Amid the #Oscarssowhite controversy, fashion hysteria and shameless self-promotion that comprise the craziness of Oscar season, some intriguing races have emerged. And this Sunday night we’ll witness who will win, place, or show. This column focuses on the “big six” categories, but those in Oscar pools can expect The Big Short and Spotlight to win the writing awards, The Revenant to take cinematography, Mad Max: Fury Road to take editing, production design, costume design and makeup, and the legendary Ennio Morricone (The Man With No Name trilogy) to win his first Oscar for composing the original score for The Hateful Eight.
After six total nominations, Leonardo DiCaprio will finally win a Best Actor Oscar for his work in The Revenant, and rightfully so, as he was nothing short of spectacular. His performance is the culmination of 20 years of great work and daring choices, and there’s little doubt among the experts that he’s the man to beat. Also nominated are Bryan Cranston for Trumbo, Matt Damon for The Martian, Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs and Eddie Redmayne for The Danish Girl.Will win: DiCaprio. Should win: DiCaprio.
Best Actress is similarly predictable, as Brie Larson has won all the major awards leading up to the Oscars for her work in Room. Her performance is emotional, complicated and moving, a real gut-punch of heartache and sorrow that’s a legit accomplishment for any actress. Saoirse Ronan gave my favorite performance of the year in Brooklyn and is rightfully nominated here, as are Jennifer Lawrence for Joy, Cate Blanchett for Carol and Charlotte Rampling for 45 Years.Will win: Larson. Should win: Ronan.
Many feel Sylvester Stallone will take Best Supporting Actor for Creed, and it certainly was a wonderful performance. Watching it felt like catching up with that uncle you haven’t seen in years and soaking up his sage advice. It’s also a career highlight for Stallone, as he returned to the role that made him famous (Rocky Balboa). Hollywood couldn’t write a better story. He faces tough competition, though, from Mark Ruffalo as the heart and soul of Spotlight, Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies, Christian Bale in The Big Short and Tom Hardy in The Revenant.Will win: Stallone. Should win: Ruffalo.
Supporting Actress is similarly murky. Early awards have split between nominees Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs) and Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl), which makes this a tough one to call. Add in Rooney Mara’s phenomenal turn opposite Blanchett in Carol, Rachel McAdams great work in Spotlight and Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight, and you have an outstanding and competitive category. In the end, though, the emotional power of Vikander as a woman whose husband decides he wants to be a woman should be enough to prevail. Will win: Vikander. Should win: Mara.
If Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu wins Best Director for The Revenant, he will become the third director in history to win in consecutive years (John Ford, ’40 and ’41, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, ’49 and ’50); you’ll recall Inarritu won last year for Birdman. Given the ambition and scope of The Revenant, and the fact that he won the Director’s Guild Award, which is a precursor to winning the Oscar, Inarritu is the strong favorite here. However, George Miller did great work in Mad Max: Fury Road, Adam McKay brought delightful humor and clarity to complicated issues in The Big Short, Tom McCarthy made investigative journalism compelling in Spotlight and Lenny Abrahamson told a simple story extraordinarily well in Room.Will win: Inarritu. Should win: Inarritu.
Only four times in Oscar history has a Best Picture winner come from a film that did not receive a Best Director nomination: 1927, 1932, 1989, and 2012. This will not be one of those years. None of the big three — The Martian,Bridge of Spies and Brooklyn (none of which have directing nominations) — has the widespread industry support needed to win. Similarly, Room is a nice movie, but it will receive its big award when Larson wins Best Actress. And a full-fledged action flick has never won Best Picture, so Mad Max: Fury Road will have to rely on technical awards to boost its tally.
Which leaves us with three. Ordinarily we rely on the Guild Awards to reveal the frontrunner, because they’re an indication of what industry professionals think is the year’s best, but this year that’s little help: The Big Short won the Producer’s Guild, Spotlight won the Screen Actor’s Guild, and The Revenant won the Director’s Guild. With the three guilds splitting, it’s anyone’s guess, though it’s worth noting that The Revenant is the trendy pick with the most positive buzz. However, this one statistic is inescapable: The Producer’s Guild has matched the Oscar winner for the last eight consecutive years, and its preferential ballot voting system is the only one in the guilds that matches how the Oscars choose Best Picture. Will win: The Big Short.Should win: The Martian, which was my No. 1 movie of 2015.