This Sunday’s 88th annual Academy Awards will have something for everyone.
There are big-budget action films (“Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Revenant.”)
There’s science fiction (“The Martian,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”)
There’s romance (“Brooklyn,” “Carol.”)
And then there’s mystery. (What’s going to win Best Picture? Will there be at least one major surprise?)
Fortunately, you don’t have to wait until Sunday to have those questions answered. You don’t have to sit through the three-hour telecast, either. All you have to do is keep reading.
I’ve spent the past year screening films, speaking to Academy members, and tracking all of the awards races. I’ll concede that there’s no perfect formula for determining the Oscar winners – but hope that my analysis is the closest thing that you’ll find (at least on this planet.)
Here we go. And may the Force be with you.
BEST PICTURE: “The Big Short,” “Bridge of Spies,” “Brooklyn,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Martian,” “The Revenant,” “Room, ” “Spotlight”
PREDICTION: “The Revenant”
The race for Best Picture has been quite the roller coaster ride. The critically acclaimed journalism drama “Spotlight” was declared the early frontrunner last fall. It was then upset by the wilderness epic “The Revenant” at the Golden Globe Awards. Things were further complicated when the financial crisis satire “The Big Short” stole the Producers Guild of America’s top prize. However, “The Revenant” scored an impressive 12 Oscar nominations, more than “Spotlight” and “The Big Short” combined. With the Best Picture winner determined by a preferential ballot with all 6000-plus Academy members voting, that broad support gives “The Revenant” the edge. “Spotlight,” “The Big Short” and the other five nominees are all excellent films – but it’s “The Revenant” that is regarded as the cinematic achievement of 2015. When the final envelope is opened, expect “The Revenant” to be revealed as the Best Picture of the year.
BEST DIRECTOR: Adam McKay for “The Big Short,” George Miller for “Mad Max: Fury Road,” Alejandro G. Iñárritu for “The Revenant,” Lenny Abrahamson for “Room,” Thomas McCarthy for “Spotlight”
PREDICTION: Alejandro G. Iñárritu for “The Revenant”
Iñárritu won this prize for helming last year’s big winner, “Birdman.” With no director having earned back-to-back Oscars in more than 60 years, few thought that he could repeat this year – regardless of the strength of “The Revenant.” But Iñárritu defied expectations by prevailing at both the Golden Globe and British Film Academy (BAFTA) Awards. More importantly, Iñárritu earned the Directors Guild of America trophy – historically the best indicator of the Academy Award. Veteran director George Miller was once thought to have a chance for his visionary work on the well-received “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which reaped an impressive ten nominations. At this point, it looks like Miller will have to be content with his film sweeping the technical categories. As he did with “Birdman,” watch for Iñárritu to fly away with Oscar once again.
BEST ACTOR: Bryan Cranston in “Trumbo,” Matt Damon in “The Martian,” Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant,” Michael Fassbender in “Steve Jobs,” Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl”
PREDICTION: Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant”
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 22 years since DiCaprio earned his first Academy Award nomination, for “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” He lost that Best Supporting Actor race to Tommy Lee Jones in “The Fugitive,” but observers were already forecasting that he would be rewarded in the future. Fortunately for DiCaprio, the future has arrived. After a series of Best Actor defeats for “The Aviator,” “Blood Diamond” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” he will finally take home the statuette for his work in “The Revenant.” It’s a physically challenging and extremely intense role, one that few actors could pull off. While largely silent parts in action movies rarely win Oscars, reviews for DiCaprio have been rapturous. He’s virtually romped through the awards season, with victories at the Golden Globe, Critics Choice, Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and BAFTA ceremonies. He may have had to fight off a bear in “The Revenant,” but there will be nothing standing in Leo’s way on Oscar’s big night.
BEST ACTRESS: Cate Blanchett in “Carol,” Brie Larson in “Room,” Jennifer Lawrence in “Joy,” Charlotte Rampling in “45 Years,” Saiorse Ronan in “Brooklyn”
PREDICTION: Brie Larson in “Room”
She’s hardly a household name, but she’ll be one by next week. Larson plays a young woman kidnapped and held captive for seven years, raising a young son in a tiny space. “Room” was possibly the most harrowing film of 2015 – but it was also the most powerful. Audiences and critics seemed to have agreed. Like DiCaprio, Larson has cleaned up all the precursor prizes. Let’s hope that Larson has some “Room” left on her mantelpiece. She’ll need it after she accepts the Academy Award for Best Actress of the year.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christian Bale in “The Big Short,” Tom Hardy in “The Revenant,” Mark Ruffalo in “Spotlight,” Mark Rylance in “Bridge of Spies,” Sylvester Stallone in “Creed”
PREDICTION: Mark Ruffalo in “Spotlight”
Almost every year, there’s one major surprise at the Oscars. And almost every year, I try to call it. This year, it’s for Best Supporting Actor. Most other pundits will tell you that Sylvester Stallone is a lock for his comeback in “Creed,” playing the iconic Rocky Balboa for a seventh time. However, I have to wonder. Is he really a sure thing? It’s a very good picture and certainly a solid performance. But it’s really nothing that we haven’t seen Stallone do before. He represents the only nomination for his film, while the other contenders are all in Best Picture nominees. Stallone failed to reap bids from the SAG and BAFTA committees. He may have been celebrated at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards, but those laurels are voted on by journalists – not industry people. Will highbrow Oscar voters deem Stallone worthy of the highest acting honor in the world? So my prediction is Ruffalo and his portrayal of an impassioned journalist in “Spotlight.” He’s the heart and soul of the picture, and has several big, showy scenes. Both Ruffalo and his film are very well-respected, and he’s going on his third nomination in six years without a win. Again, I know that this is a longshot and I can’t guarantee it – but I’m betting that it’s Ruffalo (not “Rocky”) who scores a knockout in the Academy Awards ring.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Jennifer Jason Leigh in “The Hateful Eight,” Rooney Mara in “Carol,” Rachel McAdams in “Spotlight,” Alicia Vikander in “The Danish Girl,” Kate Winslet in “Steve Jobs”
PREDICTION: Alicia Vikander in “The Danish Girl”
This appears to be a two-way race between Vikander and Winslet. Vikander’s advantages are that she has more screen time and gets serious bonus points for her work in the sci-fi thriller hit “Ex Machina,” also released in 2015. Winslet benefits from her flashy performance and her physical transformation. Vikander prevailed at Critics Choice and SAG, while Winslet won at the Golden Globes and BAFTA. However, Vikander’s losses came when she competed for “Ex Machina,” and was nominated in the leading category for “The Danish Girl.” So who gets the Oscar? It’s almost too close to call. My sense is that while Winslet did a terrific job, there’s simply nothing like a “Dane.” Expect Vikander to be the lucky “Girl” on Academy Awards night.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: “Bridge of Spies,” “Ex Machina,” “Inside Out,” “Spotlight,” “Straight Outta Compton”
“Spotlight” was one of the best-reviewed films of the year, and seems to be a picture that most Academy members truly admire. It’s one of only two Best Picture nominees in this category, and the only one that has any chance of winning. (Sorry, “Bridge of Spies.”) So barring an upset by the daring “Ex Machina,” expect “Spotlight” to outshine the competition.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: “The Big Short,” “Brooklyn,” “Carol,” “The Martian,” “Room”
PREDICTION: “The Big Short”
I was initially tempted to pick “Room,” which was so faithfully adapted from the acclaimed book. Still, this is the best place for voters to honor the popular “The Big Short,” and I expect them to do so. It’s a smart film with clever dialogue and skillful plot construction. It also has people really talking about the impact of the 2008 financial crisis. Barring a big upset by “Room,” “The Big Short” won’t be falling short here.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: “Anomalisa,” “Boy and the World,” “Inside Out,” “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” “When Marnie Was There”
PREDICTION: “Inside Out”
This will be the least surprising win of the night. “Inside Out” earned rave reviews and wowed children and adults alike. It recently claimed the top prize at the Annie Awards, which honor achievement in animation. It’s also been recognized with Golden Globe, Critics Choice and BAFTA trophies. The R-rated “Anomalisa” may have garnered some attention for its originality and edginess, but there’s no way that the Academy won’t go all out for “Inside Out.”
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: “Amy,” “Cartel Land,” “The Look of Silence,” “Winter on Fire,” What Happened, Miss Simone?”
“Amy” focuses on the life (and death) of the late Grammy-winning singer Amy Winehouse. The documentary was a critical and commercial success, grossing more money than the four other nominees combined. Recent winners in this category, like 2012’s “Searching for Sugerman” and 2013’s “20 Feet from Stardom,” also dealt with the music industry. Voters looking for a more serious (or political) option might split between “Cartel Land” and “The Look of Silence.” That leaves “Amy” as the likely winner – which should be music to its producers’ ears.