Best Picture Nominees Oscars 2016
Courtesy of The Studios

It feels like a two-way race with one, maybe two dark horse spoilers.

Nominations have finally been revealed for the 88th Academy Awards, and as ever, the best picture category represents a fascinating snapshot of both the industry and the here and now. We may be more than a month away from the ceremony, but seeing as there’s something real to work with, let’s dig in, handicap the race and try to determine who will be holding the best picture Oscar aloft on Feb. 28.

The market seemed bearish at the start for “The Big Short.” But prior to an AFI Fest premiere, Paramount got the ball rolling with industry-only screenings in October. The film went on to be a passionate favorite with the Academy, landing key nominations for director, adapted screenplay and film editing. It’s also a movie that could survive the preferential balloting system, which favors films acceptable to a broad voting pool. Consider this a dark horse.

“Bridge of Spies” had a strong showing on the industry awards circuit, picking up nominations from the art directors, producers, screen actors and writers guilds, as well as the cinematographers, sound mixers and visual-effects artists groups. But while popularity across disciplines is key in an Oscar race, the movie did show some weakness, failing to score a director nomination for Steven Spielberg.

Fox Searchlight won back-to-back best picture Oscars for “12 Years a Slave” and “Birdman,” but this year, the distributor seemed to find its footing in the season a bit more slowly. “Brooklyn” ended up surviving the long haul all the way from a Sundance premiere a year ago, picking up supporters along the way for its resonant depiction of the immigrant experience. It’s sure to land a lot of votes, but plenty have been left underwhelmed by its modesty all the same.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” was second only to “The Revenant” in total nominations, netting 10. Such
big tallies can be a harbinger of best picture success, though in recent years, that has proven more of a guideline than a rule. And while George Miller’s opus rallied plenty of zealous sup-
porters, it’s hard to imagine this “Mad” appeal ranging across a spectrum wide enough to claim the big prize. Plus, genre bias is always lurking: Just ask “Gravity.”

“The Martian” came into the race after its Toronto Film Festival premiere as a “maybe” — an entertaining film with enough on its mind to make it a player, but perhaps one in need of a little help. As ever, a number of would-be contenders fell by the wayside, sending Ridley Scott’s film into orbit, with plenty of backing throughout the crafts. Like “The Big Short,” it’s also a film that could perform very well on a preferential ballot. All that said, the exclusion of Scott in the best director category is
one of the year’s biggest puzzlers, and perhaps indicative that some voters aren’t taking it seriously in the prestige space.

“The Revenant,” with a trio of Golden Globes in its pocket and an impressive amount of box office coin to jingle, goes into phase two loaded for bear. It scored the highest nominations total, with 12 mentions across the board, and is clearly saddled up to make a strong run. However, no film-maker has won best picture two years in a row. Is the Academy really ready to make Alejandro G. Inarritu the first, or will that be reason to spread the love elsewhere?

Things started to look dire for “Room” down the stretch, as no industry group joined the Screen Actors Guild in recognizing the film, and BAFTA didn’t fall hard for it, either. Well, the Academy did, finding space for it, not just in the best picture category, but for director as well. It’s proof the passion is strong with this one — but can it ultimately be a consensus pick? Doubtful.

Finally, Spotlight came into the new year strong, with far and away the most critics awards for best picture. But things started to look dicey, as early guild and industry acclaim went to others. The film was also shut out at the Golden Globes, while director Tom McCarthy came up short
in BAFTA’s director category. A DGA nomination was just the shot in the arm the film needed, and now, here it sits, with McCarthy getting into the directing category, and the film getting an editing nod many didn’t expect. It’s still a lurking possibility to claim the top prize, even as an underdog.

So what wins? At this point, it feels like a two-way race between “The Revenant” and “Spotlight.” Obviously “The Revenant” has the wind at its back following the Golden Globes, but “Spotlight” came back with intensity, reminding us not to underestimate its staying power.

If any other film is lurking as a spoiler, it’s “The Big Short.” Both that and “Spotlight” detail real-world events, the repercussions of which are still being felt. Few films in the race have such a sense of immediacy. Adam McKay’s housing-bubble comedy conveys, in sobering fiction disguised as satire, the beginnings of a devastating economic crisis, while McCarthy’s humble journalism drama pays homage to an eroded industry by showcasing one of its greatest triumphs. A subtext of both is the importance of an educated populace in the face of institutional power, quite apt in an election year primed to focus on oligarchy.

You can sense that the campaign behind “The Revenant” would like to beef up its profile along these lines, with Leonardo DiCaprio’s dedication of his Golden Globe to indigenous peoples around the world, and thoughts on climate change working their way into the press rhetoric. But the film is also, as noted, a crafts giant sure to be respected throughout the below-the-line categories. That counts for a lot.

“The Martian,” it should be said, also will do well among artisans, but the omission of Scott isn’t a good harbinger. Much of the awards narrative around the sci-fi epic was centered on the director, a four-time Oscar nominee who is seen as overdue for the prize. Yet to be fair, the film does have ties to the zeitgeist, though they’re more philosophical in nature, regarding the importance of science and problem-solving in a progressive community.

A lot can happen between now and the big show. Final ballots don’t go out until nearly a month from today, on Feb. 12. How will the narratives shift in the final stretch?

Latest Predictions:

Spotlight Picture
  1. "The Big Short" Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner

  2. "Spotlight" Michael Sugar, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin and Blye Pagon Faust

  3. "The Revenant" Arnon Milchan, Steve Golin, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Mary Parent and Keith Redmon

  4. "Bridge of Spies" Steven Spielberg, Marc Platt and Kristie Macosko Krieger

  5. "The Martian" Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Michael Schaefer, and Mark Huffam

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Best Director Oscar Preview Director
  1. Alejandro G. Inarritu "The Revenant"

  2. Adam McKay "The Big Short"

  3. Tom McCarthy "Spotlight"

  4. George Miller "Mad Max: Fury Road"

  5. Lenny Abrahamson "Room"

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One of the year's most critically acclaimed films was also a major B.O. disappointment. After failing to gross $20 million domestically, "Steve Jobs" was pulled from U.S. theaters after less than three weeks. Actor
  1. Leonardo DiCaprio "The Revenant"

  2. Bryan Cranston "Trumbo"

  3. Michael Fassbender "Steve Jobs"

  4. Matt Damon "The Martian"

  5. Eddie Redmayne "The Danish Girl"

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Best Actress Oscar Contenders Actress
  1. Brie Larson "Room"

  2. Saoirse Ronan "Brooklyn"

  3. Cate Blanchett "Carol"

  4. Charlotte Rampling "45 Years"

  5. Jennifer Lawrence "Joy"

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Oscar Nominations Reactions Sylvester Stallone Supporting Actor
  1. Sylvester Stallone "Creed"

  2. Mark Rylance "Bridge of Spies"

  3. Mark Ruffalo "Spotlight"

  4. Christian Bale "The Big Short"

  5. Tom Hardy "The Revenant"

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Carol Rooney Mara Supporting Actress
  1. Alicia Vikander "The Danish Girl"

  2. Rooney Mara "Carol"

  3. Kate Winslet "Steve Jobs"

  4. Jennifer Jason Leigh "The Hateful Eight"

  5. Rachel McAdams "Spotlight"

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(Nov. 4, Fox Searchlight)
Fox Searchlight, the reigning back-to-back best picture champ, has an interesting pair of contenders in this and Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth.” But John Crowley’s coming-of-age portrait of the immigrant experience is the warmer feel-good player. Adapted Screenplay
  1. "The Big Short" Adam McKay, Charles Randolph

  2. "Room" Emma Donoghue

  3. "Carol" Phyllis Nagy

  4. "Brooklyn" Nick Hornby

  5. "The Martian" Drew Goddard

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Walt Disney
Pixar’s family-friendly head trip is the sort of emotional powerhouse that, like “Up” and “Toy Story 3” before it, could crack the best picture race. A nomination for animated feature should be assured, but an original screenplay mention could also be in the cards (“original” being the operative word). Original Screenplay
  1. "Spotlight" Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer

  2. "Inside Out" Josh Cooley, Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve

  3. "Ex Machina" Alex Garland

  4. "Bridge of Spies" Matthew Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

  5. "Straight Outta Compton" Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus

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Josh Brolin Sicario Cinematography
  1. "The Revenant" Emmanuel Lubezki

  2. "Mad Max: Fury Road" John Seale

  3. "The Hateful Eight" Robert Richardson

  4. "Carol" Edward Lachman

  5. "Sicario" Roger Deakins

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Focus Features
Reteaming with “The King’s Speech” director Tom Hooper, Eddie Redmayne follows his Oscar-winning turn as Stephen Hawking with an entirely different acting challenge, projecting the inner soul of transgender pioneer Einar Wegener. As in that earlier film, his understanding onscreen wife, Alicia Vikander, could be recognized for the stability she provides. Costume Design
  1. "Mad Max: Fury Road" Jenny Beavan

  2. "The Danish Girl" Paco Delgado

  3. "The Revenant" Jacqueline West

  4. "Carol" Sandy Powell

  5. "Cinderella" Sandy Powell

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Director: Adam McKay 
By Terry Gilliam 
At last... a smart, funny and beautifully directed film about something important. I wish it had been mine, but sadly it’s the handiwork of Adam McKay who really knows what he is doing and has the clout to gather a great cast who entertain, educate, and immerse us in the foolish, greed-driven world that arrogantly marched our economy off the cliff. His flair at telling the tale gets my vote for hero of the year. Film Editing
  1. "Mad Max: Fury Road" Margaret Sixel

  2. "The Big Short" Hank Corwin

  3. "The Revenant" Stephen Mirrione

  4. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey

  5. "Spotlight" Tom McArdle

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mad max fury road Makeup & Hairstyling
  1. "Mad Max: Fury Road" Lesley Vanderwalt, Damian Martin, Elka Wardega

  2. "The Revenant" Siân Grigg, Duncan Jarman and Robert Pandini

  3. "The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared" Love Larson and Eva von Bahr

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(Dec. 25, Weinstein)
Quentin Tarantino (“Inglourious Basterds,” “Django Unchained”) offers an incentive to experience films in the theater, with a limited 70mm roadshow engagement that’s sure to seduce celluloid purists. Original Score
  1. "The Hateful Eight" Ennio Morricone

  2. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" John Williams

  3. "Carol" Carter Burwell

  4. "Bridge of Spies" Thomas Newman

  5. "Sicario" Jóhann Jóhannsson

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Lady Gaga Best Original Song
  1. "Til It Happens To You" from "The Hunting Ground"

  2. "Writing's on the Wall" from "Spectre"

  3. "Earned It" from "Fifty Shades of Grey"

  4. "Simple Song #3" from "Youth"

  5. "Manta Ray" from "Racing Extinction"

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Touchstone
Steven Spielberg is never one to be counted out of the top categories, especially when there’s a resonant history lesson involved. Tom Hanks’ performance is as laudable as the film’s Coen brothers-polished script, but the revelation here is Mark Rylance, considered a lock for his richly understated supporting turn as a Soviet spy. Production Design
  1. "Mad Max: Fury Road" Colin Gibson; Katie Sharrock, Lisa Thompson

  2. "The Danish Girl" Eve Stewart; Michael Standish

  3. "The Revenant" Jack Fisk; Hamish Purdy

  4. "Bridge of Spies" Adam Stockhausen; Rena DeAngelo, Bernhard Henrich

  5. "The Martian" Arthur Max; Celia Bobak, Zoltan Horvath

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star wars the force awakens bb8 Sound Editing
  1. "The Revenant" Martin Hernandez and Lon Bender

  2. "Mad Max: Fury Road" Mark Mangini and David White

  3. "The Martian" Oliver Tarney

  4. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Matthew Wood and David Accord

  5. "Sicario" Alan Robert Murray

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Matt Damon The Martian Sound Mixing
  1. "The Revenant" Chris Duesterdiek, Frank A. Montaño, Jon Taylor, Randy Thom

  2. "Mad Max: Fury Road" Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo

  3. "The Martian" Mac Ruth, Paul Massey, Mark Taylor

  4. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson

  5. "Bridge of Spies" Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Drew Kunin

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Golden Globe Nominees 2016 Reactions Animated Feature
  1. "Inside Out" Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera

  2. "Anomalisa" Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson and Rosa Tran

  3. "Shaun the Sheep Movie" Mark Burton and Richard Starzak

  4. "Boy and the World" Ale Abreu

  5. "When Marnie Was There" Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura

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Oscar Documentary Contenderts 2016 Documentary Feature
  1. "Amy" Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees

  2. "Cartel Land" Matthew Heineman and Tom Yellin

  3. "What Happened, Miss Simone?" Liz Garbus, Amy Hobby and Justin Wilkes

  4. "The Look of Silence" Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sorensen

  5. "Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom" Evgeny Afineevsky and Den Tolmor

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Son of Saul Cannes Film Festival Foreign Language
  1. "Son of Saul" Lazlo Nemes; Hungary

  2. "Mustang" Deniz Gamze Erguven; France

  3. "Theeb" Naji Abu Nowar; Jordan

  4. "A War" Tobias Lindholm; Denmark

  5. "Embrace of the Serpent" Ciro Guerra; Colombia

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Original Screen Play Oscar Race Visual Effects
  1. "The Revenant" Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron Waldbauer

  2. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould

  3. "Mad Max: Fury Road" Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver and Andy Williams

  4. "The Martian" Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence and Steven Warner

  5. "Ex Machina" Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett

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