Written and directed by The Station Agent’s Tom McCarthy—who is nominated in both categories—the fact-based Spotlight follows a team of Boston Globe journalists in the early 2000s as they manage to expose the widespread and systemic child sex abuse in the Boston area by Roman Catholic Priests. Lauded for its strong performances (Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams are both nominated in the Supporting categories), the cast recently took home the Screen Actors Guild ensemble award. While this is usually no indication of Oscar glory, Spotlight—which swept most critics awards and is the kind of meaningful movie the Academy likes to honour—should not be underestimated.
To capture the claustrophobic experience of a mother and son held captive in a cramped garden shed, nominated director Lenny Abrahamson filmed for weeks inside an 11-by-11-foot set, but his true accomplishment was coaxing such a heart-wrenching yet truthful performance out of eight-year-old B.C. native Jacob Tremblay and allowing the superb Brie Larson to shine in this unconventional love story between mother and son. Although Room is not likely to win the night’s biggest prize, expect Larson to pick up some new hardware this weekend.
Leonardo DiCaprio is just about guaranteed to land his first award for Best Actor on the back of this intense film about survival in the wild against all odds. As 19th-century frontiersman Hugh Glass, DiCaprio suffers one setback after another—grizzlies and rapids and the French, oh my—in a deeply committed, physically and emotionally taxing performance that practically demands recognition. With Academy favourite Alejandro González Iñárritu having already won the Directors Guild Award for the year’s best achievement, The Revenant has a good chance of nabbing the biggest prize of the night, as the Best Pic Oscar has gone to the DGA winner eight out of the last 10 years.
In this sci-fi film by suspense genius Ridley Scott, Matt Damon (nominated for his performance) plays an astronaut who is mistakenly presumed dead and left behind on Mars. Though the film depicts his struggle to survive and his colleagues’ efforts to rescue him, it has a playful tone, showing that in the face of death, your sense of humour is the most valuable survival mechanism (along with a PhD in botany, of course). If it wasn’t up against so many heavyweights in every category, The Martian could have earned Damon and screenwriter Drew Goddard an Oscar each, but this year those trophies are likely spoken for.
Mad Max: Fury Road
This two-hour car chase could have easily been insufferable, but thanks to the deft hand and endlessly inventive imagination of George Miller, Max’s latest trip through a post-apocalyptic wasteland is nothing short of mesmerizing. Although Miller—who is nominated for Best Director—is a wizard of onscreen mayhem, its odds are slim for Best Picture. Still, for any action flick, it’s an honour just to be included.
Saoirse Ronan, whose first Oscar nom was for Atonement at the age of 14, is nominated for her starring role as an Irish immigrant struggling to choose between her new life in Brooklyn or the life she left behind. While the $10-million drama is a critical darling, and the feel-good movie among the eight nominees, it will almost certainly be overpowered by the hype surrounding The Revenant, Spotlight and The Big Short.
Bridge of Spies
The spy drama is another rock-solid creative collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks with a script written by the Coen Brothers, but that may not be enough for the Cold War espionage thriller to take home the biggest award of the night. It is, however, an impassioned argument for the importance of diplomacy and worth the two-hour-and-twenty-minute investment.
The Big Short
The winner of this year’s Producers Guild Award is one of the three frontrunners for best film. Directed by Anchorman helmer Adam McKay (a nominee himself) and starring Christian Bale (also nominated), Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling, the dark comedy about the U.S. mortgage housing crisis has a good shot at taking home the bald gilded man. As the voting process of the PGA most closely mirrors that of the Oscars, there’s reason to believe this could be our most accurate indicator of how the Academy might swing.
Watch the Oscars on Sunday, February 28, 5:30 p.m. on CTV and ABC
Hollywood, you sure know how to put on a show. Not only is this year’s Oscar field for Best Picture a tight race between brutal survivalist drama The Revenant, the true story of journalists exposing systemic child abuse by the Catholic Church in Spotlight, and a dark comedic take on the subprime loan crisis, The Big Short—the show itself is embroiled in controversy after the nominations failed to produce a culturally diverse group of honourees, instead giving rise to the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.
With comedian Chris Rock at the helm, the biggest night in show biz is sure to be a spectacle, and with a proposed boycott, spearheaded by Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, it’s safe to say everyone will be watching.
“Chris is hard at work,” says Academy Awards producer Reginald Hudlin. “He and his writing staff locked themselves in a room. As things got a little provocative and exciting, he said, ‘I’m throwing out the show I wrote and writing a new show.’”
Hudlin expects Rock’s performance to be nothing short of brilliant. “You should expect [#OscarsSoWhite jokes],” he said. “And yes, the Academy is ready for him to do that. They’re excited about him doing that. They know that’s what we need. They know that’s what the public wants, and we deliver what the people want.”
While we wait, take a look at this year’s nominees for Best Picture…