In case you haven’t heard, the Oscars are one week from Sunday and this year, the Best Picture race is wide open… for the most part. “Spotlight” and “The Revenant” are the perceived frontrunners, but anything can happen under the preferential ballot system.
Each year, I like to pretend that I’m an Oscar voter with a sliver of power and write up my Oscar picks as if I had a real ballot. There are no rules, but I only included the 12 categories I felt qualified to vote for.
We’re coming down to the wire, as official voting for actual Academy members closes at the end of day on Tuesday, so if you can’t quite make up your mind and want some voting guidance, you can copy off my fake ballot.
Read the explanations under each choice to discover the method behind the madness, and keep in mind, these are not actual predictions — just my personal preferences.
2. The Revenant
4. The Martian
5. Bridge of Spies
7. Mad Max: Fury Road
8. The Big Short
Explanation: This is really a two-horse race, since frankly, I don’t even know how “The Big Short” snuck into the conversation. “The Revenant” is a gorgeous, unforgettable film that has a certain timeless quality to it. Twenty years from now, the Academy would be able to look back on that choice and feel good about itself. However, “The Revenant” is not as great a movie as “Spotlight,” which is an important film that educates and entertains in equal measure. “Spotlight” says something about the world we live in, where abuses of power go unchecked and we’re constantly reminded of the need for quality investigative journalism. With the newspaper business teetering on the brink, “Spotlight” is proof of their importance in a society that has become distracted by the celebrity fluff catered to by social media. Impeccably written, deftly directed and incredibly well-acted, the film has the power to change lives, and has already had an impact — both on victims of sexual abuse and the Vatican itself, which has praised the film despite its unflattering depiction of the Catholic Church. As a journalist from Boston, I realize I may be biased, but I saw “Spotlight” before a flood of awards buzz carried it to Oscar frontrunner status and it hit me like a punch in the stomach, making my lower lip tremble with emotion. It was the best movie I saw in 2015, and as much as I loved “The Revenant,” it is Tom McCarthy’s brilliant “Spotlight” that has left me haunted.
BEST DIRECTOR – Alejandro G. Iñárritu, “The Revenant”
Explanation: I know: How do you split the vote between Best Picture and Best Director? It stands to reason that the person responsible for Best Picture should win Best Director, but it isn’t always that simple. Sometimes, you’ve got to spread the love, and since I’d vote for Tom McCarthy to win an Oscar for co-writing the “Spotlight” script with Josh Singer, I’m voting for Iñárritu as Best Director. McCarthy did a great job bringing all the elements of “Spotlight” together, but his direction is subtle. It works for the film, but “Spotlight” succeeds thanks to its cast and the words they’re reciting. “The Revenant,” on the other hand, is a triumph because of its masterful direction. I’m not arguing that the flashier filmmaker should always win, but what Iñárritu accomplished here is truly incredible. I don’t care that he just won for “Birdman” or what he’s really like on set. His work on “The Revenant” simply can’t be ignored.
BEST ACTOR – Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”
Explanation: Of the five nominees in this category, I was most impressed by Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs. However, that is not the stuff that Oscar dreams are made of. I have grown up watching Leonardo DiCaprio, from “Growing Pains” and “This Boy’s Life” to “The Wolf of Wall Street” and now, “The Revenant.” He is remarkably talented, and that talent deserves to be recognized. What he endured during the arduous “Revenant” shoot offered a certain degree of difficulty that none of DiCaprio’s fellow nominees experienced. DiCaprio doesn’t need an Aaron Sorkin screenplay to soar, because he communicates so much with just his eyes in a largely-wordless performance. Some Oscars are awarded in tribute to an actor’s entire body of work, and I will shamelessly admit that I would vote for DiCaprio because I want to see him on the Oscars stage after years of being a runner-up. As brilliant as Fassbender was, DiCaprio deserves to win.
BEST ACTRESS – Out of respect for the Academy, I abstain from voting.
Explanation: The Academy asks voters not to vote in categories where they haven’t seen all the nominees, though there’s no enforcement other than the honor system. Well, in keeping with the honor system, I’ll admit that I haven’t seen “45 Years” yet, or Charlotte Rampling’s supposedly excellent work in the film, so I must abstain. All due apologies to the rest of the nominees, especially… Jennifer Lawrence, whose work in “Joy” has been overlooked this season due to her past acknowledgments from the Academy.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Tom Hardy, “The Revenant”
Explanation: Honestly, this is the toughest category this year, as it often is. All of these nominees are deserving with the respectful exception of Ruffalo, who delivered the third or fourth-best performance in “Spotlight” — my favorite film of the year. “Creed” star Sylvester Stallone will likely win the Oscar, and Christian Bale was easily the best thing about “The Big Short,” but in the end, I had to vote for Tom Hardy, whose work in “The Revenant” may even surpass that of DiCaprio. It’s a raw and riveting performance that I couldn’t ignore in good conscience.
Explanation: “The Danish Girl” star Alicia Vikander is the expected winner on Oscar night, but this category is ripe for a surprise. First of all, Vikander doesn’t even belong in this category, as she was the female lead in “The Danish Girl.” Well, Kate Winslet was the female lead in “Steve Jobs,” you might argue, but the title characters of both films are not equal in stature. Winslet went toe-to-toe with Michael Fassbender and gave dimension to what could’ve been a one-note role on the page. The actress proved to be a capable sparring partner and played the only person who could talk sense into Jobs and put him in his place when needed. Winslet has won an Oscar before, but I thought she was fantastic, and Vikander’s performance just hasn’t stuck with me, making this a relatively easy decision for me.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight”
Explanation: It was a very strong year for original screenplays but “Spotlight” stands tall with Aaron Sorkin‘s “Steve Jobs” script out of the picture. Everyone in the cast gets their moment to shine, which is no easy feat with such a large ensemble. The pace of the film never drags — it keeps moving and building to a devastating climax. I know firsthand the tremendous amounts of research that both writers did, and how they assured real victims that their stories would be told with great respect. “Inside Out” was an amazing animated movie, but there can only be one winner, and it should be these guys.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – Drew Goddard, “The Martian”
Explanation: Goddard’s work on “The Martian” is a juggling act if I’ve ever seen one. You have Matt Damon on Mars, everyone at NASA, plus a crew of astronauts floating through space. You have to make the audience understand all this scientific dialogue (“The Big Short” had trouble indoctrinating me to its Wall St. jargon) and not only do you have to make this sci-fi movie seem plausible, but you have to get the audience to care about the main character, who also has to maintain a sense of humor despite the fact that most people who are alone on Mars would be freaking out. All due respect to the writers of “Brooklyn” and “Room,” but I fell in love with this crowd-pleaser in Toronto and think it deserves some recognition on Oscar night.
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – Emmanuel ‘Chivo’ Lubezki, “The Revenant”
Explanation: No contest. What is there to explain at this point? Chivo shot “The Revenant” in natural light. There are shots in the film where I don’t even know where he placed the camera. Chivo is a master and his third Oscar win (following “Gravity” and “Birdman”) is an inevitability. Sorry, Roger Deakins, who did a tremendous job on “Sicario.” At least I’ll give that overlooked film its due in the next category.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – Jóhann Jóhannsson, “Sicario”
Explanation: It’s hard to overlook Ennio Morricone’s impressive work on “The Hateful Eight,” but I thought Jóhannsson’s score took “Sicario” to the next level. I downloaded two of his tracks on my phone and listen to them as I drive around LA late at night. The eerie, droning score just settles into my bones and I can’t shake it. Morricone may be a legend, but it’s time to stand aside and let someone new write his name in Oscar history.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Explanation: While it’s true that the bear scene in “The Revenant” was a visual marvel and sci-fi soared this year between “Star Wars,” “The Martian” and “Ex Machina,” there was no cinematic eye candy quite like “Mad Max: Fury Road.” George Miller‘s post-apocalyptic nightmare seared my eyeballs and imprinted itself on my visual cortex, which could barely comprehend what it was seeing.
BEST SOUND EDITING & SOUND MIXING – “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
Explanation: “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Martian” and “The Revenant” are the other films nominated in both of these categories, but let’s be serious here — there’s “Star Wars” and there’s everything else. You can’t go wrong with Skywalker Sound and the staff at J.J. Abrams‘ Bad Robot.