Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Final Oscar Predictions: The Best Pictures

And now we enter the last bit of predictions-the Best Picture races.  These are the categories that we'll be talking about for years to come (well, the top one, at least), and it's a bit strange to predict them in a year where it's kind of hard to tell where the wealth is being spread.  Quite frankly, I wonder if we could, in what in my opinion has been a weak year, end up with only 5-7 nominations in this "sporadic nominee" situation.  After all, last year proved that you could end up with not nine but eight nominations-will this year give us the least in the multiple choice period of Oscar history?  Let's take a look, shall we?

Best Picture

I think it's always going to be asked, until they choose to go back, which films are "the five?"  The quintet of films that would have been nominated if we didn't have a random number of nominees, and I suspect those are The Revenant, The Big Short, Spotlight, The Martian, and Mad Max: Fury Road.  In a film year with very few quality male-driven films, Oscar still managed to go out and find some and I suspect that were we not given the larger slate of nominees we'd be seeing a lot of feminist critiques of the Oscars considering the ways that critics proclaimed this year the "year of women" and somehow only one of those five films has a female lead (and she still doesn't get the title).  That being said, we aren't in a five-wide field, so I think there's still some potential particularly for Carol, Room, or Brooklyn to sneak into the competition.  I think all three have fallen on some hard times in terms of getting into the race, but it's hard not to imagine at least one of them sliding into the winner's circle, so that's where I'll go with my predictions.  Steven Spielberg has done well in the expanded fields (consider that War Horse is a Best Picture nominee, after all), so Bridge of Spies is a valiant effort for a nomination.  If we were in a guaranteed ten-wide field, I think we could be seeing something strange like Straight Outta Compton or the underseen Sicario or even the foreign film Son of Saul, but we aren't mandated to go that high and so I am guessing none of those ends up in the final race.  The same could be said for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, except that it does have history on its side; after all, the highest-grossing domestic film of all-time (at least every film that has held that title while the Oscars have existed) has received a Best Picture nomination every time the crown has been handed off except for one (Jurassic Park).  Star Wars probably peaked in terms of massive buzz a week or two too early, but if enough people have their grandchildren begging them to vote for it, it's not without precedent that it could make it in the contest.

My Predictions: The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Spotlight

Best Animated Feature

The Oscars, more than the Annie Awards or the Golden Globes, have a penchant for going for truly random, prestige foreign film entries in this race.  It's what makes what one would consider a pretty predictable category a lot more complicated to go toward.  This year, in particular, it's hard to gage as, aside from Inside Out, there's no really obvious nominee that is clearly going to make it to the final five (or three-with only sixteen entries it's very possible Oscar only goes with three nominees this year, rather than five).  It's hard to bet against Pixar, but The Good Dinosaur was hardly successful and some even considered it a Box Office flop, so will Oscar want to remind Disney of such a thing (the Oscars have only skipped Pixar for sequels, so this would be historic in a way of it missed)?  The same could be said for frequent Oscar pet Aardman, whose Shaun the Sheep had critics enraptured and did well overseas but made nary a splash in America.  Anomalisa, Charlie Kaufman's latest, is being billed by some as Inside Out's biggest competition (it isn't, though-Inside Out has this all locked up), but one wonders if the Academy will go for an adults-only animated film again (they haven't in a while).  The Peanuts Movie did well and had critical love, but as The Simpsons Movie, The Adventures of Tintin, and The Lego Movie all proved, the Academy isn't wild about honoring rebrandings of television or old movie franchises, and The Peanuts Movie would fall under that umbrella.  Finally it's worth noting that despite a critical drubbing Minions likely got a few members of the animation branch a new Lexus, and a stack of money that large comes with some studio pressure to give it a nomination (it's worth noting that while the first Despicable Me film was overlooked by Oscar, the sequel made the cut).  That leaves When Marnie Was There (probably the last Studio Ghibli film, which could carry some sentiment), Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet (which has Oscar-nominee Salma Hayek and good luck charm GKids behind it, even though it had a wider release and still didn't get a huge audience), and Boy and the World (another GKids entry) trying to crack the Top 5 and follow in the footsteps of a film like The Secret of Kells.  My gut says that there's room for one of them considering the relatively weak hold the field has, especially if it's five-wide, but there's less buzz for one of them to take the nomination than usual this year so who knows.  This is one of the categories I'm most looking forward to seeing the results of tomorrow.

My Predictions: Anomalisa, The Good Dinosaur, Inside Out, Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, Shaun the Sheep (if only three cut The Prophet and The Good Dinosaur)

Best Documentary Feature

Per usual this is one of those rare categories where I have to guess, as the only one of the theoretical nominees I have seen is Best of Enemies (which I loved), and while that comes from a prestigious place (the filmmaker's last film won this prize), it doesn't feel like it's entirely within the Academy's wheelhouse.  Then again, this could be an odd year for the Oscar as the current frontrunner is a biopic of a recently deceased singer, Amy.  A huge art house hit, this could be one of those random years where Oscar goes all populist, and quite frankly I think the biggest roadblock would be if it somehow didn't get nominated (which could happen, as this branch is notorious for stopping a major film from being included, but I doubt it).  Joining it will surely be The Look of Silence, the follow-up to the Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing (which didn't win-I always have trouble remembering that as it felt so certain at the time), and that will add a lot of the gravitas to the category.  The same could be said for Cartel Land, a film about Mexican drug cartels that could be an interesting companion to Sicario if they both make it into the race.  I suspect that certain sectors of AMPAS are hoping that HBO's Going Clear misses, but the Scientology-exposing documentary was a massive hit for the cable network and in a year where Leah Remini was making waves about the controversial religion, it would make sense that this gets included (and probably will provide Chris Rock with at least one uncomfortable joke during his monologue).  The Hunting Ground, about sexual assaults on college campuses in America is near certain to be nominated, but that's over in Best Original Song-this spot seems less clear, particularly since the field seems more wide open than usual.  Perhaps no film seems more timely in terms of subject matter than 3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets, about the tension between the African-American community and the police, and I wonder if the Academy will want to back this as an important subject, even if the film itself doesn't seem to have much buzz.  Finally, if they simply want a feel-good moment and a clear public relations winner on the red carpet, they could do worse than He Named Me Malala, as who doesn't want to see the Nobel Prize winner at the Oscars?

My Predictions: Amy, Cartel Land, Going Clear, He Named Me Malala, The Look of Silence

Best Foreign Language Film

I've actually seen two of these nominees (but only posted one review-it's been a busy week, still getting over a cold, and actually I'm not apologizing much more as I just saw it last Thursday and you've gotten a lot of posts since then!), so I can weigh in a little bit but this is a category, especially with the nominees, where you should probably discard your personal tastes.  Still, France's Mustang has a lot of major press (and a recent Globe nomination) while Germany's Labyrinth of Lies is in their wheelhouse in terms of a film about the Holocaust.  Still, they might not want two films about that time period and it's difficult to believe that Hungary's Son of Saul won't be the choice if it's down to only one, as the film just won the Globe and is an actual threat to make it into other categories tomorrow morning (it did just pick up a "first time filmmaker" prize at the DGA yesterday, after all, so it's on people's radars).  Belgium has the rather smart play of casting a major international film star (Catherine Deneuve), which should get its The Brand New Testament into people's viewing queues a bit more enthusiastically, while Denmark's A War is about the effects on a soldier in Afghanistan, which again feels like the sort of subject matter the Academy would want to endorse.  Colombia has never been to the contest, and neither have Jordan nor Ireland, so their Embrace of the Serpant, Theeb, and Viva (respectively) are all contenders and I think one of them makes it because Oscar likes at least one first-time nomination in the bunch but none of them scream "nominate me" quite like some of the veteran countries.  Rounding out the films competing is Finland's The Fencer, which did score a surprise citation by the Golden Globes, but the film's subject matter seems very Estonian (sometimes that matters to the committee) and it doesn't have the heat that the other contenders do this year.

My Predictions: The Brand New Testament, Labyrinth of Lies, Mustang, Son of Saul, A War

And there we are folks-my Oscar predictions are complete.  We'll find out tomorrow how well I did, but until then share all of your Oscar hopes and premonitions in the comments section!

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