will get the final slots, what you're really trying to figure out is which of those films will be the most widely seen by voters. I like Room's chances; because Brie Larson is considered the Best Actress front-runner, voters will feel obligated to check it out. For the final slot, I'll go with Bridge of Spies, because of the Spielberg factor, and because of how much it might appeal to the oldest demographic of voters. But keep an eye out on Ex Machina--the guild awards proved how much people love that film. 

The Predictions, in order of likelihood: Spotlight, The Martian, The Big Short, The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road, Carol, Steve Jobs, Inside Out, Room, and Bridge of Spies


The Sure Things:
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

The Very Safe Bets:
Matt Damon, The Martian
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Who the Hell Knows
Michael Caine, Youth
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Johnny Depp, Black Mass
Michael Keaton, Spotlight
Ian McKellan, Mr. Holmes
Will Smith, Concussion

Damon bizarrely didn't get a SAG Award nomination, and Redmayne seems potentially vulnerable because extremely tepid critical response to The Danish Girl could keep some voters from watching it.  But I'm going to assume both are in. 

What happens from there is anyone's guess. Smith got a Golden Globe nomination, while Depp got a SAG nomination, but I don't think either will make the cut here because their movies are being mostly forgotten about among such tepid reviews. Keaton and Bale are both possibilities here, because Oscar voters can place actors in whichever category they want (lead or supporting), and there's definitely some confusion about which race these guys belong in. But I think they'll have a much better chance with Supporting Actor. That leaves Caine, Cranston, and McKellan. McKellan is the long shot, and I'm not ballsy enough to pick him (though I think he's the most deserving of the three). Cranston received nominations from both SAG and the Globes, and if I were playing it safe, he seems like the most likely choice for the fifth slot. But man, the Oscars do love them some Michael Caine. 

The Predictions, in order of likelihood: DiCaprio, Fassbender, Damon, Redmayne, and Caine


The Sure Things:
Brie Larson, Room
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

The Category Fraud Travesties
Rooney Mara, Carol
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

The Other Possibilities
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Helen Mirren, Woman in Gold
Maggie Smith, Lady in the Van

What happens in this category really depends on what voters decide to do with Mara and Vikander. Both are absolutely deserving of nominations, and both are leads in their films. But for reasons that have everything to do with trying to win awards (and nothing to do with the reality of the movies they're in), they're being campaigned  for the Supporting Actress category. This is blatant category fraud. Both of their films (Carol and The Danish Girl) are about two people trying to figure out how to love each other, despite societal difficulties relating to their sexual proclivities. What neither film is about is one character trying to love a second, less important character. Trying to pretend that's the case, and that one character is the sole "lead" role, is an attempt to change the very nature of the film's narrative. It's ridiculous, and it's cheating.

But, sadly, I'm also assuming voters will go with it. So that leaves two open slots, and four likely candidates. Jennifer Lawrence seems highly unwise to bet against, and I'm not unwise. That leaves three classy old English dames fighting for the last slot. Mirren has the advantage of being in the biggest commercial hit of the three, and Rampling was in the biggest critical hit. So I think Maggie Smith is out, by virtue of not fitting either voting angle. Mirren is the safe choice here, because she's Helen Fucking Mirren. But Rampling has never been nominated, and her film, 45 Years, is just beloved by all who see it. She absolutely carries it with a lovely, nuanced performance, and I'm pulling for her. 

The Predictions, in order of likelihood: Larson, Blanchett, Ronan, Lawrence, and Rampling


The Mostly Sure Things:
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Please God Make It So:
Michael Keaton, Spotlight
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

Probably More Likely:
Paul Dano, Love & Mercy
Michael Shannon, 99 Homes
Christian Bale, The Big Short

Probably Less Likely:
Benicio del Toro, Sicario
Jacob Tremblay, Room

For a solid three months, everyone assumed that the Supporting Actor category would come down to the two Spotlight co-stars, Keaton versus Ruffalo. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Oscar nominations: they got left out of all the precursor races. Neither got a Golden Globe nomination, and neither got a SAG Award nomination. So now here we are. What does it mean? Are they for sure not getting nominated? Are the previous snubs circumstantial, and not really to be trusted? You can make a cogent argument for "yes" as the answer to both questions, and that's the problem.

If they both get left off, those two slots could go in several directions. Shannon got nominations from both the Globes and SAG, but it still feels like his film, 99 Homes, went wildly underseen by the Academy, and isn't a safe bet here. Bale has been coming on strong, but is also facing the problem of category splitting; the Globes slotted him as a lead, and if voters can't decide one way or the other, he may be toast. The various guild nominations have proven Sicario is far more highly regarded than we'd thought, but that still didn't help del Toro with the SAG nominations. And with this level of competition, Tremblay will probably get left out in favor of the major names. 

Dano is by far the most likely "maybe" to get into the top five. But fuck it. I love Spotlight, and I'm going with my heart here. 

The Predictions, in order of likelihood: Rylance, Stallone, Elba, Ruffalo, and Keaton


The Sure Thing:  
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

The Very Probable
Helen Mirren, Trumbo

The Egregious Category Frauds
Rooney Mara, Carol
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

The Quite Possibles
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Jane Fonda, Youth

The Spoilers:
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina

If you assume that the studios get away with scamming Mara and Vikander into the wrong category, which will probably happen, that leaves one likely open slot. As aging Hollywood mavens playing aging Hollywood mavens, I think voters will ultimately choose between Mirren and Fonda, and won't vote for both. I'll give Mirren the edge, not just because she got nominations from the Globes and SAG (Fonda was left off of the SAG ballot), but also because I expect some voters will play the old, "Well, I didn't vote for her in Best Actress, so I'll be sure to mark her for Supporting" game. 

That probably means the last slot will go to Jennifer Jason Leigh, unless voters also play the old, "Well, I didn't vote for any of the guys in Spotlight, so maybe I should really fit McAdams on my ballot" game. Voters and their damn games. 

The Predictions, in order of likelihood: Winslet, Mirren, Mara, Vikander, and Leigh

Best Director

The Sure-ish Things
Ridley Scott, The Martian
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant

The Almost Sure-ish Thing
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

Many Possible Narratives:
Todd Haynes, Carol
Adam McKay, The Big Short
Ryan Coogler, Creed
J.J. Abrams, Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies
Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs

Even though McCarthy feels slightly vulnerable (Spotlight just got shut out at the Globes), I still have to assume he's in. The fifth name really depends on narrative. Haynes is the "Honor the art-house" pick; McKay is the "My baby boy's all grown up" pick; Coogler is the "honor the prodigy" pick; Abrams is the "Honor the box office" pick; and Boyle & Spielberg are the "Honor the Winners Club" picks. McKay got the last slot on DGA ballot, but the Academy directors branch tends to be a little more esoteric and artistic than the far-more-mainstream DGA. Based purely on recent precedent with these things, Haynes and Coogler should have the best shot. I'd love to see Coogler make it in, but Haynes is the safer pick. 

The Predictions, in order of likelihood: Scott, Miller, Inarritu, McCarthy, and Haynes

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Sure Things:
Steve Jobs (Aaron Sorkin)
The Martian (Drew Goddard)
The Big Short (Charles Randolph and Adam McKay)

The Spoiler:
Trumbo (John McNamara)

Three Films for One Slot:
Brooklyn (Nick Hornby)
Room (Emma Donoghue)
Carol (Phyllis Nagy)

The Martian was somehow left off the Golden Globes nominations, but that shouldn't matter here. It's one of the most loved and rewarded films of the year, and its screenplay is undoubtedly one of its strongest aspects. Trumbo is hard to figure out here. It's not a particularly great screenplay, but it's a screenplay about one of the greatest screenwriters in Hollywood history standing up to the rest of the industry, so you can bet everyone in the Academy's writer's branch watched their screener, and probably loved it on principle. That likely means it's in, and stealing a slot from a more deserving film. Of the three films vying for the last slot, Room made it in with the Globes, and Carol got a WGA nomination. But I actually think they'll both miss out here. Brooklyn has been coming on strong, and is also more of a "writer's movie," while Room and Carol depend more heavily on the strength of their performances.  Plus, we've seen Nick Hornby show up in this category before, for 2009's An Education

The Predictions, in order of likelihood: Steve Jobs, The Martian, The Big Short, Trumbo, and Brooklyn

Best Original Screenplay

The Sure Thing:
Spotlight (Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer)

The Safe Bets:
Bridge of Spies (Matt Charman and Ethan & Joel Coen)
The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino)

The Safe-ish Bet:
Inside Out (Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, & Josh Cooley)

Probably One of These:
Ex Machina (Alex Garland)
Sicario (Taylor Sheridan)
Straight Outta Compton (Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff)

Why Do They Hate Us:

Trainwreck (Amy Schumer)

The Hateful Eight and Bridge of Spies probably get in here on pedigree alone, as both Tarantino and the Coen brothers are long-time veterans of this category. There's also decent precedent of Pixar movies showing up here, which bodes well for Inside Out (even though it got left off of the WGA nominations). The WGA nominated Trainwreck, but you have to remember that half of the people in that guild are comedy writers, and the Academy hates comedies. That leaves Ex MachinaSicario, and Straight Outta Compton competing for the last slot, and the latter two received WGA nominations. Because the writers branch of the Academy tends to not care about box office, Straight Outta Compton doesn't hold any advantage here. Sicario's deft lead character switch in its final act is the kind of trick that writers love, but I don't think they'll love it as much as the dialogue-heavy logic puzzle that is Ex Machina

The Predictions, in order of likelihood: Spotlight, Bridge of Spies, The Hateful Eight, Inside Out, and Ex Machina


  1. I love your writing, Daniel. I very much appreciate the context and history you provide. It helps me understand. But I gotta tell you - I just didn't see much ado about anything in Mad Max: Fury Road. I like those kinds of movies. But wow. It just didn't do a thing for me. But so many others to see now!

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