Oscar Punditry & Predictions
The Oscars provide a handy checklist of (mostly) quality films for casual movie watchers and beginning buffs, but they certainly don’t represent a definitive guide to the best in world cinema over the past nine decades.
So why expect the Academy Awards to promote diversity and reflect trends in American demography when they arguably don’t even “improve the artistic quality of the film medium,” to quote from their founding mission statement?
Whether you’re a champion of multiculturalism or of Alfred Hitchcock (who never received a competitive Oscar), if you’re looking for “justice” in the Academy Awards, you’re looking in the wrong place. This year’s trending hashtag was #Oscarssowhite, but a survey of Academy history shows that a more apt designation may be #Oscarssodumb. After all, this is the organization that in 1971 nominated the tabloid “ancient astronauts” speculation “Chariots of the Gods” as Best Documentary Feature.
I’m no Oscars hater. As taxing and annoying as it can be, the Academy Awards ceremony is the only awards show I watch, and I do so voluntarily, every year, from start to finish. It’s a habit I picked up as a youngster, when many of the Best Picture nominees — “Midnight Cowboy,” “A Clockwork Orange” — represented an adult, presumably sophisticated and even naughty world from which I was prohibited.
I’m also no Oscars apologist. This year’s roster of mostly ethnically homogeneous nominees was an embarrassment, but it also wasn’t a surprise, as no black actors or filmmakers really had been expected to be nominated, although a few — Idris Elba for “Beasts of All Nations,” which received almost no theatrical distribution; Michael B. Jordan for “Creed,” a movie that was overlooked by many of the critics groups whose choices are regarded as predictors of Oscar recognition — were touted as underdogs. (This wasn’t the case last year, when lead actor David Oyelowo and director Ava Duvernay were overlooked for “Selma,” even though the movie earned a Best Picture nomination.)
On the other hard (it’s hard not to equivocate when the topics are as complicated as race and art), this same Academy is the one that gave Oscars just two years ago to “12 Years a Slave” and to its black director (Steve Mcqueen) and screenwriter (John Ridley). So maybe blaming the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for a lack of diversity in its honorees is like blaming the person handing out diplomas for the lack of diversity among the graduating students. Obviously, the real problem begins during the admissions process.
If the Oscars are so white, it’s because the studios, production companies, film schools and other agencies that nurture, encourage and — most important — fund talent are insufficiently diverse themselves and inadequately supportive of artists who are not white or male. If it’s impossible to say on a case-by-case basis that a certain minority or woman director should have been assigned to a certain prestige (i.e., Oscar bait) project, it’s also clear that, in the aggregate, something is amiss.
Even so, the handwringing from the peanut gallery is rather disingenuous, because moviegoers also deserve the blame. Take the example of the fine “Belle,” starring Gugu Mbatha-raw, a fact-based 2013 film about a slave’s daughter raised in aristocratic English society. This is the type of socially significant costume drama that generally earns Oscar attention, but mainstream audiences — black and white — were indifferent. With its appeal limited to the so-called art house, “Belle” earned a total of $16 million worldwide (about a third of the box-office take of current costume-drama Best Picture nominee “The Danish Girl”), and so was easily forgotten.
Controversy or no, the show must go on, and so the 88th annual Academy Awards ceremony is set to take place Sunday at the Count on Alejandro Gonzalez inarritu to snag the Best Director award for “the revenant,” Beifuss predicts. Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, with Chris Rock — a fortuitous and prescient choice, giving the kerfuffle that followed the nominations — as host. Broadcast on ABC, the awards show begins at 7:30 p.m.
Although the newspaper is not hosting a contest this year, readers keep asking me for my predictions, so here they are, in 11 Oscar categories:
Foreign Language Film: The Hungarianmade Holocaust drama “Son of Saul” (now at the Malco Ridgeway Cinema Grill) will beat “Embrace of the Serpent,” “Mustang,” “Theeb” and “A War” (none of which has screened in Memphis).
Documentary Feature: After giving Oscars to “Searching for Sugar Man” and “20 Feet from Stardom,” the Academy may be tired of music films, but I’m betting the very popular (and very harrowing) Amy Winehouse “biodoc” “Amy” bests “Cartel Land,” “The Look of Silence,” “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and “Winter on Fire.”
Animated Feature: Pixar’s wrenching “Inside Out” will triumph over the stop-motion existentialism of “Anomalisa,” the cartoon tropicalia of Brazil’s “Boy & the World,” the wry slapstick of “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” and Studio Ghibli’s “When Marnie Was There.”
Adapted Screenplay: Not a dud in this bunch, as scripters for “The Big Short,” “Brooklyn,” “Carol,” “The Martian” and “The Room” were nominated. The winners: Adam Mckay and Charles Randolph for “The Big Short,” from the book by Michael Lewis.
Original Screenplay: Again, no slackers. The writers of “Bridge of Spies,” “Ex Machina,” “Inside Out” and “Straight Outta Compton” are competing, but the winners will be Josh Singer and Tom Mccarthy for “Spotlight.”
Supporting Actor: For his role in “Creed,” sentimental favorite and genuinely wonderful Sylvester Stallone will K.O. Christian Bale (“The Big Short”), Tom Hardy (“The Revenant”), Mark Ruffalo (“Spotlight”) and Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies”).
Supporting Actress: Also superb in “Ex Machina,” Alicia Vikander will win for “The Danish Girl.” The other nominees are Jennifer Jason Leigh (“The Hateful Eight”), Rooney Mara (“Carol”), Rachel Mcadams (“Spotlight”) and Kate Winslet (“Steve Jobs”).
Actor: Five-time bridesmaid Leonardo Dicaprio finally will ascend to the altar (or Oscar stage) for his work in “The Revenant.” Also nominated: Bryan Cranston (“Trumbo”), Matt Damon (“The Martian”), Michael Fassbender (“Steve Jobs”), Eddie Redmayne (“The Danish Girl”).
Actress: Make “Room” for Brie Larson, who will beat Cate Blanchett (“Carol”), Jennifer Lawrence (“Joy”), Charlotte Rampling (“45 Years”) and Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn”).
Director: Joining former back-to-back Oscar-winning directors John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, “Birdman” auteur Alejandro G. Iñárritu will make it two in a row with “The Revenant.”
Picture: This is a tough category. Most Oscar pundits are betting on “The Big Short,” but that movie is so straightforward and uncinematic I’m going to predict another backto-back win for an Iñárritu film, “The Revenant.” Also nominated: “The Big Short, “Bridge of Spies,” “Brooklyn,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Martian” and “Room.”