Here are film desk editor Carlos Valladares’ picks for the Oscars 2016.
Best Picture —“The Revenant”
Unless some miracle happens where “Max Max: Fury Road” absconds with the Top Prize, we’re stuck with Inarritu’s pseudo-profound, cliché-ridden “The Revenant.” “Bridge of Spies” is one of Spielberg’s least challenging, pat films to date, salvaged by good acting work from Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance. “The Martian” has Ridley Scott doodling in space. “Spotlight,” with its overlong tennis bout of shot/reverse-shot, mildly rivets as exposé but bores as cinema. Other films of worthier merit have real meat on their bones, like the romantic “Brooklyn” and the “literally cynic-ma” shenaniganry of “The Big Short,” which dares to condescend and inform its audience in equal spurts.
But it’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” that will live on in the annals of American movies for years to come. This action-packed love letter to cinema revitalizes modern blockbuster cinema in all the right ways. From minute one, George Miller conducts a symphony of controlled chaos that ends only when the credits force him to.
Best Actor — Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”
It shouldn’t have taken a CGI bear mauling and two hours of gratuitous camera-staring for the Academy to remember DiCaprio doesn’t own an Oscar. The lead actors nominated this year are across-the-board safe, even by Oscar standards. Eddie Redmayne simplifies the complex story of Lili Elbe in the misguided “The Danish Girl,” spaced Matt Damon (for the third time) needs America to help him come home in “The Martian,” and Bryan Cranston is wasted in the boring biopic “Trumbo.” Only Fassbender really impresses with his impression of Steve Jobs.
But the true Best Actor of 2015 — Michael B. Jordan in the boxing epic “Creed” — doesn’t exist, according to the Academy. The increasing irrelevance of the Oscars becomes more apparent every year with egregious snubs like Jordan’s.
Actress — Jennifer Lawrence, “Joy”
2015 was a year packed with astounding female leading performances. It’s hard to tell who will win Best Actress, but all pundits predict Brie Larson’s claustrophobic clawing in “Room.” You can’t go wrong with the other nominees, however. Saoirse Ronan’s hauntingly beautiful Irish face in “Brooklyn” conveyed so much with so little. And Cate Blanchett’s husky overacting in “Carol” was her character’s strength: Out with a capital O, a brutal realist in homophobic 1950s New York.
But it’s Jennifer Lawrence as the titular “Joy” that caught my attention. Lawrence’s most challenging role to date has her playing against type as a resolute matriarch of 40. The fierce freshness she brings to “Joy” may appeal to voters of the Academy, but she is above rinky-dink awards. Far from reducing her character to a type, Lawrence reaches deeper neuroses and fears.
Supporting Actor — Sly Stallone, “Creed”
And Sly knocks it out of the ring with “Creed,” probably his best performance since the first “Rocky” in 1976. But aside from Mark Rylance’s deadpan Soviet spy in “Bridge of Hanks,” the supporting actor category this year is pretty dry-and-dull. Much more riveting (and un-nominated) performances include Paul Dano as young Brian Wilson in “Love & Mercy” and Bradley Cooper in “Joy.”
Supporting Actress — Rooney Mara, “Carol”
First off, let’s clear something up. Rooney Mara does not play a supporting role in “Carol.” She is the lead. She is in the film longer than the titular Carol (Blanchett). The movie is Mara’s story. Ms. Mara has been placed in the supporting category because her studio wants a more established actor like Blanchett to compete for Best Actress. It’s an arbitrary decision, but hey: That’s the Oscars for you.
In any event, I’m rooting for the subtle Mara to take home the prize. She makes “Carol” the masterpiece it is, balancing out Blanchett’s desire to overact. Mara is certainly a more deserving candidate for best “supporting” actress over J. Jason Leigh’s cartoonish villain in Tarantino’s morally insipid “Hateful Eight” or Kate Wins-a-lot in “Steve Jobs” (who will most likely win the award, for reasons that still elude me).
Director — A.G. Iñáarritu, “The Revenant”
Iñárritu will win again for the flashy, inorganic direction of his “Revenant.” He represents the obnoxious tendency of today’s directors to feel like they have to film everything in one take, even if the story does not call for it. His films (the irritating “Birdman,” a much worse film than “The Revenant”) tend to inflate, not expand.
None of the directors nominated this year even come close to matching the soaring heights of George Miller. It’s a shame that the creative talent behind such masterpieces as “Babe: Pig in the City” and “The Road Warrior” is only now achieving mainstream acceptance as an auteur. The spirit of Keaton, Kubrick and Ford lives on in Miller, a man deliriously drunk with the possibilities of cinematic motion.
Best Original Screenplay — “Inside Out”
The serviceable screenplay of “Spotlight” will probably dazzle the Academy. But it’s Pete Docter and company’s sublime “Inside Out” that deserves this win. Its smart, humorous and bite-sized metaphor for the human psyche makes it one of the most original Pixar concoctions ever conceived. In a perfect world, this would have also been nominated for Best Picture and, in the most mind-boggling snub of all, Best Score.
Best Adapted Screenplay — “The Big Short”
Explaining the housing market crisis of 2008 is a mighty tall order for any movie. So I applaud Adam McKay’s and Charles Randolph’s effort to do that while making one of the most intelligent, morally astute films of this past year. McKay, the director of the pretty-great comedies “Talladega Nights” and “Anchorman,” brings a broad comic touch to this blood-boiling yarn of hot-shot execs who gambled with people’s money and lost. Huge.
Contact Carlos Valladares at cvall96 ‘at’ stanford.edu.