Winner - Inside Out
Runners Up - Mad Max: Fury Road, Love & Mercy, and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Commentary - Pixar has had a few rough years. Cars 2 was a qualified mess, Brave did remarkably well at the box office, and won the Oscar, but was still considered a lesser effort, and Monsters University failed to make it into the Oscar Animated Feature top five. But after several years of creative rebuilding, Pixar is back and better than ever with their triumphant Inside Out. A film for all ages, all makes, all creeds, Inside Out is a wondrous, creative, exciting, and entertaining modern masterpiece that hopefully will bring animation back to the Oscar Best Picture race. Furthermore, Inside Out has rebooted one of Hollywood's greatest studios, who I hope will continue to create some of the best that American film has to offer.
Winner - George Miller "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Runners Up - Pete Docter "Inside Out"
Commentary - Pete Docter was a great choice, but there was another great film in the first half of the year (there were actually several), and that was George Miller's revisionist version of Mad Max: Fury Road. It was a stunning remake that finally got to see one of the most visionary directors of all time make the film he always wanted to make. It was brilliantly constructed, politically astute, and reminded us that George Miller is a master of the craft.
Winner - (TIE) John Cusack and Paul Dano "Love & Mercy"
Runners Up - Thomas Mann "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" and Shameik Moore "Dope"
Commentary - Love & Mercy was right behind those two aforementioned films in terms of its quality, but mostly because of two incredible performances at its center. Now by the time the Oscars roll around one of them will probably be in supporting so as to increase their chances of awards possibilities. But this is really a dual leading role to tell the story of Brian Wilson. Dano's talent was no surprise to me, he has been churning out great roles for a decade now. But it has been awhile since we have seen this level of greatness from John Cusack, and it was a welcomed comeback. Combined, we see the growth of the man and the talent of Brian Wilson, and each actor makes the character there own to creative a beautiful portrayal.
Winner - Charlize Theron "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Runners Up - Melissa McCarthy "Spy" and Juliette Binoche "Clouds of Sils Maria"
Commentary - I love me some Melissa McCarthy, and think that Spy is the first lead role that she had that truly showed just how talented she is as an actress and a comedienne. But no one so far this year could match the power of Charlize Theron. Going into Mad Max, no one knew that Miller was going to take such a feminist turn, that it would be Theron, not Tom Hardy, that would be the real lead. But that is how everything turned out and Theron, as she has done so many times before, commanded the screen with a presence that few modern film stars can. I just hope that the action/sci-fi elements of the film don't keep Theron from another Oscar nomination. I can guarantee you that when the end of the year rolls around there will be few performances that will match hers.
Best Supporting Actor
Winner - Oscar Isaac "Ex Machina"
Runners Up - Samuel L. Jackson "Kingsman: The Secret Service", and "Avengers: Age of Ultron"
Commentary - A weak category so far this year, but a perfect opportunity to reward an up and coming actor that I admire greatly, in a great genre role. Between Inside Llewyn Davis and A Most Violent Year, Oscar Isaac has proven himself to be one of our finest actors working today, and Ex Machina, a weird, and yet intriguing sci-fi thriller is yet another great performance from a well-respected new talent.
Best Supporting Actress
Winner - Phyllis Smith "Inside Out"
Runners Up - Kristen Stewart "Clouds of Sils Maria", Elizabeth Banks "Love & Mercy", and Rose Byrne "Spy"
Commentary - This was probably the toughest category so far. Elizabeth Banks adds a lot of soul to Love & Mercy, Rose Byrne is a comedic genius in Spy, and Kristen Stewart proved she can actually act in Clouds of Sils Maria. But in the end, I could not pass up the opportunity to reward the great voice work of Phyllis Smith. Despite a A-list cast including the likes of Bill Hader, Amy Poehler, and Mindy Kaling it is Smith, as Sadness, that completely steals the show. There have been a few instances in the history of animated film where an actor was so compelling with just their voice that they deserved an Oscar nomination. I think that Phyllis Smith may just join that list.
Winner - Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley "Inside Out"
Runner Up - Jesse Andrews "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl"
Commentary - Inside Out is a feat of animation, of voice acting, but most importantly, it is the most creative, unique, and original film to hit the big screen in a long time. The script, but Pete Docter and his team have crafted a beautiful story that is inventive and bright, but also emotional and deep. It takes a brilliant script to pull all of that off.
Best Animated Feature
Winner - Inside Out
Runners Up - Honestly, the other two were place holders, it was a one-way race.
Commentary - See Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay.
Winner - Spy
Runners Up - Inside Out and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Commentary - I wanted to honor Spy, a great comedy that should be in the awards discussion as we move into the fall. But I couldn't seem to find the place to do so. Then I looked at the cast: Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Allison Janney, and countless other veteran character actors. That is why I loved Spy so much. Like other Paul Feig films as of late, the whole thing hinges on the actors, and whether they can pull it off. This group did so with gusto, and proved that Feig is quickly becoming one of the best ensemble directors working today. He puts together great actors and lets them go to work. The results, so far, have been wonderful.