Trophy Talk: Let’s Pick The Oscar Winners (And Our Favorites)

Keith Phipps: Well, we’re almost to the Oscars. Is anyone else feeling relieved? I’d follow the Oscar race even if it weren’t a professional obligation, but we’re at the point in each season when fatigue inevitably sets in. Yeah, yeah: The Revenant was hard to make. We’ve heard about this. Even what we’re about to do — talk about who will win and who should win — is a conversation that’s been going on for what feels like half a year at this point. (Maybe because it’s been going on for about half a year at this point?) Nonetheless, without further ado, let’s join that conversation. Jen Chaney, who’s been covering the Oscars race for us, had some pretty solid-looking predictions yesterday, but nobody’s right all the time. And I’d love to hear who you think should win in each category.

So, let’s kick it off with the Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress categories. In the former, I think Sylvester Stallone will win for Creed, and I’m very okay with that. It’s a terrific movie that should have been better represented in the nominations, starting with Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler. And Stallone is great in the movie, making himself look vulnerable and mortal in ways that I’d never seen from him before. I think my favorite of the bunch, however, is Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies, an example of a character actor showing how he can command a film. Rylance had plenty of experience before Bridge of Spies, a lot of it on stage. That he wasn’t instantly recognizable helped him slip into the role of someone whose job, as a spy, was to never stick out. He brought a lot of wry, dark humor to the role, and played nicely off of Hanks. I hope he’ll be in more movies soon.

As for Supporting Actress… I don’t know. Part of the beauty of Spotlight is how understated every element of the film is, including the performances. Ruffalo has one Big Scene, but it’s ultimately not even the sort of Big Scene it’s set up to be, just a guy blowing off steam in frustration. Rachel McAdams is great here, but maybe not the kind of great that gets awards. Rooney Mara is a co-lead. I think voters will see through this attempt to put her in the supporting category. I think it’s going to be Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight, which would be how I would cast my vote, too. You can’t take your eyes off her in that movie. And you?

Mike Ryan: Oh yeah, Sly will win and if, by some terrible circumstance he doesn’t, I think my night will be ruined. This is the moment I am watching for and I bet a lot of other people feel the same way. Remember when Rocky sequels were schlock? Now Balboa is back in a prestige film. It’s kind of unbelievable this happened.

Alicia Vikander will win Supporting Actress and I can sleep at night with this happening. The biggest argument here is that she’s the lead and not supporting, but, whatever: she’s here in this category and I’d bet my non-existent first born she will win — and it’s not quite as egregious as the Rooney Mara situation. (I do have a soft spot for Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight, but I don’t see it happening.)

Vince Mancini: It’s so hard to predict “who will win,” because that means putting myself in the shoes of people who not only awarded Eddie Redmayne last year, but nominated him again this year. You know what they say about dancing with the devil. Similarly, you spend too much time trying to get inside the Academy’s mind, and the next thing you know you start enjoying Stephen Daldry movies. No thanks.

A lot of people will criticize me for making fun of The Danish Girl without seeing it, but look, I’m pretty sure I know what that movie has to offer. It was made to win Oscars. If I wanted to watch someone shamelessly pander to people I don’t like, I’d go to a Donald Trump rally.

But fine, who will win, let’s do it.

Best Supporting Actor: I’ll go with the consensus and say Stallone. I don’t necessarily think “better than it had any right to be” is the same thing as “great,” but Creed was fine, and I’m not going to be too upset about anything that allows Sly Stallone to speak into a microphone. He’s also a heavy favorite in Vegas.

As for who should win, I hate answering this almost as much in this case, because Supporting Actor is possibly the worst of all this year’s categories. No Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina? No Samuel L. Jackson in The Hateful Eight? No Demian Bichir, no Josh Brolin, no Emory Cohen, no Benicio Del Toro? Samuel L. Jackson only has one Oscar nomination? You’re all fired. Even if we’re just talking The Big Short, I thought Gosling and Carell had more interesting roles than Bale (my favorite was Jeremy Strong, though I understand if that role wasn’t considered big enough to warrant consideration). Of the options nominated, I guess I have to go with Tom Hardy. It wasn’t Tom Hardy’s best performance, but it was still a Tom Hardy performance. I’d love it if he could actually enunciate one of these times, but his speech about getting scalped and Jesus being a squirrel were more memorable than anything else for me.

As for Supporting Actress, I’m going with Alicia Vikander for who should win because, at the very least, she deserves it for Ex Machina. Kate Winslet is great, but I don’t know how she’s nominated for a role where she couldn’t maintain a consistent accent. For who will win, I want to say Jennifer Jason Leigh (who was a little over the top for my tastes, but she’s a fine actress), who seems to be critics’ consensus pick. Interesting to note, Vikander is the Vegas favorite. But I’m going to go with Kate Winslet. I think the best way to handicap the Oscars these days is to ask, “Who would win the Oscar at a parody of the Oscars?” And no one fits that bill better than the famous actress from the overwrought Steve Jobs movie.

Mike Ryan: For the screenplay awards, is there any chance it’s not Spotlight for Adapted and The Big Short for Original? The way it all seems to be panning out, these will be the big awards for both, right? (We seem to be living in a The Revenant world.) And as much as I love Anomalisa, the fact it’s even nominated for Best Animated is a minor miracle on its own. Inside Out will take home the Oscar for Animated Film.

Keith Phipps: I think you’re right on all counts there, so much so we may as well move on. Best Director? Hats off to Lenny Abrahamson, Adam McKay, and Tom McCarthy, all of whom did stellar work. And hats off to Alejandro Iñárritu, who will likely win, too. There’s a real technical mastery to what he does and for the first 40 minutes or so of The Revenant, I thought I was watching a movie that was going to erase my usual misgivings about his films. (The rest… yeah, well…) I’d go with George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road, which is just a stunning achievement without a single moment that didn’t contribute to the experience. There aren’t many stronger visual storytellers than Miller, or as many directors as confident in dropping viewers’ into strange worlds and letting them figure them out for themselves. I understand it was hard to make, too. Funny how that doesn’t have to be the central point of discussion around a movie.

Mike Ryan: I’m with you on George Miller. I do not understand how Mad Max exists and this movie will come away with nothing. Keith and Vince, let me ask you, are we prepared to live in a world where Iñárritu wins back to back Best Picture (we’ll get to that) and Best Director Oscars? (And I say this as someone who genuinely liked Birdman.) I know such a big, stupid deal has been made about it, but The Revenant’s entire schtick has been, “this was hard” and “it’s pretty.” Like, when in your life will you ever think to yourself again, “You know, I’ve got some time to kill, I’m going to watch The Revenant.” (Admission: my movie I go to the most in that kind of situation is Rounders.)

Vince Mancini: Funny, my time-to-kill movie is 8 Mile. Eminem has never been better! But no, I wouldn’t mind Iñarritu winning Best Picture and Best Director back to back, because I still love Birdman (I’m going to strangle the next person who says “I didn’t get it!” There was nothing to get!). And because I respect any director who goes $40 million over budget trying to shoot natural light and makes Leonardo DiCaprio eat raw livers and jump in freezing water like an episode of arthouse Jackass.

That being said, I’d rather see George Miller win, simply because Mad Max is a better movie. Which brings me to: why is “Best Director” even a category? If your movie wins Best Picture, you are the Best Director, the end. We know the movies don’t direct themselves, right?

I’m glad to see Adam McKay nominated, because he really does deserve some recognition for being the first person to pull off an innovative Michael Lewis adaptation. And if they want to recognize Tom McCarthy for something, they could invent a “Most Competent Director” category. For a guy who doesn’t take many chances, but executes well.

Keith Phipps: I see your point, but I’d argue there are films elevated to greatness by elements beyond their directors — acting, etc. — but the Venn overlap between “movies that are directed greatly” and “great movies” is pretty substantial.

And speaking of great acting, how about those Best Actor and Best Actress categories? DiCaprio will win and, fine, let’s give it to him. He’s very good in The Revenant, even if I would pick other DiCaprio performances ahead of it when thinking of great DiCaprio performances. And Brie Larson has been the frontrunner pretty much since Room first screened, and that’s okay with me, too. She’s great. It’s such a strong category this year, though, that it’s tough to pick one out. Charlotte Rampling is remarkable at conveying the understated, everyday tragedy of 45 Years and a win would be a nice recognition of a career spent doing great work in tough roles. I’m not sure she had a shot even before she expressed those unfortunate opinions, though. At the other end of her career, Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn is remarkable as is Cate Blanchett in Carol, my favorite 2015 film. (Confession: I still haven’t seen Joy.)

With DiCaprio and Larson looking like locks, will their wins be okay with you two?

Mike Ryan You know, with all the talk of “The Most Unpredictable Oscars in Years” (I saw a magazine headline that said something like that), this seems to be shaping up to be pretty predictable. I mean, what if I weren’t “okay” with it? What would I do? This is going to happen, so it’s best to just be okay with the whole thing. I’ve been on board with Brie Larson winning since I saw Room at Toronto. I still think Michael B. Jordan gave the best lead performance of the year, but, as we know, he wasn’t nominated. Out of the nominated people, sure, why not give it to Leo as some sort of lifetime achievement award for a guy who was born in the mid-1970s? I’m okay with it! (I think.) Boy, this really hasn’t been a very fun Oscars, has it? And it’s the Academy’s own fault.

And is there really any real way The Revenant doesn’t win at this point? I don’t see it.

Vince Mancini: The Leonardo DiCaprio-can’t-win-an-Oscar talk has always been funny to me. Let me get this straight: We’re feeling sorry for the guy because he gets cast in every role? “Leo never wins the Oscar! And sometimes he has trouble choosing which Ferrari to drive! Boooo hooooo hooooo…”

It’s like we’re giving him credit for being overexposed and getting constantly nominated. His first nomination was for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, which is almost one of those joke nominations, back before the Academy realized that playing a mentally challenged person might not be the hardest thing in the world (I’m just kidding, they still haven’t realized that). He lost to Gene Hackman. In 2004, he was nominated again for The Aviator. He was fine in that. He lost to Jamie Foxx in Ray, who was better, as was Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda, who was also nominated. Two years later he gets nominated for Blood Diamond. BLOOD DIAMOND. I was going to make fun of people thinking Will Smith was snubbed for Concussion this year (as I’ve said, “tell the truth!” is this year’s “in Africa, it’s bling-bang”) until I realized DiCaprio had actually received an Oscar nomination for Blood Diamond. In 2013, he gets nominated again for Wolf of Wall Street, the first time you could make a decent case that he might actually have deserved a trophy. He lost to Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyer’s Club, which I couldn’t get too upset about, since it was probably a make up for snubbing McConaughey in Magic Mike the year before.

Which is a long way of saying, no, I don’t think Leonardo is some long-deserving actor finally getting his due, just because he gets nominated every other year now. He’s a famous guy who has grown into a really good actor. That said, I hope he wins this year, because none of the other options are very good. (Maybe Bryan Cranston in Trumbo? I haven’t seen that, but Bryan Cranston is very good.) I don’t think grunting and drooling is the best exhibition of Leo’s acting talent, but it’s still better than any of the others winning for a movie that wasn’t that good. I’m still annoyed Idris Elba wasn’t nominated for Beasts of No Nation.

Anyway, I’m with you guys on Best Actress, mostly. My personal favorite is Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn, but Brie Larson was so good in Short Term 12 that I don’t mind her winning for Room. Even Cate Blanchett was fantastic in Carol, and I say that as someone who generally finds her a little hammy and annoying. I still haven’t seen 45 Years (I know, I know, I’m sorry), so the only nominee that bothers me is Jennifer Lawrence. Not because she’s not great, I love her, but because Joy is like 70% unwatchable. Anyway, Best Actress is almost the opposite of Best Actor, in that there are lots of fine options, and similar in that we already know Brie Larson is going to win. She’s currently a -4000 favorite in Vegas. That means you have to bet $4,000 to win $100 for all the non-gamblers out there. My question: is it worth laying a small bet on someone else, just in case? And if so, who?

Keith Phipps: I wouldn’t take that bet. Really, I wouldn’t bet against the frontrunner in most categories… except maybe Best Picture. To circle back to your point, Mike, Jen made a good case yesterday for there being no clear frontrunner in the Best Picture category. To go back to the Vegas odds, they’re currently at 4 to 5 for Spotlight and 6 to 5 for The Revenant. I’m going to guess that The Revenant will win. It seems to have the intangible momentum on its side. Of the nominated films, I think my heart’s with Fury Road — its very existence still seems unlikely, to say nothing of its greatness. How about you guys?

Mike Ryan: My favorite movie this year is Spotlight, but I know it won’t win. I will be happy if it does! And, yeah, I know everyone has all of these scientific formulas to dictate that, hey, it really is a toss up! But it’s not. The Revenant has the momentum and I think that’s what matters most to the majority of voters who fall into the, “What am I supposed to vote for again? Oh, The Revenant, that’s right,” category. I’d be happy to be wrong. But those Vegas odds tell me nothing except Vegas isn’t going to pay you that much if Spotlight pulls a big upset. I understand that Vegas’ goal is to get the money evenly spread out so they don’t take a huge hit if something crazy happens, so this tells me a lot of tourists who maybe don’t pay attention, like us crazy people, are betting on Spotlight because they heard three months ago it was the favorite. Good luck to them. I hope they win.

Vince Mancini: For me, I’d be happier if The Revenant won than if Spotlight did, even if The Revenant doesn’t deserve to be the favorite. I feel like critics in general and especially the Academy tend to reward movies that execute well without taking many chances. Which is exactly what Spotlight (which I did enjoy quite a bit) is to me. It’s a well-crafted, well-acted movie, but it’s not the kind of insane, ambitious leap into the semi-unknown like The Revenant is. I’d like to see more big, ambitious projects rewarded for their balls, even if they turn out a little messy, rather than more movie versions of adult contempo soft-rock. And, on that note, I’m with Keith on Mad Max: Fury Road, which took arguably even more chances than The Revenant and executed better to boot. In all honesty, a movie like Fury Road is why I go to the movies. I don’t expect the Academy to understand that, and frankly, it might cheapen it if they did.