Well folks, the big night is almost upon us: the 88th annual Academy Awards are Sunday. You’ve watched the movies, you’ve tracked the controversies, and you’re maybe even doing a bit of totally legal guessing with friends and/or co-workers about the outcome. So who’s going to win? It’s kind of a nutty year, with a wide spread of worthwhile films and fewer locks than usual. So we’ve crunched the numbers, compared the predictors, checked in with the experts, and worked up your guide to Oscar – both the films, filmmakers, and actors we think will win, and the ones that, for our money, should.
Best Picture The Big Short Bridge of Spies Brooklyn Mad Max: Fury Road The Martian The Revenant Room Spotlight
PICK: I saw Brooklyn more than a year ago, in January 2015 at Sundance, and didn’t see a better film all year. It’s the best of these movies, but it doesn’t stand a chance to win.
PREDICTION: So many question marks here. The usual bellwether prizes have been split fairly evenly: The Revenant won the BAFTA and the Golden Globe, The Big Short won the Producer’s Guild prize, Spotlight won the SAG award. Spotlight is my personal favorite of those three, but the feeling seems to be that it peaked early, its October opening allowing the all-important buzz factor to shift over to December releases Revenant and Big Short. The predictors are split pretty evenly between those two: Variety and EW say Short, while Indiewire, The Wrap, and THR predict The Revenant. So you can probably go either way here, but I’m going to give the edge to The Big Short, for two reasons: 1. the PGA award has correctly predicted the Oscar for Best Picture for the past eight years straight (though, asterisk, their 2013 prize was a tie between Oscar’s eventual Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave and Best Director winner Gravity), and 2. The Revenant didn’t get a screenplay nomination, and no film has won Best Picture without that nomination since 1998. Then again, that winner was Titanic, so maybe there’s a DiCaprio exception?
Directing Adam McKay, The Big Short George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant Lenny Abrahamson, Room Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
PICK: George Miller hadn’t made a Mad Max movie in 30 years and hadn’t even made a live-action movie since 1998 – and he ended up making the most ferocious, visceral, awe-inspiring movie of the year. If we’re really giving out awards for the most arduous shoot, then this one should at least be a tie.
PREDICTION: But it’s gonna go to Alejandro González Iñárritu, who won the Directors Guild of America and BAFTA awards for Best Director; the BAFTA isn’t always accurate, but the DGA award has matched up every year since 2002.
Actress in a Leading Role Cate Blanchett, Carol Brie Larson, Room Jennifer Lawrence, Joy Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
PICK: Saorsie Ronan’s sensitive, tricky, heart-wrenching performance is the centerpiece of Brooklyn; the movie simply doesn’t work without her. And in a lesser year, she’d have won this in a walk.
PREDICTION: But Brie Larson is my very close second-fave, so no worries when she wins it – and she will, one of the evening’s few sure things, with a previous Golden Globe and SAG pointing the way, to say nothing of a keenly felt and beautifully delivered performance.
Actor in a Leading Role Bryan Cranston, Trumbo Matt Damon, The Martian Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
PICK: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is the dullest category of the night. None of these performances are particularly exciting, and two of them – Cranston and Redmayne – are outright bad. Of the weak bunch, I’d go with Michael Fassbender.
PREDICTION: But Leonardo DiCaprio is going to win it, everyone agrees, and you know all the reasons: he’s “due” (it’s his fifth nomination, with no previous wins), he worked very hard for it, he’s well liked and well respected, etc. It’s a fine performance! And it’s such a sure thing, they might as well open the show with it.
Actress in a Supporting Role Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight Rooney Mara, Carol Rachel McAdams, Spotlight Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
PICK: Though you can go back and forth all day about whether it’s actually a supporting role, this is where Rooney Mara is nominated, so this is the award I’d give her; it’s a terrific piece of quiet, subtle acting, conveying a young woman’s personal and sexual awakening, almost entirely in loaded pauses, stolen glances, and heavy subtext.
PREDICTION: Most agree this is a two-person race between Vikander and Winslet; the former won the SAG and Critics’ Choice Awards, while the latter took the Golden Globe and BAFTA prizes. But, catch, the bodies that awarded Winslet classified Vikander’s as a leading role – and the SAG is, far and away, the most reliable predictor (they’ve misaligned exactly one time since 2002). So Alicia Vikander is the (slightly) safer prediction here.
Actor in a Supporting Role Christian Bale, The Big Short Tom Hardy, The Revenant Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies Sylvester Stallone, Creed
PICK/ PREDICTION: In a field of terrific performances – seriously, this group is way more interesting than Best Actor – I’d give the slight edge to Sylvester Stallone, and I think the Academy will too. It’s a warm and wonderful performance, a reminder of the fine actor lurking under the action star, and the symmetry of giving him an Oscar for returning to the character that got him a Best Actor nomination, all the way back in 1977, is pretty irresistible. That said, for a supposedly sentimental awards-giving body, the heartwarming comeback narrative nets a nomination more often than a win (Michael Keaton, Mickey Rourke, and John Travolta all went home empty-handed), and Stallone won neither the SAG award (it went to un-nominated Idris Elba) nor the BAFTA prize (which went to Rylance). But he did take the Golden Globe, which predicts the Oscar 90% of the time, and his enthusiastic reception in that room makes this seem like a pretty safe bet. (However, if Tom Hardy takes this early-in-the-evening prize, that could indicate a big night for The Revenant, and you should try to slyly change your Best Picture pick.)
Writing – Adapted Screenplay Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, The Big Short Nick Hornby, Brooklyn Phyllis Nagy, Carol Drew Goddard, The Martian Emma Donoghue, Room
PICK: Phyllis Nagy, for her subtle, wise, and brilliant adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt – a treasure trove of quotable lines, double-edged exchanges, and quiet devastation. I’d like to think this is where the criminally under-represented Carol would get some love…
PREDICTION: …but Charles Randolph and Adam McKay will take it, for the admittedly difficult task of transforming Michael Lewis’ dense nonfiction account of the housing bubble and worldwide financial meltdown into a character-driven narrative and star-powered entertainment. No easy task, that.
Writing – Original Screenplay Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen, Bridge of Spies Alex Garland, Ex Machina Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Ronnie del Carmen, Inside Out Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, Spotlight Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus, Straight Outta Compton
PICK/ PREDICTION: Much like Randolph and McKay, Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy took a complex real-life scandal and turned it into a riveting, powerful piece of mainstream storytelling. They deserve this one – and will probably win it, following the grand tradition (see Lost in Translation, Good Will Hunting, Almost Famous, Django Unchained, Her, and many more) of “Best Original Screenplay as Consolation Prize” to a losing Best Picture nominee.
Foreign Language Film Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia) Mustang (France) Son of Saul (Hungary) Theeb (Jordan) A War (Denmark)
PICK/PREDICTION: Son of Saul is a hard, harrowing piece of work, one of my favorites of the year – and it also concerns the Holocaust, which (not to be crass!) means it’s a pretty safe bet for an Oscar. The popular favorite Mustang could pull off a last minute upset, but don’t count on it.
Documentary Feature Amy Cartel Land The Look of Silence What Happened, Miss Simone? Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
PICK: Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence is, like its predecessor The Act of Killing, an indictment of true brutality that becomes riveting drama and devastating cinema.
PREDICTION: Yet in recent years, the documentary award has more often gone to the biggest box-office success of the bunch (and, often, a music documentary as well). And that means, just as the Best Documentary Oscar went to 20 Feet From Stardom over The Act of Killing two years back, this year the prize will probably go to Amy, which was named Best Documentary by countless critics’ organizations, the Producers’ Guild, and the Critics’ Choice Awards.
Animated Feature Film Anomalisa Boy and the World Inside Out Shaun the Sheep Movie When Marnie Was There
PICK: Anomalisa is a remarkable animated film, using its stop-motion puppetry to get at the kind of tough truths and emotional candor that often eludes live-action films. But Shaun the Sheep is pretty great too.
PREDICTION: From their 2007 win for Ratatouille forward, any time Pixar is nominated, they win (Cars 2 and Monsters University weren’t nominated). They won’t break that streak this year – and Inside Out has the added boost of an Original Screenplay nomination, indicating widespread love for that summer smash.
Cinematography Edward Lachman, Carol Robert Richardson, The Hateful Eight Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant John Seale, Mad Max: Fury Road Roger Deakins, Sicario
PICK: This was a genuinely incredible year for cinematographers – I’d gladly award any of these five, and could give you ten more besides. And it sure would be nice if Roger Deakins, our greatest living cinematographer, finally won this award. But…
PREDICTION: Emmanuel Lubezki won last year for Birdman and the year before that for Gravity; he’s everyone’s favorite DP right now, and the pretty pictures he made for The Revenant seem to indicate a rare three-peat in the category.
Music – Original Score Thomas Newman, Bridge of Spies Carter Burwell, Carol Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight Johann Johannson, Sicario John Williams, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
PICK / PREDICTION: Another astonishing year for film music (though given my druthers, I’d boot Williams from this crew in favor of Steve Jobs’ Daniel Pemberton or It Follows’ Disasterpiece). But I have to give the edge to the maestro, Ennio Morricone, whose first original Western score in decades was a testament to his legacy, a magnificently unpredictable fusion of horror and Spaghetti, and – most importantly – a perfect compliment to Tarantino’s testy, edgy, claustrophobic Western. And I think Oscar voters will check the same box; he’s never won a competitive Oscar before, and they love awarding a legend for the first time.
Music – Original Song “Earned It” (50 Shades of Grey) “Manta Ray” (Racing Extinction) “Til It Happens to You” (The Hunting Ground) “Simple Song #3” (Youth) “Writing’s on the Wall” (Spectre)
PICK: Anything but “Writing’s on the Wall,” really.
PREDICTION: Well, you can safely bet it won’t be “Manta Ray” or “Simple Song,” since the Oscar producers aren’t even going to let them perform. (Look, they’ve gotta carve out time for all the random movie-clip montages somewhere.) Of the remaining three, “Til It Happens to You” seems the safe bet, combining Big Message songwriting (see last year’s “Glory” from Selma and 2007’s “I Need to Wake Up” from An Inconvenient Truth), the star power of performer/co-writer Lady Gaga (goin’ for dat EGOT), and the “overdue” factor for her co-writer Diane Warren (this is her eighth nomination with no wins to date).
Film Editing The Big Short Mad Max: Fury Road The Revenant Spotlight Star Wars: The Force Awakens
PICK/ PREDICTION: Mad Max: Fury Road
Sound Editing Mad Max: Fury Road The Martian The Revenant Sicario Star Wars: The Force Awakens
PREDICTION: Mad Max: Fury Road
Sound Mixing Bridge of Spies Mad Max: Fury Road The Martian The Revenant Star Wars: The Force Awakens
PICK: Mad Max: Fury Road
PREDICTION: The Revenant
Costume Design Carol Cinderella The Danish Girl Mad Max: Fury Road The Revenant
PICK/ PREDICTION: Mad Max: Fury Road
Makeup and Hairstyling Mad Max: Fury Road The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared The Revenant
PICK/ PREDICTION: Mad Max: Fury Road
Production Design Bridge of Spies The Danish Girl Mad Max: Fury Road The Martian The Revenant
PICK/ PREDICTION: Mad Max: Fury Road
Visual Effects Ex Machina Mad Max: Fury Road The Martian The Revenant Star Wars: The Force Awakens
PICK: Ex Machina
PREDICTION: The Revenant
Short Film – Live Action Ave Maria Day One Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut) Shok Stutterer
Short Film – Animated Bear Story Prologue Sanjay’s Super Team We Can’t Live Without Cosmos World of Tomorrow
PREDICTION: World of Tomorrow
Documentary Short Subject Body Team 12 Chau, Beyond the Lines Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness Last Day of Freedom
PREDICTION: Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah