Academy Awards 2016 Picks

Another year, another batch of nominees from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as to the superlatives of cinematic achievement. Like any important art form, the value of a film changes over a time, and is not set in stone at the outset. Therefore, it’s important to view the Academy Awards as a time capsule, not a definitive statement. With that in mind, here are my picks for who will win this year and who should win. I have not included any categories for which I have seen no nominees.


mad max

The Big Short – WILL WIN

Bridge of Spies


Mad Max: Fury Road – SHOULD WIN

The Martian

The Revenant



It’s a genuine testament to the film’s elemental power that Mad Max: Fury Road muscled its way into the awards conversation this year and was rewarded with ten nominations from the Academy, including Best Picture. Of course, the accolades shouldn’t stop there. This blazing cinematic extravaganza may feature explosions galore and a deceptively simple plot, but there’s a wealth of thematic resonance to anchor the mayhem. At the core, Mad Max: Fury Road is about individuals reclaiming their identity, from the wives on the run from Immortan Joe to the enigmatic Max himself learning to trust these women and himself. Add on top of that the utterly astounding craftsmanship in every discipline, and no other film this year comes close to matching it.




Adam McKay – The Big Short

George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road  – SHOULD WIN

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – The Revenant – WILL WIN

Lenny Abrahamson – Room

Tom McCarthy – Spotlight

As the idea of cinematic universes catches fire around the studio system, George Miller outdoes so many imitators with expanding upon the utterly unique and tactile world that he conceived decades ago. The difference with Mad Max: Fury Road is that it stands on its own two feet, unburdened with overly complicated franchise narrative continuity. Miller had the unenviable task of wrangling dozens of different departments in all stages of production to create a work of singular vision, and every detail here finds its roots in his imagination. No one could have directed this film but him, and the results speak for themselves.



leo revenant

Bryan Cranston – Trumbo

Matt Damon – The Martian

Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant – WILL and SHOULD WIN

Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl

A confession: While I think The Revenant supplies an impressive performance from Leonardo DiCaprio, it might not even be among his very best. That’s no knock on Leo, but rather an indication of how consistently strong his performances have been over his career, as well as the relative simplicity of the character Hugh Glass. The Revenant is a narrative of survival and revenge, and therefore, the character’s goals are fairly direct, without much room for doubt or reflection. DiCaprio still manages to give Glass human life in the film’s quieter moments, particularly in the film’s very final stages, when finally the cost of his journey begins to weigh on his soul. He may have been more deserving elsewhere, but there are moments in The Revenant where DiCaprio reminds us of how powerful an actor he is.




Cate Blanchett – Carol

Brie Larson – Room – WILL and SHOULD WIN

Jennifer Lawrence – Joy

Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years

Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn

Over the past few years, Brie Larson has steadily ascended the ranks of actresses in her generation, and her performance in Room is the best showcase of her versatility and talent to date. As her portrayal of a kidnapped young woman with a child displays, Larson undergoes a whirlwind of emotions, from the simple joys of teaching her son about the world, to shielding him from the unpredictable behavior of their captor. Room may largely be a two hander, but Larson owns a great deal of it, depicting a mother whose internal volatility combats the need to be an anchor for her son in difficult times. Larson’s role in the second half of the film is even more impressive, as the stakes somehow manage to become even more harrowing than in the film’s first half. With a performance as sensitive yet focused as this one, Larson assures that she’ll continue to move us for many more films to come.



stallone creed

Christian Bale – The Big Short

Tom Hardy – The Revenant

Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight

Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies

Sylvester Stallone – Creed – WILL and SHOULD WIN

On the other side of the acting spectrum, Sylvester Stallone has been a Hollywood staple for decades, yet perhaps it’s been all too easy to typecast him, or worse turn him into a caricature. Stallone remains among the most unique personalities in the American film industry and his return to a long beloved character in Creed is a reminder of how his talent defined him in the first place. Shifting Rocky Balboa into a mentoring role is one of the best narrative decisions in the film, as Stallone peels away the rough exterior to find new layers in an already well defined character. In Creed, Balboa’s superhuman abilities have long since dwindled, and he’s endured hardship and loss over the years. Stallone’s tete a tete with Michael B. Jordan forms the two into a formidable duo, and his thoughtful, quietly moving turn makes an icon all the more resonant.




Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Right

Rooney Mara – Carol – SHOULD WIN

Rachel McAdams – Spotlight

Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl – WILL WIN

Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

Rooney Mara is another actress whose profile has risen considerably throughout this decade, but to label her as another young ingenue would be an unfair dismissal. Carol may very well be her most studied performance, and truthfully, putting her in the supporting category is somewhat a disservice to her efforts. Mara does not play the title character of the film, but hers is the lens through which the audience experiences it all. Unsure of her own wants and needs, Therese is portrayed by Mara with minute subtlety, and those microscopic shifts in expression from one scene to the next add up to a moving arc. On the one hand, Mara allows the audience to project feelings on to the character, and yet Therese remains very much a wholly realized person, one whose internal conflicts are intimately familiar.



The Big Short – WILL WIN



The Martian


Jack: I’ve been in the world 37 hours. I’ve seen pancakes, and a stairs, and birds, and windows, and hundreds of cars. And clouds, and police, and doctors, and grandma and grandpa. But Ma says they don’t live together in the hammock house anymore. Grandma lives there with her friend Leo now. And Grandpa lives far away. I’ve seen persons with different faces, and bigness, and smells, talking all together. The world’s like all TV planets on at the same time, so I don’t know which way to look and listen. There’s doors and… more doors. And behind all the doors, there’s another inside, and another outside. And things happen, happen, HAPPENING. It never stops. Plus, the world’s always changing brightness, and hotness. And there’s invisible germs floating everywhere. When I was small, I only knew small things. But now I’m five, I know EVERYTHING!



Bridge of Spies

Ex Machina

Inside Out – SHOULD WIN

Spotlight – WILL WIN

Straight Outta Compton

Anger: I’ll tell you what it is, this move has been a bust.

Fear: That’s what I’ve been telling you guys! There are at least thirty-seven things for Riley to be scared of right now.

Disgust: This smell alone is enough to make her gag!

Anger: I can’t believe mom and dad moved us here!

Joy: Look! I get it, you guys have concerns. But we’ve been through worse. Tell ya what, let’s make a list of all the things Riley should be happy about!

Anger: Fine. Let’s see, this house stinks, our room stinks…

Disgust: Pizza is weird here…

Sadness: Our friends are back home…

Fear: And all of our stuff is in the missing van!

Joy: Oh, come on! It could be worse…

Disgust: Yeah Joy, we could be lying on the dirty floor in a bag.





The Hateful Eight

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant – WILL and SHOULD WIN


At this point, Emmanuel Lubezki’s place in the pantheon of all time great cinematographers is all but assured. Having already won consecutive Oscars over the past two years for Gravity and Birdman, his formidable lensing of The Revenant could very well make it three in a row. It’s worth considering that his contributions to all three of these films required vastly different skill sets: Gravity was largely dominated by CGI, Birdman took place mostly indoors, and nearly all of The Revenant is comprised of exterior locations. Lubezki is a certified modern master of employing natural lighting, and his work here could very well be the greatest example of his talent. The cinematography of The Revenant isn’t merely about well composed, pretty images. Lubezki’s camera placement and choreography with the actors elevates the entire affair. If one needs only one example, the terrifying single take bear attack tells you everything you need to know.



mad max costumes



The Danish Girl

Mad Max: Fury Road – WILL and SHOULD WIN

The Revenant

Outside of actual performance, nothing visually defines a character in cinema more than what they wear. Fabrics, colors, and even more importantly, how those elements are worn and in what style determine how characters express themselves. While historical dramas and period pieces are most often nominated in this category due to their accuracy of recreating their corresponding time periods, occasionally a truly out of the box creation will also find recognition. Films that take place in the future tend to be lacking in chutzpah when it comes to costumes, but like everything else in its design, Mad Max: Fury Road is unapologetically bold. Naturally, it’s not just that the wardrobes in this film are so unique, but that they’re highly specific to each character, from Max’s iconic road warrior garb, the practicality of Furiosa’s mechanical arm, and of course, Immortan Joe’s terrifying mask.



The Big Short

Mad Max: Fury Road – WILL and SHOULD WIN

The Revenant


Star Wars: The Force Awakens

When it was all said and done, there had been 480 hours worth of footage shot for Mad Max: Fury Road. To assemble it all into any kind of meaningful form, with a simple narrative to boot, is a herculean task on it’s own. The fact that Margaret Sixel managed to not only cull together a coherent narrative, but further, assemble some of the very finest action sequences in film history is perhaps this film’s very highest achievement. Fury Road may essentially be a two hour chase film, but it’s brilliantly paced on a macro level, with each scene given it’s own rhythm and identity. Spatial and temporal spaces are clearly defined, yet aren’t sacrificed for propulsive thrills. Mad Max: Fury Road has superb technical virtuosity in many departments, but the editing is never less than a masterclass.



mad max makeup

Mad Max: Fury Road – WILL and SHOULD WIN

The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

The Revenant

Once again, another aesthetic category yields another fantastic showcase from Mad Max: Fury Road. There’s no mistaking the formidable craft on display in this film, and the makeup and hairstyling contribute immensely to the identities of the characters. It speaks volumes to the levels of detail here that one can look at any given character and instantly have a grasp on their identities. Furiosa’s haircut for instance, is an adaptation into a paternalistic world, yet it doesn’t sacrifice her core femininity. The pale faced tattoos, growths and gashes that ornate the War Boys give them uniformity, but each design has differences. It’s just another cinematic element that contributes to realizing Max’s maddening world.



Bridge of Spies


The Hateful Eight – WILL WIN


Star Wars: The Force Awakens – SHOULD WIN

With his fiftieth(!) nomination, John Williams doesn’t rest on his laurels with writing the score for what is now domestically the highest grossing film of all time. He has written the scores for each of the existing seven Star Wars films, but to say that they are all identical or recycle too much is a reductive argument. Of course, the main theme and the Force theme are vital components to all of the films, but Williams introduces superb new compositions with each new entry, and The Force Awakens is no different. From the prominence of woodwinds in Rey’s theme to the imposing brass characterizing Kylo Ren, there is an abundance of aural discovery here.



“Earned It” – Fifty Shades of Grey

“Til It Happens to You” – The Hunting Ground – WILL WIN

“Manta Ray” – Racing Extinction

“Writing’s on the Wall” – Spectre

“Simple Song #3” – Youth – SHOULD WIN

This is one of the few cases where I have seen a minority of the nominees, and frankly this category seems weaker than in years past. Regardless, it always helps when an original song not only has thematic relevance to the film it accompanies, but actually plays a role in the actual narrative. Such is the case of “Simple Song #3” from Youth, a composition created by Michael Caine’s composer. In the film, Caine’s character is highly reluctant to allow anyone to perform the piece, as it was meant to be performed solely by his now disabled wife. When the song finally is performed in the film’s climax, it has complete emotional impact.



mad max production design

Bridge of Spies

The Danish Girl

Mad Max: Fury Road – WILL and SHOULD WIN

The Martian

The Revenant

World building in franchise films these days feels like an imperative mandate, but so few film series truly creative vibrant, distinctive visions. Post apocalyptic films tend to take our existing worlds and run them down intensely, but Mad Max: Fury Road builds upon the aesthetics of its predecessors and most importantly, provides a sense of culture. The visual vocabulary of the film is almost instantly iconic, and this is due in large part to the production design. Although there may not may be very many traditional sets, all of the vehicles in the film are brilliantly conceived extrapolations of a crazed future society.



mad max sound editing

Mad Max: Fury Road – WILL and SHOULD WIN

The Martian

The Revenant


Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The sound of growling, roaring and blazing engines has been a staple of vehicular cinema for decades, but leave it to Mad Max: Fury Road to set the new standard for all the gasoline guzzlers. The sights of the film could not nearly have their impact without the tremendous sounds that accompany them. The density of the sound editing in Mad Max: Fury Road is present in every major action scene, yet it never descends into incomprehensible noise. Like the picture editing, the sound design is carefully considered, so every explosion and tire screech has maximum impact.




Bridge of Spies

Mad Max: Fury Road – WILL WIN

The Martian

The Revenant – SHOULD WIN

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

It’s easy to assess The Revenant in visual terms, especially given how heavily the film relies upon its environments to communicate the narrative. However, the aural landscapes here play as much of a part in the storytelling. The design elements are familiar, from the beasts of the wild to the sounds of combat, but how they’re integrated amongst each other in the mix is essential to the film’s immersion. Be it in the film’s bracing battle sequences or in it’s haunting dream scenes, the sound mix of The Revenant is a standout among many of the film’s formidable technical achievements.




Ex Machina

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – WILL and SHOULD WIN

If any single series has stood as the standard bearer for the advances in special effects over the decades, the Star Wars saga wears that mantle proudly. Having birthed an entire industry in visual effects with Industrial Light and Magic, it’s interesting to note that the saga’s latest episode chose to emphasize more practical effects work. That’s not to say that CGI is absent in The Force Awakens. A contemporary Star Wars film simply can’t exist without modern technology. What remains so impressive is the seamless blending between both disciplines, making that galaxy far, far away both more tactile and fantastical.



inside out


Boy and the World

Inside Out – WILL and SHOULD WIN

Shaun the Sheep Movie

When Marnie Was There

Pixar’s output this decade might not be as consistently satisfying as their string of successes in the 2000’s, but Inside Out stands as one of their very finest achievements. For a studio best known for their originality, to say that Inside Out is their most imaginative film is no small compliment. The conceptual audacity on display never disappoints, but more importantly, the dual narratives work in tandem on macro and micro levels. The entire vocal ensemble is impeccably cast, all lending their talents in providing a sense of discovery from scene to scene. Best of all, the thematic implications of Inside Out are vital to our understanding of the equivalence and need for all emotions in our lives, whether we’ve lived less than a decade or close to a century.



Embrace of the Serpent

A War


Son of Saul – WILL and SHOULD WIN


Holocaust films have become such a constant in awards season over the past decades that the topic has approached the point of self parody. Sometimes it takes a film as bracing as Son of Saul to reassess how impactful and devastating that genocide was. From its bold, near first person shallow focus photography and it’s simple but vital narrative, Son of Saul puts the twentieth century’s largest atrocity under a microscope and never flinches. Anchored by an unsentimental, subdued central performance by Geza Rohrig, and confidently directed by Laszlo Nemes, this startling vision deserves every accolade that it is given.





Cartel Land 

The Look of Silence

What Happened, Miss Simone?

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom – SHOULD WIN

I may have some heavy bias in my pick for the documentary category, but the impact of Winter on Fire completely deserves recognition. Chronicling the months long protests by Ukrainians against their oppressive, Putin backed president, Viktor Yanukovich, the documentary doesn’t shy away from the brutality that regular citizens endured at the hands of their own leaders. It’s easy to think of the state incurring violence against its peoples in third world countries, but to see it happen in a modern society is shocking. Two decades on, Cold War era influences endure, and Winter on Fire asserts that Ukraine’s quest for aligning itself with Western Europe is justified. The final result is cathartic not only for what is achieved by the people, but because of the immensely heavy sacrifices that earned their victory.


~ by romancinema on February 26, 2016.

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