I began my website in the year 2000. The idea was to monitor the Oscar race from beginning to end. It was just one of those funny things that my first time covering the awards was a crazy, unpredictable year of the kind I haven’t seen since — until this year. The Oscars were still being held in March. There was barely a working SAG Ensemble award yet. Hardly any critics groups to speak of. No real awards trajectory like we have now. There was Toronto, maybe, and there was the end of the year rush for “Oscar movies.” The public really had a say back then, so when both Gladiator and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon made a shitload of money, it was no secret and no surprise that they would then be up for the Oscar race.
Approaching Oscar Night 2001 from the outside looking in, you would say, well, this is a no-brainer. Gladiator takes all. But if you worked the Oscar circuit, you might remember two years before, when Shakespeare in Love famously upset the slam dunk presumed winner, Saving Private Ryan. So you might say, as we all did back then, that maybe Gladiator was ripe for an upset. Gladiator won the PGA. Gladiator had a slam dunk Best Actor winner in Russell Crowe. Ang Lee won the DGA and then Traffic won the SAG ensemble award. Three different movies. Three different guilds. There were so many forces pushing and pulling into the race, just like this year. There was the spectacular Ang Lee. There was the fact that no foreign language film had ever won Best Picture. But there was also the twofer by Steven Soderbergh. He had given us both Traffic and Erin Brockovich. Both had acting winners — Julia Roberts for Brockovich and Benicio Del Toro for Traffic. Then there was the people’s choice, Gladiator. When three different guilds rendered three different results, no one knew how the films would split the honors on Oscar Night, just that they would split. In the end, there was a letter circulated around Hollywood that said, “We shouldn’t let Steven Soderbergh go unrewarded this year. Since he keeps canceling himself out with two fine films, let’s all rally around Traffic.” They did.
Here is the letter as it was sent out to Academy members:
Soderbergh statement… to run Wednesday or Friday:
February 28, 2001
Members of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences,
As most of the industry knows, Steven Soderbergh, by anyone’s yardstick, the director who most deserves to win the Best Director Oscar on March 25 may lose to one of his esteemed competitors (Gladiator’s Ridley Scott, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s Ang Lee, or Billy Elliot’s Stephen Daldry) because of a split vote among Academy members who are torn between supporting his direction of Erin Brockovich vs. his direction of Traffic.
Consider, as one indicator, the combined “Inside Line” points that Soderbergh had allegedly tabulated as of last Friday, according to [INSIDE] reporter Michael Ciepley’s calculations: 322.7 for Erin Brockovich and 252.4 for Traffic, for a total of 575.1. That’s 213.5 points higher than Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger tally, 277.7 higher than Scott’s for Gladiator, and 383.4 higher than what Daldry has allegedly gotten for his helming of Billy Elliott.
Consider, also, that Soderbergh lost out in the Best Director category with both the Golden Globes and last weekend’s BAFTA Awards
This is the week, we’re told, when most Academy members will be filling out their Oscar ballots and mailing them in. So now’s the time, it appears, to ask that you consider our suggestion herein.
This isn’t about supporting our favorite Best Director candidate among the five nominees, or about our putting forward a favorite among the Best Picture nominees, two of which are of course Soderbergh films. And none of us would suggest that Erin Brockovich is anything less than a wise, elegantly composed, and highly effective film. It deserved every good review it got when it opened last March, and fully deserves your consideration for Best Picture. But if your decision, as an Academy member, has come down to whether to support Soderbergh’s direction of Erin Brockovich vs. Traffic, it is our urging that his work on Traffic receive the sole support among the pro-Soderbergh bloc.
Not because Traffic is “better” than Brockovich or vice versa — there are no absolutes in these matters. Or because Brockovich is thought to be a warmer, more emotionally engaging film. Or because Traffic is presumed in some quarters to be a brainier, more ambitious, or a more all-encompassing work of social realism.
It is not a stretch to say that Traffic is more of a cutting-edge, visually-driven, directorial tour de force — a more fitting vehicle, one could argue, for the winning of a Best Director trophy — while the fable-like Brockovich is more of an acting and screenwriting piece. We’re not favoring apples over oranges, but there does seem to be this distinction.
Or forget these comparisons altogether, if you prefer. Our request is solely due to the general assumption that the vote has to go one way or the other for Soderbergh to win, and is being made because we strongly believe no other nominated director this year is more deserving of the Best Director prize.
If either Ang Lee, Ridley Scott or Stephen Daldry are receiving your Best Director vote this year, terrific. All are gifted, worthy, and deserving. But if you’re a Soderbergh ally, we ask that you show your support in the way we’ve suggested.
The letter worked. Soderbergh won. When you look at the vote counts, you can see why. Not that many Brockovich voters had to be persuaded to shift. Gladiator won Best Picture. Crouching Tiger won Cinematography, Score, Art Direction and Foreign Language film.
This letter was circulated on the same day the Oscar ceremony will be held this year, and final voting ballots had gone out. You see how there was much more time to think about things back then?
Back in 2002, I was in a meeting in Huntington Beach. I was sitting around with a company who had hired me to do some kind of work for them — I can’t remember what it was. Maybe it was a website. Maybe it was a database. That was the year that The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was up against A Beautiful Mind. Surely, the entire table agreed, Lord of the Rings would win. It is a big sweeping epic. It made a lot of money. But, no. The industry was working through payback. Payback was saying Ron Howard got screwed when Apollo 13 won the PGA/DGA/SAG and then lost the Oscar to Braveheart. A Beautiful Mind had won the DGA. It easily won the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director, despite its mixed reviews. It, too, had two acting frontrunners in Russell Crowe, who didn’t win (it would have been back-to-back victories) and Jennifer Connelly, who did. I told them, “A Beautiful Mind is going to win.” They didn’t believe me.
Back in 2009 I was at a monthly gathering of moms from my daughter’s school. They were women my age, all professional women — one was a teacher, one an NPR reporter, one an artist and poet. We were eating dinner and the subject of the Oscars came up. “Have you seen Avatar?” Said one. “That has to win Best Picture, right?” Everyone at the table had seen Avatar. “Have you seen The Hurt Locker,” I asked. This was in December, mind you, in the heat of Oscar season. None of them had seen it. “That’s going to win Best Picture,” I told them. They didn’t believe me.
In 2013, Kyle Buchanan declared 12 Years a Slave the frontrunner to win Best Picture out of Telluride. After that, the film struggled to win any major awards. The LA, New York and National Society of Film Critics declined to give the best reviewed film of the year their top award. Meanwhile, Gravity was killing at the box office. Everyone had seen it. 12 Years won the Globe and the BAFTA but shared the PGA with Gravity. American Hustle had taken the SAG Ensemble award, and then Gravity took the DGA. The perception at the time was that Gravity had to win Best Picture. While some, like Awards Daily, were sticking with 12 Years a Slave, there was a last minute surge of momentum for Gravity. In the end, of course, although Alfonso Cuarón won Best Director, 12 Years a Slave triumphed.
In 2010, The Social Network was winning every award a film could win heading into the guild awards, even the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs. But The King’s Speech won the PGA, the DGA, the SAG and then the Oscar. Why are you still predicting The Social Network, people would ask… then ask the same thing again with Lincoln in 2012… and ask it again with Boyhood in 2014. Because to me it didn’t matter to predict what everyone else was predicting. There was no use in doing that — no passion, no pleasure, no thrill. It was far more satisfying to stubbornly hold on my resentment by not predicting the consensus choices. After 17 years of this, there was actually more value for me in holding steadfast to my hopes than in going with the flow.
Even in 2009, many believed Avatar would still take Best Picture. In 2006, many believed Little Miss Sunshine would win Best Picture because a genre film — a remake no less! — The Departed, just couldn’t. The point here is this: it doesn’t matter. None of it matters. Being “right” about what the Oscars might do isn’t any better than being “wrong.” If I took home any lesson from all of these years in this business it’s that I’ve been right and I’ve been wrong and neither feels particularly better than the other. In other words, it was a far more worthy experience for me to hold onto my dream that The Social Network could pull off a win than if I had balked and put The King’s Speech in that number one spot. The latter would have been the easy way out; only an idiot would think the tribulation of royalty wasn’t going to win.
That brings us to this year. So many of you keep wanting me to change my prediction of The Big Short to The Revenant. “Can’t you see it’s going to win,” some say. “She’s just being stubborn, she knows it’s going to win,” others say. For some reason, trying to change my mind seems important to people. Perhaps because you’re trying to save me from myself or perhaps you’re trying to get some kind of circle loop closed, some final knot tied off, so that you know for sure it will win.
I can only answer it this way: The Revenant seems, like Gravity did, like Avatar did, to have the most momentum of buzz and heat heading into Oscar voting. It also seems to have Million Dollar Baby’s late-breaking splash momentum, taking the lead from two other films (like The Aviator and Sideways that year). Finally, the best thing The Revenant has going for it is what Anne Thompson said on Twitter — as a back-to-back frontrunner by Inarritu, it may feel impressive enough to break not only Academy history, but to break the stats on top of that.
So why don’t I just predict it? It isn’t because I’m stubbornly refusing or that I feel any resentment towards it at all. I actually think all three frontrunners are good choices for Best Picture. I do prefer both The Big Short and Spotlight to The Revenant — which I admire more than like or love. I appreciate and respect it but I don’t love it and will probably never watch it again, despite Chivo and Leo’s great work. The reason I can’t predict it is because of all of the things stacked against it.
For instance, you can’t discount the fact that the Globes and the BAFTA — two of The Revenant’s glossiest wins — did not give Inarritu an award last year for Birdman. If they had, and The Revenant had won over both those groups two years in a row, now that would be impressive to me. All I’m left with is the DGA’s basic plurality vote that beat both The Big Short and Spotlight — by what fraction we will never know. That means The Revenant could come into the race — maybe — with the highest number of votes in first round of ballot tabulation and stay in the lead all the way till it builds the magic stack of 50% +1. The thing is, I don’t know if it’s the most popular. I just can’t make my mind. Perhaps it is knowing what I know about the movie — a B+ CinemaScore (really not great by CinemaScore’s lenient standards), divisive reviews, how the audience reacted to it when I first saw it. Its ambition and scope cannot be denied. Is it like Saving Private Ryan or is it like Schindler’s List? I just don’t know.
At the same time, I don’t have great confidence that either The Big Short or Spotlight can win either. But predicting them is no more risky than predicting The Revenant if you really know a lot about how the Oscars work. There is no easy safe prediction this year.
Also, I really like that many of the pundits are still predicting George Miller to win the Oscar for Best Director. I really think that’s possible too. They might think, we just did Inarritu. Must we, again? They might think Miller’s film was in fact the greater achievement. Among a smaller group of voters than the DGA, it’s certainly possible that the scales could tips a different way. Remember, in 2000, Steven Soderbergh won the Oscar for directing — not Ang Lee, not Ridley Scott.
So you see, this isn’t one of those year where I am staunchly refusing to pick the clearly obviously winning film. This is a year when I am truly stuck between a rock and a hard place. All three of these films seem like they could win – and – none of the three films seem like they could win. So why not play and play daringly? That’s what I’m doing. I’m playing.
But since I know the stakes are high for many of you, this week and going forward, I will now include an “AwardsDaily’s Most Likely” along with my own predictions just so everyone can sleep better at night.
Best Motion Picture of the Year
- “The Big Short” Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers
AwardsDaily’s Most Likely: “The Revenant” Arnon Milchan, Steve Golin, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Mary Parent and Keith Redmon, Producers
- “Spotlight” Michael Sugar, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin and Blye Pagon Faust, Producers
- “Mad Max: Fury Road” Doug Mitchell and George Miller, Producers
- “Room” Ed Guiney, Producer
- “The Martian” Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Michael Schaefer and Mark Huffam, Producers
- “Bridge of Spies” Steven Spielberg, Marc Platt and Kristie Macosko Krieger, Producers
- “Brooklyn” Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey, Producers
Achievement in Directing
- “The Revenant” Alejandro G. Iñárritu
- “Mad Max: Fury Road” George Miller
- “The Big Short” Adam McKay
- “Spotlight” Tom McCarthy
- “Room” Lenny Abrahamson
Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
- Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant”
- Matt Damon in “The Martian”
- Michael Fassbender in “Steve Jobs”
- Bryan Cranston in “Trumbo”
- Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl”
Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
- Sylvester Stallone in “Creed”
- Mark Ruffalo in “Spotlight”
- Christian Bale in “The Big Short”
- Mark Rylance in “Bridge of Spies”
- Tom Hardy in “The Revenant”
Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
- Brie Larson in “Room”
- Saoirse Ronan in “Brooklyn”
- Charlotte Rampling in “45 Years”
- Cate Blanchett in “Carol”
- Jennifer Lawrence in “Joy”
Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
- Alicia Vikander in “The Danish Girl”
- Rooney Mara in “Carol”
- Kate Winslet in “Steve Jobs
- Jennifer Jason Leigh in “The Hateful Eight”
- Rachel McAdams in “Spotlight”
- “The Big Short” Screenplay by Charles Randolph and Adam McKay
- “Carol” Screenplay by Phyllis Nagy
- “Room” Screenplay by Emma Donoghue
- “Brooklyn” Screenplay by Nick Hornby
- “The Martian” Screenplay by Drew Goddard
- “Spotlight” Written by Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy
- “Straight Outta Compton” Screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff; Story by S. Leigh Savidge & Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berloff
- “Inside Out” Screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley; Original story by Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen
- “Bridge of Spies” Written by Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
- “Ex Machina” Written by Alex Garland
Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
- “Inside Out” Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera
- “Anomalisa” Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson and Rosa Tran
- “When Marnie Was There” Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura
- “Shaun the Sheep Movie” Mark Burton and Richard Starzak
- “Boy and the World” Alê Abreu
Achievement in Cinematography
- “The Revenant” Emmanuel Lubezki
- “Mad Max: Fury Road” John Seale
- “Carol” Ed Lachman
- “Sicario” Roger Deakins
- “The Hateful Eight” Robert Richardson
Achievement in Costume Design
- “Carol” Sandy Powell
- “Cinderella” Sandy Powell
- “Mad Max: Fury Road” Jenny Beavan
- “The Danish Girl” Paco Delgado
- “The Revenant” Jacqueline West
Best Documentary Feature
- “What Happened, Miss Simone?” Liz Garbus, Amy Hobby and Justin Wilkes
AwardsDaily’s Most Likely: “Amy” Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees
- “Cartel Land” Matthew Heineman and Tom Yellin
- “The Look of Silence” Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
- “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom” Evgeny Afineevsky and Den Tolmor
Best Documentary Short Film
- “Chau, beyond the Lines” Courtney Marsh and Jerry Franck
AwardsDaily’s Most Likely: “Body Team 12” David Darg and Bryn Mooser
- “Last Day of Freedom” Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman
- “Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah” Adam Benzine
- “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness” Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
Achievement in Film Editing
- “The Big Short” Hank Corwin
AwardsDaily’s Most Likely: “Mad Max: Fury Road” Margaret Sixel
- “The Revenant” Stephen Mirrione
- “Spotlight” Tom McArdle
- “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey
Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
- “Son of Saul” Hungary
- “Mustang” France
- “Theeb” Jordan
- “Embrace of the Serpent” Colombia
- “A War” Denmark
Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
- “The Revenant” Siân Grigg, Duncan Jarman and Robert Pandini
- “Mad Max: Fury Road” Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damian Martin
- “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared” Love Larson and Eva von Bahr
Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score)
- “The Hateful Eight” Ennio Morricone
- “Carol” Carter Burwell
- “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” John Williams
- “Bridge of Spies” Thomas Newman
- “Sicario” Jóhann Jóhannsson
Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song)
- “Til It Happens To You” from “The Hunting Ground”
Music and Lyric by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga
- “Writing’s On The Wall” from “Spectre”
Music and Lyric by Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith
- “Manta Ray” from “Racing Extinction”
Music by J. Ralph and Lyric by Antony Hegarty
- “Simple Song #3” from “Youth”
Music and Lyric by David Lang
- “Earned It” from “Fifty Shades of Grey”
Music and Lyric by Abel Tesfaye, Ahmad Balshe, Jason Daheala Quenneville and Stephan Moccio
Achievement in Production Design
- “Mad Max: Fury Road” Production Design: Colin Gibson; Set Decoration: Lisa Thompson
- “The Revenant” Production Design: Jack Fisk; Set Decoration: Hamish Purdy
- “The Martian” Production Design: Arthur Max; Set Decoration: Celia Bobak
- “Bridge of Spies” Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard Henrich
- “The Danish Girl” Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Michael Standish
Best Animated Short Film
- “Bear Story” Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala
- “World of Tomorrow” Don Hertzfeldt
- “Sanjay’s Super Team” Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle
- “We Can’t Live Without Cosmos” Konstantin Bronzit
- “Prologue” Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton
Best Live Action Short Film
- “Shok” Jamie Donoughue
- “Day One” Henry Hughes
- “Stutterer” Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage
- “Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)” Patrick Vollrath
- “Ave Maria” Basil Khalil and Eric Duponty
Achievement in Sound Editing
- “The Revenant” Martin Hernandez and Lon Bender
- “Mad Max: Fury Road” Mark Mangini and David White
- “The Martian” Oliver Tarney
- “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Matthew Wood and David Acord
- “Sicario” Alan Robert Murray
Achievement in Sound Mixing
- “The Revenant” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom and Chris Duesterdiek
- “Mad Max: Fury Road” Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo
- “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson
- “The Martian” Paul Massey, Mark Taylor and Mac Ruth
- “Bridge of Spies” Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Drew Kunin
Achievement in Visual Effects
- “The Revenant” Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron Waldbauer
- “Mad Max: Fury Road” Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver and Andy Williams
- “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould
- “The Martian” Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence and Steven Warner
- “Ex Machina” Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett