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For Your Consideration: Why This Year’s Oscar Race is Still Unclear

For Your Consideration: Why This Year's Oscar Race is Still Unclear


Another month of the 2015-16 awards race has gone by, but it hasn’t exactly brought much clarity along with it. Most years, the race starts to become fairly clear by early November. This time around, however, it seems even less so than it did a month ago.

READ MORE: Anne Thompson’s Oscar Predictions

Why exactly is this? An unusually high amount of Oscar hopefuls opened in October 2015, and they were largely hurt by excess competition and the fact that few of them found major success at the box office.

Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs” and Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies” entered their theatrical runs with “surefire Oscar contender” written all over them, thanks to well-received film festival premieres. But both were casualties of a very disappointing October box office: “Spies” has made $45 million after three weeks and should end up as Spielberg’s second lowest-grossing film of the last 15 years (after “Munich,” though that film did end up getting nominated for best picture).  And that’s financial glory compared to “Steve Jobs,” which has grossed just under $15 million and shouldn’t end up with much more than the largely disregarded 2013 Ashton Kutcher version.

Neither film is necessarily out of the Oscar race just because of its box office performance. In fact, it’s safe to assume one of the two will end up a best picture nominee, if not both. But their momentum has certainly slowed, and neither are surefire bets at this point. The same logic applies to James Vanderbilt’s “Truth” and Cary Fukunaga’s “Beasts of No Nation,” both of which opened in October to middling box office (though in the latter’s case, reportedly high viewership on Netflix). They could rebound, but neither saw their theatrical runs strengthen their awards prospects.

So did any film actually benefit from October when it came to Oscar traction? There is one possibility in that regard: Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room.” While it didn’t light the box office on fire (the film has grossed $800,000 after three weeks in limited release), it hasn’t expanded wide yet. Most Oscar prognosticators (including this one) think it has what it takes to get major nominations across the board. A24’s slow-and-steady expansion is probably very smart in light of “Steve Jobs” and “Bridge of Spies” disappointing in wide release.

If the company can keep “Room” in theaters until it starts getting awards notices in December (particularly for lead actress Brie Larson, who is arguably the most confident frontrunner in any of the acting categories), its box office will likely benefit.

One film that won’t need much awards attention to boost it’s box office — but will get some anyway — is Ridley Scott’s “The Martian,” by far the big winner when it came to October’s Oscar buzz meter. It held the #1 spot at the box office four of its five weekends in release and has totaled $183 million and counting. That’s in addition to very strong reviews and the increasing suggestion that a major narrative of this awards season will be rewarding Scott’s career (he has never won an Oscar) — and “The Martian” went from a long shot to a near lock over the past month.

As for November: There’s basically no way this month can come and go without making the Oscar race substantially clearer. Four of the festival circuit’s MVPs — Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight” (still hanging on to default frontrunner status) John Crowley’s “Brooklyn,” Todd Haynes’ “Carol” and Tom Hooper’s “The Danish Girl” — will all hit theaters, and by the month’s end critics should have got their first looks at the rest of the year’s remaining eight contenders: Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight,” David O. Russell’s “Joy,”
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “The Revenant,” Adam McKay’s “The Big Short,” Ron Howard’s “In The
Heart of Sea,” Angelina Jolie’s “By The Sea,” Peter Landesman’s “Concussion” and J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

These films have the collective power to alter every major race, and it would be shocking if at least two of them — sight unseen or not — don’t end up in our eventual best picture lineup.

“By The Sea,” “The Big Short” and “Concussion” will all premiere at AFI FEST the next few weeks (the festival kicks off this Friday), and advanced screenings of all the films will probably have happened by month’s end (otherwise they’ll miss out on consideration for critics groups, the SAGs and the Golden Globes). And then things really get crazy, with awards announcements nearly every day of the first two weeks of December. So let’s enjoy the prolonged giant question mark hanging over most of this year’s races while it lasts. Check out our early November predictions in all the major categories below, and feel free to add your own prognosticator talents in the comments section.

Best Picture

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

Just Behind:
“Carol”
“The Danish Girl”
“The Big Short”

Totally Unwarranted Winner Prediction: “Spotlight”

Best Director

Predicted Nominees (in alphabetical order):
Lenny Abrahamson, “Room”
Alejandro González Iñárritu, “The Revenant”
Tom McCarthy
, “Spotlight”
David O. Russell
, “Joy”
Ridley Scott, “The Martian”

Just Behind:
Steven Spielberg, “Bridge of Spies”
Quentin Tarantino, “The Hateful Eight”
Danny Boyle, “Steve Jobs”

Totally Unwarranted Winner Prediction: Ridley Scott, “The Martian”

Best Actress

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

Jennifer Lawrence, “Joy”
Charlotte Rampling, “45 Years”
Saoirse Ronan
, “Brooklyn”

Just Behind:
Blythe Danner, “I’ll See You In My Dreams”
Lily Tomlin, “Grandma”
Carey Mulligan, “Suffragette”

Totally Unwarranted Winner Prediction: Brie Larson, “Room”

Best Actor

Predicted Nominees (in alphabetical order):
Matt Damon, “The Martian”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”
Michael Fassbender, “Steve Jobs”
Eddie Redmayne, “The Danish Girl”
Will Smith, “Concussion”

Just Behind:
Johnny Depp, “Black Mass”
Tom Hanks, “Bridge of Spies”
Steve Carell, “The Big Short”

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

Best Supporting Actress

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

Just Behind:
Joan Allen, “Room”
Julie Walters, “Brooklyn”
Rachel McAdams, “Spotlight”

Totally Unwarranted Winner Prediction: Jennifer Jason Leigh, “The Hateful Eight”

Best Supporting Actor

Predicted Nominees (in alphabetical order):
Paul Dano, “Love & Mercy”
Tom Hardy, “The Revenant”
Michael Keaton
, “Spotlight”
Mark Rylance, “Bridge of Spies”
Jacob Tremblay, “Room”

Just Behind:
Benicio Del Toro, “Sicario”
Mark Ruffalo, “Spotlight”
Idris Elba, “Beasts of No Nation”

Totally Unwarranted Winner Prediction: Michael Keaton, “Spotlight”

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

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

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