Here are film critic Reed Canaan’s Oscar predictions for 2016.
Picture – “The Revenant”
“The Revenant” is doing surprisingly well for itself at the box office. Grounded by strong performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, the movie weaves a tale of revenge on America’s frontier. For a large portion of it, DiCaprio navigates the wilderness alone. There is barely any dialogue as he faces the brutal elements of nature. The film’s strength lies in it’s ability to convey important moments using gorgeously-shot, striking images instead of words.
While it did win the Golden Globe, “The Revenant” could certainly lose to “Spotlight,” its cinematic opposite. Fast-paced and dialogue-heavy, “Spotlight” skillfully handles controversial subject matter and religion.
Best Actor – Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”
It’s finally Leo’s year. After countless jokes at his expense, Leonardo DiCaprio finally seems to be closing in on the Oscar that has eluded him since he was first nominated for “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” in ‘93. His gripping performance in “The Revenant” has already earned him a Golden Globe, and it doesn’t seem as though an upset is in the works.
Eddie Redmayne was great in “The Danish Girl,” but his performance didn’t generate the expected level of Oscar buzz. Michael Fassbender’s turn as Steve Jobs might be second place for this category, but DiCaprio’s “Titanic” costar Kate Winslet practically stole the show.
DiCaprio couldn’t have done much more to convince the Academy that he’s earned his Oscar. For his sake, the sixth time better be the charm.
Best Actress – Saoirse Ronan, “Brooklyn”
Despite her acclaimed appearances in “Atonement” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Saorise Ronan is still a relatively new name in Hollywood. She was born in New York but grew up in Ireland, making her perfectly suited to play Eilis, the Irish immigrant at the center of “Brooklyn.” The film is nominated for Best Picture, certainly due in part to her performance. It’s entirely possible, however, that the Academy will choose to recognize Brie Larson, the Golden Globe-winning breakout actress in “Room.” Jennifer Lawrence and Cate Blanchett are familiar names in this category, but hopefully a less familiar face takes the stage this year.
Supporting Actor – Tom Hardy, “The Revenant”
A Tom Hardy triumph would mean two wins for the stars of “The Revenant,” a welcome reward for a brutal shoot. Hardy plays opposite Leonardo DiCaprio as a frontiersman without a moral compass. Two of Hardy’s movies (Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road”) are nominated for Best Picture.
Although there are plenty of reasons for him to take home a trophy on Sunday, he can’t rest quite as easily as his co-star DiCaprio. Christian Bale is being touted for his painfully awkward hedge fund manager in “The Big Short.” Sylvester Stallone took home the Golden Globe for his role in “Creed.” While DiCaprio’s peers in the Best Actor category have most likely accepted their fate, Supporting Actor is still any man’s race.
Supporting Actress – Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl”
This is one of the most competitive categories of the evening. Alicia Vikander delivered a brilliant performance opposite Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl,” as the wife of one of the first individuals to undergo genital reconstruction surgery. Newcomer Vikander certainly left an impression with Oscar voters. That might not be enough to take home the Oscar, though.
Vikander’s fellow nominees include Jennifer Jason Leigh for her role as a notorious criminal in “The Hateful Eight.” Kate Winslet was also celebrated for her performance in “Steve Jobs,” and Rooney Mara and Rachel McAdams certainly can’t be discounted. The Academy will again have to decide between rewarding new talent and recognizing veterans.
Director – Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight”
This is not Tom McCarthy’s first Academy Award nomination. In 2009, he was nominated for his original screenplay “Up.” This year, he is in a position similar to that of Alejandro Iñárritu last year. “Spotlight,” which McCarthy both wrote and directed, is up for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director. This triple threat was enough to win Iñárritu Best Director for his work on “Birdman.” McCarthy therefore seems to have a significant shot at Best Director. However, Iñárritu himself is the competition for his work on “The Revenant.”
Original Screenplay – “Spotlight”
While not as successful at the box office as some of its counterparts, “Spotlight” is a masterfully crafted drama about the Boston Globe investigative team that uncovered a series of sexual abuse cases in the Catholic diocese of Boston. It is paced like a thriller, and each discovery by the team adds another dimension to both their article and the plot. “Spotlight” relies heavily on dialogue, and attempts to tell a true story with a respectable degree of accuracy. This is the kind of movie you think about the whole way home from the theater, and maybe some more the next day. Screenwriters Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy definitely deserve some credit here.
Screenplay (Adapted) – The Big Short
“The Big Short” deserves the Adapted Screenplay award simply for accomplishing the incredible feat of making an Oscar-nominated script out of a book on the economic collapse of 2008. The entire film deals with advanced economic concepts, beyond the comprehension of most moviegoers. One of its greatest strengths is its self-awareness, employing stars like Selena Gomez and Margot Robbie to break the fourth wall and explain these concepts in layman’s terms. A screenplay with the potential to be horribly confusing or completely boring actually manages to make economics engaging and even funny on occasion.
Contact Reed Canaan at rcanaan ‘at’ stanford.edu.