The 88th Annual Academy Awards ceremony is less than a week away at the time of writing this - and yet, the "race" for the Best Picture Oscar is perhaps still more open than it has been in years past. While both Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant have been recognized by multiple critics circles and snagged big prizes at events like the 2016 BAFTA awards show (where The Revenant was crowned Best Film), The Big Short won Best Picture at the 2016 Producers Guild Awards: an annual event where the big winner has frequently aligned with the eventual Best Picture Oscar-winner of the same year. Plus, a film like Spotlight shouldn't be counted out of the Best Picture race either, having been honored at such events as the 2016 Screen Actors Guild awards show already.
Every film that's in the running for the Best Picture Oscar in 2016 has its strengths and weaknesses alike (as do all films in general) - so, as has happened in years past, we're going to analyze and break down the various 2016 Best Picture nominees in those respects, while at the same time touching upon their Oscar prospects. For each movie, we'll examine 1) Why It Should Win (e.g. What's good about the film?), 2) Why It Shouldn't Win (e.g. What's not-so-good about the film), and 3) The Bottom Line (e.g. What are its chances of winning?).
Here's What Will Win & What SHOULD Win at the 2016 Academy Awards ceremony.
10 The Big Short
Why It Should Win: Ant-Man co-writer and Anchorman 1 & 2 director Adam McKay put his comedy filmmaking experience to great use on The Big Short, a film that manages to turn author Michael Lewis' decidedly un-cinematic source book (which examines the 2007 financial crisis and those who predicted it) into an engaging and unique movie experience. McKay's adaptation flies all the higher thanks to the engaging performances from its leads (including, Christian Bale and Steve Carell), who help to capture both the dark humor and real-life tragedy of the story being told here.
Why It Shouldn't Win: The Big Short uses everything from meta comedy techniques (fourth wall-breaking, self-aware celebrity appearances) to a fly on the wall documentary filming style to bring its narrative to life, but certain tricks work better than others, as do some of the film's running jokes and repeated narrative devices. Furthermore, in a film that devotes so much time to just explaining the logistics behind the housing market collapse, there's simply not much room for compelling character storylines too.
The Bottom Line: The Big Short is a dark horse contender for prizes like Best Picture and Best Director and isn't expected to win for acting at the 2016 Oscars ceremony either - but that doesn't mean it will go home empty-handed. In fact, the film is one of two front-runners to win Best Adapted Screenplay (the other being The Martian - but more on that later).
9 Bridge of Spies
Why It Should Win: A true story-based historical drama/thriller directed by Steven Spielberg and co-written by the Coen Brothers, Bridge of Spies is a thoughtful and well-crafted history lesson - one that, among other things, draws intriguing parallels between the political issues and ethical dilemmas raised by the Cold War and those in the present-day war against terrorism. Tom Hanks is good as every while playing the lead in Bridge of Spies, while Mark Rylance's supporting turn (as the spy who is the catalyst for the film's narrative) is well-deserving of all the acclaim it has earned him to date.
Why It Shouldn't Win: Bridge of Spies tells a worthwhile story about history, but it's one that might have been better served as a TV mini-series than a feature-length film - given how much time (and the number of characters) that the movie examines. Spielberg, meanwhile, does fine directorial work here, but it doesn't stand out as that much better than his work in recent years on such historical dramas as Lincoln and War Horse; some might even argue it's derivative of Spielberg's previous work.
The Bottom Line: Compared to other Best Picture nominees, Bridge of Spies doesn't have a whole lot of momentum, compared to the movies that have been dominating the awards season conversation of late. The film was critically well-received and it landed half a dozen Academy Awards nominations, but there's a reasonable chance that Spielberg's latest movie will go home empty-handed on Oscar night.
Why It Should Win: Brooklyn, adapted from the novel of the same name by screenwriter Nick Hornby and director John Crowley, is a touching romantic drama that examines the immigrant experience (as well as larger, but related issues) through the story of young Irish woman who finds her heart and soul torn between her home country and her new life in the United States. The film likewise brings its 1950s setting to life in a lovely fashion, with Saoirse Ronan's strong lead performance providing the emotional anchor for the proceedings.
Why It Shouldn't Win: While Brooklyn has far more depth than its melodrama narrative setup might indicate (read: a woman is torn between two men), the ways that it pulls on viewers' heartstrings are (arguably) a bit too manipulative at times. Similarly, some would say the movie is perhaps too nice for its own good and that something like Carol (which isn't nominated for the Best Picture Oscar) is more innovative, when it comes to using a classic narrative form and period setting to break new storytelling ground.
The Bottom Line: Brooklyn was exceptionally well-received critically (even by Best Pic nominee standards), but hasn't gotten a whole lot of attention this awards season. That's unlikely to change on Oscar night 2016, but the people involved with the film (including, Hornby and Ronan) will no doubt be back to compete in future Oscar races.
7 Mad Max: Fury Road
Why It Should Win: George Miller made good on his promise to deliver an exhilarating two-hour long chase in the form of Mad Max: Fury Road, a precisely-constructed film that seamlessly blends practical effects and CGI imagery to create one wild ride on the big screen. Equally impressive is how the movie, often through pure visual storytelling, serves up rich world-building and character development even as it touches upon timely sociopolitical themes and still offers more great spectacle than most other action movies released in 2015.
Why It Shouldn't Win: While most filmgoers seem to regard Mad Max: Fury Road as an example of how great action movie entertainment can also make for just great cinema in general, others see the film as, well, just two hours of car crashes and explosions. Similarly, whereas the many Fury Road fans out there feel that Miller's directorial approach helps to elevate the film into B-movie poetry, others see the movie as an extra-shiny, but still hollow, "Ozploitation" feature.
The Bottom Line: Although Mad Max: Fury Road is a front-runner in most of the technical categories that it's competing (cinematography, editing, and so forth), its Best Picture Oscar prospects aren't so rosy. That being said, there is a possibility that the Academy will surprise - or at the least, award Miller with the Best Director Oscar, while giving the Best Picture award to a different film.
6 The Martian
Why It Should Win: The Martian is a crowd-pleasing 3D space movie that is brought to life through good-humored screenwriting by Drew Goddard, energetic direction from Ridley Scott, and an often solo performance by Matt Damon that's both charismatic and compelling - to mention nothing of the strong ensemble supporting cast, at that. Moreover, the film's narrative boasts not only a meaningful humanist message at its core, but also a positive outlook towards humanity's knack for ingenuity and methodical problem-solving.
Why It Shouldn't Win: Although The Martian maintains a pleasantly upbeat and optimistic even in the face of dire situations, the film as a whole is perhaps too breezy for its own good - with characters spending most of their time figuring out how to handle problems, without often having to also work out conflicts between one another before they set to work on the problem-solving in the first place. Beyond that: while the film's script and Damon generally keep the explanation-heavy proceedings moving along smoothly, there are certainly bumps in the road too.
The Bottom Line: The Martian is very much an underdog when it comes to winning the Best Picture Oscar, but Goddard stands a better chance of being recognized for his screenwriting - and Damon is the only Best Actor Oscar contender who seems to have any chance of beating out Leonardo DiCaprio for that award (see the next entry for more on that).
5 The Revenant
Why It Should Win: Alejandro González Iñárritu's decision to re-tell the story of mountain man Hugh Glass by shooting on location and using only natural lighting paid off, resulting in a film that resembles a living painting of the (brutal) life on the American frontier. Besides having gorgeous cinematography, The Revenant includes a multi-layered narrative - one based around a relatively simple revenge tale - and a no-holds-barred committed performance by Leonardo DiCaprio in his most grueling role to date (which, given his past work, is really saying something).
Why It Shouldn't Win: As ambitious as The Revenant is - in terms of both how the project was made and how it tells Glass' story - the final results are uneven, giving rise to a film that's (arguably) not as seamlessly constructed as some of Iñárritu's past work (see Birdman) and winds up too self-serious for its own good. Similar to the performance by DiCaprio, the film is relentlessly intense and brutal... yet it begs the question: just how much real substance is there, beneath all of the film's sound and fury?
The Bottom Line: The Iñárritu-helmed Birdman took home the Best Picture Oscar in 2015 and there's a real possibility that The Revenant will follow suit in 2016. DiCaprio looks to finally win his Best Actor Oscar, but it remains to be seen if the Academy will recognize Iñárritu for his directing for the second year in a row. And on a related note: could Emmanuel Lubezki win for his cinematography for the third time in as many years, after his work on Birdman and Gravity?
Why It Should Win: Author/screenwriter Emma Donoghue succeeds at the tough task of adapting her book (which, one could argue, lends itself more readily to a literary interpretation than a movie) for the big screen with Room, an emotionally-challenging, yet at the same time hopeful drama that is further elevated by sensitive direction from Lenny Abrahmson. Of course, the performances by Brie Larson and her young costar Jacob Tremblay serve as the beating heart of Room, allowing it to find beauty in even the darkest and most harrowing of situations with its "fairy tale" of a mother and her child.
Why It Shouldn't Win: Room's narrative framing device - which allows the story to be told from the perspective of five-year old Jack (Tremblay) - isn't, per se, always the most effective approach when it comes to handling the film's particularly difficult (and traumatic) storyline. Similarly, the performances by Larson and Tremblay carry the film past its flaws - something that has become more apparent over the course of awards season, as the film itself has been eclipsed by the acting from its leads.
The Bottom Line: Brie Larson is very much the front-runner to win the Best Actress Oscar for Room at this stage, but the film's chances of taking home any additional Oscars are slim right now (though Emma Donahue does have an outsider's shot at winning the Academy Award for her adapted script).
Why It Should Win: Co-writer/director Tom McCarthy turns the Boston Globe's investigation of the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal into a riveting docudrama with Spotlight, a film that examines the journalistic process (among other matters) in a considerate and though-provoking manner. Spotlight is further bolstered by its terrific ensemble cast composed of talented character actors - Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and so forth - who nimbly slide into roles as investigative reporters who take their jobs (and the responsibility they carry) quite seriously.
Why It Shouldn't Win: Spotlight is perhaps the least "cinematic" of the Best Picture Oscar nominees, relying on solid, but otherwise unremarkable filmmaking techniques to bring its story to life on the big screen in a non-flashy manner. Beyond that, because the film by and large avoids using heavy-handed storytelling methods, the moments in Spotlight that do feel like "For Your Consideration" clips stand out all the more juxtaposed against the rest of the film (which is very grounded on the whole).
The Bottom Line: Spotlight, as mentioned before, does have a (slim) chance at winning the big prizes like Best Picture and Best Director Oscars. However, it's far more likely that the film will take home the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay - assuming it wins any awards at the show.
2 What Will (& What Should) Win
What Will Win: The Revenant
As was discussed on our Academy Awards Preview episode of the Total Geekall podcast, The Revenant is the current front-runner to take home the Best Picture Oscar, among other prizes (see DiCaprio for Best Actor). On the other hand, as was mentioned during that podcast, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences would send an interesting message by selecting Mad Max: Fury Road as the Best Picture instead, when it comes to the general public's perception of the kid of movies that the Academy tends to favor. That being said: the Academy does have a history of being predictable and seems more inclined to recognize The Revenant for its own noteworthy artistic accomplishments.
What Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
The Academy may yet split up its top prizes by giving the Best Picture Oscar to The Revenant and the Best Director Oscar to George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road - similar to what happened back in 2014, when 12 Years a Slave and Gravity took home the event's biggest awards. That being said, Fury Road is such an impressive work of cinema - and easily the least 'Oscar bait-y' of the Best Picture nominees this year - that it would be nice to see the movie recognized with the Best Picture honor, too... though, to be fair, it's not as though Miller's latest Mad Max film hasn't already earned its fair share of praise (or has failed to make an impact on the pop culture landscape).
How about it: what do you think will win Best Picture at the 2016 Oscars show - The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road, or another movie altogether? Which of the 2016 Best Picture Oscar nominees do you think deserves to take the big prize? Will one movie dominate the 2016 Oscars ceremony or will the Academy share the love to multiple films? We'll find out soon enough - but in the meantime, feel free to share your own thoughts on the Oscar nominees and your predictions for the awards ceremony alike, in the comment section below.
The 88th Academy Awards Ceremony will be telecast on Sunday, February 28th, 2016, by the ABC Television Network starting at 7 p.m. ET, with Chris Rock hosting the event. Check back here on Screen Rant on Oscar night, as we'll be covering the awards show and reporting on the winners live as they are announced!