Oscar Picks 2015

Once again, thanks to Goldderby.com I was in great shape when the nominations were announced. In fact I’d seen everything that had been in wide release up to that point and there were only three left to see. Anomalisa was released a week later and 45 Years shortly after that.
The problem, as always, is in the animated feature category. Boy and the World is a Brazilian film that was produced in 2013. As I understand it to be eligible for a nomination a film must be shown in the New York or Los Angeles area in the calendar year for which they want to be nominated. My guess is that Boy and the World was shown in the basement of a distributor in Encino where it was projected onto a bedsheet for his children and a few close friends. I have no idea when it will go into wide release. Why do they nominate these obscure films, especially when they know Inside Out’s going to win? Pixar always wins! Frankly, I’m about ready to give up on this category. If Boy and the World doesn’t show up in the next two weeks, I will have suffered through Anomalisa for nothing!
Anyway that ends my annual rant about the animated feature award. On to the picks. Keep in mind that as always these are not predictions. If you need to know who to bet on, go to Goldderby.com. These are the people who I would give the award to.

Best Supporting Actress

All the acting categories this year are strong. There’s nobody I would eliminate on the grounds of giving a bad performance in any of these four categories. One caveat is in the supporting actress category. Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander are actually in leading roles. In both cases they have as much if not more screen time as co-stars who are up for leading awards. Their studios ran them as supporting actresses because they thought they’d have a better chance of getting a nomination. I considered dismissing them on those grounds but it really isn’t their fault and they shouldn’t be punished for it. Assuming that being dismissed in a blog that they will probably never read can be counted as punishment.

Jennifer Jason Leigh has been such a brave and exciting actress over the years that it’s hard for me to not give her the nod for her first nomination for an Oscar. It was a good performance in a mediocre movie.

Rachel McAdams turned in an exemplary performance in Spotlight. It’s hard to stand out in that cast, however.

I take second place to no man in my admiration for Kate Winslet. But I didn’t even recognize her in Steve Jobs, not her voice, mannerisms or looks. It was a totally transformative performance.

Alicia Vikander gave a moving performance in The Danish Girl.

I would give the award to Rooney Mara. In Carol she expertly takes her character from young naïf to confident woman and it is inspiring to watch. Perhaps she has unfair advantage because this is actually a lead role but in my mind it is the best performance of the five.

Best Supporting Actor

Sylvester Stallone plays a role he’s played many times before in Creed but the character is at a different point in his life. It was an enjoyable performance, like putting on an old comfortable shoe.

Mark Ruffalo gave a convincing performance as an eager investigative reporter in Spotlight. The performance I would have nominated from that film, however, is Michael Keaton’s.

Christian Bale likewise gave a convincing and immersive performance as fund manager in The Big Short. But the performance in that film that really stands out was Steve Carrell’s.

This is Tom Hardy’s first Oscar nomination and before he’s done he’s going to have a boatload of them. He is an exciting and talented actor. He’s definitely one of the highlights of The Revenant.

I’ve got to give it to Mark Rylance though. That outwardly stoic face which was somehow leaking emotion is basically a workshop in underplaying a role. He was the best thing in Bridge of Spies which is a very good movie.

Best Actress

I think Jennifer Lawrence’s collaboration with David O. Russell is starting to get a little stale. This performance in Joy, while excellent, feels somewhat rote and too familiar.

Saoirse Ronan gives us another portrait of a naïve young girl emerging into confident womanhood in Brooklyn. She is beginning to deliver on the promise she showed in Atonement.

Brie Larson is the prohibitive favorite for the award and with some reason. Room can be divided into two parts: before and after the escape. She believably shows us a traumatized woman who falls apart once her son no longer needs her to be strong.

Cate Blanchett turns in her usual brilliant performance, showing us an elegant and self-assured woman on the outside but sad beyond all consolation on the inside.

My choice is Charlotte Rampling for her performance in 45 Years. Like Mark Rylance her performance in brilliantly underplayed. Her character is keeping a stiff upper lip, pretending to be normal but you can see in her eyes that she is sad, threatened, furious and frustrated that there is no one she can talk to about it.

Best Actor

Matt Damon basically plays himself in The Martian. It’s a fun performance but hardly a stretch.

Bryan Cranston plays blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. He shows the personal costs to himself and his family that result from his struggle with the HUAC and conservative forces in Hollywood.
Leonardo DiCaprio delivers a strong performance as early explorer Hugh Glass in The Revenant. He takes us on a tortuous journey through the wilderness.

Michael Fassbender captures the essence of Apple founder Steve Jobs, capturing all his contradictions and passions.

I would give the Oscar to Eddie Redmayne who plays a transgender person without resorting to cliché and caricature. It is a physically transformative and demanding role, his second in as many years, and utterly moving and brilliant.

Best Director

I don’t really have a strong favorite here. These are all capable directors who’ve delivered quality films. A director’s job contains many elements that he/she must balance and these guys have all excelled in one or more of them.

I believe that I gave Mad Max: Fury Road the harshest review, although I like the film. George Miller has an eye for bizarre images that make his films stand out. And of course there are few directors that are better with action.

Lenny Abrahamson got great performances from his two leads, one of them being a kid. He also directed one of the most gripping set pieces in a movie this year with his depiction of Ma and Jack’s escape.

The Big Short, directed by Adam McKay, is a good film that deals with complex issues in an entertaining way. It kind of lost me at the end but the performances were good and the pace never flagged.

Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight is about a team of reporters, working on a big investigative story. It has a huge talented cast that the director juggled expertly.

I’m leaning toward Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for The Revenant. Even though that movie missed with me, I do admire Inarritu’s command of the language of cinema. He controls image, symbolism, performances and even sound to get his message across. He really is at the height of his powers here.

Best Picture

I love science fiction so it really pains me to eliminate the two genre films among the best picture nominees right off the bat. While The Martian is better than I gave it credit for in my initial review, it still has problems.

Mad Max: Fury Road was just too long.

Brooklyn is a good film but I thought Carol, which was also set in New York at about the same period was better and it wasn’t nominated.

Room’s two halves were a little schizophrenic.

The Big Short fell apart at the end.

The Revenant cannot be criticized on any artistic or technical grounds. I simply didn’t care for it.

Spotlight is an important, well-paced exciting film with terrific performances. I would not be upset if it won.

The film I liked best this year, however, is Bridge of Spies. It is well-paced, has some terrific performances and an important theme. It is right up there with the best of Spielberg’s “serious” films.

So that’s it. The awards are handed out on February 28. As always, pop some popcorn and have fun.

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