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Thursday 22 March 2018

Oscars blog: Best Picture - could Room cause a major Oscar upset?

Join Meadhbh McGrath for her final musings on the campaign...

Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson put in blistering performances in Room
Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson put in blistering performances in Room
Tom Hanks as lawyer James Donovan in Steven Spielberg's 'Bridge of Spies'
Matt Damon in ‘The Martian’, but how long before we reach the Red Planet?
Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult and Rosie Huntington Whiteley in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’
Saoirse Ronan in ‘Brooklyn’. Photo: AP
DiCaprio in The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo’s performance in Spotlight has earned him an Oscar nomination
Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in The Big Short

Meadhbh McGrath

The road to the Oscars has been as long and eventful as ever. Before the little gold men are handed out, we reflect on the highs and lows of this year’s campaign ahead of the ceremony on Sunday, February 28.

Best Picture:


Bridge of Spies


Mad Max: Fury Road



The Big Short

The Martian

The Revenant


We’re into the final stretch now, the ballots have been sealed, and it’s still one of the most unpredictable Oscar races in recent history. Over the past few weeks, the competition has vacillated back and forth, as any number of films in this category could end up taking home Best Picture.

However, before we get into that, there are a couple of films here that really don’t stand a chance. Bridge of Spies, when it first came out, seemed to tick all the boxes of a Best Picture frontrunner: it’s a period film based on real events, directed by Steven Spielberg with a screenplay by the Coen brothers, starring Tom Hanks. It’s a prestige film that sounds like sure-fire Oscar bait for older Academy members, but it just didn’t connect with audiences or voters on an emotional level.

bridge of spies.jpg
Tom Hanks as lawyer James Donovan in Steven Spielberg's 'Bridge of Spies'

It felt old-fashioned and deeply conventional compared to other contenders tackling recent history like The Big Short and Spotlight, which seem more passionate and relevant today, and had a better grip on viewers.

For now, it looks like Bridge of Spies could walk away empty-handed, unless its period setting scoops Production Design or we see a shock win for Mark Rylance in Best Supporting Actor.

Another film that may not win anything on the night is The Martian. Early on, Oscar pundits predicted it could take Best Director and Best Picture, as audiences and critics alike raved about the film upon its release. In a weaker year, The Martian would have a great shot at Best Picture, but its Oscar buzz has all but fizzled out.

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Matt Damon in ‘The Martian’, but how long before we reach the Red Planet?

The campaign behind the film pushed it as a testament to the strength of the human spirit, but that narrative hasn’t picked up speed. The Academy usually looks for a Best Picture winner to have a bit more weight to it, something we saw in 2010 when The Hurt Locker beat Avatar.

As well as that, The Martian was shut out by the Screen Actors Guild, who snubbed both lead actor Matt Damon and the cast for Best Ensemble. But it wasn’t until Ridley Scott was left out of the Best Director nominations that people wrote the film off entirely. Unless there’s a surprise win for Drew Goddard in Best Adapted Screenplay, The Martian may lose out on the night.

The Martian also suffers as it is a heavy genre film, something Mad Max: Fury Road has run up against as well. It’s an unusual pick for Best Picture: it’s an action movie, it’s a sequel/quasi-reboot, and it’s a very unconventional film.

But it is possible George Miller’s film could take home the most Oscars on the night, just not in the major categories. It will likely clean up in the technical categories, and is the favourite for Film Editing, Make-up and Hairstyling, Costume Design and Production Design.

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Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult and Rosie Huntington Whiteley in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

However, the rise of The Revenant has hampered Mad Max’s Oscar chances. Both films are running on similar Oscar narratives about how difficult it was for them to be made, but The Revenant was released later and has somewhat unseated Max.

So what about the Irish contenders? Brooklyn was loved by audiences and earned fantastic reviews after it premiered at Sundance Film Festival. However, since then, its momentum has slowed dramatically, and although Saoirse Ronan is well-liked on the campaign trail and Nick Hornby’s adaptation of Colm Toibin’s novel has been celebrated by critics, it’s up against it to take home major awards on the night. Without any other shots at a win, it’s hard for a film to get Best Picture.

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Saoirse Ronan in ‘Brooklyn’. Photo: AP

Room is a long shot for Best Picture, but it’s still in it to win. It’s a phenomenal piece of filmmaking, which succeeds on every front: director Lenny Abrahamson not only drew stunning performances out of the entire cast, including 8-year-old Jacob Tremblay, and made the confined space of the room seem much larger without cheating and opening it up for the cameras, but he managed to sustain the tension through the extraordinary climax of the film and maintain the audience’s interest in the latter half of the film.

That climax has been a bit of an issue for the film. Abrahamson has spoken about how the studio worried audiences would be put off by the story and afraid of seeing a film with such a dark subject matter, so they opted to include in the trailer the fact that the child and his mother escape. It was a necessary marketing strategy to appease audience fears and let them know it wouldn’t end badly, but unfortunately it took some of the force out of the story by giving away such a crucial part of the film.

Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson put in blistering performances in Room

It’s notable that the incredible performance by Tremblay, one of the most remarkable child actors in Oscars history, was not nominated. This may have been due to category confusion, but it could also be a sign that not enough voters watched the film to support and push it further.

However, there’s no doubt that this film will be recognised on Sunday night, and we’re still holding out hope for a shock win in Best Picture.

The remaining three – The Big Short, Spotlight, and The Revenant – all have a good shot at a win. We saw a serious split among the major guilds: the Producers Guild awarded The Big Short, the Screen Actors Guild chose Spotlight, and The Revenant took the Directors Guild Award.

It’s chaotic this year: we have two very different kinds of film competing for the same voters, as “important” social issue films The Big Short and Spotlight go up against the sweeping epic of The Revenant.

DiCaprio in The Revenant

At the moment, The Revenant is poised to win. In order to grab the top prize, films usually need to win at least two other awards.

While The Revenant will easily take home Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and potentially Best Director, The Big Short and Spotlight could struggle to get more than Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay, respectively.

However, a good indicator here would be an upset in the Film Editing category. If Mad Max: Fury Road loses out to The Big Short or Spotlight, one of them could walk all the way to Best Picture. That’s the category to watch: it comes early, and could signal a shift in the Academy. In 2013, Argo didn’t win Best Director, but after taking Film Editing it scooped Best Picture. The same thing happened with Crash in 2006.

Mark Ruffalo’s performance in Spotlight has earned him an Oscar nomination

Is there anything standing against The Revenant? Well, it didn’t get a screenplay nod, usually a prerequisite for an Oscar win (the last movie that won Best Picture without a nomination for screenplay was that other Leo movie, Titanic, in 1998), and it was snubbed by the Screen Actors Guild for Best Ensemble (the last movie that won without that was Braveheart in 1996).

However, it has changed gears by shaping a new narrative about environmentalism, a smart move that has made a period film about a 19th century fur trapper mauled by a bear and abandoned by his crew seem relevant to audiences today.

Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in The Big Short

That helps it match up with the “issue” films, Spotlight and The Big Short, and gives it more of a modern resonance. In any case, we are guaranteed a riveting show, and maybe even a smaller contender swooping in, taking advantage of such a divisive year and surprising us all.

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