The Oscar nominees are out, but do they truly represent the best accomplishments of the year? Are you wondering how the hell “The Martian” – a good film, but not a great one – got nominations for seven Oscars? Or perhaps you’re astounded that “Beasts of No Nation” got none?
Here are a few revisions to the 2016 Oscars, but one addition for each category isn’t enough. Let’s be tough, and figure out who gets replaced in each category as well.
Nominated: “Bridge of Spies,” “Ex Machina,” “Inside Out,” “Spotlight,” “Straight Outta Compton”
Forgotten: “Clouds of Sils Maria”
Not to cast aspersions on the “Inside Out” vs. “Straight Outta Compton” showdown we’ve all been waiting for, but writer-director Olivier Assayas wrote a taut screenplay in “Clouds of Sils Maria.” The philosophically thick film examines the relationship and differences in perspective between an aging actress (Juliette Binoche) and her young personal aide (Kristen Stewart). It gave both actresses a tremendous amount of material to chew on, illustrating how a deeply problematic friendship could still help both women grow and come to terms with the next steps in their lives. It’s tough to say which nominee “Clouds of Sils Maria” should replace, but let’s go “Bridge of Spies.”
Nominated: “The Big Short,” “Brooklyn,” “Carol,” “The Martian,” “Room”
Forgotten: “Beasts of No Nation”
Cary Fukunaga is best known for directing season 1 of “True Detective.” In “Beasts of No Nation,” he crafts a searing portrayal of how men can turn children into soldiers. The result is a lyrical progression that takes the viewer from atrocity to atrocity until they succumb to his relentlessness. And what then, the film asks. Do we as viewers become immune to these acts, addicted even, in the same way the children in the story do? As solid as it is, “The Martian” is really a film that generates its tension through its editing, not its writing. “Beasts of No Nation” should replace it.
Nominated: “Ex Machina,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Martian,” “The Revenant,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
Forgotten: “Jupiter Ascending”
Say whatever you like about “Mila Kunis vs. Space Vampires,” er, I mean “Jupiter Ascending.” The film boasted some of the most detailed and inventive visual effects of the year. From battles with flying space dinosaurs to stellar cities bedecked in ostentatious worship of their rulers, “Jupiter Ascending” realized the maddest science-fiction universe since “The Fifth Element.” It’s also the closest a mainstream film has come to realizing the brilliant art of comic book artist Moebius. As genius a film as it is, “The Revenant” has some of the iffiest visual effects here, with wild animals that feel gummier than they should.
Nominated: “Bridge of Spies,” “The Danish Girl,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Martian,” “The Revenant”
Forgotten: “Crimson Peak”
Love or hate “Crimson Peak,” it’s a travesty not to nominate the most aggressive and insane production design Guillermo Del Toro’s ever put to film. Production designer Thomas E. Sanders’s work is both colorful and haunting, evoking the best of gothic romance, horror and giallo filmmaking. For this writer’s money, this is the biggest single snub of this year’s Oscars. As good as it is, “The Martian” would again be the favorite for replacement here. Mars was convincing because of Matt Damon’s performance, not because of a production design that often felt limited in its scope.
Nominated: “Bridge of Spies,” “Carol,” “The Hateful Eight,” “Sicario,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
Forgotten: “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”
While the film itself might deserve forgetting, Daniel Pemberton’s masterpiece of a jazz score lends the movie far more energy than it otherwise deserves. Too often at the Oscars, we celebrate good work in great movies while discounting the great work done in merely good or average films. Pemberton deserved a nomination. You could probably drop Thomas Newman’s classical yet safe score for “Bridge of Spies” to make room.
Nominated: “The Big Short,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Revenant,” “Spotlight,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
Joe Walker did a tremendous job of editing one of the most tightly paced films in recent memory. The entire experience of “Sicario” is one of feeling the screws of its plot tighten down until there’s almost no room left to breathe. “The Big Short” is a bit of an odd duck here, and could stand replacement.
Nominated: “Carol,” “Cinderella,” “The Danish Girl,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Revenant”
Forgotten: “Crimson Peak”
Kate Hawley’s work for “Crimson Peak” is incredible precisely for how it communicates story through the costume. There are wordless sequences where the design of the film communicates story that its characters are overlooking or hiding. From the yellow dress of Mia Wasikowska’s Edith Cushing to the red, satin vertebrae designed straight up the back of Jessica Chastain’s Lucille Sharpe, “Crimson Peak” is a feast for the eyes and the mind. Rarely is design relied upon so strongly for its ability to tell a story. As for what to replace at the Oscars, chuck “Cinderella” out of there. Designing a corset that requires your lead actress to only consume a liquid diet for days’ worth of filming is no achievement.
Nominated: “Carol,” “The Hateful Eight,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Revenant,” “Sicario”
Forgotten: “It Follows”
Mike Gioulakis created a nerve racking and dreamlike visual language for “It Follows” on almost no budget whatsoever. The film’s visuals can haunt you for days. Its rare blend of muted colors with oversaturated ones is dangerous territory in which to play, yet Gioulakis manages to find lighting schemes plucked straight from the bleary-eyes moments of just waking, stuck between remembering a nightmare and registering the real world around you. It wouldn’t be a crime to replace “The Hateful Eight” on this list.
Nominated: Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Rooney Mara (Carol), Rachel McAdams (Spotlight), Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl), Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)
Forgotten: Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina)
It’s difficult to call her a supporting actress in a three-person ensemble where she plays the central question of the plot, but we’re going by Oscar rules and this is where she’d go. As an android built to test whether someone else will perceive her as human, Vikander has to deliver a performance that is void of emotion yet hides genuine depths of motive. She can’t act angry, sad, or sexual, yet she has to be perceived by the viewer as all of these things at once. She has to trick not just the main character, but the viewer into perceiving her as potentially playing several roles, while also potentially playing none of them. As an actor, it’s a near-impossible task to accomplish. As for whom to replace, that’s a tough call. It wouldn’t be Vikander’s other nomination. Most would say McAdams. I’d say Winslet.
Nominated: Christian Bale (The Big Short), Tom Hardy (The Revenant), Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Sylvester Stallone (Creed)
Forgotten: Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina)
Oscar Isaac is the flipside of Vikander’s accomplishment in “Ex Machina.” He embodies the vicious side of toxic masculinity that demands men collect and own women. He is both a brilliant creator and someone obsessed with his own end. He is the ultimate bro in his own perverted mind, and yet the ultimate recluse in the age of technology. Isaac’s on a path to the Oscars at some point anyway, it’s just a matter of when. Bale could be replaced this year.
Nominated: Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)
Forgotten: Abraham Attah (Beasts of No Nation)
How do you say a 12-year old boy has performed a role well enough to surpass one of the actors above? It’s hubris, and yet Attah deserves the accolade. The emotion he portrays through some of the most harrowing scenes an actor his age has ever performed is uncomfortably real and raw. He is the heart of “Beasts of No Nation,” and his lyrical and peaceful voice-over stands in sharp contrast to the alternating silences and anger of what he does in front of those who’ve trained him. Fassbender or Redmayne could be replaced.
Nominated: Cate Blanchett (Carol), Brie Larson (Room), Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), Charlotte Rampling (45 Years), Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)
Forgotten: Juliette Binoche (Clouds of Sils Maria)
Binoche owns “Clouds of Sils Maria,” creating one of the most compelling characters in recent film history. Her Maria Enders is complex, opinionated, and talented. Binoche realizes her as a woman caught between holding onto middle age and fearing old age. She finds herself fearing the brave choices she might once have made without a second thought. She feels she’s transforming into another, more hesitant, less capable person inside her own skin. She feels stuck, and done with. At times she rages against it, at times she relents before it, but in every emotional reaction you can see her figuring it out. Emily Blunt’s performance in “Sicario” should also be here. Binoche and Blunt could replace Blanchett and Lawrence.
Nominated: “The Big Short,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Revenant,” “Room,” “Spotlight”
Forgotten: Denis Villeneuve, “Sicario”
The experience of watching “Sicario” is the experience of feeling hunted and hearing the hunting party’s drums and voices just around the next corner. You don’t quite know what’s hunting you or why, just that it is. There is a relentlessness to “Sicario” that is remarkable, but it doesn’t achieve any of this by the numbers. An entire sequence takes place in various modes of night vision, and the effect is that of feeling like you’re descending into hell. Plot-wise, the moment is exactly that. Every performance, every facial tic, every piece of dust caught in the sunlight in “Sicario” feels part of a whole. There’s nothing lost in the storytelling here. As for whom to replace, Adam McKay for “The Big Short.”
Nominated: “The Big Short,” “Bridge of Spies,” “Brooklyn,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Martian,” “The Revenant,” “Room,” “Spotlight”
This is a surprisingly populist year for the Academy. Of its Best Picture nominees, only “Room” has earned less $20 million at the time of its nomination. As tempting as it is to break the mold with something truly esoteric, you’ve got to go with “Sicario.” Emily Blunt’s performance as an FBI agent enlisted in a very active war on drugs is one of the best of the year. The film is a rare experience. It’s the kind of old-fashioned tale of crime and moral quandaries that might’ve come out of the 70s, the effective, story-based kind of action mystery that would’ve come out of the 90s, and the thoroughly modern foreign politics allegory that feels most at home today. It was still nominated for 3 Oscars, but it just doesn’t seem like enough for what “Sicario” does. Today’s rules allow for up to 10 Best Picture nominees, so nothing would have to be replaced, but what fun is that? Sorry, “Martian,” you’re good but you’re a bit by-the-numbers to be best-of-the-year great.
And that’s it. You’ll notice a few categories missing. “Crimson Peak” should be nominated under the two Best Sound categories for instance – it’s a film that exists in its creaking walls and howling winds more than any other. For Best Documentary, Chai Jing’s “Under the Dome” should have been considered. It can’t be because it was released on YouTube for free, rather than in theaters at a cost. Not enough of the Best Foreign Language films or short programs are accessible in order to really judge if something was forgotten.
Meanwhile the Best Animated Film and Best Makeup and Hairstyling categories actually seem to have captured everything they should’ve, including animation’s surprise nomination for the heartfelt “When Marnie Was There.”