With the 88th Academy Awards looming in less than a week, it’s time for a list of final predictions. And besides best picture, the supporting races appear to be the trickiest among the major categories.
Sylvester Stallone (“Creed”) and Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”) dominated at earlier awards, but Stallone was not SAG- or BAFTA-nominated, largely due to “Creed’s” late-breaking buzz, while Vikander was nominated for lead actress at the BAFTAs and the Globes. BAFTA winner Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies”) could cause Stallone trouble, as could Christian Bale (“The Big Short”) or Mark Ruffalo — “Spotlight” being his second nomination in as many years. But honoring the 69-year-old veteran for 40 years of portraying an endearing character would be a perfect Oscar moment. And while Kate Winslet (“Steve Jobs”) was the beneficiary of Vikander’s category change at earlier awards, the “Danish Girl” star should double up on her SAG win.
Easier to handicap are the lead acting races. Count on Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Revenant”) and Brie Larson (“Room”), who have owned the season. The screenplay categories also feel secure, for Writers Guild victors “The Big Short” and “Spotlight.” And before the campaigning even began, “The Revenant’s” Emmanuel Lubezki felt like a good bet to break the cinematographers record with a third-straight Oscar.
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Those five plus “Inside Out” for animated feature are the safest bets. But surely the Academy won’t miss a chance to finally hand composer Ennio Morricone a competitive Oscar, for “The Hateful Eight.” And after buzzy sets at the Super Bowl and Grammys, Lady Gaga should take original song for “The Hunting Ground’s” “Til It Happens to You.” That said, the ballot notes only song and film title, not singer, so if there’s a spoiler, look to Golden Globe winner “Writing’s On the Wall” from “Spectre.”
In documentary feature, “Amy” — the most popular and profitable of the nominees — figures to hold firm in the face of intense spending by Netflix on behalf of “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom.” And unless France’s “Mustang” has a late kick, Hungary’s “Son of Saul” ought to grab the foreign language prize.
Below the line it’s shaping up to be a war between “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “The Revenant.” On the heels of BAFTA wins, my instinct is to give “Mad Max” the design categories (costumes, makeup/hairstyling and production design) plus film editing, leaving sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects to “The Revenant.” But “Danish Girl” could pop through for costumes, “The Big Short” could spoil in film editing and either “The Martian” or “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” could rally in sound or visual effects.
When it comes to the shorts, you can handicap them any number of ways, but ultimately you have to go with your gut. So I’ll put my chips on “Bear Story (Historia de un Oso)” and “Stutterer” in animated and live action, respectively, and “Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah” in documentary.
As for milestones, Alejandro G. Inarritu looks primed to become the first filmmaker since Joseph L. Mankiewicz more than 60 years ago to win back-to-back director Oscars. If voters feel like that’s too much a year after “Birdman,” however, the sentimental choice is “Mad Max’s” George Miller.
So what about best picture? It’s a mystery to some, glaringly obvious to others. If Inarritu is indeed poised to win, then certainly “The Revenant” is, too, right? The film won top honors at the Globes and BAFTAs, but neither group had awarded “Birdman” last year, creating a possible make-good effect. And the Directors Guild — the most significant best picture barometer — crowned Inarritu, but in a five-horse race, with 20%+1 theoretically being good enough for victory. A win for “The Revenant” would also mark the first time in history that a filmmaker directed two best picture winners in a row, as well as the first time a film won without at least having scored either a SAG ensemble or a screenplay Oscar nomination.
Lots of “yeah, but” there.
So I’ll go out on a limb and pick the Producers Guild winner, “The Big Short.” You have to wonder why “Revenant,” which defines degree-of-difficulty in film production, couldn’t survive a preferential PGA ballot that mirrors the Academy’s. Is it a divisive film that won’t net enough No. 2 and No. 3 votes to survive (a scenario that could equally benefit “Spotlight”)? Did voters simply catch up with it later in the game, just as it was making box office headlines? Or was that result instructive?
My gut is to continue to follow the producers until this ballot correlation is proven tenuous. Of course, if my other picks are correct, then “The Big Short” would become the first best picture winner since 1952’s “The Greatest Show on Earth” to win only one other Oscar. But we appear to be in for a bit of history no matter the outcome.
Final ballots are due today by 5 p.m. PT.
In Contention’s Final Oscar Predictions
Best Picture: “The Big Short”
Best Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu, “The Revenant”
Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”
Best Actress: Brie Larson, “Room”
Best Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stallone, “Creed”
Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl”
Best Adapted Screenplay: “The Big Short”
Best Original Screenplay: “Spotlight”
Best Cinematography: “The Revenant”
Best Costume Design: “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Best Film Editing: “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Best Music (Original Score): “The Hateful Eight”
Best Music (Original Song): “Til It Happens To You” from “The Hunting Ground”
Best Production Design: “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Best Sound Editing: “The Revenant”
Best Sound Mixing: “The Revenant”
Best Visual Effects: “The Revenant”
Best Animated Feature Film: “Inside Out”
Best Foreign Language Film: “Son of Saul”
Best Documentary Feature: “Amy”
Best Documentary Short Subject: “Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah”
Best Short Film (Animated): “Bear Story (Historia de un Oso)”
Best Short Film (Live Action): “Stutterer”