Chris Rock can be trusted this time. ¶ If ever there were a perfect moment for Rock to be the Oscar host, it’s this one, that comes in a year when prominent black figures in Hollywood are boycotting the Academy Awards in disgust because of the snow-white identity of all the major nominees. ¶ It turned out that he couldn’t be trusted in 2005, when he hosted the first time. He somehow managed to find the exact wrong tone for an Oscar host with the result that his gig made almost no one happy. The message in almost all his jokes was somehow that no grown-up, fully masculine American male gives a flying jockstrap about movies or the Oscars so it was his job to decry the sissification of it all. ¶ It was as if being chosen as an Oscar host somehow returned him to high school and he needed to prove to all of his dimwit teen buddies that all of his male parts, psychic and physical, were still fully operational. ¶ This is a different Chris Rock in 2016 – one who wrote and directed a very good comedy called “Top Five.” This is a Chris Rock who wrote a bruising and brilliant article for the Hollywood Reporter that called Hollywood picture-making a “white industry” just as the NBA is a black one (in terms of participants and salaries, if not ownership). This is a Chris Rock who admits that he is now treated by younger black comedians as a kind of big brother who can show them the ropes.
He may be, after the most incompetent and accidentally revealing run-up to the annual promotional orgy some of us have ever seen, just right to register all the necessary disgust and anger that #OscarsSoWhite seems to require.
That general mind-boggling tone-deafness continued right up to last Sunday’s “60 Minutes,” where Steve Kroft did a virtual Oscar-promotional piece for “Steve Jobs,” and its actor Michael Fassbender and actress Kate Winslet with two full days of Oscar-voting left to go before the Academy deadline for filing Oscar votes.
What the devil was THAT? “60 Minutes” trying, as much as possible, to put in a word for its favorite movie because Jobs might have made a good subject for a “60 Minutes” piece? The movie was superbly made and extremely well-acted, but even more unpleasant and pointless to watch. Not even nominated anywhere was “Concussion,” which dealt, fascinatingly, with matters that concern America every Fall Sunday.
If ever there was a business that needed Rock at his absolute loosest and sharpest, it’s the Hollywood movie business in 2016. If ever there were a moment for the evening’s comic host to go over the line and draw some actual industrial blood, it’s this one. Tastefully tiptoeing up to the line just won’t cut it Sunday. Rock’s gig at this year’s Oscars needs to go just enough over the line to be effectively memorable about the nature of minority culture struggles in majority America.
That’s what was wrong with Rock’s view of things in 2005. He was trying to fit in by becoming a perfect representative of Alexis de Tocqueville’s “tyranny of the majority.” His mission this time is to make it clear to a majority audience just how the world looks to those who, at all of life’s gaudiest moments, might as well be invisible.
It’s almost as if the Academy were begging for trouble this year, when the only nominee from “Creed” was its 60-something white legend and not its black star or director. Almost nothing about Fassbender in “Steve Jobs” made him a more worthy nominee than Will Smith for “Concussion” but it was Fassbender who got the nomination. Why? Because he played a businessman who changed the world, not a dark-skinned scientist who discovered a new way that America’s favorite sport might be killing its own players.
There were 10 berths for a possible Best Picture nomination. But it was virtually impossible for anyone to look at the final list of eight and not understand just how “minor” minority achievements were perceived to be in Hollywood.
But let’s hear it anyway for a nomination slate that actually managed to recognize that the year’s best movie – the tiny and immensely powerful “Room” – not only deserved a Best Picture nomination but one for its director and major adult star.
We can hope, this year, that Chris Rock may draw a little blood everywhere else.
Here, for its 43rd consecutive year, is an Oscar Tip Sheet – a quick introduction to what to expect and what not to.
“The Big Short,” “Bridge of Spies,” “Brooklyn,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Martian,” “The Revenant,” “Room” and “Spotlight.”
The Likely Winner: For a change, it’s the toughest category of the night. The producers gave the prize to “The Big Short,” a movie in praise of money and unorthodox ways to get a whole bunch of it while simultaneously being smarter than everyone else. An Oscar there will be nauseating. “The Martian” might have been a possibility if the Academy hadn’t forgotten to nominate director Ridley Scott. It seems to be between “The Revenant” and “Spotlight.” “The Revenant” would be an appalling winner, if a good deal less appalling than “The Big Short.” It’s a good movie for two-thirds of the way and a wrap-up in its final third. “Spotlight” is, oddly, the safest and sanest movie to recognize for Best Picture.
Who Should Win: “Room” about 20 times over. Failing that, “Brooklyn” and the un-nominated “Carol.”
Bryan Cranston for “Trumbo”; Matt Damon for “The Martian”; Leonardo DiCaprio for “The Revenant”; Michael Fassbender for “Steve Jobs”; and Eddie Redmayne for “The Danish Girl.”
The Likely Winner: It’s Leo’s turn. He did a formidable amount of teeth-gnashing and endured a fair amount of physical discomfort to get “The Revenant” made. There’s a decent-sized feel-good factor with this one.
Who Should Win: None of the above, really. It’s a very weak category this year. The Academy owes Will Smith one for not even nominating him here.
Cate Blanchett for “Carol”; Brie Larson for “Room”; Jennifer Lawrence for “Joy”; Charlotte Rampling for “45 Years”; and Saoirse Ronan for “Brooklyn.”
The Likely Winner: Probably the most heartening award of the night if it indeed goes, as expected, to Brie Larson for “Room.” An Oscar to her will symbolize the miraculous power of the movie to convey a primal mother/son relationship. Larson is a way to recognize all three – the actress, her 9-year-old co-star Jacob Tremblay and director Lenny Abrahamson.
A Pleasant Unlikelihood: If, against all odds, it turns out to be Ronan, it wouldn’t be the worst thing that happened all night.
Best supporting actor
Christian Bale for “The Big Short”; Tom Hardy for “The Revenant”; Mark Ruffalo for “Spotlight”; Mark Rylance for “Bridge of Spies”; and Sylvester Stallone for “Creed.”
The Likely Winner: In an evening lacking in big feel-good moments, an Oscar for Sly will make almost everyone happy. Very few megastars of his wattage have ever had more of a sense of humor about himself. His acceptance speech should be charming. If it’s Mark Rylance, expect a lot of bloody outcries on social media and the next day.
Who Should Win: The un-nominated Jacob Tremblay, whose performance in “Room” is one of the great child performances in all of movies.
Best supporting actress
Jennifer Jason Leigh for “The Hateful Eight”; Rooney Mara for “Carol”; Rachel McAdams for “Spotlight”; Alicia Vikander for “The Danish Girl”; and Kate Winslet for “Steve Jobs.”
The Likely Winner: If it’s Winslet, it means the somewhat sickening industrial machine effort for the film scored an unfortunate victory for media muscle-flexing. More just, and more likely, will be Alicia Vikander who was not only the best thing about “The Danish Girl” but was remarkable in “Ex Machina.” All in all, though, an awfully good category.
Adam McKay for “The Big Short”; George Miller for “Mad Max: Fury Road”; Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for “The Revenant”; Lenny Abrahamson for “Room”; and Tom McCarthy for “Spotlight.”
The Likely Winner: Let’s be honest: there ARE some stunning moments in “The Revenant.” Unfortunately, there aren’t a whole film worth of them, which will make it unfortunate if Inarritu wins for the second straight year (He deserved it last year many times over for “Birdman.”) The worthiest likely winner will be McCarthy for “Spotlight.” If it’s McKay, it’s a travesty. Unfortunately, the Director’s Guild has already gone for Inarritu so, as much as possible, the fix is in. A bad fix, if you ask me.
In my opinion, it is both corrupt and criminal that Ridley Scott wasn’t nominated for “The Martian” but McKay was for “The Big Short.”
Who Should Win: Abrahamson 10 times over. It’s a small miracle he was even nominated.
Best adapted screenplay
“The Big Short,” “Brooklyn,” “Carol,” “The Martian,” and “Room.”
The Likely Winner: “The Big Short” won the Writer’s Guild Award. That makes it the favorite, unfortunately.
Who Should Win: “Room.” An Oscar for either “Brooklyn,” or “Carol” or “The Martian” would be preferable than one for “The Big Short.” Let’s admit though it wasn’t easy to be that funny and clear about the financial disasters of 2008. It was a big achievement but an empty one compared to everything else in the category.
Best original screenplay
“Bridge of Spies,” “Ex Machina,” “Inside Out,” “Spotlight,” and “Straight Outta Compton.”
The Likely Winner: “Spotlight.” Kudos to the Academy for actually having the brains to nominate “Inside Out,” “Ex Machina” and “Straight Outta Compton.” But the script for “Spotlight” is a wonderful piece of work, from a man who has made wonderful movies before and is, no less, an actor by original trade.
Best foreign film
“Embrace of the Serpent,” “Mustang,” “Son of Saul,” “Theeb,” and “A War.”
The Likely Winner: “Son of Saul” is like no other Holocaust film ever made. It won a huge prize at Cannes and it deserves this too.
Best visual effects
“Ex Machina,” “The Martian,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Revenant” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
The Likely Winner: You think all the money – spent and returned at box offices – is irrelevant? “Star Wars,” of course. “Mad Max” would be nice, though.
Best documentary feature
“Amy,” “Cartel Land,” “The Look of Silence,” “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom.”
The Likely Winner: If not “Amy” then “The Look of Silence.” This, though, is a great era for movies about major pop music figures. If it’s “The Look of Silence,” that would be a conscious rejection of the “pop”-ness of all that.
Best animated feature
“Anomalisa,” “Boy and the World,” “Inside Out,” “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” and “When Marnie Was There.”
The Likely Winner: And the one that deserves to win, “Inside Out.” The puppet sex of “Anomalisa” is not the sort of thing that Oscar voters would opt for in large numbers.
Best film editing
“The Big Short,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Revenant,” “Spotlight,” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
The Likely Winner: “Mad Max” and “The Revenant” could be explained, even excused. But gee, didn’t “Star Wars” make a whole lot of money?
“Earned It” from “Fifty Shades of Grey”; “Manta Ray” from “Racing Extinction”; “Simple Song #3” from “Youth”; “Til It Happens to You” from “The Hunting Ground”; and “Writing’s on the Wall” from “Spectre”
The Likely Winner: No one deserves it. So the money will probably make it Sam Smith for “Writing’s on the Wall.”
Ed Lachman for “Carol”; Robert Richardson for “The Hateful Eight”; John Seale for “Mad Max: Fury Road”; Emmanuel Lubezki for “The Revenant”; and Roger Deakins for “Sicario.”
The Likely Winner: What Lubezki and Inarritu do together is amazing in “The Revenant.” But “Mad Max” is almost equally amazing.
“Bridge of Spies,” “The Danish Girl,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Martian,” “The Revenant.”
The Likely Winner: Another “Revenant” vs. “Mad Max” duel. Go for Max.