Oscars 2016: Picking the Biggest Winners

(The Academy)

(The Academy)

The 88th Academy Awards are finally here, and it's chock full of close races which prompt burning questions. Can Alejandro González Iñárritu make Oscars history by winning Best Picture and Best Directing for the second consecutive year? Will Mad Max: Fury Road blow away the competition in the leading and technical categories in the same way it blew away the public? Is this finally Leo's year? Things are sure to get interesting.

Here are my picks for the winners of the most anticipated Oscars: Writing (Original Screenplay), Writing (Adapted Screenplay), Actor in a Supporting Role, Actress in a Supporting Role, Actress in a Leading Role, Actor in a Leading Role, Directing, and, finally, Best Picture.

Best Writing (Original Screenplay)

It’s not surprising to see Disney-Pixar’s animated masterpiece Inside Out in contention for the Original Screenplay Oscar, as it's a wholly original, refreshing, and memorable tale that could move even the coldest soul. In a similar fashion, Straight Outta Compton deserves the recognition as well, providing a well-written ensemble-focused story that also draws haunting and urgent parallels to today’s world in poetic fashion. And Bridge of Spies, with sharp narrative direction and hints of that trademark Coen brothers panache, is another strong contender.

But nothing here seems to have quite enough to match the perfect storytelling seen in Spotlight, where writers Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy had to juggle several key players - each with their own robust subplots - into a narrative where focus is never lost, even as its subject matter encourages people to cover their ears in disgust. While the contenders here are each great individually, Spotlight is in a league of its own. 

WINNER: Spotlight

(Open Road Films)

(Open Road Films)

Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

This is where The Martian has potential to snatch a much-desired Oscar victory; there’s no denying the pure, clever entertainment provided by writer Drew Goddard as taken from Andy Weir's highly popular novel. In the same sense, Room’s screenplay preserves the nature and emotion of Emma Donoghue's novel, mostly thanks to Donaghue taking the screenplay reins herself. In the rung just below them sit Brooklyn and Carol, two novel-adapted films that do well within their respective target audiences, yet for those outside of them, much is left to be desired, and that fact could certainly harm them come Oscar time.

The Big Short, from the namesake book by Michael Lewis, features writers Charles Randolph and Adam McKay doing the most impressive job of taking a dense and even sort of academic text and polishing it to a sheen for a broader audience without dumbing down the material. Not only that, but similarly to Spotlight, The Big Short juggles the subplots of each ensemble cast member into a unifying narrative that’s written not only to inform and to criticize, but also to entertain. Between The Martian and The Big Short, the latter is the snappiest of the two, and that could be just enough to put it over the top.

WINNER: The Big Short

(Plan B Entertainment)

(Plan B Entertainment)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Each of these supporting actors have been critical to the success and enjoyment of their respective movies. Sylvester Stallone, who reprises Rocky in Creed, plays the tender and weathered side of his character to bring him into a new chapter of his life. Christian Bale is the high-energy, eccentric compass of The Big Short, and Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies holds his own with legendary co-star Tom Hanks. The same can be said of Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight, who also proves to be the most entertaining and memorable player while sharing screen time with Michael Keaton. By default, things kind of push Tom Hardy to the back of voters' minds despite playing the hateable Fitzgerald opposite of hero Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Revenant.

In the midst of this talented crop, however, what Stallone has done is peel back the tough exterior of one of film's most famous characters to reveal his complex and flawed inner self in almost tear-jerking fashion.  Along with his widespread popular vote, his standing ovation-inciting Golden Globe win, and the fact that the Academy only has one chance to honor Creed, the conditions seem right to give Sly his due recognition.

WINNER: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

(MGM / Warner Bros.)

(MGM / Warner Bros.)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

With her huge Golden Globe win, one would think Kate Winslet to be the front runner for her transformative performance in Steve Jobs, yet she finds a formidable opponent in Alicia Vikander for her turn in The Danish Girl, which has picked up just about everything else. Described as a "sensitive and touching performance" it's just the kind of turn that leaves an imprint on the mind. Because of these two immensely strong leaders in the category, Rachel McAdams (Spotlight) and Rooney Mara (Carol) take a back seat - even if their performances are highlights of their respective movies.

This puts Jennifer Jason Leigh in an interesting position; her turn as the crazed outlaw Daisy Domergue in The Hateful Eight is undoubtedly entertaining, and she's an absolute blast to watch, commanding attention without saying a word. Yet she doesn't quite possess the awards season momentum to make a serious push for the Oscar; Vikander has it almost all to herself, and while Winslet could snatch it up, Vegas would put money on Vikander.

WINNER: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

(Working Title FIlms)

(Working Title FIlms)

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Two years removed from an Oscar win for Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett has turned in another great show in Carol, but by virtue of the strength of her colleagues, stands in the background to watch the Brie Larson and Saoirse Ronan show. It's Larson who is pegged to convincingly take the Best Actress Oscar for her tearjerking performance as a providing and surviving mother in Room. Ronan could steal Larson's thunder, however, for a meek, sensitive, and romantic performance in Brooklyn. There's doesn't appear to be space left, then, for Charlotte Rampling (45 Years) or Jennifer Lawrence (Joy) when Larson and Ronan have dominated the conversation. The edge here, then, goes to the performer who wrangled hearts and touched lives , bringing life to a highly respected novel.

WINNER: Brie Larson, Room

(A24)

(A24)

Best Actor in a Leading Role

There's one very clear frontrunner, and it's Leonardo DiCaprio, an immense and beloved talent who has yet to be awarded the Oscar gold. Ever since The Revenant's premiere, critics and fans have pegged it as finally being the one to cement DiCaprio's legacy in the Academy.

Granted, no year was ever a shoo-in for him, and this one is no different. He's met with stiff competition, particularly from Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs, who may not look exactly like the tech giant, but has made a science out of emulating him. There's even rumblings of an upset alert by Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), who has dominated the TV awards circuit and shows much promise to do the same for film. Last year's winner, Eddie Redmayne, is another strong contender, with a sensitive and gender-bending turn in The Danish GirlMatt Damon, who is key in making The Martian so much fun to watch, doesn't seem to have the it factor when it comes to winning the Oscar. If Leo can stave off Craston and Fassbender, then this just might be it.

WINNER: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

(20th Century Fox)

(20th Century Fox)

Best Directing

It's incredibly easy to waver between Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant) and George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road) for this Oscar. Inarritu possesses some edge for winning last year in Birdman, and Miller has snatched up many of the biggest directing awards thus far. This is about as evenly matched as things get. Perhaps this causes some vote-splitting to allow either Adam McKay (The Big Short) or Tom McCarthy (Spotlight ) to sneak in, and unfortunately, Lenny Abrahamson (Room) doesn't appear to be on anyone's radar. Otherwise, the only thing you can do in a race this close is go with your gut. And with that being said...

WINNER: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

(Warner Bros.)

(Warner Bros.)

Best Picture

It doesn't get harder than this. With Leo's incredible turn, Inarritu's mezmerizing filmmaking, and the clear popular vote, The Revenant seems poised to win Best Picture, even if story issues leave much to be desired (as outlined in my review). On the other hand, Spotlight has picked up just as many awards in the circuit thanks to the heft of its incredible ensemble cast, sharp directing, and moving story. At the same time, nobody should be surprised if The Big Short, a unique, memorable, and expertly told story, seals the win. Nobody can deny that Mad Max: Fury Road, passionately directed by George Miller and even having the chance of sweeping the technical categories, has just as much of a claim to Best Picture, and would prove to be one of the most unique movies to win the Oscar in quite a while. The strong contention here puts nominees Room, Bridge of Spies, and Brooklyn into the background, and The Martian, while definitely a great movie, lacks the umph to push it into serious contention.

All of the favorites have their respective merits, and it becomes incredibly difficult - whether thinking with your heart or your brain - to pick just one winner. At least for me, the chilling power of Spotlight is undeniable. Fury Road was the greatest and most visually spectacular thrill ride I've seen in a long time, but it was Spotlight that cut to my very core - and did so in quintessential cinematic fashion.

WINNER: Spotlight

(Open Road Films)

(Open Road Films)

© 2015 Rex J. Lindeman.   All rights reserved.   |   (760) 274-5948   |   rexlindeman@gmail.com

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