Picture and Director
Mad Max: Fury Road
The year’s most bravura piece of filmmaking, and one of the greatest action movies ever made.
Brie Larson, Room
As a mother whose true battle for survival begins after she thinks it’s already won, Larson is the front-runner for a reason. But we also would like to point out the last ten minutes of 45 Years, in which Charlotte Rampling does as much brilliant acting with the look on her face alone as anyone since Renée Falconetti in 1928’s The Passion of Joan of Arc.
Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy, Legend
See what I mean here, with additional nods to Jason Segel’s bold break from past form as doomed novelist David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour, Michael Fassbender’s one-two punch as Steve Jobs and Macbeth, and Matt Damon, who reminds us in The Martian how a good old-fashioned star turn can hold the screen by itself for most of two and a half hours.
Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
Contorting himself as a stricken Stephen Hawking or trying to find his inner woman, Eddie Redmayne has excellent luck in his leading ladies: Like Felicity Jones in 2014’s The Theory of Everything, Vikander carries the emotional freight for The Danish Girl. Nearly as ubiquitous as Tom Hardy, Vikander last year also made her mark in Testament of Youth, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and most impressively in Alex Garland’s futurist fable as the robot of your dreams (before they turn into nightmares), with a performance that’s equal parts Kabuki dance and femme fatale seduction. Whether most of this fine work by Vikander was actually “supporting” rather than “leading” is highly questionable, but if the positioning wins her the award, as her studio hopes, we won’t complain.
Paul Dano, Love & Mercy
The year’s most competitive acting category, with first-rate contributions from Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies, Michael Shannon in 99 Homes, Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation, Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight, and the jaw-dropping nine-year-old Jacob Tremblay in Room. But Dano’s performance is the most crucial to his picture, and imagining someone else in the role is impossible, which is to say that without Dano’s Brian Wilson so persuasively portraying paranoia and terror at war with genius as he records Pet Sounds, there’s no movie at all. (Dano has a nice moment in Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth as well.)
Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen, Inside Out
The conceit of this instant animated classic is inspired—personified emotions and impulses voiced by the likes of Amy Poehler and Lewis Black run amok as a little girl grows up—and its execution, on a level that dazzles daughters and their dads alike, is masterful.
Emma Donoghue, Room
The closest call of any category: Translating her 2010 novel, Donoghue pivots her story so neatly from thriller to psychodrama as to obliterate the difference, edging out strong competition from Brooklyn’s Nick Hornby, Steve Jobs’s Aaron Sorkin, and The End of the Tour’s Donald Margulies.
Ping Bin Lee, The Assassin
Lee shoots reveries, whether they’re love stories like Wong Kar Wai’s 2000 In the Mood for Love or this story about a Tang dynasty hit woman—a narrow pick over The Revenant, the final, breathtaking third of Emmanuel Lubezki’s potential hat trick after winning consecutive Oscars for Gravity and Birdman.
Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight
Let the academy give this to Morricone in the same spirit that director Quentin Tarantino chose him to score his western—as an homage to some of the greatest western soundtracks of all time, including Once Upon a Time in the West, A Fistful of Dollars, Navajo Joe, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, all by Morricone and not a single one of which was nominated for an Oscar.
Colin Gibson, Kate Sharrock, and Lisa Thompson, Mad Max: Fury Road
Jason Ballantine and Margaret Sixel, Mad Max: Fury Road
In which two very different categories and skills meld into a single visual achievement. Along with Ridley Scott, director Miller invented the look of modern movie dystopia, psychedelicized here to the end of time.
Images courtesy of WikiCommons