Let’s say the Oscars were up to me.
Come on, that would make for a fun show — especially if I got to pick the host and the presenters as well as the winners.
I’d livestream the less glamorous categories such as Animated Short and Sound Mixing, re-package the telecast as a two-hour special and give the major winners up to three minutes to deliver their speeches.
(To its credit, the Academy has instituted a change for the better this year. Nominees can hand in a list of people they’d like to thank — and if they win, those names will scroll across the screen, allowing the winner to actually SAY SOMETHING in the allotted 45-second time.)
As for this year’s, I could make the case for Oscar-worthy work including: “Straight Outta Compton” or “Sicario” for Best Picture; Idris Elba or Jacob Tremblay or Michael Shannon for Supporting Actor; Kristen Stewart or Helen Mirren for Supporting Actress; Will Smith or Tom Hanks or Michael B. Jordan for Best Actor; and Charlize Theron or Sarah Silverman or Lily Tomlin or Emily Blunt for Best Actress.
Quite an impressive group, yes? Yet none of the above was even nominated.
Let’s take a look at the Big Five categories, and who WILL win and who SHOULD win.
Will Win: “Spotlight”
Should Win: “Room”
This is the most wide-open Best Picture race in recent memory. For weeks I’ve been saying “Spotlight” will eke out the win — but if you handed me a dollar right now, first of all, thanks, and second and more to the point, I just might put it on “The Revenant.” If that sounds like I’m hedging my bets, it’s because I’m hedging my bets.
Five of the eight Best Picture nominees found a spot on my Top Ten list of 2015, and I was a big fan of ALL the nominated films, but my favorite movie of 2015 and my sentimental favorite is the unforgettable, mind-blowing, deeply original “Room.”
Will Win/Should Win: Brie Larson, “Room”
The talented but under-the-radar Brie Larson gave a performance that will change her career forever. Larson delivered a sometimes painfully pure and moving performance as a fiercely protective mother who will do anything to ensure her son’s safety and survival.
Will Win/Should Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”
This is one of those times when if you’re one of the other four nominees, the angst level should be at zero. You can plan on donning the tux, taking your best date, having a drink backstage, enjoying the show and hitting the after-parties — because you have almost no chance of winning.
Nothing against the fine work by Matt Damon, Michael Fassbender, Eddie Redmayne and Bryan Cranston, but Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant” is the perfect storm of Oscar bait performance:
• Great-looking actor undergoes impressive physical transformation: Check. DiCaprio has long hair and an unkempt beard and mustache; he’s covered in mud and blood and guts and ick for most of the film, and he gets tossed around like a chew toy by a giant monstrous bear.
• Popular, oft-nominated actor finally gets his due: Check. DiCaprio has five previous nominations but has yet to win.
• It’s actually the most impressive of the five nominated performances: Check.
At times “The Revenant” veers close to superhero movie territory, with DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass surviving a half-dozen traumas that would kill a mere mortal. But with a minimum of dialogue, DiCaprio does a tremendous job of conveying Glass’s preternatural determination to live — and to find justice.
Best Supporting Actress
Will win: Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl”
Should win: Jennifer Jason Leigh, “The Hateful Eight”
I wasn’t a huge fan of “The Danish Girl,” which was an almost too-polite retelling of the story of an artist who became one of the first persons in the world to undergo transgender surgery. Vikander did solid work as Gerda Wegener, who loved her husband with all her heart and stood by him through his transformation, but I was more impressed with Vikander’s work as the robot-temptress-badass in “Ex Machina.”
The wildest, boldest performance in this category by far is Jennifer Jason Leigh’s work in Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight.” In a film otherwise dominated by foul-mouthed alpha males, Leigh is not only one of the boys — she’s the best of the boys.
Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: Sylvester Stallone, “Creed”
Should Win: Mark Rylance, “Bridge of Spies”
No one outside the Stallone family is a bigger fan of the “Rocky” movies than me, and I was thrilled when “Creed” turned out to be perhaps the best film in the franchise since we met Rocky Balboa nearly 40 years ago. By the time of “Rocky V,” it felt as if Stallone was just going through the motions and almost doing an imitation of his own creation — but in “Rocky Balboa” (2006) and even more so in “Creed,” the oft-maligned Sly reminded us he knows how to act and not just mumble and bench-press his way through a role. If Stallone wins, expect to see one of the longest and loudest standing ovations in Oscar history.
Having said that, when it comes to choosing the most layered, the most technically assured, the absolute BEST acting work in this category, I’d have to go with Mark Rylance’s work as Rudolf Abel, the Russian spy who had almost Zen-like reaction to just about everything that happened to him, whether it was his arrest, his incarceration or the moment when he finds himself standing on a bridge as part of one of the most intense prisoner exchanges in United States history.
Tom Hardy’s work in “The Revenant” as DiCaprio’s deeply twisted antagonist was also brilliant.
Hardy and Rylance will have their trophy moments. I’d be surprised if both don’t win Oscar in the years to come.
But this Sunday is Rocky’s Day.