Tag Archives: Best Picture

Oscars: One of the Better ‘Best Pic’ Fields in Years

The Academy did a pretty damn good job this year. The only nominee that doesn’t align with my personal Top 10 was Bridge of Spies and even that still has Spielberg+Coen Bros+Hanks+Cold War+USA! USA! aka deserves its nom.

My projections were off a little bit. I had a total of 6 “LIKELY” nominations based on historical trends regarding guild accolades. All 6 were nominated. My next three (Compton, Carol, and Sicario) missed in favor of Room and Brooklyn, two films that were right on the cusp. I would guess that Sicario landed in place 3-5 on many tech-heavy ballots for a near-miss with something like 4.7% of the vote (when you need 5%). Similar story with CarolCompton took a nice guild ride but really wasn’t good enough all-around to have a place here (lowest Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics % score and point rating of my 13 real players).

The Good News

Despite favorable opinion of the picture itself, I had doubts about A24 being able to keep Room in the game against the deeper pockets of the major studios. This is a HUGE victory for independent film.

Brooklyn is equally wonderful. Boasting the highest Top Critic RT score of the year (the ultra-rare perfect 100 from 38 critics) Brooklyn lacked the resources its parent studio paid to campaign the larger Martian and Revenant. Further evidence of secondary attention? It’s the only Best Pic nominee without its own Twitter handle. #BrooklynMovie. Worthy of note: Brooklyn director John Crowley was originally attached to helm Carol. He dropped out because of scheduling conflicts between the two projects. How relieved is that guy today? Fox outbid Weinstein Co (Carol‘s distributor) for Brooklyn‘s rights at last year’s Sundance. It’s a huge day for the studio since they now hold 37.5% of the Best Pic field.

Mad Max actually made it! How awesome is that?

Snubs?

Aaron Sorkin was the heavy favorite to win Adapted Screenplay and didn’t even get nominated. That field’s now wide open. If Sorkin still manages to pull down the WGA win I’ll be extremely confused. Also worth mentioning is the exclusion of Ridley Scott in favor of Room‘s Lenny Abrahamson. This is less a case of Ridley being snubbed  and more that Abrahamson deserved the acknowledgement. Tom Hardy was probably the last man in for The RevenantInside Out deserves to be part of the overall convo but I wouldn’t really call it a “snub” as it never really had a chance to actually win the field.

Problems?

Diversity. #OscarSoWhite will repeat as a hot convo this year. Again, this is a systemic problem and the Oscars are merely internal trade awards that reflect the current industry. A nom for Elba could have quelled this a bit but the Supporting Actor race is a feeding frenzy and any combo of 10 dudes could have made it. Netflix is also new to the game which put Elba at an immediate disadvantage. Will Smith was bested by 5 stronger performances. Compton’s not an all-around GREAT film. Creed‘s Michael B. Jordan remains too young to spar with the likes of Leo and Damon (in the eyes of the Academy).

Perhaps a further convo for a later date, but I think the Academy needs to combine the Actor and Actress categories as one. Why are actors the only branch that  segregates awards on the basis of gender? Aren’t we beyond that?

My Pre-Announcement Predictions: 2016 Best Pic Nominations:
Spotlight Spotlight
The Big Short The Big Short
The Revenant The Revenant
Bridge of Spies Bridge of Spies
The Martian The Martian
Mad Max: Fury Road Mad Max: Fury Road
Carol Brooklyn
Straight Outta Compton Room
Sicario
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Oscar’s Likely Best Pics (Based on Historical Data)

There are many methods used to project tomorrow’s Best Pic nominations. Let’s try a logical approach while dropping a few numbers into the thought process:

  • 5-10: The number of titles AMPAS (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) will nominate in total. All members vote to nominate Best Picture via preferential ballot listing favorites one through five.
  • 6,440: Estimated total voting body of AMPAS. 6,124 members as of December ’14 plus 322 invitees in June ’15 (assuming 98% invitation acceptance).
  • 586: 1st choice votes needed to secure a nomination (9.1% of ballots cast, assuming full and correct participation).
  • 322: Total votes needed to reach the 5% minimum required to receive a nomination.
  • 500: approx number of voters shared by BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) and AMPAS (7.76% total vote).

Other heavy indicators to take into account:

-Since AMPAS expanded the Best Pic field (for the 2010 awards) films that were nominated for a BAFTA also earned Oscar nominations 93.3% of the time (the only exceptions being Drive and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in the tumultuous 2012 race).

-90% of DGA (Director’s Guild of America) nominees over the past decade have gone on to receive a nomination (only Girl With the Dragon Tattoo missed since expansion).

-The PGA (Producer’s Guild of America) has included 85.5% of eventual Oscar contenders among their 10 annual nominees since field expansion.

As such, anything that’s nominated by BAFTA, DGA, and PGA should be firm LOCKS. SpotlightThe Big Short, and The Revenant are therefor in.

Over the past decade, no film has made the BAFTA/PGA shortlists and lost-out on an Oscar nom. So even though the A-Team (Spielberg and Hanks) will likely miss out on their respective fields’ mentions, we should feel free to mark Bridge of Spies as VERY LIKELY.

While The Martian and Mad Max: Road Fury may have missed out on SAG’s top prize, they’ve been nominated by other guilds/societies whose field-related voters account for over 40% of the Academy. Cinematography, Editing, Sound, Production Design, and VFX really add up. The Martian will feel like a natural fit for many voters with Ridley, Damon, baller cast, etc. And while a hard-action genre pic may seem an odd fit for the annals of film history, Mad Max truly exceeded expectations in every possible aspect of production. Both titles are LIKELY.

With 6 pics marked for ‘LIKELY’ and higher, who might be the last 4, if any, to make it in? Straight Outta ComptonCarolBrooklyn, and Sicario seem the most probable. RoomSteve Jobs, and Trumbo are all carried by strong performances that may not be enough to get them in. Hateful Eight, Beasts of No Nation, and Ex Machina all seem like far-reaches at this point. Unfortunately, Inside Out just doesn’t seem to have enough power behind it to compete for Best Pic this year.

Compton received SAG, PGA, and WGA nominations and gives the Academy a chance to tout their continued “diversification” push. Carol may have missed out on a PGA, but Todd Haynes is probably the 6th-place director and Blanchett/Mara will get a lot of love from the Actors division. The thematic material and prestige should contrast well against a populist-laden group.

As if enough action/thrillers weren’t represented already, I’m going to include Sicario because of its PGA/WGA noms and technical recognition. It’s also likely to be one of two movies from this year (along with The Big Short) that we view  down the road as a representation of the era’s sociological standing. Too bad El Chapo couldn’t have been found a week earlier…

With nine spots filled, I’m thinking that Brooklyn comes up short of the 5% needed to qualify. Don’t get me wrong, the movie’s flawless. Easily one of the 10 (if not 5) best pictures of the year. But Fox already has 2 clydesdales in the race so Brooklyn seems to be fighting for nothing more than scraps. Saoirse Ronan’s a shoe-in nod for Actress but I just don’t see that being enough to separate it from other thesp-focused pics like…

Room seems to be hurting from having a distributor that may not be big enough to play this game effectively. I’d still count Brie Larson as the Actress front-runner and young Jacob Tremblay’s very impressive (he should be considered for lead, not supporting).

Universal tried to treat Steve Jobs like a shiny new iPhone model when it should have staggered the release to build word-of-mouth. Still,  I think it’s one of the more inventive pics of the year. Danny Boyle straight killing the game.

My projections in order of projected ballot preference (which we’ll never see the real results for but whatevs):

  1. Spotlight
  2. The Big Short
  3. The Revenant
  4. Bridge of Spies
  5. The Martian
  6. Mad Max: Fury Road
  7. Straight Outta Compton
  8. Carol
  9. Sicario

Just missing: Brooklyn, Room
Damn politics: Steve Jobs, Inside Out

 

The Revenant: Leo’s First Oscar

I’ll make this as plain as I can: Leonardo DiCaprio will win The Academy Award for Best Actor this year. It had been suggested as the “extremely likely” outcome for months but having now seen The Revenant, I’ll guarantee it. It’s the safest bet for all of the Oscars at this very moment.

Preseason, Leo’s only competition came from Fassbender and Redmayne. Universal hurt Fass’ chance when they flubbed the release pattern of Steve Jobs. The Danish Girl just isn’t buzzing enough and the the Academy’s OWM (Old White Men) won’t acknowledge the youth of Redmayne twice in a row.

The rest of the movie? Cinematic excellence any way you dice it. Some might find the pace or length to be a bit trying (sorry, you’re wrong). I was pretty tired when I headed into the theatre for the 157 minute trek and thought I may need to rain-check the whole thing during the trailers. But my eyes didn’t feel heavy for a single moment of the film’s run.

The Revenant is well worth your effort and the price of admission as it offers many things I’d hate to think of seeing on a smaller screen (ew).

Emmanuel Lubezski’s as good as he’s ever been. I found myself counting shot-lengths up to “wtf?” on numerous occasions. Chivo’s  cinematography will undoubtedly win an impressive third Oscar in three years (a feat achieved only by Costume Designer Edith Head from 1949-1951). The composition and execution of the action sequences need to be seen to be believed. Iñárritu will win Best Director for having the balls to pull something like this off with almost entirely natural lighting. Hell, he’d probably get it for blocking alone. This is what genius artistry looks like.

David Lean said that you should be able to cut any frame out of a roll of film, frame it, and hang it on the wall. His sentiment certainly stands true here. While we’re on the subject of Lean, Revenant‘s avalanche shot (I don’t even get to use the word “segment” or “sequence” here) echoes the finale of The Bridge on the River Kwai as an impressive one-off stunt that would have taken days to get a second chance at. Props must be given for doing the real thing. Iñárritu and Lubezski seem to be running out of new challenges.

It seems that Spotlight is currently leading the pack in the Best Pic race. While it may be impeccably executed, it’s basically a by-the-book stage play set in front of a camera. So what The Revenant may lack from a standout screenplay it overcompensates for with bold visual imagery and remarkable performance. It’s simply a more worthwhile cinematic experience than Spotlight.

SPOILER (not really) CONCLUSION:

If by the end of the film an AMPAS voter were to have even the faintest notion that someone other than Leo deserved this year’s Oscar, a final pleading stare straight into the lens will surely convince them otherwise. He’ll probably buy cars for Chivo/Iñárritu afterwards.

Spotlight: Leading the Best Pic Race?

Don’t get me wrong. Spotlight doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is: a poignant investigative drama featuring a flawless ensemble performance. Yet it still runs as monochromatic as a newspaper feature.

There are complaints that Steve Jobs took too man creative liberties. Which means Spotlight stands on the opposite side of the spectrum. An audience could believe that the series of events surrounding the 2002 Boston Globe feature played out exactly as depicted on screen. So any sense of shock or discovery I though I might feel had already been spent back when the stories first broke. That doesn’t mean the movie’s boring. It just feels too familiar.

Following the recent less-than-perfect reviews for Revenant (it’s still gonna play hard) and questionable (or bad) reviews for JoySpotlight seems to be out-front in the Best Pic race. But should it be celebrated as the year’s definitive apex of our finest art form? I’d say no. A Best Pic nom? Certainly. And I expect the cast (particularly Ruffalo) and screenplay team to see continued recognition.

I still need to see check out Brooklyn and Carol. And, as mentioned in an earlier feature, I get the sneaking suspicion that Anamolisa could make a late surprise surge (if enough word gets out). But at this point, Steve Jobs and Room are the more vibrant, enthralling, and imaginative prospects to stand atop the best of film in 2015.

Do the NBR’s Best Pics Translate Into Oscar Nominations?

On Monday the National Board of Review teed-off the Oscar season’s playoffs by announcing their 10 Best Pictures of the Year. With more populist pics than in recent years, just how influential/accurate are the NBR’s selections?

While their choices certainly serve as easy marketing decor (“One of the National Board of Review’s Best Pictures of the Year!”), the snowball effect is rather difficult to measure. Do AMPAS members actually look to the NBR list before penning 5 favs for nomination?

While their influence as tastemakers may be questionable, the idea that studios throw resources their way for the occasional screenings/discussion acknowledges that the NBR are at-least the first ones out of the gate.

So where do we draw the line between primary influence vs. simply choosing logical choices? Let’s do some math!

The Oscars expanded the Best Pic field for movies released in 2009 from exactly 5 noms to between 5 and 10 (varying due to the preferential balloting process). Since the expansion, the titles on NBR’s short-list have served as predictors for 34 of the 55 films (or 62%) that would eventually receive top Oscar nominations. And while the NBR’s top pic last year (A Most Violent Year) didn’t even get nominated for an Oscar, the eventual Oscar winner has also made their list 87% of the time over the last 75 years.

But NBR’s overall nomination prediction rate has slipped with the increase in the number of AMPAS nominations. From 2000-2008, the NBR’s list truly missed predicting a nomination only twice (Erin Brokovich and The Queen). The other ten missed picks were likely due to December releases they weren’t given the privilege (read into that however you want) of seeing. This gave them an effective net forecast rate of 94%. Since then, they’ve had 15 blatant misses for a rate of 69%.

So how does affect the field going forward? What’s still to-be-released that the NBR hasn’t seen? The Revenant and Joy are likely sure-things. The Big Short features a heavy ensemble cast, relevant topic, and solid early buzz. And while unorthodox, Charlie Kaufman’s  Anomalisa could squeak in if Paramount plays their screener/screening game TO THE MAX (12/30 release means public buzz won’t exist in-time).

What might have already been released that the NBR’s blatantly left out?  Steve Jobs, while a commercial miss, was expertly crafted on all fronts making it very attractive to the guilds. Carol and Brooklyn have big performances, great reviews, and slow buzz-building distribution models synonymous with the successful arthouse Oscar push. They may be competing with each other for votes though.

Who falls away in these situations? Straight Outta Compton won’t make it. If I have to choose between Mad Max and Hateful Eight (may also compete w/each other for votes), I’d say Eight sits out in the cold but it’s very unlikely that either will represent at least 5% of the Academy’s ballot first-choices. Sicario would make my personal list, but it has too much working against it to stay in the convo. Disney’s Oscar track record is notoriously non-existent and a likely push for Inside Out should also leave Bridge of Spies behind. Creed truly is the darkhorse that may continue to play well enough to stay in the convo.

The NBR’s never missed more than four of the nominations in a single year. Yet if AMPAS nominates 10 Best Pics this year, it may be the first year with 5 misses. But hey, this is a GREAT problem to have for the industry to have. It only means there’s been a larger quota for quality in 2015.

2015: NBR’s Top 10 vs My Predicted Oscar Noms
(For the now. There will undoubtedly be momentum shifts )

National Board of Review Top 10 AMPAS (Oscar) Best Pics Noms
1 Spotlight 1 The Revenant
2 Room 2 Spotlight
3 The Martian 3 Room
4 Inside Out 4 Steve Jobs
5 Creed 5 Carol or Brooklyn
6 Mad Max: Fury Road 6 The Martian
7 Sicario 7 Joy
8 The Hateful Eight *8 Inside Out
9 Bridge of Spies *9 The Big Short
10 Straight Outta Compton *10 Creed

*=Would make list if 10 nominees make it.
-(Yes, I get that I’m cheating with Carol/Brooklyn and I’m still anxious to see both as I’ve heard nothing but amazing things.)

Room: Worth a Trip to the Cinema



Room​ will certainly emerge from 2015 as one of the year’s 10 Best Pics. Featuring some marvelous storytelling techniques, this emotional roller coaster plays equal parts discomfort, terror, and warmth. There was a good 7-8-minute stretch where I’m pretty sure I forgot to breathe. Brie Larson would be a shoo-in (if not the front-runner) for Best Actress, but I worry that limited marketing from a minor distributor might get it pushed out of the conversation down the road. Campaigning’s a bitter pill for those that don’t have the spending capabilities of the big studios. That said, it’s hard to imagine that helmer Lenny Abrahamson could have possibly gotten any more out of Larson and young Jacob Tremblay. They deserve any conversation that comes their way.

Well worth the price of a cinematic experience if only to feed your undivided attention. A home-viewing wouldn’t have done it for me in the same way. Do yourself a favor and avoid seeing the full trailer. I didn’t see it until today, and it seems to deal out more than should be necessary to get you in a seat (the teaser embedded here should be plenty for you).

[Edit 11/15/15 7:01PM: “shoo-in”]

The Season Hath Arrived (wait…which season?)

The Great Season is finally upon us! As summer’s warmth fades with the arrival of September, so too comes the irrational hope of so many devotees. Time for watercooler conversations about how one camp is FINALLY going to pull it together this year. Or how the performance of an individual player could be enough to carry the weight of relevancy as the weeks pass by. Until finally, with boisterous anticipation on a cold Sunday evening in February, we’ll all gather around our televisions to see one camp capture the season’s ultimate golden prize.

The field for contention may be more crowded than we’ve seen in recent seasons. Yet there are two organizations whose talent stands on a tier above the rest. Their peers will be left fighting for meager scraps of the same conversation.

This season’s two prime contenders will be… Steve Jobs and The Revenant.

These teams are talent juggernauts assembled from molds of victory. Directors? Boyle and Iñárritu are easy Top 5 living/working. Leads? Michael Fassbender (riding a heat check) and Leo (who need only be mentioned mononymously). Other casts members?A bundle of true A-Listers.

Each camp is also armed with the most renowned and powerful artistic weapons of their respective fields. X-factors. Off the top of your head, who’s the most renowned screenwriter in the biz? Chances are you’re thinking of Aaron Sorkin. What about the top DP? Off back-to-back wins, it’s clearly Emmanuel Lubezki. Each has contributed their strengths in an attempt to distinguish these pics from their now-formulaic biographical predecessors. With Jobs, Sorkin wrote three clearly defined scene-acts (filmed by Boyle/Küchler in three different formats). With Revenant, Iñárritu/Chivo opted for a difficult path with their au-natural photography and a grueling production schedule.

Many pics will find their way on the shortlist for various merits but the REAL heavyweight fighters always excel at the following: strength of release schedule, accessibility to SAG members, and delivering content that appeals to the crucial “OWMs” (Old White Males) who rep the majority of Academy voters.

With Steve Jobs, all three criteria are easily met. Universal has taken the early buzz-grab road of debuting Jobs through a festival before opening wide in October (the release month of the last 3 Best Pic winners), They will have plenty of time to host Q&As and mail screeners before SAG noms are due on December 7th. With continued positive buzz, $100mil by then doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable (one more thing to tout on “For Your Consideration” ads). “OWM” appeal? LOL! See film title.

Fox seems to have a bit more work cut out for them with The Revenant. The Christmas Day frame is VERY crowded  And while the limited release insures they meet the mandated one-week run in the calendar year, no Best Pic winner in 11 years has opened so late. This far out, it’s also hard to ignore even the most mild comparison to Malick’s The New World which will have opened exactly 10 years prior. But again, the track records of this team should be enough to make this thing really sparkle. While on-set tribulations feel reminiscent of something from Aguirre, the “no expense spared” attitude reflects a heavy level of confidence in the reigning Best Director. “OWM” appeal: 17th century westward trappers battling elements and BEARS. Oh and Grade A+ technical production. But if Fox can’t get Revenant to mature in time for this race, they may choose to instead run Ridley Scott’s The Martian as their Thoroughbred (though genre pics are generally viewed as box office Clydesdales instead of arthouse racers).

This season will certainly see a solid count of talent-laden prospects (Joy, The Hateful Eight, Spotlight, Brooklyn, Suffragette) and hot button dramas (The Danish GirlBeasts of No NationCarol, SnowdenFreeheld), But at the end of the day this game is all about appealing to one group: Hollywood’s Old White Men. Gazing forward, Steve Jobs and The Revenant seem best-positioned to greet them.