The world’s most sought-after awards for cinematic achievement are once again up for grabs. The race this year is tough. Will the spotlight fix itself on Spotlight or The Revenant? Will the day belong to a small film about paedophilia, religion and good old-fashioned investigative journalism or to a gory, big-budget extravaganza about a clash between humans and nature, between settlers and the original inhabitants of a vast, challenging land?
The answers will come on the night of Sunday, 28 February in Los Angeles, that is Monday, 29 February, morning here in India.
The Academy Awards aka the Oscars are given away by the US’ Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences each year. Winners are picked by Academy members’ votes, with the final results already lying secured in well-guarded envelopes.
Before their secrets are unwrapped by some of Hollywood’s most glamorous hands (remember, our very own Priyanka Chopra is a presenter this year), arguments will continue worldwide about who will walk away with the honours.
Until then, here are my predictions for the four most-watched trophies of Oscars 2016:
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Best Picture race this year appears to be a three-way fight between Spotlight, The Big Short and The Revenant.
Spotlight – a perfectly paced newsroom drama about The Boston Globe’s series of exposés on sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests in the United States – was an early favourite in this category. The film was even praised by the RC Church whose failings it sought to highlight.
Its toughest initial competition was from The Revenant, a film that is almost seven times more expensive and infinitely larger in terms of spectacle.
However, the tide turned as the film awards season rolled on, with The Big Short winning the highly predictive Producers Guild of America (PGA) Award. The Big Short is a comedy drama, an unlikely genre considering that its setting is the US financial crisis of 2007-08. Going by certain trends, now this is the film to beat on awards night.
From 1990 till date, only seven times has the Best Picture Oscar not gone to a film that won the year’s PGA Award.
Here is an even more convincing statistic: since 2008, the PGA winner has gone on to collect the Best Picture statuette every time, with 2014 being an unusual year only because there was a tie at the PGA between Gravity and 12 Years A Slave. Then too, 12 Years A Slave went on to win the numero uno spot at the Oscars.
Before you think this means the deal is sealed though, keep in mind that Spotlight has picked up the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award for its entire cast, widely viewed by commentators as another Oscar indicator.
And as if that is not enough to confuse the hell out of bookies, The Revenant — a late release compared to the other two — appears to be picking up momentum, riding high on its rising earnings. It won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture - Drama in early January, scooped up the Directors Guild of America (DGA) Award in early February and the Best Picture BAFTA just two weeks back, which suggests that the buzz around it is peaking at the right time.
Let me place this on the record: two out of my three least favourite films in this category are poised to win the Best Picture gong. The Big Short, to my mind, lacked the clarity it was aiming for, both The Revenant and Mad Max lacked soul. Spotlight is a better film by a mile, followed by Room. Ah well, c’est la vie.
Likely winner: The Revenant
Possible spoilers, and very close: The Big Short, Spotlight
My personal favourite: Spotlight
Should definitely have been nominated: Inside Out, Pixar’s delightful 3D animation flick about the inner workings of a little girl’s mind that has even received salaams from psychiatrists and child psychologists in the West.
Should have been in the reckoning: Carol, Beasts of No Nation (FYI the rules permit 10 Best Picture noms)
Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu for The Revenant
Adam McKay for The Big Short
George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road
Lenny Abrahamson for Room
Tom McCarthy for Spotlight
This one appears to be a foregone conclusion in favour of Alejandro, considering that he has already swept the major awards so far: a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for Best Director, and — the clincher in this slot — the DGA Award. According to the Directors Guild website, “Only seven times since the DGA Award’s inception has the DGA Award winner not won the Academy Award.” That would be only seven times since 1948.
Since 2004, there has been only one occasion when the DGA winner did not go on to get a Best Director Oscar. That solo exception came in 2013 because Ben Affleck was not even nominated for helming Argo, though his film did win the year’s Best Picture Oscar.
Most likely winner: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Possible spoiler, by a long shot: George Miller who won the Critics Choice Award for Best Director
My personal favourite: Tom McCarthy for his phenomenally controlled direction of Spotlight
My second choice: Lenny Abrahamson for Room
Should have been nominated: Pete Doctor and Ronnie del Carmen for Inside Out, Todd Haynes for Carol. If you’ve read my Best Picture notes, you know whom I would have liked to drop.
Brie Larson for Room
Cate Blanchett for Carol
Charlotte Rampling for 45 Years
Jennifer Lawrence for Joy
Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn
The top contender in this category is 26-year-old Brie with her restrained performance as a young woman kept hostage by her rapist in a tiny shed for seven years. It was an exacting role, especially since she had to share that space and its demands with a prodigious livewire by the name of Jacob Tremblay, playing her child from the rapist.
She has already got the year’s Golden Globe, Critics Choice, SAG and BAFTA Awards. A win by anyone else, wonderfully gifted though they all are, will come as a shocker.
Most likely winner: Brie Larson
Closest competitor: Saoirse Ronan
My personal favourite: Brie Larson
Should have been nominated: Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl (she has received a Best Supporting Actress nomination instead)
Should not have been nominated: Jennifer Lawrence who ought to have got minus marks for her inexplicably deadpan concluding scene in the unremarkable and joyless Joy
Most probably talked her way out of the reckoning: British veteran Charlotte Rampling with her comment that this year’s diversity row at the Oscars is “racist to white people”. An artist’s stupidity should ideally not affect her chances, but the already beleaguered Academy may avoid her, considering the tongue-lashing it is already getting for ignoring non-white actors for a second year in a row.
Bryan Cranston for Trumbo
Eddie Redmayne for The Danish Girl
Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant
Matt Damon for The Martian
Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs
Will this be the year Leo finally makes it? The Titanic star has been nominated in this category a total of four times including this year, the other nods he has received so far being for Aviator, Blood Diamond and The Wolf of Wall Street. He was earlier a Best Supporting Actor nominee for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.
Take it from me – his disadvantage all this time has been that he is too pretty for Academy voters. This lot seems to prefer rugged or pared-down looks, best exemplified by how gorgeous women greatly up their chances of winning when they tone down their glamour quotient. Cases in point: Nicole Kidman, Hillary Swank, Halle Berry, Charlize Theron.
This is not to say that Leonardo is not compelling in The Revenant. He is. He must be particularly lauded for rising above the limitations of the script to deliver such a heartfelt performance (there I go again, grimacing at this emotionally empty film). Good for him then that he has improved his odds by uglifying himself for this demanding role of a fur hunter in early 1800s America, battling the elements and his own people. His face is covered with muck, blood or gashes through most of The Revenant, he ate raw bison liver for one scene and went naked into the belly of a horse carcass in one of the film’s most unsettling moments. If that does not do it for our boy Leo, nothing will.
It will be a huge upset if one of his tremendously talented competitors pips him to the post.
Likely winner: Leonardo DiCaprio
Possible spoiler, by a long shot: Michael Fassbender
My personal favourites: Leonardo DiCaprio and Eddie Redmayne
Should have been considered: Jacob Tremblay for Room, Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation, Tom Courtenay for 45 Years
One of them could have replaced: Matt Damon perhaps? I mean, Matt’s likeable as always in The Martian, but he has done more onerous roles in the past.