Editors Note: This story was originally published February 23.
The campaign for the 88th annual Academy Awards that started in earnest at the three fall film festivals in early September is over, and the answers will soon be in those envelopes to be opened on the Dolby Theatre stage. So now my final predictions of what those names will be can be officially revealed.
In what has been one of the tightest races in many years, the normal Oscars soothsayers we look to for guidance—the critics and guild awards—have been split all over the place. The guilds showed love to The Revenant (DGA), Spotlight (SAG, WGA) and The Big Short (PGA, WGA) with their top awards, and BAFTA added a late-inning win for The Revenant. But you can’t discount a movie like Mad Max: Fury Road, with its 10 nominations and a lot of below-the-line guild love. This might be a four-way race; one that could even stand to be spoiled by another film coming in from left field if all of the front-runners truly split. My final picks indicate Mad Max could run up a bigger final total of wins than any other movie going into the opening of the Best Picture envelope.
And wouldn’t it be fascinating to see something like Room, with only four nominations—though all of them key—sneak in like a little British film called Chariots Of Fire did in 1981, unseating all the favorites and pulling off one of the greatest Best Picture upsets in Oscar history? It could happen.
THE WINNER: The Revenant; Producers: Arnon Milchan, Steve Golin, Alejandro G. Inarritu, Mary Parent, Keith Redmon. Bottom line: Spotlight and The Big Short fight to the finish for the social issue vote, cancelling themselves out and winning only screenplay awards right up to presentation of Best Picture. They are kind of the Rubio/Cruz tandem trying to kill each other off in order to ascend to the top. No movie since The Greatest Show On Earth in 1952 managed to win Best Picture with only one other Oscar (it was for the now-defunct Motion Picture Story category). The Revenant (aka Trump) sneaks in between them on the wings of sheer awesomeness taking a more Oscar-friendly total of five overall wins and into the history books with a third consecutive Best Picture win for New Regency and its partners on the Fox lot. Or not. This remains a race too close to call, but I just did.
This category usually goes hand-in-hand with Best Picture, but in two out of the last of four years voters have split and gone rogue with their directorial choice. Since the DGA has only been wrong in seven out of 68 years in predicting the Oscar winner for direction, it is probably a safe bet to go with their choice of The Revenant’s Inarritu over the rest of a very competitive field. He will become only the third director after John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz to win back-to-back Oscars and the first to do it in 65 years. No director in Oscar history pulled off back-to-back Director AND Best Picture wins. He would be the first.
THE WINNER: Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant
Usually one of the most competitive Oscar categories, this year’s selection is a great group of nominees including Michael Fassbender’s bravura turn as Steve Jobs, Matt Damon alone on Mars in The Martian, Bryan Cranston brilliantly channeling Dalton Trumbo in Trumbo, and last year’s winner Eddie Redmayne again challenging the limits of physicality in The Danish Girl. But unfortunately for all them, this is Leo’s year and you can just feel it, despite his role in The Revenant comprising probably no more than 20 lines.
THE WINNER: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
It is veterans like two-time winner Cate Blanchett—again transformative in Carol—and first-time nominee at age 69 Charlotte Rampling—as a wife discovering long hidden secrets in her marriage in 45 Years—who must compete with the much younger crowd. That list includes Joy star and Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, former nominee Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn and the likely winner, Brie Larson, already a BAFTA, SAG, Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award champ for her harrowing turn in Room.
THE WINNER: Brie Larson, Room
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
There are some terrific nominees in this category this year, perhaps the most competitive of all the acting contests. In fact, you could have created another two or three worthy lists comprised of just the actors who were bypassed. The finalists are superb including Mark Ruffalo, Christian Bale, Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance who all happen to appear in Best Picture nominees, meaning their films may be more widely seen. But no matter the competition, the back story for Sylvester Stallone—only once before Oscar nominated as an actor for the same role of Rocky Balboa 39 years ago, who returns with a knockout in Creed—steals the limelight and takes the Oscar in a unanimous decision even if his is the only nomination Creed received, making this win an exception to the normal Oscar rule. If he’s upset as other sentimental favorites like Fred Astaire and Lauren Bacall have been in the past, this Oscar should belong to the exceptional work of BAFTA winner Rylance as the Russian spy in Bridge Of Spies. But Oscar has a Rocky-like moment happening Sunday night I would bet.
THE WINNER: Sylvester Stallone, Creed
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
This has been an odd category this year, as arguably leading actresses like The Danish Girl’s Alicia Vikander and Carol’s Rooney Mara have been nominated against true supporting roles from the likes of Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs, Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight and Rachel McAdams in Spotlight. The decision by Focus Features to campaign Vikander in this lower category has already paid off with Critics Choice and SAG wins, and should continue here, especially considering the favorable advantage of starring in another Oscar-nominated film: Ex Machina. The odd thing that makes this one more of a nail-biter is she lost at both the Golden Globes and BAFTA to none other than Winslet, but that was when she was nominated instead for Ex Machina and not Danish Girl.
THE WINNER: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Well, if you need me to give you the handicap on this category you might as well give it up. Although Anomalisa, Boy And The World, When Marnie Was There and especially the delightful and inventive Shaun The Sheep Movie make up a formidable list of contenders, there can be no doubt this belongs in the end to Pixar’s Inside Out from Up director Pete Docter. It even has an Original Screenplay nomination to boot. Take it to the bank for this BAFTA, PGA, Golden Globe, Critics Choice and 10-time Annie winner.
THE WINNER: Inside Out
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Cannes Grand Prize winner Son Of Saul, the harrowing Hungarian World War II Nazi concentration camp film, is far and away the front-runner here. But France’s Turkish teen drama Mustang really seems to be giving it a run for its money. It is between these two, but if there is a true upset at this year’s Oscars this seems to be the category ripe for it, and another possibility in that regard is Jordan’s first-ever nominee Theeb, or Denmark’s powerful and well-crafted A War. Colombia’s maiden nominee Embrace Of The Serpent has also been grabbing talk and new fans. This is where you can win a pool betting against the favorite so, on a hunch and nothing more…..
THE WINNER: Mustang (France)
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
I certainly think recent BAFTA champ Amy, the remarkable documentary about tragic singer Amy Winehouse, is the front-runner even though it has been forced to withstand other recent losses at IDA and DGA, where the incredibly worthy Cartel Land won in a head-to-head match up. Not to be discounted are the chances for either Netflix movie in the competition—What Happened, Miss Simone? and Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom—since that network is already proving it has deep pockets for the kind of expensive campaign not usually found in this category.
THE WINNER: Amy
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Four of the five nominees here are also up for Best Picture, which probably means we can already eliminate the fifth entry, Carol, since that kind of nomination goes a long way toward determining likely winners. Similarly, Brooklyn and The Martian might falter since those films failed to get directing nods, which could have helped here. So it comes down to Room and The Big Short, with the latter from Adam McKay and Charles Randolph also prevailing at WGA, BAFTA and the USC Scripter Awards taking the prize because of the importance of the material and its pertinence to what is still happening on Wall Street and beyond.
THE WINNER: The Big Short
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Ask almost anyone and they’ll tell you that, for originality, nothing trumps the creative, warmhearted and clever Inside Out. It should be your winner, but no animated feature nominated for its script has ever won here so forget it. And indeed, this looks to be the safe spot for Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, with their brilliant and riveting look at investigative journalism and the crisis in the Catholic Church in Spotlight. Bridge Of Spies is possibly even more deserving, but it doesn’t appear to have the awards mojo going in a big way despite the Coen brothers’ names being attached to the script along with Matt Charman. Now if the Academy wants to honor diversity they may just check off Straight Outta Compton, but that was written, believe it or not, by an all-white writing team.
THE WINNER: Spotlight
Could history be made, and this award go to Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki for a third year in a row? He won previously for last year’s Birdman and the year before for Gravity. He also won for the third year running at both BAFTA and ASC, so he is a front-runner again for his remarkable work on The Revenant, which uses natural light to great effect. It’s a strong year for DPs, though, as George Miller lured John Seale out of retirement to do incredible work on Mad Max: Fury Road and 13-time nominee Roger Deakins is trying again, this time with the exquisite Sicario. I wouldn’t discount Robert Richardson’s great film work with the 70MM Ultra Panavision glories of The Hateful Eight or Ed Lachman’s exquisite yet quiet work on Carol. But c’mon up, Chivo. You know the way to the stage by now.
THE WINNER: The Revenant
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
This year, it seems the designs are a bit more subtle in their own way with multiple Oscar winner and goddess Sandy Powell competing against herself for the period lines of Carol and the fairytale world of Cinderella. I would say she could cancel herself out, except her name doesn’t appear on the ballot, only the name of the film does. And could this category go for the unconventional in The Revenant’s furs or BAFTA winner Mad Max’s wild work? Then there is The Danish Girl, which just might be perfectly understated for the Academy’s tastes.
THE WINNER: Mad Max: Fury Road
BEST FILM EDITING
This is, of course, a key category as a film editing nomination is crucial to a film’s Best Picture chances. Birdman broke the curse last year, but it didn’t really count as its omission from the category had more to do with its highly publicized trick of saying the whole movie was unedited and staged in one shot. Before that you had to go back 35 years to 1980 and Ordinary People, which also didn’t have a nomination but still won Best Picture. Oddly one of the strongest entries this year is Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which may possibly leave the four Best Picture nominees in the category in the dust. This is also the category to look for on Oscar night. Should it go to either Spotlight or The Big Short that would be a huge clue that a Best Picture for the anointed one here won’t be far behind. The Revenant might have been a strong contender but some felt it too long (don’t blame the cutter). BAFTA and ACE winner Margaret Sixel’s work for hubby George Miller on Mad Max: Fury Road has all the right moves for a win.
THE WINNER: Mad Max: Fury Road
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
With an oddball but nice nomination for Sweden’s The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared, this race clearly comes down to the other pair of rival nominees, The Revenant and the rock star of the bunch Mad Max: Fury Road, with the latter’s stand-out wild hair and makeup so obviously the class of this category, unless voters count all that dirt on Leo’s face as makeup.
THE WINNER: Mad Max: Fury Road
BEST ORIGINAL MUSIC SCORE
Another fascinating category strewn with legends. John Williams receives his 50th overall nomination for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which might sound a bit too familiar for casual Oscar voters not aware of all the new material in it. Then there is 87-year-old Ennio Morricone, perhaps the most prolific film composer of all time with more than 400 scores to his credit. Though he now has six nominations, he has never won with the Academy, though he did receive an Honorary Oscar in 2007. And then there’s Thomas Newman, a 13-time nominee and part of the famous Newman family of composers. He has also never won and only got this gig when John Williams wasn’t available for pal Spielberg. With exquisite scores in Sicario and Carol rounding out the pack, the Academy music branch did themselves proud. But how can this NOT be Morricone’s year?
THE WINNER: The Hateful Eight
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Every year the odds seem to get longer for Diane Warren, but ironically the prolific songwriter, who has been nominated seven times previously for Oscars, may have hit the motherlode this time, teamed with Lady Gaga for the stirring anti-rape anthem “’Til It Happens To You” from The Hunting Ground. Golden Globe winner Sam Smith will try to be the spoiler this time for his James Bond Spectre tune “Writing’s On The Wall.”
THE WINNER: “’Til It Happens To You” from
The Hunting Ground
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Some very big epics—The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian—compete with the stunning period settings of Bridge Of Spies and The Danish Girl. What? No Room at this inn? Too bad because that little film, shot in a 10 x 10-foot space, could have been the ideal winner. Instead others will be duking it out. This is hard to call as it could go any which way, but I have a hunch Max will have no reason to be Mad about the results.
THE WINNER: Mad Max: Fury Road
BEST SOUND EDITING
There is probably no other category more baffling to the non-sound branch members of the Academy than this and Sound Mixing, where they often tend to choose the most popular films to win, if not the most intricate sound work. This year the movies are very big as usual, with Mad Max: Fury Road taking the edge over The Martian, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Revenant. Although that bear fight in the latter could be the spoiler.
THE WINNER: Mad Max: Fury Road
BEST SOUND MIXING
This is a popular category for musicals and war movies among others, and it contains pretty much the same list of nominees as Sound Editing minus Sicario, which is replaced here by Bridge Of Spies. The likeliest winner could again be Mad Max: Fury Road, or even a Star Wars win. But let’s give this one to our predicted Best Picture winner.
THE WINNER: The Revenant
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Though all the nominees are strong, especially with The Revenant’s CGI bear attack, the work in VES and BAFTA winner Star Wars: The Force Awakens was beyond reproach and will likely sail to a win here, although I feel like protesting the complete absence of the year’s most awe-inspiring effects work in The Walk.
THE WINNER: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
If the Academy got rid of these categories, what would be there to serve as a tiebreaker in your office pool? Definitely falling into the “never heard of any of them” space, this is a broad but depressing group of movies. Of this bunch there is much to be admired, including Body Team 12, dealing with the Ebola outbreak, and A Girl In The River: The Price Of Forgiveness, which tells the story of women targeted for religiously motivated “honor” killings in Pakistan. Perhaps because that one is the most depressing I will go with it.
THE WINNER: A Girl in the River:
The Price Of Forgiveness
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT SUBJECT
Day One, which comes from AFI alum Henry Hughes, may be the favorite. It deals with the story of a divorced Afghan-American woman who is sent to Afghanistan to work as an interpreter and runs into a very unique situation. Everything Will Be Okay, dealing with a divorced father and his daughter, or Stutterer might be a worthy competitor here too, but the terrific Shok could shock them all.
THE WINNER: Shok
BEST ANIMATED SHORT
A decent bunch of animated shorts populate this category with, as usual, an entry from Pixar—Sanjay’s Super Team, which is a delight but not quite on par with some of their previous entries. I would say it is between the charming Bear Story and the fantastical World Of Tomorrow, which takes young Emily on a tour of her not-so-distant future.
THE WINNER: Bear Story
We will see you at the Oscars on Sunday.