Despite what we might have thought about The Revenant, it’s pretty clear that Leo will win an Oscar for it. Nearly every year there’s a category like this, where the winner is a foregone conclusion. 2016 is no different: the publicity machine has been primed and running for months, the performance is difficult and true, and, frankly, it’s Leo’s turn. It’s his sixth time being nominated. The Internet has created a flurry of memes about his history of losing. And anyone who put up with both the cold Albertan winter (despite the Chinooks) and maintaining a woodsman’s beard for like an entire year deserves some gold hardware.
But that doesn’t mean he’s going to be the only one in the category that will have a good night. The real winner in this category will be Bryan Cranston. Because he’s the surest bet to lose. Sometimes assured failure is absolute freedom.
Let’s break it down:
Eddie Redmayne: He won last year for playing Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. This year, while the performance as a historical trans woman in The Danish Girl was compelling, it also came off as a bit reaching, as though Redmayne only considered Oscar bait roles that were built on marginalized people. See, he can act! And while I’m sure he’d love to pull a Hanks (who also won twice in a row for playing marginalized men), the stakes aren’t really high for him. Still, anyone who so clearly wants to play challenging roles will be surprised by how upset he’ll feel. Luckily, he’ll probably be the best dressed of the bunch. The red carpet love will keep him warm.
Michael Fassbender: That Fassbender won’t win this year is probably very frustrating for Michael Fassbeneder. The role of Steve Jobs, especially after Ashton Kutcher failed so hard at it, had pre-ordained buzz from the moment it was announced. Fassbender would get to humanize a complicated and beloved public figure — which the Academy loves — speaking words written by Aaron Sorkin. This year, Fassbender is the cinematic equivalent to Karl Malone playing for the Lakers during his last season. Compounding that frustration is the growing fear that after two losses, he’ll become the next meme, always striving, never winning. Nobody wants to be the Susan Lucci of the Oscars.
Matt Damon: While Damon has also been nominated before in this category, that loss (for Good Will Hunting) was tempered by a Best Screenplay Oscar that same year. He won’t be as sad as Fassbender. Still, despite his affable demeanor, there’s a darkness that will be lurking behind his concessionary smile, as he counts the years since 1997 and realizes how many movies he’s made since that time that didn’t get him an award. Nothing for playing Bourne? Nothing for Elysium, True Grit, The Monuments Men? Sure, he understands he’s not going to win this time around, but there’s a part of him, a secret part that he barely allows himself to recognize, that will hope for an upset. He’ll have a speech prepared. He’ll have written it late one night, and hidden it on his phone. He may not ever delete it.
Then there’s Bryan Cranston. Never been nominated before—barely been a leading man in movies before. He’s earned enough accolades in television that he doesn’t need the award to feed his ego. And the gift of the first Oscar nomination is that, forever afterward, should a marketing department deem it helpful, he can be listed as Academy Award Nominee Bryan Cranston. Boom. He has become prestige personified. Two-time nominees are losers, but first time nominees are remembered forever in movie trailers and puffy profiles. That’s why, even though he will most assuredly lose, this year it’s good to be Cranston. He can relax and enjoy his swag.
Incidentally, because one can’t write about the Oscars without at least mentioning this year’s unbearable whiteness, it’s also good to be Michael B. Jordan. The Creed actor likely deserved some award attention, but now he gets the critical buzz of being passed over unjustly. Award bet: he’ll present at the Oscars and get some mad love from the white-guilt-burdened crowd. And you know who they’ll cut to during the applause break? Bryan Cranston. Not because he has anything to do with Jordan, but because Cranston will seem the most encouraging of all the men in that category. Because he can be.