The Oscar Roster

By Hans Pedersen, March 2016 Issue.

Ahead of the 88th Academy Awards, controversy has erupted over what’s become known as the whitewashing of the Oscars.

It’s the absence of any nominations for black actors or directors for the second consecutive year that led Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith and Spike Lee to announce they do not plan to attend this year’s ceremony, which will take place Feb. 28, 2016.

While many say there are clear signs of bias on the part of Academy, who are disproportionately older white males, the question is whether or not the outspoken criticism regarding the absence of black nominees will raise consciousness in time for next year’s Oscars.

Meantime, here are the the nominees, including who should win and who will win, for this year’s controversial Oscar race.

Cate Blanchett is stunningly communicative with her facial expressions in Carol, conveying sentiments that could fill entire sonnets, but the competition is fierce. Jennifer Lawrence dazzles, as always, as a resourceful entrepreneur in Joy. Charlotte Rampling is earning acclaim as a woman whose marriage is threatened by shattering news in 45 Years. Saoirse Ronan is also pitch-perfect as a girl caught between her small-town Irish lifestyle and an expansive new vista in Brooklyn. Brie Larson from Room won the Golden Globe for playing a captive mother raising her child in a 10-by-10-foot space. Larson’s dynamite performance could earn her the award.

Who should win: Blanchett

Who will win: Larson

Eddie Redmayne is positively divine as the first transgender woman, Lili Elbe, in The Danish Girl, bringing a gentle elegance to this Oscar-worthy on-screen transformation. While Bryan Cranston seems to relish playing blacklisted leftist screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, in Trumbo, Michael Fassbender impressively inhabits the title role in the dynamic three-act biopic Steve Jobs. In The Martian, trapped astronaut Matt Damon pulls off the challenge of talking to a camcorder for half the film without appearing as if he’s speaking to an audience. But Leonardo DiCaprio is the Oscar favorite for his tour-de-force performance as a 19th-century fur trapper who’s left for dead after a bear attack in The Revenant. He already won the Golden Globe, which suggests, after multiple nominations, 2016 could be his year to finally take home an Oscar.

Who should win: Redmayne

Who will win: DiCaprio

Christian Bale already won a Critics’ Choice Award for his role as the hedge fund manager in The Big Short. Mark Ruffalo is downright incendiary, inciting rage over the priest sex abuse scandal, in Spotlight. Both are up against versatile actor Tom Hardy and his outstanding work in The Revenant and Mark Rylance from the gripping drama Bridge of Spies. Yet Sylvester Stallone, who earned an Oscar nomination in this category playing the same character nearly 40 years ago, already has a Golden Globe win under his belt for reviving an aging Rocky on-screen in Creed. Can he get the nostalgia vote and win in this category twice as the same character?

Who should win: Ruffalo

Who will win: Stallone


One look in the eyes of Rooney Mara and you know what her character is thinking in the 1950s love story Carol. Alicia Vikander is being heralded as a breakout star in The Danish Girl, playing the wife who sensitively encourages her husband to follow is dream to fully become a woman. Still, Rachel McAdams steals the spotlight as an investigator in Spotlight and Kate Winslet delivers a skilled performance as head of Apple marketing in Steve Jobs. However, for her portrayal of the feisty prisoner in The Hateful Eight, Jennifer Jason Leigh has surpassed audience expectations and could end up on top in this category.

Who should win: Mara

Who will win: Jason Leigh

Adam McKay deserves credit for boiling down complex ideas into a palatable story in The Big Short. And we can thank George Miller for showing us in Mad Max: Fury Road what it would be like to suffer PTSD in a post-apocalyptic world. Lenny Abrahamson maintains tension in the riveting movie Room, while Tom McCarthy methodically dramatizes how Boston Globe investigators uncovered the priest abuse scandal in Spotlight. But by shooting The Revenant entirely in natural light (trumping his one-shot feat in last year’s Best Picture winner, Birdman), esteemed Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu has positioned himself in the front in the front of the pack.

Who should win: Iñárritu

Who will win: Iñárritu

The Martian wowed audiences with its acting, storytelling and special effects and true-life thriller Bridge of Spies told the about the lawyer who famously negotiated the release of an imprisoned U2 pilot, but both movies came out months ago, and may feel like ancient history in this crowded field.

Brooklyn, the story of a girl choosing between old Europe and a new life in America, certainly has a good shot over the wild, haboob-infused melee of Mad Max: Fury Road. And Room is getting lots of positive press for Larson’s work, but is it enough to earn the top prize?

The biggest buzz is swirling around three final contenders: The Big Short, an octane-fueled drama that helps explain the 2008 financial crisis, won top honors from the Producers Guild of America, which often, but not always, portends a Best Picture Oscar. The Revenant, a magnificently told tale of survival, is a genuine triumph that could earn the top award. Spotlight ought to be considered Best Picture by virtue of its scathingly dramatic portrayal of how not only the church, but also the community and the newspapers, buried the priest sex abuse scandals for decades.

Who should win: Spotlight

Who will win: The Revanant or Spotlight

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