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.
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
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?
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.