My Oscars 2016 Picks

By on February 28, 2016

Big ShortWhat initially seemed like a down year for movies turned out to be not so bad.  And “Star Wars:  The Force Awakens” came out.

I have a love-hate relationship with the Oscars.  While I enjoy the ceremony and the acknowledgement of the nominees, it’s a shame that years of hard work by a lot of people and hundreds of millions of dollars come down to whether you’re an Oscar winner or loser.

A few comments on the year in film and the nominations:

- Quentin Tarantino‘s “The Hateful Eight” was beautiful and entertaining and funny (and violent), but I’m not sure it’s to his advantage for him to continue to rely on Sam Jackson and the overuse of the N-word.   Maybe we need to start referring to him as “one of our best and brightest black directors.”

- I don’t think Tarantino‘s anti-police protest participation worked in his favor.

- Bridge of Spies“Brooklyn” was well-crafted, nostalgic, and sentimental but, as I watched it, I kept wondering “How did this film get a green light?”  It was very intimate and personal, it wasn’t about a famous or historically significant person or someone who found themselves in extraordinary situations.  The fact that it got a Best Picture nomination shows how little I know.  A wonderful movie.

- In Todd Haynes’ “Carol“, I felt like I was watching a sequel to his 2001 “Far from Heaven” (my favorite autumn movie) because of the similar time/place setting  (NYC/CT in the 5o’s).  Cate Blanchett’s character was too similar to the one she won a Best Actress Oscar for (Woody Allen’s 2013 “Blue Jasmine”); a wealthy New York City woman who prides herself on her poise, taste, and fashion sense.

- J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars:  The Force Awakens” went out of its way to avoid the mistakes of the poorly written (especially the dialogue), cgi-bloated prequels where none of the actors except Ewan McGregor came out looking good.  I’m a “Star Wars” fan and I liked the prequels when they came out but not when I watched them later on DVD, which was like eating wax fruit.  I don’t think “Revenge of the Sith” was as bad as the other two.  I don’t know what was more welcome when I saw “The Force Awakens”; seeing actual locations or when John Williams’ score first thundered.


-Domhnall Gleeson didn’t get any nominations but he was in four major 2015 releases:  ”Ex Machina“, “Brooklyn“, “The Revenant” and “Star Wars:  The Force Awakens” and none of his characters were remotely similar to each other.  He re-teamed with “Ex Machina” star Oscar Isaac for “The Force Awakens”, where Isaac also re-teamed with his “Inside Llewyn Davis” co-star Adam Driver.  Check out this clip of Gleeson in the Coen Brothers “True Grit” and tell me that guy resembles any other character Gleeson has played.  It’s one of my favorite performances and moments of the film:

- Thanks to Jamie Foxx for saying what needed to be said about the proposed boycott due to the lack of black actors in this year’s nominations, “Black actors need to act better.” Simply put, voting members just thought at least five other performances were better.  There’s no conspiracy and, like I say every year, the Academy is not the Borg, who all share one mind.  (I’m not a Trekkie but I like the analogy.)  Here’s the Foxx article:

- Did anyone else think of Road Runner cartoons when they saw everything DiCaprio’s character went through in “The Revenant”, like the bear mauling and falling off a steep cliff (and coming out alive)?  Like “The Hateful Eight“, it was verging on the vibe of a snuff film.

Mad Max Fury RoadHere we go.  The bolded titles are my picks.



-The Big Short

-Bridge of Spies


-Mad Max:  Fury Road

-The Martian

-The Revenant



Martian“The Big Short” won the PGA, which is often the best indicator for who wins the Oscar.  When I walked out of the theatre after watching “Spotlight”, I thought it would be lock for Best Picture.  Then I saw the Netflix documentary mini-series “Making a Murderer”, and “Spotlight” (and every other film) seemed less impressive.

“The Revenant” and “Mad Max:  Fury Road” stood above everyone else in terms of production and I think “The Revenant” was the best quality film going experience.  It was so intense and visually stunning it took a while to shake it out of my head.  I’m still seeing the blue that dominated the look of the film.

The writing, ensemble acting, directing and social significance of “Spotlight” make it a valid contender and I think when the voters look at their ballots, they’ll remember how emotionally involving the film is.  That same sentence applies to “The Big Short”, whose cast won the SAG.  If “Bridge of Spies” wins, I wouldn’t complain.  An even tougher call than last year.


Actor in a Leading Role

-Bryan Cranston/Trumbo

-Matt Damon/The Martian

-Leonardo DiCaprio/The Revenant

-Michael Fassbender/Steve Jobs

-Eddie Redmayne/The Danish Girl

RevenantWith his 6th Oscar nomination and 4th in this category, it looks like SAG winner Leonardo DiCaprio is finally going to win his first Oscar in a physically demanding role where almost all of the sounds he makes are something other than intelligible dialogue.  It’s mostly grunts, groans, screams and every other primal sound someone in a desperate life-threatening situation would make.  Easily the fewest words we’ve heard from him (or most leads) in a movie.  I’m still bitter about Redmayne winning last year over Michael Keaton, so he’d better not win this time.  Fassbender is young, talented, and consistently good, so an Oscar should be in his future.  I didn’t see “Steve Jobs’ and, except for the two nominated performances, don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.


Actress in a Leading Role

Room-Cate Blanchett/Carol

-Brie Larson/Room

-Jennifer Lawrence/Joy

-Charlotte Rampling/45 Years

-Saoirse Ronan/Brooklyn

While I watched the beginning of the surprisingly good “Room”, I wondered why SAG winner Brie Larson got the part.   As the movie went on, I thought she was perfectly cast and couldn’t think of anyone doing a better job.  Having ten year-old Jacob Tremblay’s great performance to play off didn’t hurt.


Actor in a Supporting Role

Spotlight-Christian Bale/The Big Short

-Tom Hardy/The Revenant

-Mark Ruffalo/Spotlight

-Mark Rylance/Bridge of Spies

-Sylvester Stallone/Creed

Intense and unrecognizable in “The Revenant”, busy Tom Hardy (who was also in 2015′s “Legend” and “Mad Max:  Fury Road”) could win here.  If his career progresses the way it has, an Oscar at some point is inevitable.  Mark Rylance was probably as significant a screen presence as any this year and did so with few words (but more than DiCaprio) and little emotion.

With 40 years of sentiment going for both the actor and role, Sylvester Stallone, who wrote the 1976 Best Picture winner “Rocky”, could win for his seventh portrayal of Rocky Balboa.  The biggest applause of the night if he wins, and I’d love to see that.

Still, I’m choosing Rylance since Stallone did not get a SAG nomination.  Oddly, SAG winner Idris Elba (for Netflix’s “Beasts of No Nation”) did not get nominated here.


Actress in a Supporting Role

hateful-eight-jennifer-jason-leigh-Jennifer Jason Leigh/The Hateful Eight (left)

-Rooney Mara/Carol

-Rachel McAdams/Spotlight

-Alicia Vikander/The Danish Girl

-Kate Winslett/Steve Jobs

I want Jennifer Jason Leigh (who also voiced the emotionally fragile female lead in the Best Animated Feature nominee “Anomalisa”) to win this one for playing the murderous and calculating white trash criminal in “The Hateful Eight.”  She’s always good and was rooked out of a nomination for her performance in Uli Edel’s 1989 adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.’s gritty and brutal “Last Exit to Brooklyn.”  Whenever I see her, I can’t help but think about how her father, actor Vic Morrow, was killed in 1982 during the making of John Landis’ “The Twilight Zone.”  Here’s a wikipedia account of what happened.

Both Rooney Mara and SAG winner Alicia Vikander (who was also great in the year’s “Ex Machina”) could easily have been considered for Best Actress.  I’m not sure what the dividing line is.  Screen time?  Significance of the character to the story?  I think Vikander will win for playing a real person in a fictitious story (in film that most men will find hard to watch).

I like Kate Winslett but there have been too many movies about Steve Jobs and I’ve seen none of them.  Still, what he did with Apple, on a respirator and seemingly dying a slow death when I worked in Silicon Valley in the mid 90′s, was phenomenal.


Animated Feature Film


-Boy & the World

-Inside Out

-Shaun the Sheep

-When Marnie was There

Just to make sure I wasn’t missing out on anything, I rented “Inside Out” when it came out on DVD and stopped it after 10 minutes.  My opinion has not changed since I saw it in the theatre.  Pixar has been “Disneyfied” into targeting young girls, which is disappointing for those who can tell the difference.  It also bothered me that it seemed like a hybrid of the Fox TV show Herman’s Head and Pixar’s own “Monster’s Inc.”

“Anomalisa”, Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion film set almost entirely in a hotel room, was exponentially more satisfying, despite the full-frontal nudity and complete sex scene (neither of which are for comic purposes and both of which I never need to see in movies).  “Anomalisa” should be required viewing for psychology students, like all Kaufman’s work.  Techy people would appreciate that the characters’ masks were made on a 3-D printer.

What I think doesn’t matter and no one else stands a chance in this category.  “Inside Out” will win Pixar’s 8th Oscar in this category.



Revenant-Ed Lachman/Carol

-Robert Richardson/The Hateful Eight/Robert Richardson

-John Seale/Mad Max:  Fury Road

-Emmanuel Lubezki/The Revenant (left)

-Roger Deakins/Sicario

Another year of Roger Deakins doing great work and not winning an Oscar.  This Oscar might have been won in the first five minutes of “The Revenant.”  Actually, it might have been won after the movie’s trailer, especially with the final shot of the horse going over the cliff.  Emmanuel Lubezki is on his way to becoming one of the all-time greats in winning his third consecutive Oscar for his work on a movie that has as little in common with his previous Oscar winners (“Gravity” and “Birdman”) as they do with each other.  What we saw was so beautiful it was jarring.  I thought “wow” with almost every new scene to the point it was monotonous.  I’m not sure rivers and streams ever looked more beautiful, cold, and clear in a movie.  The stunning look of the film more than compensates for its brutal violence.  Probably this year’s most certain Oscar (along with “Inside Out”).


Costume Design

Fury road costume-Carol


-The Danish Girl

-Mad Max:  Fury Road (right)

-The Revenant

Twelve-time nominee and three-time winner in this category Sandy Powell got nominations for both “Carol” and “Cinderella.”  The “Fury Road” costume design is the most creative and varied in this category.  I was surprised “Brooklyn” didn’t get a nomination here.  I didn’t see “Cinderella”, which seems to be a favorite.


THE REVENANT-Adam McKay/The Big Short

-George Miller/Mad Max:  Fury Road

-Alejandro González Iñárritu/The Revenant (left, with DiCaprio)

-Lenny Abrahamson/Room

-Tom McCarthy/Spotlight

Until I saw “The Revenant”, I thought Tom McCarthy would win here.  ”The Revenant” is a cut above everyone in terms of production quality and in giving us something new (especially visually).  I pick DGA winner Alejandro González Iñárritu to win a second consecutive Oscar in this category.




-Cartel Land

-The Look of Silence

-What Happened, Miss Simone?

-Winter on Fire:  Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

Giving this one to “Amy”, whose subject’s face has as much of a right to be next to the dictionary entry for “train wreck” as anyone.  Really, who DIDN’T see that coming?  Tragic nonetheless.  If you didn’t think Amy Winehouse was a great singer before seeing the film, you will after.

Netflix’s “What Happened, Miss Simone?” is fascinating because I knew nothing about the artist herself but it gets more negative as the film goes on and you’re relieved when it ends.  The dark side of fame and mental health.

Documentary Short Subject 

I didn’t see any so I won’t list them.  Even when I was in the film business, I never knew where to see these things.


Film Editing

Mad Max Fury Road-The Big Short

-Mad Max:  Fury Road (left)

-The Revenant


-Star Wars:  The Force Awakens

In another “Revenant” vs. “Fury Road” showdown, giving this one to the latter.  There was so much more going on.  Great editing in all the nominated films.


Foreign Language Film

Another category I have no knowledge of but the race appears to be between Turkey’s “Mustang” and Hungary’s “Son of Saul.”


Makeup and Hairstyling

-Mad Max:  Fury Road

-The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

-The Revenant

Another category where “Fury Road”s broad scope competes against “The Revenant’s” high quality.  Giving this one to “Mad Max:  Fury Road”.


Music (Original Score)

ennio-morricone (1)-Bridge of Spies


-The Hateful Eight


-Star Wars:  The Force Awakens

55 Years after his first film credit and after memorable scores from his work with Sergio Leone to Brian DiPalma’s “The Untouchables” (which I thought should have won), Ennio Morricone (right) looks like he’s about to win his first Oscar (to John Williams’ five) for his work on Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight.”

I hate betting against John Wiliams and loved his score in “The Force Awakens” but all his “Star Wars” scores share so many similar elements it’s hard to root for him here.  Besides, I like when the Academy spreads the wealth.


Music (Original Song)
-”Earned It”/Fifty Shades of Grey

-”Manta Ray”/Racing Extinction

-”Simple Song #3″/Youth

-”Til it Happens to You”/The Hunting Ground

-”Writing’s On The Wall”/Spectre

Lady Gaga’s theme from the college-rape documentary “The Hunting Ground” is this year’s equivalent to last year’s “Glory” from “Selma.”  If she wins, she will join pop stars The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Eminem, and Adele as an Oscar winner for Best Song, sharing it with co-writer Diane Warren.  If it happens, it will be Warren’s first Oscar in 8 nominations.

Sam Smith’s Bond song is as uninteresting as I hear “Spectre” is.  (Who could blame Daniel Craig for saying he’d kill himself before he makes another Bond?)


Production Design

fury road production-Bridge of Spies

-The Danish Girl

-Mad Max:  Fury Road (left)

-The Martian

-The Revenant

I kept thinking, “How is production design credited when the backdrop is almost all nature?” as I watched “The Revenant.”  ”Mad Max:  Fury Road” had so much going on visually and I’m making that my pick.

(I didn’t see any of the animated or live-action short films.)


Sound Editing

-Mad Max:  Fury Road

-The Martian

-The Revenant


-Star Wars:  The Force Awakens

I have to mention that, while I recognize the high production quality of “Mad Max:  Fury Road” and pick it for quite a few categories, it wasn’t among my favorite movies of the year.

This one goes to the fourth entry in George Miller’s Australian post-apocalyptic saga.


Sound Mixing

revenant-ride-Bridge of Spies

-Mad Max:  Fury Road

-The Martian

-The Revenant (right)

-Star Wars:  The Force Awakens

I’m splitting the sound awards and giving this one to “The Revenant”, thinking of its attention to detail, like the crunching sounds in snow.


Visual Effects

Force-Awakens-VFX-1-01132016-Ex Machina

-Mad Max:  Fury Road

-Star Wars:  The Force Awakens (left)

-The Martian

-The Revenant

It’s hard for me to imagine that “The Force Awakens” will leave the ceremonies empty-handed after injecting everything the much-loved series needed back into it.  This is a sentiment vote; “Fury Road” or “The Revenant” is a more likely winner.  I think the visual that will stick with me most from the year’s movies is the bear in “The Revenant.”  I really scrutinized it during that scene and it looked and moved like a real bear the entire time.


Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Big Short-The Big Short (right)



-The Martian


“The Big Short”  was the only movie this year that inspired me to say out loud, “I like this writing” as I was watching it, so I’m going with Adam McKay’s entertaining explanation of what caused the mortgage crisis.  Charles Randolph and  McKay adapted Michael Lewis’ book.  (Having worked in Manhattan with an investment bank and a hedge fund, I originally had no interest in the movie because I have first-hand experience with the corruption and lack of talent that define that industry.)


Writing (Original Screenplay)

Spotlight 2-Bridge of Spies

-Ex Machina

-Inside Out

-Spotlight (left)

-Straight Outta Compton

I’m a big fan of “Spotlight”‘s Tom McCarthy and I think he’s going to win this category with co-writer Josh Singer.

Both screenplays I’m choosing are about tragic and infuriating actual events whose resulting scarring will never go away.  Even worse, both problems (child molestation in the Catholic Church and corruption in financial services) still persist, but on a less visible scale.  For now.

Now you have my picks.

Enjoy the show!



February 28, 2016

I’ve often said that Oscar voters shouldn’t just vote for one choice but instead rank the nominees for a more weighted and accurate result.  I just read in this article that in 2009, when the Academy changed the number of Best Picture nominees from five to ten (now it can be any number between those two) in 2009, the Academy is using preferential voting, which is similar to my idea but more involved.  The process applies only to Best Picture.  Here’s an explanation:

About Dan Walker

As part of an Air Force family, I went to elementary school in Great Falls, MT, junior high in Cheyenne, WY and high school and college in the San Francisco Bay Area, graduating from San Francisco State University with a degree in business. I was fortunate to have worked for great companies in Silicon Valley (Oracle Corp) and Hollywood (Miramax Films). I also lived and worked (primarily in financial services, which has no great companies) for eight years in Manhattan, New York City. I now reside in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley.

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