It’s about that time.
Time to take a first glance at what we’ve learned from these first two months of the fall season. Time to turn those things we’ve learned into an early sampling of quantitative analysis.
You get what I’m saying, right? It’s time to start making Oscar predictions.
We’ve seen enough movies and sifted through enough news cycles and think pieces, and had enough discussions to take a first stab at what the landscape will look like come January 14, 2016, when the nominations for the 88th Academy Awards are announced.
I don’t want to bury you – or myself – in a blanket covering of every peripheral category just yet. I prefer to slowly immerse, starting with the prominent categories and gradually exploring everything below the line. So we’ll start with the top eight categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Lead and Supporting Acting, and the Screenplay categories.
At this point, we could refer to this exercise as “educated speculation.” Still early, it is. But we know what movies scored big with pundits, audiences, and critics. As the critics groups start to announce year-end accolades, we will get a sense for the shape of the race. As the last remaining impact films reveal themselves, focus will become sharper still. But right now, this is where (I think) we stand…
Spotlight – Unquestionably the front-runner at this point. No other film balances crowd-pleasing elements with independent artistry, with a huge cast and relevant themes/messages. Plus, it’s loved by everyone who sees it.
Room – Hard to imagine a film so small pushing all the way for a Best Picture win, but seems almost certain to land a nomination. Powerful, emotional, and again, almost universally praised.
Bridge of Spies – Well-regarded work from well-regarded masters. Not a play for the win, but an easy bet for a nomination.
Steve Jobs – Brilliant filmmaking, brilliant writing, brilliant performances. Perception about its box-office may have hurt its perception as a relevant sensation, which may in turn hurt its chances of winning Best Picture.
The Revenant – This one may well end up in the top two or three. But no one’s seen it yet. Hard for me to make that leap until the film shows itself. But it feels like a contender is lurking.
Brooklyn – Fox Searchlight’s top horse in the race. They know how to get it done. A warm story and a fabulous lead performance from Saoirse Ronan fill out the remaining criteria.
Inside Out – Pixar’s best film since 2009 will likely result in its first Best Picture nominee since 2011.
The Martian – A huge, populist picture, easily digestible, commanded by a master filmmaker and populated with a brilliant cast. It frankly seems like the stuff Oscar nominees are made of.
The Hateful Eight – Another wait-and-see property. But a year-end QT drop seems like Academy bait, sight unseen. We’ll see if his recent verbal diarrhea ends up adversely affecting the film’s chances.
Other Contenders: Carol, Joy, The Danish Girl, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Big Short, Black Mass, Son of Saul, Beasts of No Nation, Sicario, Youth.
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight – A director who may finally get his due.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant – The defending champ has a compelling case for a repeat win.
Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies – The old master will likely be included here.
Lenny Abrahamson, Room – His deft emotional touch helps create the film’s remarkable power.
Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs – So long as the box-office perception doesn’t drag the film down, he should make it in.
Other Contenders: Ridley Scott (The Martian), George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), Quentin Tarantino (The Hateful Eight), Todd Haynes (Carol), David O. Russell (Joy), John Crowley (Brooklyn), Laszlo Nemes (Son of Saul), Cary Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation).
Brie Larson, Room – Her performance is being heralded as a revelation. Guess no one saw any of her previous work in the last five years. She’s the clear leader…and I’m not sure anyone can overtake her.
Cate Blanchett, Carol – The year’s other celebrated performance. But has the film lost steam since it’s Cannes debut? And has Blanchett too recently won an Oscar?
Saiorse Ronan, Brooklyn – The other newbie in the Best Actress category. But will the film eclipse Room in terms of reception and staying power? I doubt it.
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy – As ever, J-Law is a potential game-changer. The question is whether this is yet another undeniable work of brilliance from the actress, or if it will be perceived as more David O. Russell schtick.
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years – There is a logjam of verteran actresses vying for the final spot in this category. I’m opting for Rampling over Danner and Tomlin at this point. But that could shift more than once in the next couple months.
Other Contenders: Blythe Danner (I’ll See You in My Dreams), Lily Tomlin (Grandma), Carey Mulligan (Suffragette), Cate Blanchett (Truth), Maggie Smith (The Lady in the Van), Bel Powley (The Diary of a Teenage Girl)
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant – He may win the Oscar purely as restitution for pain and suffering. It may well – finally – be his year.
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs – If not for DiCaprio, Fassbender would be in the lead. We’ll have to wait and see what happens when The Revenant opens.
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl – Back-to-back wins seems unlikely, but this will be another strong contender from the reigning Best Actor winner.
Johnny Depp, Black Mass – A great immersive turn for Depp seems likely to translate into his fourth Oscar nomination. But has the film’s reception cooled too much?
Matt Damon, The Martian – He’s the centerpiece of the fall’s biggest crowd-pleaser. This could happen.
Other Contenders: Tom Hanks (Bridge of Spies), Will Smith (Concussion), Steve Carell (The Big Short), Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Michael Caine (Youth), Geza Rohrig (Son of Saul), Michael B. Jordan (Creed).
Best Supporting Actress
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl – The role is big enough to qualify as a lead performance. And her career seems to have been building to this recognition for the last four years.
Rooney Mara, Carol – The above comment just as easily applies to Mara. This will be a neck-and-neck race to the end.
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight – QT films typically garner at least one acting nomination. Leigh seems the most likely recipient this time around.
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs – Outside of Fassbender, Winslet is the only other possible acting contender from the Boyle/Sorkin film. And she’s great. And she is esteemed. Not a likely winner, but an almost certain nominee.
Jane Fonda, Youth – A showy turn in a classy film. Could be Fonda’s return to the Oscars.
Other Contenders: Joan Allen (Room), Marion Cotillard (Macbeth), Julie Walters (Brooklyn), Elizabeth Banks (Love & Mercy), Rachel Weisz (Youth)
Best Supporting Actor
Michael Keaton, Spotlight – He’s the glue that holds the ensemble together. Could that result in one of those “sorry about last year” Oscars?
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies – The best, most memorable performance in Spielberg’s film. Could be your winner.
Jacob Tremblay, Room – Now this is a revelation. Sincerely hope Tremblay’s remarkable work gets recognized here.
Tom Hardy, The Revenant – Could this be the year Hardy finally gets Academy recognition?
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight – The other strong Spotlight contender seems to be the film’s emotional center.
Other Contenders: Benicio Del Toro (Sicario), Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation, Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton), Joel Edgerton (Black Mass), Sylvester Stallone (Creed), Paul Dano (Love & Mercy), Christian Bale (The Big Short), Robert De Niro (Joy)
Best Original Screenplay
Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer, Spotlight – If the film is going to win Best Picture, it’s almost assured of a win in this category as well.
Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight – Seems like a QT script is an automatic contender.
Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Inside Out – Welcome back to the Oscar game, Pixar.
Matt Charman, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Bridge of Spies – The film’s screenplay is actually is strongest, quirkiest element. Would be a well-deserved nomination.
Annie Mumulo & David O. Russell, Joy – If the film scores with critics and audiences, this is its most likely nomination outside of its headlining star.
Other Contenders: Charlie Kaufman (Anomalisa), Taylor Sheridan (Sicario), Paolo Sorrentino (Youth), Laszlo Nemes and Clara Royer (Son of Saul), Amy Schumer (Trainwreck), Jonathan Herman & Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton), Alex Garland, (Ex Machina)
Best Adapted Screenplay
Emma Donaghue, Room – Donaghue’s novel is the basis for the film. If the Academy loves the film, they are likely to award the writer.
Nick Hornby, Brooklyn – Hornby has become a great screenwriter of wonderful female-centered stories. He’s likely to earn his second nomination this year…and may even land his first win.
Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs – Sorkin is such a giant it feels like he must be the leader. But people may be tired of the “schtick”. They shouldn’t be, but they may be…
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu & Mark L. Smith, The Revenant – Inarritu going for another screenplay win, though this time in the Adapted category.
Phyllis Nagy, Carol – A strong adaptation of the Highsmith novel seems likely to land a nod.
Other Contenders: Adam McKay & Charles Randolph (The Big Short), Drew Goddard (The Martian), Lucina Coxen (The Danish Girl), Andrew Haigh (45 Years), Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl), Cary Fukunaga, (Beasts of No Nation)
These predictions will be updated on a weekly basis from here on out, with the potential to shift and change as new developments arise.
We are just four months removed from Oscar Night. We are about two-and-a-half months away from Oscar Nomination Morning. We’re gonna start rolling down that hill a lot faster very soon.