Oscars: Nominations Are In, But What Will Win?

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:

moonlight Movie Picture
  1. "La La Land" Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz and Marc Platt

  2. "Moonlight" Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner

  3. "Hidden Figures" Donna Gigliotti, Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, Pharrell Williams and Theodore Melfi

  4. "Lion" Emile Sherman, Iain Canning and Angie Fielder

  5. "Manchester by the Sea" Matt Damon, Kimberly Steward, Chris Moore, Lauren Beck and Kevin J. Walsh

See Full Listing
Damien Chazelle la la land BTS Director
  1. Damien Chazelle "La La Land"

  2. Barry Jenkins "Moonlight"

  3. Denis Villeneuve "Arrival"

  4. Kenneth Lonergan "Manchester by the Sea"

  5. Mel Gibson "Hacksaw Ridge"

See Full Listing
Manchester by the Sea Actor
  1. Denzel Washington "Fences"

  2. Casey Affleck "Manchester by the Sea"

  3. Ryan Gosling "La La Land"

  4. Andrew Garfield "Hacksaw Ridge"

  5. Viggo Mortensen "Captain Fantastic"

See Full Listing
Elle Cannes Actress
  1. Emma Stone "La La Land"

  2. Meryl Streep "Florence Foster Jenkins"

  3. Natalie Portman "Jackie"

  4. Isabelle Huppert "Elle"

  5. Ruth Negga "Loving"

See Full Listing
Michael Shannon Supporting Actor
  1. Mahershala Ali "Moonlight"

  2. Dev Patel "Lion"

  3. Jeff Bridges "Hell or High Water"

  4. Michael Shannon "Nocturnal Animals"

  5. Lucas Hedges "Manchester by the Sea"

See Full Listing
Supporting Actress
  1. Viola Davis "Fences"

  2. Octavia Spencer "Hidden Figures"

  3. Naomie Harris "Moonlight"

  4. Michelle Williams "Manchester by the Sea"

  5. Nicole Kidman "Lion"

See Full Listing
Arrival Adapted Screenplay
  1. "Moonlight" Barry Jenkins; Tarell Alvin McCraney

  2. "Lion" Luke Davies

  3. "Arrival" Eric Heisserer

  4. "Fences" August Wilson

  5. "Hidden Figures" Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi

See Full Listing
Hell or High Water trailer Original Screenplay
  1. "La La Land" Damien Chazelle

  2. "Manchester by the Sea" Kenneth Lonergan

  3. "Hell or High Water" Taylor Sheridan

  4. "20th Century Women" Mike Mills

  5. "The Lobster" Efthymis Filippou, Yorgos Lanthimos

See Full Listing
Silence Cinematography
  1. "La La Land" Linus Sandgren

  2. "Lion" Greig Fraser

  3. "Arrival" Bradford Young

  4. "Moonlight" James Laxton

  5. "Silence" Rodrigo Prieto

See Full Listing
Fantastic Beasts and where to find them Costume Design
  1. "Jackie" Madeline Fontaine

  2. "Florence Foster Jenkins" Consolata Boyle

  3. "La La Land" Mary Zophres

  4. "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" Colleen Atwood

  5. "Allied" Joanna Johnston

See Full Listing
hacksaw ridge Film Editing
  1. "La La Land" Tom Cross

  2. "Arrival" Joe Walker

  3. "Hacksaw Ridge" John Gilbert

  4. "Hell or High Water" Jake Roberts

  5. "Moonlight" Joi McMillon, Nat Sanders

See Full Listing
Star Trek Beyond Makeup & Hairstyling
  1. "Star Trek Beyond"

  2. "Suicide Squad"

  3. "A Man Called Ove"

See Full Listing
A Monster Calls Original Score
  1. "La La Land" Justin Hurwitz

  2. "Moonlight" Nicholas Britell

  3. "Lion" Dustin O'Halloran and Hauschka

  4. "Jackie" Mica Levi

  5. "Passengers" Thomas Newman

See Full Listing
Best Original Song
  1. "City of Stars" "La La Land"

  2. "How Far I'll Go" "Moana"

  3. "Audition (The Fools Who Dream") "La La Land"

  4. "Can't Stop the Feeling!" "Trolls"

  5. "The Empty Chair" "Jim: The James Foley Story"

See Full Listing
Hail Caesar Production Design
  1. "La La Land" David Wasco; Sandy Reynolds-Wasco

  2. "Arrival" Patrice Vermette; Paul Hotte

  3. "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" Stuart Craig; Anna Pinnock

  4. "Hail, Caesar!" Jess Gonchor; Nancy Haigh

  5. "Passengers" Guy Hendrix Dyas; Gene Serdena

See Full Listing
Deepwater Horizon Movie Sound Editing
  1. "Hacksaw Ridge" Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright

  2. "La La Land" Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan

  3. "Arrival" Sylvain Bellemare

  4. "Deepwater Horizon" Wylie Stateman and Renée Tondelli

  5. "Sully" Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

See Full Listing
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Sound Mixing
  1. "La La Land" Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow

  2. "Hacksaw Ridge" Kevin O'Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace

  3. "Arrival" Bernard Gariépy Strobl and Claude La Haye

  4. "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson

  5. "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Mac Ruth

See Full Listing
  1. "Zootopia" Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Clark Spencer

  2. "Kubo and the Two Strings" Travis Knight and Arianne Sutner

  3. "Moana" John Musker, Ron Clements and Osnat Shurer

  4. "My Life as a Zucchini" Claude Barras and Max Karli

  5. "The Red Turtle" Michael Dudok de Wit and Toshio Suzuki

See Full Listing
OJ Made in America Documentary Feature
  1. "O.J: Made in America" Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow

  2. "13th" Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick and Howard Barish

  3. "Life, Animated" Roger Ross Williams and Julie Goldman

  4. "I Am Not Your Negro" Raoul Peck, Rémi Grellety and Hébert Peck

  5. "Fire at Sea" Gianfranco Rosi and Donatella Palermo

See Full Listing
Foreign Language
  1. "A Man Called Ove" Sweden; Hannes Holm

  2. "The Salesman" Iran; Asghar Farhadi

  3. "Tanna" Australia; Martin Butler, Bentley Dean

  4. "Toni Erdmann" Germany; Maren Ade

  5. "Land of Mine" Denmark; Martin Zandvliet

See Full Listing
Visual Effects
  1. "The Jungle Book" Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon

  2. "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel and Neil Corbould

  3. "Deepwater Horizon" Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington and Burt Dalton

  4. "Kubo and the Two Strings" Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean and Brad Schiff

  5. "Doctor Strange" Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli and Paul Corbould

See Full Listing

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  1. tcarchi says:

    i would not be suprised at all if mad max fury road sweeps the technical awards, the movie is a technical masterpiece and i feel that they should also get an honorary award for thier stunt crew, the stunts were very impressive.

  2. Andrej says:

    “Plus, genre bias is always lurking: Just ask “Gravity.”

    The same can be said about Return of the King, however. I don’t know. Something doesn’t feel quite right about The Revenant taking a frontrunning position over Mad Max: Fury Road. Critically speaking, it wasn’t even as liked as that movie, to begin with.

    I feel this year’s sort of a repeat of 2012. The Revenant’s the new Lincoln — leads the nomination count, probably will end up with just two (Leo and Cinematography?); Mad Max: Fury Road’s the new Life of Pi — dominates the crafts, gets Best Director; and either Spotlight or The Big Short (waiting on what the SAGs say about this) are the new Argo — just barely winning Best Picture and maybe one other thing.

    That said, lately we’ve been down this road so many times now, with a CGI & Crafts giant being ultimately “defeated” by an all-things-considered smaller movie. Avatar loses to The Hurt Locker, Inception loses to The King’s Speech, Hugo loses to The Artist, Life of Pi loses to Argo, Gravity loses to 12 Years a Slave. It’s just last year when things were turned around, albeit somewhat. Birdman, the in-a-single-shot movie spanning days and heights, beating the very earthly Boyhood. I wonder if Birdman’s victory could open the way to… crazier, more ambitious films. The Revenant might be such a film, but two years in a row — especially for a movie not as liked as his previous effort, I don’t know. I’m more taken aback with Mad Max: Fury Road’s history, to be honest. The latest entry to a series dormant for 30 years, with the original director attached no less. Quite a Boyhood-type miracle, isn’t it?

  3. Boomerang Kid says:

    I have to say Mad Max was something else, I think my heart rate hasn’t come down since!

  4. @@ Girl @@ says:

    ADAM MCKAY SHOULD WIN ALL THE AWARDS! ALLLLLLL! Even the one’s he’s not nominated for :D

    But in all seriousness, he took the most boring topic on earth and made one of the most exciting films I’ve ever seen. Whatever happens, he’s won in life :D xxxx

  5. Rai The Noblesse says:

    The Revenant should win a best actor and best supporting actor.., but NOT best movie and NOT best Cinematography (nice style but nothing new for gamers, with those Light effects thru the tree branches, overused in games.., and Skyrims Landscapes of darkish (and slow camera movements) thru winter forests and mountains was more epic)

    Mad Max should win best Cinematography and either Mad Max or Bridge of Spies should imo win best movie

  6. Filipe says:

    In Contention hadn’t been the same for a while. I missed that kind of writing, Kris.

    • Oh? Can you elaborate? Just curious.

      • Filipe says:

        It’s been a while since you had provided the readers with such a deep analysis on the race. The other articles you wrote this year were superficial data, basically just stating the facts, one would have to go to Twitter to try and get your opinion on something. For example, there’s no article on the “Oscars so White” thing and I’m sure there would be one if it happened last year, (because it did… and there was). Maybe it’s just because you aren’t really invested in this year’s movies or you’re busy doing something else, but it sure makes feels like you aren’t really interested. I don’t mean to offend, I like your website ever since it was a blog, but it was different then.

      • Tracy says:

        Can you elbaorate on how adorable you are Kristopher Tapley?!!?!

      • We’d be here all day.

  7. jamm says:

    It’s sad that Mad Max isn’t allowed to win in a year of such mediocrity.

  8. Chris says:

    Out of all the nominees, mad max is the most exciting and so well crafted but does the academy feel that they need to reward a message movie? That’s unfair– it’s best movie of the year and genre movies have won in the past — such as silence of the lambs.

  9. :D says:

    All these movies are amazing. But…. THE BIG SHORT! :D <3

  10. BD says:

    I feel like this is a “when in doubt pick…” situation with so many options and the answer will be “the safe choice” and that’s of course Spotlight. There’s too much bias against The Revenant, Mad Max and The Big Short, so I think the tide will never turn, and we’re stuck with Spotlight, I didn’t like it that much, but I know winning can’t be a bad thing considering the reviews and prizes it has already, people do love the film. But in a year like this, Mad Max should be the winner, if not, then The Revenant. But yeah, it seems like it will all turn out to be one safe ceremony.

  11. Iván el Terrible says:

    Just give it to Mad Max so the Academy finally pays the debt it has with science fiction.

  12. And oh… my mistake. You wrote that no filmmaker has ever won two BEST PICTURE Oscars in a row. That’s true. My last comment was thinking in the Best Director category, so I’m apologize for that…

  13. No filmmaker has ever won two Oscars in a row? That’s not true. What about John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath and How Green Was My Valley? Or Joseph L. Mankiewicz for A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve? C’mon, people… just check the database.

  14. someperson says:

    I’m currently predicting Mad Max for Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Production Design, Makeup/Hairstyling, Film Editing, Director, and Picture. I’m confident enough in the first six, and no film has a strong enough narrative to where it has to win Best Picture no matter what (the way 12 Years a Slave and Argo did). I’m sure once the producers guild speaks up I will be proven wrong, but for now Mad Max has exceeded all my expectations with regards to getting awards seasons kudos, so I might as well be optimistic about this for once.

    • Joey says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens win one or both of the sound categories.
      Mad Max is my favorite of the year so far, but I’m still skeptical it’ll win anything besides the Makeup / Hairstyling award. Especially if they want to spread the love like they did last year.

  15. Hillary says:

    After last weekend I have watched all the movies that are nominated and honestly they are all pretty overrated except for one and that one is “Room”! I watched it over Christmas break and it was amazing. Im still thinking about it, and I cant get over how its not a box office surprise hit. Happy it got nominated but it deserves to win. Just because a movie has a huge budget and big movie stars and big directors doesn’t mean it is better or even that good!! In a perfect world “Room” would win. All the other movies, except for “Brooklyn”, are all led by men and are so fucking macho its ridiculous! Spotlight at least has Rachel McAdam’s! After we talk about how racist Hollywood is lets talk about how sexist and make orinted it is! Seroulsy, all the movies this year seem to cater to men. Women exist and even buy tickets!! More than men i bet!! I guess that is why “Carol” didn’t get a nod. To much vagina!!

    • scastagnoli1 says:

      I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the film, but I found it to be one of the most tedious and difficult films to sit through in quite some time. There is a reason why it has a small total at the box office. As you know, it’s currently in expansion, but the film will never remotely approach the totals of Spotlight or Brooklyn.

  16. steve barr says:

    Brooklyn was a ” resonant depiction of the immigrant experience ” ? Give me a break . It was a nice movie about a so-called nice young woman who judging bythe way she treated her mother at the end of the film wasn’t all that nice crossed with a fairy tale version of 1952 Brooklyn , If omeone wants to see a real film about the immigrant experience check out James Gray’s unfairl ignored 2014 film The Immigrant . It never got a proper release No ads were taken out in the trades. No screeners were sent to Academy members. Harvey Weinstein destroyed a great films Oscar chances in almost every catagory.

    • castagnoli says:

      They are two radically different films. Brooklyn has more heart, soul and emotional potency than just about any other title this year. You’re entitled to your own opinion, but a film earning 98% on RT and an 87 score on Metacritic is well deserving of a best pic nom. In addition, the film benefits from a subtle but radiant and perfect lead performance.

    • Jeremy B. says:

      Easy now. Some of us adored Brooklyn. (And I really liked The Immigrant too — no need to choose between them.)

  17. AYU_Dyah says:

    Oh I forgot to mention Mad Max can get Best cinematography for bringing John Seale back from his retirement. It is the balance to give Seale some respect. I bet there will be standing ovation if Seale and George Miller get their Oscar. Good for rating.

    And Margaret Sixel can get the editing. Because she is the only female editor on the list. It can be the benefit. So Fury Road and Spotlight for editing.

    Best Director will go to George Miller..! If that scenario happens, Spotlight will get Best Picture and best original screenplay.

    Plus Tom Hardy possibly get Best Supporting Actor, beside Mark Ruffalo. To give Revenant some respect.

  18. AYU_Dyah says:

    The last filmmaker who won Oscars two times in a row for Best Director categories was Joseph Mankiewizh for A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve, in 1949 and 1950 respectively. He also won screenplay categories for those both films. But, yes, never happened for the same filmmakers won best picture two times in a row.

    But again, with preferential balloting system, a film that relate to most members of The Academy will have bigger chance. With second round of balloting that allows cross-branch members to vote, movies that “speak” to most members will got bigger shot.

    Last year, Birdman won best picture because it is a movie about the industry, and it “spoke” to most members since they are working in industry.

    The Revenant, is a movie about survival. The same theme with The Martian and Mad Max Fury Road. And The Revenant is pretty boring and too long, due to its weak second act. Plus it is so brutal. I think most members of the Academy will hardly watch it till finish. Yes, it has gorgeous cinematography, but the whole film felt ordinary.

    Mad Max Fury Road and The Martian are typical movies that everybody loves. Both of them offered great spectacle and big effect and look expensive.

    Plus Mad Max has gorgeous cinematography, editing, and subtle message about environment and feminism. But it lacks in screenplay category. Meanwhile, The Martian even though a very well made film, lack of the breakthrough technical elements. Something Mad Max and Revenant offers.

    Meanwhile, I wasn’t surprised at all when The Academy nominate The Spotlight for editing. It is a movie that has organic and natural flow. Despite its serious topic, the editing helped Spotlight to be enjoyable. It may lack of “ambition” in spectacle or technical, but Spotlight is a kind of movie that echoing and grow in you. Audiences won’t realize that they spend more than 2 hours watching Spotlight. It is a kind of movie that audiences will watch more and more. I’m sure The Academy members notice this strength. With nominations in editing, directing, acting, and screenplay (plus its “addicted” effect), Spotlight will have bigger chance than Revenant to get Best Picture.

    So, Mad Max Fury Road and Spotlight will compete for Best picture. Revenant may have cinematography, but this category may go to Sicario as well.

    Despite heavily buzzed, I think Leo will loose again. It is because I’m think The Academy will find Leo not convincing enough and the same problem for Leo playing Leo in Revenant.

    I still root for Fassbender for his emotional, spirtlitually blended acting as Steve Jobs. It is like a character study.

    Last year, Eddie Redmayne was under radar prior Oscar announcement. But, he grabbed Best Actor defeating much favorite Keaton.

    I hope Fassbender will defeat Leo. Best Actress will go to Brie Larson (potential Charlotte Rampling). Best supporting actress will go to Kate Winslet and Best supporting actor will go to Mark Ruffalo.

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