Carol Does Well, Not Well Enough
I knew Carol was going to miss the cut for both Best Picture and Best Director when the DGA nominations were released earlier this week and Todd Haynes’ name was nowhere to be found. It missed out on the SAGs and missed out on the PGAs, and there was basically no way it was going to get a Best Picture nomination. I was proven right this morning when the field was released, featuring The Big Short, The Revenant, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, Room, Spotlight and The Martian. By virtue of the other nominations, one can only assume that Carol ended up ninth on the list, likely just shy of that 5% of first place votes threshold that is the difference between making the cut and looking on from the outside. It is notable that Carol ended up with six nominations (Best Actress for Blanchett, Supporting for Mara, Cinematography, Costume Design, Score, and Adapted Screenplay), good enough to tie it for fourth most nominations with Spotlight and Bridge of Spies (lagging behind The Martian with seven, Mad Max: Fury Road with ten and The Revenant with twelve). So that’s a good thing, right? Right?
Good Old Fashioned Category Fraud
I wrote about category fraud not too long ago, and what was indeed expected did happen with Rooney Mara for Carol and Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl finding themselves in the crowded Supporting Actress category instead of the equally crowded Actress category. It is great that these two were nominated (I will forever be on record that, despite my general hatred for The Danish Girl and Eddie Redmayne’s performance, Alicia Vikander is excellent in that movie), and it’s great that they have a decent chance to win (I’m going to keep clinging onto my belief that Mara is the frontrunner until that dream gets crushed into a fine paste) as well as freeing up space for the likes of Charlotte Rampling in the Best Actress category, but it’s equally frustrating that other performances, namely Kristen Stewart’s career defining turn in Clouds of Sils Maria, are left on the outside looking in. The same could be said for Mark Ruffalo on the Supporting Actor tip. Admittedly, Spotlight is a bit of a thornier subject when it comes to Supporting versus Lead, but if anyone in that movie is a lead, it’s Ruffalo, and his placement has boxed out the likes of Michael Shannon in 99 Homes (a likely replacement) or Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina (an exceedingly less likely but equally deserving replacement). It’s also notable that Christian Bale received a Lead Actor nomination for The Big Short at the just-aired Golden Globes, but is in for Supporting here. He could also be at fault for boxing out the likes of Paul Dano in Love & Mercy (who, to be fair, might just be a lead himself). Sometimes, when it comes to roles like Ruffalo’s or Bale’s, it can be legitimately tough to make a call for which category fits the best. Sometimes, as is the case with Mara and Vikander, it couldn’t be more obvious.
Mad Max Versus The Revenant
As someone who remains a huge fan of Mad Max: Fury Road (it was, after all, my second favorite film of the year lagging behind only Carol), I was certainly heartened by the fact that it received ten nominations. I am equally petrified, however, by the fact that in literally every single category is is nominated, it is facing up against The Revenant (even costume design. Costume design!). There is a very real chance that, if The Revenant ends up going on a Birdman-esque run as it comes off the win at the Golden Globes and a strong box office as it opened in more theaters, it will proceed to box out the far superior Fury Road at every turn. I think it’s great that a movie as bugnuts insane as Mad Max: Fury Road is even getting recognition by the Academy, let alone enough recognition to garner itself more nominations than every movie save one. I don’t think it’s going to win much; it might not win anything. It really comes down to whether the Academy as a whole favors Spotlight or The Revenant. Spotlight was a presumptive leader in a close race last week, but it’s possible that Inarritu’s newest exercise in human suffering has forged ahead. If Spotlight wins Best Picture, it’s possible George Miller could sneak the Director prize, which would not only be a wonderful example of the Academy getting it right, which doesn’t happen often enough, but a great case that style and prowess can still mean something even if the subject matter isn’t classically “Academy Worthy” (and nothing is less "Academy Worthy" than the Doof Warrior). I hold out hope, though I am fully expecting that hope to be dashed against the rocks.
Some Categories Got it Right
I am in love with the fact that The Academy did not nominate The Good Dinosaur for animated feature. It does not deserve it (not in the slightest), but its pedigree as a Pixar movie could have easily carried it into a category it has no business in. I haven’t seen When Marnie Was There or Boy and the World, but I’ve heard they’re both excellent. It is equally heartening to see Don Hertzfeldt’s wondrous World of Tomorrow in the Animated Short category, though it will almost certainly find itself losing out to Sanjay’s Super Team. I dig that, when the inevitable Short packages are screened in theaters, I’ll have the opportunity to see World of Tomorrow on a non-laptop. I’m also on board with the choices for Documentary Feature, and while I’ve only seen Mustang out of the Foreign nominations (we’re still a week or so away from Son of Saul’s Boston release), I am dying to see the other options.
Making the Nominations Great Again
Let’s take a look at some categories and see how one change could make them a hell of a lot better
You’re going to see The Big Short show up quite a bit here, and it’s predominantly because while I think it is full of good ideas and is made with passion, a handful of the choices it makes infuriates me to no end, holding it back from the greatness it could have been. It turns out that many of those shortcomings are the aspects of the film that got nominations, which pretty much convinces me that I’m crazy. The script, while often decent, is the impetus of two of the things I disliked most about The Big Short, the fourth wall breaking narration and celebrity cameo gags, and easily could have been replaced by Charlie Kaufman’s tender and low-key-yet-complex adaptation of his own play Anomalisa. The screenplay categories tend to be the sort of places that the weirder movies of the bunch get nods (see Her from a couple of years ago, or Ex Machina in the Original Screenplay category this year), and this would have been the perfect opportunity to throw some more love Kaufman’s way.
This (or perhaps costuming) is one of the more curious choices for The Revenant, a film that spends the majority of its runtime in natural woodland settings that honestly don’t require a ton of production design. This is not necessarily to say that the production designer for The Revenant didn’t do good work, but it does mean that other more deserving films were shut out. Either of the 1950’s New York-based period pieces that came out this year (both Brooklyn and Carol) could easily have been here in place of The Revenant (or even Cinderella, which received a Costume Design nod), but I would have loved to see some, well, love thrown at Love & Mercy, a period piece about both the 60’s and the 80’s that wonderfully brings the life and times of Brian Wilson to the screen.
OUT: Adam McKay (The Big Short)
This category was, in many ways, one of the worst of the whole bunch. I could easily replace at least two of the options, with Lenny Abrahamson’s directing being the weakest aspect of Room (it’s still a great movie overall, so I’m more puzzled than outraged by his inclusion) and McKay’s busy, montage heavy and often out of focus direction of The Big Short actively making it a bad experience to watch. I’d replace both (and probably Inarritu too while I’m at it). Hell, even Tom McCarthy’s direction of Spotlight only really rose to the great heights of “acceptable.” If forced to replace only one, McKay gets the hook in favor of Todd Haynes’ exceptional direction of Carol, but there’s a long list of would-be’s and should-be’s right behind him, the likes of Ryan Coogler (Creed) or Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) or any number of other far more interesting or better choices. What happened here? I don't get it.
OUT: Rachel McAdams (Spotlight) [Or any of the Category Fraud nominees] IN: Kristen Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria)
Kristen Stewart gave a better performance than just about everyone in this category save Mara (who’s a lead anyway, so it’s arguably unfair to compare them), so it’s criminal that she’s been shoved out by what amounts to studio meddling. She needs to be in here (and, I would argue at least that Julie Walters from Brooklyn does as well), so we have to figure out who to take out. While neither Mara nor Vikander are actually in Supporting roles, their performances are certainly good enough to merit nomination. So a choice must be made among the remaining three. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance in The Hateful Eight is too good to take out, and I would argue the same about Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs. So the axe is forced to fall somewhat unkindly on Rachel McAdams in Spotlight. She’s perfectly acceptable in the role, to be fair, but doesn’t have the spark Stewart imbued in Clouds of SIls Maria.
OUT: Jennifer Lawrence (Joy) IN: Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) [Or either Mara or Vikander, but really Mara]
Interestingly, most of the people who hated Joy still liked Jennifer Lawrence’s performance. I don’t get it. I don’t think she was actively bad, but I don’t think she was particularly good either. She simply didn’t have anything to work with. And in this year, with so many incredible female performances, there’s a laundry list of better options for Best Actress than her. Whether it’s Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in Tangerine or Lola Kirke in Mistress America or either of the women from The Duke of Burgundy or a billion other options, there are so many women more deserving of being in the category than Jennifer Lawrence’s least impressive performance in David O. Russell’s worst movie by a country mile. Personally, I’d throw Charlize Theron in there for her powerful and assured performance as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road. She is unquestionably the lifeblood of that movie, its raging, pounding heart, and that film wouldn’t be half the spectacle that it is without her.
OUT: Christian Bale (The Big Short) IN: Michael Shannon (99 Homes)
It’s puzzling to me that the performances that rose to the top of The Big Short were Bale’s and Carell’s when Ryan Gosling’s weasley super-bro was clearly the reason to sit through the movie despite all of its problems. Bale’s performance is certainly flashier, with his glass eye and his death metal drumming and his on-the-spectrum tics, but bigger does not always mean better. Sure, replacing Bale with Gosling straight up would improve this category (a category, mind you, that should only result in one man winning, Mark Rylance, even though Stallone is going to take it anyway), but we can do even better. Much more deserving is Michael Shannon from this year’s other movie about the 2008 housing market collapse, 99 Homes; his sinister, predatory real estate agent/foreclosure specialist is infused with malice, yet Shannon manages to sneak in a little bit of pathos on the side. Just enough to almost question how much of a monster he’s being.
OUT: Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) IN: Michael B. Jordan (Creed)
I can’t say much more about how much I dislike Eddie Redmayne’s preening, mannered performance in The Danish Girl, a transgender role that could only be performed by a man who has no clue what it’s like to feel transgender. Redmayne’s way of externalizing the struggle is to simply act like how a man would think a woman would act, so far as going to a strip club and mirroring the movements of the stripper in the most risible scene of the film. Stuff like The Danish Girl is exactly why the transgender community is so disappointed in the rest of the world. The field for Best Actor is pretty weak in general, but replacing Redmayne for the far superior Michael B. Jordan from crowd pleaser and surprise hit Creed would not only up the quality of the category significantly, it would also inject some much needed color into the proceedings.
Because you've read this article, so this does not require further explanation.
There will be more to talk about in the coming weeks prior to the telecast, and the winners of the SAGs, the PGAs and the DGAs will certainly make it more clear whether this is Spotlight’s year or The Revenant’s. In the meantime, go ahead and watch some Alan Rickman movies while listening to David Bowie, and hope alongside all of us that 2016 stops being so cruel.