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Categories: Features

“The Revenant” is the overwhelming frontrunner, but “The Big Short” and “Spotlight” may surprise. And Leo? He’s absolutely getting that Oscar.


We’re now just days away from the 88th annual Academy Awards, and in the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and the massive changes the Academy have made to their membership rules, this ceremony – often for the wrong reasons – has been one of the most talked-about in a long time. But for all the uproar and criticism, the show must go on, and this Sunday Chris Rock will take the stage as (some of) the best movies of 2015 are celebrated and rewarded (full list of nominees here).

Which of those “best movies” will be rewarded is still up for some debate, although it seems Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s wilderness epic The Revenant has solidified itself as a pretty sturdy contender for Best Picture after wins at the Golden Globes, BAFTA and DGA. And with his likely win for Best Director, Iñárritu is poised to be the first person since Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1950 to win the award in consecutive years.

Other possibilities exist, but few would bet heavily against The Revenant at this stage given its precursor awards and popularity. The acting categories – except maybe Supporting Actress – are similarly preordained, though not to the same extent as they were last year, when you could’ve said who you thought would win half a year in advance and gone 4-for-4. Below are my full predictions (and preferences, because that’s what really matters) for this year’s Oscars. Disagree with my predictions or preferences? Sound off in the comments below.


Best Picture

Will Win: The Revenant. It’s the biggest, most expensive, most technically stunning “serious” movie nominated, and it’s had the most nominations at 12. It’ll be hard to stop the wave of support it’ll get across the board, and it’ll pick up some of the “just give Leo the Oscar already” love. Originally I thought Iñárritu would be hurt this year by the three Oscars he won last year, but now it looks like that only helps his chances. He’s seen as uncompromisingly visionary, with bonus points for all the struggles it took to get the – if nothing, ambitious – Revenant made. It might not be the best film of the year, but it does feel the most Best Picture.

Possibility: Don’t count out The Big Short, which won the PGA award (a great Oscar predictor) and rides on a recent surge in anti-establishment furor with a comedy about Wall Street avarice. It would be another case of keeping it in the family, so to speak, as producers Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner won for producing 12 Years a Slave two years ago. Spotlight could also upset, but its star has unfortunately faded since it was hailed a frontrunner late last year, and Room has a (very) outside chance.

Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road. Easy one for me; it’s been top of my Best of 2015 list since its release, and was by far the greatest cinematic accomplishment of the year. Everything, from the editing to the acting to the production design to the cinematography and the effects, was built with unmatchable style and energy to create one of the most visceral, awe-inspiring and flat-out entertaining films of recent memory – perhaps of all time.


Best Director

Will Win: Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu. See above – he’s seen as the auteur, the boundary-pusher, the guy who’ll do anything for his art. Two consecutive Oscars should be more than enough for the Academy to get that across, but expect him to be back for more within the next few years.

Possibility: George Miller could win for his Mad Max work; at least, that was the thought before Iñárritu started sweeping. Maybe, just maybe, Wiñárritu fatigue will allow Miller to sneak in there, but it’s looking very unlikely. Adam McKay also has an outside chance, but it’s a few hundred feet outside.

Should Win: George Miller. He spent decades working on this sequel to a series created entirely from his own imagination. It’s the most meticulously-crafted world since Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Miller wasn’t even working off of any source material. I’m a big fan of Iñárritu – Babel is one of my all-time favorites, and I think he should’ve bested Scorsese for The Departed that year – but this isn’t where he should be picking up his second statue.


Best Actress

Will Win: Brie Larson in Room. She gives the most dramatic and serious role, and has more standout scenes than her more understated competition (I’ve yet to see Carol, but I assume that applies to Cate Blanchett, too). It’ll be a deserving but unsurprising win: a rising young star who runs the whole gamut of emotions in a critically-acclaimed, Best Picture-nominated drama.

Possibility: Charlotte Rampling had a chance before she decided to give her two cents on the diversity issue (then again, this is the Oscars we’re talking about). Saoirse Ronan might also sneak in, but since she lost at BAFTA I don’t see that happening anymore. She’ll surely be back in the conversation again in the future, though, so not to worry.

Should Win: Brie Larson was certainly unforgettable in Room, so I’ve no qualms about her winning this. If I was an Oscar voter I might go Saoirse Ronan, as Brooklyn was a film that had special meaning for me, and was one of my absolute favorites of the year.


Best Actor

Will Win: Leo. No contest. He’s dragging himself through the snow with his bare hands, he’s eating raw bison liver and fish with his bare hands, and he’s being mauled by a bear’s bear hands. Doesn’t matter how much of it was real – DiCaprio’s seen as giving the biggest and most challenging physical transformation, and he’s overdue. It’s inevitable.

Possibility: At 0.0000000001% likelihood, maybe Bryan Cranston for Trumbo, if someone broke into the ballot boxes and removed all the Leo votes.

Should Win: I’m rooting for Michael Fassbender, who made you believe he was Steve Jobs despite looking nothing like Steve Jobs in Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs. He navigates the treacherous emotional waters of a character both immensely talented and crushingly unlikable with passion and elegance, proving he’s one of modern cinema’s greatest chameleons. It’d also be a nod to his similarly great work in Slow West. But really, anyone but Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl. He’s only nominated because everyone said he would be a year ago, but there are so many deserving performances that – with all due respect – could’ve taken his place.


Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Sylvester Stallone in Creed. He’s reviving a role he was nominated for almost 40 years ago, and to critical acclaim. He might have awkwardly forgotten to thank his director and lead actor in his Globes speech, but the deafening standing ovations more than make up for the flub. It helps that the performance is more than good enough for the gold.

Possibility: Mark Rylance could upset for his role in Bridge of Spies after winning the BAFTA, especially since he’s the most well-respected actor at the table this year with a few Tonys under his belt. Chances are, however, that he just doesn’t have the name recognition or sentiment behind him to pull it off. Tom Hardy also has a good chance, especially since The Revenant is the frontrunner in many other top categories. His performances in Legend and Mad Max don’t hurt his chances, either.

Should Win: I’m rooting for Tom Hardy. He might have been a bit cartoonish with his southern accent in The Revenant, but his selfish, violent presence was the perfect foil to DiCaprio’s cold calculation and determination. Within seconds of him stepping onto the screen, I knew exactly what the guy was about. That’s talent, right there.


Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: This is the only tough category out of the top ones. I’m actually betting on Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs, since she won the BAFTA and the Globe, even though supposed frontrunner Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) won SAG and Critic’s Choice. Even though it’s risky, I tend to gravitate more towards the Globe winners than the SAG winners, especially after Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained) bested Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) back in 2013. I also don’t think Oscar can resist getting Leo and Kate up on that stage together for a Titanic reunion.

Possibility: Alicia Vikander. It’s 50/50 in my eye. It’s important to note that Vikander hasn’t competed against Kate Winslet for her performance in The Danish Girl; at BAFTA and the Globes she was up for Ex Machina (in my opinion, the better performance, and far and away the better movie).  Like Brie Larson, she’s a young, rising star, and she’s had an insane amount of successful roles this year. Rachel McAdams could also win for Spotlight, but it’s very unlikely. Her role, while held up by a strong performance, is simply too short in comparison to Vikander and Winslet’s.

Should Win: I haven’t seen Jennifer Jason Leigh or Rooney Mara’s performances, but off the three that I have seen, I’d go with Kate Winslet. That’s probably why I’m picking her as “will win” as well. Like Michael Fassbender, she’s immensely good in Steve Jobs, providing the grounded, realistic foil to Jobs’ single-minded, arrogant idealism.


Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: Spotlight. It’s the consolation prize for Tom McCarthy (with co-writer Josh Singer), whose film is not gonna win Picture or Director. It won the BAFTA, so it’s pretty much a lock.

Possibility: Any of the other four (Straight Outta Compton, Inside Out, Ex Machina, Bridge of Spies) could upset. I’d put Straight Outta Compton at the top of the list, not just because it’s the diversity choice (written, of course, by white people), but because it’s also one of the smartest screenplays of the year, despite some historical inaccuracies.

Should Win: All five of the nominated screenplays are deserving nominees, but I’d vote Ex Machina, which placed a typical man-falls-in-love-with-artificial-intelligence narrative in a chilling high-tech locale and built an unforgettable ensemble of characters to populate it.


Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: The Big Short. Same reason as Spotlight – it won the BAFTA, and it doesn’t even have to compete with far and away the best screenplay of the year – Steve Jobs – here. To boot, it’ll be Adam McKay’s consolation prize (along with co-writer Charles Randolph).

Possibility: Once again, they all could win. Carol has the added bonus of not getting a Best Picture nod, which might give it a bit of a Ben Affleck-style push in this category. And Brooklyn, The Martian, and Room all do have Best Picture nods, which shows they have widespread support.

Should Win: I can’t vote for Carol since I haven’t seen it, so it’s between The Big ShortThe Martian and Brooklyn for me (Room is excellent, but the acting elevates the script). I like to Spread the wealth, so since I gave Brooklyn Best Actress I’ll give it to one of the other two films, both of which are very deserving. It’s a difficult choice, but I’m going with The Big Short, which is not only the funniest of the nominees, but the smartest, saddest, and most relevant. McKay and Randolph will be deserving of their wins.


Best Cinematography

Will and Should Win: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant (though I haven’t seen The Hateful Eight or Carol yet).

Best Costume Design

Will and Should Win: Jenny Beavan, Mad Max: Fury Road (I’m not a fan of period films dominating this category in general).

Best Animated Feature

Will and Should Win: Inside Out (though I haven’t seen Anomalisa or Boy & the World).


Best Foreign Language Film

Will Win: Son of Saul from Hungary (I haven’t seen any of the nominees).

Best Documentary Feature

Will Win: Amy (I haven’t seen any of the nominees except for Amy).

Best Documentary Short

Will Win: Body Team 12 (I haven’t seen any of the nominees).


Best Live Action Short

Will Win: Stutterer, but this is a very close category this year (though I’ve only seen that and Everything Will Be Okay).

Best Animated Short

Will Win: Sanjay’s Super Team. It’s Pixar.

Should Win: World of Tomorrow is the only nominee in this category that I’ve seen, but it’s so good I’d even vote it for Best Picture.

Best Original Score

Will Win: Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight.

Should Win: I’d vote Jóhann Jóhannsson for Sicario.

hateful eight samuel l jackson

Best Original Song

Will Win: “‘Til It Happens To You” by Lady Gaga and Diane Warren, from The Hunting Ground.

Should Win: “Earned It” by The Weeknd, from Fifty Shades of Grey. O.k., The Hunting Ground is a much more deserving film (watch it, now), but this is the best song nominated (although “Manta Ray” is growing on me). But really it should’ve been “See You Again”, a snub so bad it made me jump out of my seat in shock.

Best Sound Editing

Will and Should Win: Mark A. Mangini and David White for Mad Max: Fury Road.

Best Sound Mixing

Will and Should Win: Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff, and Ben Osmo for Mad Max: Fury Road (I refuse to believe that Star Wars or The Revenant, both of which had noticeable sound problems, could beat this).


Best Production Design

Will and Should Win: Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson, Mad Max: Fury Road. As with many of these technical categories, Revenant could upset.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Will and Should Win: Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega, and Damian Martin, Mad Max: Fury Road.

Best Film Editing

Will and Should Win: You guess it, Margaret Sixel for Mad Max: Fury Road. The Big Short could upset, and it wouldn’t be undeserving.

Best Visual Effects

Will Win: Chris Corbould, Roger Guyett, Paul Kavanagh, and Neal Scanlan, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Should Win: They’re all great nominees – the only category for which I wouldn’t change a single one – but I’d vote for the more subtle effects by Mark Williams Ardington, Sara Bennett, Paul Norris, and Andrew Whitehurst for Ex Machina.


And there go my predictions. Will I be right? Who knows. For surprise’s sake, let’s hope that if I’m wrong, I’m very wrong. What are you predicting? What should win or should have been nominated? Sound off in the comments!

In the UK, the 88th annual Academy Awards will air this Sunday at midnight GMT on Sky Movies Oscar.

Cameron Johnson

Cameron Johnson is a writer and filmmaker born in England, based in Michigan, USA, and currently living in Enniscrone, Ireland. He writes about all things entertainment with a speciality in film criticism. He has been working on films ever since middle school, when his shorts "Moving Stateside" and "The Random News" competed in the West Branch Children's Film Festival. Since then he's written and directed a number of his own films and worked in many different crew jobs. Follow him on Twitter @GambasUK and look at his daily film diary at letterboxd.com/gambasUK.

Posted on Feb 26, 2016

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