Oscar Sunday is on the horizon. Here are my predictions for who I think will win and my picks for who I think should win at the 88th Academy Awards:
Will Win: “Spotlight”
Should Win: “The Big Short”
The delightful unpredictability of this year’s Oscar race is evident in the top category, as three films have a fighting chance to take home the gold. The Academy could very well honor “The Revenant,” but I suspect that there is a portion of voters who share my distaste for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s empty foray into the bloody wilderness. And so it comes down to two great movies, “Spotlight” and “The Big Short.” The former is a gripping, impassioned procedural and a love letter to investigative journalism. Its steady temperament probably makes it a more appealing choice to a majority of Oscar voters than “The Big Short,” an audacious whirlwind of rage, humor, and intellect, with casual celebrity cameos and a symbolic musical montage set to the sounds of Ludacris. The wildness of “The Big Short” may turn off just enough voters to prevent Adam McKay’s movie from winning the big prize, but the movie’s bold style is precisely what makes it so impressive. “The Big Short” is unafraid of risks and uninterested in soft-pedaling a story of greed and corruption. As an assault on American materialism and as a movie that applies entertainment and intelligence in equal measure, “The Big Short” is destined to become a classic.
Will Win and Should Win: Brie Larson, “Room”
This is a phenomenal category. “Joy” remains unseen by me, so I cannot pass judgment on Jennifer Lawrence’s performance. However, the other four nominees astound. Cate Blanchett brings her trademark verve to the title role in “Carol.” Saoirse Ronan delivers a heartbreaking turn in “Brooklyn” as an Irish immigrant who must reconcile her new life and love in the United States with her deep connection for her homeland. And while Charlotte Rampling is now on the receiving end of criticism for her tone-deaf comments about the racial homogeneity of the Oscars, her astonishing portrayal of a woman in the midst of an unexpected marital and existential crisis in “49 Years” should not be forgotten. I admire all of the aforementioned performances, but the acting that resonates with me most deeply is that of Brie Larson in “Room.” As a mother who endures unfathomable trauma and who devotes every fiber of her being to caring for her son in “Room,” Larson imprints her humanity, strength, and vulnerability into each and every scene. She will be the champion on Oscar night.
Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”
Should Win: Matt Damon, “The Martian”
There is not much to say about this category. The nominees are, for the most part, underwhelming, and Leonardo DiCaprio is a lock to win the Oscar. Leo is a stellar actor, but his march to the Oscar this year has been an acknowledgement of his remarkable career, not necessarily a celebration of his work in “The Revenant.” The other nominees do not stand a chance in hell of winning. Back in October, I would have predicted that Michael Fassbender’s weird, intense portrayal of Steve Jobs in Danny Boyle’s film of the same name – a captivating piece of acting that enlivened a movie that I otherwise disdained – would have gained more awards traction. The film’s poor returns at the box office seemed to erase most of the movie’s critical momentum. Eddie Redmayne gives a decent, heartfelt performance in “The Danish Girl,” but he fails to make a lasting emotional connection with the viewer. Having not seen Bryan Cranston’s work in “Trumbo,” my personal favorite in this field is Matt Damon. Damon brings levity and overall movie star charm to “The Martian,” Ridley Scott’s fun and entertaining hit.
Best Supporting Actor
Will Win and Should Win: Sylvester Stallone, “Creed”
Readers interested in perusing my lengthy assessment of the Best Supporting Actor race can go to my article from February 12. In short: Despite the infuriating omission of Idris Elba and the questionable inclusion of Tom Hardy, this is the strongest category of the night. Sly Stallone will prevail, after he proved that Rocky Balboa is still a cathartic, heartbreaking, triumphant character after all of these years. I expect Stallone’s win to be amongst the most joyful moments of the Oscar ceremony.
Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl”
Should Win: Rooney Mara, “Carol”
Even in a largely unpredictable season, certain categories take on an air of inevitability. That is the case with Best Actor and Best Actress, but also with Best Supporting Actress. Alicia Vikander is a near-lock to win the Oscar here. She brings much-needed life and energy to the dreary “The Danish Girl.” If I were an Oscar voter, however, I would have a difficult time choosing between Rooney Mara and Rachel McAdams. McAdams brings toughness, empathy, and patience to her role as an investigative reporter in “Spotlight.” Mara is the most valuable player of “Carol.” While the movie’s title references Cate Blanchett’s character, it is Mara who serves as the film’s driving force. The Academy’s foolish decision to place Mara in the supporting category should not dissuade voters from honoring her excellence.
Will Win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, “The Revenant”
Should Win: Adam McKay, “The Big Short”
McKay should win for the vision, fierceness, and vigor of his direction, but voters are likely to reward Inarritu for the second year in a row. While “The Revenant” did not connect with me in any meaningful way, there is no denying the visual craftsmanship of Inarritu’s filmmaking.
Best Original Screenplay
Will Win: Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, “Spotlight”
Should Win: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, and Matt Charman, “Bridge of Spies”
“Bridge of Spies” is a flawless movie, and the mastery starts with what is written on the page. Matt Charman and the Coen Brothers unfold the story in a taut and authentic manner, and they deserve to be honored. One cannot fault the Academy, though, for their inevitable selection of “Spotlight.” Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer derive extraordinary suspense and moral fervor from the closed-door meetings between newspaper reporters, and that, on its own, is a feat to be celebrated.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Will Win and Should Win: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, “The Big Short”
“Carol,” “Room,” “The Martian,” and “Brooklyn” are all exemplars of terrific writing, but the screenplay for “The Big Short” is a stroke of innovative and versatile genius.
Best Animated Film
Will Win: “Inside Out”
Should Win: “Anomalisa”
“Inside Out” is a lovely movie with a premise that evokes childhood nostalgia, but the movie loses its way whenever it veers into silly Bing Bong territory. This is a minor quibble, but enough of an issue for me to recognize “Anomalisa” as the more mature and provocative achievement. “Anomalisa” is flawed as well – the narrative wallows too heavily in the narcissism of its male protagonist and does not extend the same respect to his female counterpart – but it still provides a thoughtful contemplation on conformity, depression, and existentialism.