james debate
james debate

Sunday 28 February 2016

Today we take a quick break from our Hot List of 2016 series to bring you a last minute preview regarding the Academy Awards ceremony this weekend.

oscars 86th academy awards 2014

This Sunday, Hollywood's famous Dolby Theatre will once again play host to the biggest day on the cinema calendar, the Oscars. People all over the world will tune in for that most tragically popular of pastimes, celebrity watching, followed by four hours of the film industry's traditionally self-congratulatory exercise in PR.

The host for this year will be the somewhat unexpected Chris Rock. Rock's acerbic humour will no doubt liven things up for what is ordinarily a pretty humdrum and forced attempt at entertainment, though one expects he'll have to tone things down about 90% in order to appease the show producers, which is too bad.

Long-time readers will remember the Ephemeric's impressive track record at calling these awards, so it is no small statement when we say that this year looks to be one of the most unpredictable in memory. For the first time in years there are several races that are too difficult to call. For the first time in over a decade, the three most predictive pre-Oscar awards have each gone to different movies, suggesting a close contest ahead.

Nevertheless here we have for you, our loyal readers, our predictions for the big night. You may not have seen the big films this year, or be familiar with the latest hype tearing through tinseltown; if so consider the following a crib sheet for what lies ahead this weekend, and perhaps even a sneak peek at who might just be walking away with the big prize.

Best Picture


  • The Big Short
  • Bridge of Spies
  • Brooklyn
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Room
  • Spotlight

And the winner: The Revenant (but too close to call really)
This is one of the most difficult races we've ever called in the Academy Awards. The big three predictors for victory in this prize are the Producers' Guild Award (won by The Big Short), Directors' Guild Award (The Revenant), and Screen Actors' Guild Award for best ensemble (Spotlight), with preference given to the first two. So really it could (and will) be any of those three films. The PGA is probably the single biggest predictor, the DGA more closely predicts Best Director, but it just so happens that Best Director and Best Picture often go to the same film. Our head tells us that the winner of the PGA usually wins this, but taking into account the hype that has built for The Revenant in recent weeks, and the facts that it has more nominations than any other film, and Best Director often wins Best Picture, our gut is leaning towards The Revenant.

Who should really win: The Big Short
The Revenant has a lot of hype going for it, and indeed it was one of our top picks for the most essential movies of 2015 on last year's Hot List, but honestly it left us a little disappointed. Undeniably beautiful to look at, yet nowhere near as deep or complex as it seems to think it is, and with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 82% it would rank among the lowest films ever to win Best Picture. Instead it was The Big Short that blew us away, and surprised us the most. A contender for last year's Hot List, we found it hard to believe that the director of Anchorman and similar tacky comedies would produce something of real artistic merit, but we were wrong. There have been several great films about the financial crisis of 2008, but this is the best, and crucially the most accessible, breaking down complex and fairly boring technical concepts in ways that are easy to understand, and shockingly entertaining.

Best Director

  • Adam McKay – The Big Short
  • George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant
  • Lenny Abrahamson – Room
  • Tom McCarthy – Spotlight

And the winner: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - The Revenant
However we are much more confident about predicting this one. Winning the Director's Guild award makes Inarritu a virtual lock for the best director's gong. This would make Inarritu the first director ever to win back to back Oscars for Best Director.

Who should really win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - The Revenant
Yeah we'll go with this one. Boy's got talent what can we say.

Best Actor

  • Bryan Cranston – Trumbo
  • Matt Damon – The Martian 
  • Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant 
  • Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs 
  • Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl 

And the winner: Leonardo DiCaprio - The Revenant
Leonardo DiCaprio has won just about every award this year. There is no doubt whatsoever that he will win this Oscar, whether he deserves to is another matter. Grunting, screaming and crying for 2 hours does not make a performance deep or complex. Somewhere along the way this mindset developed that the best acting is the most physically demanding acting; who can lose the most weight, who can torture their body the most for the sake of the film. Overwrought melodrama has become more prized than nuanced, intellectual acting. DiCaprio's performance isn't bad, but there rarely seems to be more to it than "hey look how really really hard it was to make this movie", and at no point do you get the feeling that you are looking at anything other than Leonardo DiCaprio at his most award-desperate. Instead one gets the impression that this is being given to Leo simply because it's "his turn" as recognition for all the other roles for which he has been nominated and not won, which is a great reminder of how utterly vain and pointless these awards really are.

Who should really win: Michael Fassbender - Steve Jobs
Cranston's Trumbo would be a good shout, and a considerably more impressive and subtle performance than DiCaprio's, but in our view the clear best performance of the year has been Fassbender's Steve Jobs. A lot of eyebrows were raised at Fassbender's casting following the protracted and well publicized difficulties in finding a lead actor, especially since Fassbender doesn't really look like Jobs at all. Somehow Fassbender managed to defy all the critics and give so full an embodiment of the late Apple CEO that by the end of the film Fassbender looks more like Jobs than Jobs himself. A beguiling performance and one that truly would be worthy of the Oscar.

Best Actress

  • Cate Blanchett – Carol 
  • Brie Larson – Room 
  • Jennifer Lawrence – Joy 
  • Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years 
  • Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn

And the winner: Brie Larson - Room
Another one which is easy to predict, Larson has all the buzz, and all the awards. Saorise Ronan is the only other person who has won anything major, but nowhere near enough to suggest an upset. Larson will win this one.

Who should really win: Brie Larson - Room
Yeah ok, we'll go along with this one.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Christian Bale – The Big Short 
  • Tom Hardy – The Revenant
  • Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight 
  • Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies 
  • Sylvester Stallone – Creed 

And the winnerSylvester Stallone - Creed
I don't think anyone would have predicted Stallone to win an Oscar a year ago, but here we are. The hype and awards given thus far have been clear, the industry is set to recognise Stallone's long career in Hollywood with a little bit of old fashioned cronyism.

Who should really win: Mark Rylance - Bridge of Spies
Rylance was the early favourite for the prize; an accomplished stage and film actor giving one of the most memorable performances in any category, and he deserves it as well. However when Hollywood decides on something the signs are clear, and so far Rylance's only major award has been the BAFTA, which typically favours British actors, so his chances are slim in spite of whether he deserves it.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
  • Rooney Mara – Carol
  • Rachel McAdams – Spotlight 
  • Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl 
  • Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs 

And the winnerAlicia Vikander - The Danish Girl
A bit of a strange one this, given that this isn't even Vikander's best performance of the year (that honour belongs to Ex Machina), but this contest narrowly looks to be heading her way. The closest runner up is going to be Kate Winslet, close enough that she could realistically win this, though a great deal of that comes from her recent victory at the BAFTAs. Like we said, BAFTA tends to bias towards the Brits, so we still narrowly consider Vikander the favourite.

Who should really win: Kate Winslet - Steve Jobs
Vikander's performance is perfectly fine, but fairly unremarkable. We're going with the BAFTAs on this one, Winslet's portrayal of Apple stalwart Joanna Hoffman was one of the brightest parts of the Steve Jobs film, and one of the strongest performances of the year.

Best Original Screenplay

  • Bridge of Spies – Coen Brothers
  • Ex Machina – Alex Garland
  • Inside Out – Pete Docter
  • Spotlight – Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer
  • Straight Outta Compton – Jonathan Herman

And the winnerSpotlight - Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer
The obvious choice, especially given its win at the Screen Writers' Guild Awards, and a fine choice by our reckoning. Spotlight was an excellent film worthy of all its plaudits, and the script does a remarkable job of turning relatively dry and bookish material into something quite riveting.

Who should really win: Ex Machina - Alex Garland
Spotlight is a fine film and top quality screenplay, but Ex Machina is one of the best we've seen in years, sublime in its simplicity, fierce in its intellect, and at times even weirdly humorous. A great concept, executed to near perfection.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • The Big Short – Adam McKay 
  • Brooklyn – Nick Hornby 
  • Carol – Phyllis Nagy 
  • The Martian – Drew Goddard 
  • Room – Emma Donoghue 

And the winner: The Big Short - Adam McKay
Another SWGA winner this year, and dead cert to win the Oscar, especially given the huge buzz the film has received across other major categories. For someone to present what is really quite a technical, opaque subject in such a humorous and engaging fashion takes some real skill. As above, a fairly safe bet in our view.

Who should really win: The Big Short - Adam McKay
Fully deserved in our view, we agree.

So there you have it, The Ephemeric's picks for the year. Enjoy the Oscars this weekend, and when the results go exactly as we have predicted, remember that you heard it here first!

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