Creed is that one movie that can sometimes come along and land in the Oscar race with absolutely no warning. It comes with an interesting Oscar story, one not unlike its subject, and its subject’s first film. Rocky is a story of an underdog and Creed has to be seen as one of this year’s underdogs, without a doubt. It wasn’t ushered in as an “Oscar movie,” and doesn’t seem to have much in the way of Oscar ads or fancy q&as, not yet anyway. It was a film that could have gone either way – but it landed like a champ. An A Cinemascore, maybe looking at a 35 – 40 million opening weekend, and hitting the sweet spot at Rotten Tomatoes with 93% puts Creed very much “in the conversation.” And if it isn’t then there is something very very wrong with Oscar season.
Creed is what my dearly departed friend David Carr would call a “movie movie” and is another example of how this year might really might be — or certainly could be — dominated by big studio movies for the first time in years. It’s too soon to know, of course, how the whole thing will settle. We won’t really know for a few more weeks at least. Joy and The Hateful Eight are still to be seen.
But here’s what we can say for sure. Spotlight could be the strongest contender heading into the race — a tiny independent film up against massive studio juggernauts. That could give it a “little movie that could” vibe, which might rally voters to take down the big guns. Or else, they might want to reward the big studio movies for doing it so right this year. Last year had one big earner, American Sniper, which clocked in as the year’s highest grossing film. No other BP nominee other than The Imitation Game topped $70 million. Last year seemed like a one-off, however — a year representing many films that never really reached a wider audience, nor did that wider audience ever particularly seek out those movies. They did fine, of course. But this year we’re probably looking at something a little more like 2012 or 2013 where there are a lot of bigger earners in the race.
So far, the highest earners in the race are:
Inside Out – $356
The Martian – $200 and counting
Mad Max: Fury Road – $153
Creed will make money, at least $100 million. We know Joy and The Hateful Eight are going to make money. Even with a R rating, Tarantino is easily good for at least $100 million. It’s too soon to know if Joy will make that kind of coin, but it’s certainly possible. And Leonardo DiCaprio is usually good for $100 million, but usually if he’s working with Scorsese. Revolutionary Road and J. Edgar are two that didn’t do so well, but usually, DiCaprio is way up there. That might mean The Revenant makes a lot of money.
Right now, the movies people are talking about are slowly making money but many are still on the limited release end of their run, thus it’s hard to tell what will gain traction with expansion and what won’t. These are the kind of films that rely on Oscar season buzz to keep their box office afloat. That’s guaranteed for Spotlight, Brooklyn, Room. Black Mass made $62 million and Sicario made $45 million but they are still on the fringe of the Best Picture talk.
Still, whether a movie makes money is not really the concern of Oscar voters as much as it used to be. It certainly helps if a movie didn’t lose money, although even that seems to be tolerated in the first rush of the season. What we don’t know is which way this race is headed. Is it headed to Big Hollywood crowdpleasers? Or is it headed down the indie trail, as it usually is? Might it be a little of both? It’s hard to say.
If Creed gets in, it will help mitigate the “Oscars so white” meme that’ the Academy would like to shake. Concussion would do that, as would Beasts of No Nation. Of the three, though, and I hate to lump them together because they are not, in any way, similar films — but any of them would be a good reason to set the new and evolving Academy on a slightly more diverse course, we might ask ourselvesf, why not Creed? If it has all of the necessary ingredients — including a young talented writer/director who’s made a movie this well liked? What would be Creed’s stumbling block, if any?
The only thing I can think of is that it isn’t taken seriously enough as a credible “Oscar movie.” It might be viewed as a mainstream audience crowdpleaser with not enough “gravitas.” That is also what might hit The Martian. For all of its modern thinking, there is a part of the Academy that can’t quite get unlocked from their pattern. Although, credit where credit is due – Birdman certainly wasn’t a film in their comfort zone. Sure, it was about their survival as an industry free of superhero movies, and sure, it was very “American Beauty” like — the same kind of black comedy delivering a central male figure’s internal monologue who reaches an epiphany about life. They almost have the same ending. Ever notice that?
Let’s say, for argument’s sake, Creed is the movie no pundit saw coming to predict in the first place. Where might it sit in the Best Picture race? Right now, and I might change my mind, I think it’s at number three.
Positives: feels like the only sure thing so far. The hit of Telluride and beyond.
Negatives: does it generate sufficient “urgency” to vote for it?
Positives: so well liked across the board, helmed by the shamefully overdue Ridley Scott, money maker.
Negatives: the sci-fi genre has never won Best Picture.
Positives: Surprising in every way, a story that works without the need for the Rocky myth, yet that myth sort of brings it all back home for Rocky fans and American history, flipping the hero and landing the future in the hands of a young black filmmaker and star, not to mention a bravura performance by the great Sylvester Stallone.
Negatives: Will the Rocky thing make it seem too trivial? All I would say about that is, come on Academy, give him a chance.
Positives: glorious, sentimental, well-written, brilliant central performance – a perfect film.
Negatives: is it too girly for the steak eaters?
Positives: a total knockout when people see it. No film this year, at least so far, seems to have as much emotional impact.
Negatives: Again, the steak eaters.
Positives: the genius and criminally ignored Todd Haynes at the wheel, flawless in every way. Beauty personified.
Negatives: the steak eaters!
Positives: there is no other movie like it — maybe ever. The closest you can get is Malick but it isn’t even that. It’s beautiful, haunting, strange, exceptional.
Negatives: Almost impossible to win back-to-back Oscars in any category but especially the top categories. Violence in and of itself isn’t a negative but is it formulaic enough to drive a consensus vote?
Positives: acting and writing driven, a #1 movie for a great many people.
Negatives: I suppose the box office, if that counts.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Positives: George Miller is the nicest guy in town, it’s a movie that still impresses, especially with the directing, editing and cinematography. It has it all.
Negatives: Did it come out too soon?
That’s nine right there. With Joy and The Hateful Eight still left to be seen. If they get in, they will have to bump one or more of those listed above. It is our job to figure out which one will be bumped.
This is how I’m feeling at the moment, but I’m sure things will change in the coming days.
- The Martian
- Bridge of Spies
- The Revenant
- Inside Out, The Hateful Eight or Mad Max Fury Road
Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance is simply the best thing he’s ever done. It is dramatic, compelling, moving and more than that — he devotes everything he has to this film and it pays off. This fine actor has gone unrecognized for far too long.
- Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
- Johnny Depp, Black Mass
- Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
- Matt Damon, The Martian
- Ian McKellen, Mr. Holmes or Michael B. Jordan, Creed
- Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl or Will Smith, Concussion
Brie Larson still seems poised to win Best Actress – but this is still a race where anything can happen. If Rooney Mara is put in lead, which other actress will she bump? Well, probably Blanchett. They could maybe take the fifth slot, but that means no Carey Mulligan or Charlotte Rampling, who I suspect will be the recipient of many critic awards. If Alicia Vikander also goes lead she will likely bump either Mara or Blanchett. In other words, it seems as though the first three are locked, with only the last two spots open for three contenders at minimum, but possibly more than that.
- Brie Larson, Room
- Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
- Saoirse Ronan,Brooklyn
- Cate Blanchett, Carol or Rooney Mara or both
- Charlotte Rampling 45 Years or Carey Mulligan, Suffragette
Best Supporting Actress
If Vikander and Mara go lead it will drastically impact this category. As anyone can see, there are plenty of others waiting in the wings.
- Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
- Rooney Mara, Carol
- Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy
- Jane Fonda, Youth
- Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs or Jessica Chastain, The Martian or Jennifer Jason-Leigh, The Hateful Eight
If Sly gets nominated, he will likely win. Getting him nominated is the key.
- Sylvester Stallone, Creed
- Jacob Tremblay, Room
- Paul Dano, Love & Mercy
- Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
- Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
I’m still holding out hope for Ridley Scott, but keep in mind that no black director has ever won an Oscar. If Ryan Coogler is nominated, that could set in motion a potential historic win. One never knows, though right now I feel like it’s down to McCarthy vs. Scott. This is a tough and impossible category to call.
- Ridley Scott, The Martian
- Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
- Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant
- Ryan Coogler, Creed
- Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies, David O. Russell, Joy; or Todd Haynes, Carol; or John Crowley, Brooklyn; or Lenny Abrahamson, Room; or Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight; or Lazlo Nemes for Son of Saul
1. Drew Godard, The Martian
2. Nick Hornby, Brooklyn
3. Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs
4. Charlie Kaufman, Anomalisa
5. Phyllis Nagy, Carol or Emma Donoghue, Room
6. Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington, Creed
7. Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant
8. Cary Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation
9. Adam McKay, Charles Randolph, The Big Short
10. Jez Butterworth, Mark Malouk, Black Mass
1. Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, Spotlight
2. Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Inside Out
3. Matt Charman, the Coens, Bridge of Spies
4. Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight
5. David O. Russell, Joy
Best Animated Feature
1. Inside Out
3. The Peanuts Movie
4. The Good Dinosaur
Achievement in Cinematography
1. The Revenant
4. Bridge of Spies
5. Creed (Maryse Alberti, a woman who might make Academy history by becoming the first female cinematographer ever to be nominated)
Achievement in Costume Design
4. The Danish Girl
5. Bridge of Spies
Best Documentary Feature
1. He Named Me Malala (Davis Guggenheim)
2. Going Clear (Alex Gibney)
3. What Happened, Miss Simone? (Liz Garbus)
4. The Heart of a Dog (Laurie Anderson)
5. Amy (Asif Kapadia) or Where To Invade Next (Michael Moore)
Fringe dwellers: Winter on Fire, The Armor of Light, Hitchcock/Truffaut, Meru, Prophet’s Prey, The Wolfpack
Achievement in Film Editing
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
2. The Revenant
4. The Martian
6. Bridge of Spies
Best Foreign Language Film
1. Son of Saul (Hungary)
2. Mustang (France)
3. The Assassin (Taiwan)
4. The Second Mother (Brazil)
5. Labyrinth of Lies (Germany
Achievement in Production Design
Bridge of Spies
Achievement in Sound Editing
Mad Max: Fury Road
Achievement in Sound Mixing
Mad Max: Fury Road
Son of Saul
The Hateful Eight
Achievement in Visual Effects
Mad Max: Fury Road
In the Heart of the Sea