By Aniruddha Guha
Barring some snubs that are difficult to wrap my head around, the 2016 Oscar nominations are made up of a pretty solid bunch of technicians and actors, some of them very obvious contenders for wins come Oscar night (we may finally get to see a Leonardo DiCaprio winning speech).
Here, I pick the four glaring snubs in the nominations’ list, and four choices that brought a smile to my face.
Steve Jobs not nominated for Best Original Screenplay
In the years to come, we will discuss Aaron Sorkin’s absence from the Best Original Screenplay category in 2016 as passionately as we lament about Martin Scorsese being ignored before The Departed. Sorkin’s scripts may all seem – rather, sound – the same: fast-talking characters, analogy-fuelled conversations, flashy metaphors; and he’s gone about generously sprinkling “Sorkinisms” all over his work despite the criticism.
But none of those Sorkin traits ever waltzed in unison with as much grace as they do in Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs. Focussing on only three sequences, Sorkin treats each segment as a part of the three-act structure, managing to tell beautifully compact stories in each segment. Cracking three three-act structures within the larger three-act structure in one film is some sort of masterclass in contemporary screenplay writing, but what makes Sorkin’s exclusion even more astonishing is that he won the Best Screenplay award at the Golden Globes in a much tougher category, where his script went up against both Original and Adapted Screenplays of 2015.
Inside Out nominated for Best Original Screenplay
No animated film has ever won an award for Screenplay before (the likes of Toy Story and Shrek have been nominated), and it gladdens the heart to know that Inside Out might have a shot at winning this year.
Sorkin being left out of the race, especially, makes you root for the writing team of Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley, who had as much an Herculean storytelling task as Sorkin in Steve Jobs, if not more. At one level, Inside Out was about Riley, a little girl from Minnesota whose life turns upside down when her family relocates to San Francisco. At another, the film’s primary characters – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger – went through their own engaging, and highly-fulfilling, journeys.
The screenplay blended both elements of the story seamlessly, and masterfully manipulated viewers by combining heartwarming moments with some truly funny ones. If not for imparting some wonderful wisdom about joy and sadness going hand-in-hand through life, the writers deserve the Oscar for creating Bing Bong!
No Jacob Tremblay in the Best Supporting Actor category
While Brie Larson has been, rightfully, picking up awards for her searing performance as a mother trapped in a confined space for over 7 years in Room, it’s sad to see Jacob Tremblay, who plays her 5-year-old son, being left out.
The Academy doesn’t award child actors in any special category apart from the already-existing ones, and nominated nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis last for her performance in Beasts of the Southern Wild. But Tremblay’s performance was so honest, so finely-nuanced, and so heart-breakingly real, you’d only associate it with a seasoned actor. For delivering one of the best performances in film in 2015, Tremblay should have been in that nomination list.
Mark Ruffalo in the Best Supporting Actor category
Overlooked at the Golden Globes (he got nominated for Infinitely Polar Bear instead), Mark Ruffalo turned in a terrific performance as Michael Rezendes in Spotlight, about an investigative journalism team that broke a story about rampant child sex abuse by priests in Boston.
Ruffalo is probably the only actor who’s managed to consistently win accolades in varied roles (Foxcatcher, The Normal Heart, Infinitely Polar Bear) while performing superhero duties in a blockbuster franchise (Marvel’s Avengers). In Spotlight, Ruffalo stands out among a pretty solid set of actors, effortlessly portraying the workaholic journalist whose personal life suffers due to a strenuous job. A case could be made for Michael Keaton in the same film, but not at the expense of Ruffalo.
Steven Spielberg missing out on a Best Director nomination
Bridge of Spies is nominated for Best Film, Best Original Screenplay, and has an acting nomination (Mark Rylance) – three of the five major categories (Editing and Direction being the other two) that makes a film a force to reckon with at the Oscars.
The riveting script, fantastic cast, beautiful production design, and fine background score came together nicely in what is probably Spielberg’s strongest directorial work since Munich in 2005. The Best Director category is a pretty strong one this year – even Ridley Scott missed out for The Martian – but Spielberg should definitely have made the cut (in place of Lenny Abrahamson, nominated for Room, a film that rides largely on performances).
Adam McKay made it in the same category
Anchorman, Talladega Nights, The Other Guys – Adam McKay made a career out of writing and directing hilarious, but often low-brow, comedies featuring Will Ferrel in the lead. But the guy made a filmmaking leap with The Big Short.
Much smarter than all his previous comedies put together, and telling a very complicated story – about the housing market and credit bubble, that brought about the 2007-08 financial meltdown – McKay first wrote a charming script (which he deserves to win Best Adapted Screenplay for), and then skillfully shepherded an ensemble of pretty heavyweight actors (Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Melissa Leo, etc). Excellent on paper, McKay managed to translate The Big Short script onto screen beautifully, and I expect him to be among Hollywood’s most influential filmmakers in times to come.
Steve Carell not in the Best Actor race; Matt Damon is
As Mark Watney, Matt Damon was charming, funny and likable in The Martian, but when have those attributes ever made someone eligible for an Oscar for Best Actor? Sure, Damon won at the Golden Globes in the Comedy/Musical category (which explains a lot), but when it comes to selecting the five best male performances of 2015, Damon should consider himself lucky to be in that list.
Especially when Steve Carell nailed the hell out of his role as mercurial hedge fund manager Mark Baum in The Big Short. A character that was manic depressive and constantly on-edge, but also fast-thinking and shrewd, watching Carell in the film felt like waiting for a ticking bomb to go off. But while Baum let himself go at one point, Carell kept it together, delivering a remarkably consistent performance, one worthy of being lauded.
Charlotte Rampling finally got her due
Charlotte Rampling has been an actor for over 45 years, and after winning several accolades across the world (the British actor has worked in films across multiple languages, including French and Italian), Rampling finally got recognition at an awards ceremony she probably doesn’t care about.
A legend like Rampling doesn’t need the Academy’s stamp of approval, but her soul-stirring performance in 45 Years – for which she won a Silver Bear award at The Berlin Film Festival last year – was an acting tour de force; a masterclass in communicating more with less and embodying the character in a manner that makes it impossible to differentiate between the actor and the role.
She will probably go empty-handed on Oscars night, but just the sight of her sitting among the nominees will be a cause for celebration, and a reason to tune in on Oscars night.
Aniruddha Guha is a film critic and writes on TV. Tweets: @AniGuha