By Jim Keller
As I’ve said many times, one can liken the Oscar race to a horserace where each studio bets on its thoroughbreds and hopes that they can place at the end. The studio is the owner, public relations is the jockey, and the horse is the actor or film in the analogy. Here we thrust those roles I’ve discussed, in the three-part Ones to Watch edition, under a microscope to separate the nominees from the contenders and to identify the power players for each studio. I’ve also included my rankings as they stood on Oscar nominations eve. I chose nine nominees for Best Picture. I had planned to choose only eight, but The Big Short was an unexpected player announced by its studio, Paramount Pictures, in November. All other categories reflect five nominees. The picks that appear in black text within the table were my nominee picks, those in red represent actual nominees that I had not picked.
In the July/August issue, I delved into my favorite race, Best Actress. Here are the roles I discussed and where the ladies ended up half a year later:
THE QUEEN BEE: Meryl Streep – Ricki and the Flash (director: Jonathan Demme, studio: TriStar Pictures ):
FYC: When the film premiered in August, it became clear that Streep’s role was not the kind Oscar campaigns are built on. A muted critic response also kept that door closed.
THE ACTIVIST: Carey Mulligan – Suffragette (director: Sarah Gavron, studio: Focus Features):
FYC: The drama became the first casualty of the season when co-star Streep was labeled a racist (by the internet collective) for wearing a t-shirt bearing the phrase “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” to promote the movie. Never mind that the phrase is a real quote by Emmeline Pankhurst, a leader of the British feminist movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, whom Streep portrays in the film. Despite a British Independent Film Awards nomination, it was this incident that curbed early frontrunner Mulligan’s campaign along with any screenwriting, directing or Best Picture hopes—all of which, the film is worthy of being recognized for.
THE DARK LADY: Marion Cotillard – Macbeth (director: Justin Kurzel, studio: The Weinstein Company):
FYC: Truth be told, I’m not sure what happened to neither this film nor its once promising awards season chances, but suffice it to say the Weinstein Co. put all its weight behind Carol and The Hateful Eight. Macbeth started off strong, having wowed audiences at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it competed for the Palme d’Or, and ended with a slew of British Independent Film Awards nominations, including one for Cotillard.
THE PERENNIAL: Jennifer Lawrence – Joy (director: David O. Russell, studio: 20th Century Fox):
FYC: This awards season was such a wild ride that even J-Law was in jeopardy after the film, saddled with the highest of expectations, failed to deliver. Still, she managed to stay on-board the bucking bronco with Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) and Golden Globe nominations as it zigged and zagged to the finish line—even as its other awards chances faded to grey. A win is not likely for Lawrence.
THE MULTI-TASKER: Kate Winslet – The Dressmaker (director: Jocelyn Moorhouse, studio: Universal Pictures):
FYC: The film adaptation of the best-selling novel of the same name came and went quietly. While it snagged Winslet a win from the Australian Film Institute, it did not register with other awards bodies. No matter, Winslet cropped up in the supporting race thanks to her role in Steve Jobs. More on that below.
THE IMMIGRANT: Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn (director: John Crowley, studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures):
FYC: After the film adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s novel bowed at the Sundance Film Festival last year, Ronan was considered the de facto frontrunner by some for her wonderful turn as 1950s Irish immigrant Eilis. Like current frontrunner Brie Larson (Room, A24 Films), she secured nominations from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and a slew of critics’ groups. She is a threat for the win and while Larson won the National Board of Review (NBR), the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama, the BFCA and the SAG, Ronan won The New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC) Best Actress award and was runner-up for the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA) Best Actress award. This award was taken by fellow Best Actress nominee Charlotte Rampling for 45 Years, (Artificial Eye). While Larson appears to have the upper hand, anything could happen—especially since the Academy is apt to sidestep a darker film (Room) for a light-hearted one (Brooklyn).
THE LESBIAN: Cate Blanchett – Carol (director: Todd Haynes, studio: The Weinstein Company):
FYC: Blanchett’s role as an older, married woman who falls for a department-store clerk (Rooney Mara) in 1950’s New York is like catnip for the Academy. But considering that she won the Best Actress Oscar only two years ago, she isn’t really in this race to win, but a nomination was inevitable. She matched Ronan and Larson with Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG, and BFCA nominations, but two of the biggest (and dare I say controversial) snubs of the year occurred when the Academy passed over the film and its director. From the outset, the drama, based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, was expected by many pundits to do well across the board. Indeed, it earned six nominations, including Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress (Mara) and Adapted Screenplay. In fact, its nomination haul tied with Best Picture nominees Bridge of Spies and Spotlight, and surpassed three others: The Big Short (five) Room (four), and Brooklyn (three). This left many people (including yours truly) scratching their heads and crying foul on the Academy, even using #JusticeForCarol on Twitter to show their outrage. After all, Carol was the only film in contention with a gay theme and Haynes is an openly gay director who was snubbed by the Academy 12 years ago for his film Far From Heaven. Surely they would take this opportunity to right that wrong? Nope. If there is any justice for Carol, Mara, who took home the Best Actress statuette at Cannes, will take home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar this year (see below).
The leading men were covered in the September issue. Let’s see where they stand:
THE ARTIST: Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl (director: Tom Hooper, studio: Focus Features):
FYC: Last year on Oscar night, the Internet erupted when a picture of Best Actor nominee Redmayne, dressed as Danish artist, and one of the first known recipients of sexual reassignment surgery, Lili Elbe, made the rounds. This ignited huge buzz for the star’s 2016 Oscar chances and placed an unachievable level of expectation on Redmayne who would go on that evening to win Best Actor for The Theory of Everything. By the time August’s Telluride Film Festival rolled around, bloodthirsty critics were more than ready to take the film, based on David Ebershoff’s novel of the same name, and its star down.
Fortunately, Redmayne delivered in the role and despite pundit grumblings, secured the requisite Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG, and BFCA nominations, keeping him firmly in the race. Redmayne has now earned his second Oscar nomination, but like his counterpart, Blanchett in the Best Actress category, don’t look for him to win. Even though his portrayal of Elbe is far better than pundits would have you believe. Instead, it’s newcomer Alicia Vikander as Elbe’s wife Gerda who represents the film’s best awards chances and who could take home gold over in the Best Supporting Actress category (see below).
THE MOGUL: Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs (director: Danny Boyle, studio: Universal Pictures):
FYC: This biopic of Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs (Fassbender), adapted from Walter Isaacson’s biography of the same name, also had its bow at Telluride. Like The Danish Girl, it wasn’t long after that critics and pundits alike turned their noses at it in favor or something fresher and therefore sweeter. Unlike Redmayne, who held on through a maelstrom of naysayers for his nominations, Fassbender became everyone’s number two throughout the majority of the race. This allowed him to stack up the same nominations as Redmayne while keeping a target off him and on everyone’s number one (Leonardo DiCaprio). In fact, as Oscar night approaches, Fassbender remains many pundits’ number two. But it seems preordained that this is finally DiCaprio’s year and his number two slot may as well be lightyears away.
THE MURDERER: Michael Fassbender – Macbeth (director: Justin Kurzel, studio: The Weinstein Company):
FYC: As I previously indicated, following a wonderful reception at Cannes, this film adaptation was a non-starter awards-wise and Steve Jobs is Fassbender’s lone and far shot.
THE WILDMAN: Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant (director: Alejandro González Iñárritu, studio: 20th Century Fox):
FYC: This drama, based in part on Michael Punke’s 2003 novel of the same name, follows 1820s fur trapper Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) as he sets out on a path of vengeance against those who left him for dead after a bear mauling. DiCaprio won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, the BFCA for Best Actor and the SAG. He has all the trappings (read: requisite nominations) to finally take it home. In a year where his closest competitors can’t touch him, look for DiCaprio to make a much-deserved, clean sweep from here all the way to the Oscar podium.
THE MOBSTER: Johnny Depp – Black Mass (director: Scott Cooper, studio: Warner Bros.):
FYC: Despite critics’ division on Depp’s portrayal of Whitey Bulger, he earned BFCA and SAG nominations. Bulger was the brother of a state senator and the most infamous, violent criminal in South Boston ‘s history, who became an FBI informant to take down a turf-invading Mafia family. But the film culled from the book Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, showed weakness in its campaign with Depp as the sole awards nominee. It wasn’t altogether a surprise when Depp was replaced on the Golden Globe and eventually the Oscar ballot by TV golden boy Bryan Cranston (Trumbo).
THE RETIREE: Michael Caine – Youth [director: Paolo Sorrentino, studios: Medusa Film (Italy), Pathé (France), and StudioCanal (U.K.)]:
FYC: Youth is the third Cannes film that couldn’t score in the major categories— Original Song is its lone Oscar nomination. Still, Caine won the European Film Award for Best Actor. This along with his age (he’ll be 83 next month), and his long charted history with the Academy, prompted many pundits to pencil him in, but he failed to garner any major nominations stateside.
THE DRUGGY: Ben Foster – The Program (director: Stephen Frears, studio: Momentum Pictures):
FYC: While the biopic of the famed athlete Lance Armstrong (Foster), and the uncovered truth about his use of banned substances, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall and was released in both France and the U.K., the film has not yet been released in the U.S. With a March release date, it doesn’t seem likely that the film will figure into next year’s race, but we’ll have to wait and see.
THE REPORTER: Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight (director: Thomas McCarthy, studio: Open Road Films):
FYC: As I mentioned earlier, this drama, based on the true story of how the Boston Globe “Spotlight” team uncovered the massive child molestation scandal and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, is a Best Picture nominee, so too is Ruffalo, but in a Supporting role (see below).
Matt Damon (The Martian), who won the NBR and the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical and who was nominated for the BAFTA and BFCA, is the fifth nominee in this category. I’m happy to report that he doesn’t stand a chance for such an awful movie.
The Ones to Watch series concluded in the December/January issue with a look at the Best Supporting Actor and Actress races. Let’s see how their contenders have stacked up following January 14th’s Oscar nominations: