The UK release dates of most of the films nominated for this year's Academy Awards made for a rather compressed pre-Oscar season. But thanks, in part, to two Odeon Screen Unseens and a few preview screenings and press screeners, I was able to work my way through most of the films nominated for the eight categories I usually consider.
Best Picture: The Revenant [8/8 watched]
Best Director: Tom McCarthy, Spotlight [5/5 watched]
Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant [5/5 watched]
Best Supporting Actor: Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight [4/5 watched]
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Carol [4/5 watched]
Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl [5/5/ watched]
Best Original Screenplay: Inside Out [4/5 watched]
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Martian [5/5 watched]
I liked all of the eight films nominated for Best Picture apart from Mad Max: Fury Road, which was visually impressive but not really my thing. The Martian was easily the most enjoyable film on the list and I was also very impressed by Spotlight and Brooklyn. For me, though, there could be only one winner: The Revenant. By turns, brutal and beautiful, bleak and bold, Alejandro González Iñárritu's film took my breath away and then some. But beneath the slim plot and sparse dialogue lies a powerful story of survival and revenge. Yes, a González Iñárritu film won Best Picture last year too, but The Revenant is a much worthier victor.
For that matter, González Iñárritu deserves his Best Director nomination this year more than last year too. However, I think Tom McCarthy should get the gong for Spotlight, which is, in many ways, a harder sell: there are no gorgeous, sweeping landscapes or primal instincts. What Spotlight does tell is an extremely important story about truth and corruption as several investigative reporters for the Boston Globe uncover a systematic cover-up of child abuse in the Catholic Church. It is often understated and sometimes even funny, but it is always fascinating and utterly compelling. This is no mean feat given how much of the 'action' consists of the reporters going about fairly mundane journalist tasks.
Among the Best Actor nominees, surely Leonardo DiCaprio can be the only victor. You can see how much he earned his nomination in every scene of The Revenant. This might not be DiCaprio's finest ever performance, but he does deserve this Oscar and I'm pretty sure he will get it. The Best Supporting Actor category was harder for me to call: I haven't seen front-runner Sylvester Stallone in Creed and I was torn between very different performances by two different Marks for my pick. In the end, I went for Ruffalo, who shone in Spotlight, but Rylance was also superbly understated in Bridge of Spies. Nor would I be too sad if Tom Hardy won for The Revenant, although I think it's unlikely.
Unless there is a huge upset in the Best Actress category, Brie Larson is very likely to walk away with the Oscar for her widely acclaimed turn in Room. Her performance captures her character's utter loneliness and despair, as well as her joy, seen chiefly in her love for her young son. But it is Cate Blanchett's performance as the titular Carol in Todd Haynes' film who wins my vote: a sophisticated but vulnerable femme fatale. Blanchett is superb, although some of the credit should go to Rooney Mara, who is, oddly, nominated for Best Supporting Actress. She is great in Carol, but my pick in this category is Alicia Vikander, who can seemingly do no wrong. Her character, Gerda, is the real emotional core of The Danish Girl, even if she should really have been nominated for Best Actress; at least this way, she stands a chance at an Oscar, I suppose.
In the writing categories, I would really like for Inside Out and The Martian to win Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay, respectively. Inside Out is wonderfully imaginative, clever, funny and touching, while The Martian is pure cinematic entertainment. I suspect that both will lose out, to Spotlight and The Big Short, respectively, especially if the latter two don't pick up any other big awards. Ex Machina, one of my favourite films of 2015, feels like it came out a long time ago, so I'm pleased to see that it still picked up a nod for Best Original Screenplay.
Here are links to all of my reviews for the nominated movies:
The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Carol, The Danish Girl, Inside Out, Joy, The Martian, The Revenant, Room, Spotlight, Steve Jobs and Trumbo.