MOVIE BUFF-ET: Predictions: The Revenant likely to run away with the Oscars

Predictions are fun and vapid, and with $5, they will get you a fancy cup of coffee. But since it is that time of year, here’s my not-so-enlightened guesses of what might go down in the major categories Sunday night when the Academy Awards air on ABC.

More than anything else, I am looking forward to Chris Rock’s performance as host. No one does righteous indignation funnier or better than Rock, and with the lack of diversity among the nominations, he no doubt has something to be indignant about. With the show being on broadcast television, Rock is working with one hand tied behind his back, but he is talented enough to be funny without being too blue for a general, primetime audience.

Despite the fact that Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s Birdman dominated the Oscars last year, I get the feeling his latest film The Revenant may just do the same this year. Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of The Revenant, but it’s a good film, featuring one of Hollywood’s biggest stars Leonardo DiCaprio. It appears DiCaprio will be awarded his first Oscar for the role of a revenge-seeking trapper.

However, the Oscars aren’t always as predictable as they sometimes seem to be. Maybe this year will be one where the unexpected holds sway, but I wouldn’t count on it.

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Best Visual Effects

Nominees: Mad Max Fury Road, The Revenant, Ex Machina, The Martian, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Who Will Win: The Revenant
Who Should Win: Mad Max Fury Road is a stark feast for the eyes. The electrical sandstorm sequence contained the best effects work of the year.

Best Original Score

Nominees: Bridge of Spies, Sicario, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Hateful Eight, Carol
Who Will Win: The Hateful Eight
Who Should Win: The Hateful Eight. I dislike almost everything about the movie, but Ennio Morricone’s score is fantastic.

Best Original Song

Nominees: Manta Ray, Earned It, Writing’s on the Wall, Simple Song #3, Till It Happens to You
Who Will Win: Till It Happens to You
Who Should Win: Till It Happens to You is a stirring anti-rape anthem from the film The Hunting Ground. It’s written by Diane Warren and sung by Lady Gaga. That’s a hard combo to top.

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Rachel McAdams (Spotlight), Rooney Mara (Carol), Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs), Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
Who Will Win: Alicia Vikander
Who Should Win: Alicia Vikander. This is the toughest category for me to pick. Vikander and Mara’s roles are practically leads, but none of the actual supporting roles nominated have truly great performances.

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), Sylvester Stallone (Creed), Tom Hardy (The Revenant), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Christian Bale (The Big Short)
Who Will Win: Sylvester Stallone
Who Should Win: Sylvester Stallone. Stallone is great perhaps for the last time as Rocky. He really gave heart and depth to the movie that no one else could.

Best Actress

Nominees: Brie Larson (Room), Charlotte Rampling (45 Years), Cate Blanchett (Carol), Saoires Ronan (Brooklyn), Jennifer Lawrence (Joy).
Who Will Win: Brie Larson
Who Should Win: Brie Larson. Larson had a great year with a funny supporting turn as Amy Schumer’s sister in Trainwreck, but she’s outstanding in Room.

Best Actor

Nominees: Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
Who Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio.
Who Should Win: Matt Damon. It’s DiCaprio’s year, but I thought Damon was stronger in a more compelling film.

Best Animated Film

Nominees: Shaun the Sheep Movie, Anomalisa, Inside Out, Boy & the World, When Marnie Was There
Who Will Win: Inside Out.
Who Should Win: Inside Out is just an insightful film about growing up from the perspective of a kid and her parents.

Best Director

Nominees: George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), Adam McKay (The Big Short), Lenny Abrahamson (Room), Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu (The Revenant), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)
Who Will Win: Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu
Who Should Win: Tom McCarthy. Spotlight is the best film nominated in my opinion, so McCarthy should take home the hardware.

Best Picture

Nominees: Bridge of Spies, Mad Max Fury Road, The Revenant, Spotlight, The Martian, The Big Short, Room, Brooklyn
Who Will Win: The Revenant
Who Should Win: Spotlight is a simple film about the complex job of ferretting out the truth, but it’s told extremely well by an outstanding ensemble cast.

The Witch proves to be an unsettling brew


(R) 1hr., 32 min.

The Witch isn’t a conventional modern horror picture that seeks to jolt the audience every 10 minutes, but it is a well crafted, superbly shot movie that is as creepy and unsettling as any movie I have watched in a while.

The film, directed and scripted by Robert Eggers on a meager $1 million budget, is subtitled A New England Folktale, and that is as apt of a description as you can get. It reminded me of the uncensored Grimm’s Fairy Tales that were more about scaring children into being good than attempting to charm or entertain them.

At the center of the film is a family exiled from a mid-17th-century New England settlement for their Christian zealotry. They set up a homestead near the edge of a foreboding forest, and shortly thereafter a series of tragedies shake the family to its core. The movie will remind some of the Old Testament book of Job, in which God allowed Satan to torment Job to prove his faith.

The characters never question the supernatural in the film, and the director never asks the audience to do so. It’s just a fact to them, like water being wet and the sky being blue. However, over the course of the film, each family member’s faith is shaken as their understanding of religion grinds them in a crucible of fear, rather than offering comfort and solace. The fear that besets the family is palpable.

As the family crumbles, the two youngest siblings, a creepy set of twins, accuse the eldest daughter Thomasin, (Anya Taylor-Joy) of being a witch, and under the circumstances — which I won’t spoil — the accusation is all too easy for the parents to believe.

The film is too matter of fact to shock despite its violence and gore. However, if you allow the film to weave its brand of magic, the movie is unnerving and unsettling. The movie stirs the kinds of questions that stick with you long after you’ve exit the theater.

Taylor-Joy stands out in the film, reminding me of a teenage Grace Kelly. Calling her the next Jennifer Lawrence would be hyperbole, but I’m guessing filmgoers will be seeing much more from her in the future.

Classic Corner

The Great Depression-era classics The Wizard of Oz and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs are my two favorite classic films dealing with witches, but here are two lesser-known movies that are also worth a look.

The first is I Married a Witch, which stars gorgeous silver-screen siren Veronica Lake as a 17th-century witch who is burned at the stake, but revived when lightning splits the tree where her and her father’s ashes were buried. Lake is intent on tormenting gubernatorial candidate Fredric March, a descendant of the man who oversaw their executions. Of course, Lake falls for March and hijinks ensue.

Bell, Book and Candle is a 1958 romantic comedy starring Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs that served as inspiration for the long-running 1960s sit-com Bewitched.

In the film, Greenwich Village witch Novak enchants book publisher Stewart in more ways than one when she casts a love spell on him to get back at old college enemy, to whom Stewart happens is engaged.