Monday 16 December 2019

Hollywood turns green - but all eyes are on Leo

Before all the little gold men are handed out, Meadhbh McGrath looks at the potential winners - and the possible upsets - in this year's Oscars race

Tipped to win: Leonardo DiCaprio Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Tipped to win: Leonardo DiCaprio Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Chris O'Dowd, director Lenny Abrahamson and Monika Abrahamson attend The Irish Film Board and IDA bash in Hollywood Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Irish Film Board
Jacob Tremblay putting manners on Sylvester Stallone Photo: Instagram
Brie Larson, who is nominated for Best Acresss Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Meadhbh McGrath

We're about to head into one of the most unpredictable Oscars in recent history. If there's a sure bet in any of the acting categories, it's Leonardo DiCaprio. Since his first nomination in 1994, 'Poor Leo' has been nominated time and again - but his win tonight is all but guaranteed.

Irish actor Michael Fassbender is also in the running for Steve Jobs, but he is notorious for his aversion to Oscar campaigning, saying in 2013 (the year he earned a nod for 12 Years a Slave): "I'm not a politician, I'm an actor."

Unfortunately, when it comes to shilling for an Oscar, it's not enough to deliver a spectacular performance. A lot more goes into an awards campaign, as a crack team behind each nominee crafts an 'Oscars narrative' to make a win for their actor, director or film feel more meaningful.

DiCaprio's team has shaped a near-bulletproof campaign for their leading man: the "he's due" narrative.

For Best Actor, the Academy typically favours a slightly older actor, and, now that DiCaprio has turned 41, he is finally "ready" to be welcomed into the winners' circle.

While he's had a lot of great roles, he has a reputation as a playboy with a penchant for supermodels. By working with auteurs such as Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan and Alejandro González Iñárritu, DiCaprio has made the difficult transition from 'celebrity' to legitimate actor.

When it comes to Best Actress, the Academy prefers its women young. Among the nominees are Jennifer Lawrence (25), Saoirse Ronan (21) and Brie Larson (26) - offering an interesting (and dismaying) insight into what the Academy considers the prime of an actress's career.

Larson, the star of Room, is pretty much locked in: she's very well liked on the campaign trail, and she's tied her performance to a personal story by incorporating memories of her own single mother's struggle.

Another film that has captured the hearts of audiences is Brooklyn, and Saoirse Ronan could cause an upset, although it would be a shock. If nothing else, now everyone in Hollywood is very confident about pronouncing her name.

In the Best Supporting Actor category, Sylvester Stallone is running on one of the strongest Oscar narratives: the comeback. He was first nominated in 1977 for the original Rocky, and famously did not win. The symmetry here is pretty irresistible: Stallone hasn't been invited to the Oscars since, and now, 40 years later, the character has survived and brought him back (in Creed, where the retired Rocky Balboa mentors a young boxer).

Stallone has spoken movingly about how he was afraid of this role, and how he turned to an acting coach for the first time in decades to make sure he could pull off an ailing Rocky. He has also admitted to a string of ill-advised films in his later career. Voters could really respond to his acknowledgement of those Expendables-shaped mistakes.

For Best Supporting Actress, Kate Winslet is up against Swedish newcomer (and Fassbender's better half) Alicia Vikander. The latter has the ingénue narrative working in her favour (on top of a Screen Actors Guild award), while Winslet bagged the Bafta and the Golden Globe - although, it's worth noting that at those ceremonies, Vikander was up for Ex Machina, and not her Oscar-nominated turn in The Danish Girl. Vikander has the edge here. She's had a breakthrough year, starring in seven major films - plus, Winslet's dodgy Polish accent in Steve Jobs is unforgivable.

The Best Director and Best Picture awards look set to have everyone in the Dolby Theatre on the edge of their seats. The Academy tends to favour technically audacious film-makers, which means Irish hopeful Lenny Abrahamson could suffer. However, the fact that the Dubliner made it onto the list ahead of favourites such as Ridley Scott is significant. In Room, Abrahamson drew stunning performances out of his cast, including eight-year-old Jacob Tremblay, and made a confined space seem much larger without opening it up for cameras. But it's a relatively modest film, and could fall to a flashier contender, such as The Revenant and director Iñárritu, who scooped last year's prize for Birdman. We've all heard how difficult this film was to make: his cast and crew suffered through freezing conditions, gruelling days shooting - it was a miracle Iñárritu pulled it off.

In Best Picture, it's one of the tightest races in years, as 'important' social issue films The Big Short and Spotlight go up against the sweeping epic of The Revenant. And The Revenant looks poised to win. Although it didn't get a screenplay nod (the last movie that won Best Picture without one was Titanic in 1998), and was snubbed by the Screen Actors Guild for Best Ensemble (the last win without that was Braveheart in 1996), the campaign team has shaped a new narrative about environmentalism, a smart move that makes a film about a 19th-century fur trappers seem relevant today.

In any case, we're guaranteed a riveting show, and maybe even a smaller contender surprising us all.

The bookies odds for tonight's awards. Best Picture: The Revenant 2/5; Spotlight 3/1; The Big Short 13/2; Room 33/1; The Martian 100/1; Mad Max: Fury Road 100/1; Bridge of Spies 200/1; Brooklyn 2001/1.

Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) 1/100; Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) 16/1; Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs) 33/1; Matt Damon (The Martian) 80/1; Bryan Cranston (Trumbo) 80/1.

Best Actress: Brie Larson (Room) 1/33; Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) 10/1; Cate Blanchett (Carol) 40/1; Charlotte Rampling (45 Years) 50/1; Jennifer Lawrence (Joy) 50/1.

Best Director: Gonzalez Iñárritu The Revenant 1/14; George Miller Mad Max: 7/1; Thomas McCarthy (Spotlight) 20/1; Adam McKay (The Big Short) 20/1; Lenny Abrahamson (Room) 66/1.

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