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Nomineering, Week 6: So, is The Revenant just going to win everything?

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Weighing the Oscar front-runner's Best Picture odds

Kimberley French / 20th Century Fox

Welcome to Nomineering, where we take a weekly look at the news and stories behind the most lavish, high-budget spectacle the film industry has to offer: Oscar season. No matter how you feel about them, awards are one of the key ways to gut check what Hollywood itself thinks is important, with winning films often opening doors and setting the agenda for which kind of movies will be made in the coming years — and which ones won’t. From the surprise nominations that foretell an upset, to the last minute surges that see the most unlikely of films, um, crash into a Best Picture win, Nomineering tells the story from the beginning of the year all the way until the ceremony itself. This week we look at the results of the Directors Guild of America Awards, and how The Revenant is shaping up to be this year’s Oscar frontrunner.

Last week the Director’s Guild of America held its annual awards, and it all but aligned the Oscar stars for Alejandro Iñárritu by giving him the Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film award for The Revenant. It was the second win in a row for Iñárritu — last year he nabbed the award for Birdman — and the first time any director has won back-to-back in the nearly 70-year history of the DGA Awards. As we discussed last week, the DGA has predicted the winner of the Oscar directing award nine out of the last 10 times, and the win made him the definitive Oscar frontrunner for Best Director. But that’s just the latest piece to fall into place for Iñárritu’s grueling survival film, so with the Academy Awards just over two weeks away it’s time to step back and see how The Revenant is shaping up across the board — and why it might not really be the juggernaut it seems to be.

The Revenant led the Oscar field this year with a total of 12 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio, and Best Supporting Actor for Tom Hardy. Unlike Birdman last year, the movie earned no nominations for its script, leaving the rest of the total to below-the-line categories, ranging from cinematography and costume design, to visual effects and sound editing.

Engineered for a Best Cinematography win

Of those eight nominations, The Revenant seems most likely to win for cinematography thanks to Emmanuel Lubezki’s stunning camera work. The film has some tough competition — Mad Max: Fury Road and The Hateful Eight are among the other nominees — but the joke in some circles has always been that the Oscar for Best Cinematography might as well be called the Gorgeous Landscapes Award, and that, combined with Lubezki’s bold decision to shoot only with natural light, makes The Revenant seem outright engineered for a win. While The Hateful Eight and its much-hyped Ultra Panavision 70 release could also fill that role, Tarantino’s film seems utterly devoid of any awards season momentum at this point (and let’s be honest: while the film was beautiful in flashes, it was also largely set inside a cramped cabin). The American Society of Cinematographers will hold their own awards this weekend, and if Lubezki walks away with a win The Revenant seems all but guaranteed here.

Best Film Editing is another potential opportunity for The Revenant, but the winds have been blowing in different directions there, with the American Cinema Editors group honoring The Big Short and Mad Max: Fury Road instead back in January. Other categories are similarly fluid. Visual effects and sound awards are often places the Academy Awards give a token nod to special effects-laden blockbusters, with The Martian and Star Wars: The Force Awakens the likely beneficiaries this year. And while the costume and production design in The Revenant are both undeniably excellent, the Academy tends to prefer prefer classical costumes and flashy design, giving movies like Carol and Cinderella an edge in the former category, and Fury Road and The Martian one in the latter.

No, this won't be Tom Hardy's year

But few people are going to be turning on their TVs for below-the-line awards, and it’s in the main categories that The Revenant is really poised to shine. First off: no, it won’t be Tom Hardy’s year — if Golden Globe winner Sylvester Stallone doesn't win as the sentimental favorite, then Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), or even Christian Bale (The Big Short) will be swooping in — but Leonardo DiCaprio is as close to a lock as you can get. He snagged the Golden Globe, the SAG award, he’s the choice of film critics associations around the world; DiCaprio has so dominated the conversation in this category that it’s been difficult to remember who the other nominees even are at this point (hint: it’s Bryan Cranston and some other guys). Alejandro Iñárritu? Same deal. You (or I) may think George Miller actually deserves it more, but that’s nothing in the face of unstoppable awards season momentum.

With both Iñárritu and DiCaprio looming triumphant, it’s easy to assume that The Revenant is headed for another Birdman victory lap, with Best Picture just waiting in the wings — but not so fast.

Hollywood loves to prove it cares about socially-relevant films

Amongst the eight nominees, two other films have shown real signs of life in recent weeks. Journalism drama Spotlight picked up the award for Outstanding Cast in a Motion Picture at the SAG Awards, and the Producer’s Guild named Adam McKay’s financial crisis explainer The Big Short Best Theatrical Motion Picture. The PGA has been on a Best Picture prediction tear, naming the Oscar winner every single year since 2007, and while SAG’s ensemble award doesn’t score nearly as high in reliability, the win is nevertheless indicative that there’s a real late surge going on with both films.

Perhaps even more importantly, they’re the kind of stories that the Academy loves to prove it cares about: compellingly crafted films that don’t just entertain, but touch upon important social issues. In a year when it has faced such harsh criticism, it wouldn’t be at all surprising for the Best Picture Oscar to skitter out of the hands of what is ultimately just a revenge movie, and head instead to a film that would let the Academy pat itself on the back — because they awarded a film that’s about something.

Catch up with awards season news from the week:

DGA Awards: The Complete Winners List
"‘My father died and I think he’s doing business up there to make this happen,’ said Iñárritu in his acceptance speech." (Deadline)

Oscar winners will no longer have to worry about forgetting who to thank onstage
"If you still don’t see your name on the scroll, then you’ll know where you and that Oscar winner really stand." (Slate)

Leonardo DiCaprio will be pleased to hear there’s a vape in the $200,000 Oscars swag bag this year
"…including a vape pen, sex toys, underarm sweat patches, a year’s worth of Audi A4 rentals, vampire breast-lifts, personal-training sessions with a celebrity trainer, a walking tour in Japan, and a trip to Israel." (Vulture)