That is to say, these are neither traditional projections nor snub-talk but a mostly useless, Kanye-inspired take on awards which insists there are correct answers in the liberal arts and acknowledging merit should be more reverent than business or spectacle.
A few inevitable words about diversity: nothing on this list is deliberately affirmative action. The concept of participation awards is insulting. That these nominations are more diverse than the actual nominations speaks less about the opportunities of lead roles for minorities and more about the fact that, upon seeing 97 films, your worldview changes. That's the power that should be celebrated with film: its visual language galvanizes the human spirit.
How powerful is it to see representation in something like Tangerine that it makes a liberally didactic film like Boys Don't Cry seem tone-deaf by comparison? Hollywood (and the Academy at the elite end of the establishment) has an unquestionable problem with representation. How much of this is perpetuated by voters not watching more films? How much is inflated self-importance failing to recognize that great films change us and not the other way around?
Speaking of inflated self-importance, here are my humble nominations if the Oscars were my one-man show: the 88th Academy Awards as given by FlickdomDictum.
ACTOR –in a Leading Role
I've been on this Ruffalo bandwagon so long, here's where the rubber hits the road. While I don't feel entirely comfortable with Ruffalo in this category as Spotlight is more of an ensemble piece and he doesn't dominate screentime the way Fassbender or Sarsgaard does, I also can't deny that everything I liked about Spotlight's perfectly acceptable but mostly pedestrian nature had to do with Ruffalo's understated performance. Not bad for a film poised to take home Best Picture.
As with last year’s Listen Up Philip, Elisabeth Moss is again ineligible for her role in Queen of Earth. Alex Ross Perry must not play this Oscar game. Honorable mention to Rooney Mara who is the true, unrecognized lead in Carol, a film in which the populace has largely misunderstood her projection onto the title role. I had a worse problem choosing between Chiara D'Anna and Sidse Babett Knudsen in The Duke of Burgundy and couldn't. Lots of great female roles this year.
ACTOR –in a Supporting Role
This category sees two Star Wars actors in non-Star Wars roles. Tom Noonan gets a nod, but I'm not sure exactly what the role is. Caveat on Paul Dano who isn't so much an actor in a supporting role as an actor as a supporting lead. Love & Mercy isn't great, but Dano kind of is. How much of this is by comparison to the film's odd casting of John Cusack remains to be seen. The real shame is that John C. Reilly is ineligible for his role in Entertainment.
Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth is close to category fraud as a supporting role, but she's so damn good it gets a pass. 2015 was a great run for Jennifer Jason Leigh, though the Academy picked the wrong role. Girls Just Want To Have Fun, indeed. Still, if anyone has the right to boycott because #OscarsSoWhite, it's Jada.
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
This is where things get weird for me. Hao Hsiao-Hsien's The Assassin was submitted as Taiwan's selection for Best Foreign Language film, but didn't even make the shortlist. Not only is this egregious, it is then not considered as an eligible production in the other categories despite having a theatrical U.S. run. Is this a clerical error the equivalent of Cash Money not filling out the right paperwork to get "Hotline Bling" considered for the Grammys, or did Hou's team simply not care? That's pretty punk now matter how you cut it, but it's a shame as I would have nominated The Assassin in several categories.
There was a strange stretch in December where I inadvertently watched Fresh Dressed, Saint Laurent, Iris and Yeezy Season 2 within 24 hours. I realized how people must feel when they vote in these categories. Again, The Assassin is ineligible and I probably would have given it this award.
Despite this year's deluge of young, impressive talent, it's hard to root against George Miller here. For a veteran who Hollywood relegated to directing Happy Feet movies, to have the vision to not only see this genre spectacle through, but capture critical imagination is no small feat.
Another awards show, another year of having no idea as to the process behind what is eligible for documentary awards at the Oscars. Both What Happened, Miss Simone? and Winter on Fire are nominated for Documentary Feature yet are ineligible for other production awards. I can't say I fully understand the acclaim for Amy, especially as this year saw the best music documentary since The Devil and Daniel Johnston.
I'm not being deliberately contrarian here, but the disparity between my picks and the Academy's in this category speaks volumes. Spotlight and The Big Short? Certainly industry people know that editing is more than stitching together multiple storylines.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
I don't particularly hold great fondness for Goodnight Mommy and I imagine it would have easily been bumped by Rams if I were able to have seen it. Then again, I still haven't seen Oscar favorite, Son of Saul, so what do I know? I know I say it every year, but, this category is broken.
MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
I mean, I probably pick Fury Road even if there was no Doof Warrior.
If you would have told me at the beginning of 2015 that I would only pick The Hateful Eight as a nominee in one category, I would have assumed that's because the Oscars changed formats. That the category is Original Score is even more depressing despite Ennio Morricone's fine work here. I'm confused by the term "original," as the "song" category makes it very clear that variations on existing themes is a no-no. That this score was salvaged from a previous work seems fishy in terms of eligibility.
MUSIC –Original Song
I can't NOT throw shade at this category and have long held to the adage "if we can't expect the Academy to pick the right films, how can we expect them to have any authority over another of the arts?" Perusing the 79 songs vying for nomination, a sequel should be written to the much maligned Save The Cat! which instructs the LEGO®-musician equivalents of hack screenwriters how to write an Oscar-nominated song.
It really is bizarre that Stallone's bid at supporting actor is the only nomination Creed got. I think that speaks a lot about what it does well and how it does it. The breathtaking choreography of the two-round one-take is so kinetic it doesn't draw attention to itself with a self-reflexive smugness of Iñárritu falling into his own navel. The cinematography and editing are unpretentious by design. Its everyman affectations are no different than Rocky's were in 1976, only those formal and thematic decisions must look as passe as Rocky looks square to the cynical New Hollywood idolaters still crying about Taxi Driver. Yet Stallone, the most archaic element of the film, gets the kudos.
But still, not even a sound nomination?
It sucks that I only have Yann Demange's '71 winning technical awards because of the insinuation that the technical awards aren't poetic. Not so here as the sound design is a proud example of form following function both narratively and thematically.
I'm the kind of guy who has Pan and Tomorrowland nominated instead of Jurassic World and Avengers: Age of Ultron. This is not, as you might think, because I lean toward less being more in terms of visual effects, it's more that I admire earnest garishness. I'm the kind of guy that, eight years on, cheers the Indiana Jones fridge nuke. The Eiffel Tower scene in Tomorrowland is extraneous and clumsy. That it is also salient and iconic is one of those ineffable miracles of cinema.
WRITING –Adapted Screenplay
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, The Assassin is ineligible in this category, but the point is moot. Most of the year's best films had no previous source material and my nominees in the adapted category largely resort to instances where source material is its own franchise. Macbeth wins this, hands-down, turning what is wordy and stagy by nature into the visually arresting.
WRITING –Original Screenplay
Calling Charlie Kaufman "original" sounds dismissive: as if relegating his cinematic universe to quirk distances our experience from his uncomfortable truths. Like Wes Anderson post-Darjeeling Limited, I feel like Kaufman has to resort to Kickstarter because public perception is that he is a child daydreaming in a turgid corner.
Anomalisa speaks to the artificiality of the medium and, in doing so, traverses the uncanny valley. The puppets have hauntingly lifelike expressions which are tempered by deliberately visible seams to accentuate the drum-tight tale of chronic disconnect.
In which I give the world's most biarro-Oscar to an animated film. A non-Pixar animated film. A stop-motion puppet film. Where its two principals have a one-night stand and everyone else looks like Tom Noonan. It's weird. Yet what is most bizarre is that it is the most human picture of the year.