This has been one of the most unpredictable Oscar seasons in recent memory, with several categories, mainly best picture, having no clear frontrunner.
Usually, we start to see potential victors as we get closer to the Oscars, but not this year – even the precursor guild awards were all over the place. But that makes this year’s awards even more exciting. In some cases, it’s anyone’s call.
Trying to outguess the Academy is futile, anyway. But it’s always fun to try. Here are my predictions in major categories:
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“The Big Short”
“Bridge of Spies”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
This is one of the hardest categories to call, as several films are neck in neck.
“Spotlight,” about Boston Globe reporters who exposed sexual abuse within the Catholic church, seemed to be the front-runner heading into Oscar season, but it has lost a bit of steam. It did pick up the Screen Actors Guild award for best performance by a cast, its version of best picture. Even though the film’s buzz may have dimmed slightly, it’s still a very viable contender.
So is the Wall Street dramedy “The Big Short,” which came out of nowhere to win the Producers Guild Award, usually a strong indicator of Oscar chances. In the past 10 years, the Producers Guild winner has gone on to win the best picture Oscar eight times.
Many are saying that my personal favorite “Mad Max: Fury Road” still has a shot, and it should do very well in technical categories. But it’s rare that Oscar honors entertainment (it’s basically one long car chase) over “art.”
That leaves the frontier survivor tale “The Revenant.” It won the Golden Globe and the BAFTA (British Academy Award) for best picture, and it’s the kind of sweeping epic that Oscar loves, though its dour tone could turn off some voters. If it does win, it’ll be just by a hair.
Oscar prediction: “The Revenant”
Dark horse: “The Big Short” or “Spotlight”
Actor in a leading role
Bryan Cranston, “Trumbo”
Matt Damon, “The Martian”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”
Michael Fassbender, “Steve Jobs”
Eddie Redmayne, “The Danish Girl”
This is Cranston’s first Oscar nomination, and he’s the long shot here. So is previous acting nominee Damon (lead actor for 1997’s “Good Will Hunting” and supporting actor for 2009’s “Invictus”; he won an Oscar for best original screenplay for “Good Will Hunting”), although it’s his most assured performance to date.
Fassbender isn’t getting much buzz to win, either, with his second nomination (after 2013’s supporting nod for “12 Years A Slave”). Neither is Redmayne, last year’s winner for “The Theory of Everything.” Either could be an upset, but it’s highly unlikely.
Because all signs point to DiCaprio. He won the Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA awards.
Many seem to want to reward him just for enduring the film’s harsh, frigid shoot, but he also gave a riveting, fierce performance, worthy of an Oscar. It’s also just his time, after four previous acting nominations (supporting actor for 1993’s “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” lead actor for 2004’s “The Aviator,” “2006’s “Blood Diamond” and 2013’s “The Wolf of Wall Street”).
Oscar prediction: DiCaprio
Dark horse: Fassbender or Redmayne
Actress in a leading role
Cate Blanchett, “Carol”
Brie Larson, “Room”
Jennifer Lawrence, “Joy”
Saoirse Ronan, “Brooklyn”
Charlotte Rampling, “45 Years”
Acting vet Rampling gets her first nomination at age 70, but she is the long shot.
Blanchett (who has been nominated six times previously and won supporting actress for 2004’s “The Aviator” and lead for 2013’s “Blue Jasmine”) and Lawrence (who previously won lead actress for 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook” and nominated for lead for 2010’s “Winter’s Bone” and supporting for 2013’s “American Hustle”) aren’t getting much buzz to win.
Previous supporting actress nominee Ronan (for 2007’s “Atonement”) could be the upset with her sublime performance as an Irish immigrant.
But most signs point to Larson to win, a huge feat with her first nomination. She won the Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA awards. Most people have never heard of her, but that’ll surely change after Sunday’s Oscars.
Oscar prediction: Larson
Dark horse: Ronan
Actor in a supporting role
Christian Bale, “The Big Short”
Tom Hardy, “The Revenant”
Mark Ruffalo, “Spotlight”
Mark Rylance, “Bridge of Spies”
Sylvester Stallone, “Creed”
First-time nominee Hardy endured a tough shoot just like DiCaprio did, but he’s the long shot here.
And though their performances are certainly worthy of nominations, Ruffalo (previously nominated for supporting actor for 2010’s “The Kids Are All Right” and 2014’s “Foxcatcher”) and Bale (previous supporting actor winner for 2010’s “The Fighter” and lead actor nominee for 2013’s “American Hustle”) haven’t created much buzz.
First-time nominee Rylance, who is an acting vet but mostly known for his stage work, could be the upset for his performance in the Cold War thriller.
But most signs point to previous nominee Stallone (lead actor and original screenplay for 1976’s “Rocky”). The film was a love letter to Rocky Balboa and let Stallone give the performance of a lifetime.
Oscar prediction: Stallone
Dark horse: Rylance
Actress in a supporting role
Jennifer Jason Leigh, “The Hateful Eight”
Rooney Mara, “Carol”
Rachel McAdams, “Spotlight”
Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl”
Kate Winslet, “Steve Jobs”
It’s the first nomination for Leigh and McAdams, and neither are getting buzz to win. Neither is previous nominee Mara (lead for 2011’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”).
Winslet (who has been nominated seven times and won lead actress for 2009’s “The Reader”) could win, since she won the Golden Globe and BAFTA awards. She has a very strong chance.
But most think that Vikander will be victorious with her first nomination (she also won the SAG award). Her career has skyrocketed over the past year, and this could be her crowning achievement.
The only caveat: Vikander’s role is not exactly a supporting one, as Winslet’s is. If voters get picky, Winslet could benefit.
Oscar prediction: Vikander
Dark horse: Winslet
Adam McKay, “The Big Short”
George Miller, “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Alejandro G. Inarritu, “The Revenant”
Lenny Abrahamson, “Room”
Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight”
All are enjoying their first directing Oscar nomination, save for Inarritu (pronounced In-uh-REE-too), who won best director last year for “Birdman” (he also won Oscars for best original screenplay and best picture as one of the film’s producers).
The directing winner usually coincides with best picture, so it’s a good bet that Inarritu will be victorious once again (he already has won this year’s Directors Guild Award, and the DGA has not coincided with the directing Oscar winner only seven out of 68 years).
If Inarritu wins, he’ll be only the third person (after John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz) to win back-to-back directing Oscars – and the first to do so in 65 years. And if “Revenant” does win best picture (Inarritu is a producer) and he does win best director, he’ll make Oscar history because no one has pulled off back-to-back directing and best picture wins.
But this is a very close field, and Miller or McKay could very well be an upset with more-than-worthy work.
Oscar prediction: Inarritu
Dark horse: Miller or McKay
88th Academy Awards
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday (red carpet pre-show starts at 6)
Host: Chris Rock