Best Actor Oscar Nominees 2016
At the age of 59, Bryan Cranston proves to be the new blood in the best actor category, with previous nominees making up the rest of his competition. Matt Damon already has an Oscar, for screenwriting, while Eddie Redmayne won this category just last year. Leonardo DiCaprio and Michael Fassbender have been nominated before. And with a total of six nominations and no win, DiCaprio looks like the man to beat.
Michael Fassbender – “Steve Jobs”
Though Fassbender wasn’t big on the campaign circuit, his performance as the Apple founder simply couldn’t be ignored, even in such a competitive year. Taking the iconic Jobs through three pivotal moments in his life, Fassbender proved a perfect match for Aaron Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue. Perhaps even more impressive, he never hesitated to be unsympathetic, whether treating his employees or his ex-lover cruelly. And yet through Fassbender’s performance, you had to admire Jobs — and the actor who played him.
Eddie Redmayne – “The Danish Girl”
Last year’s lead actor winner for his immersive work as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” continues to amaze with another transformative performance, this time as Lili Elbe, one of the first transgender women to undergo sex-reassignment surgery. Strong, complex and never maudlin, Redmayne presents a human being whose confusion morphs into determination, someone who would rather die than live in the wrong body. And he does it all with sensitivity and a quiet resolve, something Redmayne excels at in every role.
Matt Damon – “The Martian”
Though he’s an Oscar winner for the “Good Will Hunting” screenplay, Damon has never won an Academy Award for acting. It’s easy to take his on screen presence for granted, as the actor is always reliably solid and relatable. But his scenes in “The Martian” are largely a one-man show with Damon acting opposite no one but himself, and he never takes a false step. Whether showing calm determination to survive, losing his cool in frustration, or weeping when he hears the sound of a human voice for the first time in months, Damon is always outstanding.
Leonardo DiCaprio – “The Revenant”
Even before a single frame of film was seen, DiCaprio was considered the front-runner for lead actor. That’s a lot to live up to, but his turn as an 1800s frontiersman left for dead and hell-bent on revenge doesn’t disappoint. Though much has been made of the physical demands of the role — eating raw bison liver, jumping into a freezing river — it’s the emotional pull of the film where DiCaprio truly excels. Often unable to speak, he still manages to convey loss, anguish and a frightening single-mindedness, often with nothing but a glance.
Bryan Cranston – “Trumbo”
One of the most beloved actors in the industry, Cranston scored his first Oscar nomination for tackling the role of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Though the film starts out showing Trumbo’s quick wit and humor, it soon delves into a much darker period, when the writer is sent to prison. When he emerges, his entire life has changed, as he takes on writing schlocky films under a pseudonym. Yet through it all, Cranston shows Trumbo’s dignity and, perhaps most touching, capability for forgiveness. Hollywood loves movies about itself and loves Cranston; he just might be the dark horse to watch.
Lead Actress Nominees Take on Love and Loss
As it turns out, 2015 might be remembered as the year of the woman on film. For each of the lead actresses nominated, all are truly at the heart of their film’s story. In fact, in two cases — “Carol and “Joy” —the film is even named after them. In the case of “Brooklyn” and “Room,” there is no male lead. And the final film, “45 Years,” puts Charlotte Rampling front and center in a story about a husband and wife on equal footing.
Charlotte Rampling – “45 Years”
After missing out on SAG, Golden Globe and even a Bafta nomination from her home country, it was looking like one of the best performances of the year would be completely shut out of the Oscars. But the Academy wisely nominated the luminous Rampling for her tender, heartbreaking portrait as the wife uncovering a lifetime of secrets at the center of Andrew Haigh’s film. Rampling brings years of experience to the quiet moments, often shot in long, lingering takes, conveying love and regret. It’s a performances for the ages.
Saoirse Ronan – “Brooklyn”
The always-excellent Ronan, last nominated at age 13 for “Atonement,” shines as an Irish immigrant dealing with homesickness, love and loss. She perfectly conveys the loneliness and awe of moving to a new city, then the excitement as she begins to build a life for herself and even finds romance with an Italian suitor (Emory Cohen). When a tragedy brings her back to her home country, Ronan perfectly conveys the pull of the life she once knew versus what could be. Both Ronan and the film have passionate fan bases, so don’t be surprised if the actress takes home the prize on Oscar night.
The two-time Oscar winner is luminous as the title character, a 1950s housewife who embarks on a romance with another woman, played by fellow nominee Rooney Mara. Poised and elegant in public, there is so much going on behind Blanchett’s eyes that she almost doesn’t need dialogue. In fact, perhaps her best moment comes at the very end of the film, when Carol — thinking she’s lost her chance — locks eyes with her love across a room. It’s an iconic moment, brought to life by a true icon.
Jennifer Lawrence – “Joy”
Always a compelling presence on the screen, Lawrence followed up the final “Hunger Games” film with a total 180, playing a woman who goes from unconfident single mother to the ruler of an empire. The Academy loves the actress, who earned her fourth Oscar nom at the age of 25, and her charisma is on full display as she takes Joy on a journey of self-discovery. Whether falling in love with the charming Edgar Ramirez or butting heads with her raucous family, Lawrence is the heroine you root for. And her transformation into badass businesswoman will make you cheer.
Larson earned a Golden Globe Award and her first Oscar nomination playing Ma, a woman who has been held captive in a single room since being kidnapped as a teenager. Both inside the room and outside in the real world, she struggles to protect her 5-year-old son (Jacob Tremblay) with a fierce determination that will have you believing the two actors are truly related. There are so many layers to Ma, who has to be so many different things to different people, and Larson comprehends each one in a starmaking turn that will be tough to beat.
Surrealism, Sheep, Psyches and Ghibli
Since 2001, when DreamWorks Animation’s “Shrek” won the first animation Oscar, it’s been a fun category that’s nominated great films that push boundaries of storytelling. It’s a category that doesn’t recognize national borders or conventions of its fellow Oscar category races, happily tapping toons from Europe, Latin America and Asia, although usually rewarding Hollywood pics. However, in the last decade, more sophisticated toons have been popping up everywhere, and this year’s contenders are a fresh batch of many genres and styles.
Anomalisa – Directors: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson
A wonder of a film, “Anomalisa” conveys real emotions, pathos and humanity through the artificiality of stop-motion animation. The banal world created by Kaufman and Johnson — a Cincinnati hotel, a bar, a lecture hall — is used in a very surreal, and very sophisticated, way. Some may puzzle over why Kaufman and Johnson chose stop-motion to tell a story that could have been told with real actors in a live-action film, but that question misses the point: However inventive the script, the artistry and craft of the puppets, set design, costume design and art direction of this R-rated drama makes it one of the most ambitious projects of its type.
Boy & the World – Director: Ale Abreu
The Academy has grown far more adventurous in recent years, and its nomination for Brazil’s “Boy & the World” continues that welcome trajectory. The second feature from Ale Abreu — which won best feature at Annecy in addition to a fleet of festival prizes — “Boy & the World” boasts some of the most surrealistically simple character designs of any animated feature this year, as well as jaw-dropping explosions of color and sequences of exquisite fantasy. Like previous recognition for “Song of the Sea” and “Ernest & Celestine,” the film’s Oscar nomination should help shine a light on one of the more forward-thinking and rewarding imaginations at work in feature animation, his work as universal and transporting as anything from the Disney-Pixar complex.
Inside Out – Director: Pete Docter
Pixar’s 15th feature is also its most abstract, starring an 11-year-old-girl’s emotions: Joy (voiced by a perfect Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith in a multifaceted and compelling v.o.), Anger (hilarious Lewis Black), Fear (jittery Bill Hader) and Disgust (pitch-perfect Mindy Kaling). The wildly gorgeous and colorful world inside Riley’s brain is filled with extremes, but in the end the Pixar team gives audiences what may be one of the most inventive and heartfelt features from the studio.
Shaun the Sheep Movie – Directors: Mark Burton, Richard Starzak
It’s been exactly a decade since Britain’s erstwhile Aardman Animations studio won an Oscar, for “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” and just as long since a stop-motion pic claimed the big prize. However, with nominations for Aardman’s “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” and Laika’s “ParaNorman,” “Coraline” and “The Boxtrolls,” not to mention Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” the Academy has clearly shown a soft-spot for the handcrafted even if the prize has uniformly gone to computer-animated fare ever since. With “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” Burton and Starzak offer a stripped-down yet impressively cinematic distillation of Aardman’s enduring style, a virtually dialogue-free kids’ film that nonetheless packs a wealth of detail and sophisticated references into its modest framework.
When Marnie Was There – Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Storied Japanese animator Hiyao Miyazaki was hardly ignored by the Academy, winning the second ever animation Oscar for “Spirited Away,” and racking up further nominations with “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “The Wind Rises.” In spite of Miyazaki’s retirement, his Studio Ghibli continues to expand on his aesthetic, and all of the tranquil cel-animated beauty one associates with the studio is on display in “When Marnie Was There.” Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (who previously helmed Ghibli’s “The Secret World of Arrietty”), “Marnie” tells the story of a 12-year-old who meets a mysterious girl in on the island of Hokkaido.