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For Your Consideration: An Early October Take On The Major Oscar Races

For Your Consideration: An Early October Take On The Major Oscar Races


The New York Film Festival just gave us one more precious piece of the Oscar puzzle this past weekend in Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies.” While it wasn’t a critics’ darling akin to Spielberg’s last film “Lincoln” (another NYFF premiere), it still seems like a pretty safe bet to be a considerable player in this year’s race. Indiewire’s Eric Kohn called it “a smart, enjoyable Cold War espionage tale” superior to many of Spielberg’s recent Oscar-nominated works (remember that even “War Horse” got nominated for best picture), so unless it bombs at the box office or the year’s remaining question marks all hit it out of the park, Spielberg’s “Bridge” doesn’t look like it will have trouble staying in the Oscar race.

And now we wait. Not until next month’s AFI Fest (where “American Sniper” and “Selma” jumped into the race last year) — which brings us the world premieres of “By The Sea,” “Concussion” and “The Big Short” — will much new information be provided in terms of how this year’s Oscars might go down, save how a few already noted contenders do when they open in theaters (“Steve Jobs,” “Room” and the aforementioned “Bridge” will make their way to cinemas in October). So let’s use that as an opportunity to take a little breather and look at how this year’s major Oscar races currently seem to stand.

For full updated charts of all our Oscar predictions, go here, and check out more predictions from Anne Thompson.

Best Picture

If it is indeed true that we’ve already seen the film that will win the best picture (which has been the case by mid-October for the past 11 years), all signs point to that film being Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight.” Depicting The Boston Globe’s journalistic efforts to expose sex abuse within the Catholic church, it offers inspiring, intelligent filmmaking that will surely give McCarthy his first best picture nomination — and so far has quietly found itself in the default frontrunner position.

That status has come from both that most people like the film a lot, and from the difficult task of imagining anything else winning. “Bridge of Spies” seems like a safe bet to get nominated for Oscar’s big prize, but could it win? It’s hard to imagine an old-fashioned drama going that far. Same goes for Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs,” Ridley Scott’s “The Martian,” Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room,” John Crowley’s “Brooklyn,” Tom Hooper’s “The Danish Girl,” Pete Docter’s “Inside Out” and Todd Haynes’ “Carol” — none of which have found quite the same uniformity of praise heaped on “Spotlight.” It’s easy to see any of them (or maybe even all of them) landing nominations, but none of them carry the aura of a frontrunner. But hey, most people said variations of the same thing about “Birdman” year ago.

Part of what’s making prognostication in this category so difficult is that this year has a very high-end group of films waiting until the last minute to be seen. Beyond the noted trio premiering at AFI Fest, we have new films from Quentin Tarantino (“The Hateful Eight”), David O. Russell (“Joy”), Alejandro González Iñárritu (“The Revenant”) and Ron Howard (“In The Heart of Sea”) en route that are unlikely to screen until around Thanksgiving. To varying degrees, each and every one of them could be Oscar game changers.

So until that does or doesn’t happen, this category will remain murkier than the rest, especially because of the sliding scale nominee rule: Depending on how many #1 votes each film receives on voters’ ballots, anywhere from five to 10 nominees could wind up in the category, making it very difficult to predict. Currently, our totally uneducated guess is that it’s going to be 9 (last year it was 8, but before that it had always been 9), with three sight unseen films making the ultimate cut.

The Predicted Nominees (In Alphabetical Order):
“Bridge of Spies”
“Brooklyn”
“Joy”
“The Hateful Eight”
“Inside Out”
“The Revenant”
“Room”
“Spotlight”
“Steve Jobs”

Just Behind:
“Carol”
“The Danish Girl”
“The Martian”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”

Totally Unwarranted Winner Prediction: “Spotlight”

Best Director

Imagine how crowded the aforementioned best picture race sounds and narrow it down to just five slots. Add in the tendency for the director’s branch to reward more challenging work than the general Academy (hence recent nominations for Benh Zeitlin, Michael Haneke, Pedro Almodovar, Julian Schnabel, etc.), and the best director race seems incredibly crowded.

As last year proved with Bennett Miller, a best picture nomination is not necessarily needed for a director to sneak in here. Could Todd Haynes (“Carol”) or George Miller (“Mad Max: Fury Road”) or Cary Fukunaga (“Beasts of No Nation”) land a slot even if their films don’t make the best picture cut? Maybe. But like that race, this one is going to be far from clear until we see the latest from Quentin Tarantino, David O. Russell and Alejandro González Iñárritu. Collectively, that trio has been nominated in this category five times in the last six years (with Iñárritu winning last year).

Predicted Nominees (in alphabetical order):
Steven Spielberg, “Bridge of Spies”
Quentin Tarantino, “The Hateful Eight”
Alejandro González Iñárritu, “The Revenant”
Tom McCarthy
, “Spotlight”
Danny Boyle, “Steve Jobs”

Just Behind:
George Miller, “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Todd Haynes, “Carol”
David O. Russell, “Joy”

Totally Unwarranted Winner Prediction: Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight”

Best Actress

Brie Larson, Jennifer Lawrence, Carey Mulligan, and Saoirse Ronan have a collective average age of roughly 25 years old (Ronan the youngest at 21, Mulligan the oldest at 30). Lily Tomlin, Maggie Smith, Charlotte Rampling and Blythe Danner, meanwhile, average out at 74 (Rampling the junior of the quartet at 69, Smith the senior at 80). These two groups of women — with nearly 50 years separating their age medians — make up eight of the 10 performances in major contention for this year’s best actress Oscar. The other two? They’re both care of Cate Blanchett.

And if Blanchett hadn’t just won her second Oscar two years ago, she’d be a likely frontrunner for either “Carol” or “Truth” (you can’t be nominated for an acting Oscar twice in the same category in a given year). But it’s unlikely voters will welcome Blanchett to the triple crown club so soon (remember how long it took Meryl?). That leaves this category wide open, and while we have high hopes that its eventual nominees end up being a mix of both age demographics (Rampling and Danner have somehow never been nominated, and Tomlin has never won), we’re betting on Blanchett plus the four actresses all born post-1985.

Predicted Nominees (in alphabetical order):
Cate Blanchett, “Carol”
Brie Larson, “Room”

Jennifer Lawrence, “Joy”
Carey Mulligan, “Suffragette”
Saoirse Ronan
, “Brooklyn”

Just Behind:
Charlotte Rampling, “45 Years”
Cate Blanchett, “Truth”
Lily Tomlin, “Grandma”

Totally Unwarranted Winner Prediction: Brie Larson, “Room”

Best Actor

Making predictions about a film that no one has seen yet winning a major Oscar is typically inappropriate, but did you see the trailer for “The Revenant”? Leonardo DiCaprio — who has been waiting for an Oscar since way back in 1993 when he was first nominated for “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” — sure looks like he’s giving it everything he’s got this time around. So far, it’s Michael Fassbender who’s waiting to take it away from Leo for his critically adored work in “Steve Jobs,” but he’s really the only serious challenger (so far, at least).

As for the other nominees? Eddie Redmayne could be nominated again after winning last year, but he’s not expected to go two-for-two. Michael Caine could hang in there and get a seventh nomination for Cannes hit “Youth.” Johnny Depp, Matt Damon and Tom Hanks all got strong notices for “Black Mass,” “The Martian” and “Bridge of Spies,” respectively, and could factor in here. It’ll definitely be a star-studded category, but don’t hold your breathe for a tight race. If DiCaprio hits “The Revenant” as out of the park as that trailer suggests, this is (finally) his Oscar to lose.

Predicted Nominees (in alphabetical order):
Michael Caine, “Youth”
Johnny Depp, “Black Mass”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”
Michael Fassbender, “Steve Jobs”
Eddie Redmayne, “The Danish Girl”

Just Behind:
Matt Damon, “The Martian”
Tom Hanks, “Bridge of Spies”
Bryan Cranston, “Trumbo”

Totally Unwarranted Winner Prediction: Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”

Best Supporting Actress

Academy voters have corrected category fraud before—most famously in 2008 when Kate Winslet campaigned in the supporting for “The Reader,” and ended up getting nominated in lead instead. That worked out for Winslet, who ended up winning. But if the Academy decides the two frontrunners in this year’s supporting actress race — Rooney Mara (“Carol”) and Alicia Vinkander (“The Danish Girl”) — should head to the lead race instead, it might be tougher fate.

Either could genuinely win best supporting actress, but they’d have tough go of it for best actress. For now, let’s assume both end up where The Weinstein Company and Focus Features, respectively, are campaigning for them. They’ll likely be joined — oddly enough — by Winslet. Outside of Michael Fassbender, she’s the surest thing “Steve Jobs” has to a definite acting nominee.

The other two slots are very much up for grabs. Joan Allen (“Room”) and Julie Walters (“Brooklyn”) could return to Oscar’s good graces after a decade or so of absence thanks to powerful (and appropriately “supporting”) performances in films likely to be nominated for best picture and best actress. Jane Fonda could be back for the first time in three decades for her powerhouse cameo in “Youth” (wouldn’t be lovely if both Fonda and Lily Tomlin were nominated?). They’re basically just waiting to see what a woman who has somehow never been nominated has in store for us in Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight”: Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Predicted Nominees (in alphabetical order):
Joan Allen, “Room”
Jennifer Jason Leigh, “The Hateful Eight”
Rooney Mara, “Carol”
Alicia Vinkander, “The Danish Girl”
Kate Winslet, “Steve Jobs”

Just Behind:
Jane Fonda, “Youth”

Julie Walters, “Brooklyn”
Rachel McAdams, “Spotlight”

Totally Unwarranted Winner Prediction: Rooney Mara, “Carol”

Best Supporting Actor

Not since 1991 — when Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley were both nominated for “Bugsy” — have two actors from the same film been nominated in this category. Can “Spotlight” change that? The film is campaigning for its entire cast in the supporting categories, including Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery and Stanley Tucci. Now, we’re not suggesting an all-“Spotlight” affair, but it seems quite possible both Keaton and Ruffalo — both nominees last year — make the cut, especially if “Spotlight” continues to be seen as a best picture frontrunner.

They’d most definitely be joined by “Bridge of Spies” M.V.P. Mark Rylance if they do, with Benicio Del Toro (“Sicario”), Idris Elba (“Beasts of No Nation”), Jacob Tremblay (“Room”) and Joel Egerton (“Black Mass”) waiting to see how difficult the scores of potential players from “The Revenant,” “The Hateful Eight” and “Joy” are going to make life for them (Tom Hardy, Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Dern, Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper and Edgar Ramirez make up that magnificent seven).

Predicted Nominees (in alphabetical order):
Benicio Del Toro, “Sicario”
Tom Hardy, “The Revenant”
Michael Keaton
, “Spotlight”
Mark Rylance, “Bridge of Spies”
Mark Ruffalo, “Spotlight”

Just Behind:
Idris Elba, “Beasts of No Nation”
Robert DeNiro, “Joy”
Jacob Tremblay, “Room”

Totally Unwarranted Winner Prediction: Michael Keaton, “Spotlight”

Check out Indiewire’s latest chart of Oscar predictions here and additional predictions from Anne Thompson.

Peter Knegt is Indiewire’s Contributing Editor and awards columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

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