The Revenant seems to be at the head of the pack of a tight race for Best Picture at the 2016 Academy Awards. The film's gigantic scope and stunning visuals have impressed critics, as has the performance of the film's star, Leonardo DiCaprio. The film's director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, helmed last year's Best Picture winner, Birdman.
But The Revenant faces stiff competition from the category's other nominees. Spotlight, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Big Short have been widely lauded as great films that should not be overlooked. The Big Short has one leg up on the rest: it won the Producers' Guild of America award this season. As The Daily Beast pointed out, every PGA Best Picture winner has gone on to win the Oscar.
The Daily Beast went on to say that many recent Best Picture Oscar winners have been quickly forgotten, perhaps showing that immediate buzz around a film does not signal that it will become a film for the ages. There's another strike against The Revenant when it comes to Oscar history: according to Vulture, no film since another Leonard DiCaprio drama -- Titanic -- has won Best Picture without being nominated for its screenplay.
The Big Short offers a humorous but still educational take on the economic crash of 2008. As NPR reported, the film's writer-director, Adam McKay, has a background in comedy. He's written such well-know joke fests as Anchorman and Talladega Nights and started the web channel Funny or Die. It might seem a strange fit for McKay to be at the helm of a film about the world economy, especially with comedic actor Steve Carell in the starring role. Carell, however, did demonstrate his substantial skill as a dramatic actor in last year's Foxcatcher.
The Big Short intersects the story of real-life characters who predicted the market crash -- and profited from it -- with celebrity cameos that explain to the audience the technical aspects of the situation. In one scene, Selena Gomez speaks directly to the camera. That technique was effective for reviewers at The Daily Beast who noted, "Margot Robbie in a bathtub explaining sub-prime loans might just be the most important 45 seconds in cinema history."
The Revenant made news for its brutal shoot, which required difficult days in cold winter conditions. As The Guardian reported, the director insisted on using natural light and minimal special effects. Extensive filming delays resulted and several crew members quit. However, Iñárritu said his "bad" and "irresponsible" decisions were worth it for the film.
"But we need that sometimes – to be naive, blind from reality. If not, we will not embark on things. I'll be an office guy or whatever. I mean, I'm not an idiot – I knew how difficult it would be. But I can feel now how far I was from reality when I was deciding how this was to be made. I'm glad that I made that irresponsible decision, but it could have been really bad. You know what I mean? Like when you climb Mount Everest and nobody dies, but we were so close! It's that feeling of relief."Vulture ultimately predicted that The Revenant would win both Best Picture and Best Director at the Oscars. The Big Short was identified as the "dark horse" in each category. The Revenant did pick up Best Picture at the BAFTAs -- the British version of the Oscars -- and the Golden Globes.
The Academy Awards air on ABC.
[Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images]