Sunday, February 28, 2016

Oscar Predix: The Long and "Short" of It


Since 2010, the Best Picture winner has not won more than four Oscars (King's Speech, Artist, and Birdman each won 4, while 12 Years and Argo won three), and when a film dominates the technical categories, it doesn't go on to win Picture (Hugo, Gravity). Indeed, Gravity's seven wins seem more like an anomaly in this current version of the Academy, where films sometimes win 5, but mostly cap out at 4 (as in last year's Birdman and Grand Budapest Hotel, or 2012's Life of Pi).

Trends matter in the Academy, and so here's what I've got:

Best Picture

The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room
Spotlight

Will Win: The Big Short
Could Win: The Revenant
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Reasoning: This is the most exciting BP race since...maybe 2006? Depending on your point of view, this is either The Big Short's, The Revenant's, or Spotlight's to lose. Revenant won the Golden Globe, the Directors Guild, and the British Academy; Spotlight won the Writers Guild and the Screen Actors Guild; The Big Short won the Producers Guild and the Writers Guild. Historically, the Directors Guild winner has translated to the eventual Oscar winner in Directing and Picture. So, why pick The Big Short? Ever since the Oscars and the PGA switched to doing "preferential" or "weighted" ballots -- as opposed to a straight vote -- in 2009, the PGA winner has not lost the Oscar. In 2013, 12 Years a Slave and Gravity tied for the PGA and Alfonso Cuaron won the DGA, which led me to pick Gravity to win Picture and Director. Cuaron won Director, but 12 Years won Picture. The outcome was an interesting one for Oscar historians/statisticians -- it spoke, if nothing else, to a potential weakening of the DGA in the preferential ballot system.

In essence, the preferential ballot necessitates that a film be able to be #1, #2, and #3 on more ballots than any other -- it must be both loved and liked. In the old world of straight voting, I would see The Revenant winning this, as evidenced by its wide general support among branches. However, The Big Short has the capacity to be higher up on more ballots, and it's already beaten The Revenant in the only other weighted-voting contest in the season. Here's another reason to be hesitant about The Revenant: In the last three years, Picture and Director have split twice after being a historically unified ticket. If The Big Short wins, as I think it will, we're in potentially new statistical territory for the Oscars.

Best Actor

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio
Could Wind: Michael Fassbender?
Should Win: DiCaprio, I guess?

Reasoning: He's basically groveling for the thing at this point.

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Will Win: Brie Larson
Could Win: Cate Blanchett
Should Win: Brie Larson

Reasoning: When you win all the other awards, you win this one too.

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Will Win: Sylvester Stallone
Could Win: Mark Rylance
Should Win: Mark Rylance

Reasoning: The Stallone win is just too much of a narrative, too much of a "gesture" for the Academy to pass up. It would be a "moment," a "full circle," a weird sort of career achievement. Mark Rylance--the best part of Bridge of Spies--probably deserves this out of this lineup, and he's won enough in the awards season that I wouldn't be shocked to see him win.

Best Supporting Actress

Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Will Win: Alicia Vikander
Could Win: Kate Winslet
Should Win: Rooney Mara

Reasoning: Vikander won the SAG; Winslet won the Globe and the BAFTA, beating Vikander's other performance in Ex Machina. It's hard for me to say how this one will go--neither film has particularly wide support, and neither performance has really rocketed through the awards season. I could go back and forth on this one all night. SAG and Oscar have matched since 2009 -- one better than the Globes.  Flip a coin, your entire pool could easily come down to this one.

Best Original Screenplay

Bridge of Spies
Ex Machina
Inside Out
Spotlight
Straight Outta Compton

Will Win: Spotlight
Could Win: Inside Out
Should Win: Spotlight, I guess?

Reasoning: Spotlight has formed a straight path to this award. Consider it a lock.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Big Short
Brooklyn
Carol
The Martian
Room

Will Win: The Big Short
Could Win: Room
Should Win: Carol

Reasoning: The Big Short should win this handily, especially if it's going to go on to win Best Picture.

Best Director

Adam McKay, The Big Short
George Miller, Mad Max; Fury Road
Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant
Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

Will Win: Alejandro G. Inarritu
Could Win: George Miller
Should Win: George Miller

Reasoning: After winning the Globe, DGA, and BAFTA, Inarritu seems like the easy pick here. If, for some reason, he doesn't, I'd be thrilled to see George Miller swoop in for his madcap desert odyssey.

Best Animated Feature

Anomalisa
Boy and the World
Inside Out
Shaun the Sheep Movie
When Marnie Was There

Will Win: Inside Out
Could Win: Anomalisa
Should Win: Inside Out

Reasoning: A pretty easy call, especially since Inside Out has a Screenplay nod and Anomalisa does not.

Best Documentary Feature

Amy
Cartel Land
The Look of Silence
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom

Will Win: Amy
Could Win: What Happened, Miss Simone?
Should Win: The Look of Silence

Reasoning: Oppenheimer will miss this again, as Amy has been a veritable juggernaut in comparable races.

Best Foreign Language Feature

Embrace of the Serpent
Mustang
Son of Saul
Theeb
A War

Will Win: Son of Saul
Could Win: Mustang
Should Win: N/A

Reasoning: Son of Saul has routinely won this category over the awards season and gained more domestic acclaim than the other films, which often translates to a win here.

Best Cinematography

Carol
The Hateful Eight
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Sicario

Will Win: The Revenant
Could Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Win: The Revenant

Reasoning: It's hard to argue with Lubezki's dazzling natural-light long-takes in The Revenant. Even people who don't particularly like the film (hey, like me!) think it's just jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Lubezki will also make history as the first cinematographer to win this category for three years in a row (after Gravity and Birdman).

Best Costume Design

Carol
Cinderella
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Could Win: Cinderella
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Reasoning: Mad Max beat Cinderella head-to-head at the Costume Design Guild award, and while it's not the smartest  to go one-to-one between Guilds and Oscar, it seems like a fine call here. This category routinely goes to flashy costuming, which is one reason to keep an eye on Cinderella, but the vast support of Mad Max could edge it out here.

Best Film Editing

The Big Short
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Spotlight
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Will Win: The Big Short
Could Win: Mad Max: Fury road
Should Win: Mad Max; Fury Road

Reasoning: The Eddie awards have a 75% match with the Oscars over the last dozen years, and both Mad Max and Big Short won awards there this year. It seems sensible that the boisterousness of Max pushes it over the top, but The Big Short is almost frenetically edited, and its editing very much calls attention to itself in a way similar to some recent Best Editing winners. Big Short also kind of needs to win here--I don't think any movie since the 1930s has won BP with just one other award. Winning here, Screenplay, and Picture would also replicate Argo's three wins from 2012. Just saying.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Will Win: Mad Max
Could Win: The 100 Year Old Man
Should Win: Mad Max

Reasoning: By all accounts, the aging makeup on 100 Year Old Man is just crazy good, but Mad Max is both very popular with the Academy and is very showy with its makeup.

Best Original Score

Bridge of Spies
Carol
The Hateful Eight
Sicario
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Will Win: The Hateful Eight
Could Win: Sicario
Should Win: Carol

Reasoning: Another pretty clear frontrunner should have no trouble collecting this. Hopefully QT doesn't accept on Morricone's behalf.

Best Production Design

Bridge of Spies
The Revenant
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian

Will Win: Mad Max
Could Win: The Revenant
Should Win: Mad Max

Reasoning: Max is designed within an inch of its life, but Revenant also won an award from the Art Directors Guild earlier this awards season. If it wins here, it could be setting up a wider push for Best Picture (and if it wins here, I'd expect it to nab one of the Sound awards, as well).

Best Song

Til It Happens to You, The Hunting Ground
Writing's on the Wall, Spectre
Simple Song 3, Youth
Earned It, 50 Shades of Grey
Manta Ray, Racing Extinction

Will Win: Til it Happens to You
Could Win: Writing's on the Wall
Should Win: N/A

Reasoning: Going for the Globes replay of this category. Remember, Adele was the exception that proves the rule in terms of Bond songs winning. Plus that Sam Smith song is garbage.

Best Sound Editing

The Martian
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Sicario
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Could Win: Sicario
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Reasoning: Am predicting the wide love for Max to be most apparent in the Sound and Visual Effects categories. Plus, out of all its beautiful qualities, that sound is just whoa.

Best Sound Mixing

Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Could Win: The Revenant
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Reasoning: Traditionally, musicals do very well in this category, while war/action movies do better in Sound Editing (i.e., last year's split between Whiplash and American Sniper). There's nothing ostensibly musical in these nominees, which makes it seem a bit likelier that the Mixing and Editing winners will match

Best Visual Effects

Ex Machina 
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Martian
The Revenant

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Could Win: Ex Machina
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Reasoning: Seems like a lock.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Top 20 Films of 2015

I managed to see 80 films released in the U.S. in 2015, but I still wish I'd seen about 20 more. Putting this list together was no easy feat, and any film's absence shouldn't (necessarily) be seen as a negative. This list is, if nothing else, a compilation of movies that affected me in any number of ways. Some of them are relentlessly of 2015; some of them already feel like all-time titans.

20. Unfriended (dir. Leo Gabriadze) 



A fantastic send-up of the "hangout movie" that expertly allows technology--and the social practices of technology--to literally frame everything.


19. The End of the Tour (dir. James Ponsoldt)



It's not necessarily Segel's depiction of David Foster Wallace that makes this movie great; it's Eisenberg's careful, almost meticulous depiction of interviewing, note-taking, and story-making. It's a deceptive little movie about the nature of becoming, and the fear of becoming.


18. Chi-Raq (dir. Spike Lee)



It doesn't all work, but this is an exhausted and audacious critique, one that will try, it seems, anything to make its viewers pay attention to gun violence and systemic racism. It's begging you to see, listen, and do.


17. The Assassin (dir. Hau Hsiao-Hsien)



At times unbearably patient, the textures, colors, and compositions of this film transcend the vague notion of "painterly." Genre contemplated as art.


16. Inside Out (dirs. Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen)



"Intricately imaginative" has often been Pixar's default mode, but their vibrant animated landscapes (interior, fantastic, or otherwise) feel startlingly, bracingly new again.


15. Phoenix (dir. Christian Petzold)



Nina Hoss doesn't so much rise dramatically from the ashes as she does slowly will herself back into existence in this sort-of-double-identity drama with tinges of Hitchcock and Reed lingering about the frames. Stay for the last five minutes.


14. Hard to Be a God (dir. Aleksey German)



A grotesque and brutal movie about the suppression of culture and intelligence, it took German decades to make this movie, and yet it still feels like a damning critique of the Russian state. The more things change...


13. It Follows (dir. David Robert Mitchell)



Kids getting killed after having sex seems like old hat, but it's thrillingly explored (reinvented?) in all its old-fashioned glory (synthesizer included).


12. 45 Years (dir. Andrew Haigh)



That which was residual becomes dominant in this devastating reconceptualization of Gothic horror, where a figurative spirit upends many of the assumptions a wife has made about her husband.


11. Tangerine (dir. Sean Baker)



Tangerine is a human comedy in the fullest sense of the word. Its swooning, oversaturated camerawork--shot on an iPhone--is exhilarating, but it's the humanity that really crackles.


10. 99 Homes (dir. Ramin Bahrani)



This is the angry, ground-level melodrama about the foreclosure crisis I've been waiting years for.  This movie is practically throwing a tantrum about the perpetuation of a rigged system.


9. Carol (dir. Todd Haynes)



Formally breathtaking and emotionally internal, Haynes's latest is meant to be looked at, lovingly and intimately, for its configurations and its relationships--its humans preciously arranged in space, drawn constantly towards each other. It's a complete thought.


8. The Duke of Burgundy (dir. Peter Strickland)



The complexities of routines, compromises, changing roles, senses of identity, and performances are all put front and center in what only appears to be an homage to arty sex movies.


7. G├╝eros (dir. Alonso Ruizpalacios)



It's frankly astounding to me that this gem--alternately a coming-of-age movie, a narrative of political consciousness, a cityscape, a love story, and a movie about how rock can save you soul--has evaded more accolades (in the U.S., anyway).


6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (dir. J.J. Abrams)



Returning with full fanfare (well, not the Fox Fanfare), the seventh episode of Star Wars pulls off a miraculous feat. It is the embodiment of childlike wonder.


5. The Look of Silence (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)



Oppenheimer's follow-up to The Act of Killing (my #1 film of 2013) continues to interrogate and confront the ways in which power writes history, and those who commit genocide go unpunished.


4. Timbuktu (dir. Abderrahmane Sissako)



The importance of Timbuktu--which is, on its own, harrowing and devastating--only amplified following the wave of anti-Muslim sentiment that has percolated through too many pockets of American society in the last months of 2015. I don't know if I've seen a better film about the ways in which violent extremism destroys the lives of those Muslims trying to modestly live their faith.


3. Taxi (dir. Jafar Panahi)



The most surprising thing about Jafar Panahi's third non-film is how playful it is. Despite being formally banned from making movies by his government, Panahi has found the perfect literal vehicle for exploring the dynamic cross-sections of life, and the power of cinema as a socio-political critique.


2. World of Tomorrow (dir. Don Hertzfeldt)



It's only sixteen minutes long, but find me a movie from this year--okay, the last handful of years--that has more to say about time, love, loss, relationships, existence, or the whole damn human condition, while at the same time being so spectacular, poignant, and intimate in its visualization and its conception of time and space. Go ahead. I'll wait.


1. Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. George Miller)



Fury Road is the kind of movie to make your skull rattle. It is a lean, mean, wrecking ball. It rattles and crunches. It screams and bleeds. It's loud, aggressive, and more than a little out of control. And it's also poetic, graceful, astonishingly realized. It's about movement, light, color, speed. It is its own brand of kinetics and momentum--things bashing against other things over and over until the whole operation feels like it'll come crashing in on itself. And then it sticks the landing. Pure cinema.