It’s been one of the most unpredictable awards seasons in recent memory. For instance, while last year there was some question whether “Birdman” or “Boyhood” would take Best Picture and Best Director at the 2015 Academy Awards, almost everything else was locked in for a while —Eddie Redmayne, Julianne Moore, J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette had swept the precursor awards. The year before, it was much the same.
But 2015 has been a different kettle of fish entirely. Critics groups and those precursor awards have spread the love to the extent where just two days before the Academy announce its nominations for this year’s Oscars, their picks are very much up for grabs in multiple categories, up to and including Best Picture.
Nevertheless, the time is nigh, and as the Playlist’s appointed awards-watcher (a continuing punishment for stationery theft in the office), I’ve made my annual predictions of what I think will be announced by Guillermo Del Toro, Ang Lee and John Krasinski (#TrueDetectiveSeason3) on Thursday morning (excluding the shorts: I haven’t seen enough of the longlist to make an educated decision). Take a look below, and let me know your own predictions in the comments.
Best Sound Editing
The Nominees: The sound categories tend to reward the movies that fit on the Venn diagram between ‘giant noisy blockbusters’ and ‘well-reviewed awards players.’ As such, expect “The Revenant,” “The Martian,” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” in both categories, along with “Star Wars.” The fifth slot in editing (annual reminder: editing is the choice and creation of sounds, and mixing is the balancing of sound with dialogue and music) is tougher to call, but “Bridge Of Spies” looks to be a movie that plays across the below-the-line board, so I’m going to give that the edge (particularly with its BAFTA nod last week).
The Contenders: That said, if “Bridge Of Spies” proves not to the taste of the branch, don’t rule out “The Hateful Eight,” which is noisy enough to make an impact. Similarly, “Sicario” was a loud and noticeable soundscape, so that could figure in if voters like the movie.
Dark Horse: It’s been five years since an animated movie was nominated in this category —“Toy Story 3,” as it happens. But “Inside Out” is certainly Pixar’s best since then, and the sound design is more than deserving.
Should Be, But Won’t: So much of “Son Of Saul”’s impact comes down to the sound design, but it’s sadly unlikely to be recognized: a foreign-language, foreign-made movie hasn’t been nominated here since “Das Boot” in 1982.
“Bridge Of Spies”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
Best Sound Mixing
The Nominees: There tends to be a crossover between the sound categories, and I’m expecting the “Star Wars,” “The Revenant,” “The Martian” and “Fury Road” quartet to repeat here. Again, the fifth slot is more open. It’s often taken by a musical, but in the lack (mostly: see below) of such a nomination this year, I’m leaning towards “The Big Short,” which does some interesting, playful things with the mix that stand out nicely.
The Contenders: Again, expect “Bridge Of Spies,” “The Hateful Eight” and “Sicario” to be in the mix: any could make that final slot. Depending on what the Academy make of it (and SAG and PGA nods suggest it could be a contender), “Straight Outta Compton,” as the closest thing to a musical here, might beat them off.
Dark Horse: “Love & Mercy” hasn’t quite managed to get into the awards conversation in the way that it should have, but if the right people see it from the sound branch, it could make the cut: not just because of the live performances, but also the trippier elements of the work.
Should Be, But Won’t: There was some stunning mixing work in “Beasts Of No Nation,” doing a huge amount to build the film’s most nightmarish qualities, but recognition here is extremely unlikely.
“The Big Short”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
Best Makeup & Hairstyling
The Nominees: As always, this is the smallest of the categories with just three nominees, and one of the easier categories to predict, with a shortlist of just seven. Again, movies with legit Best Picture possibilities tend to fare best here (within reason), so look for “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “The Revenant.” And the act of aging-up actors is often successful: while there are two options here, I think adding a couple of decades to Ian McKellen for “Mr. Holmes” will pay off.
The Contenders: The only one of the remaining four that I think could crack the final three is “Black Mass” —Johnny Depp’s liver spots, bald head and eerie blue eyes were no mean feat, even if it never quite looked… real.
Dark Horse: The work in “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared,” an adaptation of a Scandinavian bestseller, is pretty great. I’m not sure anyone actually saw the movie, but maybe that’ll be less of a problem in a bake-off situation like this.
Should Be, But Won’t: Not that it needs the help, but the idea that “Star Wars” didn’t make the final longlist is baffling, given the terrific prosthetics work throughout. Maybe people assumed it was digital?
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
Best Visual Effects
The Nominees: As ever, this is a tight year, but one that’s rather more interesting than most. “Star Wars” is obviously in, but beyond that there’s more uncertainty. Again, Best Picture possibilities tend to end up here, so I think that the seamless work of “The Martian” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” will be here too. Past that, “Ant-Man” might be some of the most inventive stuff on the list, and I hope the branch sees that, while there’s been an interesting narrative forming around “Ex Machina,” a movie that costed close to a tenth of anything else on the list, and I think that could make an impression.
The Contenders: The giant box office and plentiful dinosaurs of “Jurassic World” make that a very viable nominee, while “The Walk” is hotly tipped by some.
Dark Horse: I think “Avengers: Age Of Ultron” and “Tomorrowland” are on the outside looking in, but the surprise could be “The Revenant.” It would ultimately be based mostly on a single sequence, but that didn’t stop “Hereafter” being nominated a few years back.
Should Be, But Won’t: Say what you like about “In The Heart Of The Sea” —for instance, that it’s boring and stodgy— but there are some terrific effects work. It made the twenty-strong longlist, but not the shortlist.
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
Best Production Design
The Nominees: I’d argue that this is one of the most competitive below-the-line races this year, and any one of eight or nine movies could make the final five. Safest, I think, are period piece “Bridge Of Spies” and the lavish “Danish Girl,” while of the various fantasy pictures, I’m surest of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” given its general dominance of less prestigious categories. Past that, I think the category’s love of fairy tales will favor “Cinderella,” and after nods for “Gravity” and “Interstellar” in recent years, I think “The Martian” makes it in too.
The Contenders: All that said, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” shouldn’t be counted out, even if much of its design was influenced by the original trilogy. The only reason I didn’t include “Carol” is because the Art Directors Guild didn’t, but that was in a competitive period category, so it’s not impossible that it still makes it. And “Crimson Peak,” despite its box office disappointment and absence from other awards, has such great work that I think (or hope) it might make it in.
Dark Horse: Possibly “Trumbo,” which with “The Revenant,” also made the Period shortlist at the ADG, and keeps popping up in surprising (and horrifying) places throughout awards season.
Should Be, But Won’t: It’s extremely rare for a movie concerned with contemporary times to crack this category, but I’d love to see some recognition here for “Room” —even just the single set of the title is incredibly rich, lived-in work.
“Bridge Of Spies”
“The Danish Girl”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
Best Costume Design
The Nominees: When it comes to costume design, the words ‘period’ and ‘pretty’ are always good to bet on, and that makes it much easier to guess than for production design this time around. Sandy Powell will definitely pull the double for “Cinderella” and “Carol,” while “Brooklyn” and “The Danish Girl” are safe bets too. As for the fifth, there are a few options, but I can’t see how the spectacular work in “Mad Max: Fury Road” gets overlooked.
The Contenders: That said, if it (or one of the others) misses, “Crimson Peak” is ready to step up, as are “The Hateful Eight” and “The Revenant.” But a nod for one would suggest that they have much wider support than previously thought.
Dark Horse: My period rule has certain exceptions, like when the movies almost entirely involve men in suits. As such, I don’t think that “Bridge Of Spies” has much of a shot here. But if people really love the movie…
Should Be, But Won’t: There’s some gorgeous work in “The Assassin,” but while a foreign-language movie occasionally breaks this race —“I Am Love,” “Coco Before Chanel,” “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”— the film doesn’t have that kind of recognition factor with the Academy at large.
“The Danish Girl”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
The Nominees: The joke category of the Oscars has actually had a pretty good run the last few years, if you exclude things like that weird movie no one had heard of that got nominated and disqualified —“Skyfall,” “Let It Go” and “Glory” can rank among the best winners of the last couple of decades. Don’t look for it to be so this year: it’s a pretty rubbish longlist even with 74 possibilities. The mournful “Furious 7” anthem “See You Again” seems like the frontrunner, while “Fifty Shades Of Grey,” of all things, has a couple of contenders: I’d suggest Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” over The Weeknd’s track, but it could go either way. Because something has to get nominated, I reckon Leon Bridges’ “So Long” from “Concussion,” and “Simple Song 3” from “Youth” (which at least plays a part in the film itself) will be there, and I’d be pleased to see Lady Gaga’s “Til It Happens To You” from “The Hunting Ground” nominated, because it is at least important and comes from a movie everyone should see.
The Contenders: Sam Smith’s rubbish Bond song could get in, as could songs from “Freeheld,” “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Ricki And The Flash,” but it’s particularly slim picking this year.
Dark Horse: Could Eminem return to the race? “Phenomenal,” from “Southpaw,” is hardly “Lose Yourself,” but it at least has some name recognition behind it.
Should Be, But Won’t: A write-in win for ‘no one.’
“So Long” from “Concussion”
“Love Me Like You Do” from “Fifty Shades Of Grey”
“See You Again” from “Furious 7”
“Til It Happens To You” from “The Hunting Ground”
“Simple Song 3” from “Youth”
The Nominees: It was a good year for film scores, and this competitive category (last year was the thinnest it had been in a while) will likely come down to a battle for the win for two of the greatest ever film composers for work that could be among their last: John Williams and Ennio Morricone, for “Star Wars” and “The Hateful Eight,” respectively. Williams skipped Spielberg’s latest for “Star Wars,” but Thomas Newman’s likely to get a nod for “Bridge Of Spies” anyway, while the general love for “Spotlight” should carry through to Howard Shore’s excellent score. Again, the fifth slot is difficult to call, but I think a good year for Carter Burwell should finally bring him his first ever nomination for “Carol.”
The Contenders: That said, any nominations for Newman, Shore or Burwell could fall out, with last year’s winner Alexandre Desplat, who the Academy loves nominating, for “The Danish Girl,” the impressive “Sicario” work from Jóhann Jóhannsson, and Michael Giacchino’s “Inside Out” score.
Dark Horse: James Horner sadly passed away this year, but there’s a chance to give him a posthumous nomination for Chilean mining drama “The 33.” I’m not sure if anyone actually saw the movie, and there’ll be another chance to nominate Horner for “The Magnificent Seven” next year, but there could be a surprise here.
Should Be, But Won’t: Daniel Pemberton’s work on “Steve Jobs” was one of the most impressive, inventive and wide-ranging scores I’ve heard in a long time. The film lost so much awards-season oxygen so fast that it’s not really in this race, but I’d love to see it recognized.
Carter Burwell – “Carol”
Ennio Morricone – “The Hateful Eight”
Thomas Newman – “Bridge Of Spies”
Howard Shore – “Spotlight”
John Williams – “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
Best Film Editing
The Nominees: Last year saw a longstanding Oscar perception —that you couldn’t win Best Picture without a Best Editing nomination— blown away with a win for “Birdman.” But this should still end up reasonably closely aligned to the main prize: “Mad Max: Fury Road” feels very safe, as does “The Big Short,” while the immaculate construction of “Spotlight” should make it too. Beyond that, “The Martian” and “The Revenant” should make up the final five, but their cutting’s less showy and rigorous, and the films are less dominant of the whole field, so they cold fall away.
The Contenders: If they do, there’s a few movies ready to step up: “Star Wars,” of course, and multi-nominee Michael Kahn for “Bridge Of Spies,” while a recent groundswell toward “Sicario” could pay off here as well.
Dark Horse: “Steve Jobs,” which Elliot Graham wrangled into a cinematic shape that belies a script that could have been stagey in some circumstances. Again, the film has lost a lot of awards energy, but don’t rule it out here entirely.
Should Be, But Won’t: Chances that many awards voters have seen “The Duke Of Burgundy” are minimal, but Matyas Fekete’s work was some of the most terrific I’ve seen in a long time.
Hank Corwin – “The Big Short”
Pietro Scalia – “The Martian”
Tom McArdle – “Spotlight”
Stephen Mirrione – “The Revenant”
Margaret Sixel – “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Best Animated Feature
The Nominees: So far, the animated feature category has been won entirely by family movies, but that could change this year: the battle for the win will be down to “Inside Out” and “Anomalisa,” and it’ll be fascinating to see which wins out. For the other three slots, Aardman’s “Shaun The Sheep Movie” looks safe (they’re past winners and were nominated a few years back for “The Pirates!”). Past that, GKIDS don’t have as strong a lineup as they have in recent years, with their best bet this time being “Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet,” and that should make the cut rather than Ghibli’s “When Marnie Was There.” Right now, I probably give the edge to a second Pixar nod for “The Good Dinosaur” for the fifth slot, but it’s very much up in the air.
The Contenders: Given the box office disappointment of the latter, it could easily get pushed out, likely for the well-regarded “The Peanuts Movie,” or for megahit “Minions” (which BAFTA nominated).
Dark Horse: It’s low on the radar even by GKIDS standard, but Brazillian animation “Boy & The World” could end up sneaking in if there’s a lack of enthusiasm for the second-tier studio fare.
Should Be, But Won’t: Probably “When Marnie Was There,” of the less likely contenders: it’s not A-grade Ghibli, but it’s still very good.
“The Good Dinosaur”
“Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet”
“Shaun The Sheep Movie”
Best Documentary Feature
The Nominees: The documentary category is always a mite unpredictable, but it would be a real shock for “Amy,” “Cartel Land” or “Listen To Me Marlon” to not be nominated (though there’s always a shock here). I’d thought that “The Look Of Silence” was safe, but BAFTA missed it, which makes it shakier: nevertheless, I think it makes the cut. Also look for “He Named Me Malala,” which BAFTA included, to pick up a nomination too, even though it’s quite bad.
The Contenders: Again, anything can happen here, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see “Where To Invade Next” (which feels like it doesn’t have the buzz of Michael Moore’s other movies), “What Happened, Miss Simone?,” “Best Of Enemies,” “Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom” and “Meru” to break into the final five.
Dark Horse: I have noticed a lot of Hollywood types talking about “The Hunting Ground” recently, no doubt helped by the film’s Best Song contention. I have a funny feeling it could end up doing better than some prognosticators suggest.
Should Be, But Won’t: Two of our favorites (see our list of the Best Documentaries of the year) weren’t even on the longlist; the terrific “(T)error” and Kim Longinotto’s deeply moving “Dreamcatcher.”
“He Named Me Malala”
“Listen To Me Marlon”
‘The Look Of Silence”
Best Foreign Language Feature
The Nominees: This category is more or less “Son Of Saul” and then everything else: Laszlo Nemes’ powerful debut should definitely be joined by the excellent “Mustang” and “Labyrinth Of Lies” (the latter being a movie that’s virtually made for this category). It’s fairly open beyond that, but I have a good feeling about “A War,” and after its BAFTA nomination, “Theeb.”
The Contenders: Yet the latter two could be pushed out by the Irish entry “Viva” or by quirky Belgian religious satire “The Brand New Testament,” both of which appear to be well liked.
The Dark Horse: Again, almost anything in the nine-strong shortlist could end up here, but I love “Embrace Of The Serpent,” and it’s original and gorgeous enough that it could connect with the panel here.
Should Be, But Won’t: Lots of great films were left off the longlist, but Sweden’s selection Roy Andersson’s “A Pigeon Sat On A Branch” might be the best.
“Labyrinth Of Lies”
“Son Of Saul”
The Nominees: A host of veterans and famous DoPs should make the list this time around. Emmanuel Lubezki is gunning for his third in a row for “The Revenant,” while Roger Deakins could finally win for “Sicario.” Either way, both will certainly be nominated, along with John Seale for “Mad Max: Fury Road.” I also reckon that Edward Lachman will get his second nod for “Carol,” and the oft-nominated Janusz Kaminski will take the final slot for “Bridge Of Spies.”
The Contenders: Kaminski or Lachman could end up slipping away for Robert Richardson: despite the much-heralded 70mm photography, the film’s struggled to get an awards foothold in a surprising way (it missed with the guild, for instance), but Richardson was nominated for his last two Tarantino gigs, so it’s entirely possible. Don’t count out “The Martian” and Dariusz Wolski either, if the movie is well-loved enough.
The Dark Horse: Neither “Spotlight” or “The Big Short” are the kind of movie that are naturally contenders for a category like this, but as Best Picture frontrunners, neither should be counted out: if either are nominated, it’s a very good sign. We’ve also had some interesting foreign-language nominations of late with films like “The Grandmaster” or “Ida,” so “The Assassin” would be a potentially interesting long-shot here.
Should Be, But Won’t: Maryse Alberti’s work in “Creed” was phenomenal: the film never quite seemed to crack the awards race, but I’d love to see her recognized.
Roger Deakins – “Sicario”
Janusz Kaminski – “Bridge Of Spies”
Edward Lachman – “Carol”
Emmanuel Lubezki – “The Revenant”
John Seale – “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Nominees: The top contenders in Adapted Screenplay, which is a much stronger category this year than in 2015, are two business-minded scripts. It had long been assumed that this was Aaron Sorkin’s to lose for “Steve Jobs,” but the surprise strength of “The Big Short” might have put Adam McKay and Charles Randolph in the lead here. They’re both in the final five anyway, and I think Phyllis Nagy and “Carol” makes it in too. There’s multiple possibilities past them, but my money’s on Nick Hornby and his “Brooklyn” script, and Drew Goddard’s work on “The Martian.”
The Contenders: That said, it’s entirely possible that Emma Donoghue’s adaptation of her own “Room” gets in, while “Trumbo” (which got in with the WGA) and “The Revenant” are viable as well.
The Dark Horse: Charlie Kaufman’s a former winner, but for some reason, “Anomalisa” hasn’t picked up much notice in the screenwriting awards. Maybe Kaufman’s reputation boosts this above some of the others?
Should Be, But Won’t: “45 Years” is a near-perfect screenplay, but Andrew Haigh’s work is sadly on the outside looking in.
Drew Goddard – “The Martian”
Nick Hornby – “Brooklyn”
Adam McKay & Charles Randolph – “The Big Short”
Phyllis Nagy – “Carol”
Aaron Sorkin – “Steve Jobs”
Best Original Screenplay
The Nominees: For the second year in a row, the Original Screenplay category is pleasingly a deeper bench than the Adapted one. But there are three slots that are pretty much spoken for: “Spotlight” (probably the winner), “Inside Out” and, once more getting the ‘Most Screenplay’ vote, Quentin Tarantino and “The Hateful Eight.” Beyond that, there’s been a real swing behind Alex Garland and “Ex Machina” in recent weeks, so I’m expecting that to make the cut. And of the additional WGA nominees, I think that the Academy’s likely love for “Bridge Of Spies” will extend to a screenplay nod here.
The Contenders: It’s worth noting that “Ex Machina,” “Inside Out” and “The Hateful Eight” were all ineligible for the WGA awards, so it’s impossible to tell their strengths with the writers branch. “Sicario” and “Straight Outta Compton” both made the cut with the guild, and could yet repeat with Oscar. Don’t rule out David O. Russell, Annie Mumulo and “Joy” either.
The Dark Horse: “Trainwreck” got a WGA nod, which some have dismissed as a making-up-the-numbers nomination due to the other ineligibilities. But people said that about “Bridesmaids” too, and that went on to an Oscar nomination.
Should Be, But Won’t: “Love & Mercy” never got in the conversation, but it’s really impressive work, and not just because of how well it avoids biopics tropes.
Matt Charman, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen – “Bridge Of Spies”
Alex Garland – “Ex Machina”
Quentin Tarantino – “The Hateful Eight”
Josh Cooley, Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve – “Inside Out”
Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer – “Spotlight”
Best Supporting Actress
The Nominees: This has been a fascinating category this year, and there’s a lot still up in the air. Alicia Vikander was long thought to be a sure thing, and I reckon she is, but not for the film everyone thought. As with Kate Winslet for “The Reader,” the tea leaves suggest that the Academy will ignore the campaigning and vote for her in “The Danish Girl” in Leading Actress, while putting her in Supporting for “Ex Machina” (as BAFTA and the Globes did). Rooney Mara probably won’t get the same promotion, but she’s still more or less a cert for a nod for “Carol” in supporting, as is Jennifer Jason Leigh in “The Hateful Eight.” I think the remaining nominees will follow the SAG picks, with Rachel McAdams and Helen Mirren getting in for “Spotlight” and “Trumbo.”
The Contenders: But I could be wrong about Alicia Vikander, and she could always pop up here for “The Danish Girl.” And while the film lost steam, don’t count out “Steve Jobs” and Kate Winslet, who turned in a very well-liked performance, as its Globe win on Sunday demonstrated. And don’t rule out BAFTA nominee Julie Walters, or Jane Fonda’s fiery cameo in “Youth.”
Dark Horse: Vikander in “Ex Machina” won a lot of critics’ awards, but seemed to split them with Kristen Stewart in “Clouds Of Sils Maria.” The film doesn’t seem to have penetrated the consciousness of Academy voters, but surprises are always possible —Sundance Selects did manage to get Marion Cotillard a Best Actress nod last year.
Should Be, But Won’t: Lots, but ones that come to mind immediately include Jessica Chastain in “Crimson Peak,” Elizabeth Banks in “Love & Mercy” and Katherine Waterston in “Queen Of Earth.”
Jennifer Jason Leigh – “The Hateful Eight”
Rooney Mara – “Carol”
Rachel McAdams – “Spotlight”
Helen Mirren – “Trumbo”
Alicia Vikander – “Ex Machina”
Best Supporting Actor
The Nominees: This might be the single most wide-open category to call —there’s so much up in the air here and very little that the precursors agree on. But there certainly is consensus for Mark Rylance, who’s sure to be nominated for “Bridge Of Spies.” I’m pretty sure that Christian Bale is joining him for “The Big Short,” and though it wasn’t always locked down, Idris Elba looks like he’s in for “Beasts Of No Nation.” Despite the fact that he missed on most of the precursor awards, some people are sure that Sylvester Stallone will be nominated for “Creed.” I’m not all the way there, but I’m about 75% convinced, so he’s in for now. If he or one of the others falls out, we could see as many as two nominees for “Spotlight,” or as little as zero —I’m going to hedge my bets and go with just the one, Mark Ruffalo.
The Contenders: If it’s not Ruffalo —or if it is, but there’s room for another from “Spotlight”— it’ll be Michael Keaton. Benicio Del Toro was a BAFTA nominee, so could feature in for “Sicario,” while Michael Shannon and Jacob Tremblay were nominated by SAG from “99 Homes” and “Room” respectively. Any are viable here.
Dark Horse: If “Straight Outta Compton” is nominated for Best Picture, it’ll likely need some other nominees, and one of the more likely is Jason Mitchell, who is terrific as Eazy-E in the movie. I’m not sure the film will ultimately register with the Academy, but it’d be great for Mitchell to make the cut.
Should Be, But Won’t: As good as Alicia Vikander is, Oscar Isaac is the definite standout in “Ex Machina.” As great a year as he’s had, Isaac never registered in the awards conversation, but he’d be on our ballot.
Christian Bale – “The Big Short”
Idris Elba – “Beasts Of No Nation”
Mark Ruffalo – “Spotlight”
Mark Rylance – “Bridge Of Spies”
Sylvester Stallone – “Creed”
The Nominees: In case you haven’t heard, Leonardo DiCaprio ate a raw bison liver for “The Revenant” and is getting a Oscar nomination. Beyond that, there are arguably no other sure things in this category, but I’m pretty confident that, despite the film looking unlikely elsewhere, Michael Fassbender will be nominated for “Steve Jobs.” Similarly, “The Danish Girl” generally failed to live up to expectations, but Eddie Redmayne seems safe enough. Beyond that, his appearances among the SAG and BAFTA nominees suggest that Bryan Cranston will be in for “Trumbo.” Right now, I give Matt Damon and “The Martian” the edge for that fifth slot, but it could change.
The Contenders: If Damon (or one of the others) falls through, look for Johnny Depp and “Black Mass” to step up. And there might still be some hidden strength from Tom Hanks in “Bridge Of Spies,” Steve Carell in “The Big Short” and Michael B. Jordan in “Creed,” if the movies are loved enough (it is a category with slim pickings this year).
Dark Horse: Few have been working the circuit as hard as Ian McKellen for “Mr. Holmes” —the movie’s very much up the Academy’s street and plays well on screener. Could he end up surprising? I wouldn’t be shocked.
Should Be, But Won’t: Christopher Abbott in “James White” and Ben Mendelsohn in “Mississippi Grind” are two that spring to mind most immediately. I’d love Jordan to make the cut too.
Bryan Cranston – “Trumbo”
Matt Damon – “The Martian”
Leonardo DiCaprio – “The Revenant”
Michael Fassbender – “Steve Jobs”
Eddie Redmayne – “The Danish Girl”
The Nominees: One of the more competitive years in recent memory in this category, this has nevertheless solidified over the course of the season, but there’s still a fair amount of question around the final five. Locked in and competing for the win are Brie Larson for “Room” and Saoirse Ronan for “Brooklyn.” Two years after her victory for “Blue Jasmine,” Cate Blanchett should be back for “Carol” — as I said, I think Rooney Mara stays in Supporting, even though she’s clearly co-lead. As I also said, I think that voters will end up putting Alicia Vikander in lead, and she’ll likely make the cut for “The Danish Girl” and pick up the rare double nomination. There’s multiple possibilities for the fifth slot, but I think, although she missed with BAFTA, Charlotte Rampling makes it in for “45 Years” (again, Marion Cotillard last year sets a precedent of a sort for it).
The Contenders: But Rampling (or Vikander) could easily end up falling away, and most likely to step in is Jennifer Lawrence for “Joy.” The actress was a sight-unseen frontrunner, but there doesn’t seem to be all that much enthusiasm for the movie from voters. Still, AMPAS does love Lawrence, so she’s definitely viable. SAG nominees Helen Mirren, Sarah Silverman and BAFTA nominee Maggie Smith could also break into the five, and Blythe Danner and Lily Tomlin are also possible.
Dark Horse: She fell off most prognosticator’s lists early on, but since it seems “Sicario” has persisted in the minds of voters, I wonder if Emily Blunt might surprise here. Or maybe even Charlize Theron, if the Academy are keener on it in main categories than BAFTA were.
Should Be, But Won’t: Alicia Vikander’s better in ‘Testament Of Youth” than she is in “Ex Machina,” for one. And we’d also be very pro nominations for Greta Gerwig for “Mistress America,” Nina Hoss in “Phoenix,” Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in “Tangerine,” Elisabeth Moss in “Queen Of Earth,” Melissa McCarthy for “Spy” or Kristen Wiig in “Welcome To Me.”
Cate Blanchett – “Carol”
Brie Larson – “Room”
Charlotte Rampling – “45 Years”
Saoirse Ronan – “Brooklyn”
Alicia Vikander – “The Danish Girl”
The Nominees: As is often the case, the director’s category might be the single hardest one to call this year — it almost feels like no one’s 100% safe. But I’m pretty sure that Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, last year’s winner, is in, and there’s a strong narrative behind Ridley Scott, who’s never won, so I think he’s in for “The Martian.” Both were DGA nominees earlier today, as well. Beyond that, there are multiple possibilities, but I think the auteurist section of the branch will nominate George Miller (members like Edgar Wright and Quentin Tarantino surely won’t overlook the craft involved) and the wider crowd will recognize Adam McKay for stepping out of his comedy comfort zone with such success with “The Big Short.” Finally, we think we’re giving veteran Steven Spielberg the edge just over Tom McCarthy for “Spotlight” —the former wasn’t DGA-nominated, the latter was, but our gut says the Academy goes with the Bearded One. Again, anything could happen in this category.
The Contenders: Tom McCarthy and Todd Haynes certainly deserve nominations for “Spotlight” and “Carol,” but I wonder if the helming is too invisible for McCarthy to register, and Haynes’ film may not have the wide support in a tough category to make it. I hope I’m wrong, though.
Dark Horse: F. Gary Gray for “Straight Outta Compton.” Everyone loves a comeback, and Gray, who’s had a few dodgy movies in his past, had a big hit and great reviews for this film. With a lot of talk about diversity this year, could the directors branch set out to make a statement by nominating him (or, even better, Ryan Coogler for “Creed”)?
Should Be, But Won’t: The movie’s barely on the Academy’s radar, but I’d be voting for Marielle Heller for “Diary Of A Teenage Girl” —she makes a familiar genre feel fresh and surprisingly raw, and did it with flair, while bringing some stellar performances out of her cast.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – “The Revenant”
Adam McKay – “The Big Short”
George Miller – “Mad Max Fury Road”
Ridley Scott – “The Martian”
Steven Spielberg – “Bridge Of Spies”
The Nominees: It’s a weird year and almost anything could happen, but here we go. In rough order of likelihood:
1) “Spotlight”: It’s well liked, it did well with the precursors, and the subject matter is important in contemporary society. Will it be enough to win? Especially given that it’s unlikely to pick up much below-the-line, and isn’t necessarily guaranteed Best Director or many acting nominations.
2) “The Big Short”: The December surprise. AFI Fest reviews were muted, but it took off with critics by year-end. This and “Spotlight” are the only movies to get nominations from all four major guilds so far, too (and it did well with the BAFTAs).
3) “Bridge Of Spies”: Spielberg’s latest hasn’t had the buzz of some movies, but it’s been a consistent player since opening in October, and tied “Carol” for most-nominated movie at the BAFTAs. My only slight reservation is that it might not do so well with the Academy’s preferential balloting system —it feels like it’s many people’s second or third favorite movie, but not necessarily their first. Should still be fine.
4) “The Revenant”: This weekend’s killer box office and Golden Globes win was too late to register with voters, but nevertheless, Inarritu’s “Birdman” follow-up seems to have connected in a way that Western rival “The Hateful Eight” hasn’t. This feels safe, even if the latter’s win last year makes it harder for this to win.
5) “The Martian”: People loved the film, but we will say that its energy has dissipated somewhat since it opened: what looked like a contender to win in October isn’t 100% locked in January (it’s notable that it missed a Best Film BAFTA nod and an SAG ensemble prize). That said, with “Creed” and “Star Wars” never cracking the field properly, this feels like it should take the populist blockbuster slot, barring a disaster.
6) “Carol”: L.A. types have suggested that “Carol” was too emotionally repressed to connect with Academy voters, and it didn’t get in with the guilds (bar a writing nod for Phyllis Nagy). But it performed strongly with BAFTA, suggesting that even if Hollywood rejects it, the substantial Brit and East Coast membership should be enough to see it through to Best Picture (not to mention the traditional Weinstein push).
7) “Brooklyn”: I wasn’t 100% sure about this, but almost everybody likes it, and the PGA Award nomination sealed its likelihood for us.
8) “Mad Max: Fury Road”: Missed out with BAFTA on the Best Film nomination, but Warner Bros.’ campaign kicked in of late, and it’s a film that should benefit from the Academy’s preferential ballot system (which is different from BAFTA). A DGA nod helped.
The Contenders: If we’re wrong, and it’s been known to happen, Some of the bottom half of the list above could be replaced by some or all of the below:
9) “Inside Out” – everyone loves it, but in a year with fierce competition, we wonder if people will settle for the screenplay nod and the inevitable animation one. It did miss with PGA, unlike “Up” and “Toy Story 3.” But the movie’s also great, so could well figure in.
10) “Straight Outta Compton” — scored with both PGA and SAG, which should suggest a nomination. But not always (“Bridesmaids” did both and still lost out), and maybe it’s because we’d argue that the film’s only pretty good, or maybe because we find it hard to imagine older Academy voters going for it, but we think it’s just on the outside. More than possible that it makes it, though.
11) “Room” – Looked locked for a while (that TIFF Audience Award is normally a good sign), but it seems increasingly likely that while people love it when they see it, they’re pretty reluctant to see it. But, with a preferential ballot system that rewards passion, it could well turn out to be fine if it can hit that magic 5% number.
12) “Sicario” – Another one that seemed to wear its buzz out, only to suddenly swing back, surprising with a PGA nomination last week. We still think it’s a little too divisive to crack Oscar, but we’ll find out on Thursday.
13) “Ex Machina”: Another PGA surprise, this is the earliest-opening movie in contention, but has stayed in the memory remarkably well and keeps surprising with nominations in interesting places. It’d be a shock, but it’s possible.
14) “The Hateful Eight”: Whether from the controversy, the hefty running time or some other reason, “The Hateful Eight”’s struggled to get an awards foothold this year. But after his last two movies, Tarantino’s firmly in the club, so he shouldn’t be ruled out.
15) “The Danish Girl”: Again, audiences and voters seem to admire the performances without loving the movie. But something like this could always end up being the sort of “Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close” in the nest.
Dark Horse: Don’t take your eyes off “Trumbo,” “The Hateful Eight,” “Star Wars” and “Joy,” though they’re longer shots.
Should Be, But Won’t: Plenty of movies, obviously, but special shout-outs to “Son Of Saul” and “Creed.”
And to sum up, that means I think there’ll be ten nominations for “Mad Mad: Fury Road,” nine for “The Martian,” eight for “Bridge Of Spies” and “The Revenant,” seven for “Carol,” six for “The Big Short” and “Spotlight,” four for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “The Danish Girl” and “Brooklyn,” and three for “Ex Machina” and “Hateful Eight.” How wrong will I be? Check back here on Thursday to find out.