The most exciting prize at The Oscars 2016: Best Supporting Actor

If Leonadro DiCarprio doesn’t win Best Actor at The Oscars, something is definitely wrong. Seeing as he has swept the board this awards’ season for his role in The Revenant, it doesn’t make the opening of the envelope that exciting. Personally, I’m looking forward to Best Supporting Actor being awarded, as it’s not a sure thing.

Christian Bale: The Big Short
Christian Bale took on another transformative role with fake teeth and a glass eye as the eccentrically bright Dr Michael Burry in The Big Short. This film had a strong ensemble cast, but I’m not sure if Bale was the standout for me. He is more like a cog in a greater machine.

Bale has already been awarded for this role with a Critics’ Choice Award, for Best Actor in a Comedy. Personally, I felt Ryan Gosling’s character got more laughs in the film. Bale is held in high regard with the Academy, having previously won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in 2011’s The Fighter. Comparing his performance in The Big Short to that in The Fighter: I don’t think this is his year.

Tom Hardy: The Revenant
Tom Hardy has had quite a year, with great turns in as both Kray twins in Legend, the ten-times Oscar nominated Mad Max: Fury Road, and one of the most talked about films of the year: The Revenant, for which he is nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
Hardy delivers an excellent role as Leonardo DiCaprio’s nemesis, John Fitzgerald, in the film and is definitely in the running for scooping the award. But his presence, of lack there of, has been noted on The Revenant’s campaign trail. He puts it down to filming for his next project, Taboo, but he has admitted before that he is not a fan of the award circuit. “It’s like putting a wig on a dog, or a tutu on a crocodile. It doesn’t look right, it’s not fair to the animal, and inevitably someone will get bitten and hurt,” he said in an interview in October. Unfortunately, the Academy likes actors to parade themselves, so may not look kindly on the fact that Hardy has chosen to withdraw from the campaign process.

Mark Ruffalo: Spotlight
Like Bale, I think Ruffalo is an essential part of a great ensemble cast for Spotlight, but I am unsure if his performance is worthy of an Oscar. I have always admired Ruffalo, and for a long time I thought he was one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood: he always delivers amazing performances (Zodiac, The Normal Heart) and seems like a generally nice guy. But thanks to a role in The Avengers blockbusters, and critically acclaimed films like The Kids Are Alright and Foxcatcher, he is now getting the attention he deserves.
Ruffalo delivers as strong performance alongside a great cast in Spotlight, which is in strong contention for Best Film. But what sets him apart from his co-stars is the compassion that his character portrays: in a scene with a shouting match, you can really feel his anger. But is it enough to win him the coveted award: the third Oscar he’s been nominated for?
Mark Rylance: Bridge of Spies
Next up is Mark Ryalance, the stage thespian turned screen star. He bagged the BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Rudolf Abel, the soviet spy in Spielberg’s Cold War epic, Bridge of Spies. Rylance first came to the fore on the small screen in Wolf Hall in 2015, where he played the shifty Thomas Cromwell with great depth. The same can be said for his turn as Abel in Bridge of Spies: he keeps his cards close to his chest opposite Tom Hanks’ lawyer. His acting is subtle, but sublime and is a stand out in the film.

But will he win the Oscar? He has all the qualifications: RADA, RSC-alumni and first artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe. But this doesn’t necessarily concern the Academy: look at Brie Larson, first time nominee, who (like DiCaprio) has won nearly every Best Actress award going this year. But he’s definitely in contention for Best Supporting Actor.
Sylvester Stallone: Creed
Finally, we have Sylvestor Stallone, reprising his role as Rocky Balboa for the seventh time. He was nominated for Best Actor and Best Screenplay for the original Rocky film but lost out in both categories. But since then, his films have remained a big box office draw, taking a combined total of over $1bn, proving his popularity with cinema-goers.

Stallone picked up Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes this year and even received a standing ovation: which gives a good indication of what those in the industry (and Oscar voters) think. However, the film itself, Creed, was not nominated for Best Picture, or any other awards for that matter: Stallone is its sole representative at the Oscars. The award should be judged on an actor’s performance alone, but back up from a strong cast and script always helps.

CBS are running an Oscar Poll. At present, Sylvester Stllone is in front with 34% of the votes, followed by Hardy at 26%, Rylance and Ruffalo are tied at 15%, and Christian Bale is in last place with 10%. But this doesn’t necessarily reflect the Academy’s decision. It also doesn’t entirely reflect the awards that have already been picked up.

Winners at (the big) 2016 ceremonies so far:

BAFTAs: Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

SAGs: Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation

Golden Globes: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Critics’ Choice: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

(Best Actor in a Comedy) Critics’ Choice: Christian Bale, The Big Short

Idris Elba was notably overlooked for a nomination at this year’s Oscars amid the #OscarsSoWhite race row. It seems like he should have been in the running, after standing a good chance at the BAFTAs and Globes and scooping the SAG Award.

Going on past winners and general opinion. Stallone is the favourite to win the award. But it’s not a sure thing. He has been overlooked by the academy since the original Rocky, and Creed itself was passed over for lots of nominations this year where many thought it was worthy. It is a great comeback story, and as ever, everyone loves the underdog story that Rocky embodies. So perhaps this is Sly’s year? Let’s wait and see…

Marketing movies: is there any point?

I always make sure I get to the cinema with enough time to watch the trailers. I love seeing the compilation of what films are on the horizon, and how the studios have packaged them up to sell them to me. Movie posters always catch my eye as I take the tube to work, I take note of the starring actors and the starry ratings. Yet there is one thing that (usually) tells me whether I actually want to spend money on seeing a film at the cinema or not: reviews.

Thanks to the availability of reviews online today, we don’t have to rely on the carefully selected four and five star ratings that are inevitably splashed across film posters. Just Google a film and it will come up with a rating right next to the title, whether it’s a Rotten Tomatoes percentage, IMDB rating/ranking or its MetaCritic score. Not to mention the numerous blogs like my own where even semi/non professional film critics can weigh in.

This is great for the public, as they can get a good idea, according to general opinion, whether it is worth them spending their hard earned money on seeing a film at the cinema – an average cost of £10 these days (excluding travel/parking/popcorn/drinks) or wait until the DVD/On demand release.

But this poses a question for film studios: is there any point on splurging a massive marketing budget on films? Potential audiences can and will make up their minds based on other people’s opinion of the film’s content, not just on how good the marketing department can make it look.

A great example of this is the 2015 Fantastic Four reboot, or Fant4stic as it was marketed. Superhero films were on a winning streak thanks to Marvel and DC, and the film was fronted by up-and-coming young stars like House of Cards’ Kate Mara and Whiplash’s Miles Teller. The film had gone down the darker, more serious superhero route (trail-blazed by Christopher Nolan with The Dark Knight trilogy) as opposed to the family-friendly 2005 version of Fantastic Four with Jessica Alba and Chris Evans: who has since switched comic book allegiance to play Captain America. 

The trailer looked great: slightly gritty, action-packed with break out stars. A good bit of Michael Bay-esque rumbling base line to vibrate the cinema seats and the visual effects were impressive. But there was a fatal problem: the film itself wasn’t very good. At least, the critics didn’t think it was. 

  

  
The film was rated 4.3/10 by IMDB, 9% on Rotten Tomatoes and 27% on MetaCritic. Not exactly enticing numbers. Critics described it as “dull and offbeat”, “a woefully misguided attempt to translate a classic comic series without the humor, joy, or colorful thrills that made it great”, “A jumble of predictable but also incoherent plot turns, dreadful dialogue, and unfortunate visual choices”. The film poster didn’t even carry any words of praise or star ratings, likely because there were none above 2/5 and no positive words to be said.

I’m a big fan of awards’ season: I like to cast my opinion and I love the suspense when the envelope is being opened as much as the elated looks on the winners faces – and the gracious loser faces too. Film marketing really goes into overdrive at this time. But unlike Fantastic Four where the studio were trying to pedal a blockbuster, the films being marketed are usually held in high regard, and they films are being marketed to the boards: The Academy, The Hollywood Foreign Press et al. It’s a competition for which film has the best offering in terms of content and performance and what resonates with critics and peers.

Leonardo DiCaprio and The Revenant has been hitting the Oscar trail hard this year in a bid to let everyone know what he went through during film to deliver his performance. It reminds me of sitcom 30 Rock when comic actor Tracy Jordan turns his hand to serious acting in a bid to win the coveted EGOT with his film Hard to Watch. The films all try to be as serious and important as possible: which one should be a landmark ‘best film’ for that year. This year the trailers and film posters are telling me that Spotlight is: “A phenomenal accomplishment”, The Revenant is “A masterpiece of all in film making”, Room is “a one of a kind must see experience”.

These plaudits don’t come cheap. According to The Independent, the average cost for a campaign is $5m ($3m on advertising and marketing and $2m on entertainment and travel costs) and Stephen Follows reports the cost of a ‘Best Picture’ winning Oscar campaign is around $10 million, half of which will go on advertising.
During Oscar season, the studios aggressively pay for adverts politely reminding Academy voters of their films. Often under the phrase ‘For your consideration‘, these adverts appear in almost every area of the film industry; online, in print, on billboards and even videos. A page 1 advert in The Hollywood Reporter during Oscar season cost one Best Picture nominee $72,000.

But money doesn’t always equal a win. Sometimes the indy darlings prevail, such as Crash, 2005 Best Picture winner, which spent $250,000 on DVD screeners. Or The Hurt Locker, whose campaign cost just $5m, as opposed to Shakespeare in Love which spent $15m ten years before. 

So what’s the point of a marketing campaign for a film? Generally, films are made to make money, to get bums on seats. A good film needs a good trailer and enticing posters, but that often means it needs good reviews so that stars and pull quotes can be splashed across the canvas. If the marketing campaign is then geared towards winning awards, there’s certain people that need to be impressed: not just the critics and the general public. But at the end of the day, it’s down to the majority opinion: democracy wins via word of mouth, and the internet. 

The SAGs: awards’ season answer to diversity. But what’s the real problem?

#OscarsSoWhite has become the hashtag of the 2016 Oscars. The lack of racial diversity has caused something of a stir in Hollywood. Idris Elba, who was widely acclaimed for his role in Beasts of No Nation was overlooked, as was Micheal B. Jordan’s excellent performance in Creed, the latest Rocky instalment. The critically lauded Straight Outta Compton was also overlooked, bar its screenplay. There has been a public outcry for a lack of racial diversity shown by the Academy Awards, which portray the pinnacle achievement in the film industry.

This weekend saw the Screen Actors Guild Award come to town, and not only did the nominations show diversity, but so did the winners. Yes, the ‘big’ awards followed the general industry consensus, awarding Best Actor to Leonado Di Caprio, Best Actress to Brie Larson and Best Ensemble to Spotlight. But winners in other categories went against the grain.

Idris Elba, who was overlooked for a Best Supporting Actor nod for his role in Beasts of No Nation took home a SAG statuette AND bagged a second for reprising his role in Luther. Other racially diverse winners were Viola Davis for How to Get Away with Murder, Uzo Abuda for Orange is the New Black and Queen Latifah for the miniseries Bessie.

Further lack of diversity at awards season comes in the oh so often neglected female representation in any category that isn’t dedicated to women in the first place thanks to the suffix of ‘ess’. Since Katherine Bigelow won Best Director for The Hurt Locker back in 2010, the short list for all the big awards has been distinctly male.

Last year, Patricia Arquette used her acceptance speech to give a voice to women in the industry, calling for equal wages, which was greeted by a standing ovation lead by Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez from the front row. But it’s not just wages that are the problem. As Variety highlighted, there is generally a lack of opportunities for women. In 2014, 85% of films had no female directors, 80% had no female writers and 33% had no female producers.

The SAG Awards saw Orange is the New Black win Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series – the picture of this moment speaks a thousand words as these women stand triumphantly on the stage in their gowns, fists punching the air in triumph. It’s refreshing to see a cast of (mostly) women in a show that is penned by a woman with a strong female production team, succeed.
  
Mind you, it’s worth noting that the SAG don’t give out awards for ‘best’ performances, but for ‘outstanding performances’. Perhaps there’s something in that: not declaring that their chosen recipient is hands-down the ‘best’, but simply outstanding and wrothy of an award. I like that. Maybe it’s to do with the new thinking behind the 22-year-old SAGs, as opposed to the antiquated 88-year-old Oscars that still instil the old-school Hollywood values: discrimination, favouritism et al.

It is also worth bearing in mind that the SAGs cover the television screen as well as ‘the big screen’, so there are more awards and therefore more opportunities. The same goes for the Golden Globes (and the BAFTAs, although the Brits do divide the two into different ceremonies at different times of the year).

So what is the fuss about with the lack of diversity at other awards ceremonies? A lot of the problem is based on opportunity: it depends what films are released that year, which in turn is dependent on what scripts are written, approved by studios and given the financial backing, before they can even reach the screen and be judged for their content.

The Big Short has been held up as a mirror to the lack of diversity in this year’s nominations as it is fronted by four white men, with a supporting cast of white men with women only appearing in supporting roles as strippers and waitresses. But director and co-writer Adam McKay defended the film, saying that it is all circumstancial.

“I think we’ve had stretches where there’s been good diversity, but lately it hasn’t been great. So I think if any group on planet earth should be able to deal with protests like this, it should be filmmakers. So I support it…” He said. “The irony is, we had to make a movie about Wall Street, which is mostly white men. So it was a little frustrating for us, but that’s the truth of Wall Street, we had to do it.” And he’s right.

We wouldn’t have been having this ‘white’ Oscars debate three years ago when 12 Years a Slave scooped Best Actor, and breakout star and red carpet darling of the year Lupita Nyung’o won Best Supporting Actress, and deservedly so. Her’s was a moving performance in a powerful and important film. To boot, its director Steve McQueen was nominated for Best Director, and Chiwetel Ejiofor received a Best Actor nomination.

When it comes to a lack of female diversity, much of this is simply to do with limited opportunities for women behind the camera. The film industry is still very much as old boys club. Even in front of the camera, women struggle to find interesting roles with depth, particularly once they are past the age of thirty. There is generally a lack of leading roles for women. Famously, Angelina Jolie’s role in the spy thriller, Salt was meant to be for a man: a Tom Cruise-esque vehicle. But she proved that women can do just as good a job in a man’s role, and even brought another dimension to the role with a feminine sensibility. Not to mention, it was refreshing seeing a woman-lead action film that didn’t involve the heroine wearing lycra or a crop top – yes, Angelina, everyone remembers Tomb Raider.

It is great to see the SAG Awards honouring the underdog, however I am sure that Idris Elba won his two awards for his merit, and wants to be remembered that way: not for being a black man that the Guild took pity on/saw as an opportunity to give a finger to the Academy. Elba is a phenomenal actor, and alongside Redmayne, I believe he is one of Britain’s greatest acting exports of the moment – not forgetting two of my favourites, Kate Winslet and Helen Mirren, who are still both killing it despite their age – yes, even Winslet is considered ‘old’ by industry standards now she has hit the big four-oh.

The SAGs are being hailed as the “pointed counter to [the] Oscars” – thanks Guardian. Yes, the Oscars didn’t even nominate some actors – Idrid Elba has certainly been overlooked, I’m not so sure about Will Smith. But I stand by my comment that these winners are only a product of the material that they are provided with: a role written for a white man can (in most circumstances) only be played by a white man. There needs to be a change in attitudes in the white-male dominated industry that allows minorities through the door, both behind the camera and in front of it. Maybe then we will see a more diverse nomination list come awards season.