Sunday, September 20, 2015

The "Obnoxiously-Too-Early" Predictions for the 88th Academy Awards: September 2015

It's that time of the year again! The air is getting crisper, the leaves are changing color, and the superheroes are going into their winter hibernation as the movies for grown-ups begin swimming upstream to their winter home at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, where the Academy Awards are held. Of course, not all of them will make the perilous journey, being felled by the grizzly critics, shallow commercial-grossing waters, or the rapids of public backlash and controversy. But those who do make it will enjoy the fertile breeding ground of collecting trophies shaped like little gold men and being forever remembered and debated for being better/worse than another movie.

Nature can be a real bitch. So can the awards season.


That brings us to my first Oscar predictions of the season, which I'm making having seen basically none of the films (and neither has anyone else for many of these). So, of course, this is all speculation based on the film's pedigree, similarity to previous nominees, and the push-and-pull of campaigning that every season sees. Chances are this is the last we'll see of several of these contenders in this space, while some of them will march through the next five months to the glory of adding "Academy Award Winner" to their name.

You can find the full predictions here. Below is a quick breakdown of my thought process on each category, so that you have a brief glimpse of the unfathomable insanity that comes with being an Oscar nut. The season really is enough to drive anyone mad and want to give it up for good.

But, as Jeff Goldblum taught us, life, uh, finds a way.

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

I'm really hedging my bets on Beasts of No Nation, namely because of the distribution strategy. The film is produced by Netflix, and it will be released to the streaming service on the same day it premieres in theaters. The Academy generally disqualifies such same-day VOD releases, and in the past has barred films from competing because of it. My guess is that they will allow the film to compete, but it still won't reap any major nominations. Eventually this policy is going to change, but the Academy is too conservative to embrace the industry change right now.

BEST PICTURE

Even though, of course, it's way too early to figure this sort of thing out, I'm thinking that we'll see another reduction in nominees this year, from eight to seven. A part of this is simply we don't know enough about most of the contenders, and therefore I'm hedging my bets. But at the same time, there just doesn't seem to be too many strong contenders in the field this year. I would say The Danish Girl, Spotlight, and Steve Jobs are the only true frontrunners at the moment, and the lattermost is still mostly hypothetical at this point.

BEST ACTRESS


It seems like every year now I predict Emily Blunt will be nominated for something, and every year she doesn't get nominated. And this is coming in a category in which Lily Tomlin (Grandma), Cate Blanchett (Truth), and Jennifer Lawrence (Joy) all have the most momentum right now, and I'm predicting none of them. I admit completely that I am probably just doing some wishful thinking right now including Blunt and Brie Larson (Room), but Tomlin seems more like a Golden Globe nominee, Blanchett's probably going to draw more attention to her (fraudulent) Supporting Actress campaign for Carol, and after American Hustle went home empty-handed in 2013, I don't think the Academy is really feeling David O. Russell's films anymore, which will keep Lawrence out of the final ballot (she'll just have to accept the millions she's going to make on the final Hunger Games movie and her status as the biggest movie star in the world as consolation).

I am crazy, yes. But if I turn out to be right, well, you heard it here first.

Thoughts on Best Actor and more after the jump.


BEST ACTOR

How is it possible for this category to seem both very competitive and already locked up? The five men I predicted all seem like the strongest choices, and with the exception of maybe Tom Hanks (Bridge of Spies) and Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), I don't really see too many other legitimate competitors right now.

On that note: Jacob Tremblay (Room) has been gaining traction for his performance, but there are two related reasons why I don't think he'll be nominated here. Quite simply, it's his age: at 9, he would be one of, if not the, youngest nominee in this category ever (depending on when his birthday falls at the time of nominations; Jackie Cooper holds the current record at 9 years, 20 days for Skippy in 1930/31). While the Academy has no problem with young women in Best Actress (see: Quvenzhane Wallis in 2012), it doesn't respond the same way to young men in Best Actor. IF Tremblay can continue building momentum, it's far more likely that he will be nominated for Best Supporting Actor, where it is considered more "acceptable" for child actors.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS


I don't know what to make of Carol. The current rumor is that Rooney Mara - who won Best Actress at Cannes for the film - will be campaigned for Best Actress and Cate Blanchett will be considered Best Supporting Actress. This is obviously utter nonsense: both women are leads in the film, and Blanchett is playing the title character, which should preclude her from being considered a supporting character. I get why this is happening - Best Actress is extremely competitive this year (as it is every year, but you won't hear that from the entertainment media too often), and running them both as leads would significantly decrease the odds of either of them pulling a nomination. Even if this rumor is true, the film's somewhat-chilly reception - it seems to be more admired than loved at Cannes and Toronto - could render the whole argument moot if the Academy doesn't bite. But until we get some clarity on the situation, I'm pretty much just throwing my hands in the air on this one.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

I'm not picking anyone from The Hateful Eight yet because it's impossible to tell who will be the breakout in a Tarantino film. Think back to Inglourious Basterds, when casting notices of Brad Pitt, Mike Myers, B.J. Novak, and Diane Kruger initially sparked the most speculation only to have then-little-known-Stateside actors Christoph Waltz, Melaine Laurent, and Michael Fassbender steal the show. So who knows who out of Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Channing Tatum, Bruce Dern, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Michael Madsen, or Tim Roth will grab our attention (and the Academy's) the most.

The Hateful Eight isn't the only film with this problem either. Spotlight and Bridge of Spies also have large ensembles that could produce a nominee, though it's hard to tell who it might be. At least in these two examples we know that the two I predicted have the most significant screen time, which at least indicate they have the best chances.

BEST DIRECTOR

I'm going against the grain here and getting frisky with my predictions. Namely, I'm picking Paolo Sorrentino because if Youth takes off with the Academy, they will go for him. He combines visual splendor with terrific acting, which will be catnip for the directing branch, and they tend to be more favorable to foreign filmmakers than other branches are. Similarly, since Bennett Miller taught us last year that the directing branch will still nominate filmmakers that don't get any Best Picture love, I'm picking Todd Haynes even if Carol seems a little more like a longshot at this point. Haynes has a lot of respect among fellow directors, and I think that could propel him forward in this category.

Then again, it is still early, and leaving out Steven Spielberg (Bridge of Spies) is never a wise move. And there's always the chance that they could give relative unknowns Sarah Gavron (Suffragette) or John Crowley (Brooklyn) a nod, and I've listed Spotlight as a major contender without extending a predicted nod to its director, Thomas McCarthy. Basically, the category could end up being a lot more in line with Best Picture. But since it's still early, I'll go gonzo for now.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Unlike the past few years, there actually seems to be real competition here! Of course, that could just be that its early and we haven't seen any of these films perform yet, but hey, I'll take what I can. Room is probably the riskiest choice, especially given that I'm including it at the expense of Carol, Beasts of No Nation, and Truth.

The big question mark right now is what Bridge of Spies will be considered. Early reports listed it as an adaptation of Gilles Whittell's 2010 book of the same name, itself drawing heavily from James Donovan's first-hand account Strangers on a Bridge, published in 1964. However, the film's press doesn't mention either book, and it appears now that the film is going to try to campaign as an original work. It will be interesting to see how it sorts out, and whether the decision ultimately affects either category.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

You've probably noticed by now that I've left Joy out of these nominations completely. The total shutout of American Hustle in 2013 - despite 10 nominations - strikes me as perhaps the Academy is moving on from David O. Russell. This is probably a foolish thing to assume. In fact, because I'm choosing to ignore it, the film will probably end up with 14 nominations and win every damn one of them.

What I'm getting at here is that there are some significant players here that I'm leaving out of my predictions. Aside from the aforementioned Joy and the caught-in-category-purgatory Bridge of Spies, Sicario has a good shot at gaining traction, Charlie Kaufman's never one to count out (even if Anomalisa isn't likely to be nominated for anything, despite strong critical acclaim), and foreign contender Son of Saul (from Hungary) seems like a good bet. This branch is the most receptive to foreign-language films outside of their designated category, so don't be surprised if it sneaks up over the coming months.

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