Who Will Win: The Big Short
Who Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
The Oscar race this year has been all over the place, and for the first time in a long time, there’s a respectable spread of films—The Big Short, Spotlight, The Revenant, even Mad Max—that could take home the gold. The Big Short wins out, though, with its victory at the Producers’ Guild Awards, historically one of the best predictors of Best Picture and as concrete an indicator as we have right now. For all the talk about The Revenant’s march to glory, it doesn’t have that ever-crucial Guild support, and it seems unlikely that the Academy would be eager to reward an Iñárritu-directed film with Best Picture two years in a row, following Birdman’s win last year. As unlikely as an Adam McKay film winning Best Picture sounds on paper, it’s clearly resonating with industry figures enough to go the distance.
I couldn’t complain much about a Big Short win, and the same goes for Spotlight. That said, few films this year were as impressive as Mad Max: Fury Road, and the idea of an inventive and engrossing blockbuster being awarded with the big prize on Oscar night is very attractive, and could do wonders for a film industry in danger of stagnating. The Oscars are constantly being accused of being both too snooty and too dumbed-down, so why not reward the one film this year that managed to captivate highbrow critics and megaplex audiences alike? It would be a dream compared to the pandering, pseudo-profound stylings of The Revenant. –Andrew Gutman
Who Will Win: Brie Larson, Room
Who Should Win: Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
At the moment, Brie Larson seems to have everything except an actual Oscar. A relative newcomer to the awards scene, this is Larson’s first Academy Award nomination. After a clean sweep at the SAG Awards, the Golden Globes, and the BAFTAs, it seems likely that Larson will continue her winning streak at the Academy Awards for her performance in Room. The film, released in the U.S. on October 16th, has received a positive critical reception and is on the fringe of contention for Best Picture as well. Larson won praise for her performance as a mother and emotionally-traumatized kidnap victim.
On the other hand, Saoirse Ronan has been celebrated by critics for her role in Brooklyn. After receiving her first nomination at age 13 for Atonement, Ronan’s second nomination makes her, at age 21, one of the youngest actresses to receive two Academy Award nominations. Ronan gives a captivating, award-worthy performance as Irish immigrant Eilis in Brooklyn. However, after being nominated but failing to win at the SAG Awards, the Golden Globes, and the BAFTAs (all strong Oscar predictors), it seems unlikely that Ronan will come through as an underdog. –Caitlin Mannering
Who Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Who Should Win: DiCaprio
After striking out three times in this category, everything seems to be shaping up for DiCaprio this year. While his performance was intermittently transcendent, one can also point to the rest of the field as underwhelming, or at the very least straightforward. Bryan Cranston (Trumbo) gives a memorable performance, but not one that was ever going to upend a superstar on an Oscar warpath. The same can be said for Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), who may have gained more momentum this awards season had his film itself garnered wider acclaim. Matt Damon (The Martian) may or may not deserve to be here, though of course his likability is so near a consensus that no one seems to object.
If there is another nominee with a strong claim to the “Should Win” title, it’s Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl). His performance was incredibly moving, but he also won in this category last year (for The Theory of Everything), and it is hard to imagine the Academy rewarding him again when they have an eager, well-respected DiCaprio waiting with open arms. In my mind, The Revenant is flawed enough to perhaps not deserve Best Picture, but DiCaprio’s physical immersion into the role of Hugh Glass was more than enough to end his well-publicized Oscar drought. Some have pointed to the film and his work as purely awards bait, as ostentatious for the sake of winning shiny trophies, but the performance remains worthy regardless of its ambitions or intentions. –Brian McMahon
Who Will Win: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant
Who Should Win: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Iñárritu’s been sweeping. He took the Golden Globe, the Directors’ Guild, the BAFTAs, and a host of other minor awards—it doesn’t look like anything can stop him. This would be unfortunate; even beyond the dullness of re-rewarding a recent winner (in consecutive years!), Iñárritu’s work here lacks a lot of the subtlety and care that are obvious in his competitors’ works, and it gives weight to the old jab that for the Academy, “Best Direction” really just means “Most Direction.” In the end, it doesn’t matter that he just won last year, nor that The Revenant may not end up winning Best Picture, Iñárritu has simply nailed down what it is the Academy looks for in a director—for better or for worse.
But consider another candidate: George Miller. He’s been around forever tinkering with a host of odd projects (this is the guy behind Babe and Happy Feet) and he still finds time to put together another Mad Max movie and make it seem fresh and new thirty-five years after the first one. He manages to pull a film that is compelling narratively and visually—out of two hours of car chases. The other nominees just can’t match up; McKay, McCarthy, and Abrahamson are certainly admirable, but their movies are predominantly driven by actor and script and aren’t great directorial showcases. Iñárritu, on the other hand, tries far too hard to make every scene into its own showcase and ends up desperately overcooking his own film, drowning it in flourish. Miller’s been putting on this kind of spectacle for a long time, and the experience shows itself in Fury Road. –Andrew Gutman
Best Supporting Actress
Who Will Win: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Who Should Win: Vikander
As of now, the Supporting Actress Oscar race is an apparent dead heat between Academy Award winner Kate Winslet (winner of Best Actress in 2008 for her work in The Reader) and newcomer Alicia Vikander. The debut of Steve Jobs in October 2015 was met with acclaim, with critics praising both Winslet’s performance and that of Michael Fassbender as the titular tech giant. Yet, perhaps due to an already crowded race, pundits doubted the Academy would recognize the actress for her superb turn as Joanna Hoffman, the Polish-Armenian marketing executive of Apple who serves as Jobs’ moral compass. Fast forward four months, and Winslet has scooped up a Golden Globe and a BAFTA, generating buzz for what could have been an overlooked performance and positioning herself well for another Oscar.
For her part, Swedish actress Alicia Vikander has won raves for her role as the compassionate wife of the first recipient of gender confirmation surgery in The Danish Girl, earning a SAG award and a Critics Choice award, both considered strong predictors of Oscar victory. Stealing the spotlight from Eddie Redmayne’s showier portrayal of Lili Elbe was no easy feat, but Vikander pulled it off with grace and deeply-felt emotion as the painter Gerda Wegener. Vikander was in two other films this year—she played the hauntingly beautiful AI Ava in Ex Machina and appeared in The Man From Uncle. Keeping in mind the Academy’s perennial fascination with the fresh-faced, talented newcomer and considering her breakout year, I’m placing my bets on a Vikander victory on February 28th. –Amy Guay
Best Supporting Actor
Who Will Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Who Should Win: Stallone
The award for Best Supporting Actor is, just like many other categories at this year’s Oscars, without a frontrunner. Sylvester Stallone, nominated for his role as Rocky Balboa in the Rocky spin-off Creed is thought by most to have a slight edge on his competition, most prominently Tom Hardy, nominated for his role in The Revenant. After Creed star Michael B. Jordan and director Ryan Coogler were both snubbed, one would assume that awarding Stallone the award would serve as some sort of a make-up call, even though Stallone was the only major white member of the movie.
Hardy and Mark Ruffalo, nominated for his role in Spotlight, both have shots at the award while Christian Bale (The Big Short) and Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) are on the outside looking in. But Stallone looks to be the slight favorite, and he should be. Creed managed to revitalize a franchise that had been dead for 30 years (and two films), and Stallone, who played a Balboa who was at once more articulate and more vulnerable than his previous six iterations, was a large part of its success. Of course, the rest of the credit goes to Jordan and Coogler, but as of now, the only way for the Academy to validate Creed is through this category. It seems hard to believe that they wouldn’t do so. –Chris Almeida
Best Adapted Screenplay
Who Will Win: Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, The Big Short
Who Should Win: Randolph and McKay
Charles Randolph and Adam McKay used their writing chops to create one of the most unique and entertaining films of the year. One can imagine The Martian sneaking in to steal this category, but Randolph and McKay are more than deserving. Blending mini financial lessons with hilarious scenes from their leading characters with addressing the gravity of the greed and chaos that led to the 2008 economic meltdown sounds like an impossible task, but the writing pair managed to do so without sacrificing the pace and rhythm of their film.
Carol, Brooklyn, and Room are all deserving nominees here, but this seems to be a two-film race, as it should be. I would argue that The Big Short is also a worthy Best Picture contender, but the feeling here is that The Revenant or Spotlight will leave with the night’s biggest prize. This category could give McKay a satisfying consolation prize, assuming he does not pull off an unthinkable upset in the Best Director race. –Brian McMahon
Best Original Screenplay
Who Will Win: Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, Spotlight
Who Should Win: McCarthy and Singer
Some may say my confidence in the Academy for the two Screenplay categories is too bold, but I like to think Spotlight will be rewarded in a major way, and the Best Picture race seems unlikely to be the source. One could make sound arguments for Inside Out and Bridge of Spies in this category, but I see the Academy finding a way to champion a film with a message, a film with a harrowing true story told with nuance and tight dialogue. Spotlight is fascinating, troubling, and can be hard to watch, but its writing is consistently excellent, as one would expect from McCarthy and Singer (who worked extensively on The West Wing).
This is another strong category, with Straight Outta Compton and Ex Machina rounding out the nominees. Everyone seems to belong here, but Spotlight is the only one that truly belongs on top. Having gained momentum in recent weeks, Spotlight has the chance to leave Oscar night as the biggest winner, if it can upend The Revenant in the Best Picture race. Regardless, it should take home a trophy here, a well-earned one. –Brian McMahon