Will Alejandro G. Iñárritu become the first director to have a film win Best Picture in two consecutive years, or can a surging takedown of Wall Street by the goofball who created Anchorman pull off the upset? Or perhaps this is the year where the Academy elects to award simplicity and power and Spotlight walks away with the award that its precursor, All the President’s Men, had pried away by Rocky back in 1977.
Of course, there’s also a chance that a film like Mad Max: Fury Road or The Martian sneaks in and surprises us all. But right now, this feels like a three-horse race. That said, it’s still worth breaking down the eight nominees for Best Picture Featuring White People, with some help from the good people at Odds Shark.
Bridge of Spies (+25000):
Any time Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks get together, you can be sure an Oscars nomination is in the cards. That is, assuming the movie’s not about some dude stuck living in a terminal. No one is better at bringing history to the big screen than Spielberg and in Bridge of Spies, a Cold War-era thriller starring Hanks as an American lawyer thrust into the complex world of U.S.-Russia negotiations, Spielberg hits all the right notes. The 10-minute, speechless opening scene is particularly invigorating. That said, there are no surprises in Bridge of Spies, nothing particularly creative. It’s a good film, but not a memorable one and on Sunday, it’s going to fall short.
Can you believe a small budget movie about a bunch of hipsters and Hasidic Jews netted $39 million at the box office? In this film from John Crowley, working off a wonderful Nick Hornby screenplay, we meet a bunch of immigrants trying to balance young adulthood in the 1950s and fall in love with all of them. The film has soul. It brings post-World War II Brooklyn to life. It also lacks any real stakes and conflict. It won’t win Best Picture, but that Brooklyn even made it onto this list is something no one could have foreseen.
Mad Max: Fury Road (+6600):
It would be so great if we lived in a world where a bad-ass showcase like Mad Max: Fury Road could walk away with the Best Picture award. Alas, such a world does not exist. Fury Road, directed by George Miller, might feature the greatest heroine in movie history. Its cinematography is certainly second to none. Unfortunately, action and suspense films don’t appeal to the Academy the way, say, a coming of age story does. Perhaps if they did, we’d see more great ones.
The premise makes your skin crawl. Brie Larson’s Joy is held captive in a (you guessed it) room for seven years. Oh yeah, her captor routinely rapes her and so she has a five-year-old son who lives in the room with her. Emma Donoghue, who wrote the original novel and adapted the screenplay, clearly has some issues that need working out. In Larson, though — who will likely go home with the Best Actress award — Donoghue was handed the perfect muse. The film is original and captivating and terrifying. It makes your mind do crazy things. It’s also not as good as this year’s Big Three.
The Martian (+15000):
It’s not a comedy, even if the Hollywood Foreign Press would like us to think it is, but Ridley Scott’s invigorating thriller about an astronaut (Matt Damon) stranded on Mars was one of the most well-rounded movies of the year. It jumps into the action right away and is jam-packed with laughs. There are no inane love stories or shots of crying family members. Taking what Tom Hanks did in Cast Away, but adding humor and charm, Damon gave one of his best performances. He and Scott somehow made botany seem cool.
Perhaps in a different year, The Martian could be the night’s big winner. Not this one, though, when there are three heavyweights in the class.
The Big Short (+500):
And so we reach the true contenders. The Big Short is, in this writer’s humble opinion, the most creative and interesting film of the year. Yes, Michael Lewis’ book about the various members of the financial world who saw the 2008 mortgage crisis coming, and bet against it, took care of most of the heavy lifting. But what Adam McKay did with that source material was brilliant. The Big Short features some of the best writing of the year. It’s funny and scary, entertaining and educational. It’s journalism meets Funny or Die. It features Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explaining subprime mortgages and shorting.
To some, that scene in itself might be Oscar-worthy. As for the film’s actual chances, well, it’s not the favorite, but no one would be shocked if The Big Short walks away with the big award. And to think, if it does that means the next time McKay and Will Ferrell collaborate on some goofball concept the previews will be able to say, “From Academy Award winner Adam McKay…”
Like The Big Short, Spotlight aims to shed light on a particularly dark event in our country’s recent history. Unlike The Big Short, it needs no tricks or cameos to get its point — that Boston’s catholic church was corrupt and cool covering up for pedophile priests — and story across. It’s just straight storytelling, and director Tom McCarthy, who seems to have an affinity for journalists and journalism, does a masterful job in telling that story. Like The Martian, there’s no insertion of a love story; the so-called “B Story” still takes place within the headquarters of the Boston Globe.
By the end of the film, we feel in awe of the journalists who serve as the movie’s heroes, and also anger at all the men and institutions that allowed these horrors to go on for so long. Spotlight is a thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat, despite employing zero car chases or explosions. It deserves to win Best Picture. Whether it can beat out Leo getting molested by a bear is the question.
The Revenant (-224):
As you can see by the odds, this is the heavy favorite for the Best Picture award. Yeah, it’s like eight hours long. But it’s directed by a maestro, Alejandro G. Iñárritu — whose Birdman won Best Picture last year — and features the brilliant Leonardo DiCaprio in one of the best performances of his career. The shots are beautiful, the camerawork is unparalleled. You feel as if you’re stranded in the cold right next to Leo. Like The Martian, The Revenant is a survival film, only darker. It feels as if there’s more at stake, as if the road back is more arduous.
Oh, it also took home Best Picture at the Producers Guild Awards, usually a good predictor for the Oscars. The odds might not be great, but if you’re betting it does seem like The Revenant is the film you should be putting money on.