Editor’s Note: In about fifteen hours Birdman will hand over its Oscar to a successor. But who wins Best Picture? Our Oscar countdown finishes with a look at the Best of 2015
The Big Short (4 other nominations)
Bridge of Spies (5 other nominations)
Brooklyn (2 other nominations)
Mad Max Fury Road (9 other nominations)
The Martian (6 other nominations)
The Revenant (11 other nominations)
Room (3 other nominations)
Spotlight (5 other nominations)
And then there were eight. So the members cast their votes and the films which managed at least 5% of #1 votes in the AMPAS’ new rule to allow for as many as ten nominations. It’s a fairly octet of films, although a cursory glance makes the omission of Carol and its six nominations that much more striking. But, what of the eight?
It’s a year of long films. Only Brooklyn and Room clock in at below 2 hours (just below), and it’s a year of serious issues – the housing crisis, child abuse, rape, death, murder, The Cold War. The burden of Academy Awards as the most noted film awards means their best picture nominees must emerge as legitimately indicative of the best. So, to close our Devouring of the Oscars, let’s take a brief look at each of the nominees.
Tonally, The Big Short is similar to The Wolf of Wall Street. A heady, irreverent, loud take on money and power, albeit with a more sympathetic centre. It’s that same irreverence that has it being accused of supporting the unethical things within, but The Big Short critically avoids being too scathed on an ethics level because it positions itself firmly outside its story, willing to call the characters out on their issues. It’s that willingness to confront the “terrible” things in a somewhat moralistic manner that has it positioned as a frontrunner.
The Oscar winner for Best Picture cannot be polarising. It’s just simple logic. It’s the only award everyone votes for. The other sections have artists voting in their own speciality (actors for actors, designers for designers and so on). So the Oscar winner will be populist. It cannot but be populist since it’s won by popular vote. Polarising films can be nominated because they only need a passionate fraction. The Best Picture winner doesn’t necessarily need to be the film people are most passionate about but the film most people are not dispassionate about. Ultimately what The Big Short has that best pictures before have had is something to root around. It’s general, it’s American, it confronts issues without being too moralising. It’s about the zeitgeist. And popular vote loves the zeitgeist. Oscar, by its nature, is zeitgeist. So, The Big Short makes sense, even as I wonder if it makes too much sense. The main thing working against it is its occasionally cavalier tone, but that didn’t stop Birdman last year…. But there are some strong challenges in the way of The Big Short?
So, who are its biggest challengers? I still maintain that Spotlight is too stolid to win the award here. Not that the Oscar has not gone for stolid before but as much as Spotlight’s charm emanates from its guise of being restrained, I ponder on when Oscar has ever gone for something as formally diffident. Ordinary People in 1980 perhaps? And restrained family dramas are a whole other ballgame. The idea of The Revenant winning defies logic for another reason. Iñárritu would become the first director to consecutive Best Picture winners. The first in 88 year. Records come when you least expect them, but for this to happen now seems so unlikely. Yet, I’m much more confident in The Revenant as a pretender to the Oscar throne than Spotlight, in some ways. Working against The Revenant is its polarising nature. So many people hate it that it does not follow the populist nature of a film loved by the majority of voters. Except, though, this has been such an unusual year I wonder if logic goes out the window…
….and if logic goes out the window, does that mean Mad Max Fury Road comes crashing through the door? I’m uncertain. In fact, of the five nominees also up for director I’d be more confident in an upset for Room more than Mad Max Fury Road. Room is a tiny picture, and a woman focused one, bt the Academy has never been averse to women’s stories, especially when they emanate from the cathartic family based way like Room. If only Room was more popular I would be more confident, but it has a cathartic centre to it that makes it nomination less surprising. If it had been luckier on the precursor trail, it could have been more of a threat. And it’s the same, I suspect, with Mad Max Fury Road. Even being loved by many has not landed it the critical wins it would need. Last year, for example, I was confident enough about Birdman because I could not see Boyhood winning. This year, everything seems impossible, which makes everything possible.
There was a time when The Martian seemed like a possible winner, and did win a seemingly critical Golden Globe Picture win for Comedy, over The Big Short. Except, the Globes don’t always line up with Oscar. The Social Network won over The King’s Speech, Avatar won over The Hurt Locker, Atonement won over No Country for Old Men. No precursor is absolute.
And rounding out the lot we have the tale of two cities – Brooklyn and Berlin in the form of Brooklyn and Bridge of Spies. Brooklyn is the heir to An Education, the tiny film from the U.K. They earned the same three nominations – Actress, Writing, Picture. Bridge of Spies, meanwhile, is the heir to every Spielberg nominee post Saving Private Ryan. It’s not a legitimate threat to a win, but a confident nominee that doesn’t seem out of place.
The thing about Oscar predictions is that your personal opinions tend not to matter. Earning the most nominees isn’t a sure sign of support across the board, so it’s not assured that The Revenant is a true contender. Perhaps my own personal bias find it a threat?
How would I rank them if I were a voter?
The Revenant A-
Mad Max Fury Road B
Bridge of Spies B
The Martian B
The Big Short B
I’m not bad at the nominees, but I only really love two of them. But love has nothing to do with it. How do I see their chances of Oscar falling?
The Big Short
Mad Max Fury Road / The Martian
Bridge of Spies
Here’s how I see it. Who wins Picture will depend on the other awards. If The Big Short wins only screenplay but not editing or writing, I don’t see it winning. If The Revenant loses screenplay but wins editing, I can see it winning. If Spotlight picks up editing and screenplay but not both, I don’t see it winning. If Mad Max wins directing and editing, all bets are off. That doesn’t really help your predictions at the end of the day, so let’s call it The Big Short by a hair.
We’ll se how wrong we are in half a day.
Of course the Oscar “Best” will never be our own personal best. So to put a cap on 2015 here’s some lists for you. If our Nouse Oscar writers were choosing eight films to represent, here’s what we’d choose:
2. Mad Max Fury Road
3. Crimson Peak
5. Ex Machina
6. 45 Years
Thomas D. Williams
1. The Revenant
3. Mad Max Fury Road
5. Straight Outta Compton
6. The Gift
7. Montage of Heck
8. Inside Out
1. The Revenant
5. The Look of Silence
6. Cloud of Sils Maria
1. Ex Machina
2. Mad Max Fury Road
4. The Martian
5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
6. The Revenant
7. Kingsman: Secret Service
8. The Hateful Eight
1. Mad Max Fury Road
2. The Revenant
3. The Lobster
4. Ex Machina
5. Steve Jobs
7. What We Do in the Shadows
8. 45 Years