THE WHITE ALBUM
Chris Rock hosts this year’s Academy Awards show, and his may be one of the few black faces you’ll see if you watch the telecast. For the second year running, no persons of color are among the nominees in any of the major categories; the only intruder on this year’s arctic white- out is pop singer The Weeknd, nominated for Best Song for “Earned It,” from Fifty Shades of Grey, and read into that whatever irony you like. High-profile African-Americans like Spike Lee and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith are sitting this one out, and the bad publicity has forced the Academy into a scramble to shake up the membership and try to ensure that this kind of oversight never happens again. Should race be a factor in determining awards nominees and winners? More to the point, is the whole system at fault for its obvious tilt in opportunity toward white males? I will go ahead and answer no to the first question, and yes to the second. But Hollywood is driven by the bottom line, and that’s where you’ll find the impetus to change. For a positive example, the recent Grammy Awards telecast gave us an audience and a slate of nominees that looked like gender and race had been tossed into a shredder and scattered like confetti through the cavernous Staples Center.
Chris Rock will have his work cut out for him. Meanwhile, the few will win and the many will lose. There are prohibitive favorites, and lurking upsets. Here’s how it looks going in.
Some years, this category is clear as a bell. This year, it’s clear as mud. The Academy nominated eight films, two below its quota (leaving plenty of room for Straight Outta Compton and Chi-Raq), and five of them are well out of the running ( Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, Room). Still breathing is The Big Short, but just barely. Spotlight was the early favorite, but The Revenant has been coming on strong, and as it’s about a man who drags himself hundreds of miles after being mauled by a bear in the wilderness, you have to take it seriously.
PREDICTION: The Revenant
Lenny Abrahamson ( Room) is barely in the room. The other four nominees have a shot, but the 800-pound gorilla is Alejandro González Iñárritu, looking to make back-to-back wins in the category ( he won for Birdman last year). On pure logistics and degree of difficulty, he probably deserves it. By that measure, though, George Miller ( Mad Max: Fury Road) could also have a say. Adam McKay ( The Big Short) defied expectations and turned the economic crash into informative entertainment. If you’re looking for nuance, Tom McCarthy’s riveting Spotlight is the clear winner. But who cares about nuance?
CHOICE: Tom McCarthy
PREDICTION: Alejandro González Iñárritu
This is Leonardo DiCaprio’s fourth time on the island (plus once for Supporting), this time for The Revenant, and he’s been booted off the previous three. Eddie Redmayne ( The Danish Girl) has a win; Matt Damon ( The Martian) has a writing Oscar. Michael ( Steve Jobs) Fassbender’s still a bridesmaid, with one unrequited Supporting nod. Bryan Cranston ( Trumbo) is the newbie, but even he has a slew of Emmys and a Tony. None but Leo need work up a speech.
CHOICE: Matt Damon
PREDICTION: Leonardo DiCaprio
Here too the die feels pretty well cast, with Brie Larson overshadowing the others in the room for her breakout performance as a kidnapped young mother in Room. If there’s an upset brewing, it will come from Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn. Jennifer Lawrence ( Joy) and Charlotte Rampling ( 45 Years) are just along for the ride, and even the great Cate Blanchett ( Carol) must know it’s not her year.
CHOICE: Brie Larson
PREDICTION: Brie Larson
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Creed is the seventh Rocky movie, and it has injected surprising vigor into what seemed a punched- out franchise. Creed’s African-American director, Ryan Coogler, and star Michael B. Jordan got lost in the Oscar white-out, but Sylvester Stallone, the godfather of the series, is the leading contender in this always-interesting category. To these eyes, Mark Rylance ( Bridge of Spies) wins on merit, and the rest of the pack, consisting of Christian Bale ( The Big Short), Tom Hardy ( The Revenant), and Mark Ruffalo ( Spotlight), contains no stiffs. Nobody’s quite ready to throw in the towel on this fight, but it’s moving in Rocky Balboa’s direction. CHOICE: Mark Rylance
PREDICTION: Sylvester Stallone
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
This one is too close to call. Jennifer Jason Leigh was remarkable in The Hateful Eight, but outrage over a smashed guitar (a priceless 1870 instrument on loan from the Martin company was destroyed in a scene) may have sunk any faint hope for Tarantino’s crew. Kate Winslet ( Steve Jobs) and Rachel McAdams ( Spotlight) won’t make it. Rooney Mara was brilliant in the lesbian drama Carol, but this was the year of Alicia Vikander ( The Danish Girl), who could have filled a multiplex with her starring roles and is likely to fill the podium when the envelope is opened.
CHOICE: Alicia Vikander
PREDICTION: Alicia Vikander
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
CHOICE: Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
PREDICTION: Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
A small ray of hope penetrates Room, and a candle flickers for Brooklyn, but the big light shines on The Big Short.
CHOICE: Charles Randolph, Adam McKay, The Big Short
PREDICTION: Charles Randolph, Adam McKay, The Big Short
Best Foreign Language Film looks like a foregone conclusion for the Hungarian holocaust drama Son of Saul. Amy, exploring the sad fate of singer Amy Winehouse, seems poised to win Documentary Feature. A couple of entries from documentaries crop up in the Best Song category, and “Til It Happens to You” ( The Hunting Ground) is favored, but guilt-ridden Academy members could push “Earned It” into the winner’s circle for a show of racial diversity. Veteran Ennio Morricone may break the curse of the Martin guitar and win Best Score for The Hateful Eight. Best Animated Feature belongs to Inside Out.
African-Americans. Straight Outta Compton straight outta competition? No way! And his movie may have been uneven, but Spike Lee’s stunning originality of vision in Chi-Raq deserved a place at the table. Finally, Idris Elba’s acting exclusion for Beasts of No Nation showed up Oscar as a Beast With No Notion.
Top left, Spotlight; right, Leonardo DiCaprio and Alejandro González Iñárritu filming The Revenant; below, host Chris Rock
Below left, Matt Damon, The Martian; right, Brie Larson, Room; bottom left, Sylvester Stallone,
Creed; right, Amy Winehouse, Amy