In 2015’s buffet of brilliance, somehow the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences managed to make the same mistakes they do every year. The very industry they represent offered them one masterpiece after another, and much as they may have munched up a minority, they turned down many more, opting instead for choices that, let’s be real, are gonna look the same coming out the other end as they did going in. At least, that’s what we’d all have ourselves suppose, as we wallow in our dissatisfaction following January’s inevitable disappointment, as Oscar nominations are revealed to have excluded so many of the year’s best, brightest talent, so many of our personal favourites that nary a person in the Academy even bothered to watch.
But what if we’re wrong to feel so disappointed? What if, given all that the Academy is offered, they actually made the most of what they had to work with? #OscarSoWhite made #EverybodySoAngry, the Carol snub in Best Picture was #nagl, and what the fuck happened to the Cinderella sweep that we all know really should have happened (I mean, it’s better than The Revenant at least)? What if the Academy’s next five choices per category, the runners-up who were undoubtedly a part of the Oscar race this season, but couldn’t quite make the cut, were actually just not as deserving of nominations as the five choices that did? Or what if they were? Since I’ve utterly nothing better to do with my time, I’ve made my own choice: to speculate on what might have been, had the Academy gone the other way and picked their next five favourites instead of the five that we know now as their current nominees. And you can make your own choices too – which list do you prefer: the nominees, or the almost-nominees?
We’re going with eight in this category, since that’s the number the Academy chose. But how to choose our own? There are some obvious ones, being those that received both Oscar buzz and a significant number of eventual Oscar nominations: Carol was almost certainly #9, and Sicario and Star Wars also must make it in. Then, look to those which received Oscar buzz in this category and whose nominations count at least wouldn’t rule them out: Ex Machina, which did about as well as it could in other categories, and Inside Out, which likely did about as badly as it was expected to, but would surely be in, based on precedent. Choosing the other three is more difficult, though two stick out: The Hateful Eight may have missed an Original Screenplay nomination, but Tarantino has a loyal fanbase, and three nominations is nothing to be sniffed at; Straight Outta Compton may only have claimed that Original Screenplay nomination that Tarantino missed, but it was never expected to do any better anyway, and I’d even consider it as a potential #10 here. Lastly, out of the remaining contenders, The Danish Girl has four nominations but had no Best Picture buzz, Steve Jobs has a couple of major category mentions but also had no buzz in this category come January; I’ll go for Creed, which was making piles of cash around the time that ballots were being filled out, and which did receive at least a little BP buzz. Funny how the last three films to make the grade were the three films led by POC. It’s the Academy, after all. Let’s be realistic about this.
One of the easier categories to speculate upon: the three directors of Best Picture films who didn’t get nominated themselves must surely have turned up here. There’s no way either Ridley Scott or Steven Spielberg would have missed the top ten, though John Crowley is a trickier proposition – his film was always a much stronger Best Picture contender than he was in this category, but I’ll take a punt on my countryman and say he’d have been in the top ten too. Otherwise, Todd Haynes, who missed only Oscar and DGA nods through the whole season, would easily have gotten in. Looking through the Best Picture top 16 above, that leaves seven more in contention for the final slot here, but only one name stands out: Denis Villeneuve. Sicario is a director-driven film, and his star is rising fast in the industry. It just wouldn’t feel right leaving him out, so Villeneuve completes this alternate list.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
It’s the weakest Best Actor field in years, but it didn’t have to be. Black Mass got hit hard by being initially over-hyped, but Johnny Depp’s best performance since forever still turned up in enough places to convince me that he’d have been in Oscar’s top ten. Steve Carell may have been the likeliest nominee out of these five, with buzz for his film peaking around Oscar nominations and the strongest Best Picture player of the lot. Jacob Tremblay for Room was called by some just prior to nominations as a potential spoiler, but given his SAG nod in Supporting, I’ll opt for him there rather than here. That leaves room for Michael B. Jordan in Creed, since surely they wouldn’t have snubbed the only leading actor contender of colour, and Ian McKellen in Mr. Holmes, whose film performed well last summer among older audiences and who did have a minor presence among some smaller precursors. And if wild cards can occasionally make it into Oscar’s top five, then why not their top ten: there was a lot of love among select communities this year for the season’s strongest Foreign Language Film contender Son of Saul and its lead, Röhrig Géza. He’s the kind of upset that I’d expect the Academy to make.
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Onto the comparatively strong Best Actress field, whose heavy hitters up top made this alternate list somewhat harder to assemble. First to come to mind was Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl, but I’ll leave her out, since she already has the Oscar nomination in Supporting. Next in line is Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road, since she had the strongest buzz out of all the others. No way she’d have failed to make the top ten if she was being considered for top five. Maggie Smith claimed a BAFTA nomination for The Lady in the Van, and Helen Mirren a SAG nom for Woman in Gold – both signs that there was significant support for each of these British veterans, significant enough to warrant inclusion here, I’d say. The final position could have been any number of others (Juliette Binoche, Amy Schumer, Sarah Silverman etc.), but how to resist Lily Tomlin in one of her very best, Golden Globe nominated turns, Grandma?
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
The season’s most volatile major category is also its most disappointing, and I bet I know which of these lists you readers prefer: Oscar’s whiter-than-white clean slate, or an even fresher picture of diversity in those they scrubbed away? Idris Elba, Michael Shannon and Jacob Tremblay were all SAG nominees, and thus easy picks for me, compiling these alternate lists. Benicio del Toro was a BAFTA nominee, and, like Shannon, made a strong showing among critics groups this season, and so makes the cut too. Otherwise, it’s a toss-up between Paul Dano in Love & Mercy and Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina, but the latter is the more prominent role in the most Oscar-friendly (though less Oscar-nominated) film, and that has me convinced: Dano trumps Isaac, and completes this alternate five.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
It’s tempting to look at this Alicia Vikander double and wonder if she really did stand a chance at getting nominated for Ex Machina: she certainly seems a more likely nominee than Rachel McAdams ever did for Spotlight. Yet, much as Vikander was a definite for me making this runners-up list, there’s another contender who legitimately did not make Oscar’s top five, or perhaps even six, in Helen Mirren’s turn in Trumbo. I had a feeling they wouldn’t place her hammed-up Hedda Hopper in their top five even prior to the nominations announcement, but I’ve no doubt that she wasn’t far off. Beyond those two, the picture becomes much less clear. Jane Fonda got the Golden Globe nomination for Youth and Julie Walters the BAFTA nod for Brooklyn, but neither turned up anywhere else of note; Elizabeth Banks in Love & Mercy and Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria were much stronger contenders, if the critics are to be trusted (the latter in particular), but the industry pretty much went completely blind on both of those films. At least one has to be omitted, and I’ll make it Fonda – the smallest role, and the film had few supporters throughout the season (it’s a very HFPA-friendly film, anyway).
Best Writing – Original Screenplay
First, the obvious: Quentin Tarantino is in for The Hateful Eight. Next, the likely: Taylor Sheridan is in for Sicario. Alas, in what was a slightly underwhelming year for original works in the Oscar race, there’d probably have been room for David O. Russell and Annie Mumolo for Joy (yes, Annie Mumolo, aka the best thing Mr. Russell never knew he had). This may then become one of the categories where my choices may be the most contentious, since I’m going here for films that I simply expect the Academy to have picked, rather than relying on precursor support. No thanks, Clouds of Sils Maria; sorry, Trainwreck. Love & Mercy may have been DOA as far as industry awards were concerned this year, but I’ve no doubt that those Academy members who did see it did like it, and expect it to have made at least #9 in this category. And Youth is just the kind of film that AMPAS would have loved had it gotten to know it better (not that I loved it, fuck no), particularly its writers, since a large part of the film concerns the writing process of a film. It completes my speculative five, even if it doesn’t complete anybody else’s.
Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay
Like it or not, I bet Trumbo made the cut here. It definitely didn’t deserve to, but you just know it made it all the same. And Academy anti-Aaron Sorkin bias aside, surely his Golden Globe-winning screenplay for Steve Jobs, widely tipped to earn him a third Oscar nomination, was snapping at the heels of the top five. Now, let’s put some thought into this thing: these are writers, and we’ve seen them make some very smart decisions in the past, picking under-appreciated and unusual screenplays to diversify the lineup of Oscar-nominated films in general. Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years is a highly dialogue-driven work, and thus has inherent appeal to writers, not least because it’s terrific too. Anomalisa is from that most celebrated contemporary screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, and would probably have found passionate support among its concentrated club of supporters. They’re both in, and so is Donald Margulies for The End of the Tour – another dialogue-driven film, and a USC Scripter nominee, so it had form.
The easiest category to predict – I literally called this lineup last July, and never wavered from it once – means that Cinematography is also one of the harder lineups for which to construct a convincing alternate five. With BAFTA and ASC nominations on its side, though, it’s very easy to say that Bridge of Spies was in the mix. Danny Cohen’s distinctive work on The Danish Girl likely had its fans too. And The Martian contained much memorable imagery – whether CGI or not, it’s a safer bet than most, and its seven nominations in other categories confirm that The Martian had serious clout with voters. Brooklyn’s pretty period work seems like a strong candidate for inclusion here also. Now, in an ideal world, I’d be citing The Assassin’s Lee Ping Bin as an obvious choice, but that film wasn’t eligible for main category Oscars (because it doesn’t need it, natch) so we must search elsewhere for our fifth and final alternate Cinematography choice. And so I search, and find Steve Jobs’ inventive cinematography from Alwin H. Küchler. The glove fits. It gets in.
Best Film Editing
I saw what the editing branch did – Pietro Scalia totally could have done a better job at trimming some of the flab from Ridley Scott’s The Martian, and so, in a controversial decision, they left the former Oscar-winner off their slate of nominees this year. No doubt he was on the cusp of receiving a nod, however, so he’s an easy pick for me in this process. A competitive category left a fair few probable nominees, like Scalia, probably just missing out – Sicario and Steve Jobs seem like they mightn’t have been too far from the mark as well. Michael Kahn is an icon among editors, and so must have been in the mix for his BAFTA-nominated work on Bridge of Spies. The final place is harder to call, but given Room’s success in above-the-line categories, and the essentiality of its editing in the scheme of making that film work, I’d bet it wasn’t too far from overall fifth place either.
Best Production Design
Among the Academy’s most egregious decisions this year was the omission of Cinderella from the Production Design nominees – verifiable legend Dante Ferretti turning in some of the very best work of his career, and passed over for The Martian?! Speaking of which, I’d expected the opposite scenario with the sci-fi contenders in this category, with The Martian missing and Star Wars making it. The Force Awakens can’t have been too far behind. And what of our two Canada-doubling-as-1950s-NYC projects: Brooklyn and Carol? Period pieces like these two are usually strong forces in Production Design, and their exclusion was especially contentious for many Oscar-watchers. They’re in too, no doubt about it. And Trumbo makes for the surest selection of alternates yet, with its ADG nomination. Sorry haters, no Crimson Peak. From someone who’s studied the Oscar nominations for years, it just never seemed like the kind of film the Academy would warm to, not in any category.
Best Costume Design
The Production Design nominees all must have appeared in the Costume Design selection, right? At least among the top ten, surely? Well, no, not in The Martian’s case – even when these two branches voted as one (the old Design branch), subtler, contemporary-influenced costumes like Janty Yates’ for The Martian very rarely made the cut. But Bridge of Spies’ cosy coats are a sure thing for this follow-up five; ditto the other mid-Century period designs for Brooklyn and Trumbo. Recent years have seen a more diverse selection in this category than we used to – if Mad Max: Fury Road’s apocalyptic steampunk couture can cut it for the top five, then why not Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the top ten? And finally, some of the year’s most iconic costumes in the making came from Courtney Hoffman’s designs for The Hateful Eight. That’s the kind of standout work that her peers would be likely to want to promote, and so it completes this category.
Best Sound Mixing
Sicario is a Sound Editing nominee, so it’s in here, no questions asked. The Hateful Eight was a CAS nominee, and recent Tarantino films have good form in the sound categories, so it’s in too, again no questions asked. Pixar films also tend to have good form here, albeit more for Sound Editing than for Sound Mixing. Still, precedent is strong enough to suggest that Inside Out would’ve been a likely placement in the Mixing top ten. Beyond that, I’m flying pretty blind, since voters tend to like a wide range of work in this category: Oscar bait mingles with big-budget blockbusters, musicals share space with sci-fi, kids’ cartoons kick it with hard-R actioners. With two Oscar nominations already in the bag, a strong case for contention in Best Picture (at least back then) and a distinctive sound design, I’ll pull for Ex Machina taking a place in the top ten here. I’ll call something similar for Steve Jobs too, and leave it at that. I’ve got to leave this category somewhere – this was the toughest one yet.
Best Sound Editing
Copy and paste. Same voters, same results, right? Almost. Bridge of Spies takes Sicario’s place, just as the reverse occurred in Sound Mixing. And if Ex Machina, The Hateful Eight and Inside Out could argue their way into my imagined alternate five for that category, then they can do the same here – consider that the last Pixar film nominated for more than one Oscar that didn’t make the Sound Editing cut was Toy Story, 20 years ago. But I’m more sceptical on Steve Jobs, not least since I was pretty sceptical on its chances for Sound Mixing in the first place. Sound Editing isn’t really the Sound Effects category it used to be, but it tends to skew more in that direction than Mixing does, both at nomination and awards stages. With that in mind, there’s a strong case to be made for mega-blockbuster Jurassic World in this category, and since we’re pretty light on action / fantasy movies in this alternate selection already, I feel safe calling its inclusion in the top ten.
Best Visual Effects
Easy. Just take the five films that made the bake-off but didn’t make the nominations, and you have your five runners-up. Piece of piss.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Not quite so easy, though certainly not difficult either. It was clear as soon as The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared would make the Academy’s top three as soon as it made their top seven shortlist – that amount of support for a film so small would swiftly have translated into even greater support once more branch members caught wind of it. We have four more shortlisted films on this list, and since the Academy only picks three for this category, we’ll do the same. Black Mass, Concussion, Legend and Mr. Holmes all contend. Mr. Holmes featured some fantastic ageing effects, and I’d put money on it being a close fourth to The 100-Year-Old Man’s third place. Black Mass made use of some very effective character work, which is right up the makeup branch’s alley, so it’s next. Between Concussion and Legend, I’ll say that the more overt makeup designs in the former trumped the subtler stuff in the latter, though it’s a close call between two little cared-for films.
Best Music (Original Score)
Michael Giacchino’s delightful score for Inside Out stuck in my head from the moment I first heard it to the moment I heard it next – months later, inspired by its permanent placement on my Oscar predictions to give it another listen. It’s a fucking outrage it wasn’t nominated; I like to think it missed out by just the one vote, so it’s obviously top of my list for this reparative five. On the other hand, I never expected the music branch to succumb to the appeal of the bombastic score to a Summer action movie by a guy who goes by Junkie XL, but Tom Holkenborg’s Mad Max: Fury Road soundtrack likely pulled in enough votes to secure him a spot on here at least. There were understated, more traditional works by Michael Brook for Brooklyn and three-time Oscar winner Howard Shore for Spotlight which could have capitalised on their Best Picture popularity to score in this category. My last choice may be a divisive one, but it’s one on which I’m actually fairly certain: Jeff and Mychael Danna’s soundtrack to The Good Dinosaur. Two Pixar films in one category seems unlikely, I know, particularly when this one barely made a dent among Original Score precursors (admittedly few and far between as they are). But this is a soaring, melodic orchestral score, one very much aligned to the music branch’s tastes. Even if its most hummable of melodies can’t hold a candle to Inside Out’s even more hummable melody, and even if that film couldn’t even secure an Oscar nomination, I’m willing to suppose that the Dannas had enough support among their composer peers to secure them a mention here.
Best Music (Original Song)
Who knows? This is the closest I’ve gotten to just shooting in the dark in this process, but since we’ll never know the full results of Academy voting anyway, what does it matter? ‘See You Again’ from Furious 7 would have won the award had it been nominated, so it’s reasonable to expect it to have at least made the music branch’s top ten here. There was some vocal support online, not least among some AD commenters, for ‘Feels Like Summer’ from Shaun the Sheep Movie – it didn’t make the top five, meaning no Oscar nomination for my school chemistry teacher’s nephew, but this is exactly the kind of song that gets nominated for this award, so I’ll count it into the top ten. Ditto an even more left-field choice: Josh Groban’s ‘The Mystery of Your Gift’ from Boychoir, but remember when The Chorus got a nomination for Original Song (you’ll at least remember Beyoncé’s worst performance of all time)? Groban’s the kind of artist who’d appeal to music branch members, and the film’s the kind of film too. And given that they like films about music, what about I’ll See You in My Dreams’ titular song? My last choice is one of several from Creed, since the more songs a film submits, the more chances it has of catching voters’ attention and encouraging them to give them a listen. The one that most pundits had picked for Oscar consideration was Tessa Thompson’s ‘Grip’, and it only makes sense for me to put it in here, since I predicted it too.
Best Animated Feature Film
The animators in the Academy love a bit of variety in their Animated Feature category, hence this year’s lineup being perhaps their most diverse and non-commercial to date. Look for a similar selection of runners-up. A couple of big American studio films, like their favourite Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, and the critically-acclaimed, financially-successful The Peanuts Movie. A couple of arthouse projects too, like Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet with its roster of animation giants serving as co-directors, and niche favourite Moomins on the Riviera. Of the remainder, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water made the kind of money that helps keep the animation industry alive, and I bet the animators respected its success, combined with its respectable level of acclaim, enough to grant it the votes it needs to make this alternate five.
Best Documentary Feature
It’s still a shock to me that Best of Enemies and Listen to Me Marlon – both the kinds of documentaries that regularly make the Academy’s final slate, both with handsome levels of support all season long – didn’t take two of the final five slots. I’ve little doubt that, from a shortlist of 15 strong contenders, those two were at least in the top half. Meru fared pretty well where it counts too – a PGA nomination – and voters in this category often favour a diversity of subject matter, so this mountain climbing doc would make sense as a potential nominee. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief always struck me as too populist to connect with the more esoteric-skewing Documentary Branch, but its high profile is likely to have ensured it enough votes to make this top ten. But with those alternative tastes in mind, I’m plumping for a less well-known property for my fifth pick – Hubert Sauper scored an Oscar nomination years back for Darwin’s Nightmare, and he’s a very well-respected documentarian. We Come as Friends stands out to me from the six remaining titles on the shortlist, and so takes my final slot.
Best Foreign Language Film
The shortlist for this category is nine-strong, making this one a relatively easy call. Obviously, the four films that were left on that shortlist after the five nominees were taken will make up the first four choices on the alternate list: The Brand New Testament, The Fencer, Labyrinth of Lies and Viva. But then there’s an enormous selection of contenders, none of which can reasonably be called out as particular frontrunners compared to the others, given that the procedure for choosing nominees is so specific here. Austria’s Goodnight Mommy, Brazil’s The Second Mother, Sweden’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence and Taiwan’s The Assassin were all popular picks among pundits, and I had high hopes for some lesser-known titles like Ethiopia’s The Lamb and Romania’s Aferim! But my prediction is Chile’s The Club – middlebrow enough for the conservative-minded voters in this category, challenging enough for the more daring voters, and acclaimed enough to keep up the pace with the other nominees.
Best Short Film (Live Action)
There was a ten-strong shortlist for this category, so no explanation needed – the ten live action shorts that made the shortlist but didn’t make the nominations qualify as the alternative nominees here.
Best Short Film (Animated)
Same here as above for the live action shorts.
Best Documentary Short
And again, same as in the other short categories.