It’s the most topsy-turvy Oscar race in years, and we’re here to help you make sense of it.
Last year, David led the field by hitting 19 of 24 predictions — who will take the title this year?
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
DAVID: [Lets out the heaviest of sighs] Okay, here we go. For starters, nobody knows nothin’, okay, because this has been anywhere between a two- and four-film race for months now, and the guilds have all gone in different directions. Right now there are three with a real chance to win the top prize: first there’s Spotlight, which held front-runner status all autumn only to be criticized as “too quiet” a film to compete with its flashier brethren, but earned the Ensemble award from the Screen Actors Guild — a big deal, even if SAG and Oscar only agree about half the time. Spotlight is my personal pick for the best film of the year, but it’s looking mighty vulnerable, and Open Road might not have had the infrastructure to compete with behemoths 20th Century Fox and Paramount.
Then there’s the “of-the-moment” The Big Short, which shocked with the Producer’s Guild, the only other organization to use a preferential ballot similar to the Academy. In the six years since the PGA made that change, all six of the PGA’s picks have gone on to win Oscar — but the lack of support elsewhere, especially the actors’ branch, might pose a problem. HOWEVER, all the late momentum has gone to The Revenant, which was left for dead in the Calgary snow (with no Screenplay or SAG ensemble nominations) only to crawl back to relevance with wins at the Director’s Guild Awards and the BAFTAs. It’s a mess, guys. Part of me still wants to say Revenant is too polarizing to win Best Picture…but I felt that way about Birdman right up until I could deny it no longer. (That was only a two-film race, however, and this year Big Short — or heck, even Mad Max, let’s get crazy — could play spoiler.) We’ll be guessing on this one right up until the end, but as of this moment it looks like the tides are shifting in The Revenant’s favor. Blah. What say the rest of you?
CHASE: There’s a lost history of “X films” (Fargo, Raging Bull, The Social Network) losing to “Y films” (The English Patient, Ordinary People, The King’s Speech) at the Oscars. What’s interesting this year is that there’s both a deserving X, Mad Max, and a deserving Y, Spotlight, and a huge chance that they BOTH lose. The Revenant is a weird hybrid of both ideologies, but it’s probably less deserving than both of those other films. Whatever. The wrong film wins best picture all the time, and the world keeps spinning. Anything but The Big Short.
SEAN: I haven’t agreed with a Best Picture winner since The Departed in 2006. There have been a couple that I have admired since then (No Country for Old Men, The Hurt Locker), but for the most part the Academy has simply gotten it wrong. And that’s okay. History and critical perspective will decide those films’ fates. This is a strange Oscar year. Anything could happen, but I’m betting that The Revenant will be the big winner come Sunday night. Instead of letting my head explode over that dubious choice, I’m choosing to celebrate the fact that Mad Max: Fury Road has 10 Oscar nominations, including a nod for Best Picture. That such a strange, surreal, and wholly original genre film is being celebrated by the notoriously conservative and straight-laced, drama-loving Academy is a miracle in and of itself. In a world where artistic achievement really mattered, Fury Road would have no competitor. It is one of the all-time greats.
Adam McKay, The Big Short
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant
Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
DAVID: This makes me really sad, but it looks like it’s going to Iñárritu. The DGA has only disagreed with the Academy seven times in 68 years. Iñárritu could not only be the first director since 1950 to win back-to-back Directing Oscars (only John Ford and Joseph Mankiewicz have done that), but the first EVER (EVER!) to win back-to-back Best Pictures. That’s insane to me, especially since The Revenant’s strongest argument is “It was hard to make!” — OH BOO HOO, ALEJANDRO. You know what else was hard to make? FURY ROAD. But will the Academy be as tired of his pretensions as I am? Will they want to spread the wealth? There’s certainly more than enough widespread industry love to earn the wonderful George Miller the prize DGA denied him — no one attracted more well-wishers and selfie-takers at the nominee luncheon. So even though it flies against precedent, you know what? I’m picking George. Go George!
CHASE: David, I too would love to see the man who once directed Babe: Pig in the City win an Oscar. Mad Max has more originality in single scenes than some entire other films this year. It’s brilliant work. But an academy of old, white men isn’t about to award it. I was pulling hard for Iñárritu last year, but I don’t really have a horse in this race. I’ll pick him again just on the odds.
SEAN: The smart money is on Iñárritu, who was an undeserving winner last year against Richard Linklater’s once-in-a-lifetime film experience Boyhood. He’s likely to pull off the same trick this year against Miller. Here’s your diversity vote, folks. I hope you’re happy. No matter — Miller and Fury Road will be greeted at the gates of cinematic Valhalla. The Revenant, much like Birdman, will fade into obscurity.
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
DAVID: It’s DiCaprio, obviously. Few performers have gone to the the same physical lengths, and Leo can talk all he wants about how he took the role because “he wanted to communicate without dialog” or whatever, but let’s be real: he wanted this Oscar, and would have fought an actual bear to get it. I shudder to think of what he’d do next time, should he lose. (He won’t lose.)
CHASE: This is the biggest lock of the night. Weirdly, it’s also probably DiCaprio’s worst nominated work. Redmayne’s win last year reminded everyone that the Academy loves a physically demanding performance. McConaughey’s win reminded everyone that the nominee’s story trumps everything. DiCaprio has both this year.
SEAN: I love DiCaprio. He’s an incredible actor, but he doesn’t deserve to win for this. Suffering for your art does not make a great performance. And the dead wife motif he has been playing for years now is getting stale. Here’s a list of movies DiCaprio should have won for, even when he wasn’t nominated – The Departed, Shutter Island, Django Unchained, and The Wolf of Wall Street. So that’s four Oscars he should have already. Unfortunately he’s winning for surviving hell. Congrats, Leo. Now please go do another Scorsese film to cleanse yourself of this nonsense. Out of these nominees Fassbender should be the clear winner.
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
DAVID: The night’s next-biggest lock is the brilliant Brie Larson, so, so good as the mother in Room. Her star has been steadily rising since her turn in 2013’s Short Term 12 (which she should have been nominated for), and has deserved all the accolades she’s received. She would also be the first Oscar winner from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (sorry, Anna Kendrick), which I re-watched over the weekend. That’s not remotely relevant, but I just wanted to throw that out there.
CHASE: Take a second and look at this wonderful list of nominees. This was a really great year for women in front of the camera (cough white women, anyways, cough), and I think it stacks up better as a whole than the Best Actor list does. For my money, Larson gave the best performance I saw this year. She is brilliant in Room.
SEAN: Larson is great in Room and she is locked to win. I just wish Charlotte Rampling hadn’t made those ridiculous statements in response to the #OscarSoWhite controversy. She could have been a great dark horse spoiler. It’s easily one of the best performances of 2015.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed
DAVID: Idris Elba’s absence notwithstanding, this is a fun one — a win for Bale, Ruffalo, or Hardy (yeah, right) could signal a big night for their films, but Stallone is the sentimental favorite by a mile. There was some early chatter about Sly not being well-liked within the industry, but the standing ovation he received at the Golden Globes put that to rest. Was Mark Rylance better? Oh, sure. Would a Stallone win be all about a “comeback” narrative? Of course — when isn’t it? I don’t care, and neither will all the male voters who found themselves openly weeping at the end of Creed.
CHASE: On the other hand, I hate this list. Bale? Bleh. Stallone? That’s the schmaltzy choice. Where is Jacob Tremblay (Room)? He’s better than this entire list. Where is Idris Elba? Oscar is all about hugs, and that means Stallone.
SEAN: Stallone deserves this. After being treated like a joke for years (even when he made the industry millions of dollars), he reminded us all of that initial promise with this touching, tender, and remarkably subtle performance. It’s his moment. He’s earned it. It’s likely to be one of the most emotional moments of the broadcast.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
DAVID: Judging from the precursors, it’s a tight race between Vikander and Winslet, with Rooney Mara circling. But more than any other category, the Academy loves to award ingenues here, and Vikander — clearly the lead of The Danish Girl, so thanks for that category fraud, Focus Features — is the new “It Girl.” Heck, many of these voters will say they’re really honoring her for Ex Machina.
CHASE: This is a who will win/who should in for me. Rooney Mara should win this award for a beautiful, tender, elegant performance in Carol, but the odds say it’s Vikander. I’m not even mad. America’s sweetheart usually finds a way to win an Oscar (Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, Reese Witherspoon…), and I love Vikander as much as anyone. That said, she should be winning for her creepily almost-human work in Ex Machina. I’m that guy. It’s like when Dennis Hopper was amazing in Blue Velvet, but won for Hoosiers the same year. There are just certain types of films that don’t get Academy love.
SEAN: Vikander seems to have this all sewn up, but Winslet is a very big potential spoiler — which is bizarre considering the role functions as conscience more than actual character. But I’d still rather see Winslet with a win for this than for the undeserving The Reader (especially when she should have won for Revolutionary Road). If I could turn back time…
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The Big Short
DAVID: Should Best Picture go Revenant‘s way, the screenplay categories will be the consolation for the runners up — Charles Randolph & Adam McKay will have no trouble picking up this award for The Big Short, especially with no Aaron Sorkin in the way. (Still surprised about that one.) For what it’s worth, I really loved Drew Goddard’s work on The Martian.
CHASE: Everything he said. The Big Short.
SEAN: The Martian deserves to win, but The Big Short has to win somewhere (though Best Picture is still in play). I can’t wait for the political sermon at the podium.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Bridge of Spies
Straight Outta Compton
DAVID: Same story, different verse: thanks to the Writers’ branch snubbing one previous winner (Tarantino, this time), it’s a clear path for Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight. It’s a big year for writer-directors, apparently.
CHASE: Ditto. Spotlight.
SEAN: Confession — I really didn’t like Spotlight and its soft, faux-journalistic writing is one of my biggest problems with it. But it is your winner in this category. If the Academy had balls they would give it to Ex Machina. Correction, if they had balls they would have nominated Mad Max: Fury Road in this category. Yeah, I said it.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Boy and the World
Shaun the Sheep Movie
When Marnie Was There
DAVID: Inside Out should have made the Best Picture roster (though that screenplay nom was nice), but it’ll have to settle for this one, as Pixar will return as the king of the Animated Feature gulag. Anomalisa is the indie pick, but won’t have nearly enough support to topple it. (Nor should it.)
CHASE: David, I hate how much we seem to be agreeing. Inside Out will win, but there’s an outside chance for Anomalisa if the Academy wants to make a statement that animation isn’t just a category for kids movies.
SEAN: Inside Out. Absolutely no contest.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
The Look of Silence
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
DAVID: If recent history is any indication, Amy is poised to join Searching for Sugar Man and 20 Feet From Stardom as music-themed winners over more “difficult” fare. Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence is just as powerful as sister film The Act of Killing, but if the latter couldn’t win, neither will the former.
CHASE: I have to violate my own rules here. Oscars are all about hugs, and Amy Winehouse isn’t around anymore. The trick is that all of these options are kind of depressing except for Simone, and Oscar isn’t prepared to give Netflix awards yet. So Amy it is.
SEAN: Amy seems likely, but Cartel Land has won big elsewhere. Maybe this is the year where they don’t go with the easy populist choice.