With an exception of “Room” and “Brooklyn”, all nominated movies this year are either big-budgeted blockbusters or star-studded spectacles with themes, tried & true. We have the Hollywood epics such as the futuristic “Mad Max; Fury Road” and the Cold War spy drama, “Bridges of Spies”. The quintessentially American, “The Big Short” and “The Spotlight”. Of course, the tales of survival under extreme circumstances; “Revenant” and “The Martian”
Wait! Something is missing. What is it? A Black movie. Yes, a movie about Black people. Because it has become a norm, a tradition in the last ten years to nominate, if not award, at least one movie about Black people in America. Movies like “Precious”, “The Help”, “Beast of the Southern Wild”, “12 Years a Slave” and “Selma” have made the prestigious list of being one of the best.
What happened this year then? When the nominations were announced in January, there was an outcry over the lack of diversity in the main categories. Some said, “This is by far the Whitest Oscars in recent memory”. Some claimed, “It’s racist to not nominate Black actors”. Some simply called for the boycott. In the United States, I believe, when people say ‘diversity’, it immediately almost always means ‘Black people’. “Diversity” stands for many different types of people and things – I don’t see Asians and Arabs in the nominations too. What about the Latinos apart from the Mexican who made “Revenant”? At least many Black people have been nominated and won the Oscars in the past. Sidney Poitier won Best Actor in 1964, so did Halle Berry in 2002. Denzel Washington has two Oscars. Jamie Foxx, Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding Jr., Octavia Spencer…the list goes on.
By the look of it, it is indeed Caucasian-heavy in the main categories. However, I don’t think it has anything to do with the race issue. It just might be the year where no particular movie with black people is particularly Oscar-worthy. That is all.
Amongst the movies vying for for Best Picture, I thoroughly enjoyed “Mad Max: Fury Road”. Usually not my kind of movie yet it won me with its quirky storyline and bad-ass cast. The CGI-driven flick may find better luck in the technical Oscar categories. The Wall Street and The Newsroom type of movies are also not my kind and not everyone’s cup of tea. Considering their niche audience, I doubt that either “The Spotlight” or “The Big Short” has the power to draw the unanimous vote to win the gold. If it were up to me, I choose “Brooklyn” as this year’s best. It’s got a touch of history, romance and wardrobe from the past, in between carefully paced laughs and sobs. This tale of an Irish Immigrant, set in New York in the 50’s, may be a tad too melancholy at first glance but it’s bouncy script and snappy performances, including that of Saoirse Ronan in the leading role, make it a well-deserved Best Picture nominee.
That being said, this might just be the year where back-to-back wins for Best Picture as well as Best Director are a possibility. Last year’s triple winner, Alejandro Iñárritu is back with a bang, louder than ever, with the much-bellyhooed “Revenant”. Movie goers are treated to a journey into the wild beyond their wildest imaginations, a jouney that they will not likely repeat (I was emotionally drained once the film was over) but a journey that will be remembered. “Revenant” is one of those Hollywood epics that will go down in history, like “Ben Hur”, “Titanic” or “Avator” for its revolutionary movie making. Iñárritu’s ambition and execution should be rewarded.
Let’s look at the actor race next. A well-respected actor in his prime, on his sixth nomination, Di Caprio will finally win his Oscar this year, not because it’s his career best but it’s long overdue. Call it a mini premature lifetime achievement even. In “Revenant”, he’s cold, he’s angry, he’s scared and he wants revenge but the role doesn’t provide enough material or moments to exercise his acting muscles. Let’s get real. We have seen him act better. On the other hand, Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of a historic transgender woman in “The Danish Girl” further proves that last year’s Best Actor winner, is remarkably versatile, capable of undertaking challenging roles. If Redmayne in “The Danish Girl” were a vocal performance, it would be that of Mariah Carey- complex, emotive and certainly robust. But him winning over Leo would have been too big of an Oscar upset. Plus, Redmayne won’t be Tom Hanks enough to pull a back to back.
|Brie Larson in "Room"|
In the actress category, we have Charlotte Rampling and her very little known movie “45 Years”. Honestly, she doesn’t stand a chance. Who are we fooling here? Cate Blanchett, in her showboat-acting best, is more theatrical than cinematic in “Carol” – not her best but always a thrill. Next, Saoirse Ronan, her second nomination for “Brooklyn” but this time in leading category, is one of the most promising young actresses of today. She’s got the look, the charm and the chops. Hence, she can wait. She will certainly be here again in the very near future. Voters will pass her over without mercy. Now, Jennifer Lawrence, overly awarded maybe, is captivating, bringing the usual A game as Joy Mangno, a real-life American dream, in David O’Russell’s overlooked gem, “Joy”. Lawrence wins Best Actress in my book. But comes this Sunday, the front-runner and breakout star, Brie Larson will go home with a gold for her gritty turn in “Room”. Larson is this year’s Hilary Swank. She’s just added a BAFTA to her ever-expanding awards cupboard. The Oscar is inevitable. For me, her performance is raw but a bit short. Her co-star, an 8-year old, Jacob Tremblay should have been nominated for the Best Supporting Actor.
|Vikander and Redmayne in "The Danish Girl"|
Supporting categories are also known as a-star-is-born category and now-or-never category. Let me explain. It’s a lot less rigid in the supporting categories. Many surprise wins have been pulled over the years. In some years, it doesn’t even matter who the most deserving nominee really is. Who is the breakout star that Hollywood wants to see more of? Now that’s important. For example, Lupita Nyong’o won this award two years ago (Over Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle”, a role that showcases more depth and range in terms of acting) – there you go. A-star-is-born moment for Lupita. Not to discredit her but c’mon! Meryl Streep, Jennifer Hudson, Anne Hathaway, Anna Paquin, Penelope Cruz , Marisa Tomei, to name a few, also won this award in their youth and became bigger stars later on.
So this year’s IT girl is Alicia Vikander. Although she plays the lead role, and what a weighty role that is, alongside Redmayne in “The Danish Girl”, the studio put her in the supporting category, possibly for a better chance of winning. Her only competition comes from Kate Winslet in “Steve Jobs”. Always incredible Winslet has just picked up the BAFTA but have no fear, Alicia, it’s the Brits doing the Brit thing to a Brit, Americans will adore you here. The Oscar is yours.
So… what is now-or-never? Remember, Alan Arkin won Best Supporting Actor for “Little Miss Sunshine” over a heavy favorite that year, Eddie Murphy for “Dreamgirls”, Murphy’s career best acting work? Arkin is a brilliant actor with solid body of work throughout his long career. And he was controversially awarded that year. It was his time to win or never. Who have we got this year for Best Supporting Actor? Academy voters and fans alike, including me would love to see Mark Ruffalo win for his astonishing work in “Spotlight” but the award is reserved for Sylvester Stallone in “Creed”. And Stallone’s performance in the latest Rocky franchise is sparkly enough to match the Oscar gold. Everyone loves a comeback, a happily ever after, a beloved aging star getting his due, that standing-ovation moment that lasts forever. It’s Hollywood after all.