Time isn’t linear. Every moment, an infinite number of things could happen, and do happen in certain theoretical models of the universe. This Nolan-like mini-lecture on theoretical astrophysics will help you understand the trip we’re about to take.
You see, we wanted to make a case for each nominee in the Best Picture category in this year’s Oscars. But that’s too easy. With our passion and brain trust, we could easily convince you readers to root for any of these films. They are, after all, even with obvious snubs and exclusions, a relatively good batch of nominees, compared to other years. So instead of pleading the case for each film we have decided to give you a glimpse into the future and what it might look like if each of the nominees won Best Picture. Starting with…
The Revenant (2026)
David Shreve, Jr.
With yesterday’s rumored sighting of a disillusioned Leonardo DiCaprio crawling in the Yukon Territory and the impending 10th anniversary of The Revenant’s historic Oscar night, it is almost as if the universe wants us to remember its relationship with Alejandro González Iñárritu’s second Academy Award-winning directorial effort. Indeed, with all that has happened since that milestone evening in Hollywood, the film and its exploration of man’s will to exist within the wonder of this planet and the surrounding universe has never been far from our culture’s shared artistic consciousness.
In the years since its release, even as many have directly or indirectly blamed The Revenant for sparking the catastrophic downward spiral of its leading man, the admiration for the film’s measured philosophical grandiosity has only grown. Critics have come to largely agree on the film being a relatively modest and universally accessible second chapter in the movies that now make up the “Four Straight” film series–that is, of course, the unofficial, peripherally thematic series created by Iñárritu’s record-holding four straight Best Picture wins. The Revenant was thought to be a little less specific and less combatant than the preceding year’s Birdman. It’s seen as far less abstract than the follow-up guerilla exercise Cycle, a film that once again saw a collaboration between Iñárritu and his trusted cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki as they filmed the live birth of an infant and the natural death of that infant’s grandfather, captured in natural light and what was advertised to be one uncut shot.* And, of course, The Revenant holds far more favor than Iñárritu’s divisive Are We There Yet 2: Are We Ever There?, a comparative measure that became doubly accurate when, after the film landed his last Oscar statue, questionable audio surfaced that seemed to document the director in a private conversation, confessing that he only took on the unlikely sequel project to prove that “I can get these old racist motherf*ckers to give me the statue for anything.”
So, though it is now a distant memory, it is still worth remembering that The Revenant was once maligned in certain circles before DiCaprio’s self-destruction. Before the internet tool Twitter changed its User Interface to exclusively display simple polls asking how angry its users are about daily issues, the site allowed for custom status posting, with a character limit, so that individual users might provide more detailed descriptions of their dissatisfaction. Many tweeters, as they were called, then described the film as “pretentious,” “full of arrogance,” and “wtf who gonna say they hate superheroes and then have a dude beat up a bear and live through a blizzard???”
Strangely, that backlash seemed to fade right around DiCaprio’s first post-Oscar loss meltdown, when, partying with a boat full of European models, the dejected actor spotted a circling school of tiger sharks and jumped into the water swinging fists. A few weeks later, he was arrested for sneaking into a California zoo, beard to his knees, man-bun askew, drunk, and mumbling about “Grizzly revenge.” By the end of that year, DiCaprio had signed on to through grueling film projects, the preparation for which included crab-crawling everywhere for nine and a half months, spending a whole year using T9 texting, and being cryogenically frozen for five months.
By the time DiCaprio was reported missing in 2023, most everyone had come to see his snubbed performance as a form of acting untouched by other performers, an anti-method so involving that it entirely destroyed his interest in any other approach. It is almot as if the movie-going public both credited The Revenant with discovering this form and blamed it for the subsequent damage. Given that The Academy has yet to release the identity of this year’s scheduled Academy Honorary Award recipient, there is fair speculation that, whether cheap PR stunt or righteous corrective measure, DiCaprio’s name will finally be announced as an Oscar Winner this Sunday. We can only hope that he is somewhere where the news can reach him.
*Representatives of Roger Deakins presented convincing evidence that the studio’s extensive publicizing of the film’s uncut single take are likely dishonest. Deakins retired in 2019, and, when asked to comment on the integrity of the film’s claim, the Oscar-less Deakins replied with only, “Who gives a f*ck any more?”
The Martian (2026)
This week, we’re all looking ahead to Sunday’s 98th Academy Awards ceremony, though many viewers will only be tuning in to see if the hologram of Billy Crystal will be as glitchy as the hologram of Ricky Gervais at last month’s Golden Globes. While everyone looks forward, I’d like to take a look in the opposite direction – ten years back, to be precise. A week before the 88th Oscars, most people still considered the race to be pretty close. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant had pulled ahead of Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight as the favorite, but Adam McKay’s The Big Short was a strong dark horse contender. The ultimate success of Ridley Scott’s The Martian, a film which hadn’t even received a Best Director nomination, blindsided Oscar bloggers everywhere.
The Martian got little retrospective attention on its tenth birthday last fall. Though it was well-received by critics at the time, its Best Picture win gave way to inevitable backlash. The fact that George Miller’s perennial classic Mad Max: Fury Road didn’t manage an underdog victory was, in retrospect, likely to blame. In comparison to that film, The Martian came across as boring, commercial, and worst of all safe. People were prepared for Mad Max to lose to Oscar bait like Spotlight or The Revenant. Losing to The Martian was a cross they were unprepared to bear.
So what did The Martian’s win signify for the Academy? For starters, you can’t talk about the 88th Oscars without talking about the #OscarsSoWhite campaign. After the second straight year with no non-white actors up for awards, the outcry over the Academy’s lack of diversity was louder than ever. Looking back at that year’s Best Picture line-up, you could argue that The Martian had the most diverse cast of the eight nominees. That admittedly wasn’t a high bar to clear. But it could be read as an attempted statement from the Academy’s voters, many of whom, you may remember, had just learned that their voting rights would soon evaporate under the Academy’s new rules. They couldn’t go back and fix the nominations, but they could put their weight behind the most diverse (and least objectionable) nominee that they could find. If this is the case, it backfired spectacularly. The Martian was widely lambasted as a white-bread Best Picture pick. Matt Damon’s controversial comments about diverse hiring practices several months earlier returned to the public discourse and exacerbated the outrage. Despite just barely having the most diverse cast, The Martian became the de facto poster child for an Oscar year dominated by whiteness.
It’s also worth noting that this was the first time since 2008 that Best Picture went to the highest-grossing nominee at the box office. The aforementioned new Academy rules were designed to chase out older hangers-on, people who got in on a technicality but hadn’t worked in the industry for decades. The Academy has always battled criticism that it’s out of touch, though their solutions tend to be impermanent. Expanding the Best Picture category to between six and 10 nominees briefly worked. For the first few years, crowd favorites like Inception and art-house darlings like The Tree of Life managed to make it in. But things quickly returned to the status quo. The year prior to The Martian’s win was a particularly bad field in this regard, with the divisive American Sniper being the only box office success to land a nomination. You have to remember that, prior to its win, The Martian was well-liked by almost everyone. It was the film that those tuning in to view the ceremony were most likely to have seen. Giving it the big award could have been an attempt at populist redemption on the Academy’s part. Too bad the damage had already been done on that score. Films like Creed and Straight Outta Compton were similarly beloved of the masses and of critics, and their exclusion in favor of something like The Martian only served to highlight the Academy’s prejudice and hypocrisy.
When Tom McCarthy and his producers took the stage at the 88th Oscars to pick up the Oscar for Best Picture, we could never have imagined what would come next. Actually, I did sort of predict that Iñárritu would storm the stage, trying to grab the Oscar back screaming, “Nature is God! Don’t you get it? Was that not made clear in my film!” before security dragged him away. He had already lost Best Director to George Miller earlier in the night, so it’s almost acceptable that he would lose his mind seeing Spotlight win Best Picture.
Aside from Iñárritu’s freak out though who could have imagined the events of the next ten years?
First, the erasure of Tom McCarthy’s pre-Spotlight movie, The Cobbler. Erased from DVDs and any form of streaming and also each viewer hypnotised to forget they had seen it and that it had even existed. I mean, you’re probably reading this now saying, “What’s The Cobbler?” Don’t worry about it. You’re best off not knowing.
The resurgence of procedural movies was a beautiful thing. To have All the President’s Men and Zodiac now taught in every school from high school onwards was a nice touch. And, speaking of Zodiac, holding a very special Oscars ceremony that replayed 2007’s event but with Zodiac actually nominated for awards was lovely to see. It has become a bit overwhelming to have cinema gradually become a bunch of indies and then three superhero movies and three hard-hitting crime investigation movies each year, and though people claim there is “procedural fatigue”, the box office seems to disagree. Much in the same way that superhero movies began to recast and reboot every few years, the procedural movie is going through the same thing with the genre-swapped Erin Brockovich coming out this summer. Only time will tell if Tom Hardy can match Julia Roberts’ Oscar winning performance.
Finally, and I probably should have opened with this, who could have predicted that upon the movie winning the Best Picture Oscar, Pope Francis would walk out onto the balcony of St. Pauls and abolish the catholic church? When he said, “Rachel McAdams masterfully understated performance and Mark Ruffalo’s embodiment of his character really made me rethink this whole thing with priests and cover-ups and everything. I did some digging myself, and the Catholic Church has done some shit. Like, heinous shit. I mean, have you guys heard about the Spanish Inquisition? That shit was f’ed up. Anyway, we’re done. Whichever cardinal leaves the Vatican last can switch off the lights. Peace.”
It was a moment that will be forever remembered, debated, and quoted. And watched, as next year sees Tom McCarthy’s movie about the Pope’s investigation into the history of Catholicism, Pontification starring Eddie Redmayne as Pope Francis.
A decade has passed since the mass exodus of 2016 – in which that best picture victory at the 88th annual Academy Awards transitively sparked the largest emigration from the continental United States since global warming turned Alaska into an island paradise with cheap real estate, tax incentives, and polar bears galore. Yes, when Brooklyn surprised the world by winning that coveted award, and was thus, given a second theater run, in which it sailed past Star Wars: The Force Awaken’s box office record, straight into the general populace’s hearts. (Though the record was consequently broken by the sequel Brooklyn ‘99 [not to be confused with hit Andy Samberg television show, now on its 12th season and still going strong Brooklyn 99.])
Back then, you would have been hard-pressed to find a single person who hadn’t seen the film. After the first few waves of departures thinned the American population down, distributor Fox Searchlight became federally required to put a warning before each screening. But the damage is done, and the rest is history. Who would have thought that a movie would have be able to trigger that much nostalgia for one’s home country?
But if there’s anything else that Brooklyn can be remembered for (besides it leading to the invention of time travel in order for fans to directly visit that charming, simpler past), it is the creation of the newest hyper-genre. The period between 2009 – 2015 was indelibly known as the superhero era, in which Marvel and DC struggled for supremacy; but this new decade (and who knows, perhaps century?), influenced by Brooklyn’s success and also that of Mistress America and Carol’s undoubtedly belongs to the “young-female-living-and-finding-herself-in-a-New-York-borough” brand of filmmaking.
Which brings us to the present: I do not envy the academy charged with picking this year’s Oscar winners. It was a given that a Brooklyn sequel or spinoff would win every Best Picture Oscar since 2016 – I mean it did become a bit of a cultural phenomenon – but who could have predicted that the Best Picture category, for the first time in history, would all be films from the same franchise? Does the prequel Gaul, in which a Celtic teenage girl travels across the Iberian Peninsula, finding love in the process take the victory? Or does New Brooklyn, the first sequel to take place on the Brooklyn Space Colony walk away the winner? Talks surrounding the decision have even began to muffle the jokes involving Leonardo DiCaprio still not winning an Oscar, after losing to Eddie Redmayne playing a gender-ambiguous human who sexually identifies as an attack helicopter.
The Big Short (2026)
Back when The Big Short happened to still be in theaters, there were some odd folks buzzing about, warning current and future college goers to do radical things such as “attend a college you can afford,” “work while you’re in school,” and “your first apartment doesn’t need a Jacuzzi and fitness center—you’re 19 and a broke college kid,” but this nonsense didn’t faze America’s bright youth. But in 2016, when 74% of Millennials, angered that would be-savior Bernie Sanders didn’t earn the democratic presidential nomination, retaliated against President Hilary Clinton and the federal government by collectively defaulting on their student loans early the following year, the stage was set for what would come to be known as the Greater Recession of 2018. Bear in mind, ten years ago there was such a thing as a federally insured student loan and Americans had about a trillion and a half dollars worth of those. Yeah, remember when the government loaned 18-year-old credit ghosts tens of thousands of dollars with really no thought—on either end—of the likelihood of repayment?
But of course the Student Loan Default Crisis didn’t single-handedly topple the U.S. economy. Back in the early 2010s, if you’ll remember, there was a resurgence of energy and mining companies on U.S. soil. These companies took poor communities by storm, buying up land rights from people who had little more than said land, and generously doling out money to their employees, whose jobs served as a swift lesson in feast or famine. Now, while environmentalists had more than their share of concerns, much like the housing market crash of 2008, only a few people were really paying attention to the financial implications of such a surge and the hand the banks would have in what would happen next. Sounds familiar, right? The banks started handing out leveraged loans, commercial loans made possible by a group of lenders, with the same frequency and discretion as their lobby lollipops. What we’ve come to find out in recent years is that leveraged loans sound a hell of a lot like the junk bonds and subprime mortgages. (Anytime you hear subprime, think shit. In Ryan Gosling’s voice, of course.)
After the Great Recession, you know, what The Big Short so eloquently covered, some of those corporations I mentioned went on to borrow $5.7 trillion. Yeah, trillion with a T. Let me break this down for you Margot Robbie style (well, sorta). These leveraged loans were made by banks to give to companies with “junk credit ratings in the hopes of quickly selling the debt to investors, including mutual funds, hedge funds and entities called collateralized loan obligations.” Notice those quotation marks? The New York Times published that the same year The Big Short debuted in theaters. It was all fine and good, of course, until oil prices plummeted, their excess debt realized, and leveraged loan default rates skyrocketed. The banks’ exposure to those garbage loans set the stage for the ripple effect, compromising the economy just as it was finally surging a decade after the housing market crash. And in case you didn’t notice, we’ve been paying for it ever since.
The Big Short’s 10-year Best Picture anniversary ought to have been a glowing reflection of a flawless cast in an exceptional dramedy about a devastating, humorously demystified, financial crisis. And sure, we could talk about how Christian Bale took out that restraining order against Adam McKay after his strange series of off-off Broadway plays suspiciously resembling the actor’s personal life, or how Steve Carell appeared on four of the last 10 People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive covers, more than all of his Big Short cast mates combined. But on this anniversary of a great movie winning a great award, we’re left with this valuable reminder: After the big banks fuck us all, we never say anything but thank you.
Bridge of Spies (2036)
It’s been two decades since Bridge of Spies inexplicably, yet deservedly, won its Oscar. I’m ashamed to admit to having forgot this was the coveted Best Picture winner of 2016, but it’s exciting to reminisce on Bridge of Spies for a multitude of reasons. It represents a time when Spielberg made movies before he got stuck making a trilogy of trilogies for the Indiana Jones series. It showcases one of President Tom Hanks’ greatest contributions to his country before his 13 year presidency. But most importantly, it shines a light on the best aspects of American history and why we were once a great nation before our Chinese overlords reigned supreme and began eating upper class white Americans as delicacies.
President Hanks had a certain way of performing where you were always aware of him as an actor, but he had a resounding empathy to the point where we each felt like we knew him as well as any close relative or sibling. His aura of emotions poured over us in the theater. Spielberg and Hanks had several collaborations, and this one remains a favorite because of the straight laced nature. That context allowed for the themes and philosophies of the project to project a vision of America where we saw good men stand up for what they believed in.
Captain America writer J. Michael Straczynski wrote it best:
Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right.
This nation was founded on one principle above all else: The requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — “No, YOU move.”
This is why storytelling matters. This is why communication matters. This is why symbols matter. This is why art matters. Art isn’t just about how much you suffer for it. It’s about everything. It’s about sharing a message with people.
It’s a shame it took so long for people to acknowledge Spielberg’s 21st century era work as literally God Tier Cinema. Not only was he making gigantic populist blockbusters with weight to them, but he was also still positing deeper philosophical ideas with artists who would go on to change the course of our nation’s history. I for one am glad to have revisited Bridge of Spies, and I hope you will too.
Writer’s Note: I understand this post comes a decade after the Chivo Space Station Incident where Alejandro González Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezki were so set on filming a movie among the stars; they and their crew were accidentally jettisoned into the vacuum of space. Please tweet your condolences to the family.
Thirty years have come and gone since 2016’s viscerally emotional and tragically real novel adaptation Room took home the trophy for Best Picture at the Oscars. Brie Larson launched herself onto our radar with her breakout performance as Ma, snagging her first Best Actress victory and never looking back. Many are calling her this generation’s Meryl Streep after garnering 26 nominations in the last three decades, only neglecting to add to her statue collection during years she didn’t make a film at all. This year she has been nominated for Best Actress for lending her voice to an unnamed doll who is donated to a garage sale within the first 15 minutes of Toy Story 17: Andy Retires.
Child star Jacob Tremblay, however, has been suffering what many cinephiles these days refer to as the “Leo” curse. After losing the 2016 Best Actor race to Matt Damon, DiCaprio’s career choices, along with his mental stability, began to suffer. He took on roles even Nicolas Cage and Samuel L. Jackson turned down, realizing if he couldn’t fill the open spot on his mantle with an Oscar, he might as well line it with Razzies instead. Similarly, Tremblay has struggle to earn the awards attention he deserves even after his performance in Room propelled him to become the most sought after actor in Hollywood. Unfortunately, the toll of taking on challenging roles without the reward of Academy recognition has also caused Tremblay to make some poor decisions.
We remember Room and the careers it sparked in particular this year because of the release of a sequel that threatens to taint the original films reputation and the impact it had on its viewers. Tremblay was seduced by Michael Bay, who approached him with a vision of a darker, more twisted follow-up to this inspirational story. The sequel revolves around Jack’s character never fully adjusting to the outside world and the stain of the decisions humanity has made as a whole, growing up to slowly begin to believe life truly is better in Room. He becomes so adamant in this realization that he believes all children would be better off being raised in Room, spawning a new generation of people who aren’t susceptible to the current contamination of society.
In a spin that Bay pitched as so genius and ironic that it’s sure to generate and Oscar-worthy performance, Tremblay has accepted the role of Jack, now an adult, and a more diabolical villain than Old Nick ever was, if that’s even possible. Will this film be the catastrophe we’re all expecting and the potential demise of Trembley’s career? Or will we cinephiles be shocked and awed by the sequel to this beloved Oscar winner?
Mad Max: Fury Road (2046)
We won. Right before we lost everything, we saw the briefest glimmer of hope on the horizon, the possibility for change. It’s been 30 years since Mad Max: Fury Road won Best Picture at the Oscars. Thirty years of toil and strife, of pain under the rule of our now ancient Dictator. Our borders shut off, our people trapped like rats in the ever growing squalor that separates the impoverished from the wealthy, we long for freedom and redemption. But how can an entire country be redeemed in the eyes of the world? No, we didn’t break the world like so many said we would. The rest of the planet wouldn’t allow for it, so they sought to destroy us. It’s impossible to blame them. After years of threats of nuclear war from our former-elected leader, the rest of the world had no choice but to retaliate. Our annihilation didn’t come in the form of fire but chemicals. Our President then denied us a chance for escape; he forbid it. He let our food supply become corrupted, watched as millions died as clouds of poisonous gas settled above our land. We who survived wondered why. In our disillusion we clung to our memories, and for many, witnessing Fury Road win Best Picture was the last time they felt genuine pleasure.
In the months after its win, Fury Road was re-released and box office sales skyrocketed. Fury Road finally found the financial success it so deserved. Warner Bros. announced two sequels to be filmed back to back: Mad Max: Thunderworld, and Mad Max: Road’s End were set for release in 2020 and 2021. George Miller and Tom Hardy had both signed on to return. A Furiosa spin-off, titled after her namesake and starring Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, and Aaron Paul, was set to be directed by Michelle MacLaren and scheduled for 2018. The outpouring of excitement was nearly overwhelming, so much so that even the cries “overrated!” and “It had no story!” of Fury Road’s detractors were mercifully drowned out. Hollywood scoopers did their best to find out information about the upcoming films, while media outlets wrote article after article of speculations and think-pieces on what Fury Road’s win meant for the future of film. Those were the brief golden months before we realized there was no future of film.
With November came the fall of all we held dear. Donald Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States to the shock and dismay of many. The same news outlets that had spent so much time discussing him, interviewing him, and providing him a platform of ignorance and intolerance were now ready to chastise American citizens for their decision, but it was too late. The pact with the devil had been sealed and our country proven mad. Those of us with the means to leave did so, and sought to make new homes across the globe. And those of us who couldn’t, the righteous few who refused to let our country fall victim Trump? We rallied, we protested, and we did what we always did: we went to the movies.
The holiday season box office in 2016 was massive, and against all odds it was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them that broke Avatar’s box office record. You see, box office success was never about quality, or fanbases, or experimentation. It was about escapism, and for many, escaping into the familiar comforts of their youth and a less frenzied time was all they wanted. Once Trump was sworn in, Hollywood changed. Many of our greatest artists had already left for other countries, and our foreign talent refused to work in America. Tom Hardy was one of these people, which created a tense relationship between he and Warner Bros. George Miller abandoned his post as a creative consultant for the DC films, and as a result the future of Mad Max was thrown into jeopardy. Despite the success of both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, Warner Bros.’ DC slate was thrown into jeopardy, with the excuse being that the world needed different types of heroes. Plans for a Harry Potter Cinematic Universe were expanded, but all the while a more sinister plan was brewing.
Donald Trump bought out a number of Hollywood’s biggest studios, including Warner Bros. After declaring American Sniper the greatest film of the 21st century, he announced that he would finance a series of sequels focusing on the deadliest men of America’s military history. Most of the armed services and their families decried the decision and Trump’s exploitation. Regardless of the outrage, Trump bought the real-life war stories he could and hired writers to fictionalize the accounts he couldn’t buy. American Tanker was the first. Then American Grenader, followed by American Bare-Knuckler, and a dozen more of similar sentiment. Whatever flaws American Sniper had, it wasn’t these movies. These were perverse acts of propaganda that sensationalized violence in a way that we had never seen. There was no well-meaning respect behind these productions, only the glorification of war. In secret circles, we refer to the filmmakers and actors willing to do Trump’s bidding as War Boys.
We never got our Mad Max sequels, we never got our Furiosa, and after the walls were built and the poisons dropped, we never got any films except for those which our former president, and current dictator, Trump deemed worthy. Those of us who cared enough to hope began telling stories of Max and Furiosa to our children, for if anyone could provide solace in a wasteland it was them. We scrounged what materials we could for weapons and training. As our children grew of age, we brought them together through secret channels and in the cover of night. Warriors from childhood, our offspring became this land’s Furiosas while we of the old world were known as The Max. War is looming and many will be lost. The cameras are set to record and capture, every victory and every loss. It won’t measure up to what Miller created, but it will be a staggering chronicle of our reality, the sequels we never got but will bleed for. As I look toward the poisonous horizon all I can think is, “Oh, what a day. What a lovely day.”
-The Second History Man (Richard Newby)