2015 was quite the year for movies: “Mad Max: Fury Road” gave us an uncompromisingly brilliant action hero (and yes, I am talking about Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa) while Eddie Redmayne shined as the central figure in the long overdue story of one the first women to undergo gender reassignment surgery (“The Danish Girl”). Meanwhile, “Straight Outta Compton” received critical acclaim and box-office success while facing the acutely relevant issues of racism and police brutality head-on, and a movie helmed by an African-American hero, a female star, and a Hispanic actor is now one of the most successful movies of all time (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”). With the announcement of the 2016 Oscar nominations on January 14, it is now time to celebrate and honor all of the groundbreaking and record-setting films of the past year, from big-budget productions to small-scale passion pieces.
Let’s take a look at 2016’s biggest contenders for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, and Best Actress in a Leading Role:
“Bridge of Spies”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
“The Big Short”
With a well-rounded selection of large-scale films (“Fury Road,” “The Martian,” “The Revenant”) and acclaimed indie fare (“Brooklyn,” “Room,” “Spotlight”), it’s hard to predict who will win the gold. Although “Bridge of Spies,” “The Revenant” and “The Martian” share the possible advantage of being led by already-Academy Award-winning (Steven Spielberg and Alejandro G. Iñárritu) or Academy Award-nominated (Ridley Scott) directors, it would be unsurprising to see the smaller “Room” or “Spotlight” win, given their other notable awards nominations and almost unanimous critical praise. “Brooklyn” and “The Big Short,” meanwhile, will likely see better success in the acting categories, as most of their strength is drawn from the performances of their respective actors. Ultimately, I see the most competition between “The Revenant,” “Fury Road,” “Room,” and “Spotlight,” and I would be happy to see any of these films win.
Actor in a Leading Role:
Bryan Cranston for “Trumbo”
Eddie Redmayne for “The Danish Girl”
Leonardo DiCaprio for “The Revenant”
Matt Damon for “The Martian”
Michael Fassbender for “Steve Jobs”
While the Best Actor category, like Best Picture, features a refreshing mix of representatives from both the year’s biggest (“The Revenant,” “The Martian”) and somewhat smaller (“Trumbo,” “Steve Jobs”) releases, I believe the competition to be more clearly cut, with DiCaprio likely taking home the Oscar for his dramatic and entrancing performance as a fur-trapper turned survivalist. Although Damon convincingly plays a similarly resourceful and inspiring character in “The Martian” and Redmayne has been heralded as one of the finer points of “The Danish Girl,” their performances struggle to match DiCaprio’s level of subtlety and power. Fassbender and Cranston are the underdogs of this category, with their performances being generally well-received but somewhat lacking impact, given their films’ modest box office returns.
Actress in a Leading Role:
Brie Larson for “Room”
Cate Blanchett for “Carol”
Charlotte Rampling for “45 Years”
Jennifer Lawrence for “Joy”
Saoirse Ronan for “Brooklyn”
The Best Actress category features fierce competition with a refreshing collection of up-and-comers (Larson), young Oscar darlings (Ronan, Lawrence), and well-renowned actresses (Blanchett, Rampling) each offering uniquely riveting and skilled performances in their respective films. Although Blanchett and Rampling are both dazzling nominees, Blanchett’s film “Carol” will likely find more success in the Supporting Actress category (where Blanchett’s counterpart, Rooney Mara, is nominated – although Mara faces strong competition in Alicia Vikander and Kate Winslet) and the Costume Design category, while Rampling is somewhat unaided by the fact that she holds the only nomination for her “45 Years.” Like Rampling, Lawrence also carries the weight of being the sole nominee for “Joy.” However, she seems more likely to take home the Oscar, even if critics have not responded as warmly to her most recent performance as they did to her roles in “Silver Linings Playbook” (for which she was also nominated for Best Actress) or “American Hustle” (for which she won Best Supporting Actress). Along with Lawrence, I believe Larson and Ronan to be the strongest contenders, with Larson already winning a Golden Globe for her haunting portrayal of a young abductee and mother, and Ronan garnering a Globe nomination and widespread critical praise for her performance as a young woman torn between two men and two homes. While this category is particularly hard to predict, I would like to see Larson or Ronan take the gold, although Lawrence, Blanchett, and Rampling would each be deserving of the Academy Award as well.
And now, for the biggest snubs of the 2016 Oscars:
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”: Although the latest Star Wars installment has found remarkable success at the box-office and garnered a respectable five nominations in more technical Academy Award categories, many feel the movie was snubbed of being nominated for Best Picture. Still, science-fiction fans will likely appreciate that fellow space-centered film “The Martian” (an undoubtedly more “Oscar-friendly” choice) garnered a Best Picture nomination.
Quentin Tarantino: Despite Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” being nominated in the categories of Actress in a Supporting Role, Cinematography, and Original Score, many are noting the lack of nomination for Tarantino’s original screenplay or directing. Although this lack of nomination may, in part, have stemmed from criticism surrounding the film’s violent nature and controversial use of the n-word, Tarantino’s film is still enjoying generally favorable reviews and may find success in its other nominations (most likely in Original Score).
Idris Elba, Mya Taylor, and Many Other African-American Actors and Actresses: Sadly, the 2016 Oscars have continued last year’s tradition of failing to nominate any African-American actors or actresses for the 20 acting slots, prompting the widespread use of the hashtag #OscarsStillSoWhite. Where was the nomination for Idris Elba (“Beasts of No Nation”) or Will Smith (“Concussion”) for Best Actor? What about Michael B. Jordan (“Creed”) for Best Actor, Samuel L. Jackson (“The Hateful Eight”) for Best Supporting Actor, or Mya Taylor (“Tangerine”) for Best Supporting Actress? Sadly, many incredibly talented African-American actors and actresses will go unnoticed at the Oscars this year. Hopefully, the Academy will face a call to action that prompts them to better appreciate the African-American talent that emerges throughout the upcoming year.
The winners will be announced Feb. 28 at the 88th annual Oscars telecast on ABC starting at 8 p.m.