Breaking Down the Race for Best Picture – Oscars 2016

Did you see all the nominees for best picture this year, and are you wondering which has the best chance to win? Well, probably not. For many people, seeing all the movies nominated for best picture can be difficult. Outside of large metropolitan areas, many movie theaters simply won’t carry every film and, even if they do, a lot of the films nominated this year had small-to-non-existent marketing campaigns, so they might’ve flown under the radar for you.

Well, have no fear, we’ve watched all of these films and we’ll give you the scoop on them, telling you why they’re nominated for best picture and what they have going against them so you can have verbal discourse with all your buddies about these movies, even if you haven’t seen them all. So, here we go!

The Big Short

The Hype: You know Adam McKay. He’s the guy behind a lot of your favorite comedies – Anchorman, The Other Guys, Step Brothers. He even worked on Ant-Man. So what’s he doing on the short list for Best Picture? This year, McKay deviated sharply from his typical oeuvre and decided to make a fictionalized documentary about the 2008 financial collapse. If that sounds snooze-worthy, then you aren’t alone in your thinking. Hell, Adam McKay probably thought the same thing. So he jazzed it up with a team of killer actors (Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carrell and many more) then threw in more spice by cutting the film up with music videos and guest appearances (the sensational and sizzling Margot Robbie and the acerbic Anthony Bourdain, among others). What you’re left with is one of the hippest pieces of edu-tainment ever produced and a surefire good time, despite the heady subject matter.

Why It Could Win: Any film that can teach you about the financial collapse without putting you to sleep should probably be on the list for Best Picture. But the Academy is also rewarding McKay for his brilliant collection of talent and hip, buzzing filmmaking style. The Academy also has been vibing on “smart” films for a while. Last year, The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything both filled this profile, while Moneyball and The Social Network did so years before that.

Why It Might Not: None of the films I just mentioned won. Also, this year, The Big Short is going head-to-head against Spotlight, another film highlighting an important issue in a somewhat-pseudo-documentary tone. People who would vote for The Big Short for best picture might also be inclined to vote for Spotlight, so the two might split votes and cancel each other out.

Our Score: B

Rotten Tomatoes: 88% | IMDB: 7.9 | Metacritic: 81

Bridge of Spies

The Hype: Spielberg’s Tom Hanks-starring Cold War thriller, Bridge of Spies, couldn’t be more timely, with tensions ramping up over Russia’s recent aggressive, socio-political chess moves. Hanks plays a lawyer appointed to first represent a captured Soviet spy (played marvelously by Mark Rylance), then to negotiate the Cold War’s first-ever hostage swap. The film is eminently and supremely Spielbergian, with all of his craft on display here.

Why It Could Win: Spielberg is a past Oscar winner and his films are always crafted with the highest degree of workmanship. Lincoln, War Horse, and Munich were all up for the top prize. Hanks is also a popular Oscar figure, having just recently been in Best Picture-nominee, Captain Phillips.

Why It Might Not: Again, none of those films above won the whole enchilada. Furthermore, in the last ten years, we haven’t seen a World War II-era film take home the prize, even while films such as The Hurt Locker showed that war movies are yet popular with Oscar voters. More damningly, despite the film being a Best Picture nominee, there’s been very little buzz about the film, signaling that people – Oscar voters or not – probably aren’t thinking about it.

Our Score: B+

Rotten Tomatoes: 91% | IMDB: 7.7 | Metacritic: 81


The Hype: Coming out of nowhere to nab a spot in the top eight is this small film about a young Irish emigrant torn between her new home and her old, with a love interest in both places just to make things even more difficult. Saoirse Ronan is great, but even more phenomenal is the range of accents on display by the cast of incredible actors. The period-perfect clothing and set pieces also probably contributed to this film’s position in the race for Best Picture.

Why It Might Win: This is a surprise film with a feel-good story. Director John Crowley hasn’t done a ton of films and the reported $10 million budget makes this film an underdog. Last year, Birdman jumped out of nowhere to win the whole thing, as did The Artist a few years before that. Academy voters aren’t afraid to vote for smaller films. Even more, Slumdog Millionaire won years ago on the strength of its strong ethnic cast and solid storytelling. Need more convincing, how about the fact that Brooklyn is one of the highest reviewed movies of the year, sporting an astounding 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and an equally-impressive 87 on review-aggregator, Metacritic.

Why It Might Not: Even with Birdman’s big win last year, it’s hard to pick a dark horse candidate such as Brooklyn to win it all. Of course, Birdman and Brooklyn are also very different films, so the strengths that voters saw in Birdman aren’t present in Brooklyn. Slumdog Millionaire is a more apt comparison, and that was seven years ago, followed up by other winners who were nothing like it, and with a smaller number of films competing against it (the Academy doubled the number of Best Picture nominees the following year). Brooklyn is likely to have captured a few voters’ hearts, but will it be enough to overtake all the other films in this crowded slate?

Our Score: B+

Rotten Tomatoes: 98% | IMDB: 7.7 | Metacritic: 87

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Hype: George Miller returned himself and his violent franchise to prominence with this year’s Fury Road. The practical FX-heavy film blew theater-goers’ eyes out and left many wanting more. In a year full of big name returns (Creed and, duh, Star Wars), Mad Max: Fury Road stood above them all as an exciting – and unexpected – new entry into a nostalgic series.

Why It Might Win: Before #OscarsSoWhite, the Academy faced other issues. A few years back, many people wondered why more awards didn’t go to more popular films. This issue was a contributing factor in the Academy’s decision to broaden the number of films nominated for Best Picture. Well, it’s not too early to declare Mad Max the people’s champion, and a huge win by this film in the Best Picture category would reshape the narrative around the the 2016 Academy Awards.

Why It Might Not: Despite broadening the field for Best Picture, big, popular films still aren’t winning the award. You’d have to go way back to The Return of the King to find the last time a true blockbuster film won Best Picture. This is despite such films as American Sniper, Gravity and Django Unchained making it on the ballot. There may very well be an anti-blockbuster bias in the Academy and, if real, does not bode well for Fury Road’s chances.

Our Score: B+

Rotten Tomatoes: 97% | IMDB: 8.2 | Metacritic: 89

The Martian

The Hype: By now, everyone’s seen Ridley Scott’s The Martian. Matt Damon starred in it and for a while, it was the thing, with politicians citing it as inspirational and pushing NASA to make a trip to Mars a reality. The film’s use of science mixed with comedy made this sci-fi film an audience favorite, so it’s no surprise it ended up on the short list for Best Picture.

Why It Might Win: Arguably no film had a bigger audience impact this year than The Martian. It’s already won an award for best picture, albeit for Best Comedy and, in an edge over Mad Max, has proven to be much more broadly appealing.

Why It Might Not: Just as Mad Max may not win due to an anti-blockbuster bias among Academy voters, The Martian could suffer similarly. And if the bias isn’t real, then both films could split votes and cancel each other out. Sci-fi films also haven’t done well at the Oscars, with Gravity and Her both missing out a couple of years ago.

Our Score: B+

Rotten Tomatoes: 92% | IMDB: 8.1 | Metacritic: 80

The Revenant

The Hype: Released just in time (barely) for Oscar consideration, The Revenant has leapt to the front of critics’ choice for Best Picture. Leonardo DiCaprio’s take on a vengeful fur trader is his best acting perhaps ever and director Alejandro Iñárritu brings his trademark stellar filmmaking skills to bear with all-natural lighting and sumptuously dripping every frame of this film with natural beauty.

Why It Might Win: Iñárritu is Oscar gold, with three of his last four films nominated for best picture, and Birdman winning the top prize just last year. Add that with DiCaprio’s finest performance and the film is a huge favorite for this category. There simply isn’t a hotter filmmaker in Hollywood right now.

Why It Might Not: Voters might shy away from awarding Iñárritu the big prize two years in a row. Also, it’s well known in the movie world that DiCaprio is aiming for a Best Actor award and it’s possible his shameless pursuit of this prize may tarnish the movie’s chances. Lastly, Revenant isn’t even close to being the best-reviewed film of the year. These reasons might seem shallow, but some voters may look for any reason to edge one film out over the another.

Our Score: A-

Rotten Tomatoes: 83% | IMDB: 8.3 | Metacritic: 76


The Hype: The darkest of dark horses, the low budget Room came out of nowhere to land on the Best Picture nomination list. Room is an uber-emotional film, taking viewers on a ride from witnessing the lowest of humanity to the highs of true maternal love. No other film on the Best Picture list has this kind of emotional punch to it. Combine that raw emotion with riveting performances from its two leads and Room can easily be considered one of the most impactful films of 2015.

Why It Might Win: Never under estimate a little, focused film. Birdman and The Artist were both small films and both took home the top prize, and while the Academy seems to shun big budget blockbusters, it has no qualms with lifting up heartfelt, low budget movies.

Why It Might Not: When you tell people you’re seeing Room, the response you’re most likely to get is, “What?” Nobody outside of the most avid film fan has even heard of this movie and its lack of marketing may make it an after-thought in many voters’ minds.

Our Score: B

Rotten Tomatoes: 96% | IMDB: 8.3 | Metacritic: 86


The Hype: The true story of the Boston Globe reporters who blew the lid off the child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, Spotlight has an all-star cast (see image above) who bring an understated, workman’s attitude to their portrayal of this important event. It’s a movie which teaches just as much as it entertains, helping audiences to truly understand the depth and gravitas of the scandal.

Why It Might Win: The Oscar nominating process is no stranger to films which take on tough topics: Dallas Buyers Club, The Help, Precious and Milk are all touchy-subject movies nominated in the last several years. None of those films, though, had the type of cast arrayed for it as this one and none of them shined a light on as big of an institution as this one. It’s a ballsy choice for a Best Picture nominee and would be a precedent-setting choice of a winner.

Why It Might Not: Films which are challenging can win (see Crash, Slumdog Millionaire), but haven’t for the last several years. Even further, this film is likely to lose votes to The Big Short, another challenging film presented to audiences by an all-star cast. There just isn’t the right type of competition this year for Spotlight to take home the top prize.

Our Score: B

Rotten Tomatoes: 96% | IMDB: 8.2 | Metacritic: 93

And The Winner Will Be …

In a crowded year with a lot of good, highly-reviewed films, The Revenant stands out as having the right cast, budget, story and technique to make it seem like a one-of-a-kind film. Despite Iñárritu’s film winning it all last year, we think the Academy will essentially anoint him as the *right now* director to watch. Overall, it feels like a year when The Revenant may win a slew of awards and, while it may not break the total record for awards won, it’ll claim 2015 for itself.

If The Revenant Doesn’t Win, Then It’ll Be …

We think votes for The Big Short will pull some of Spotlight’s chances to win away, but it it doesn’t, Spotlight has a great chance to take home the big enchilada. This is a year when the Oscars are desperate for relevance outside of #OscarsSoWhite and appointing a hard-hitting docu-drama as the picture of the year may be the way to do it.

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