On Sunday night, Hollywood will get together for its biggest party of the year, the 88th Annual Academy Awards, otherwise known as the Oscars. The night promises laughs, shocks, and plenty of controversy as for the second straight year all 20 acting nominees are white. With comedian Chris Rock hosting, expect some jabs directed at the Academy.
I love the Oscars, even when I hate them. Movies are my passion and the biggest night in movies has become a holiday akin to the Super Bowl. Every year, I try earnestly to see all the films nominated for top honors, and I went over and beyond this year. Not only did I watch all 8 nominated films, but I watched 19 of the 20 of the ranked Oscar performances (sorry Charlotte Rampling). Since this is my first of several Oscars 2016 columns to come, I thought it best to start in the same way the big show begins… no sorry, not with a huge musical number. Nearly every year, they open the awards distribution with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Last year, JK Simmons accepted his trophy for playing the deliciously malicious orchestra leader in Best Pic nominee Whiplash. Simmons, much more resigned than his ferocious role as Fletcher, encouraged everyone to call their moms.
So without further ado, let’s introduce the Best Supporting Actor and Actress nominees, and then move on to the Best Actor and Actress nominees. I’ll tell you who will likely will win… but more importantly, who I think should win.
As it always should be, ladies first…
But, wait, first, WARNING: possible SPOILERS for all the movies covered in this column.
OSCARS 2016 – Predicting the Best Supporting Actor and Actress
Best Supporting Actress
Rooney Mara as Therese Belivet in Carol – Carol was one of those movies that just wreaked of Oscar bait: 2-time winner Cate Blanchett in the lead as a woman with sexual proclivities and Rooney Mara as the quiet girl who becomes her lover… personally I found the film slow and plodding and while there was nothing wrong with the film and the performances were good, nothing about it was spectacular. Of note, Mara actually has more screen time than Blanchett, even though the latter is nominated for Best Lead Actress.
Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer in Spotlight – McAdams was excellent in an overall excellent film. My problem is that the entire ensemble including fellow nominee Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, and John Slattery are all excellent. McAdams’ character is one of the investigative journalists who helped blow up the story of the Catholic Church hiding its knowledge about pedophile priests in Boston and overall the world. Her best scenes are when she interviews one of the victims (Michael Cyril Creighton) and convinces him to come forward.
Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue in The Hateful Eight – Wow, was this a gutsy performance. JJL moves comfortably alongside Uma Thurman as one of Quentin Tarantino’s badass female characters. Leigh is Daisy, a murderous gang member being brought to hang by Kurt Russell’s John Ruth in Tarantino’s bloody western set in a mountain cabin in the middle of a harsh winter storm. She is a violent, foulmouthed, monster of a woman and Leigh was fantastic.
Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman in Steve Jobs – Winslet, a many-time nominee and one-time winner shows just how great she is as an actress by constantly questioning and checking in on Michael Fassbender’s Steve Jobs. As Joanna, his assistant for all three product launches, she is strong and powerful, the only person to get through to Steve in most cases. The scene where she threatens to walk away unless he starts treating his daughter better was the best moment in a film’s worth of great moments.
Alicia Vikander as Gerta Wegener in The Danish Girl – Vikander was one of the biggest breakout stars of 2015, featuring a star-making shoulda-been Oscar nominated turn as Ava, a human-like robot in Ex Machina. In The Danish Girl she is painter Gerta Wegener, wife of Einar (nominee Eddie Redmayne). While her husband goes from casual cross-dressing through full-blown gender reassignment, Gerta is strong and supportive but ultimately damaged. Vikander carries the movie and really should’ve been a lead actress nominee.
Who WILL win – Alicia Vikander
Who SHOULD win – Alicia Vikander – A full acting performance in the “Supporting” category, Vikander may be the most fearless young actress around, and will be a force to be reckoned with in the future.
Best Supporting Actor
Honorable mentions to a few great performances that were sadly overlooked by the Academy:
Seth Rogen shocked me with a phenomenal heartfelt turn as Steve Wozniak in Steve Jobs and commanded the screen even when sharing with heavyweights Fassbender, Winslet, and Jeff Daniels. Sam Jackson turned in his best performance in years in The Hateful Eight and had arguably the year’s best and most memorable monologue. Jacob Tremblay, who despite his young age, delivered a breathtaking performance in Room.
Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa in Creed – Yes he was great, but Stallone never leaves his comfort zone that he’s been in since first playing Rocky 40 years ago in 1976. Here he tutors and trains the son of his former rival, an excellent Michael B. Jordan, while dealing with personal demons and cancer. His standout moment was his cancer reveal to young Creed, evoking memories of Adrian.
Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes in Spotlight – Like McAdams earlier, Ruffalo is terrific as part of a tremendous ensemble. As Rezendes, he annoys and prods his way into lawyers’ offices and court libraries, and eventually secures the documents necessary to blow the story up. Ruffalo is like a more serious Tom Hanks, in that he is so good at playing the “everyman.” He doesn’t have the style or flair of others, or the Hollywood good looks; he’s just an old-fashioned great actor.
Christian Bale as Michael Burry in The Big Short – Bale is one of the ultimate method actors, and I can only imagine what he went through to become Burry in one of my favorite films of 2015, The Big Short. Burry, a math genius was able to predict the housing crisis of 2008 by discovering the credit default swap before anyone else. He spent his company’s fortune betting against the housing market and turned a massive profit as the collapse began. Bale is withdrawn, socially awkward, and all-around bizarre. He randomly blasts Metallica from his office, never wears shoes, and plays the drums at work. In a movie with Steve Carell, Brad Pitt, and Ryan Gosling, it’s Bale that stands out.
Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel in Bridge of Spies – Bridge of Spies is nominated for Best Picture and yet because it’s the product of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, many consider it simply an above average Cold War drama. The star of the film was its script, penned Mark Charman and the Coen Brothers. No one in the cast brings out that script like Rylance, the British painter who is identified as a Russian spy and would be traded for an American U2 pilot in the heat of the Cold War. Rylance never breaks a sweat, never swaggers, and is outright funny. He fully understands he faces death but never seems to care. His modesty and humility make his character so cool.
Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald in The Revenant – While Leo is literally crawling through the ice and snow, it’s Hardy’s scarred frontiersman John Fitzgerald who pushes the plot along. His is ruthlessly brutal and yet never do you find him pure evil. He’s petty, somewhat pathetic, angry, and hateful. And he fights til the bitter end. He was the best part of what could be the Best Picture of the year.
Who WILL win – Sylvester Stallone – Everything makes sense here. Older Hollywood guy playing a beloved character 40 years exactly after Rocky became the ultimate underdog Best Picture winner. It’ll be a great moment and will likely have men of all ages tearing up.
Who SHOULD win – (Of the nominees) Tom Hardy for actually being the best part of the movie that’ll get Leo his first Oscar but… JACOB TREMBLAY! The Academy has never shied away from nominating children: Back in 1931, 9-year-old Jackie Cooper was nominated; Tatum O’Neal and Anna Paquin won Oscars winners at 10 and 11 years old respectively. So the fact that Tremblay, 9, was omitted is ludicrous. He was awe-inspiring as young Jack in Room, playing opposite his Ma (Oscar nominee, Brie Larson). His refusal to accept the truth, his harrowing escape, his difficulties adapting to the world outside of Room… it’s criminal he’s not nominated.
OSCARS 2016 – Predicting the Best Lead Actor and Actress
There are some surefire ways to win an Academy Award as an actor. You can play someone with a disability, someone who overcame a near-insurmountable obstacle, or an important historical figure. Tom Hanks overcame AIDS and a mental handicap to win back to back Oscars in 1993-94. Daniel Day-Lewis won his first of three gold statues for My Left Foot. And just last year, both top acting awards went to actors who fulfilled the above requirements: Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything and Julianne Moore as a woman battling Alzheimer’s in Still Alice. This year, 10 more nominations and only one of the five men (Matt Damon) is playing a fictional character. On the ladies’ side, only one (Jennifer Lawrence) is playing a real-life person. I have seen 19 out of 20 of the nominated performances, so I am as qualified as nearly anyone to pass judgment. So who were this year’s top acting performances you ask? Let’s get to it! As always be, ladies first..
Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl – She is nominated for Best Supporting Actress for this film, and I think she is the frontrunner to win, but she is the real STAR of The Danish Girl and has as much screen time as lead actor Eddie Redmayne.
Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road – Make no mistakes and forget the title, Mad Max is Furiosa’s movie and Theron kicked all sorts of ass in director George Miller’s post-apocalyptic action film, which generated him and the film Oscar noms.
Meryl Streep in… well nothing, but it’s Meryl F’n Streep… would you argue with her getting a “just because” nomination? I think not. [Ed.’s Note – How about for the Jonathan Demme-directed “Ricki and the Flash” where she plays an aging rocker who left her children to chase her dream as a music star, and is dating Rick Springfield?]
Charlotte Rampling as Kate Mercer in 45 Years… Remember when I told you I saw 19/20 Oscar-nominated performances? … Here’s the one I missed. So I got nada here.
Cate Blanchett as Carol Aird in Carol – Becoming almost like a new Meryl Streep, Blanchett is a 2-time Oscar winner and now 7-time nominee. In Carol, she portrays a mother in a failing marriage whose sexual proclivities do not fit in the time frame of rigid 1950s New York. Carol regularly engages in lesbian relationships, and when her and her lover Therese (Rooney Mara, who’s nominated for best supporting actress) are discovered, she risks losing all that she loves. I felt Carol was boring and while Blanchett gave a good performance, the film just kinda passed me by.
Saoirse Ronan as Eilis Lacey in Brooklyn – Brooklyn is that adorable little indie film that very few people saw and yet somehow gets nominated for Best Picture in place of a film like Straight Outta Compton. Saoirse [pronounced Sur-shuh] Ronan is very sweet as Eilis, an Irish immigrant who leaves her mom and sister behind to start fresh in… well, you can probably guess where. She struggles with homesickness, and meets and falls for a dopey but adorable Italian guy before tragedy strikes forcing her to make life-altering choices. It’s a nice film with a nice lead performance… but Best Actress she’s not.
Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano in Joy – Playing a real-life person, check. Overcoming personal obstacles, check. In Joy, Lawrence is a joy as Joy, a woman who lives with her divorced parents, her two kids, and her ex-husband… whew. She is just looking to get by and keep the bills paid, when she out of nowhere constructs a new mop. After an investment from her dad’s girlfriend, she grinds her way to QVC where eventually she becomes a tremendously successful entrepreneur. Lawrence plays the role so well, but the only problem is that as David O. Russell’s “it-girl,” it just feels like she plays the same part with the same cast around her in every movie.
Brie Larson as Joy “Ma” Newsome in Room – Room is a tough, tough movie to get through, partly thanks to the tense and ferocious relationship between a kidnapped mother and her son. Larson is unbelievable in this film, frantically trying to escape, adapt, and provide for young Jack (Jacob Tremblay). Watching her recondition to the world and deal with the adversity her character goes through literally made me uncomfortable and took my breath away.
Who WILL Win? – Brie Larson is a lock in my opinion.
Who SHOULD Win? – Brie Freakin’ Larson! As a parent, I was never so uncomfortable and as tortured watching a film as I was watching Room and it was due to both Larson’s phenomenal performance and the believability she brought to that character and situation.
Gentlemen… start your engines!
Tom Hanks in Bridge of Spies – For being simply the best “everyman” in movie history.
Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina – A criminally under-nominated film, Isaac was amazing as a billionaire inventor in the year’s most original film.
Will Smith in Concussion – Smith was tremendous as the doctor who blew the lid (or helmet) off the NFL’s issue with head trauma.
Eddie Redmayne as Einar Wegener (Lily Elbe) in The Danish Girl – Last year, Redmayne was hard to overlook; after all, he was transformed into outer-worldly physicist Stephen Hawking. This year, Redmayne tries to pull a Hanks and go back-to-back by transforming once again, as Danish painter Einar Wegener, who undergoes the first successful gender reassignment. While the film was good, I felt the stand-out performance was Alicia Vikander as Einar’s wife Gerta and it just wreaked of Oscar bait for Redmayne.
Matt Damon as Mark Watney in The Martian – I gotta be honest here… I didn’t love this movie. Everything about it I’ve seen before, and it’s been better. Tom Hanks in Castaway… Hanks again in Apollo 13… Sandra Bullock in Gravity. Nothing felt original, and Damon, while always good, never got to the Oscar-worthy level. I know it’s Watney’s personality to try to make light of bad situations, but I could’ve handled one epic meltdown after way too many “sols” alone on Mars. I kept thinking of Hanks’ crazed shouting matches with Wilson on the beach and his total devastation when the ball floated away, and I wanted Damon to hit those notes.
Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo in Trumbo – Cranston hits all the right notes here in one my favorite films of the year. It was the perfect storm for the history teacher/film buff. Trumbo was one of the “Hollywood Ten,” a group of writers/directors who were blacklisted after Congress accused them of having ties to the Communist party. Trumbo was the most financially successful and began ghostwriting several scripts to get paid during the blacklist… he actually won two Oscars under pseudonyms! Cranston carries the film, and is wonderful in it.
Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass in The Revenant – What doesn’t happen to poor Leo in Alejandro Inarritu’s historical epic of the frontier life of pelt catchers. Glass and his Native son lead a group of hunters through the wilderness. Along the way, Hugh has to deal with angry Natives, angry bears, and angry frontiersmen who want to leave him for dead. And then they LEAVE HIM FOR DEAD! What follows is almost 2 hours of backbreaking physical acting as the one-time pretty boy from Titanic crawls through the ice, mud, and snow, and across rivers, off mountains, and inside horses… yeah, inside horses to get revenge on the man who left him buried alive. It’s a riveting performance that might earn Leo his first coveted statue.
Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs in Steve Jobs – Steve Jobs (the film) felt like watching a play. Set at the launch of three pivotal products for Jobs in his career in, after, and back at Apple, Fassbender is front and center for nearly every minute of the 2-hour film and controls every second he is there. He is the most hypnotizing actor in Hollywood right now. Whether he is Magneto, a slave driver, or a tech legend, you simply can’t turn away from him. In Jobs, the film works as a series of one-on-on conversations/arguments speaking crisp Aaron Sorkin dialogue. As Jobs, Fassbender wages a war of words with his assistant (the nominated Kate Winslet), his old boss (Jeff Daniels), his old partner (Seth Rogen), and his daughter. Whether you liked Steve Jobs or not, you’ll love Fassbender.
Who WILL Win – That’s easy: it is finally Leo’s time. I would be jaw on the floor shocked if DiCaprio doesn’t walk out with the Oscar this year, and it’s well deserved. He literally put his body on the line for Inarritu and The Revenant.
Who SHOULD Win – Michael Fassbender delivered one of the best performances I’ve seen in years. I was captivated by every scene in Steve Jobs and it was like watching classic theater with him at center stage… but I won’t be upset when DiCaprio wins.
This year was filled with tremendous acting performances, and I feel the best ones will be rewarded. Larson delivered a heartwrenching turn as the Mom in Room, while DiCaprio should finally join the winner’s table after 4 previous acting nominations and five overall. He first was nominated in 1993 at 19 for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Check back later today at Geeks Of Doom and I’ll tell you the Top 10 films of 2015 NOT nominated for Best Picture.
The 88th Annual Academy Awards will air on Sunday night, February 28, 2016 on ABC.