By Steve Guntli
I tend to get more excited about the Oscars than I should, because each year the awards ceremony is a disappointment. Without fail, the Academy tends to choose the movie I enjoyed the least, and the winners are often easily predictable months before the envelopes are opened. But this year is going to be different. There are very few clear frontrunners this year, and a couple of real wild cards that could take this race in any direction.
Who will win: This category is genuinely unpredictable for the first time in years. There are eight nominees this year, but I think its going to come down to one of four options: “The Revenant,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Spotlight” and “The Big Short.” As of this writing, “The Big Short,” surprisingly, has the most juice. Adam McKay’s furious housing crisis dramedy won the top prize from the Producer’s Guild of America, which is traditionally the most accurate predictor of what film will win Best Picture. “The Revenant,” however, won best picture at the Golden Globes, and is a far more cinematic experience than the talky “Big Short.”
“Spotlight” was the early frontrunner, and still has a valid claim in this category. “Mad Max” is the best movie of the year, hands down, but it’s also an action movie and a big-budget summer blockbuster, which the Academy is usually hesitant to recognize. Since anyone’s guess is as good as mine, I’m going to say “Mad Max” will ride to glorious Valhalla, shiny and chrome, and if you don’t understand that reference, you really, really need to see “Fury Road.”
Possible upset: The Academy could just decide to split the difference and hand the award to “The Martian,” Ridley Scott’s crowd-pleasing adventure movie starring Matt Damon. Public opinion and box office receipts can be an influencing factor for the voting members of the Academy, and in a hotly contested year, a film that is rich in both shouldn’t be discounted.
Who will win: It’s Leonardo DiCaprio’s year. Bet the farm on it. The perpetual also-ran has the support of the industry, the love of fans and a juicy, highly physical role in “The Revenant.” This is the closest to a sure thing we’ve got this year.
Possible upset: Michael Fassbender was the early frontrunner for his portrayal of Steve Jobs, but that was before anyone had a chance to see “The Revenant.” For my money, Fassbender’s performance is far and away the best of this year’s crop, but no one’s touching DiCaprio’s Oscar. Matt Damon is up for “The Martian,” and like DiCaprio, he’s an established Hollywood favorite who’s never won in this category, so there’s an outside chance. If either Bryan Cranston or Eddie Redmayne (last year’s winner) wins in this category, it will be a shocking upset.
Who will win: Brie Larsen for “Room.” The 26-year-old actress was a revelation in the film, in which she plays a woman imprisoned in a garden shed for nearly a decade with her young son, who has never seen the outside world. It’s one of the most emotionally wrenching films I’ve ever seen, and Larsen never hits a false note, exuding strength and vulnerability in equal measure.
Possible upset: Never underestimate Cate Blanchett. The Aussie actress has won two Oscars before, and her role as a repressed lesbian housewife in “Carol” is among her best. Saorsie Ronan, so good in the lovely “Brooklyn,” may be a dark horse, as she and Larsen are both in roughly the same demographic. Jennifer Lawrence, Hollywood’s girl of the moment, was given a pity nod for her work in “Joy,” which many consider the worst performance of her career so far. And Charlotte Rampling, a long-time arthouse favorite nominated for the first time for “45 years,” may have talked herself out of the running. Earlier this year, Rampling made some incendiary comments regarding the racial diversity controversy surrounding this year’s awards, so giving her a statue would work counter to the increased racial sensitivity the Academy is trying to foster.
Best Supporting Actor
Who will win: Sylvester Stallone for “Creed.” Sly slipped back into his Rocky Balboa persona for the first time in 10 years for the seventh film in the series, and the performance hits a lot of notes the Academy loves: he’s an aging Hollywood favorite showing real range for the first time in his career, and he’s something of an underdog, shining in a movie that exceeded everyone’s expectations. It’s easily the best performance of Sly’s career.
Possible upset: Mark Rylance, considered by many to be the finest stage actor of this generation, made a smooth transition to film in Steven Spielberg’s Cold War drama “Bridge of Spies.” If Stallone somehow doesn’t take home the gold, Rylance certainly will: the movie was a bit of a snooze, but Rylance was riveting in his small role as a stoic foreign agent. And don’t discount Tom Hardy, either; his performance in “The Revenant” was the best thing in a movie that has Leo DiCaprio fighting a bear, and that’s no small accomplishment.
Best Supporting Actress
Who will win: Aside from the Best Picture category, this one is the biggest question mark. Will the Academy award longtime favorite Kate Winslet, who gave a great performance in “Steve Jobs” despite being saddled with an indecipherable accent? Maybe talented newcomer Alicia Vikander, who was nominated for “The Danish Girl” (but gave one of the best performances of the year in “Ex Machina”), will take home the gold. My money, though, is on Jennifer Jason Leigh, who gives an unhinged performance in Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight.” Leigh gets raw and ugly in the role, throwing vanity to the winds and unleashing a villain for the ages.
Possible upset: Rooney Mara for “Carol.” If Cate Blanchett goes home empty-handed (and I think she will), the Academy may feel inclined to recognize her counterpart, who shares roughly the same amount of screen time. Rachel McAdams was great in “Spotlight,” but the performances in that movie all functioned as part of an excellent ensemble, and I’d be surprised if any individual turns were singled out.
Regardless of who wins, it should be an interesting awards show for the first time in years. The Oscars air this Sunday, February 28 on ABC at 4 p.m. Pacific. Chris Rock is this year’s host.