Oscars 2016: Contenders So Far, Cannes Here and Now, and More Still to Come

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genius_imageThe art of Oscar predicting is never been afraid to admit you were wrong.  Going full throttle on “The Sea of Trees” seems to have been a big mistake based on all the negative reactions from Cannes.  It looks as though Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe, and director Gus Van Sant won’t be coming anywhere near the Dolby Theatre.  Shame, it sounded so good on paper.  The rest of the festival has dropped expectations considerably for Woody Allen’s “Irrational Man,” which looks like lower-tier Allen work.  It’s stars Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix look to be wasted.  Where the bad lies, there’s good popping up.  “Carol” from Todd Haynes has dropped on the scene has a formidable contender in several categories for this year’s Academy Awards including citations for Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.  To say I’m dying to see the film is an understatement.

Before Cannes, I started digging around the first five months of the year to see if we’ve received any hardcore Oscar contenders.  At this time last year, we had “The Grand Budapest Hotel” in our midst as well as “The LEGO Movie.”  If we’re being kind, the box office for DreamWorks’ “Home” will keep it in the conversation for Animated Feature.  Outside of that “Ex Machina” has received glowing praise from critics.  Like “Under the Skin” last year, we can only hope that Oscar will watch it by year’s end.  Chances for it are likely in a tech category like Cinematography or possibly Makeup & Hairstyling.  Oscar Isaac should be a longshot for Supporting Actor if we feel inclined to list any contenders and the film’s star Alicia Vikander, ahead of a killer year coming down the line.

There are smaller films that warrant some consideration.  The technical prowess of “Slow West” is something that should be on the tongues of movie lovers more as is the work Kodi-Smit McPhee.  And with distribution getting picked up at the Tribeca Film Festival, “Meadowland” should have Olivia Wilde fans excited for her devastating performance.

With that said, it leads to the Oscar chances for “Mad Max: Fury Road.”  Talking about it in-depth on the podcast earlier this week, there’s a narrative where it snags up to eight nominations and a worse narrative where it’s shut out.  George Miller has created something very special and at a screening earlier today for “Tomorrowland,” I heard (and not exaggerating) five different conversations before and after about “Mad Max.”  The critics are in love and its so cool to see.  Overhearing one of them saying, “it shows how directors today have no idea what the hell they’re doing.”  The sound categories look to be prime for the taking with Makeup & Hairstyling, Visual Effects, and Production Design all contending strong.  Going on record to talk about the Score by Junkie XL, it would be the best day possible to see it cited.  When it comes to the top categories, it really all depends on how the rest of the year plays out.  As you may know, quality is never the issue.  The genre bias in the Academy is pretty transparent and if the year presents some strong films from the studios, I don’t think the film stands a chance in categories like Picture and Adapted Screenplay.  There’s also the rumored possibility that the Academy COULD go back to five Best Picture nominees.  The Academy announced the expansion of ten in June of its respective year.  If there is an announcement, expect it to come in late June/early July.  If not, the sliding scale is where we’ll stay and “Mad Max” will still have a very difficult time.

We’ve got first looks at “Steve Jobs” from Danny Boyle (seemingly harmless at this point), “Black Mass” from Scott Cooper (a hopeful vehicle for Johnny Depp), and “MacBeth” from Justin Kurzel (which won’t screen until the last day of Cannes).  The studios are going to surely start planting the seeds this summer for their fall vehicles and the Weinstein Company has already begun.  With “Carol” getting rapturous reviews, they have the fanbase of Quentin Tarantino doing the work for him for “The Hateful Eight,” and started the fire for “Adam Jones,” “Southpaw,” and “Tulip Fever.”

Fox Searchlight looks particularly strong with “Demolition” by Jean Marc Vallee and “Brooklyn” by John Crowley.  The former film could be a one-two punch for its stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts, based on early rumors.  They will also handle “A Bigger Splash” which looks like something that can shake up the acting categories if its stars Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Dakota Johnson all deliver.  They’re also working with Paolo Sorrentino’s (director of “The Great Beauty”) next effort “Youth” with Michael Caine already said to be a contender for Best Actor.

Lionsgate has presented themselves as something to keep an eye on with “Genius” by Michael Grandage getting distribution and a 2015 release.  An all-star cast that includes Academy Award winners Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, along with Guy Pearce, Laura Linney, Dominic West, and Jude Law.  It looks like something that will just sing to an Oscar voter, especially from the British voting bloc.  They also have their hands on “Sicario” from Denis Villenueve and “Freeheld” from Peter Sollett.  It’s going to be interesting what they do with those pictures.

CFPgZWfW8AAaHtKUniversal Pictures will do battle with “Steve Jobs” and its star Michael Fassbender, who look to have a bang up year ahead with “MacBeth” and “The Light Between Oceans.”  They will also distribute Angelina Jolie’s next directorial effort “By the Sea” with Jolie and hubby Brad Pitt.  Melanie Laurent sounds to have a meaty supporting role to deliver as well.  Oh yeah, they have “Black Mass” and “Everest” too.  What a slate.

Let’s not forget “In the Heart of the Sea” by Ron Howard which could go the way of “Life of Pi.”  Maybe that comparison is too much on the money but Warner Bros. will have to choose between that and “Mad Max” for their big push.  Unless “Our Brand is Crisis” by David Gordon Green is a thing, the choice SHOULD be easy.

Focus Features has serious bait with “The Danish Girl” from Tom Hooper and “Suffragette” from Sarah Gavron.  In Hooper’s film everyone is eagerly awaiting the work of Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, who both could surprise.  “Suffragette” has a nicely placed October release, which could ride some nice reviews if it plays at a few festivals.  Carey Mulligan is due for a second nomination already.

Pixar and Walt Disney will promote the hell out of “Inside Out” (receiving glowing praise), “The Good Dinosaur” (a still unknown factor), and “Bridge of Spies” (which sounds like a fun, lighter story than once thought).  Could Disney wiggle both Animated Feature films in Best Picture if the reviews are there?  We haven’t had an Animated Film in Picture since “Toy Story 3” and its about time they made their comeback in the top races.

Half of the predictions have been updated for your pleasure, down to Production Design.  Promise that the rest of the techs will be updated by this weekend.

Include your own thoughts and predictions in the comment section.

CHECK OUT THE OSCAR PREDICTIONS:

PICTURE | DIRECTOR | LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS |ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE | PRODUCTION DESIGN |CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS | ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG | DOCUMENTARY FEATURE | FOREIGN LANGUAGE | LIVE ACTION SHORT | ANIMATED SHORT | DOCUMENTARY SHORT