Let’s be fair: most people are more than a little disappointed with this year’s Oscar nominations. And not just for the social issues – they’re also just uninspiring overall. There’s nothing as ambitious as Boyhood, cinematographically intriguing as Birdman, or stylish as Whiplash or Grand Budapest Hotel. There isn’t even anything as
dire controversial as American Sniper. In theory, there’s a race between The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road, but those two movies appeal to such different demographics that it’s less of a conversation and more of an awkward elevator ride. So, in the interest of personal fun, I’ve put together a personal list of what would make my personal Oscars list this year.
- The film must be eligible for this year’s Oscars, or if it’s unclear whether the film is eligible, it must have had its first UK release since the last Oscars.
- The film must have had a wide release, which I’m judging by whether or not it played at Cineworld. This is an alternate Oscars rather than a “my favourite films” list, and the Oscars tend to reward films which have a mainstream cinema release, partially because those films are more popular and partially because those distributors can afford to send out more screeners to academy members.
I erred on the side of including Beasts of No Nation and The Hateful Eight, because of the wide spread of Netflix and Tarantino’s mainstream popularity respectively. Additionally, I have not seen Brooklyn, Straight Outta Compton, 45 Years, The Danish Girl or Youth, so they will not be included in this list.
Are you ready?
My best picture list is only five, since I’d rather fill it with five films I was really sure about than spend three days arguing back and forth over what to fill the rest of the list with from other films I liked this year. Please mentally fill in the last five with popular films you liked.
The Big Short
Love & Mercy
The Big Short is the only real-Oscars nomination that makes it here. I wasn’t expecting much from it since I didn’t like the trailer, but it’s a good film – it takes a lot stylistically from documentary-making in a way that gives it a cool, off-kilter feel. It’s also the only real advocacy film I’ve seen in years that’s really trying to raise awareness of a current situation rather than portraying the issues depicted as historical or completely solved.
Since this is the better, not-real Oscars, I can nominate an actor for more than one film – which is great for Fassbender and Hardy, who gave excellent performances in two films each this year.
Matt Damon – The Martian
Paul Dano – Love & Mercy
Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs/Macbeth
Tom Hardy – Legend/Mad Max: Fury Road
Michael B. Jordan – Creed
I was wondering whether to put Farrell in over someone else for his performance in The Lobster, but I’d already put together the rest of the list by then and couldn’t decide who to remove, so it stays as it is. Fassbender is probably my favourite here on account of the two-really-excellent-performances thing, so I suppose I’m glad he’s also up for the real thing. It’s a shame he’s likely to lose to DiCaprio’s Oscar-By-Attrition, especially since The Wolf Of Wall Street was much more interesting than The Revenant.
I had to set myself rules for Best Actress, which I suppose is an unfortunate comment on female roles – they had to be leads rather than large female supporting roles, so the film had to feel like their story. By these rules I ended up deciding that Mara should get the nomination for Carol rather than Blanchett. Vikander is probably the fuzziest inclusion, but Ex Machina is structured in such a way that you can argue that all of the three core characters are alternately main or supporting characters at different parts of the film.
Emily Blunt – Sicario
Lola Kirke – Mistress America
Rooney Mara – Carol
Charlize Theron – Mad Max: Fury Road
Alicia Vikander – Ex Machina
Mistress America wasn’t a great film, but newcomer Kirke gives a great performance in it – and since I didn’t see Brooklyn and decided that nominating Lawrence’s performance in Joy ironically wasn’t in the spirit of what I’m doing, I had room to recognise her. Emily Blunt in Sicario is probably the oddest absence from the main list, but it was possibly too genre for mainstream academy voters while being too apparently-mainstream to win much big-indie attention.
I feel like people calling for Elba’s nomination for supporting actor cements my rules for best vs best supporting actress – Elba is a huge, charismatic presence with a lot of screentime in Beasts of No Nation, but he’s not the lead.
Benicio Del Toro – Sicario
Idris Elba – Beasts of No Nation
Domhnall Gleeson – The Revenant/Ex Machina
Oscar Isaac – Ex Machina
Sylvester Stallone – Creed
While none of Gleeson’s performances have been as stand-out as the other nominees, he’s the real MVP of being a supporting actor this year. He was also in Star Wars, which I’ve left out here since it’s up for my fictional “Best Ensemble” category, and Brooklyn, which I didn’t see. I’m sure he’s fine in that too. I used to joke that this should be the “why didn’t they dominate Benicio Del Toro” category, but after seeing their films Elba and Stallone give category-winning performances too.
Supporting Actress probably has the most fuzzy entries – Blanchett, Browning and Larson all have large roles in their film, with Browning even narrating hers, but the emotional centre of Carol and Room films belong to other characters, and Browning’s character takes the background towards the end of her film.
Cate Blanchett – Carol
Emily Browning – Legend
Olivia Colman – The Lobster
Brie Larson – Room
Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs
I feel worst about giving Larson supporting rather than main actress, but the reason I’ve given it to her is the same reason I’m not a huge fan of Room – towards the end, it leans more towards being an uplifting film about a precocious child than a psychological drama, and in doing so erases Larson’s character’s arc by literally never mentioning her suicide attempt again after it happens. Also, I nominated Colman over Weisz in The Lobster because, although they’re both great, I felt that Colman gave a really exceptional performance that was vital to selling the film’s off-key tone and highly stylised characterisation.
Sometimes, films have more than one main character, or a large equally-important supporting cast, or otherwise don’t quite work for the regular best/supporting categories. Since I can do what I want here, I wanted to reward those un-neat films as well.
The Big Short
The Hateful Eight
Magic Mike XXL
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
On cultural impact alone Star Wars feels like the runaway winner here, introducing a cast of varied and compelling characters that have gone straight to people’s hearts, but it wouldn’t be an awards-ceremony-written-by-me without Magic Mike XXL. Spotlight is an interesting one – it has a lot of characters, but none of them have arcs that do not connect in some way to the scandal-biopic main plot, which is unique in itself.
Best Channing Tatum
Jody – The Hateful Eight
Caine – Jupiter Ascending
Mike Lane – Magic Mike XXL
It’s a close year for the most important award. Tatum’s performances as final-act basement gangster, half-wolf space husband and half-snake ex-dancer husband were all very compelling.
Best Supporting Dog
I found out about the Palm Dog awards a few weeks ago and they’re very important.
That Ant That’s Basically A Dog – Ant-Man
Daisy/Unnamed Pitbull – John Wick
J.B. – Kingsman: The Secret Service
Bob – The Lobster
Leo’s Dog – Room
John Wick has two dogs, which puts it at a real advantage.
I feel somewhat embarrassed about not having any female directors here. I thought that there must be at least one female-directed film I’ve seen this year that a) meets “the rules” and b) has awards-quality stylish directing, but… there wasn’t. So, consider this piece of commentary an apologetic honourable mention for Céline Sciamma (for Girlhood, which didn’t get a wide release) and Lana Wachowski (for Jupiter Ascending, which was very fun but not quite right for this list).
Danny Boyle – Steve Jobs
Ryan Coogler – Creed
Todd Haynes – Carol
Yorgos Lanthimos – The Lobster
Adam McKay – The Big Short
It can be hard to differentiate “direction” from “cinematography”, especially when you’re trying to award the “look” or “feel” of the film, so for “best director” I tried to choose films that felt like they had a notable approach to camerawork or overall performance style – so The Big Short’s documentary feel, Steve Jobs‘ West Wing/Birdman-style backstage claustrophobia, The Lobster‘s consistently and purposefully understated line readings, Creed‘s stylish fight camerawork, and the lingering dreamy long-shots of Carol.
Best Visual Design
I’ve combined all of the visual design categories so that I don’t have to unpick the difference between cinematography, production design and film editing.
When I look at the mainstream awards, Carol is obviously an odd omission from the Best Picture and Best Director, but I was also surprised at Sicario‘s absence from any acting awards and Macbeth‘s absence from… well, everything. It’s a really gorgeous film. Like many of my categories, Mad Max: Fury Road was a close runner-up here – I definitely remember enjoying it, but it’s become so over-hyped to me that I tend to end up rejecting it because it feels like a “should” rather than “want to” addition.
Best Sound Design
Like with Visual Design, I’ve combined all of the sound categories into one since I honestly don’t know the difference between “sound mixing” and “sound editing”, let along where they depart from “best score”.
The Hateful Eight [x]
It Follows [x]
Love & Mercy [x]
Magic Mike XXL [x]
Steve Jobs [x]
I’ve included links to either the film’s full soundtrack or an excerpt from it, since without an aural demonstration all you’d be taking away from this category is that “films with good sound design are probably blue and red”. Obviously, combining all these categories as one means you get some crossover of musical/choreographical films like Magic Mike XXL mixed in with more traditionally/experimentally soundtracked films, like It Follows‘ John Carpenter synths and the building tension of Steve Jobs‘ anticipatory percussion.
I’ve combined adapted and original screenplay since I am theoretically meant to be making these alternate awards for fun.
The Big Short
Love & Mercy
The Oscar’s Best Screenplay awards can be odd, since they’re often used as a way to award nominations or accolades to films that are a little too odd or indie or just not-the-front-runners enough to get Best Picture, combined with films that are very stylish in wordplay or atmosphere. I suppose mine aren’t that much different, with The Martian and Inside Out not getting many other nominations in my fake Oscars and the other three being exceptionally stylish.
Worst Writer Of Third Acts
I wasn’t planning to do a worst anything award, but while preparing the Best Actress category I remembered that Baumbach had written both Mistress America and While We’re Young.
Noah Baumbach – Mistress America & While We’re Young
Both films have the same problem – a really excellent, nuanced first two-thirds-or-so that establish complex characters, their relationships, and their issues with their lives & creative work, followed by an abysmal last third where the story and characterization fly completely off the rails before ending in the most clumsy and conventional way possible in spite of the earlier complexity of the issues raised. At the half way point, I might have listed either of them as in the running for one of my favourite films of the year. Then they kept going.
There are probably worse-overall films this year, but the promise of the openings made watching these feel like realising someone’s taken a shit half-way down a panini you’ve already started eating..
In the end, my awards weren’t really much less white, or much less straight, than the mainstream Oscars – so as much as I’d stand by every film on this list as great, there’s a wider distribution problem when it comes to films with LGBT or PoC protagonists getting the funding for the kind of wide cinematic release & screener distribution that gets films on the awards radar. There’s nothing inherently more “Oscar-film” about The Revenant than there is about a film like Girlhood or Tangerine, other than media “buzz” – though even that “buzz” didn’t help Carol, Creed and other films like them make it into a lot of the categories they were tipped for.