I must first confess that I haven’t watched ALL the nominated films this year, particularly the ones in the “Foreign Language category.” This is partly due to the fact that I was not in the states after the nomination list was announced. Despite this, I managed to watch all the major ones on DVD, and felt comfortable to make the following predictions:
The eight nominees are decent and deserve our long-lasting attention. But somehow I felt this year’s candidates are relatively weak and not a single one captures my immediate attention and compels me to vote for it (if I was qualified to vote). The one that stands out is once again Mexican American filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant. To me, this film goes beyond survival and revenge, but captures the poetic and mysterious (sometimes religious) nature of the grand American West. The only odds against it is that the film is oftentimes bloody and violent, the elements that might turn some Oscar voters (particularly the old ones) off.
It’s time to write a book about this cinematic genius called Alejandro González Iñárritu, or more generally about the “Mexican Invasion of Hollywood” (represented by the three “Amigos” active in Hollywood: del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón, and Alejandro González Iñárritu), a cultural phenomenon that rivals the “German Invasion of Hollywood” in the 1920s. I vote for Alejandro González Iñárritu, because he is not only a filmmaker, but an artist, a poet, and a philosopher as well. I hope the following won’t affect Oscar voters’ decision: if he wins, this is the second consecutive year Alejandro G. Iñárritu receives the best director and best film trophies.
Best Actor in a leading role:
Finally this year belongs to Leonardo DiCaprio. The inside joke “Dear Academy, why do you hate me?” should eventually evaporate at the 88th Academy Awards ceremony. Leo deserves to have this golden statue and the Academy owes him a great deal for his continuous contribution to the film community. In this category, Leo’s only rival is Eddie Redmayne, who plays the first transgender person in 1920s’ Denmark in The Danish Girl. But Eddie’s disadvantage is actually to compete with himself, meaning that he has to top his depiction of Stephen William Hawking last year in order to win again, which he didn’t.
Best Actress in a leading role:
It seems none of the nominees in this category stands out as convincingly as its male counterparts. The various awards prior to the Academy Awards, including the BAFTA, the Golden Globe, the Critic’s Choice Award, the Independent Spirit Award, and most notably the SAG Award, indicate that Brie Larson, the relatively unknown actress and singer in Hollywood, will win this trophy. I liked her performance in Room, in which she depicts a kidnapped mother in a strikingly realistic manner. But I also found Saoirse Ronan’s performance in Brooklyn convincing and captivating. For the sake of prediction, though, I go for Brie Larson.
Best Actor in a supporting role:
It should be unanimous and unequivocal: the Oscar goes to the British actor Mark Rylance, who portrays a Cold-War Soviet spy in Steven Spielberg’s new feature Bridge of Spies. I didn’t like the film, and thought Spielberg has exhausted his talent and passion in filmmaking after the WWII epic Saving Private Ryan, and there is always a little contrived American moral superiority when he deals with historical subject. Despite this, there is no denying that Mark Rylance’s performance uplifts this otherwise mediocre film. He is calm, restraint, canny, but at the same time smart, dignified, and understanding. It is strange that, just like last year, the “Best Supporting Actor” is usually the easiest to predict and pick (remember last year’s J.K. Simmons in Whiplash?).
Best Actress in a supporting role:
I am still debating on whom I should pick in this category: Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs or Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl? My intuition tells me that Kate Winslet will probably win this title, and it would be a historical moment if Leo presents the golden statue to Kate, a symbolic reunion of the two after their screen romance in Titanic. Just for this reason, I go for Kate Winslet, although Alicia Vikander’s performance is equally unforgettable as a woman painter in The Danish Girl.
Best Animated Feature:
I think Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out will win. It caused quite a splash among critics when this animated feature came out last summer. Although it is a little too childish, to be able to visualize a girl’s inside thought and emotion and present them on a big screen is itself a marvelous achievement. This is the primitive form of what I call the “brain screen,” meaning that the camera is no longer mainly interested in the depiction of what happens outside a character’s mind, but of what happens inside a person’s mind. Although it is oftentimes simplistic (only a few emotional elements are represented), this animated feature has at least made the initial attempt toward this direction.
Lastly, some general comments: the 88th Academy Awards mark the triumph of big studios, with the 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney, and Warner Brothers receiving 24, 14, and 11 nominations for each. This year’s Oscars is once again not free from controversies, and chief among them is the lack of diversity in its nomination list, or more bluntly, the “White Oscars” phenomenon as many people dubbed it. My reservation, however, is more concerned with the quality of the nominated films. As I said in the beginning, this year’s candidates are relatively weak and far from artistically outstanding. Maybe my expectation is too high, and let’s just enjoy the show, which will be televised live from the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday, February 28, 2016 beginning at 5:30pm PT or 8:30pm ET on ABC.