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What and who will win Oscars this year?

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It’s that most wonderful time of year.  
 
Hollywood glamor and glitter is front and center this weekend as the world’s most famous movie stars and industry elites parade down the red carpet to the Academy Awards—and into everlasting fame and induction into the annals of movie history, or sadly, into future obscurity and the obscure answer to a trivia question.
So without further ado, let us get to my annual picks for the winners.
BEST PICTURE
Nominees:  The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room, Spotlight.
Ever since the Academy decided to increase the number of nominees from five to a maximum of ten, this most covetous Oscar has become a rather bizarre and muddled category from which to pick a winner.
And this year is even more of a mess, so to speak, because none of the nominated films are “once-in-a-generation” pictures—not even close.  Sure, there are some pretty good films here, but none are truly spectacular, and clearly none are head-and-shoulders above the rest.  
Compound that with how utterly strange the Academy can be more often than not when picking Best Picture winners (see “The English Patient” over “Saving Private Ryan” or “Gandhi” over “E.T.”), well, most years one would have better luck trying to pick the Mega Pick numbers.
Let us first cut those films that should not even be here.  I like to imagine, with the increased nominees, that this was some sort of backroom deal wherein some producer, desperate to recoup his investment, bribed someone just to nominate his film so he could plaster “Nominated for Best Picture” across the top of the DVD box.
Those films include “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “The Martian.”  While both were pretty good popcorn films, these are not serious art forms.  “Mad Max” was not even an original idea but a reboot of a cheesy 1980s movie that launched the career of Mel Gibson.  Of these two, “The Martian” was the far superior script, but how many times can the entire resources of the world save Matt Damon from certain death?  “The Martian” was pretty and had remarkable CGI, but was utterly predictable and did not even dare to ask us to invest in its hero.
Really the best movies here are “The Big Short,” “Spotlight” and “Bridge of Spies.”  I greatly enjoyed “Bridge of Spies” because of its strong and crisp script, Spielberg’s insane ability to tell a riveting story with this medium, and, well, I am a history nut.  However, this film is not a visceral event and instead a methodical portrayal of one man’s life.  Moreover, way too much time has passed since it was in the theaters (its release date was early summer).
“The Revenant” has gotten a lot of press, and did well in the Golden Globes, but I classify this too as a popcorn film.  The plot is fairly simple.  The bad guy, beautifully played by Tom Hardy, kills the hero’s son, and leaves him for dead in the middle of the wilderness in the middle of winter.  Our hero, Leo DiCaprio, in this film overcomes every kind of challenge that man and nature can throw at him.  However, I must point out there is hardly any depth to this film.  We do not see any emotional conflict within DiCaprio’s character—just sheer, unadulterated will to survive in order to exact revenge.  Once this condition was established in the first 20 minutes of the film, the film plodded on for another two hours as we awaited the inevitable.
“The Big Short” was a wonderful movie that highlighted the events and causes that led up to the financial collapse of 2008 and thusly led to the Great Recession.  The acting was phenomenal, most notably Steve Carell.  The director used multiple devices, including on-screen graphics, and outside actors who spoke directly to the audience, to explain intricate financial arrangements and theories.  However, such mind-numbing topics lost most of the simple masses who much prefer explosions and high-speed car chases in their big screen entertainment.
This was an important film and one every voting American should see, but it will lose to “Spotlight.”
“Spotlight” was the name of the in-investigative reporting team for the Boston Globe that broke the deep cover-up by the Boston Catholic Diocese of the extraordinarily number of priests who sexually abused minors over the last 50 years.
This film, while not even marginally better than “The Big Short” is clearly more emotional and plays to the more primal reaction of protecting our children.  The acting is out-of-this-world and features Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and a stunningly good Rachel McAdams in some of their best work.  “Spotlight” is certainly the best newsroom film since “All the President’s Men” which is unquestionably the standard, and should role up this award on Sunday night.
WINNER:  “Spotlight”
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE:
Nominees:  Bryan Cranston, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Fassbender, Eddie Redmayne
The big question this year, as in each of the recent years, is will Leo finally win his Oscar?  Or better question, is his performance worthy of an Oscar win?
In my mind, not this year—and not even close.
Look, the best two actors in this year’s field are Bryan Cranston and last year’s winner, Eddie Redmayne.  Cranston, with all the rightful acclaim from his performance in “Breaking Bad,” is still not as appreciated as he should be.  If there has been a better actor to come along in the last 25 years, I would like to know who it is.  
And it might well be, an argument can be made, Eddie Redmayne.  What is truly remarkable about Redmayne is how good he is for as young as he is.  Not even yet 35, Redmayne may well be the next English actor to continue the tradition of Burton, McKellen, and Hopkins.
As I spoke above about “The Revenant” and DiCaprio’s performance, it was an exercise in demonstrating how well an actor can portray how to take a beating.  No matter how much spittle and snot fly out of orifices on screen, this does not make for a layered, nuanced character worthy of winning this award.  I like DiCaprio, and I think he is a pretty decent actor who may well win this award—and given the sentimentality of the Academy it may well be this year—but he should not win it this year.
However, given the lack of great characters in rather mediocre films that are nominated here and that aforementioned sentimentality, I am sorry to say, this is Leo’s year.
WINNER:  Leonardo DiCaprio
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Nominees:  Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Mark Ruffalo, Mark Rylance, Sylvester Stallone
Supporting role nominees are the most fun for me, generally because these are the meatiest roles which would be the most fun to play, and generally, the Academy chooses the one actor who most deserves the award.
All the actors here are damn fine artists who take their craft seriously, and one can make a good case for any one of these gentleman.
The nostalgic choice here is Sylvester Stallone for his performance in “Creed,” and while I think it is a nice gesture for the Academy to honor a 69 year-old has-been for all his success in the movie business, Stallone is still Stallone.  He mumbles his way through his one-dimensional characters, and “Creed” is the seemingly 20th iteration of that character.
The best work this year—and it is not even close—is Hardy’s performance in “The Revenant.”  He stole every scene of the film, including the way-too-few that he and DiCaprio shared.  His character was extremely detailed and complex, and yes, I understand that most of it has to do with the writing, but I felt a vast array of emotions toward Hardy as the film moved forward, and I left questioning what actions I would have taken had I been in his place.  Hardy’s performance was a master class and nothing less.
WINNER:  Tom Hardy
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Nominees:  Cate Blanchett, Brie Larson, Jennifer Lawrence, Charlotte Rampling, Saoirse Ronan
Historically this winner is the most difficult to predict.  Sometimes the Academy uses this category to give unsanctioned lifetime achievement awards, and other times it seems to use it to launch the career of a new actress.
What makes it all the more difficult is that, again, these films are rather blasé.  Of the five nominees, three are household unknowns.  Only the stunning Cate Blanchett and bloom-off-the-rose Jennifer Lawrence are recognizable. 
My thoughts are that the three newcomers, so to speak, will split the Academy vote, and Blanchett, who is an astonishingly good actress, will win her third Oscar.
WINNER:  Cate Blanchett
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Nominees:  Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rooney Mara, Rachel McAdams, Alicia Vikander, Kate Winslet
This category is this year’s blackhole.  There is not much difference in the quality of performance of any of these nominees, and all of these films are at best mediocre—with the exception of “Spotlight.”
Given that I think Rachel McAdams was insanely good in this role, and that there will be a “Spotlight” bounce, so to speak, I predict her to be the winner.
WINNER:  Rachel McAdams
THE BEST OF THE REST
Directing:  Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight”
Cinematography:  “The Revenant”
Costume Design:  “Cinderella”
Film Editing:  “The Big Short”
About the Author
Who was that mysterious man you saw in the theater last night? You tried to get a look at him but he quickly disappeared in a puff of smoke, his cackle trailing in the air, leaving behind his calling card: a half-eaten box of popcorn and a lukewarm soda. He is Our Movie Reviewer named Tim!