The 2015-2016 season has already confounded all the political pundits. Why not the Oscar pundits, too? If the #oscarssowhite tsunami hadn’t overwhelmed everything else, the big story of this Oscar year would have been the difficulty of picking Best Picture, and the consistent inconsistency of this year’s prediction-industrial complex.
Seriously, this season may be giving professionals a complex, considering they were already worried about losing their stature and amount of twitter followers to teenagers with an Android and a wordpress account. And you know, these people are paid not only to predict, but to proselytize and persuade. I think about those 22 major conservative pundits who contributed to National Review’s big “Against Trump” issue; does it bother them at all that their advocacy is about as effective as fake beards in a dog-sled race?
But back to the Oscars. The so-called experts, cited by every mainstream media source that cites Oscar experts, are mostly assembled by two sites, goldderby.com and moviecitynews.com, the latter as the “gurus of gold.” They hail from Variety, Vanity Fair, USA Today, Fox News, Huffington Post, Yahoo, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter…you know, the big ones. This may come as a surprise, but they make Oscar predictions even before December! Perhaps more surprisingly, they’re often right, at least when it comes to the nomination leaders. Before Thanksgiving, among the future shoo-ins for Best Picture nominations were Carol, Steve Jobs, Joy, and The Hateful Eight.
On December 1, the first award-bestowing group, the National Board of Review, named as its Best Picture of 2015…Mad Max Fury Road. The pundit reaction was akin to bringing a chainsaw to a baby shower. Absolutely zero, none, of the pundits had given the slightest Best Picture nomination chance to MMFR (as we have now come to affectionately call it). But then, it kept on winning Best-of-Year awards – not just placing in the Top 10, but WINNING. A fourth film in a heretofore non-prestigious franchise, and a sci-fi action film to boot, to be the one to beat? Clutch your pearls, experts! Anyway, through the magic of the internet, where your old tweets only matter if you said something un-PC, the Gurus of Gold and the Goldderby-ers “evolved” their predictions to the point where they now look like they always knew that MMFR would get a Best Picture nod. Surrrrre.
Around New Year’s Day, Spotlight was considered the kinda-sorta-frontrunner, with great potential to be this year’s The Artist or Argo: no one hates it, everyone at least likes it, making Spotlight a major threat on a preferential ballot (where #2 and #3 rankings help almost as much as #1). Then The Big Short pulled down some big critics awards and The Revenant exploded at the box office, becoming by far the highest-earning non-fantasy film set during the 18 centuries between 50 and 1850. The surges for The Big Short and The Revenant weren’t widely predicted, but they were well within the usual vicissitudes of Oscar season. As nomination announcement day approached, Room and Straight Outta Compton weren’t in the conversation. Nor were any of the Oscarazzi writing that if the acting nominees were all Caucasian, we might have another #oscarssowhite shitstorm even worse than the one that blew through town last year.
BAM! SCANDAL! In retrospect, the effect of last year’s #oscarssowhite humiliations may have been muted because of another hashtag, namely #sonyhack, and its crazy, entirely unprecedented existential threat, with a new shoe dropping seemingly every day. Two consecutive years featuring 20 white acting nominees was apparently sufficient to wipe away memories of all the person-of-color nominations and wins of the century before 2015. And nobody, but nobody, saw coming the sort of outrage that culminated in Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs announcing what amounted to the forced retirement of hundreds of voters.
Still, for the punditocracy, the unpredictability of #oscarssowhite was ultimately a distraction from…the unpredictability of the Oscar race. The first jitters came when the Screen Actors Guild’s five nominees for Ensemble were Spotlight, The Big Short, Trumbo, Straight Outta Compton, and Beasts of No Nation. No film had won BP without that SAG Ensemble nomination since Braveheart, when the SAGs were only a year old. Actors have the power! Thus, when only two of those five got BP-nom’d, only one of those two – Spotlight or The Big Short – could win, right?
Well, maybe. Best Picture winners have won at least three, much more often at least four, total Oscars since the 1930s, and it’s not clear what Spotlight and The Big Short can win other than Picture and Screenplay. They’re big underdogs for Best Director, perhaps because neither of them seem like monumental tasks in the manner of the director frontrunners, The Revenant and MMFR. Spotlight did win the SAG Ensemble Award. The Big Short won the Producers Guild Award, supposedly the best predictor of Oscar. But…then The Revenant won the Golden Globe for Best Dramatic Picture, the Directors Guild Award, the Best Picture at BAFTA, and a whopping 12 Oscar nominations, leading the field. And it’s made three times as much money as Spotlight or The Big Short, which seems all the more worth honoring considering it’s an art film entirely set in 1823.
If momentum is a thing, The Revenant has got icy rivers full of it. So the pundits, who have been riding horses off cliffs all season…are now predicting that The Revenant will win Best Picture. Despite the fact that they all know: The Revenant has one of the worst Metacritic scores of the eight BP nominees, lacks a screenplay nomination (Titanic was the last film to win BP without it), was released after October (Million Dollar Baby was the last post-Halloween release to win BP), and no director-producer has EVER won Director and Picture two years in a row. Could these bugs be features? Perhaps making Mexican auteur Alejandro Inarritu the first such director-producer could play as a #rebuke to #oscarssowhite? Well, personally I like Sasha Stone at AwardsDaily, she’s sticking with the PGA (and other) stats and keeping her chips on The Big Short. Takes cojones, but isn’t that what that film’s characters had?
Many of the other awards are relatively certain. Spotlight will win Best Original Screenplay and The Big Short will win Best Adapted Screenplay, partly to make sure those films don’t go home empty-handed. Son of Saul, which should win the Oscar for Hardest Film to Watch Ever, will win for Best Foreign Language Film. Inside Out, which should have a BP nomination over at least half of the BP field, will win for Best Animated Feature. Both have been locked for months, much to the chagrin of the teams behind Mustang and Anomalisa, who deserved better. You can bet the farm on Leonardo DiCaprio to disprove about a thousand memes by winning Best Actor, and Brie Larson to win Best Actress along with Most Dogged Campaigner for a movie, Room, that she personally willed to a surprise Best Picture nomination.
Smart money says to bet on Ennio Morricone for his score for The Hateful Eight, Lady Gaga for her song from The Hunting Ground, and Emmanuel Lubeski for an unprecedented third Best Cinematography Oscar in a row, this one for The Revenant. Amy will probably win Best Documentary Feature. MMFR and The Revenant will fight over most of the technicals, though The Big Short has a decent chance of winning Best Editing.
The Supporting Performance categories are more of a scramble. The only real shock in Supporting Actress would be if the award went to Rachel McAdams, the only nominee from a Best Picture nominee (Spotlight). That’s the opposite of conventional Academy logic, where voters are presumed to see and favor, at best, only the BP nominees. If Carol had earned its widely expected BP nod, Rooney Mara would be considered a much stronger contender, but pundits are more excited about possibilities for Jennifer Jason Leigh (her first nomination, which is a crime) for The Hateful Eight, Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs (“Leo+Kate4ever!!!”?), and the modest favorite, Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl.
Supporting Actor has the same reversed internal logic – the likeliest winners are the furthest from the BP circle – but with the added twist of twisting the Best Picture race. The only nominee from a non-BP nominee is Sylvester Stallone from Creed, whose odds remain strongest, based on ye olde “lifetime achievement” logic. Second-most-likely is Mark Rylance, whose Bridge of Spies technically is a BP nominee, but one with zero chance of winning. The other three nominees are each riding one of the race cars in the night’s big three-way heat, and if one of these actors were to triumph early in the evening – Christian Bale for The Big Short, Tom Hardy for The Revenant, or Mark Ruffalo for Spotlight – the pundits would leap to Twitter to “evolve” their predictions one last time.
For liberal Democrats, the once-unlikely prospect of a 3-way battle for the Republican nomination that may go all the way to the convention (between Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump) is cause for celebration. For Oscar watchers (who surely share significant Venn Diagram space with liberal Democrats), the once-unlikely reality of a 3-way battle for Best Picture should be considered only slightly less cause for celebration, the most uncertain Best Picture outcome since at least 2000. Pop the popcorn, figurative and literal, and settle in this Sunday evening. And speaking of the Oscar night menu, if the pundits have to eat humble pie, that’s just icing on the cake.