- The Washington Times - Friday, February 26, 2016


With less than three days to go before Oscar Sunday, the controversies and second-guessing continue as to who will win, who should win and who was left out in the cold. All of this, mind you, beneath the cloud of the #OscarsSoWhite campaign that has shaken the annual bacchanal from its self-centered reverence in a bid for more inclusiveness.

Beyond all of the controversy, however, it cannot be denied that 2015 was a strong year for quality films. As early as the fall, prognosticators began swirling predictions as to who would be nominated and who would take home the golden statuettes. In an especially inspired posting, Mississippi filmmaker Jordan Hillhouse, utilizing an incredibly detailed rubric, predicted that “Steve Jobs” would be the big winner Sunday. While the Aaron Sorkin-scripted biopic of the late Apple guru is up for two acting wins for stars Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet, the film was shut out otherwise, including for Mr. Sorkin’s screenplay (although he did win the Golden Globe for same last month).

Mr. Hillhouse went back to the well this week with his predictions and explanations as to why certain films and actors will win over others. Mr. Hillhouse and I agree that while “The Revenant” will likely take home the gold, “Spotlight” is more deserving.

Here are my picks — hopeful and otherwise — as well as notably deserving contenders who were snubbed across the major categories.



“Bridge of Spies” (Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen)

“Ex Machina” (Alex Garland)

“Inside Out” (Screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley; Original story by Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen)

“Spotlight” (Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy)

“Straight Outta Compton” (Screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff; Story by S. Leigh Savidge & Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berloff)

What will win: “Spotlight”

What should win: “Spotlight”

Dark horse: “Straight Outta Compton”

Biggest category snubs: “99 Homes,” “Sicario,” “Grandma”

“Spotlight,” the ensemble drama about the Boston Globe crusade to pull back the veil on the Catholic Church’s shielding pedophile priests, was the year’s most compelling true-life story, and director Tom McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer fashioned an intricate, intriguing detective thriller that was as much about a citywide institutionalized silence as a newspaper investigation. Outstanding dialogue and character interaction throughout made the film endlessly watchable.

However, due to the #OscarsSoWhite brouhaha, there’s a chance enough Academy voters will have felt enough guilt to vote for “Straight Outta Compton.” It’s a slim chance, but a win for the N.W.A biopic would be at least a token recognition of Hollywood’s ongoing minority problem.



“The Big Short” (Charles Randolph and Adam McKay)

“Brooklyn” (Nick Hornby)

“Carol” (Phyllis Nagy)

“The Martian” (Drew Goddard)

“Room” (Emma Donoghue)

What will win: “The Big Short”

What should win: “Brooklyn”

Dark horse: “The Martian”

Biggest category snub: “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”

I remain baffled by the accolades bestowed upon “The Big Short,” but the Academy — and my fellow critics — seem to believe otherwise. The Wall Street anti-comedy has the category to lose, but the coming-of-age “Brooklyn” has a shot, as does “Room.”



“Ex Machina”

“Mad Max: Fury Road”

“The Martian”

“The Revenant”

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

What will win: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

What should win: “Ex Machina”

Dark horse: “The Martian”

This one should be called even before the Sunday ceremony. Director George Miller and his team did a magnificent job of crafting mostly in-camera, on-set effects that were incredulously staged. However, the computer and costume efforts in “Ex Machina” turned Alicia Vikander from the beautiful young woman she is into the android Ava, seamlessly blending the Danish actress’ half-realized body into the sets. While “Ex Machina” is arguably the more competent achievement in making the effect not call attention to itself, “Mad Max” was a circus of the first order, and will run away with the category.



“Bridge of Spies”

“The Danish Girl”

“Mad Max: Fury Road”

“The Martian”

“The Revenant”

What will win: Toss-up between “Mad Max” and “The Revenant”

What should win: “The Revenant”

I suspect “Mad Max” will take this one as well. Its visual achievements, limited use of CGI and practical effects are made for Oscar recognition.



“Earned It” from “Fifty Shades of Grey” (The Weeknd)

“Manta Ray” from “Racing Extinction” (J. Ralph and Antony Hegarty)

“Simple Song #3” from “Youth” (David Lang)

“Til It Happens To You” from “The Hunting Ground (Diane Warren and Lady Gaga)

“Writing’s on the Wall,” from “Spectre” (Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith

What will win: “Till It Happens to You”

What should win: “Till It Happens to You”

The tragically underseen documentary “The Hunting Ground” exposed the horrible epidemic of campus rape throughout America and academia’s often incompetent ways of dealing with same — sometimes even allowing victim and perpetrator to continue to live in neighboring dorm rooms. Lady Gaga’s burning ode to sympathy — the singer revealed publicly that she was sexually assaulted as a teenager — is all but assured a win, particularly given her stellar interpretation of tunes from “The Sound of Music” at last year’s ceremony.



“Bridge of Spies” (Thomas Newman)

“Carol” (Carter Burwell)

“The Hateful Eight” (Ennio Morricone)

“Sicario” (Johann Johannsson)

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (John Williams)

What will win: “The Hateful Eight”

What should win: “Sicaro”

Dark horse: “Star Wars”

Quentin Tarantino coaxed legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone, now 87, to score his violent anti-Western after decades away from the genre. Mr. Morricone’s rousing overture and dark, minor key strains underscored the magnificent cinematography by Robert Richardson and reminded us why his work on Sergio Leone’s “Spaghetti Westerns” remains so iconic a half-century later.

As amazing as Mr. Morricone’s work is, Johann Johannsson’s eerie, nihilistic score for “Sicario” was so unsettling that it nearly stole the show from the haunting, brutal images of the film itself. However, I believe film history — and his elder statesmen status — are on Mr. Morricone’s side.

Age may also result in another statue for John Williams, now 84, to say nothing of cultural relevance with the return of “Star Wars.” Furthermore, rumors of Mr. Williams’ ill health — he was unable to work with frequent collaborator Steven Spielberg on “Bridge of Spies,” which was scored instead by fellow nominee Thomas Newman — may give him the sentimental edge. Never mind he has many Oscars already and over 40 nominations.



“Mad Max: Fury Road”

“The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared”

“The Revenant”

What will win: “Mad Max”

What should win: “Mad Max”

The Australian post-apocalyptic punk fantasy had couture details to spare in its fully lived-in world, assuring it this win. (Especially considering few, if any, even saw “The 100-Year-Old Man…”)





“The Danish Girl”

“Mad Max: Fury Road”

“The Revenant”

What will win: “Mad Max”

What should win: “Mad Max”

Dark horse: “The Revenant” or “The Danish Girl”

In some of these categories, bigger is just better, and with hundreds of costumed extras all over “Fury Road,” voters are likely to choose it, even though more “artisinal” work went into “The Revenant” and “The Danish Girl.”



“Embrace of the Serpent”


“Son of Saul”


“A War”

What will win: “Son of Saul”

What should win: “Theeb”

Holocaust-themed films typically score big with the Academy, and the competently made — if underwhelming — “Son of Saul” from Hungary had cinema verite dreariness all over its gruesome narrative of a “Sonderkommando,” a Jewish prisoner forced to do the Nazis’ dirty work, at a concentration camp who stages a desperate attempt to escape.

For my money, “Theeb” from Jordanian-British filmmaker Naji Abu Nowar, was one of the best films of 2015 made in any language. The story of a Bedouin boy in the 1910s who undergoes a perilous journey across the desert and meets a strange warrior was almost biblically poetic in its simplicity and moral complexity, beautifully capturing a culture unknown to most Westerners and featuring a searingly mature performance by its young star, Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat.



“The Big Short”

“Mad Max: Fury Road”

“The Revenant”


“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

What will win: “Mad Max”

What should win: “The Revenant”

Dark horse: “The Big Short”

Notable snub: “Sicaro”

If more edits means “better,” then every Michael Bay film in existence would win best editing. I make this point only to illustrate that while the frenetic “Fury Road” had the most edits of any film in the category, and is the likely winner, it takes far more skill to do less and to make what you have seem as fluid as possible without calling attention to itself. Therefore, “The Revenant” should win this one because of how effortlessly it melded together director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s long takes into a unified whole that never felt dissembled. (For counterpoint, “Mad Max” was edited more like a music video.)




“Cartel Land”

“The Look of Silence”

“What Happened, Miss Simone?”

“Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom”

What will win: “Winter on Fire”

What should win: “Amy”

Notable snubs: “Seymour: An Introduction,” “Best of Enemies,” “He Named Me Malala”

It’s hard for me to weigh in on this category due to so many quality entrants being overlooked, but “Winter on Fire,” about turmoil between demonstrators and government forces in Kiev, is the favorite, though I personally much preferred “Amy” about the tortured late singer Amy Winehouse.

What’s most amazing about this field is those that were not included. Ethan Hawke’s superb documentary about a New York piano teacher, “Seymour,” was a masterful meditation on both art and mortality, Davis Guggenheim’s travelogue of the brave Pakistani teen Malala Yousafzai was his best work since “An Inconvenient Truth,” and “Best of Enemies” from Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville showed how the 1968 on-air debates between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal presaged our 24-hour cable news cycle.

They can’t all be winners, but these three outstanding docs should at least have gotten a seat at the table.



“Carol” (Ed Lachman)

“The Hateful Eight” (Robert Richardson)

“Mad Max: Fury Road” (John Seale)

“The Revenant” (Emmanuel Lubezki)

“Sicario” (Roger Deakins)

What will win: Even money on “The Hateful Eight” and “The Revenant”

What should win: “The Hateful Eight” or “The Revenant”

Dark horse: “Sicario” or “Mad Max”

This is the most exceptional field of the year, and thus the most difficult to call. Robert Richardson’s glorious 70 mm photography of the American West for “The Hateful Eight” was even more amazing given that much of the film actually takes place indoors, but Emmanuel Lubezki made an equally strong case for laurels by only using natural outdoor illumination during the limited daylight hours on the northern Canadian locations of “The Revenant” that nonetheless made that film’s images crisp and magnanimous. Roger Deakins tinted his compositions ochre for the grimy world of “Sicario,” and I’ll give credit where it’s due for the splendid camerawork of John Seale for “Mad Max.”

Honestly, this will be the race to watch as it offers an embarrassment of riches, including by talented DOP Ed Lachman for “Carol.”

As of now, this one is anyone’s guess.



Jennifer Jason Leigh, “The Hateful Eight”

Rooney Mara, “Carol”

Rachel McAdams, “Spotlight”

Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl”

Kate Winslet, “Steve Jobs”

Who will win: Rooney Mara or Alicia Vikander

Who should win: Rooney Mara

Dark horse: Jennifer Jason Leigh

Notable snubs: Rachel Weisz, “Youth”; Olivia Cooke, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”; Alicia Vikander, “Ex Machina”

This was actually a great year for roles for women, so good, in fact, that three of the most deserving performances of 2015 were left out. Rachel Weisz delivered a searing, angst-filled monologue aimed at her father (Michael Caine) in the most potent scene of the otherwise-tepid “Youth,” while 22-year-old Olivia Cooke displayed an astoundingly mature range of motion for such a young performer as the teenager stricken with cancer in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” the best film made about teenagers in years.

Alas, while Miss Weisz and Miss Cooke are sitting this one out, the five women who did make the cut are all extraordinary performers. Jennifer Jason Leigh gave her best acting in years as the spitfire prisoner in “Hateful Eight” and earned her first ever (how is that possible?) nomination, but I believe this will be Rooney Mara’s year. Miss Mara has failed to give a bad performance in any film she’s been in, and for “Carol” she will likely take home the little golden man this year.

And as good as Alicia Vikander was in “The Danish Girl,” her modulated, un-self-conscious portrayal of the is-she-or-isn’t-she-self-aware android Ava in “Ex Machina” was her best work of a rather busy 2015 and a revelation that will assure her work for years to come.



Christian Bale, “The Big Short”

Tom Hardy, “The Revenant”

Mark Ruffalo, “Spotlight”

Mark Rylance, “Bridge of Spies”

Sylvester Stallone, “Creed”

Who will win: Mark Rylance

Who should win: Mark Rylance

Dark horse: Sylvester Stallone

Notable snub: Michael Shannon, “99 Homes”

Mark Rylance gave a quietly tortured performance as captured Soviet spy Rudolph Abel in “Bridge of Spies,” showing off a unique mastery of the thespian craft and the best in this category. But because Oscar loves a comeback — in a 40-year film series about precisely that — Sylvester Stallone could pull off an upset as the aging Rocky Balboa in “Creed.”

I’m still screaming that Michael Shannon was left out in the cold for playing real estate shark Richard Carver, the most complex and interesting villain in years, in Ramin Bahrani’s “99 Homes.” In a career specializing in quirky, off-kilter characters, this was the apex of Mr. Shannon’s efforts, and I believe firmly that film historians will look back at his work in “99 Homes” one day and realize they got this one wrong.



Cate Blanchett, “Carol”

Brie Larson, “Room”

Jennifer Lawrence, “Joy”

Charlotte Rampling, “45 Years”

Saoirse Ronan, “Brooklyn”

Who will win: Brie Larson

Who should win: Brie Larson

Dark horse: Charlotte Rampling

Notable snub: Lily Tomlin, “Grandma”

With one two-time winner (Cate Blanchett) and another one-time winner (Jennifer Lawrence) in the running, odds are probably in favor of Brie Larson for the drama “Room.” Charlotte Rampling’s stating that “perhaps the black actors did not deserve to make the final list” will likely sink her hopes to turn her first nomination into a win.

While Saorise Ronan gave did a fine job as the young Irish woman in “Brooklyn,” it’s not her time, but she’s young and has many good years ahead.

Notably absent: Lily Tomlin as bohemian Angeleno Elle in the underappreciated “Grandma,” heading a rather grand cast of nearly all women. Shame on you, Academy!



Bryan Cranston, “Trumbo”

Matt Damon, “The Martian”

Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”

Michael Fassbender, “Steve Jobs”

Eddie Redmayne, “The Danish Girl”

Who will win: Leonardo DiCaprio

Who should win: Leonardo DiCaprio

Dark horse: Eddie Redmayne

Notable snubs: Benecio Del Toro, “Sicario”; Johnny Depp “Black Mass”

It seems to be Leo’s year. He’s racked up most of the major prizes already for his chilling performance as the revenge-seeking frontiersman in “The Revenant,” and he’s notched five previous Oscar nominations but no wins. Also, this could be a way to right the grievous wrong of his not even being nominated for his fiery turn as the vile Calvin Candie in “Django Unchained” from 2012. Mr. DiCaprio has bided his time and given many a great performance — some better than “The Revenant” — and his time is at hand.

His only conceivable competition could be from Eddie Redmayne for his gender-bending turn in “The Danish Girl.” If chosen, he would be the first back-to-back best actor winner since Tom Hanks in 1993-94.

In the what-could-have-been department, Johnny Depp gave the performance of his life — and the best of the year, in my humble opinion — as Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger in “Black Mass,” and Benecio Del Toro was as equally compelling as the shadowy assassin Alejandro in “Sicario.” Soon, fellas, soon.



“The Big Short” (Adam McKay)

“Mad Max: Fury Road” (George Miller)

“The Revenant” (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)

“Room” (Lenny Abrahamson)

“Spotlight” (Tom McCarthy)

Who will win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Who should win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Dark horse: George Miller

Notable snub: Denis Villeneuve, “Sicario”

At least there’s one Mexican in the bunch of, yes, once again, all men. And it’s good money that Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu will be the first back-to-back directing winner since Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1949 and 1950 for the skillful way he turned a conventional revenge drama into gruesomely compelling art in “The Revenant.” While his fellow candidates all did fine work on their respective films, the big statue is Mr. Inarritu’s to lose.



“The Big Short”

“Bridge of Spies”


“Mad Max: Fury Road”

“The Martian”

“The Revenant”



What will win: “The Revenant”

What should win: “Spotlight”

Dark horse: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Notable snubs: “Ex Machina,” “Sicario,” “Grandma,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”

“The Revenant” takes home the gold, no question, and Mr. Inarritu immediately begins figuring out how to three-peat.


• Eric Althoff can be reached at twt@washingtontimes.com.

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