The 88th Academy Awards will be held in Los Angeles on February 28 amidst allegations of racial bias in the nominations process and the fatigue that is natural at the end of a prolonged prize-giving season. Other ceremonies have long finished distributing their gongs, and the Oscars will have the task of both conforming to as well as defying expectations. The winners will be chosen by 6,028 voting members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (72% male, average age 63). All members vote in all categories regardless of their own specialistion (although they are advised to avoid doing so if they don’t have the expertise).
The contests are tough in several categories (such as Best Director, and Adapted and Original Screenplay) and fairly simple in others (Best Actor Male and Female). 2016 might finally be Leonardo DiCaprio’s year, while the Best Picture category holds out the most suspense – and promise. Here is our last-minute guide to the Oscars, starting with one of its best decisions thus far: to make Chris Rock the host.
Rocking the hashtag #SoWhite Comedian and filmmaker Chris Rock joked in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter that he got the job only because 2014’s wildly popular host, Ellen De Generes, turned it down. Rock wrote an incendiary essay in the same publication in 2014 in which he lambasted Hollywood as “a white industry”. Rock wrote, “How many black men have you met working in Hollywood? They don’t really hire black men. A black man with bass in his voice and maybe a little hint of facial hair? Not going to happen. It is what it is. I’m a guy who’s accepted it all.”
Will Rock’s presence on the stage be as subversive as anticipated by supporters of the #SoWhite campaign? Whatever gags he comes up with, this sure is going to be one nervous night, and not only for the nominees.
Here is Rock hosting the 2005 event, in which his opening remarks included the barb, “We have four black nominees tonight!”
The future versus the nineteenth century Most of the bets for the best picture and direction seem to be in favour of The Revenant. Its director, Alejandro G Inarittu, seems all set to win the second year in a row after Birdman. Also in the running and not lagging too far behind is Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight. Will Lenny Abrahamson’s Room play spoiler or might George Miller spring a surprise with Mad Max: Fury Road?
Our hearts are torn between The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road, both more similar than apart. Both are survival dramas whose characters are challenged and shaped by extreme circumstances. One is set in the distant past, and the other in a foreseeable future, both of which are ruled by similar levels of immorality, lawlessness and cruelty. The Revenant is contemplative, while Fury Road has the pace of a comic book, but both the movies use every tool of cinema in their narration. Images replace redundant dialogue, every detail has been fussed over, and the only way to get a full measure of the productions is on the big screen, where they belong.
Dicaprio’s day Unless Earth shifts on its axis and the sun rises in the west and water runs backwards, Leonardo DiCaprio is going to win the Oscar for the Actor in a Leading Role (Male). He should have won it in 2014, for his barnhouse-storming turn as a crooked broker in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, but the trophy went to Matthew McConaughey’s noble HIV positive cowboy in Dallas Buyers Club. DiCaprio should also have been nominated instead of Christoph Waltz as supporting actor for Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained in 2012.
DiCaprio will most likely take home on Oscar in a year in which it should have gone to another actor. Michael Fassbender brilliantly portrays the idea of Steve Jobs, rather than the man himself, in Danny Boyle’s biopic of the same name. The unpopularity of Steve Jobs at the box office meant that Fassbender slipped under the radar, and he will have to wait for a less cluttered year to impress Academy voters with his talent.
Being Brie Larson She shone in 2013’s Short Term 12 as the supervisor at a home for emotionally disturbed teenagers, but the film didn’t get a single nomination. The Academy is very good at making up for past snubs, and indie darling Brie Larson is heavily tipped to win for her absorbing performance in Lenny Abrahamson’s Room. This should really be Charlotte Rampling’s year – the British veteran is superb in Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years – but, like DiCaprio, Larson is likely to get the gong not only for 2016 but for previous misses.
Larson has been labouring in the movies since 1999, and it has taken her several years to be taken seriously as a leading woman. Her obvious lack of glamour has worked against her in the past, but the odds are now in her favour for precisely the same reason.
Camera conscious Emmanuel Lubezki must already have his acceptance speech ready for his outstanding cinematography in The Revenant. Lubezki has illuminated the films of Alfonso Cuaron, for whom he shot his first short film in 1983, Terrence Malick, and Inarritu, among others. His work on The Revenant deserves a gong, which could be a hat-trick after Gravity and Birdman.
Lubezki might win in a year in which the cinematography is solid across the nominations. John Seale, coaxed out of retirement for Mad Max: Fury Road, fabulously translates director George Miller’s singular vision and manic energy for the screen, while Roger Deakins is one of the best things about Denis Villenueve’s Sicario. Deakins has notoriously been nominated 12 times before and has never won, missing the honours for The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo and Skyfall.
Docter, who? Keep that speech ready, Pete Docter. His Inside Out is mostly likely going to win in the Animated Feature Film category over the other contenders, including Anomalisa and emerging favourite Boy and the World. A Pixar product that combines stellar animation with ample servings of emotion, Inside Out is aimed at the child inside every adult. The same thing can be said about Boy and the World, but it’s debatable whether the Oscar jurors will agree to disagree with almost every other animation jury, including the ones at the Annie Awards, which gave Inside Out 10 gongs.
The write stuff The question is whether Docter will also scoop the Oscar for Writing (Original Screenplay). The competition is strong. Of the nominations, Bridge of Spies, by Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen, does a good job of condensing a complicated Cold War-era story of espionage and a prisoner swap into an absorbing and smart drama, while Spotlight, by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer weaves a restrained yet riveting narrative around a newspaper investigation into sexual abuse by priests. Spotlight goes in the opposite direction of drama to stunning effect.
In the Adapted Screenplay category, the contest is strongest between Lenny Abrahamson’s Room and Adam McKay’s The Big Short. Written by McKay and Charles Randolph, The Big Short is this year’s The Wolf of Wall Street – brash, profane, ultra-macho, often very funny, and political. But then Terrence Winter didn’t win for The Wolf of Wall Street in 2013 (he lost to 12 Years a Slave’s John Ridley), and The Big Short is a bit all over the place.
Room, on the hand, might be the surprise package. What works against is that its writer, Emma Donoghue, has based most of the psychological drama on her novel. What works for is its economy, power, and emotional undertow.