The end of the cinematic year is finally upon us and, after some extensive research and binge watching, I can confidently fill out my imaginary Oscar ballot. Alongside my personal choices and favorites, I’ll include more realistic predictions detailing what I’d suggest you go pick in your Oscar pools if you’re actually looking to win some money. You’ll often find the “who will win vs. who should win” Oscar previews online, but I won’t pretend to be an authority on who should and should not win anything. I do, however, have my favorites. My opening monologue won’t be as funny as Chris Rock’s, so let’s get to the awards.
Best Supporting Actress: And the Oscar goes to...
My prediction: Alicia Vikander
My vote: Jennifer Jason Leigh
There is a poetic justice in winning an Oscar for one’s cumulative year. Matthew McConaughey’s impressive 2013 campaign, for example, earned him a win for Dallas Buyers Club. While the role had plenty of reason to win on its own, the voting population always recognizes a great year. Vikander sneaks into the supporting category as The Danish Girl’s lead in practice, giving her a considerable advantage over the other nominees. While the movie isn’t the easiest watch, Vikander is magnetic as we watch her cope with the many changes in her life. My personal vote, despite what would be a well-earned victory for the up and comer, goes to The Hateful Eight’s Jennifer Jason Leigh. She’s a true supporting character, not a co-lead, and manages to stand out high above a domineering male cast filled with memorable in-your-face characters. Daisy brings the film’s ensemble together, both as a character and a plot device. And she brings a more unconventional female role to the table that would make for a refreshing winner. Due to the relatively underwhelming buzz surrounding the film, this performance likely snuck away from most voters. Kate Winslet is probably a safer pick if you’re looking for an upset.
Supporting Actor: And the Oscar goes to...
My prediction: Sylvester Stallone
My vote: Sylvester Stallone
Rocky Balboa took on a greater depth this time around, and I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t like to see Sly receive this honor. But if we’re being honest, my pick is primarily driven by a relatively underwhelming category. Best Supporting Actor usually carries at least one home run, due to the incredible creativity that these roles allow. There’s usually a Heath Ledger to just hand the Oscar to, and candidates like J.K. Simmons last year just jump off the screen. This year, I find myself a little let down by our options. A nomination for Idris Elba’s villainous Commandant would’ve shaken things up a bit. But Stallone was definitely great, has lovingly accepted his previous honors this season, and made a significantly greater impact on his film than the other nominees. Creed was the revival that franchise deserved, and would’ve been a mediocre sports movie without the Italian Stallion.
Best Animated Feature: And the Oscar goes to...
My prediction: Inside Out
My vote: Inside Out
When Disney/Pixar gets it right, there’s not a studio on Earth that can compete with them in this category. Inside Out gives kids an understanding of their feelings using actual characters, and gives adults another in a long line of legendary Pixar films. Inside Out is an important movie, one that brings all the laughs and feelings you’d expect from the film’s creators. There would’ve been a strong case to be made for a best picture nomination, if the Academy voters had lightened up a bit and cast a few more first place votes in this direction.
Best Original Screenplay: And the Oscar goes to...
My prediction: Spotlight
My vote: Spotlight
Screenplays are about as obscure as I’ll go in terms of the secondary Oscar categories, but I do believe the screenplay is the heart and soul of most Oscary films. The writing is absolutely the star of Spotlight. The original screenplay takes what would’ve otherwise been a halfway interesting pseudo-documentary and turns it into one of this year’s best movies.
Best Adapted Screenplay: And the Oscar goes to...
My prediction: The Big Short
My vote: The Big Short
That pseudo-documentary turned elite film line could just as easily apply to The Big Short. Imagine Spotlight’s accomplishments with an added sense of humor, due to a subject matter that allows it. The Big Short’s writing made the film understandable and enjoyable, two large hurdles for a movie with more random facts than a Jeopardy marathon.
Best Director: And the Oscar goes to...
My prediction: Alejandro Iñárritu
My vote: George Miller
I’ve learned not to bet against Alejandro. Apparently splicing together the miracle of life and growing up into three hours can’t beat him, so I’m not going to assume Mad Max can. Iñárritu proved Birdman wasn’t a fluke by delivering another fascinatingly unique project, one I described as maybe the most visceral film I’ve ever experienced. My vote isn’t against him, but it is in favor of a comparable masterpiece. Mad Max is only nominated for best picture because of its directing and cinematography, categories that The Revenant will likely win. They have no DiCaprio, no stereotypical “Oscar bait” presentation, and Tom Hardy speaks even less. Mad Max was so universally loved because of George Miller, a director who certainly deserves the recognition. A lot of factors came together to make The Revenant great, but George Miller’s vision almost single handedly created Fury Road.
Best Actor: And the Oscar goes to...
My prediction: Leonardo DiCaprio
My vote: Leonardo DiCaprio
Michael Fassbender gives Leo a surprising run for his money for anyone who actually saw Steve Jobs. It’s a beautifully written character study. But there is nothing strong enough this season to slow the freight train of momentum that has built up in Leo’s favor. Popular demand has always been on his side, but this time even his movie continues to pick up steam. All things Revenant are a good pick to win and, in many ways, DiCaprio was all things Revenant. We’ve seen a variety of personas from Leo by now, from teenage heartthrob to tortured soul to billionaire playboy to maniacal slave owner. But the one thing his roles always had in common is a heavy reliance on verbal expression. He’s almost always a talker, one with the same intense facial expression and piercing gaze. This time around, he was almost entirely stripped of speech, something actors must take for granted. Then, using only his face and body, he proceeds to deliver an award winning performance. I think anyone starring in both The Revenant and The Wolf of Wall Street is owed an Oscar for at least one of them, considering those two polar opposite performances are two of the most commanding leads in recent cinema.
Best Actress: And the Oscar goes to...
My prediction: Brie Larson
My vote: Brie Larson
This isn’t the most unpredictable year as far as leads go, and that’s a credit to the two who will likely be winning. Room does not work without Larson. Her performance shows us not only the strength required to survive her situation, but also the damage done by it. In most parallel universes, this movie is either depressing or extremely boring. But one, more like two performances make it not only watchable, but one of the best movies up for anything this year. While this is an assumption, and I’m certain he’s a great young actor, I can confidently say that Jacob Tremblay’s excellent performance was largely driven by Larson’s influence. I like to think that in another near century of movies from now, there will be one best actor and one best supporting actor awarded in gender-neutral categories. This isn’t basketball; the fight is inherently fair. We would just need more well-distributed writing between male and female characters. With this wish in mind, I annually make a mental note of who I would’ve picked in this combined category. With respect to my soul mate fighting a bear, I would confidently vote for Brie Larson as 2015’s Best Actor.
Best Picture: And the Oscar goes to...
My prediction: The Revenant
My vote: The Martian
Much like Alejandro’s Birdman, The Revenant is building momentum at the right time. It’s a cinematic masterpiece with a likely winner in the leading role and an elite director at the helm. It’s serious and sad in all the ways The Academy loves. This movie has Oscar written all over it. There isn’t much to complain about if they win, even if it’s not the most exciting outcome. For the sake of your Oscar pools, ignore my pick. If anyone is beating the Revenant, it’ll be Spotlight. If you’re crazy and are trying to win your pool with one pick, choose The Big Short. The Martian is just my personal choice for Best Picture. Not fully belonging in either Comedy or Drama is a good thing. It means you’ve managed to deliver on every level of entertainment. The acting is great across the board. The script is well written for both humor and emotion. The cinematography and sense of direction is beautiful. The Martian only suffers from not necessarily being the best at any of those things. But it was the only one to accomplish each one. I wont overcomplicate the logic, because being the most versatile movie shouldn’t guarantee you anything. The Martian was simply my favorite movie of the Best Picture nominees. I measure my film preferences based on a healthy combination of filmmaking and entertainment value. Hotel Rwanda was well made, but I don’t want to go watch it tonight. Thor was fun and I’d love to watch it, but I understand it’s not the best movie. The Martian is what happens when you max out the two things I look for in a Best Picture nominee, and I’m happy to cast a meaningless vote in its direction.
In the spirit of the Oscars’ annual rush to end on time, I’ll end this abruptly.