And the Oscar goes to...

Our resident film critic gives her whys and wherefores.

‘The Revenant’ (photo credit: PR)
‘The Revenant’
(photo credit: PR)
The 88th annual Academy Awards will be presented at a ceremony on February 28 in Los Angeles. It will be broadcast live on February 29 on HOT Gold and YES, starting at 2 a.m. with red carpet coverage. The actual ceremony begins at 3:30 a.m.
Predicting the Oscar winners has become an industry in itself, with hundreds of websites, articles and broadcasts devoted to it. The prognosticators have never had more to talk about than this year, when there are so many strong contenders in the Best Picture category. Seven years ago, the Academy returned to an old tradition: having up to 10 Best Picture nominees instead of just five.
In addition, Oscar voters now use a preferential ballot, meaning they rank their choices, and the winners are chosen through a complex system that is almost as confusing as the electoral college in the US. Think about it too much — there are websites where mathematicians create Oscar-prediction algorithms based on which movies have won guild awards – and your brain can begin to melt.
It brings to mind screenwriter William Goldman’s famous comment about Hollywood: “Nobody knows anything.” So let’s concentrate on the few things we do know.
This year, there are eight Best Picture nominees: The Revenant, Spotlight, The Big Short, Mad Max: Fury Road, Room, Bridge of Spies, The Martian and Brooklyn.
But there are only five Best Director nominees: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for The Revenant; Tom McCarthy for Spotlight; Adam McKay for The Big Short; George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road; and Lenny Abrahamson for Room. When a director does not get an Oscar nod, it means that the Academy is not really behind that film.
Except in a few cases, such as when Ben Affleck did not get a Best Director nomination (an omission that caused a great outcry) and Argo went on to win Best Picture in 2013. If a director is not nominated, that movie will not win. So Bridge of Spies, The Martian and Brooklyn are not contenders this year, however good they may be.
As I watched the end credits for The Revenant roll, and roll, it occurred to me that if everyone who worked on the film voted for it for Best Picture, that would be about 10 percent of the Academy right there. I’m exaggerating, but not by much. Its cast and crew are certainly a goodsized voting base.
Its senior producer, Arnon Milchan, is Israeli-born and has produced more than 130 movies, among them the Oscar winners Birdman and 12 Years a Slave. He has not produced an Israeli movie in almost 40 years, and local filmmakers would love to see him get involved here again.
In The Revenant’s most talked-about scene, Leonardo DiCaprio hollows out the carcass of a horse and sleeps in it naked for warmth. Director Inarritu has done something similar with the entire movie: He has taken the outline of an old-time western — a man seeks revenge for the death of his son — and filled it with ultra-violent action, political correctness (in the film, DiCaprio’s son is half Native-American, and most of the sympathetic characters are Native Americans) and achingly beautiful cinematography never seen before outside of art-house cinema.
Room is a tour de force, as it was a challenge to bring the complex story to life on one small set. But few people the film, and the second half didn’t work. Mad Max: Fury Road is a post-apocalyptic thriller that is not really an Oscar movie, in spite of some feminist pretensions. Spotlight and The Big Short are brainy dramas aimed at older viewers who usually stay home and watch quality TV, and it’s possible to imagine both films on the small screen — they lack the epic quality that most Best Picture winners have.
Here are my predictions for the Oscar winners: BEST PICTURE: The Revenant BEST DIRECTOR: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu won Best Director last year for the showy Birdman, and it looks like he will win again. This is especially ironic because he is Mexican, and his second win may prompt presidential hopeful Donald Trump to call for sanctions against Latin American filmmakers taking Oscars away from Americans.
In a year of controversy over the fact that all the acting nominees are white, a win for a Latino won’t hurt the Academy.
BEST ACTOR: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant There are some strong performers nominated in the Best Actor category, but this is Leonardo DiCaprio’s year.
He’s been very good in many movies in the past, particularly The Aviator, but has never won. And he is truly outstanding in The Revenant, in which he gets to speak Pawnee (a Native-American language), be mauled by a bear, sport a grizzled beard and generally look terrible, all of which, in Oscar-land, are equivalent to playing a real person disability, generally the most foolproof way to win an Oscar. Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs) and last year’s winner, Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl), don’t stand a chance.
BEST ACTRESS: Brie Larson, Room Brie Larson, a young actress who has had key roles in many acclaimed indie dramas, among them Short Term 12 and The Spectacular Now, is the favorite for her performance as a mother raising a child fathered by her psycho-captor in Room. Jennifer Lawrence (Joy) and Cate Blanchett (Carol) have won recently, while few saw the movie in which Charlotte Rampling starred (45 Years), and she made some politically incorrect comments recently. The closest thing Larson has to real competition is Brooklyn star Saoirse Ronan.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Sylvester Stallone, Creed The Best Supporting Actor category is the most wide open of any this year.
There is the impeccable British actor Mark Rylance playing a Russian agent in Bridge of Spies; veteran Sylvester Stallone reprising his Rocky role in Creed; and Tom Hardy, whose malevolence fuels the hero’s revenge quest in The Revenant. The other two nominees, Mark Ruffalo from Spotlight and Christian Bale from The Big Short, gave wonderful performances, but they were part of ensembles of actors who all should have been nominated.
It’s a tough call, but Stallone is very good, he’s a beloved figure, and his character is training a young boxer and battling cancer.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Alicia Vikander All the Best Supporting Actress nominees – Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Rooney Mara (Carol), Rachel McAdams (Spotlight), Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) and Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs) – did wonderful work. But Alicia Vikander, who is essentially a lead actress nominated in the supporting category (the same could be said of Winslet and Mara), gives an especially appealing performance as the wife of one of the first men to have sex reassignment surgery. She seems to be at the beginning of a brilliant career. She also received great reviews for Ex Machina, and the Academy likes to anoint a new face.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: The Big Short BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Spotlight In the screenplay categories, the smart movies so many people loved — Spotlight and The Big Short — are the favorites. The Big Short, based on a book by Michael Lewis, is especially remarkable because it turns a financial crisis so complex that most bankers didn’t understand it into an entertaining film. Spotlight takes a set of facts we thought we knew and makes them into a suspenseful, moving drama.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: Son of Saul If you’ve seen Son of Saul, you don’t have to ask whether it will win in the Best Foreign Language Film category.
Never has a feature film about the Holocaust had this much impact. It is impeccably researched, acted and directed, and no one who sees it will be able to forget it, as much as they may want to. The screenplay for this Hungarian film, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, was developed at the Jerusalem International Film Lab at the Sam Spiegel Film School.