Friday, February 26, 2016

Oscars 2015: Best Director and Best Picture

The terrific cast of "Spotlight"
And we've come to the end. So far in our Oscars analysis, the Manifesto has analyzed the technical categories (both big and small), the screenplays, the supporting actors, and the lead actors. Now, to wrap things up, we look at the two biggest awards of the night.


Lenny Abrahamson—Room
Alejandro González Iñárritu—The Revenant
Tom McCarthy—Spotlight
Adam McKay—The Big Short
George Miller—Mad Max: Fury Road

Iñárritu. Yes, I know that it's been 65 years since a director has won back-to-back Oscars. If that factoid actually discourages voters from picking Iñárritu, then the Academy has bigger problems than #OscarsSoWhite. He won at the Directors Guild, and The Revenant has received plenty of ink for the grueling nature of its shoot. The Best Picture race may be a free-for-all, but Best Director is already sewn up.

Miller. I haven't been shy in expressing my reservations about Mad Max: Fury Road, but they center on the film's narrative (or lack thereof). It remains a staggering directorial achievement, one more disciplined and less ostentatious than what Iñárritu pulled off with The Revenant.

Xavier Dolan—Mommy
Todd Haynes—Carol
David Robert Mitchell—It Follows
Steven Spielberg—Bridge of Spies
Denis Villeneuve—Sicario

Dolan goes for broke in Mommy, and virtually all of his crazy chances pay off. Haynes proves that he's a master when he wants to be, combining exacting technique with raw emotion. Mitchell generates maximum impact from It Follows' brilliant premise. Spielberg is good at this movie-making stuff. Villeneuve knows no mercy.

The Manifesto's ideal winner: Denis Villeneuve—Sicario.


The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant

We all know that this is a three-horse race—everything has been eliminated except The Big Short, The Revenant, and Spotlight. But beyond that, it's very difficult to suss out a frontrunner. That's because the precursor awards, which typically gather behind one contender, split the wealth this year; The Big Short won at the Producers Guild, The Revenant won with the Directors Guild, and Spotlight took home Best Ensemble Cast from the Screen Actors Guild (that body's equivalent to Best Picture). Of those three, it's important to note that only the Producers Guild uses the same preferential ballot system that the Academy employs.

That would appear to give the edge to The Big Short, but I'm wary for two reasons. The first is that, although it's a highly enjoyable movie about a serious topic, The Big Short just doesn't have that Important quality that Academy voters flock to. It's funny and it's scathing, but is it weighty enough?

The second is that The Revenant has recently acquired that indescribable quality of momentum. It won at both the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs, but more importantly, it has dominated the conversation. The Revenant may not be the nominee that history best remembers, but it's the movie people are talking about now.

As for Spotlight, if the situation were reversed—if The Big Short had triumphed at SAG but Spotlight had won with the PGA and its all-important preferential ballot—then I'd be picking Spotlight here. It's much more of a classical Best Picture candidate than The Big Short: It's a serious drama rather than a light-footed comedy, and it champions an industry that isn't far removed from the business of the movies. It seems like the kind of film that could sit at #2 or #3 on a majority of ballots, then slide up to the top once the movies ahead of it are knocked off.

But if that were the case, then Spotlight would have won with the Producers Guild. It didn't. And so I'm left choosing between the more scientifically plausible candidate—remember, since the Academy instituted the preferential ballot, the PGA winner has doubled as the Oscar victor for six straight years —and the more popular narrative choice. One eviscerates the notion of bull markets; the other lets a bear do the eviscerating all on its own.

I tend to pride myself on emotionless logic, which would lean toward predicting The Big Short. But screw it. The Revenant just has too much going for right now. It's your 2015 winner for Best Picture.

If you peruse my top 10 list for 2015, you'll note that it features three Best Picture nominees. None of those three, however, has a realistic shot at winning the trophy. So it goes. Of the three realistic contenders, I actually think The Revenant is the weakest. Still, in a weird way, I kind of hope it does win—not because it's a great movie, but because it's a crazy movie. Parts of it are simply staggering, and I want more studios to write blank checks to visionary directors and tell them, "Go forth and make great art." That becomes more likely if something as audacious, outrageous, and altogether insane as The Revenant wins Best Picture. I'm rooting for it.

(But if I were voting, I'd totally pick Brooklyn.)

Remember that top 10 list I told you about?

Thanks for tuning in to the Manifesto's Oscar coverage. You can go here for a roundup of all our predictions and preferences. We'll be back after the show with a brief recap.

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