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A History of Visual Effects Oscar Shortlists and Bake-Offs

This year’s visual effects Oscar race has been notable for lacking a clear frontrunner, and featuring one of the first ever animated films in contention for the Oscar. As we prepare to learn the results of this year’s Visual Effects ‘Bake-off,’ let’s first look back at the category’s rich history.

Every year since at least 1993, members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Visual Effects Branch have met to produce a ‘shortlist’ of films that will contend for nominations for nominations for Best Visual Effects at the Oscars.

After making the shortlist, the teams behind each film selected must create a short “visual effects reel” explaining the process of creating the visual effects for that film. These reels are screened for Academy Visual Effects Branch members during a specific day in January. Following this screening, these branch members (who are all visual effects specialists) choose 3 (or 5 since 2010) films as the final nominees for Best Visual Effects. Because nominees are often chosen based on the strength of the reel presented, this category has often been prone to shocking twists and turns, inclusions and snubs. The history of the Visual Effects shortlists is a surprising and scandalous one. Remember that every film to make these shortlists had a viable shot at becoming an Oscar Nominee.

Variety’s David S. Cohen provided a nice breakdown of what helps a film succeed at a visual effects bake-off. Consider all these factors when looking back on previous VFX races, and on this year’s.

“– It helps if the movie is good.

– It helps even more if it’s a “serious” film from a prestigious director. The branch loves that.

– The branch doesn’t necessarily care if it’s a flop. “Evan Almighty” made the bake-off. So did “The Walk.”

– It helps if the film had good practical effects, or “special effects.” Those people vote, and they’re tired of their work being ignored.

– The order of presentation matters. If you go first, the voters may have trouble remembering you at the end, when it’s time to fill out the ballots. The order is determined by lottery, but can be tweaked to help out the projectionists, who have to switch among various aspect ratios, and change from 2D to 3D and back, depending on the film.

– Some reels are better than others. The best reels tell enough of the story for a viewer who hasn’t seen the film to get a sense of the story.

– Some presenters are better than others. Good visual effects films have fallen by the wayside because of bad presentations. On the other hand, skilled presenters like Rob Legato give their films a distinct advantage, irrespective of the quality of the film.

– Politics matter. Some companies benefit from great good will in the visual effects world (Industrial Light & Magic, for example). Others don’t. (Marvel seems to have a chilly relationship with the VFX rank-and-file.)”



Although the Visual Effects category had moved through a variety of identity shifts during the years of Oscar history, sometimes being offered as a special achievement award, other times honoring both sound and visuals, by 1993, AMPAS had settled into a system of releasing a shortlist of 7 films, and narrowing that list down to 3 final nominees through the bake off process. For a category ripe with snubs and surprises, it is fitting that possibly the first ever shortlist year would be scandal ridden.


The Fugitive was one of those rare big budget studio action films to manage a Best Picture Nominations (and Supporting Actor win), along with multiple technical nominations. Given the acclaim that its famous train crash sequence received, Tom Naud, the visual effects guru behind the crash sequence, assumed that his work was a shoo in for an Oscar Nomination, or at least for a place on the shortlist. He was wrong.


When The Super Mario Brothers, a critically maligned adaptation of the video game with visual effects that Variety referred to as “ok” managed a spot on the shortlist, along with the animated Nightmare Before Christmas, Hocus Pocus, and The Addams Family Values, over The Fugitive, Naud claimed there was a conspiracy against him, his film, and the technology (Introvision) he used to help create the crash sequence. His technology “uses projected images in front of and behind the actors, creating the illusion that the performer is inside the scene.” According to Naud, “ the visual effects branch [was] biased against his Introvision system. Naud said that the branch is made up primarily of technicians and designers in the optical effects business, who feel threatened by the Introvision process, which could encroach on their livelihood.”


Ultimately, the seven films to make the shortlist were

The Addams Family Values



Hocus Pocus

Jurassic Park*

The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Super Mario Bros



With the number of effects heavy blockbusters increasing every year, the 1994 Visual Effects Shortlist coincided with the announcement that the Academy Visual Effects members would become the first new Academy “branch” to be created in 42 years. This new branch oversaw a surprising shortlist that included The Lion King as the first (and only) 2-D Animated film ever to make the shortlist. Apparently, the revelation that the Wildabeest Stampede sequence was entirely CGI earned the film a place on the list. Also surprising was the inclusion of The Coen Brothers’ The Hudsucker Proxy on the list, particularly since the VFX heavy Stargate failed to make the list. (At the time, it was also considered surprising that The Flinstones failed to make the list)


Ultimately, the 7 films to make the list were:


Forrest Gump*

The Hudsucker Proxy

Interview with the Vampire

The Lion King

The Mask


True Lies


This year illustrated a long-running VFX Oscar trend of Best Picture nominees winning the Visual Effects Oscar over non-Best Picture Nominated films with flashier visual effects. (2015’s Ex Machina would become the first film since 1970 to buck this trend).



1995 is notable as the last time the Visual Effects category chose fewer than three nominees in the category. Although visual effects heavy films such as Jumanji, Waterworld, and Batman Forever were in contention, only Apollo 13 and Babe received Oscar nominations. Judge Dredd and The City of Lose Children failed to make the shortlist, despite their abundance of VFX work, as did Toy Story (although later Pixar films would). Roger Ebert ran a Q & A shortly after the announcement of only two Oscar Nominees, explaining how such a small nomination field had occurred:


“For each reel, the attendees were asked to give a rating from 1-10. To get a nomination, the average score had to be 8 or above. If no films had received a high enough score, the Best Visual Effects category would have been skipped. If only one film had received an 8 or above, then it would have won automatically (this has happened a few times, including with “Star Wars,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Total Recall”). The implication seemed to be that there could have been anywhere from 0-7 nominated films in that category.”


Ultimately, the 7 films to make the list were:



Apollo 13


Batman Forever



The Indian in the Cupboard





The 1996 shortlist offered relatively little intrigue. Independence Day was a clear frontrunner. Rick Baker’s makeup and prosthetic work (alongside subtle work by Rhythm & Hues visual effects house) in The Nutty Professor were apparently enough to earn the film consideration in the Best Visual Effects Category (the film would ultimately miss a nomination here, but would win an Oscar for Best Makeup). Similarly, Star Trek: First Contact would miss a nomination here, but was acknowledged for its makeup work. Tim Burton’s gleefully rubbery martian CGI was enough to ensure Mars Attacks! received a spot on the list. The only major shift was a new rule stipulating that voters were required to include at least three films as nominees, so as to avoid a situation like the previous year with only two nominees.


Ultimately, the 7 films to make the list were:




Independence Day*

Mars Attacks!

Mission: Impossible

The Nutty Professor

Star Trek: First Contact




Whenever a James Cameron film is present in the Visual Effects race, it is usually all but certain that it will slaughter the visual effects competition. Titanic was the only possible winner here. Starship Troopers and The Lost World: Jurassic Park both managed nominations as well. The highlight of the shortlist, however, was Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin. Take a moment to ponder that. Batman & Robin, widely considered one of the worst films ever made, very nearly was nominated for an Oscar. Meanwhile, the effects-heavy Spawn and Alien: Resurrection failed to make the shortlist, making Resurrection the first ever Alien film to fail to receive an Oscar nomination.


In a December Visual Effects preview, Variety listed Men in Black as one of the ‘big three’ visual effects contenders, suggesting its ultimate snub for a nomination in this category came as a surprise. Apparently, “applying [motion-capture] to thousands of objects” was the big theme in evaluating the strongest visual effects contenders in 1997. Titanic’s massive CGI crowds, Jurassic Park’s herds of dinosaurs, and Starship Troopers’ hordes of ‘bugs’ ensured them slots over Men in Black’s seamless blending of prosthetics and CGI effects.


Ultimately, the 7 films to make the list were:


Batman and Robin


The Fifth Element

The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Men in Black

Starship Troopers




AMPAS established early on that the ‘Sin City’ trick of colorizing and de-colorizing aspects of a frame would not be enough to warrant inclusion on the visual effects shortlist. Despite receiving acclaim for its innovative work, Pleasantville failed to make the visual effects shortlist. The similarly subtle (if you can describe explosions as subtle) Saving Private Ryan failed to receive a mention on the shortlist despite winning the BAFTA for Visual Effects, removing any Best Picture contenders from the 1998 Visual Effects race. In fact, of the 7 films, only The Truman Show and (barely) Babe: Pig in the City received fresh scores on Rotten Tomatoes. The Truman Show was described as having been “in a class of its own” alongside the other contenders at the visual effects bakeoff with its subtle effects work. Michael Bay’s Armageddon received some extra press at the event for revealing that the famous Paris destruction sequence was added into the film just a month before its release.



Ultimately, the 7 films to make the list were:



Babe: Pig in the City


Small Soldiers

Mighty Joe Young

What Dreams May Come*

The Truman Show



According to a Variety article covering the announcement, 6 of the films on the 1999 visual effects shortlist were predictable. The seventh, a James Bond film with middling reviews, The World is Not Enough was apparently considered a surprise. Notably absent from the list were the airline explosions, and digital face-warping of Fight Club, and the aliens and space battles of Galaxy Quest. Again, only two of the films on that list, The Matrix and Stuart Little were ‘fresh’ on Rotten Tomatoes.


Ultimately, the 7 films to make the list were:


The Matrix*

The Mummy

Sleepy Hollow

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

Stuart Little

Wild Wild West

The World is Not Enough




2000 marked the first appearance of a superhero film on a visual effects shortlist (X-Men). Batman Returns and Superman had received nominations in the past, however (their nominations may have occurred before shortlists existed within the branch.) Meanwhile, Disney’s Dinosaur became only the third animated film to make the shortlist. Cast-Away surprised by making the list over Mission: Impossible 2, BAFTA nominee Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Brian DePalma’s Mission to Mars.


Ultimately, the 7 films to make the shortlist were:




Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas


Hollow Man

The Perfect Storm





As Oscar entered into the new decade, with more easily accessible CGI technology, an ever-increasing number of effect-heavy films entered into the conversation. AI: Artificial Intelligence, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Pearl Harbor, Jurassic Park III, and Cats & Dogs all made the shortlist due to their innovative uses of CGI. But the traditional pyrotechnics and stunts that had once dominated the category (pre-CGI) managed slots as well, with Black Hawk Down and The Fast and the Furious also making the list. (In total, the list featured eight films instead of the usual seven). Notably absent was the CGI saturation of The Mummy Returns (the only of the trilogy to fail to make the shortlist) and Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes reboot. The semi-photorealistic CGI in Sony’s box-office bomb, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was also absent (though later mo-cap animations would not be). It is also worth noting that 2001 marked one of the last years where the majority of the shortlisted films boasted budgets below $100 million. Of the 7 films, only Pearl Harbor and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone were made for more than $100 million.


Ultimately, the 7 films to make the shortlist were:


AI: Artificial Intelligence

Black Hawk Down

Cats & Dogs

The Fast and the Furious

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Jurassic Park III

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring*

Pearl Harbor




2002 introduced AMPAS to an era where CGI was commonplace. As a result, the branch could become more choosey. A number of VFX-heavy films failed to make the Oscar shortlist. Among them: Reign of Fire, Gangs of New York, Catch Me If You Can, The Bourne Identity, Die Another Day, Scooby Doo, Stuart Little 2, Star Trek: Nemesis, Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams, Blade 2, The Sum of All Fears, Eight Legged Freaks, and more would have likely found spots on shortlists in the previous decade with ease. Now they didn’t even receive a mention. Variety trumpeted Minority Report and XXX’s 300-400 visual effects shots total as an impressive achievement in its ‘Bake-off’ article. That number would of course be miniscule now. Spider-Man would ultimately continue past the shortlist become the first Marvel film to receive a nomination in this category.


Ultimately, the 7 films to make the shortlist were:


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Minority Report

Men-in-Black 2


Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers*




Having established over the previous two years, that even including a Visual Effects Shortlist were more of a formality than anything as long as Lord of the Rings was a part of the equation, the visual effects branch began to include some unusual choices from the wide array of visual effects options available in 2003. Warner Bros. feared the possibility of cancelling both Matrix sequels out in the category (as both were released in 2003), and therefore only submitted the critically maligned Revolutions, ignoring the slightly better-reviewed ‘Reloaded’ (probably for the best, given that we might have seen an Oscar nomination for this rubbery fight scene). The consideration was unnecessary, as the film failed to even make the shortlist of 7. Big Fish began its trend of underperforming with Oscar categories when it failed to snag a slot on the shortlist as well. Despite criticism of Ang Lee’s Hulk cgi in recent years, Variety described the CGI work as “one of the best digital humans (albeit outsized) created for the big screen.” The Cat in the Hat was ultimately snubbed (unlike its predecessor, The Grinch) by both the visual effects and makeup shortlists.


Ultimately, the 7 films to make the shortlist were:



Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King*

Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World

Peter Pan

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

X2: X-Men United



The Aviator’s inclusion on the 2004 shortlists for Makeup and Visual Effects demonstrated just how strong of a contender that film was for Best Picture until Million Dollar Baby began to pick up steam.  Van Helsing and The Chronicles of Riddick may have been CGI-heavy, but the VFX branch opted to ignore them in favor of The Aviator’s more subtle work. The Bourne Supremacy and The Polar Express boasted slightly stronger reviews, but were snubbed as well. Meanwhile, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban became the first film in the series to not only make the shortlist, but also to receive a nomination. Meanwhile, Spider-Man 2 became the first (and only) Marvel film ever to win an Oscar.


Ultimately, the 7 films to make the shortlist were:


The Aviator

The Day After Tomorrow

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I, Robot

Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Spider-Man 2*



2005 was the Oscar season of shocks. Crash winning Best Picture, and Hustle & Flow taking Best Song were the two biggest stories on Oscar night, but weeks before, AMPAS had already managed to elicit a few gasps when the visual effects branch failed to nominate Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith for Visual Effects despite the film’s strong reviews, box-office numbers, and nominations from the Visual Effects Society and BAFTA. Instead, War of the Worlds (never underestimate Spielberg) and The Chronicles of Narnia managed nominations. 2005 held the distinction of being the only year in which every single film on the shortlist managed an Oscar nomination in one category or another.

Shockingly (at the time), Sin City failed to even make it to the shortlist. Robert Rodriguez would have joined Stanley Kubrick as one of the only directors ever to also receive a Visual Effects nomination, had the film received a nomination. One of the film’s VFX supervisors, Marc Sadeghi believed that “the seamlessness of the film’s digital effects may have hurt its prospects.” He argued that the film’s groundbreaking work was ‘misunderstood’ by voters.

Other snubs included Fantastic 4, Kingdom of Heaven, The Island, Stealth, and Zathura.


Ultimately, the 7 films to make the shortlist were:

Batman Begins

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

King Kong*

Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

War of the Worlds




Not unlike 2001-2003, the 2006 Visual Effects Oscar winner was a foregone conclusion. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest received raves for its visual effects work. Its motion capture work on Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones was so realistic that some reviewers mistook the CGI for prosthetics.

In keeping with a predictable visual effects winner, the shortlist proved equally predictable. Only Charlotte’s Web, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Fountain, and Flags of Our Fathers missed out on the shortlist among particularly effects heavy films. Web managed a nomination from the Visual Effects Society (often a harbinger of a nomination), but failed to receive a BAFTA nomination in a field of 5 nominees. 5 of the 7 films on the shortlist were ‘rotten’ on Rotten Tomatoes.


Ultimately, the 7 films to make the shortlist were:


Casino Royale


Night at the Museum

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest*


Superman Returns

X-Men: The Last Stand




2007 marked a major change in the Visual Effects voting system. In keeping with an increasing number of VFX-heavy films being released every year, AMPAS would release a list of 15 films before narrowing down the contenders to the traditional shortlist of 7 and then to the final 3 nominees. With a new system, and an increased variety of films to choose from came more diverse choices. Ratatouille became Pixar’s first (and only) film ever to make the shortlist. Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf became the first motion capture film to make the list. National Treasure: Book of Secrets and The Bourne Ultimatum managed spots on the list as well, despite not having appeared on the list with earlier installments in either series. Visual Effects heavy blockbusters such as Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Bridge to Terebithia, Stardust, and Enchanted failed to make the first round.


With this new two-step process came more surprising picks for the second phase of the list (part 2, the shortlist of 7). After Spider-Man 2 won the visual effects Oscar in 2004, Spider-Man 3 failed to make the shortlist of 7, despite making the first-round list. Similarly, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix became the only film in the entire franchise to fail to make the final shortlist, despite its much-discussed “soul capture” technology. Instead, I am Legend’s divisive CGI work and the water effects in the poorly reviewed Evan Almighty made it to the category’s semifinals. And in keeping with a surprising year for the category, the ultimate winner, The Golden Compass, would prove to be one of the category’s most surprising winners in history.


Ultimately, the 15 films to make the first round were:




The Bourne Ultimatum

Evan Almighty

The Golden Compass*

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

I am Legend

Live Free or Die Hard

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End


Spider-Man 3



Waterhorse: Legend of the Deep


And the 7 films to make the second round were:



The Bourne Ultimatum

Evan Almighty

The Golden Compass*

I am Legend

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End



2008 became the first year to signify the industry’s superhero movie saturation, with no fewer than five superhero films making the first list. Hancock, The Dark Knight, Hellboy 2, The Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man all snagged spots on the list. But films with more divisive CGI also managed spots. Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, and Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull all managed to find spots on the first round of the list over the likes of Wanted. Speed Racer, 10,000 BC, despite an abundance of CGI (and Oscar wins for previous films from their directors) failed to make either round of shortlist.


The final list of seven proved surprising, with Australia, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor ultimately managing surprise spots on the list over more expected picks like The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Journey likely secured its slot through its innovative use of 3D, making it the first 3D feature ever screened at the “bake-off.” Australia revealed that roughly a third of every shot in the film featured CGI. Which of course meant that the final 3 nominees were easy to predict: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, and Iron Man.


Ultimately the 15 films to make the first round were:



The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button*

The Dark Knight

The Day the Earth Stood Still


Hellboy II: The Golden Army

The Incredible Hulk

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Iron Man

Journey to the Center of the Earth

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

The Quantum of Solace

The Spiderwick Chronicles


And the 7 films to make the second round were:



The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Iron Man

Journey to the Center of the Earth

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor



The 2009 VFX race proved notable for several reasons: first, it had a winner locked up for roughly half of the year. Even before Avatar had premiered and its potential for financial success was uncertain, many had it penciled in for a Visual Effects win because of the talk surrounding its groundbreaking technology. Secondly, it became the final year to only feature three nominees in the category.


As a significant year, the branch again offered some unorthodox choices. The Lovely Bones foreshadowed its disappointing awards season performance by failing to even make the category’s shortlist of 15, (as did Night at the Museum 2, which bizarrely managed a spot on the Makeup shortlist instead.) Meanwhile, animated films such as Coraline and A Christmas Carol did end up on the list. The poorly reviewed Disney film, G-Force managed a slot, as did the subtle VFX work in Angels and Demons. Surprisingly, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra managed a spot on the list, despite featuring effects that The Guardian called “substandard” and Roger Ebert referred to as “incomprehensible.”


In a particularly strong year for the category, films with acclaimed visual effects work like Watchmen would fail to advance to the second round. 2009 illustrated a clear trend at the time as well. CGI Destruction was no longer enough to guarantee a spot in the category. Realistic CGI characters were all the rage.


Ultimately the 15 films to make the first round were:


Angels & Demons


A Christmas Carol


District 9


GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Sherlock Holmes

Star Trek

Terminator Salvation

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen



Where the Wild Things Are


And the 7 films to make the second round were:



District 9

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Star Trek

Terminator Salvation

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen



2010 proved a historic year for the visual effects categories. As nearly every category (including Sound Editing in 2006) had expanded to allow 5 nominees, it seemed absurd to only permit 3 nominees in a category that consistently featured more than 3 nomination-worthy visual effects efforts. As a result, the category finally expanded to allow 5 nominees, but maintained the three-step shortlist and bake-off process.

The only potentially surprising omission from the initial shortlist was the BAFTA nominated VFX work in Black Swan, while the “small” work in Hereafter surprised repeatedly by making both shortlists, and ultimately securing a nomination, illustrating a trend of one “shocker” nominee making it into the visual effects race every year from then forward. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 would become only the second Harry Potter film in the series to secure a Visual Effects nomination.


In a post-Avatar world, a number of the films in contention were presented in 3D (remember, in 2010 and 2011, more or less everything was released in 3D). Where just two years before, finding a way to screen a single 3D film had been a concern, the branch had to instead prep for a world where 3D blockbusters were rapidly becoming the norm. Of the 15 films on the shortlist, 5 were 3D efforts (Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Clash of the Titans, The Last Airbender, and TRON: Legacy.) Perhaps, the VFX branch was slow to embrace change, however, as only one of the 5 nominated films (Alice in Wonderland) was a 3D effort, and a perceived category frontrunner, TRON: Legacy (3D) failed to even land a nomination. TRON’s surprising snub echoed a frustrating trend for the franchise. The original film ironically failed to receive a nomination because the Academy’s Visual Effects voters at the time considered the film’s use of CGI to have been ‘cheating.’ This time, the sequel may have suffered backlash for its heavy use of CGI, as the emphasis on Jeff Bridges’ CGI de-aging during the Bake-off reel was reportedly met with laughter.

Ultimately the 15 films to make the first round were:


Alice in Wonderland

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Clash of the Titans

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1



Iron Man 2

The Last Airbender

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Shutter Island

The Sorcerer’s Aprentice

Tron: Legacy



And the 7 films to make the second round were:


Alice in Wonderland

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1


Inception *

Iron Man 2

Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Tron: Legacy


In 2011, AMPAS realized it would be better served by expanding the second phase of the visual effects decision making process into a list of 10 films, as opposed to a list of 7 (since it seemed to limit the process by only having two films in contention that would not make the cut. As a result, a number of atypical contenders found their way to the list. Prestige pictures like Hugo and The Tree of Life made it to both rounds of the voting process, while critically reviled efforts like Zach Snyder’s Sucker Punch showed up on the first list as well. Marvel’s Thor surprisingly failed to make it to the second round of voting. WB’s bomb, Green Lantern was the only big budget, CGI-heavy feature to fail to show up on either list.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 survived an embarrassing SNAFU during the annual bake-off screening, when WB accidentally screened the Makeup reel instead of the Visual Effects reel. Despite this mishap, the film ultimately received the franchise’s third visual effects nomination, but would fail to win, leaving the series Oscar-less. Meanwhile, Hugo proved that a prestige picture will generally win when running against traditional visual effects contenders and blockbusters. Though Transformers 3 and particularly Rise of the Planet of the Apes featured groundbreaking CGI and motion capture work, Hugo’s overall love within the AMPAS voting body secured it a win in a category that it might not have even received a nomination in during the 3-nominee system.


Again, the new five nominee system showed off its capacity for surprises. After Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides received a Visual Effects Society nomination, and bake-off reports emphasized strong reactions to the “shrinkage” work in Captain America: The First Avenger, few expected the robot boxing movie, Reel Steel to best either contender and show up as an Oscar nominee out of nowhere.


Ultimately, the 15 films to make the first round were:


Captain America: The First Avenger

Cowboys & Aliens

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2


Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Real Steel

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Sucker Punch

Super 8


Transformers: Dark of the Moon

The Tree of Life

X-Men: First Class

And the 10 films to make the second round were:


Captain America: The First Avenger

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2


Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Real Steel

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

The Tree of Life

X-Men: First Class


Starting in 2012, AMPAS opted to forgo the 15-film shortlist system, instead narrowing the list down to 10 films as early as November. There were little in the way of surprising snubs this time around. Men in Black 3 and The Impossible were the only major effects films to miss out.


The Dark Knight Rises held strong to its traditional trappings, proudly screening as the only contender still shot on film. The heavily digital Snow White and the Huntsman ultimately surprisingly snagged a nomination over it, however, leaving the final installment in Nolan’s trilogy nomination-less. The 2012 Visual Effects race was of course marred by controversy, as the Oscar winning VFX team for Life of Pi lamented that they had recently gone bankrupt prior to winning, only to be played off during their acceptance speech before completing their message.


Ultimately, the 10 films to make the shortlist were:


The Amazing Spider-Man

Cloud Atlas

The Dark Knight Rises

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

John Carter

Life Of Pi*

Marvel’s The Avengers



Snow White And The Huntsman



The most surprising commission from AMPAS’s list of 10 films was  WB’s Man of Steel. In its place were the critically reviled The Lone Ranger, and the financially disappointing Oblivion. 

While many expected Pacific Rim to receive a nomination for its enormous CGI robots, it was ultimately The Lone Ranger that became the annual surprise nominee instead, alongside The Hobbit, Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, and eventual winner, Gravity. According to reports from the bake-off screening, it was the film’s signature train fight that particularly impressed viewers.


Ultimately, the 10 films to make the shortlist were:



“Gravity,” *

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,”

“Iron Man 3,”

“The Lone Ranger,”


Star Trek Into Darkness,”

“Thor: The Dark World,”

“Pacific Rim,”

“World War Z”


2014 would be the last year when AMPAS would utilize the single 10-film shortlist method. The only surprising ommissions were Ridley Scott’s Exodus, and Tom Cruise’s financially underperforming sci fi, Edge of Tomorrow. Night at the Museum 3 surprisingly managed a slot, despite the previous (more successful) film missing out on the 2009 list.


Although this year marked the first time one of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films missed a slot on a nominations, it also marked the first time an X-Men film received a nomination following years of X-men near misses. Apparently, the “quicksilver” sequence wowed VFX voters at the bake-off. This was also the first time in several years a “prestige” film was not in the mix, with none of the 10 films even making the Best Picture conversation.


Ultimately the 10 films to make the list were:


 “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

    “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”


    “Guardians of the Galaxy”

    “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”



    “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb”

    “Transformers: Age of Extinction”

    “X-Men: Days of Future Past”


In 2015, the visual effects branch again changed up the voting system, this time beginning with a shortlist of 20 films, as part of an attempt to reflect the ever-increasing number of effects heavy work. As a result, Furious 7 became the first film in the series since the original to make an Academy Visual Effects list, while The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 2 also ended up as the only film in its franchise ever to show up on the list. Subtle work like Bridge of Spies also made its way to the list. And the critically reviled Terminator Genisys even managed a slot. With 20 slots to choose from, it was particularly telling if any major VFX heavy films missed out. The Wachowski’s Jupiter Ascending followed brutal reviews by failing to show up on the list at all, as did Pan and Fantastic 4. Despite financial success, The Rock’s disaster film, San Andreas could not manage a nomination either.

The shortlist would ultimately blossom into the category’s tightest, and ultimately most surprising Oscar race in years. Mad Max and Star Wars seemed engaged in a life or death struggle, with Star Wars promising to become the first non Best Picture nominated Visual Effects nominee to beat a Best Picture nominee for the first time since 1970. Perhaps, it was this new voting system that allowed the low-budget Ex Machina to surprise by making it not only past the first round of the VFX shortlist, but to also receive a nomination, and then beat four films that by all appearances had stronger chances at a win than it did.


Ultimately, the 20 films to make the first round were:



Avengers: Age of Ultron

Bridge of Spies



Ex Machina*

Furious 7

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

In the Heart of the Sea

Jupiter Ascending

Jurassic World

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

The Revenant


Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Terminator Genisys


The Walk


The 10 films to make the second round were:



Avengers: Age of Ultron

Ex Machina*

Jurassic World

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens


The Walk


Finally, this year featured yet another first round of 20 films. Kubo and the Two Strings surprised on the list as the first animated film since 2009 to make the longlist, and the first animated film since 2000 to make the shortlist. Multiple critical bombs made the first round, including Alice: Through the Looking Glass, Batman vs Superman, Independence Day: Resurgence, Suicide Squad, and Warcraft, but none made it to the second round. The well-reviewed, but financially disappointing A Monster Calls was the only major omission from the longlist. offers complete breakdown of the 10 presentations. Kris Tabley of Variety reports that Deepwater Horizon and Star Wars: Rogue One received some of the biggest responses from the bake off. The BFG’s response seemed tepid. And Kubo and the Two Strings reportedly impressed. Deepwater was reportedly the highlight of the bake off.

Ultimately, the 20 films to make the first round were:

Alice through the Looking Glass



Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Captain America: Civil War


Deepwater Horizon

Doctor Strange

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Independence Day: Resurgence

The Jungle Book

Kubo and the Two Strings

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children


Rogue One

Star Trek Beyond

Suicide Squad



X-Men: Apocalypse

And the 10 films to make the second round were:

“The BFG”
“Captain America: Civil War”
“Deepwater Horizon”
“Doctor Strange”
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
“The Jungle Book”
“Kubo and the Two Strings”
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

With all of this history in mind, will we see the second animated film in VFX history receive a nomination? Will Fantastic Beasts become the fourth Harry Potter film to be nominated? Only time will tell. Hopefully this year’s race will bring some attention to the category’s rich history.


The Best Film Scores of 2016

Throughout the course of a given year, I typically compile a 50-70 song long playlist of  film score tracks that stand out from recently released films. While 2016 may have been lacking as a year for film as a whole, it produced an unusually high number of outstanding film scores. This year’s score playlist was nearly 120 songs long.

While the year’s critic awards seem to be bouncing back and forth between Jackie and La La Land, I wanted to acknowledge some of the other incredible film scores that made 2016 such an exceptional year for the category but have yet to receive as much attention as they deserve. Links are attached for each song. Enjoy.

15. Captain Fantastic, Alex Somers


Best Track: Fortress

Other Amazing Tracks: Memories


14. Deepwater Horizon, Steve Jablonksy (you think I’m kidding, but give this a listen outside of the film)


Best Track: Home

Other Amazing Tracks: Taming the Dinosaurs


13. Jackie, Mica Levi


Best Track: The End

Other Amazing Tracks: Walk to the Capitol


12. Arrival, Johann Johannsson


Best Track: Heptapod B

Other Amazing Tracks: Transmutation at a Distance


11.High Rise, Clint Mansell


Best Track: Silent Corridors

Other Amazing Tracks: “Somehow, the High Rise played into the most pretty impulses”


10. Hell or Highwater, Nick Cave & Warren Ellis


Best Track: Lord of the Plains

Other Amazing Tracks: Comancheria II


9. Hacksaw Ridge, Rupert Gregson-Williams

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Best Track: Praying

Other Amazing Tracks: Okinawa Battlefield


8. Indignation, Jay Wadley


Best Track: Can You Hear Me?

Other Amazing Tracks: I Promise


7. Manchester by the Sea, Leslie Barber


Best Track: Manchester by the Sea Chorale

Other Amazing Tracks: Manchester Minimalist Piano and Strings


6. The Jungle Book, John Debney


Best Track: Mowgli Wins the Race

Other Amazing Tracks: The Jungle Book Closes


5. Moonlight, Nicholas Britell


Best Track: The Middle of the World

Other Amazing Tracks: End Credits Suite


4. Midnight Special, David Wingo


Best Track: Marshland

Other Amazing Tracks: New World, Midnight Special Theme


3. Swiss Army Man, Andy Hull & Robert McDowell


Best Track: Montage

Other Amazing Tracks: Intro Song, Finale 


2. La La Land, Justin Hurwitz


Best Track: Epilogue

Other Amazing Tracks: Planetarium, City of Stars (Humming)


1. The Little Prince, Hans Zimmer, Camille & Richard Harvey


Best Track: Escape

Other Amazing Tracks: Draw Me a Sheep, Preparation

Actors You Probably Forgot Have Oscar Nominations

Oscar Nominations You Probably Forgot About


Sometimes you come across an actor or a director who you’re shocked to learn received an Oscar nomination, not necessarily because they aren’t talented, but because they aren’t typically associated with Oscar-friendly films. See Oscar Nominees Rip Torn, Randy Quaid and Gary Busey, for example.


And then there are those other times, when you learn an Actor or Director is an Oscar Nominee, or in some cases, a winner, from a category you hadn’t even considered them working in: Editing, Original Song, Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Documentary short, etc.


This list will explore the surprising number of Oscar Nominees you might not even have known were Oscar Nominees. (Only instances where the Actor or Director actually received a nomination will count. Which means Maximillian Schell’s Foreign Film/Documentary nominees are not included).


I won’t be including ‘surprise’ Directing Nominations for Actors who directed their own films. Nor will I include every director or actor who has worked both in front of and behind the screen (Kevin Costner, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, Rob Reiner, Ron Howard, Robert Redford, etc are all recognizable enough in both fields as to not need mentioning).This is a list for actors…who you associate with acting who were nominated in other categories.


*= the person mentioned won an Oscar for the example mentioned.


Two-Time Academy Award Winner Ben Affleck


Best Picture: Argo* & Best Original Screenplay: Good Will Hunting*


After becoming the youngest ever winner for Best Original Screenplay (at 25 for Good Will Hunting), Affleck not only continued writing and acting, but also began producing, overseeing Stolen Summer and Feast through his and fellow Oscar winner Matt Damon’s TV show, Project Greenlight. After directing two successful dramas, Affleck managed to receive a producer credit on his third film, Argo. Although he shockingly missed out on a Best Director nomination for the Oscar winning film, Affleck ultimately still received a statue (and was allowed to make an Oscar speech) as Argo’s primary producer when the film won Best Picture.


Academy Award Nominee Sean Astin


Best Live Action Short: Kangaroo Court


Unlike some of the names on this list, Astin actually nearly snagged an acting Oscar. His supporting turn as Samwise Gamgee in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King received nominations from a number of critics groups during the 2003 awards season. He has yet to be involved in the awards conversation since, but honestly, he’s already an Oscar Nominee, and has been since 1994.


Academy Award Nominee Bob Balaban


Best Picture: Gosford Park


Best known for his turns in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the majority of Wes Anderson films, Bob Balaban has acted prolifically over the years, with more than 100 acting credits to his name on IMDB. When Robert Altman directed his Oscar winning murder mystery, Gosford Park, however, Balaban received a “based on an idea by” writing credit. On some level, Balaban was heavily involved with the creation of Altman’s film. So much so, apparently, that he ultimately received a producing credit, and therefore an Oscar nomination alongside the film.


Academy Award Nominee Sacha Baron-Cohen


Best Adapted Screenplay: Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan


In 2006, after several hilarious turns in his D Ali G show, Baron-Cohen made himself into a cinematic icon, with his one-two comedy punch of Talladega Nights and Borat. The latter of which managed to be one of the few comedic performances ever to enter the Best Actor conversation, winning Best Actor from the Los Angeles Film Critics, and earning a Golden Globe Nomination. And while the Academy would never bring themselves to reward a performance as irreverent as Baron-Cohen’s with an acting nomination, they found a compromise in nominating the film for Best Adapted Screenplay, thereby nominating Baron-Cohen, without nominating the film itself (the irony, of course being that the majority of the film was improvised by Baron-Cohen on set and was barely reliant on its screenplay).

Five-Time Academy Award Nominee Kenneth Branagh


Best Live Action Short: Swan Song


Over the course of his distinguished career, Kenneth Branagh has prolifically starred in, produced, written, and directed any number of films. Although he is best known for his acting (Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and numerous Shakespeare characters), only two of his five Oscar nominations have come from performances. The other three have been for his writing (Hamlet) or his directing (Henry V) and his short film, Swan Song.


Academy Award Winner Peter Capaldi


Best Live Action Short: Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life*


Best known for BBC’s The Thick of It and for his status as the current ‘Doctor’ in Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi has yet to make many major appearances in feature films. Whenever he does, however, he could refer to himself as Academy Award Winner Peter Capaldi, as his 1993 short film, Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life won him an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film.

Academy Award Nominee John Cleese


Best Original Screenplay: A Fish Called Wanda


Monty Python Alum, John Cleese has seldom been in the awards conversation, given that his primary genre (comedy) is not something that Oscar voters gravitate towards. Though his performance in 1988’s A Fish Called Wanda was ignored by the Academy in favor of Kevin Kline’s Oscar Winning comedic turn, Cleese managed to nab an Oscar Nomination for writing the film, making it one of the few comedies in Oscar history to receive writing, directing, and acting nominations.


Two-Time Academy Award Winner George Clooney


Best Picture: Argo*, Best Adapted Screenplay: The Ides of March, Best Original Screenplay: Good Night & Good Luck


Although Clooney has been nominated for acting Oscars on four separate Occasions (including a win for 2005’s Syriana), he also has the distinction of having been nominated in every category humanly possible for him to be nominated in. As of 2016, Clooney has been nominated in six different categories, including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Screenplay, and as a producer for a Best Picture winner (Argo).


Two-Time Academy Award Nominee Steve Coogan


Best Adapted Screenplay & Best Picture: Philomena


Steve Coogan has been something of a staple of British and American comedy since the 1990s, with memorable turns like recurring TV character, Alan Partridge, and standout film roles including a pompous gladiator in Ben Stiller’s Night at the Museum franchise, a pompous police comissioner in Hot Fuzz, a pompous scientist in Despicable Me, and a pompous director in Tropic Thunder (seeing a theme here?). He has never been anything less than hilarious, but also has yet to find a role Oscar-friendly enough to put him into acting awards consideration. 2013’s surprise hit, Philomena, was largely his baby however. He starred in, co-wrote, and produced the Best Picture nominee, which ultimately netted him two Oscar Nominations.


Four-Time Academy Award Nominee Bradley Cooper


Best Picture: American Sniper


Bradley Cooper has been steadily attempting to follow a similar path to that of Brad Pitt: supporting player, then charismatic leading man, and finally, Producer. After receiving Exec Producer credits for Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle (for which he also received his first two acting nominations), Cooper received a “full-blown Producers credit on 2014’s American Sniper.” As a result, on top of his Best Actor nomination for the film, Cooper also received a nomination as a credited producer for Best Picture. He has since used that experience as a producer to produce and direct his next film, the upcoming A Star Is Born.


Two-Time Academy Award Nominee Julie Delpy & Four-Time Academy Award Nominee Ethan Hawke


Best Adapted Screenplay: Before Sunset & Before Midnight


Although best known for his acting career (which netted him two nominations for Training Day and Boyhood), Ethan Hawke has also had a successful side career as a writer, having penned several novels. Aside from adapting one of said novels to the screen, Hawke has also worked extensively with co-star Julie Deply, and writer/director Richard Linklater on the Before trilogy. Delpy has also written multiple screenplays, as well as original songs along with her film career. Both Hawke and Delpy gave such extensive input into the dialogue for Midnight and Sunset, that the two received co-writing credits, and Oscar nominations for both films as a result.

Academy Award Nominee Danny DeVito


Best Picture: Erin Brockovich


DeVito has turned in any number of memorable performances over the years, from his oily villain turns in Batman Returns and LA Confidential, to his iconic role in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but has never found himself in the acting Oscar conversation. DeVito has had a quiet second life as a producer, however, and received producing credits on a number of films, including Get Shorty, Man on the Moon, and most famously, Steven Soderbergh’s Oscar Winning film, Erin Brockovich.


Academy Award Winner Leonardo DiCaprio


Best Picture: The Wolf of Wall Street


When Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar for The Revenant, he won on his sixth nomination, despite The Revenant only being his fifth Oscar nominated performance. DiCaprio has been producing since relatively early in his career (2004), having overseen a bizarre combination of films: George Clooney’s The Ides of March, but also the 2009 horror film, Orphan and the Twilight wannabe, Red Riding Hood. Finally, in 2013, he struck gold with Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, for which he was nominated, not only for Best Actor, but also as a producer when the film received a Best Picture nomination.


Two-Time Academy Award Winner Michael Douglas


Best Picture: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest*


Michael Douglas is best known for his Oscar winning turn in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, but back in the 1970s, when a young Douglas had only 3 films to his name, he successfully produced, and won an Oscar for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. His father had owned the rights to the novel since 1960 (before the novel was even fully published), and after running the novel as a stage production, and then attempting to pull a feature film together based on the material, he passed on the rights to the novel to his son (who had read the book in college). Douglas successfully used the project to cement himself as a recognizable name in cinema, and won an Oscar in the process.


Academy Award Winner Henry Fonda


Best Picture: 12 Angry Men


Despite his status as an acting legend, Henry Fonda was only ever nominated for two of his performances: The Grapes of Wrath and On Golden Pond (which he won for). His leading turn in 12 Angry Men was ultimately ignored by AMPAS, but the film itself was not, snagging a Best Picture nomination. It was the only film Fonda ever produced, but receiving an Oscar nomination for your producing debut isn’t a bad track record.

Two-Time Academy Award Nominees Peter Fonda & Dennis Hopper


Best Adapted Screenplay: Easy Rider


Both Hopper and Fonda would go on to receive Oscar nominations for their acting careers (Hoosiers for Hopper and Ulee’s Gold for Fonda), but the two first entered the awards conversation by co-writing ‘60s counter-culture hit, Easy Rider. Although the two would ultimately opt to pursue the acting sides of their careers over writing careers, the film remains a high point for both men. It should be noted, that the two actors co-wrote the screenplay with writer, Terry Southern who claims that neither asked for screenplay credits until after the first screening of the film, and that Hopper later took credit for the entire project. As he put it, “You know if Den Hopper improvises a dozen lines and six of them survive the cutting room floor he’ll put in for screenplay credit. Now it would be almost impossible to exaggerate his contribution to the film—but, by George, he manages to do it every time.”


Academy Award Nominee Jeff Goldblum


Best Live Action Short: Little Surprises


Jeff Goldblum is famous for his entertaining turns in Jurassic Park, Independence Day, and The Fly. He also managed to singlehandedly steal the internet’s heart 

The closest any of his performances have come to Awards consideration was his small turn in frequent collaborator, Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel (for which he received a SAG Ensemble Nomination). In 1996, however, Goldblum directed a 36-minute short film that snagged him an Oscar nomination for Best Live Action Short.


Academy Award Winner Alec Guinness


Best Adapted Screenplay: The Horse’s Mouth


Sir Alec Guinness’s Oscar winning turn in Bridge on the River Kwai certainly hasn’t been forgotten. Nor has his Oscar-Nominated turn as Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. What you might not remember is that Guinness also wrote an Oscar nominated screenplay once. The Horse’s Mouth, which was the only screenplay Guinness ever wrote, focuses on the life of a troubled painter (played by Guinness), and garnered yet another Oscar nomination for Guinness’s already impressive résumé.


Academy Award Nominee Paul Hogan


Best Original Screenplay: Crocodile Dundee


Australian comedian, Paul Hogan is not known for much else beyond starring in Crocodile Dundee and its various sequels (his IMDB acting page only shows 11 credits). But for a brief period in the 1980s, Hogan was all the rage, with many of his quotes from Dundee becoming pop culture staples. Hogan won a Golden Globe for his turn as the titular Aussie larrikin, and received a BAFTA nomination as well, but AMPAS, in keeping with its anti-comedy bias, refused to bestow a Best Actor nomination upon him. The film’s screenplay, which Hogan co-wrote was nominated, however, meaning that to this day, we will always refer to Paul Hogan as Academy Award Nominee Paul Hogan.


Academy Award Winner Christine Lahti


Best Live Action Short: Lieberman in Love*


With more than 70 acting credits to her name, Lahti has had a prolific career, from her long-running role on the TV series, Chicago Hope, to her Oscar nominated turn in Swing Shift. What many don’t remember, however, is her Oscar win for Lieberman in Love, her directorial debut short film in 1995.


Academy Award Winner Shirley MacLaine


Best Documentary Feature: The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir


Shirley MacLaine, a living legend, is best known for her acting career. She has received five acting Oscar nominations (including a win for Terms of Endearment), but her sixth nomination is often forgotten. The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir is a MacLaine directed-documentary that offers a glimpse into mainland China under the Mao government.


Academy Award Winner Brad Pitt


Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave*


It’s always a bit amusing to see trailers for new Brad Pitt films that still list the actor as ‘Academy Award Nominee Brad Pitt.’ Brad Pitt is an Oscar Winner, and has been since 2014 when he accepted the Best Picture trophy for 12 Years a Slave. As much of a producer as he is an actor, Brad Pitt has almost single-handedly willed a number of recent films into existence (Moneyball, World War Z, The Big Short), two of which he received Oscar nominations for. As a result, Pitt has a total of six Oscar nominations, only three of which are for acting.


Three-Time Academy Award Nominee Peter Sellers


Best Live Action Short: The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film


Prior to his two acting nominations for his iconic turns in Dr. Strangelove and Being There, Peter Sellers made his directing debut with an Oscar nominated plotless slapstick short. The piece ultimately netted Sellers an Oscar nomination.


Two-Time Academy Award Winner Emma Thompson


Best Adapted Screenplay: Sense & Sensibility*


If you watched the credits of Bridget Jones’ Baby recently, you’ll notice that Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay. Aside from being a singularly talented (and Oscar Winning) actress, Thompson has written her fair share of screenplays. She penned both Nanny McPhee films, did uncredited rewrites for Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice, and won an Oscar for writing Ang Lee’s Sense & Sensibility.


Two-Time Academy Award Nominee Mark Wahlberg


Best Picture: The Fighter


After establishing himself as a bona fide serious actor with his Oscar nominated turn in The Departed, Wahlberg turned his eye to producing. After producing James Gray’s We Own the Night, Wahlberg began producing the majority of films he starred in (including most of Peter Berg’s recent films.) In 2010, he received a producing credit for David O. Russell’s The Fighter, and therefore a nomination along with the film itself.


Academy Award Nominee Peter Weller


Best Live Action Short: Partners


Best known for ‘80s Sci Fi’s like Robocop and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, Peter Weller never seemed like an Oscar friendly actor. In 1993, however, he directed and starred in a law-themed short film (that co-starred a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt) that managed to net him his only Oscar nomination.


Academy Award Nominees Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo


Best Original Screenplay: Bridesmaids


Although both Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo had both written for TV prior to Bridesmaids, neither had written a feature before. The resulting film became one of the few mainstream comedies to find Oscar success, earning a Best Supporting Actress of Melissa McCarthy and a Best Original Screenplay nomination for Wiig and Mumolo.


Two-Time Academy Award Nominee Gene Wilder


Best Adapted Screenplay: Young Frankenstein


The late Gene Wilder is best known for his starring roles in Willy Wonka and the Chololate Factory, Young Frankenstein, and The Producers (the latter of which he received a Supporting Actor Oscar Nomination for), but many forget his side career as a screenwriter. His first ever screenwriting effort earned him his second Oscar nomination (which he shared with Mel Brooks) for adapting Mary Shelley’s horror novel Frankenstein into the gleefully comedic farce that was Young Frankenstein.


Academy Award Nominee Owen Wilson


Best Original Screenplay: The Royal Tenebaums


Owen Wilson is best known for his comedic turns in mainstream comedies, such as Zoolander, Shanghai Noon, and Wedding Crashers, as well as his many cameos in Wes Anderson films. But many forget, Wilson came to fame alongside Anderson, and even co-wrote most of Anderson’s early films (Bottle Rocket and Rushmore). The Royal Tenebaums was Anderson’s first Oscar nomination (and Wilson’s only Oscar nomination), and would ultimately be the last film Wilson received a screenplay credit for.


Two-Time Academy Award Nominee Oprah Winfrey


Best Picture: Selma


Oprah Winfrey began her career with an Oscar nomination for The Color Purple, before launching herself into her enormously lucrative television career. In 2013, many considered her the frontrunner for the Supporting Actress Oscar for Lee Daniels’ The Butler, but she ultimately missed out for a nomination. She made up for it a year later, however, when she received an Oscar nomination for producing Ava DuVernay’s Selma (which she also starred in).















The 10 Best 21st Century Zombie Films


It’s officially October: the month where stories about creeping clown hoaxes make national news, and movie buffs return to the guilty pleasure films they would never deign to watch at any other time of the year. Among those films is the concept of the zombie film. Ever since George Romero introduced the world to walking, flesh-eating ghouls with 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, something about the mindlessly hungry nature of the zombie has captured the public’s imagination. In the 21st century, there are more zombie films coming out than ever. Zombies are ideal subject matter for every indie horror filmmaker who hopes that his low-budget splatter fest ends up on Netflix. Ever since AMC’s The Walking Dead premiered in 2010, zombies have been the new vampires. They’re everywhere.

Many film fans look at the zombie genre with condescension. But even as early as the ’60s and ’70s George Romero learned how to use zombie films to produce biting commentary on American racial issues and society’s rabid consumerism. He just so happened to do so while slathering the message in gore. And before he ever perfected his filmmaking techniques with The Lords of the Rings, Peter Jackson learned that some of the funniest comedy could come disguised in a bloodbath.

The modern zombie renaissance has continued Romero’s early trend of burying uncommon intelligence within a monster film. For every 5 low-budget zombie films that are painful to get through, there are at least a few truly masterful pieces of horror, drama, and comedy that just so happen to also feature the walking dead. It should be noted, that while all 10 films are worth watching, 10-8 stand as guilty pleasures, as opposed to truly good films.

  1. Dance of the Dead (2008)


Dir. Gregg Bishop

Plot: On the night of the big High-School Prom, the dead rise to eat the living, and the only people who can stop them are the losers who couldn’t get dates to the dance.

Quietly screened at a few film festivals in 2008, before dropping onto DVD as part of Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Underground series, Dance of the Dead cannot necessarily be described as a “good film” per say in the way that many of the others on this list might be. That being said, Sundance TV recently named it one of the 10 Funniest Zombie Comedies of All Time (yes, there is an entire subgenre for that). With expectations kept low, the film is an absolute blast. The makeup is rubbery, the nuclear power plant in the background is badly superimposed, and the cast is largely amateur, yet the film seems aware of all this, and acts accordingly. It plays with all of the angsty teen movie tropes, and absolutely refuses to take itself seriously. Zombies launch out of their graves like circus catapulters, science lab frogs re-animate and consume faculty members, zombies learn to drive cars and find themselves swooning, like teenagers, to garage band music. And alongside its absurdity, the film occasionally surprises with its kills. There are also a few gems of dialogue, and the trope of the gun-wielding maniac gym teacher is handled amusingly. Once again, the film is nowhere near the quality of later films on this list, but for sheer, amusing low-budget zombie shlock, it is hard to resist.

Fun Fact: the film features a pre-fame Lucas Till.

Worth any awards consideration? Absolutely not.

  1. Warm Bodies (2013)


Dir. Jonathan Levine

Plot: After a highly unusual zombie saves a still-living girl from an attack, the two form a relationship that sets in motion events that might transform the entire lifeless world.

After Twilight managed to convince teens that an undead creature that was desperate for human blood was actually deeply romantic, it was only a matter of time before the film industry turned to other supernatural creatures for sex appeal. Writer/director, Jonathan Levine found the answer in a Warm Bodies, a film that features a flesh-eating zombie protagonist who introduces himself to the audience by caving in Dave Franco’s head and eating his brains, before revealing that he’s really just searching for love, and also happens to enjoy Bob Dylan and The National. If the idea sounds beyond ridiculous, that’s because it is. And yet, the film kind of works. While Warm Bodies fails to fully capitalize on the potential for humor that it initially promised with its trailer, it also provides a relatively sweet supernatural love story, and some unexpected depth as a metaphor for depression. Oscar-nominated composer, Marco Beltrami adds some extra emotion with an underrated score, and the film’s overall soundtrack captures just the right amount of angst. The film could potentially been truly ‘great,’ had it been willing to poke a bit more fun at its concept. As it stands, its earnest nature is endearing enough to make it worth seeing.

Fun Fact: “In R’s home (the abandoned airplane), it turns out he owns a Blu-ray of the movie Zombie (1979) directed by Lucio Fulci, often noted as being one of the greatest zombie movies of all time.” (Courtesy of IMDB trivia)

Worth Any Awards Consideration? No, but the score is excellent.

  1. Planet Terror (2007)

Dir. Robert Rodriguez

Plot: After an experimental bio-weapon is released, turning thousands into zombie-like creatures, it’s up to a rag-tag group of survivors to stop the infected and those behind its release.

In 2007, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, with help from Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright, and Eli Roth set out to make Grindhouse: an expensive, but loving tribute to 70’s exploitation horror films. The result was a 3 hour-plus cinematic experience, complete with a double feature and fake trailers. The end result was a mixed bag, with Tarantino’s half of the film, Death Proof, proving highly divisive. Rodriguez’s half of the film, Planet Terror, proved to be exactly the kind of absurdly entertaining trash that the two hoped to pay tribute to. Boasting a strong cast, including Rose McGowan, Josh Brolin, Bruce Willis, Lost’s Naveen Andrews, Michael Biehn, and strangely enough, Fergie, as well as Rodriguez regulars like Tom Savini, the film combines a seedy, grimy 70’s look with state-of-the-art makeup and visual effects to create Rodriguez’s loving tribute to a bygone era of filmmaking. If the above-mentioned Dance of the Dead succeeds because it doesn’t take itself to seriously, Planet Terror one-ups it, boasting a protagonist with a machine gun for a leg, a missing reel midway through the film (the implication being a projectionist ran away with the reel containing a gratuitous sex scene along with crucial character background information). The film devours clichés, and spits them out with such pseudo-seriousness that it’s difficult to keep a straight face. Rodriguez knows exactly what he wants to pay tribute to, and he does. The creature effects are truly disgusting. In a year with some of the century’s best makeup effects (La Vie En Rose, Sweeney Todd, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and more), the film somehow manages to stand out, with some truly memorable images. Planet Terror zombies are some of the most distinctive in screen history. Gore hounds should check this one out, although it is best viewed as far away from a meal as possible. Like Dance of the Dead, Planet Terror is difficult to defend as an objectively ‘good’ film, but it is the most enjoyable type of film for what it is.

Fun Fact: “Joel Coen and Ethan Coen refused to give Josh Brolin an audition for the role of Llewelyn in their movie No Country for Old Men (2007), so he asked director Robert Rodriguez to help him shoot an audition tape while Brolin was filming his Grindhouse (2007) segment (Planet Terror (2007)) for Rodriguez. Rodriguez shot and Quentin Tarantino directed the tape, which was shot using a $950,000 digital camera. Marley Shelton, who was playing Brolin’s character’s wife in Grindhouse, agreed to read the lines for Llewelyn’s wife Carla Jean (eventually played by Kelly MacDonald).” (Courtesy of IMDB Trivia)

Worth Any Awards Consideration? Yes, the makeup effects are truly disgusting, but spectacular.

  1. Dawn of the Dead (2004)dawn-of-the-dead-2004-truck

Dir. Zack Snyder

Plot: A nurse, a policeman, a young married couple, a salesman, and other survivors of a worldwide plague that is producing aggressive, flesh-eating zombies, take refuge in a mega Midwestern shopping mall.

It is remarkable, that even with the massive budgets, and endless wealth of stories Zack Snyder now has at his fingertips to choose from, he has yet to direct a film with as much personality as his brutal debut, Dawn of the Dead. While the film lacks the original’s attention to character, and fails to offer a similarly scathing commentary on American consumerism, it does manage to be a wild, and thrilling action film with some excellent makeup, and a relatively likable cast of characters. The opening titles, set to Johnny Cash’s Man Comes Around are a prime example of visual storytelling (incorporating riots and religious turmoil into a world of rapidly spreading infection), and some of the zombie concepts were novel: the film is one of the first to introduce the now-common concept of the “sprinting zombie,” as well explores the disturbing question of zombie birth. Like some of the other films on the list, the film’s screenplay is nothing to write home about, but the visceral direction ultimately compensates, creating a fun, adrenaline-pumping experience.

Fun Fact: The two zombies with missing limbs (the jogger missing an arm and the legless zombie in the parking garage) were both played by actual amputees. (Courtesy of IMDB trivia)

Worth Any Awards Consideration? No, but the creature makeup is strong.

  1. 28 Weeks Later (2007)28-weeks-later-lb-1

Dir. Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

Plot: Six months after the rage virus was inflicted on the population of Great Britain, the US Army helps to secure a small area of London for the survivors to repopulate and start again. But not everything goes to plan.

Following up Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, a film that many consider to be the crowning achievement of zombie cinema, is no easy task. And director, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo doesn’t quite pull it off. The film’s comparatively thin screenplay limits it from reaching the greatness that Days reached. But, Fresnadillo’s propulsive, visceral direction is a wonder to behold. The opening scene might be the single most thrilling sequence in zombie movie history. The whip-crack editing, bone crunching sound design, chaotic yet artful camerawork all serve to create a sequence that leaves the viewer out of breath. On its own, the sequence could serve as maybe the greatest horror short film in history. Sadly, the film never reaches that stunning high point. But, what follows are a series of tremendously well-cut, and anxiety inducing set-pieces (a terrifyingly claustrophobic sequence in a crowded evacuation room being a particular high point.) The film also boasts an impressive cast, including Robert Carlyle, Jeremy Renner, Rose Byrne, Idris Elba, and Imogen Poots, who manage to breathe such life into their characters that each death is devastating, leaving the viewer fearful and unsure about the safety of anyone onscreen. And unlike many horror films, 28 Weeks is willing to offer some form subtext, exploring the morality of US military intervention in a foreign land. Composer John Murphy also builds his already excellent score from the previous film into something more haunting than ever, while editor, Chris Gill ratchets the tension to almost unbearable levels. 28 Weeks is one of the rare times that direction is strong enough to ‘fix’ a weak script. The film is such a truly adrenaline pumping experience that it stands as one of the great horror films of the 21st century.

Fun Fact: “The farm at the start of the film is the same farm that appears in Children of Men (2006).” (Courtesy of IMDB trivia)

Worth Any Awards Consideration? 2007 was the strongest year for film of its decade. In another year, the editing and makeup would warrant consideration. 

  1. Train to Busan (2016)


Dir: San Ho-Yeon

Plot:. While a zombie-virus breaks out in South Korea, a couple of passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan.

If 2016 was the summer for disappointing US blockbusters, South Korea produced the antidote in Train to Busan. A genuine global hit, Train to Busan has shattered global records: it is the highest grossing Korean film in history in Hong Kong and Taiwan, 1/5 of the entire population of South Korea has already seen the film, and the film has grossed close to $100 million worldwide.

Imagine a combination of Snowpiercer, and the parts of World War Z that worked, along with a hefty dose of social commentary, and then you have Train to Busan. Though the film is set primarily on a bullet train, it manages to contrive inventive ways to keep the plot moving and stay endlessly surprising. Director San-Ho Yeon, and editor Yang Jin-mo create a beast of relentless tension and energy. And though the film’s cinematography is nothing groundbreaking, the film manages to offer several memorable images of destruction. The characters are likable, and the order in which the film picks them off is often unpredictable, allowing an already nerve-wracking experience to become even more anxiety-inducing. The stuntwork is remarkable, and Ho-Yeo proves that unlike many blockbuster directors, he has something to say beyond spectacle: the film is a damning attack on corporate greed, and the tendency to value one’s own life over the lives of many. Because the piece is more-character driven than many in the genre, it occasionally veers into excessive melodrama, and the final thirty minutes aren’t quite as impressive as the film’s first hour, but Busan is nonetheless a riveting and inventive blockbuster experience. A popcorn film that still has a soul in an era where some a concept seems nonexistent.

Fun Fact: This is the director’s first non-animated film.

Worth Any Awards Consideration? The film’s editing is excellent, as are its stunts.

  1. Slither (2006)slither_nathan_fillion_06

Dir. James Gunn

Plot: A small town is taken over by an alien plague, turning residents into zombies and all forms of mutant monsters.

Before James Gunn directed Guardians of the Galaxy, he cut his teeth on one of the most disgusting horror films in history. Managing to balance truly nauseating gross-out gore, with genuine scares, and some of 2006’s best dialogue was a difficult task. Fortunately, the witty and twisted Gunn was more than up to the task. He does the impossible, forging a coherent tone out of a tonally inconsistent concept (brutal violence and deadpan comedy), creating a slimy masterpiece that has the audience laughing as much as they flinch. (It should be noted that the film scared a younger me into sleeping with my mouth covered for months.) The stars Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, The Walking Dead’s Michael Rooker, Jenna Fischer, and Gregg Henry, and allows nearly everyone in the cast a chance to explore their comedic sides through Gunn’s ridiculous, but delightful dialogue. Like Planet Terror, the film boasts above-average creature makeup. But, if Planet Terror were merely content to pay tribute to the schlocky nature of 70’s creature horror, Slither goes one step forward into brilliantly spoofing the genre. It is telling, that in his review of the film, critic Jonathan Rosenbaum stated, “Gross-out horror comedy is my least favorite genre, but this movie’s so skillful I have to take my hat off to it.” If you have the stomach for it, Slither is a rare masterpiece in the horror-comedy genre.

Fun Fact: Stay after the credits for a disgusting extra scene. And assume that any character or building name is a reference to another zombie film.

Worth Any Awards Consideration: 2006 is a strong year for makeup, and Slither doesn’t quite make the cut. The creature work is excellent, however.

  1. Zombieland (2009)movies-based-video-games-zombieland-left-4-dead

Dir. Ruben Fleischer

Plot: A shy student trying to reach his family in Ohio, a gun-toting tough guy trying to find the last Twinkie, and a pair of sisters trying to get to an amusement park join forces to travel across a zombie-filled America.

2009’s Zombieland is a marvel. Running less than 90 minutes, the film manages to pack an incredible number of jokes in. It also systematically established Jesse Eisenberg as a genuine comedic presence, and not the “poor man’s Michael Cera” some had previously described him as, reminded the film world why Woody Harrelson is a cinematic treasure, offered Emma Stone her first major leading role, and provided one of the funniest celebrity cameos…ever. Like Dawn of the Dead before it, Fleischer strives to set the film off with one of horror’s best opening credits sequences, full of slow motion images of a zombie outbreaks at weddings, father-son sack races, and strip clubs, while blasting Metallica. But unlike many members of the ‘zombedy’ genre, Zombieland doesn’t opt to derive humor from extreme gore effects, but instead lets its wonderful characters do the bulk of the comedic heavy lifting. And as a result, the film ends up, not only as a buddy comedy, but also oddly enough as a sort of study on neuroticism, masculinity, and family (all done through the most hilarious lens possible, of course.) Oh and with the many rumored clown sightings around the country, the film is as timely as ever in recognizing that while zombies may be scary, clowns are scarier.

Fun Fact: 2-Time Academy Award Winning Screenwriter, William Goldman did uncredited rewrites on the script.

Worth Any Awards Consideration? Best Original Screenplay

  1. Shaun of the Dead (2004)shaun_of_the_dead_5.jpg

Dir. Edgar Wright

Plot: A man decides to turn his moribund life around by winning back his ex-girlfriend, reconciling his relationship with his mother, and dealing with an entire community that has returned from the dead to eat the living.

The best films on this list transcend their genre trappings. And the fact that Shaun of the Dead marched its way into a frontier rarely explored by zombie films (awards season) is very telling. The film boasts BAFTA, London Film Critics, Online Film Critics Society Nominations, and wins from the British Independent Film Awards, and describes itself as “a romantic comedy with zombies.” Which is to say it is far more than your run of the mill zombie film, but instead, is a riotous comedy. But not only is the film funny, it is impeccably well-made. The film’s hilarious long takes have since become iconic, while Oscar Winning Editor, Chris Dickens gives the film a breakneck, and distinctive pace. And of course, Wright and co-writer, Simon Pegg pepper the film with references to other classic horror films (28 Days Later, An American Werewolf in London, and Night of the Living Dead, to name a few), as well as provide enough subtle puns to summarize the entire film’s plot. Cracked.Com pointed out that when Shaun describes his day (“A bloody Mary [Mary the garden zombie] first thing, a bite at the King’s Head [Shaun’s stepfather is bitten], couple at the Little Princess [meeting David and Diana at Liz’s flat], stagger back here [pretend to be zombies] and bang … back to the bar for shots [the final scene at the Winchester, where they shoot their way out].”), he has summarized the entire film. And of course, like the best zombie films, Shaun of the Dead  makes a statement about apathetic society (oblivious Shaun doesn’t realize people are zombies, because zombie don’t behave differently from the humans already mindlessly going about their daily lives.) Finally, while Shaun of the Dead shies away from the excessive blood sprayed by other members of its genre, it still offers enough creative weapons (pool cues, throwing darts, vinyl records) to satisfy gore hounds, as well as offer brilliant slapstick comedy.

Fun Fact: “Shaun tells his girlfriend that he’s going to take her to “the place that does all the fish”. When he opens the phone book you can see that the restaurant is literally called ‘The Place That Does All the Fish’.” (Courtesy of IMDB trivia)

Worth Any Awards Consideration? Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing

  1. 28 Days Later (2002)28-days-later-2002-021

Dir. Danny Boyle

Plot: Four weeks after a mysterious, incurable virus spreads throughout the UK, a handful of survivors try to find sanctuary.

There is a large chunk of the internet who refuses to refer to 28 Days Later as “a zombie film,” opting instead to describe it as “an infection film,” because they feel “zombie film” does not do justice to the film’s genre-transcending nature. But 28 Days Later is a zombie film, and a damned good one at that. Boasting an impressive cast that includes Cilian Murphy, Naomi Harris, Brendan Gleeson, and Dr. Who’s Christopher Eccleston, the film values character first, and zombie spectacle second. Murphy and Harris have clear, believable character arcs that explore the question of “when is violence acceptable,” while Eccleston and his soldiers give a glimpse into redefined morality in a world that lacks any sort of moral absolutes. Anthony Dod Mantle’ s early foray into digital cinematography is impressive, despite the film’s low budget, and John Murphy’s score is alternately gorgeous and terrifying. What’s particularly impressive is, with only $8 million dollars, the film transforms London into a believably apocalyptic wasteland. 28 Days Later takes the viewer on a wild roller coaster of emotions, along with its thrilling spectacle, offering humor, tragedy, and hope. The film is so dedicated to its character study, that zombies are entirely absent from large chunks of the film. Like many Alex Garland scripts, the film does falter a bit in its third act, but the overall product is a work of art, a standard for zombie filmmaking that has yet to be topped, and a prime example, that films should not be ignored solely because of their genre.

Fun Fact: “The scene where Jim and Selena celebrate with Frank and Hannah was shot on September 11, 2001. Danny Boyle said it felt extremely strange to shoot a celebratory scene on that particular day.” (Courtesy of IMDB trivia)

Worth Any Awards Consideration: Best Editing, Best Original Score

Honorable Mentions:

World War Z (2013) was one of those big studio films that everyone seemed to be rooting against after its troubled production…and then to everyone’s surprise, it ended up being decent. The first 30 minutes could even be considered better than decent. It also made enough money back to justify a sequel. The film loses points for bearing absolutely no resemblance to its source material, and a lackluster third act, but deserves a mention as an entertaining addition to the genre.

Resident Evil (2002): Although the film bears little to no resemblance to its source material, and demonstrates more than a few zombie film clichés, it also boasts some entertaining action sequences and explores a fun, claustrophobic setting. Loses points for spawning a series of increasingly less-impressive sequels.

Dead Snow (2009): A film that works better in concept than in execution. The initial gag wears thin, but the prospect of Norwegian Nazi Zombies is amusing enough until the novelty wears off.

REC (2007): One of the strongest found-footage horror films out there, REC is a genuinely unsettling experience.

Shoutout to The Girl with All The Gifts (2016), which has yet to receive a US release date, but has received strong reviews in the U.K.


Mavericks Movies Weekly Oscar News (7/13)

Starting this week, MavericksMovies will be keeping you up to date on any and all film news even vaguely related to Awards Season from the past week. Tune in at the start of each new week to see new updates.


Long Awaited Returns:

  • Oscar winning director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Erin Brockovich, Oceans 11) announced that despite his apparent retirement from the world of film back in 2013, he will finally be returning to direct a feature film based on the recent Panama Papers scandal. Frequent collaborator Scott Z. Burns (Side Efffects, Contagion, and The Informant!) will be returning to pen the project. It has admittedly been a while since the days when a Soderbergh film was all but guaranteed to be an Oscar contender, but let’s not forget, Soderbergh is one of only three directors in history to receive two Best Director nominations in a single year. Since then, he’s only seen one film receive an Oscar nomination (2006’s The Good German for Original Score), but this new film is topical, and the tremendous acclaim Soderbergh has received for his TV show The Knick suggests he still has his mojo. This is one worth keeping an eye on over the next couple years.
  • 3-time Oscar Nominee, Michelle Williams was on fire for a few years with the Oscars…to the point that there was a period in 2011 where many were assuming she would win an ‘overdue’ Oscar for My Week with Marilyn. And then she just kind of…disappeared. But now, with strong notices for Manchester by the Sea this year, she seems to be re-entering the fray of acclaimed work. More importantly, she’s just joined Hugh Jackman’s Greatest Showman on Earth, a 2017 musical biopic about the life of PT Barnum. The project’s pedigree, Jackman Aside, doesn’t immediately scream Oscar contender. Director, Michael Gracey is best known for Visual Effects work, while the screenplay is the result of contributions from on one hand, Oscar Winner Bill Condon, who wrote the excellent screenplays for Gods and Monsters and Chicago, and on the other hand, Jenny Bicks who is best known for writing episodes of Sex and the City, Dawson’s Creek and Amanda Byne’s 2003 film, What a Girl Wants.
  • Oscar Winner Goldie Hawn is in talks to return to the world of film after a 14 year hiatus, starring in a film with Amy Schumer, entitled Mother-Daughter. Jonathan Levine (50/50, Warm Bodies) will direct.


  • patriots-day
    Notice how the studio is promoting “the director of Deepwater Horizon” before the film has even been released.

    We have the first poster out for Peter Berg’s Patriot’s Day. Coming just three years after the Boston Marathon Bombing, the project is certainly a timely one. Director Peter Berg’s name alone likely wouldn’t be enough to bring the film into Oscar consideration. The closest his films have ever come to an Oscar thus far is the two sound nominations Lone Survivor received, while his Battleship film received 7 Razzie Nominations. That being said, the film primarily is worth keeping an eye on for star, John Goodman. Around when Argo came out, people started realizing that John Goodman is very, very overdue for an Oscar nomination. His performance in 10 Cloverfield Lane remains one of the best of the year, and it frustratingly, as a work of genre fiction, isn’t going anywhere near the Oscars…but Goodman’s performance in Patriot’s Day might. Word on the street is that CBS Films is extremely confident in Goodman’s performance. Combine Goodman’s overdue narrative and built up goodwill this year from 10 Cloverfield Lane with a timely subject matter and the Box-Office friendly January wide-release date (after a December qualifying run), and you have the makings of a potential nomination. I’ve talked to a few people who have seen bits and pieces of the film, and the consensus seems to be: watch out for Goodman…and for potential Sound Mixing and Sound Editing nominations.

  • We also have the first poster for Mel Gibson’s upcoming WWII film Hacksaw Ridge.
    I love how the studio puts on the poster “from the acclaimed director of Braveheart and Passion of the Christ.” Hiding the fact that the ‘acclaimed director’ is Mel Gibson. LionsGate is hoping this film will land more on the Braveheart end of the Oscar spectrum than on the Apocalypto end of things. Scorsese’s silence also comes out this year, like John Goodman, with this film, star Andrew Garfield will likely have a good portfolio of performances for himself come year’s end.
  • Be on the lookout for several new trailers this week for potential Oscar contenders. We should be getting the full trailer for 2-Time Oscar Winner Ang Lee’s new film, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. We’ve seen a teaser already, but this will be our first full look at the technically innovative film. At the very least, the film is a surefire Cinematography contender. We’ll also be getting the first trailer for Warren Beatty’s first project behind the camera in nearly 20 years with ‘Rules Don’t Apply.’ The Howard Hughes biopic, which also stars Beatty has been in development for 40 years. Test screening reactions have been mixed, but Beatty’s Hughes performance has been singled out as the film’s strongest asset and its best shot at awards. Here’s a full list of upcoming trailers this week.
  • The Trailer for Jeff Nichols’ Loving has landed. Many had the film penciled in as a likely Best Picture winner at the year’s start. A positive, albeit muted response at Cannes suggests that the film may not generate enough passion to go all the way to the big prize this coming Winter, but stars Joel Edgerton, and especially rising star, Ruth Nega (Warcraft, AMC’s Preacher) are almost certainly going to be in contention. Best Picture contenders have received mixed responses at Cannes before, of course, most recently, Tarantino’s Oscar winning Inglourious Basterds and Terrence Malick’s Oscar Nominated Tree of Life premiered to boos at the festival.
  • La La Land: Damien Chazelle’s follow up to Whiplash, a musical starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and Oscar Winner JK Simmons released its first colorful trailer today.
    LionsGate recently pushed the film back from a summer release to an Award-friendly December date, which suggests they have high awards hopes for it. AMPAS has a long history of rewarding musicals, and the film comes from an Oscar-nominated Writer/Director, two Oscar nominated producers, two Oscar nominated leads (Stone and Gosling), and an Oscar winning Editor.


Test Screening/Script Reactions:

  • brad-pitt-in-allied-(2016)-large-pictureThe script for Robert Zemeckis’s Brad Pitt/Marion Cotillard WWII drama, Allied, written by Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Locke) has been floating around, and is being RAVED…as in websites like ScriptShadow reviewed it and compared it to Casablanca, saying it’s “one of the first films this decade they believe will be referred to as a true classic down the line.”
    Reportedly, one of the few positive things to come from the 2014 Sony Email hacks were the raves this script received within the company as well. Remember of course, the internet is prone to hyperbole, but one can’t help but be intrigued by such effusive praise. And given the less-than-stellar reactions to Pitt’s other recent war film, it’s good to see Pitt looking at another potential hit.
  • Jessica Chastain’s Miss Sloane has been test screening recently. Once again, bear in mind, test screenings tend to be hyperbolic, but here’s what one audience member said:

    “This is like a theatrical House of Cards. Chastain’s performance is great. Controlled yet powerful, committed even physical. Even if slides into borderline camp a few times due to the nature of the script, it’s still an award-winning powerhouse drama performance. Actually, the ensemble as a whole is great. If the movie becomes big enough, Gugu Mbatha Raw (of 2014’s Belle) can be a serious contender for supporting….The only problem is that the movie itself feels too small to be anything other than a best actress vehicle. But I won’t be surprised about screenplay, editing, and score getting recognitions.”

    There’s also a few twitter reactions soiling themselves over the film. Suffice it to say, people are positive. The film revolves around attempts to get gun control measures passed in the US, so…it’s timely as well. Distributor Europacorp has little to no experience in the world of Oscar campaigning though which certainly puts it at a disadvantage. As we saw this past year, though, smaller companies like Broadgreen, Bleeker Street, A24, and Open Road made their way into the Oscar race this year, with Spotlight, Trumbo, Room, and others becoming major contenders without major studio backing.

  • Robert Deniro’s The Comedian, from Oscar Nominated Director, Taylor Hackford (Ray) also had recent test screenings. Be on the lookout for any reactions.

Other Announcements:

  • Weinstein just pushed the period drama, Tulip Fever, to 2017 a WEEK before it was set to be released. Which is to say, Oscar Winner Alicia Vikander apparently won’t be getting an ‘afterglow’ nomination for this. Conversely, Weinstein has moved Michael Keaton’s Ray Kroc biopic, The Founder, to an Oscar-friendly December release date. The film had previously been slated for a November release before moving to an August release after lackluster test screening reactions, and is now back in prime Awards Season territory.
  • Quentin Tarantino has promised for years to retire after 10 films, but has admitted he might reconsider: “I am planning to stop at 10 [films], but at 75 I might decide I have another story to do.”
  • Steve Buscemi, another long-overdue actor, has just signed on for Andrew Haigh’s latest, Lean on Pete. Haigh recently directed Charlotte Rampling to a long overdue Oscar nomination for 45 Years. Ideally, he could do the same for Buscemi.


2016-17 Awards Schedule (Updating Regularly)



8-18- Toronto International Film Festival

30- New York Film Festival Begins


16- New York Film Festival Ends

20- Gotham Awards Nominations


3- British Independent Film Award Nominations

6- Hollywood Film Awards

22- Independent Spirit Award Nominations

28- Gotham Independent Film Awards

28- Annie Award Nominations

28- Gotham Award Nominations

29- National Board of Review Awards


1- Satellite Awards Nominations

1- Critic’s Choice Award Nominations

4- British Independent Film Awards

5- WGA (Writers Guild of America) Nominations

11- Critic’s Choice Awards

12- Golden Globes Nominations

12- European Film Awards

14- SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Nominations

19- Indiana Film Journalists Awards

27- Online Film Critics Society Nominations

27- North Carolina Film Critics Nominations


1- Online Film Critics Society Awards

2- North Carolina Film Critics Awards

3- ACE (American Cinema Editors) Nominations

5- Academy Governors Awards

5- ADG (Art Directors Guild) Nominations

8- Golden Globe Awards

10- VES (Visual Effects Society) Nominations

12- DGA (Directors Guild of America) Nominations

14- Oscar Nominations Announced

27- ACE (American Cinema Editors) Awards

28- PGA (Producers Guild Awards)

29- SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Awards


4- Annie Awards

4- DGA (Directors Guild of America) Awards

7- VES (Visual Effects Society) Awards

11- ADG (Art Directors Guild) Awards

12- BAFTA Awards

19- WGA (Writers Guild of America) Awards

25- Independent Spirit Awards

28- 88th Oscars

The 10 People MOST overdue for Oscars

Now that DiCaprio has his long-elusive Oscar out of the way, it’s time to turn our eyes to the many others in the industry who have been passed over for gold time and time again. For the definition of ‘overdue,’ I’ll be sticking entirely to sheer number of nominations. These will primarily be the men and women who work in tech categories, simply because, unlike actors and directors, their names don’t appear on Oscar ballots. Therefore it is difficult for them to ever manage to take advantage of their overdue natures. Here’s to hoping this piece can bring them some attention instead.

1. Kevin O’ Connell: 20 Nominations, 0 Wins


20 NOMINATIONS. I repeat, 20 NOMINATIONS. People were talking about how overdue Meryl Streep was in 2011 with 18 nominations. This guy has 20 Nominations and has yet to win for a single one of them, making him statistically the most nominated filmmaker without an Oscar win. It isn’t for a lack of trying, either. O’Connell has worked on countless films that not only destroy audience’s eardrums, but also destroy them artfully. O’Connell has created the sounds of just about every loud summer blockbuster imaginable, and has yet to be rewarded for a single one of them. Nominated films include: Transformers, Spiderman 1 and 2, Pearl Harbor, The Patriot, Armageddon, Top Gun, Twister, and 12 others I’m not going to spend my time mentioning here (but just assume they sounded great). O’Connell is so supremely competent, that he managed to snag a nomination for mixing Terms of Endearment, a film that doesn’t immediately come to mind as a traditional sound contender. All of this work creating sound for summer blockbusters (including Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark), and what has the man received? Absolutely nothing. Oh and of course, on his 19th nomination, his competition (Mike Minkler, Oscar winner for Dreamgirls) cattily stated “Kevin’s an OK mixer…maybe he should take up another line of work.” O’Connell has shifted to working on films less likely to be Sound Mixing contenders in recent years, such as Pitch Perfect 2 and How to Be Single, so he has been largely absent from the Awards scene this decade. But this year he has also provided sound work for Mel Gibson’s well-reviewed war film, Hacksaw Ridge. War films are academy kryptonite when it comes to Sound Oscars, so there is a good chance he will see Nomination #21 this year, and hopefully win #1.

2. Greg P. Russell: 16 Nominations, 0 Wins


Sound design must be a fairly thankless job. Russell follows up O’Connell with a whopping 16 Nominations without a single win. He recently got to sit back and watch his co-workers take home a Sound Editing Oscar for Skyfall. Unfortunately, he was unlucky enough to be nominated instead in the Sound Mixing category and face off against the impressive live vocals in Les Miserables. As for his other nominated films, he and O’ Connell worked together on nearly every film until recently. As such, they share many of the shame tragic nominations. Russell has been busy on more high profile features than O’Connell as of late, though. Recently he mixed for 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Get on Up, and is currently working on Transformers 5.

3. Thomas Newman: 13 Nominations, 0 Wins

thomas newman

Just about any one of those beautiful piano, wind chime, and whistle-heavy scores you’ve heard over the past 20 years or so comes from this one guy. Thomas Newman is one of the industry’s most talented composers. Obviously, voters love him for his creativity and consistency. They just don’t love him enough to ever give him an Oscar. Newman scored American Beauty, which swept nearly every Oscar category it could back in 2000, yet Thomas Newman still left empty handed. Let’s just take a moment to remember some of the stunning work Newman has created: those triumphant swelling chords at the end of Shawshank Redemption? Newman. The above-mentioned pensive heartbreak that floated along every scene in American Beauty (I mean he music got us to look at a floating plastic bag and see beauty instead of hilarious levels of pretentiousness)? That was Newman. The magical scores in PIXAR classics Finding Nemo and Wall-E that make you suddenly “have something in your eye?” You guessed it: Newman. Even better, on three of his past four nominations (for Saving Mr. Banks, Skyfall, and Wall-E), he got to watch himself lose to composers who won for their first ever nominations.

This Year he will be scoring Finding Dory for Pixar, which stands a small chance at brining him nomination #14.

4. Roger Deakins: 13 Nominations, 0 Wins


Roger Deakins is one of the greatest living cinematographers. If you disagree, go watch this scene from Skyfall or this one from The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. He celebrated his 13th Nomination this year for Sicario (and of course, his 13th loss). He has shot just about every film the Coen Brothers ever made (including the GORGEOUS work in True Grit, No Country For Old Men, and O Brother Where Art Thou.) He also found beauty in the oppressive murk of a prison in The Shawshank Redemption. He turned a Bond film into one of the most aesthetically pleasing films of the 21st century in Skyfall. On top of being singularly talented cinematographer, though, he also is versatile. He has also worked on animated films like Wall-E and How to Train Your Dragon. When Oscars go to CGI heavy films, he has continued to do much of his work in-camera and create absolutely lush images with simple on-set lighting. He will next shoot Denis Villenueve’s Blade Runner follow up, which may finally cause him to snag his first Oscar (it fits the recent trend of CGI heavy blockbusters winning this category a la Gravity, Avatar, Life of Pi).

5. Dianne Warren: 8 Nominations, 0 Wins


Shocked like the rest of the world was when Lady Gaga lost Best Original Song for her passionate ballad, Til it Happens to you? An important song losing was actually the least tragic part of that loss. Dianne Warren, who co-wrote the song with Gaga was on her 8th nomination without a win. She was nominated before for, among other things, Aerosmith’s legendary I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing from Armageddon and Trisha Yearwood’s How Do I Live from Con Air. Her songs are universally catchy, emotional, and in the case of Til it Happens to You, often important in their meanings.

6. Frank A. Montaño: 8 Nominations, 0 Wins


And here’s another one of those poor sound guys. I’m sensing a theme here. Hot off of a double nomination last year for Birman and Unbroken (neither of which he won for), many thought Montaño was the frontrunner for the win this year for Sound Mixing for The Revenant. And then of course, Mad Max took the prize. Montaño has worked on a tremendous variety of films, from Gladiator to Straight Outta Comton to The Fugitive to 300. And yet he has never won. This year he provided sound work for The Huntsman: Winter’s War and Star Trek Beyond, but neither will likely bring him nomination #9.

7. James Newton Howard: 8 Nominations, 0 wins


The other half of Hans Zimmer’s Batman scores, Newton Howard creates scores that are universally epic and hummable. He often manages to elevate otherwise mediocre films. Even notorious disaster, The Last Airbender can boast at least one positive aspect with Newton Howard’s score- one of the most beautiful of 2010. Newton Howard has also composed all of the Hunger Games scores (including 2014’s chart-topping song, The Hanging Tree). Next he will score Francis Lawrence’s Adaptation of The Odyssey.

8. Paul Massey: 7 Nominations, o wins

Paul Massey

Yet another Sound Mixer. Massey is the man behind the immersive sound work in The Pirates of the Caribbean films, the X-Men films, Master and Commander, Walk the Line, Air Force One and more. He received his seventh nomination without a win this year for The Martian. He also provided sound work for this year’s Deadpool, and The Nice Guys, and could be looking at nomination #8 for Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation.

9. Wylie Stateman: 7 Nominations, 0 wins


Of course, another Sound Artist. This time, the artist is a Sound Editor, as opposed to a Mixer however. Stateman provided sound for pretty much all of the Tarantino films, as well as Lone Survivor’s tremendous, immersive gunshots and explosions. He ensured an Oscar nomination for a film like Wanted, which otherwise would likely never have seen awards success. You can thank him for the magical soundscape of Shrek, and can credit him with the sound effects in 80’s gems like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. This year he has Mark Wahlberg’s Deepwater Horizon, Oliver Stone’s Snowden, and Duncan Jones’ Warcraft coming up. Any of the three could add number 8 to his record.

10. Mike Leigh: 7 Nominations, 0 Wins

Mike Leigh

Leigh, unlike the others on this list is not a ‘below the line’ filmmaker. Writer/Directors seldom rack up this number of nominations without a win, simply because, their presence on a ballot allows them to develop an ‘overdue’ narrative in ways that tech filmmakers cannot. But Leigh has been ignored for the win 7 times, both as writer and director for Vera Drake, Secrets and Lies, Topsy-Turvy, Another Year, and Happy Go Lucky. His most recent film, Mr. Turner, received 4 Nominations in below the line categories. His next film, Peterloo, “a drama based on events surrounding the 1819 Peterloo Massacre where British forces fired on a peaceful pro-democracy rally in Manchester” could net him nomination and loss number 8.


– Will Mavity

Mavericks’s Movies Final Oscar Winner Predictions

It’s that time of year again. Below are my annual Oscar predictions. The last two years I’ve mentioned how difficult the awards were going to be to predict, but this year is really something else. Since December, this season has been one of the most unpredictable races I’ve seen. Spotlight began the season as the clear frontrunner, then The Big Short came out of nowhere to take the lead, with The Revenant finally stealing all the momentum in the last few weeks. In all the year’s I’ve followed the Oscars (since 2002), I have never seen a three horse race for Best Picture. At most it was film vs film (Birdman vs Boyhood, 12 Years a Slave vs Gravity). And here’s the thing, no matter which of the three films wins, long-standing statistics are going to be broken. No film has won Best Picture without a SAG ensemble nomination (The Revenant) since 1995 or without either a WGA or Oscar screenplay nomination since the 1940s. No film has won Best Picture with 2 or fewer wins total since 1952 which will likely be the case if The Big Short or Spotlight win Best Picture. So buckle up…it’s going to be a weird night. I usually average between 21 and 24 out of 24 categories correctly. This year, I’m honestly not sure. I don’t like admitting uncertainty, but this year me (and every Oscar pundit on the internet) is going into the ceremony blind.

Picture: The Revenant

Alt. Spotlight, The Big Short


Most Oscar pundits are going with The Revenant here. It seems to have pulled a Million Dollar Baby and stolen all of the Best Picture momentum in the last few weeks. After missing crucial nominations from SAG (the screen actors guild) and the WGA (Writer’s Guild), and losing the win from the PGA (Producer’s Guild), which has chosen the same winner as the final Oscar winner since The Academy expanded Best Picture beyond 5 nominees in 2008, The Revenant racked up a killing at the box office, dramatically over performed on Oscar Nomination morning, won The Golden Globe for Picture and Director, the DGA (Director’s Guild), and the BAFTA (British Academy Awards). That’s a hell of a combination. The big question is: only the PGA uses the same voting system as The Academy (a preferential—ranked—ballot system). That system favors consensus films (films that get lots of #2 and #3 rankings). The Revenant lost the last time a group used this system. It’s incredibly divisive, meaning there’s a possibility it gets lots of #1s, but also lots of #8s, which makes it more vulnerable than many assume. Spotlight and The Big Short on the other hand will get those #2s and #3s. They’re less divisive than The Revenant, and feature “important movie” narratives. And believe me, those studios are riding those “important” narratives as hard as possible. Los Angeles is covered with posters and billboards for Spotlight with pictures of sexual abuse victims in the film crying and covered with quotes about victims that have come forward since the film’s release. The film’s twitter hashtag, #breakthesilence was one of the top trends last week. Trust me, voters love to feel good about themselves. This film has the actor’s support as is evidenced by its SAG win, and swept the critic’s awards. Don’t count this one out. I’m going with The Revenant, but my gut screams Spotlight. And then of course, The Big Short has its PGA win, which means in The Academy’s particular voting method, it does very well. It is one hell of a race.

Will certainty percentage: 35% (Bet your money on any of the three and you’re probably just as safe)

Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu- The Revenant

Alt. Adam McKay- The Big Short

This looks to be Inarritu’s Oscar. He won the DGA, the BAFTA, and The Golden Globe, as well as a slew of critic’s awards. The only thing that has me hesitating is the fact that it’s been more than 60 years since a Director won two Oscars back to back (he won Best Director last year for Birdman) and it would be the first time EVER a director won two Best Pictures back to back. But the direction is flashy, everybody knows how difficult the shoot was, and three of the other four nominees have comparatively subtle direction. If AMPAS really goes hard for The Big Short, they could choose Adam McKay, or if they’re feeling really wild, they could choose George Miller for Mad Max, but neither has the precursors to suggest that that will happen (even if Miller swept the critic’s awards).

Will certainty percentage: 80%

Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio- The Revenant

Alt. Him losing this award is a scientific impossibility. Not even gonna bother with an alt.

DiCaprio’s not losing. The category is weak this year, and he has a massive ‘overdue’ narrative going for him (just like Al Pacino and Paul Newman before him). Is this DiCaprio’s most deserving performance? No, of course not. But people want to see him win (he gets enormous standing ovations every time he wins), he’s in a best picture frontrunner, he’s won SAG, BAFTA, BFCA, The Golden Globe, and a slew of critic’s awards.

Will certainty percentage: 100% (If I’m wrong, the internet will collapse and my wrong prediction is the least of your problems)

Actress: Brie Larson- Room

Alt. See DiCaprio above

Larson has done a clean sweep of awards this year, just like DiCaprio. There really isn’t anyone who could challenge her (much as I would love to see Ronan do so).

Will certainty percentage: 95%

Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander- The Danish Girl

Alt. Kate Winslet- Steve Jobs

Alicia Vikander will win for two reasons: A) she had an amazing breakout year in 2015, starring in The Danish Girl, Ex Machina (for which she won more awards than The Danish Girl), Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Burnt and B) because hers is unequivocally a leading performance. If one runs the numbers, she is on screen almost exactly as much as Redmayne, and the film focuses more on her journey than on his. She’s on screen only 5 minutes less than Lead Actress frontrunner, Brie Larson. When you have the screen time of a lead to show off, chances are, you’re more likely to win than a true supporting performance with 15-20 minutes of screen time. (Rooney Mara also committed similar category fraud for Carol, but lacked the ‘breakthrough year’ narrative to win). Kate Winslet stands in second place in the category with BAFTA and Golden Globe wins, but one must take into account that both of those groups placed Vikander appropriately in lead, so the two were never competing with one another. Vikander has the SAG, the most important acting precursor, and the BFCA, plus the majority of critic’s awards.

Will certainty percentage: 85%

Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stallone- Creed

Alt. Mark Rylance- Bridge of Spies

Just like the character he plays, Stallone has been a perpetual underdog when it comes to awards. Forty years ago, he lost Best Actor for the original Rocky, while his film took home Awards for Picture and Director. This year, he missed SAG and BAFTA nominations, which typically would be a kiss of death for any hopeful victor (only two actors have EVER won an Oscar without a SAG nomination- Marcia Gay Harden for Pollock and Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained), but his comeback narrative has gotten people so on board (the idea of Stallone being…good again + playing the same character 40 years later gets people’s emotions going…and never underestimate the significance of sentimentality among voters). He keeps getting standing ovations at awards shows, and there isn’t a consistent alternative to choose from. Mark Ruffalo and Tom Hardy also missed SAG nominations and don’t have the narrative the Stallone has. Christian Bale won recently and doesn’t seem to have much passion behind the performance. Plus, neither he nor Mark Rylance were able to beat Idris Elba at the SAGs (when Elba wasn’t even nominated for the Oscar), which suggests a distinct lack of passion. If anyone beats Sly, it’ll be Rylance, the BAFTA winner. And yes…that could happen…but I think emotion will push Stallone to victory.

Will certainty percentage: 75%

Original Screenplay: Spotlight

Alt. Inside Out

Spotlight has won nearly every award given out for Original Screenplay this year, industry and critic alike. And the fact that the film was the clear frontrunner for Best Picture all December means it has a lot of support, much of which is due to its screenplay. This win is one of the safest bets of the night.

Will certainty percentage: 95%

Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short

Alt. Room

As another Best Picture frontrunner, this one has to win SOMETHING to go along with its potential Best Picture win. It has won of slew of Adapted Screenplay prizes (most importantly, the WGA and BAFTA), and serves as a way to reward Adam McKay for his transition from creator of Will Ferrell comedies into acclaimed creator of dramas without giving him Best Director.

Will certainty percentage: 90%

Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road

Alt. The Big Short

When in doubt with this category, go for flashy. Voters love flashy editing (hence Whiplash winning here over frontrunner, Boyhood last year and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo winning over The Artist in 2011). Mad Max has won the majority of the season’s editing prizes, in particular, the ACE (American Cinema Editors). And it’s about as flashy as editing gets this year. Its chief rival here is The Big Short, which is also really, really flashy in its editing, but more divisive. If Big Short, Spotlight, or The Revenant upset over Mad Max here, it will be a major clue as to who is winning Best Picture.

Will certainty percentage: 78%

Cinematography: The Revenant

Alt. Mad Max: Fury Road

Why did I even include an alt. here? This win has been locked in for a year. Fun fact, this will be Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s third win for Cinematography in a row.

Will certainty percentage: 98%

 Production Design: Mad Max: Fury Road

Alt. The Revenant, The Danish Girl

This is a weird year for Production Design. If either winner of the ADG (Art Directors Guild) wins (and one of them usually does) it will make for an incredibly atypical winner. Mad Max and The Revenant each won the ADG in their respective categories and both take place almost entirely outside…which means there aren’t a whole lot of sets…which is the definition of production design. A win here would be for Mad Max’s car designs or for The Revenant’s location scouting, two factors that in theory factor into the category, but never have before. The fact that neither is a clear frontrunner evokes 2012 or 2010, where any film in the category had a chance at the win (Anna Karenina and Life of Pi were duking it out in 2012 and King’s Speech and Inception were doing the same in 2010). In both cases, both frontrunners missed out for a surprising underdog: Lincoln and Alice in Wonderland respectively. So this year, two atypical frontrunners could cancel each other out, leaving room for the more traditional winner, The Danish Girl to take the prize.

Will certainty percentage: 65%

Costume Design: The Danish Girl

Alt. Mad Max Fury Road Carol, Cinderella

Like Production Design, this is a bit of a weird year. Mad Max won its category at the CDG (Costume Designer’s Guild) as well as the BAFTA and the BFCA. On the other hand, it would probably be the most atypical win in the category’s history. This is a category that loves classy period garb (The Great Gatsby, The Young Victoria, Marie Antoinette, etc). Which leads to The Danish Girl. The film isn’t particularly loved, but honestly, many of the winners in this category aren’t. This rewards the team who convincingly made Eddie Redmayne look like a woman, not to mention clothed dozens of extras in realistic period garb. The film also beat double nominee Sandy Powell at the Costume Designer’s Guild in the period category. I really could go either way on this one. And then three time winner Sandy Powell could manage to win for either Carol or Cinderella. It’s a weird category.

Will certainty percentage: 35% (God helps us all)

Makeup & Hairstyling: Mad Max: Fury Road

Alt. The Revenant

This is a category that will give an early idea of just how popular The Revenant is with voters. Tradition dictates that the film more likely to be a Best Picture contender wins over the flashier blockbuster in this category (Grand Budapest Hotel over Guardians of the Galaxy, Dallas Buyers Club over Lone Ranger and Bad Grandpa, Les Miserables over The Hobbit, etc) but here’s the thing…the flashier blockbuster (Mad Max) is also a Best Picture contender (although less than The Revenant). And flashy makeup in a Best Picture contender usually wins over subtle makeup in a Best Picture contender (Lord of the Rings films over A Beautiful Mind and Master and Commander). Mad Max also swept the Makeup and Hairstylist Guild Awards and won the BAFTA in the category as well. If they go full tech sweep for The Revenant, it could upset here, but Mad Max is the one to beat here.

Will certainty percentage: 75%

Sound Mixing: The Revenant

Alt. Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max seemed like the obvious winner here for most of the season, but The Revenant has slowly snatched all the momentum in tech categories across the board, winning both the CAS (Cinema Audio Society) and the BAFTA for sound. Films that win both categories seldom lose the Oscar. And sure, Mad Max’s sound work may be flashier, but The Revenant’s is showy as well, creating an all-encompassing natural sound scape that borders on surreal (DiCaprio breathing over the clouds, etc). Sound is crucial to the whole film experience here, and as cool as it would be to reward Mad Max for its wonderful mixing of diagetic and non-diagetic music (looking at you flamethrower guitar guy), chances are Frank A. Montaño (who is on his eight sound mixing nomination without ever winning) and the rest of The Revenant sound mixing team take this one home.

Will certainty percentage: 78%

Sound Editing: The Revenant

Alt. Mad Max: Fury Road

This is slightly more difficult to predict, as the MPSE (Motion Picture Sound Editors) aren’t announcing winners until after The Oscars, so we aren’t able to tell which film the industry prefers in that category. That being said, if you want to be safe here, don’t predict splits between the two sound categories…largely because many voters don’t know the difference between mixing and editing and just vote for the same film in both. You really only see splits when a film is ONLY nominated in Sound Mixing and not in editing (Les Miserables, Whiplash, Dreamgirls, etc). So honestly, Mad Max has the showier Sound Editing and would seem like a typical winner in this category, but The Revenant is probably taking Sound Mixing, so you might as well predict it in Editing as well.

Will Certainty percentage: 68%

Visual Effects: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Alt. Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant

This is another tough one. There is a long standing statistic against non-Best Picture nominees in this category: No Best Picture nominee has lost Visual Effects when nominated since 1970, when Patton lost to Tora Tora Tora. This is largely due to the fact that voters often simply vote for their favorite film in this category (see Hugo and Forrest Gump winning). The problem is, this year THREE of the five visual effects nominees are also Best Picture nominees. You never see that kind of overlap in this category. So, going by statistics, one would assume that the award would come down to Mad Max, The Revenant, or The Martian. But here’s the thing, Star Wars won the VES (Visual Effects Society) and the BAFTA for Visual Effects, a combination that seldom loses. And you have to wonder if the statistic against non Best Picture nominees in this category has to do more with the fact that voters often simply didn’t bother to watch films that were only nominated in the Visual Effects category and nowhere else. With Star Wars, however, you can safely guess that just about every voter in The Academy saw the film. This is really a Star Wars vs Mad Max race. Mad Max has history on its side and will win at least a few other tech awards, plus it has plenty of talk about its impressive use of practical effects. Star Wars has won the most important precursors, and one gets the feeling that the industry will want to reward the film that made it billions.

Will certainty percentage: 70%

Original Score: The Hateful Eight- Ennio Morricone

Alt. Carol- Carter Burwell, Thomas Newman- Bridge of Spies

Like DiCaprio’s win for The Revenant, Original Score will at least in part be a career win. Ennio Morricone is widely regarded as one of the greatest film composers of all time, having basically scored every Eastwood western ever made (all the great whistling themes? That’s him), yet at 87 years old, he has never won a competitive Oscar. After reusing old Morricone tracks in many of his films, Tarantino finally pulled Morricone out of semi-retirement (this is his first Hollywood film since 2000) to compose a score for The Hateful Eight. Critics and audiences may not have loved the film as a whole, but Morricone’s score was raved, and has won the majority of the precursors. It seems the industry agrees that it is finally Morricone’s time. Poor Thomas Newman…got his THIRTEENTH nomination without ever winning this year for Bridge of Spies. One of these years, I suppose.

Will certainty percentage: 88%

Original Song: Til it Happens to You- The Hunting Ground

Alt. Writing’s On the Wall- Spectre

AMPAS loves to award big stars in this category, and Lady Gaga remains one of the biggest. Her co-writer, Diane Warren is overdue (having been nominated 8 times and never won), and the song speaks to a timely subject (and a personal one for its writers): sexual assault. Plus the competition is thin: AMPAS is never going to give Fifty Shades of Grey an Oscar, so forget that one, and Writing’s on the Wall was savaged by many; critics and industry type alike (Golden Globe win aside). Simple Song #3 and Manta Ray are from comparatively small films and the showrunners aren’t even allowing them to perform on the show (which suggests they don’t have much faith in them winning either). So Gaga is the safe bet here.

Animated Film: Inside Out

Do I really need to explain this one?

Will certainty percentage: 100%

Documentary: Amy

Alt. The Look of Silence

Will certainty percentage: 85%

Foreign Film: Son of Saul

Will certainty percentage: 98%

I’ll do the shorts later.

If you’re planning on putting down money, here are the categories I’m certain about:

Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Animated Film, Best Foreign Film

Categories I’m pretty damn sure I got correct:

Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Documentary Feature

Categories I feel good about but an upset wouldn’t stun me:

Best Supporting Actor, Best Editing, Best Production Design, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing

God help us all:

Best Picture, Best Costume Design, Best Visual Effects


Maverick’s Movies Final 2016 Oscar Nomination Predictions

As you may know, Oscar nominations are out tomorrow. As always, here are my Final Predictions for tomorrow’s big day, as well as my rationale for why I’m predicting what I am.

The films are listed in alphabetical order, not likelihood to win.

Best Picture:

  1. The Big Short
  2. Bridge of Spies
  3. Brooklyn
  4. Carol
  5. Mad Max: Fury Road
  6. The Martian
  7. The Revenant
  8. Room
  9. Spotlight
  • If there are 10*
  1. Straight Outta Compton

Alternates: Sicario, Inside Out, Trumbo, Ex Machina

Under the current voting system, there can be anywhere between 5 and 10 Nominees for Best Picture. Typically we have 9. Last year we had 8. In order to get nominated, 5% of the Academy’s voting body has to put your film as number 1 on their ballots. It’s harder than it sounds, and the system rewards passion, not merely being well-liked. For predicting these, look to critic’s awards, which set the voting trends (but do not have members who actually vote in the Oscars), but more importantly to the guilds: Directors Guild, Screen Actors Guild, Writer’s Guild, etc. The same people who actually make up the Academy are the same people who vote for the guilds, so there is always a strong correlation between the two. Sicario and Straight Outta Compton have done nicely with the guilds, but will likely lack the required number of #1 votes to make it in, ultimately. Mad Max, on the other hand, will not appeal to a wide number of voters, but has enough of a diehard following in certain groups that it will likely make it.

Best Director:

  1. Todd Haynes- Carol
  2. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu- The Revenant
  3. Thomas McCarthy- Spotlight
  4. Adam McKay- The Big Short
  5. Ridley Scott- The Martian

Alternates. George Miller- Mad Max: Fury Road, Steven Spielberg- Bridge of Spies

There are quite a few people predicting George Miller for Mad Max. Let me say, I would not be shocked if he did in fact get in tomorrow. He’s gotten Golden Globe and Director’s Guild (DGA) Nominations. The DGA nominees almost never match the Oscar lineup 5/5. It is nearly always 4/5, with a surprising, less populist choice sneaking in. The DGA is bigger, and therefore rewards consensus. They have nominated Christopher Nolan three times, for example. They were more likely to reward Mad Max. The Academy’s directing branch, on the other hand, has never nominated Christopher Nolan (he is always the 1/5 that misses.) Instead, they nominate the likes of Terrence Malick for Tree of Life and Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher which missed the DGA. The reports of BAFTA voters refusing to even watch Mad Max, and Academy voters calling the film “moronic,” makes me think the strong genre (anti-Sci Fi/action) bias will prevail, and Todd Hayne’s more restrained work in Carol will get in instead.

Also, if Adam McKay does get in tomorrow for The Big Short, he will become “The Oscar Nominated Director of Anchorman, Step Brothers, and Talladega Nights” (He also played homeless deviant Dirty Mike in The Other Guys.)

Best Actor:

  1. Bryan Cranston- Trumbo
  2. Matt Damon- The Martian
  3. Michael Fassbender- Steve Jobs
  4. Leonardo DiCaprio- The Revenant
  5. Eddie Redmayne- The Danish Girl

Alt. Johnny Depp- Black Mass, Steve Carell- The Big Short, Will Smith- Concussion, Michael Caine- Youth

Cranston, Fassbender, DiCaprio & Redmayne have showed up at nearly every voting group for Best Actor this season. That final slot has been wide open. It’s a tight race between Damon (Golden Globe Winner, BAFTA nominee) and Depp (SAG Nominee). When in doubt, I usually fall back on whoever got into SAG, because they typically line up with the Oscar nominees closely, but this time, I’ll go with the actor who is in a film voters will prefer, and who has been hitting the campaign trail hard.

Best Actress:

  1. Cate Blanchett- Carol
  2. Brie Larson- Room
  3. Charlotte Rampling- 45 Years
  4. Saoirse Ronan- Brooklyn
  5. Alicia Vikander- The Danish Girl

Alt. Jennifer Lawrence- Joy, Rooney Mara- Carol, Maggie Smith- The Lady in the Van

This is a difficult category to predict because of a controversy surrounding something called “category fraud.” Category Fraud is the act of running a Leading Actor in Supporting, in order to give them a better chance at a nomination. Rooney Mara is the lead of Carol, and Alicia Vikander is the female lead of The Danish Girl. (Mara will have more screen time than any nominee in the history of Supporting Actress nominees if she is nominated.)

Vikander has started showing up in Lead categories (BAFTA, Golden Globes) for The Danish Girl, while also showing up for Ex Machina in Supporting. If enough voters put her in Lead, she will end up with two nominations and take Jennifer Lawrence’s spot. If she ends up in Supporting for The Danish Girl, Jennifer Lawrence will get in for Joy instead.

Best Supporting Actress:

  1. Jennifer Jason Leigh- The Hateful Eight
  2. Rooney Mara- Carol
  3. Rachel McAdams- Spotlight
  4. Alicia Vikander- Ex Machina
  5. Kate Winslet- Steve Jobs

Alt. Alicia Vikander- The Danish Girl, Helen Mirren- Trumbo, Jane Fonda- Youth.

 As I said above, Vikander could go Supporting here instead.

Best Supporting Actor:

  1. Christian Bale- The Big Short
  2. Idris Elba- Beasts of No Nation
  3. Mark Ruffalo- Spotlight
  4. Mark Rylance- Bridge of Spies
  5. Sylvester Stallone- Creed

Alt. Jacob Tremblay- Room, Michael Shannon- 99 Homes, Benicio Del Toro- Sicario, Paul Dano- Love & Mercy, Tom Hardy- The Revenant

This is easily the hardest category to predict this year. Pretty much every award’s group has gone for somebody different, with the only constant being Mark Rylance. I think Bale, Rylance, and Elba are safe. The last two spots are up in the air. Stallone will likely win if he gets nominated, but the fact that he missed a Screen Actor’s Guild nomination suggests he has a chance at missing a nomination here entirely. The Spotlight actors have missed with most groups. Ruffalo has the showiest part and got into BAFTA though. It needs some acting nominations if it wants to stay the Best Picture frontrunner. Don’t discount Michael Shannon. His film came from a tiny distributor, but showed up this season anyway, and clearly has a lot of passion behind it.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  1. The Big Short
  2. Brooklyn
  3. Steve Jobs
  4. The Martian
  5. Room

Alt. Carol, Trumbo, Anomalisa, The Revenant

This is a category playing a game of Musical chairs. The only one assured a nomination is The Big Short. Carol could VERY easily get in (probably over Room), but I’m gonna go with those 5.

Best Original Screenplay:

  1. Bridge of Spies
  2. Ex Machina
  3. The Hateful Eight
  4. Inside Out
  5. Spotlight

Alt. Sicario, Straight Outta Compton, Joy

This is another “musical chairs” situation. Bridge of Spies, Inside Out, and Spotlight are safe, but Hateful Eight underperformed critically and financially. Tarantino’s name alone will still probably get it in, but if Compton or Sicario get Best Picture nominations, watch out for them sneaking in here. As for Ex Machina, I’m still shocked it has made a showing here, but it has hit screenplay precursors frequently, and Sci Fi bias aside, seems to have a lot of support. It is still the most vulnerable of the 5, though.

Best Cinematography:

  1. Carol
  2. Bridge of Spies
  3. Mad Max: Fury Road
  4. The Revenant
  5. Sicario

Alt. The Hateful Eight, The Martian

Best Editing:

  1. The Big Short
  2. Mad Max: Fury Road
  3. The Martian
  4. The Revenant
  5. Spotlight

Alt. Sicario, Steve Jobs

Best Production Design:

  1. Bridge of Spies
  2. Carol
  3. The Danish Girl
  4. Mad Max: Fury Road
  5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Alt. Crimson Peak, Cinderella, The Martian, The Revenant

Best Costume Design:

  1. Brooklyn
  2. Carol
  3. Cinderella
  4. Crimson Peak
  5. The Danish Girl

Alt. The Hateful Eight, Mad Max: Fury Road, Trumbo, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Makeup & Hairstyling

  1. Black Mass
  2. Mad Max: Fury Road
  3. The Revenant

Alt. Mr. Holmes, The 100 Year Old Man who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared

Best Sound Mixing:

  1. Bridge of Spies
  2. Mad Max: Fury Road
  3. The Martian
  4. The Revenant
  5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Alt. Straight Outta Compton, The Hateful Eight, Sicario, Son of Saul, The Big Short

Best Sound Editing:

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. The Martian
  3. The Revenant
  4. Sicario
  5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Alt. The Hateful Eight, Inside Out

Best Visual Effects:

  1. Jurassic World
  2. Mad Max: Fury Road
  3. The Martian
  4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  5. The Walk

Alt. Ant Man, The Revenant, Ex Machina

The Revenant could very easily sneak in here. Its bear mauling scene netted it nominations from the Animator’s Guild and the Visual Effects Society. There is also a lot of subtle Visual Effects work on display in the film. For now, I’ll go with the showier option, however.

Best Original Score:

  1. Bridge of Spies
  2. Carol
  3. The Danish Girl
  4. The Hateful Eight
  5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Alt. Inside Out, Spotlight, Sicario, Brooklyn

Best Original Song:

  1. So Long- Concussion
  2. See You Again- Furious 7
  3. Til it Happens to You- The Hunting Ground
  4. Writing’s on the Wall- Spectre
  5. Simple Song #3- Youth

Alt. I’ll See you in my Dreams- I’ll See you in my Dreams, Feels like Summer- Shaun the Sheep, Love Me Like You Do- 50 Shades of Grey

Best Animated Film:

  1. Anomalisa
  2. Boy and the World
  3. Inside Out
  4. The Prophet
  5. Shaun the Sheep Movie

Alt. The Good Dinosaur, The Peanuts Movie

I’m not going to do Foreign, Documentary, and the Shorts categories right now. I can tell you that Amy and The Look of Silence are the two Documentary Frontrunners, and Son of Saul will certainly get into Foreign.

Total Nomination Tally:

  1. Carol 8
  2. Mad Max: Fury Road 8
  3. The Martian 8
  4. The Revenant 8
  5. Bridge of Spies 7
  6. Spotlight 6
  7. The Big Short 5
  8. The Danish Girl 5
  9. Star Wars: The Force Awakens 5
  10. Brooklyn 4
  11. The Hateful Eight 3
  12. Room 3
  13. Steve Jobs 3
  14. Ex Machina 2
  15. The Hunting Ground 2
  16. Inside Out 2
  17. Sicario 2
  18. 45 Years 1
  19. Anomalisa 1
  20. Beasts of No Nation 1
  21. Boy and the World 1
  22. Cinderella 1
  23. Black Mass 1
  24. Concussion 1
  25. Creed 1
  26. Crimson Peak 1
  27. Furious 7 1
  28. Jurassic World 1
  29. The Prophet 1
  30. Shaun the Sheep: The Movie
  31. Spectre 1
  32. Straight Outta Compton 1
  33. Trumbo 1
  34. Youth 1
  35. The Walk 1











Best Film Shots of 2015


Honorable Mentions:

Ex Machina

DP: Rob Hardy

15- Ex Machina


DP: Roger Deakins

14- Sicario

Ex Machina

DP: Rob Hardy

13 Ex Machina

Slow West

DP: Robbie Ryan

12 Slow West

The Hateful Eight

DP: Robert Richardson

11 Hateful Eight

The Top 10:

10: Beasts of No Nation

DP: Cary Fukunaga

Aside from striking contrast (I love me some sillouhettes), the charred ruins also represent Agu’s own ruined, charred childhood.

10 Beasts of No Nation

9. Brooklyn

DP: Yves Bélanger

The most memorable composition in a film full of pleasing, warm colors. This one is essentially the embodiment of nostalgia…which the whole film really is. It’s just…friendly.

9- Brooklyn

8. Mad Max: Fury Road

DP: John Seale

I had to include something from Mad Max. What is more epic and impressive looking than a convoy of souped up vehicles entering an electrical, screen swallowing sandstorm.8 Mad Max

7. Carol

DP: Edward Lachman

Lachman and Haynes chose to photograph the film extensively through windows, so as to emphasize the separation between the two lovers. This one is the most striking from a slew of striking window shots.

7- Carol

6. Youth

DP: Luca Bigazzi

Aside from being gorgeous to look at, here is the first of two ‘drowning’ images: this one depicting Caine drowning in his own musical insecurities.

6- Youth

5. The Final Girls

DP: Ellie Smolkin

A shockingly striking image for a low-budget horror comedy. The scene shown above, aside from having some wonderful colors also happens to be one of the most emotional scenes of the year. Who knew the song “Bette Davis Eyes” could be so touching?

5- The Final Girls

4. Macbeth

DP: Adam Arkapaw

I have nothing to say about this other than it looks obscenely cool. The most striking image in a film full of memorable images.

4- Macbeth

3. Bridge of Spies

DP: Janusz Kaminski

If we’re all being honest, I have no idea what this shot represents. But it’s a fascinating one to look at. Spy, Rudolph Able is depicted in three different ways in one frame (the mirror, the painting, and in his actual body, observing both images).

3- Bridge of Spies

2. 99 Homes

DP: Bobby Bukowski

If you haven’t seen the film, this shot goes through the window capturing Andrew Garfield passed out, drunk on the floor of his empty house against the reflection of an outdoor pool. The two images mesh to symbolize Garfield’s sensation of ‘drowning’ in his situation of gross immorality.2- 99 Homes1. Sicario

DP: Roger Deakins

Aside from being an absoutely stunning shot to look at, this shot singlehandedly sums up the entire film. Here the horizon looks like water in the sillouhettes. One by one, each member of the DEA descends into the darkness (of corruption). Blunt’s shadow is the last to descend, but ultimately she does as well. Plus, I’m a sucker for all things sunset.

1- Sicario