Round 3. Fight!
Yet again, please note: Original winner is in bold, new winner is underlined.
Best Original Screenplay
Spotlight – Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy
Bridge of Spies – Matt Charman, Ethan & Joel Coen
Ex Machina – Alex Garland
Inside Out – Pete Docter, Meg LaFauve, Josh Cooley; Story by Pete Docter & Ronnie Del Carmen
Straight Outta Compton – Jonathan Herman & Andrea Berloff; Story by S.Lee Savidge, Alan Wenkus & Andrea Berloff
To me, this is a no-brainer. Before that, however, let’s reflect on what a strange group of nominees this is. There are three so-called original screenplays based on actual events. And yes, I understand that means the writers had to form those events into a coherent screenplay, but still, the writers for Spotlight, Bridge of Spies and Straight Outta Compton were working within predefined parameters in a way that neither Ex Machina nor Inside Out were. In that case, either of the latter two would be deserving, but Garland gets it for me because the film was mesmerizing and bonkers, certainly one of the most original films I’ve seen in a while. I really harp on the original part of the category name, and feel it is overlooked by most voters. Not me. Garland wins.
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Big Short – Adam McKay & Charles Randolph
Brooklyn – Nick Hornby
Carol – Phyllis Nagy
The Martian – Drew Goddard
Room – Emma Donoghue
This is a spectacular category. Minus Carol, which I did not see, these are all impeccably written scripts, properly paced for their genre and thrilling in terms of each script’s ability to do what it set out to do. This is difficult. I think Hornby is a top-notch writer (his book High Fidelity is fantastic and was adapted into one of my favorite films ever) and Brooklyn was a beautiful and overlooked movie, due in no small part to the quality of the writing. Goddard turned a rambling, 4th wall destroying novel into one of the funniest and most entertaining and remarkably moving films of that year. I thought The Big Short was properly rated–neither the best film of the year nor the worst of the Best Picture bunch–and was way more fun and compelling than a book about the federal reserve and stocks had any business being. But for me, it’s Donoghue’s emotional and complex retelling of her own novel. One of the hardest parts of that adaptation was always going to be condensing the first half of the book into compelling cinema, and somehow she managed to get the horrid nature of the situation just right without allowing it to become overwhelming. This makes the rest of the film work, along with the performances of its two leads, and it is a major credit to her understanding of how the story works, no matter the medium.
Best Supporting Actress
Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl
Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara – Carol
Rachel McAdams – Spotlight
Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs
Back to a less than compelling category, unfortunately. Along with Carol, I also didn’t see The Danish Girl or The Hateful Eight, so I don’t have much to say on this one. My hand is forced, then, to decide between McAdams and Winslet. The former is good in her scenes in Spotlight, but doesn’t have a whole lot to do. As far as transformational scene stealing goes, there’s no doubt that Winslet fits the bill, playing a fictional amalgamation of various people in Steve Jobs’ life. She’s good, but without much information, I can’t confidently say she was better than Vikander, Jason Leigh or Mara, the latter of whom I find to be the most compelling of actresses. It’s Winslet by default, but little else.
Best Supporting Actor
Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies
Christian Bale – The Big Short
Tom Hardy – The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight
Sylvester Stallone – Creed
This is another stacked category, even if Ruffalo is a sort of strange addition here, since he feels like the lead of his film. I’ve actually seen all five movies here (including Creed, which I just saw this past November), so I feel confident is saying that the Academy fully got this one correct. Rylance is winning and captivating in the role, and it is mainly because of him that the movie works (which is nothing against Tom Hanks, who is his usual trusty self in the film, but the movie belongs to Rylance). Hardy broods, as he usually does, and Stallone didn’t impress me all that much, at least not to the extent I expected when people were gushing as if it were some mind-blowing performance. Bale is incredible to watch in The Big Short, but feels like a bit of an afterthought, as he is a little separated from the rest of the film and doesn’t really interact with much of the rest of the main cast. That said, he’s one of the few actors who could have pulled off what is asked of him, but this award is all Mark Rylance and his fedora.
Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant
Adam McKay – The Big Short
George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
Tom McCarthy – Spotlight
Lenny Abrahamson – Room
A rare back-to-back for Iñárritu, and really this one makes more sense than Birdman did for me. It’s more of a director’s film, filled with spectacle and complicated set pieces, most of which were filmed outdoors in real life winter conditions. One could make an equal argument for Miller, but the lack of a strong narrative in Fury Road makes it all feel like fluff to me. McCarthy isn’t asked to do a lot to make Spotlight work (also counting against him might have been that he also made one of the worst reviewed movies of the same year with the Adam Sandler film The Cobbler) and while I adore Room, the visual sensibilities of the film don’t give Abrahamson much of a leg to stand on for this race. I’ll keep it where it went, especially since I took the other one away from Iñárritu.
Brie Larson – Room
Cate Blanchett – Carol
Jennifer Lawrence – Joy
Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn
I sort of feel bad for taking away Blanchett’s Oscar from 2014, if only because she has no shot here for me, both because I didn’t see the film and because there’s only one winner in my mind, and that’s the woman who actually won the award. There were so many ways this part could have gone sour, but Larson manages to keep everything on the exact right note, where it be faking happy for the sake of her son or as she slowly falls apart dealing with her re-acclimiation into the real world. I didn’t see 45 Years, so I can’t comment on Rampling’s performance, but I can say that Lawrence did her best to make Joy work, and in spite of all her hard work, she and David O. Russell couldn’t pull it off this time. My runner-up is Ronan, who is gorgeous and captivating in Brooklyn, a film I think I liked more than the Academy did; but it’s mostly a more understated performance, which, while showing off a great deal of control, is also part of the reason why she can’t overcome Larson for this one.
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
Bryan Cranston – Trumbo
Matt Damon – The Martian
Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl
I already gave Leo his Oscar for what I feel was a more deserving performance in The Wolf of Wall Street, so I don’t feel bad about not giving him another one here. That leaves the winner from the previous year in a film I didn’t see (but by most accounts trying to strike gold twice in almost the same way and not making it work as well), the man who created one of the best television characters in recent memory starring in a film nobody I know saw (including me), a tortured genius in a bizarre take on a biopic and a man who carries a movie pretty much on his own and still manages to be funny, heartbreaking and engaging all the way through. Call me crazy, but when it comes down to Damon and Fassbender, I’m left conceding that the former should be the winner. It would have been an unusual winner, as it isn’t the type of performance that usually gets this kind of awards attention, but the work Damon did to make that movie work (it literally doesn’t function without him) is well deserving of recognition.
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
I’m very fond of this list overall, actually. I will admit that it wasn’t an overwhelmingly great year for the Best Picture category, as I’m not sure any of these movies will stand the test of time, but on the whole this is a very, very solid list, even if I didn’t think Mad Max was all that great (sorry, I just remember being mad that it won all the tech awards). That said, I could make an argument for several of these movies. Bridge of Spies was Spielberg’s most compelling work (for me) since 2002, where he dropped Catch Me If You Can and Minority Report in the same year. Brooklyn was absolutely breathtaking filmmaking, and I’m not afraid to say that I found it quite an invigorating movie. The Martian was one of the most entertaining movies of the year, and even though it was by far the highest grossing movie of the bunch, it still managed to carry its own weight emotionally and seemed to want to say something about the power of persistence and perseverance. The Revenant was a movie I’ll likely never watch again, mostly because of how visceral an experience it was; this is both a compliment and a slight negation of the movie, as rewatch-ability matters. Room was beautifully acted (Jacob Tremblay belonged in that lead actor category) and emotional without being manipulative, all the while expressing our need for other people and the power of the human spirit. Spotlight tells an important story, and that, ultimately, is the reason it won, at least to my mind. It’s an actor’s film, and seeing as actors make up a giant chunk of the Academy’s voting body, it makes sense on a logical level. But it didn’t move me, not the way that most of the others did, for better or for worse. This was a difficult one to pick even at the time, but I’m going to go now with the way I wanted things to go then, even if I knew it wasn’t possible: Oscar gold for Room.