The Big Short, produced by Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, and Jeremy Kleiner
Bridge of Spies, produced by Steven Spielberg, Marc Platt, and Kristie Macosko Krieger
Brooklyn, produced by Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey
Mad Max: Fury Road, produced by Doug Mitchell and George Miller
The Martian, produced by Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Michael Schaefer, and Mark Huffam
The Revenant, produced by Arnon Milchan, Steve Golin, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Mary Parent, and Keith Redmon
Room, produced by Ed Guiney
Spotlight, produced by Michael Sugar, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin, and Blye Pagon Faust
Will win: Thanks to the current batcrap crazy presidential primary, this year’s Academy Awards are only the second most confounding horse race in the country right now. There is, of course, the spectre of #OscarsSoWhiteTheSequel, a story which in all likelihood will outlast any of the winners at this year’s awards. With an impressive — and, for some, impulsive — degree of urgency, the Academy’s subsequent efforts to diversify its membership will no doubt have some kind of impact on the makeup of future nominees, and future winners. One can only hope, however, that at least one extraordinary aspect of this year’s Oscars season won’t change: It has been delightfully difficult to predict who will win Best Picture.
In truth, the Best Picture category has been tricky to call for a few years now — 12 Years a Slave and Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) were far from slam-dunk frontrunners going into their respective Oscar telecasts. But those years were nothing like this one, in which three movies have each won one of the three guild awards that usually predict the Academy’s top prize: The Big Short, a dramedy about the 2008 financial crisis, won the Producers Guild Award; Spotlight, a drama about the Boston Globe team that exposed the Catholic Church’s systematic cover-up of pedophiles in the priesthood, won the SAG Award for Best Ensemble; and The Revenant, a period epic about Leonardo DiCaprio battling a bear, nature, and Tom Hardy, won director Alejandro G. Iñárritu his second Directors Guild Award, after nabbing it last year for Birdman.
That means that The Big Short, Spotlight, and The Revenant all have a nearly equal shot at taking home Best Picture — although, each movie also has its caveats, too. The Big Short is a contemporary dramedy that depicts an international news story while routinely breaking the fourth wall. That’s a rare kind of movie, period, but the last Best Picture winner to come even close to fitting that description was Annie Hall 40 years ago. Spotlight, meanwhile, is a kind of mirror image to The Big Short: It approaches its ripped-from-the-headlines story with a subtle, sober, straightforward realism — so subtle, in fact, that the film’s impact may feel muted in the face of its more outlandish competition. And as Kyle Buchanan explained at Vulture, The Revenant also has Oscar history against it: The last film to win Best Picture without a screenplay nomination was 1997’s Titanic, and The Revenant is no Titanic. Plus, no filmmaker has ever directed back-to-back winners of Best Picture.
And, besides, with a field this wide open, who’s to say whether the delirious action fantasia Mad Max: Fury Road, the sob-inducing interior drama Room, or the tremendously satisfying sci-fi adventure The Martian couldn’t score a shocking upset victory? Remember, Crash won Best Picture — anything could happen! (For those of you who loved Brooklyn and Bridge of Spies, though, let’s just be content that they’re nominees, because that’s likely all those movies are going to be.)
But this is, ultimately, a predictions post, and I’ve got to pick a movie to win. So, gritting my teeth, I choose The Revenant. It has the most nominations, with 12, indicating the widest Academy support. It also won big at the BAFTA Awards, another strong Oscar bellwether. Its lead actor is a shoo-in (finally), and the Academy has liked to pair Best Picture and Best Actor in the past. And as an epic period drama, it is also the most Best Picture-y movie among the nominees. And yet, if The Revenant does win, it will be almost certainly by the slimmest of margins. According to Vegas, it is the odds-on favorite, but if you’re placing any Oscar bets this year, don’t be too shocked if a lot of people lose money on this category. —Adam B. Vary
Should win: Look, Mad Max: Fury Road is, no question, my favorite movie of 2015, a blistering blast of maniacal action, deceptively rich characters, and flamethrower guitars that still has me staggering like I stumbled out of a bar expecting to see the moon, only to find the sun had risen. But it would feel like such an anomaly for the Oscars, who reaffirmed their fuddy-duddiness in grand fashion this year, to go with a gloriously anarchic action flick that surely bewildered plenty of the Academy’s voters. I’m just tickled to see George Miller’s movie up there at all.
The ideal Best Picture winner would have been Creed, Ryan Coogler’s deftly directed, quietly revolutionary rebooting of the Rocky franchise that’s far deeper in viewing than it is in logline — but it wasn’t even nominated in this weird, embarrassing Academy Awards iteration. So instead, I’d give the prize to Spotlight, Tom McCarthy’s ode to journalism at its most effective and least glamorous, a movie that is uncool in all the best ways. It’s got a star-filled cast but is a true ensemble picture, its characters laboring toward a common goal that doesn’t stop them from sometimes jostling against each other along the way. And, at a time when movies have been flogging “chosen one” fantasies like they’re the only option in cinematic escapism, Spotlight is a story that’s markedly all about work, about collaborating, knocking on doors, making calls, putting together spreadsheets, and doing things right. It’s a testament to not skipping to the end, to how interesting and essential process can be, especially when the journalistic process ends up exposing decades of systemic abuse and changes the world’s relationship with a massive institution. It’s the perfect Oscar movie because it mostly eschews obvious Oscar-y moments and still manages to feel urgent, significant, and moving. —Alison Willmore
Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Adam McKay, The Big Short
George Miller, Max Max: Fury Road
Will win: If Ridley Scott had been nominated here, then he would have easily been a favorite to win his first directing Oscar, as much for his career and the high esteem he holds in the industry as for his fine work on The Martian. I could easily see the same kind of argument for George Miller, in large part because his work on Mad Max: Fury Road feels like a true culmination of his career.
But Alejandro G. Iñárritu won the DGA Award, and in the previous 10 years, the DGA winner has also earned the Best Director Oscar every year save for one, when Ben Affleck won for Argo after the Academy didn’t nominate him at all. There is no denying the astonishing technical craft behind The Revenant, either, so expect him to make Oscar history as the third back-to-back winner in the Best Director category since Joseph L. Mankiewicz won for 1949’s A Letter to Three Wives and 1950’s All About Eve, and John Ford won for 1940’s The Grapes of Wrath and 1941’s How Green Was My Valley. (And to be clear, A Letter to Three Wives and The Grapes of Wrath did not win Best Picture in their respective years, so should The Revenant win Best Picture this year, Iñárritu would still be the only filmmaker to have directed back-to-back winners of Oscar’s top prize.) —A.B.V.
Should win: Now, this is the prize that should go to George Miller — who, incidentally, is already an Oscar winner. Here’s how varied the Aussie filmmaker’s career has been: Of the past four Academy Award nominations Miller’s gotten, the one he went on to win was for Best Animated Feature in 2007, for the adorable penguin musical Happy Feet. A trophy for the very lovable but not the least bit adorable Mad Max: Fury Road wouldn’t just look terrific/hilarious next to that, it would also be well-deserved, because the movie is a mind-boggling directorial achievement, a monument to visual storytelling.
If you’ve ever needed proof of the value of practical effects in the era of omnipresent CGI, you need only look to Mad Max: Fury Road’s wild stunts, automotive and otherwise, which have a heft to them that has everything to do with the fact that they involve actual bodies flying through the air and actual armored, spike-adorned vehicles churning through the dust. Then there are the performances Miller allows to glimmer through the earth-rending pursuit scenes with surprising nuance: the haunted look in Charlize Theron’s eyes that telegraphs Furiosa’s years of trauma; the ways in which the wives, introduced as a collection of objects of lust in diaphanous outfits, quickly distinguish themselves as stubborn, angry, frightened individuals; and the near wordless understanding that forms between Furiosa and the hero of the title while on the run, two platonic, hyper-competent soulmates meeting at the end of the world. It’s not a grand romance — it might be something better. —A.W.
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Will win: There was a fleeting moment when Charlotte Rampling was seen as a real contender in this category for her exquisite and devastating performance in 45 Years. Then she made some really unfortunate comments about #OscarsSoWhite — about which she expressed regret, and for which she apologized — and her chances at the Oscars evaporated in a storm of angry tweets and think pieces.
Cate Blanchett won Best Actress for Blue Jasmine too recently, and some — wrongly! — think her performance in Carol is too similar. Jennifer Lawrence’s strong performance in Joy is that deeply flawed movie’s only nomination (and likely wouldn’t have happened if the Academy had refused to buy into the awards season fiction that placed Alicia Vikander’s and Rooney Mara’s leading performances in The Danish Girl and Carol, respectively, in the Best Supporting Actress category instead). Saoirse Ronan does miraculous work in Brooklyn, but she has been a perpetual runner-up all awards season.
And that’s because Brie Larson has won just about every award she could for her complex, impossible-to-forget performance in Room. She’s been a grounded, gracious presence throughout the awards circuit. Expect her to win. —A.B.V.
Should win: The Best Actress race is so much stronger than Best Actor this go-round that it deserves a special salute. As with the other acting categories this year, this isn’t exactly a diverse group — age makes Charlotte Rampling, who’s 24 years older than the 46-year-old Blanchett, the closest thing to an outlier — but it’s a goddamn talented one, regardless. Any of these women would be a respectable winner, even if Jennifer Lawrence is good despite Joy rather than because of it. But it’s Brie Larson who deserves to come out on top, for all of the pain and love she puts into the character of Joy Newsome, a young woman refusing to buckle under the weight of having her life stolen from her.
Larson transmits the soul-deep exhaustion and distress her character feels to the audience while keeping up a steady, smiling front for her son (Jacob Tremblay), who’s never known life outside of their prison and has no idea what he’s been denied. She embodies both a fierce parent and a frightened young woman who was only a teenager when taken. Jack and his Ma may be in their situation because of their captor, but the existence they carve out for themselves is defined by them, not by him, and that’s thanks to the ways in which Larson’s character has seized the narrative. She willed the film’s fragile, self-contained universe into being. —A.W.
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Will win: Barring catastrophe — like the world ending — Leonardo DiCaprio will finally, finally, finally win his first Academy Award. It helps that his competition this year is less than robust, in that none of the other nominees had to wear a hideous beard for nearly a year, eat raw bison liver, and strip naked and step inside a disemboweled horse carcass for warmth. So you might as well start planning your Leo-wins-an-Oscar memes now, because this is happening. —A.B.V.
Should win: This set of nominees — four of whom are playing versions of real people, which speaks to how staid the category is this year — is so boring, I almost don’t want to pick a winner. But since that’s the point of this post, I’ll give Michael Fassbender the edge for Steve Jobs, a movie that was universally shrugged off as a Social Network retread. I liked it more than most, and Fassbender’s moody, mercurial portrayal of a genius did something that none of the other performances here attempted: He challenged the audience to figure out if they really wanted to root for his character. —A.W.
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Will win: Words I never thought I would ever write, ever: Sylvester Stallone will win an Oscar for playing Rocky Balboa. The sentimental pull for Stallone to win for a role that earned him an Oscar nomination for 1977’s Best Picture winner Rocky simply overwhelms all other narratives here — and it certainly helps that he gives arguably his best, most soulful performance since Rocky made him a movie star. —A.B.V.
Should win: Bridge of Spies is a Spielberg movie, but Mark Rylance’s delightful, droll turn as captured Russian spy Rudolf Abel is a real Coen brothers touch (which makes sense, since they wrote the screenplay). In a movie that makes a case for the steady competence and moral decency of its insurance attorney main character, Abel is the complicating element, a man from the other side who approaches his job with the same unfussy dedication and a stalwart serenity (“Would it help?” he replies, with genuine curiosity, when asked if he’s worried about what will become him). Rylance turns what could have been a cheeseball speech about a memory from his childhood into an understated but totally effective tear-jerking moment. It’s the quiet ones you always have to watch. —A.W.
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
Will win: I think Alicia Vikander will win here, but for the wrong movie. Her richly emotional work as Gerda Wegener in The Danish Girl is a lead performance. The movie starts and ends with her, she’s on screen roughly as much as Eddie Redmayne is, and Gerda is the only character referred to out loud as a “Danish girl.” But Focus Features chose to campaign for Vikander in the supporting category because it was believed she’d have a better shot at a nomination, and a win.
That their category fraud will likely prove successful is just one of the many frustrating aspects of this year’s awards season, in no small part because Vikander’s true supporting performance as an artificial intelligent machine in Ex Machina is, if anything, more impressive and worthy of accolades. There is a decent chance that Kate Winslet could win for grappling with Aaron Sorkin’s breakneck dialogue and a tricky Polish accent in Steve Jobs — she did win at the BAFTAs and the Golden Globes. But as the SAG Award winner, and with the unofficial title of Hollywood’s biggest up-and-coming actress (something the Academy loves to reward), Vikander has the best shot of taking home the Oscar. —A.B.V.
Should win: So much category fraud going on! Like Vikander, Rooney Mara doesn’t actually belong here, and not because she doesn’t deserve the acclaim. She may not be playing the title character in Carol, but she’s at least as much the lead as Cate Blanchett — she was just bumped down to supporting to avoid placing her in competition with her co-star and, like Vikander, to increase her chances of winning. But Carol starts with Therese and is mostly channeled through her point of view as a naive New York shopgirl who falls in love with a glamorous housewife. It is, really, Therese’s story.
While Blanchett, on more familiar turf, has the showier role as a woman who performs her femininity like it’s a job she enjoys doing well, Mara does trickier work as a character who’s brimming with emotions she can’t yet explain, and who’s navigating a seduction and romance that neither she nor Carol can bring themselves to discuss out loud until they’ve essentially run off together. She goes through a momentous change, and we see it happen in tiny shifts as everyone else swirls around her and her lover, oblivious. —A.W.
Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, The Big Short
Nick Hornby, Brooklyn
Phyllis Nagy, Carol
Drew Goddard, The Martian
Emma Donoghue, Room
Will win: This is easily one of the most competitive categories this year — all but one of the nominated films is also in the running for Best Picture, and each script is a superlative example of the craft of screenwriting, and of adaptation, from Drew Goddard’s fleet script from Andy Weir’s novel The Martian to Emma Donoghue’s work adapting her own structurally challenging novel Room.
But I think Adam McKay and Charles Randolph’s flashy, funny adaption of Michael Lewis’s book about the 2008 financial crisis The Big Short will edge out as the winner. It’s one of the three Best Picture frontrunners, McKay is well-liked in the industry, and their script had the highest perceived degree of difficulty in wrestling dense explanations about credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations into fizzy, fourth-wall-breaking monologues by the likes of Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez. —A.B.V.
Should win: What’s so breathtaking about Phyllis Nagy’s screenplay for Carol is its spareness — the way its characters convey so much while saying so little of it out loud. It conducts itself on two levels, one consisting of the humdrum public exchanges and small talk that make up most of its characters’ days, and the other all unspoken desire. What is, on the surface, a friendly ladies’ lunch is also a first date fraught with flirty glances and loaded questions — “What do you do on Sundays?” Carol asks, a wealth of possibilities lurking underneath. Every line accrues significance, including the one in which Therese explains that she’s always spent New Year’s alone, in crowds, a summing up of the movie’s aesthetic that resolves perfectly when she adds, “I’m not alone this year.” —A.W.
Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Bridge of Spies
Alex Garland, Ex Machina
Josh Cooley, Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Inside Out
Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer, Spotlight
Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus, Straight Outta Compton
Will win: Spotlight is about many things, and one of those things is the painstaking work of crafting a complete, tough, thoughtful story about a difficult and harrowing subject. Kind of like the work Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer went through to research the Boston Globe’s investigation into how the Catholic Church hierarchy covered up an epidemic of pedophile priests. Even if this movie wins no other Oscars, it will win this one. —A.B.V.
Should win: Alex Garland is a writer first and foremost, and while his directorial debut Ex Machina had a wonderfully claustrophobic, sterile visual sensibility, the film is still all about the talking done by its two men and a robot, all of them harboring their own agendas, each trying to win. The story is heady with big ideas about artificial intelligence, but there’s nothing abstract about its characters, from Domhnall Gleeson’s naive programmer to Oscar Isaac’s tech bro billionaire to Vikander’s beguiling android. Its main trio is reminiscent of figures out of a fairy tale — the white knight, the wicked king, the captive princess — in a sci-fi scenario, which is what makes the film’s screenplay so strong and so hard to shake. It prods at the assumptions we make about these characters as much as it challenges their ideas of each other. —A.W.
Embrace of the Serpent, Colombia (directed by Ciro Guerra)
Mustang, France (directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven)
Son of Saul, Hungary (directed by László Nemes)
Theeb, Jordan (directed by Naji Abu Nowar)
A War, Denmark (directed by Tobias Lindholm)
Will win: Ever since its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last May, Son of Saul has earned raves for its urgent, innovative approach to one man’s experience of the Holocaust and his efforts to save a dead boy (who he believes is his son) from the crematoria and instead give him a proper Jewish burial. There are several strong nominees here, but the power of this one should likely win out. —A.B.V.
Should win: Colombia’s submission Embrace of the Serpent is a wrenching heart-of-darkness tale turned inside out, centered on an indigenous shaman named Karamakate who, on a pair of journeys 30 years apart, escorts two Westerners into the Amazon in search of a mystical plant. What he and his clients come across on the way is a series of horrors carried out by the Europeans and Americans in the name of progress and capitalism that makes it clear that “civilization” is a euphemism created by triumphant invaders. Karamakate, one of the last of a tribe exterminated during the arrival of the rubber barons, knows he’s already lost, but in this elegiac tale, shot in crisp black and white, he still has wisdom to impart, if little motivation to share it. —A.W.
Anomalisa, Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson, and Rosa Tran
Boy and the World, Alê Abreu
Inside Out, Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera
Shaun the Sheep Movie, Mark Burton and Richard Starzak
When Marnie Was There, Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura
Will win: Since 2007, every time a movie from Pixar Animation Studios has been nominated for Best Animated Feature, it has won. Although Anomalisa has certainly earned its share of admirers, Inside Out, acclaimed as one of the best movies of 2015, period, will continue Pixar’s winning streak. —A.B.V.
Should win: This category is more interesting than Best Picture — a Ghibli ghost story, an insanely cute animal tale from Aardman, and an invented Brazilian parable. Inevitable winner Inside Out is very good, even by Pixar standards, but Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa is sublime. The strange stop-motion exploration of depression uses its form — puppets — to show what it’s like inside the head of its main character, a man who sees everyone else as a suffocating sea of sameness. Better yet, it never softens its portrayal of that man, voiced by David Thewlis, because of how awful he feels. Anomalisa has the distance to make it clear that Michael Stone is a narcissist with a preference for promising the world to vulnerable women and then leaving them behind when they turn out to not be the solution to his problems, which is what he does to Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the woman he picks up while in Cincinnati for a speaking gig at a customer service conference. But Lisa’s too strong to be a victim, just as Michael’s too empathetic to be a monster, and what we get instead is the brief intersection of two damaged people in an anonymous hotel room, with only one of them emerging from the encounter having taken something good from it. —A.W.
Amy, Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees
Cartel Land, Matthew Heineman and Tom Yellin
The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
What Happened, Miss Simone?, Liz Garbus, Amy Hobby, and Justin Wilkes
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, Evgeny Afineevsky and Den Tolmor
Will win: With its narrative feature Beasts of No Nation shut out of every category, Netflix has poured considerable resources into campaigning for its two nominated documentary features — Winter on Fire and, especially, What Happened, Miss Simone? — in a full-court press to earn the streaming service its first Oscar. Miss Simone, an arresting portrait of the singular life of Nina Simone, also happens to be one of the rare American films nominated this year that’s about a person of color, so a win here could be seen as a slight (and slightly cynical) way for the Academy to mitigate the embarrassment of #OscarsSoWhite.
Amy, however, is the more formally inventive of the two nominated musical biographies. Director Asif Kapadia weaves together a trove of archival video and audio of a young Amy Winehouse to show how the sudden crush of fame — and the failures of her family and closest associates to protect her from it — helped pave the road to her tragic death. This category is prime for an upset, but I still think Amy, the most theatrically successful doc in this category, will pull out a win. —A.B.V.
Should win: Joshua Oppenheimer’s brilliant, searing The Act of Killing lost out to a music doc in 2014, and it’s looking like his companion feature, The Look of Silence, will have the same fate. But it shouldn’t. That pair of films — about the killings of hundreds of thousands of accused Communists in Indonesia in the ’60s and the suppression of the event by the regime that came into power because of it — push the boundaries of the documentary form. While The Act of Killing featured death squad members re-enacting their garish deeds like theater, The Look of Silence turns to the victims and focuses in on a man who refuses to let what happened to his family be effaced from public memory. No one else is making movies like this. —A.W.
“Earned It,” Fifty Shades of Grey, music and lyric by the Weeknd, Ahmad Balshe, Jason Quenneville, and Stephan Moccio
“Manta Ray,” Racing Extinction, music by J. Ralph; lyric by Anohni
“Simple Song #3,” Youth, music and lyric by David Lang
“Til It Happens To You,” The Hunting Ground, music and lyric by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga
“Writing’s on the Wall,” Spectre, music and lyric by Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith
Will win: Diane Warren has been nominated eight times over four decades for Best Original Song, including for “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” from 1987’s Mannequin and “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” from 1998’s Armageddon, and she’s never won. Lately, she hasn’t been shy about wanting to finally take home an Oscar. Between its powerful subject matter — the epidemic of campus sexual assault — and the star power of co-nominee Lady Gaga, “Til It Happens To You” should finally snag Warren her first Oscar. —A.B.V.
Should win: The Weeknd’s “Earned It” — second in sultriness on the soundtrack only to Beyoncé’s eerie vinyl-record-on-the-wrong-speed remix of “Crazy in Love” — slips silkily between romantic come-ons and Christian Grey–like transactional promises. And the Fifty Shades of Grey tune is a legit stand-alone hit that’s already snagged a Grammy for Best R&B Performance for its charms. “Girl you’re perfect / You’re always worth it / And you deserve it”? No, you deserve it, Abęl — you left Sam Smith’s morose Bond tune in the dust. —A.W.
Bridge of Spies, Thomas Newman
Carol, Carter Burwell
The Hateful Eight, Ennio Morricone
Sicario, Jóhann Jóhannsson
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, John Williams
Will win: John Williams earned his 50th Oscar nomination for his score for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Let’s repeat that: 50 nominations, for one man. However, he hasn’t won since 1993’s Schindler’s List, and in any other year, the notion of honoring arguably the greatest film composer of all time might have been enough to land Williams his sixth statuette.
But The Hateful Eight composer Ennio Morricone is also a film music icon — including for his scores for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Cinema Paradiso, La Cage aux Folles, and The Untouchables. And although he received an honorary Oscar for his career at the 2007 ceremony, the 87-year-old has never won for one of his scores. That should end with this year’s ceremony. —A.B.V.
Should win: Sorry, Star Wars; sorry, Ennio Morricone, you living legend, you. But the piano-strings opening to Carter Burwell’s Carol theme alone is enough to give me goosebumps. It’s pensive and grand and promises sweeping emotional highs and lows that the movie, and the rest of the score, fully delivers on. —A.W.
The Big Short, Hank Corwin
Mad Max: Fury Road, Margaret Sixel
The Revenant, Stephen Mirrione
Spotlight, Tom McArdle
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey
Will win: Margaret Sixel, who is largely a documentary editor, had never cut an action movie before her husband, George Miller, asked her to try her hand on Mad Max: Fury Road. Miller has said that he wanted to take advantage of her unconventional approach and low boredom threshold for his action fantasia, and that instinct certainly paid off in how Sixel kept Mad Max propulsive without ever sacrificing coherence. Also, if both Miller and Sixel win, they will join a rare, exclusive club of married couples who have both won Oscars. —A.B.V.
Should win: So much about Spotlight is, by design, unflashy and unassuming, and this includes the very fine editing. But the film wouldn’t work if it weren’t for its carefully created rhythms, the ways in which it encompasses months of work without the feeling of oversimplification or allowing important elements to fall through the cracks. Tom McArdle’s editing also creates connections between the characters’ personal lives and their work without ever needing the former to be explicit — glimpses of their homes and families are linked with the investigation the reporters are working on through montages, emphasizing how much the church is part of their community and how deep the story they’re working on will cut. —A.W.
Carol, Edward Lachman
The Hateful Eight, Robert Richardson
Mad Max: Fury Road, John Seale
The Revenant, Emmanuel Lubezki
Sicario, Roger Deakins
Will win: Speaking of uncommon Oscar winner clubs, the roughly half dozen people who have earned back-to-back-to-back Oscars is quite an eclectic group. For example, legendary costume designer Edith Head won in the defunct category of Best Costume Design, Black-and-White, for 1949’s The Heiress, 1950’s All About Eve, and 1951’s A Place in the Sun. Walt Disney won several Oscars in a row in the 1930s and 1950s for his company’s animated shorts (but the legitimacy of his true authorship of those projects is a rabbit hole we’ll just step over for today). Most recently, Jim Rygiel and Randall William Cook won in the category of Best Visual Effects for all three of the Lord of the Rings movies.
Suffice it to say, when Emmanuel Lubezki wins his third Oscar for his extraordinary natural light cinematography in The Revenant — after taking home the honor for his single-take camerawork in 2014’s Birdman and for his visual innovations in 2013’s Gravity — the Mexican cinematographer known as “Chivo” will be in considerably lofty company. (Meanwhile, Roger Deakins, an equally renowned director of photography, has been nominated 13 times without winning.) —A.B.V.
Should win: Emmanuel Lubezki probably has more raw talent than any other director of photography working today, but The Revenant’s cinematography felt like a stunt, the movie constantly calling attention to its impressive camerawork at the expense of the rest of the film. Roger Deakins’ gorgeous photography was the best part of Sicario, making it look like a classier joint than it actually was up close. Robert Richardson’s wide frames were lovely even though they sometimes felt wasted in The Hateful Eight’s enclosed cabin. John Seale pulled off ridiculous feats in Mad Max: Fury Road.
But, in Carol, it’s Edward Lachman’s emphasis on public spaces versus private ones, of characters looked at through panes of glass or the lens of a still camera, that seemed the greatest combination of imagery and theme to me this year. It persistently called attention to how these women are perceived, and how little that had to do with who they actually were. For example, the movie begins with a man coming into a bar and simply running into a friend, one woman of two at a table together, as witnessed from his point of view. When we see the scene from the women’s perspective later, we understand that he interrupted an intensely intimate moment between two lovers. The camera’s ability to get close and highlight details that outsiders may miss has rarely looked so powerful. —A.W.
Carol, Sandy Powell
Cinderella, Sandy Powell
The Danish Girl, Paco Delgado
Mad Max: Fury Road, Jenny Beavan
The Revenant, Jacqueline West
Will win: Unlike other craft and technical categories, Costume Design has remained largely immune to the tidal pull of the rest of the Oscar race: In the last 10 years, this award has gone to the Best Picture winner just once (for 2011’s The Artist). Period opulence and visual invention usually win here, which means that Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant are likely out of luck. Instead, I expect costume designer Sandy Powell to pick up her fourth Oscar, either for the lush realism of Carol or, more likely, for the unabashedly fantastic frocks in Cinderella. —A.B.V.
Should win: The best part of Cinderella was that incredible dress, and the movie knew it, as it let the lights fade out so that Lily James could twirl all aglow against a dark background. If you’re going to have princess fantasies, they’d better look this good (plus, Cate Blanchett’s vampy stepmother-as-femme-fatale duds weren’t bad either). —A.W.
Bridge of Spies, Adam Stockhausen (production design); Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard Henrich (set decoration)
The Danish Girl, Eve Stewart (production design); Michael Standish (set decoration)
Mad Max: Fury Road, Colin Gibson (production design); Lisa Thompson (set decoration)
The Martian, Arthur Max (production design); Celia Bobak (set decoration)
The Revenant, Jack Fisk (production design); Hamish Purdy (set decoration)
Will win: Here is where things could get interesting. The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road share nominations in the rest of the craft and technical categories, and they both have the best shots at winning. Those wins in turn could be strong indicators of what might happen with the biggest award of the night.
If The Revenant begins to pick up Oscars in some or all of these categories, its fate as a Best Picture winner becomes far more certain. But if Mad Max sweeps through virtually all of these awards — including for its eye-popping, world-building production design — then whatever movie is listed in the Best Picture envelope becomes much less clear. And much more exciting. I’m predicting it will be the latter. —A.B.V.
Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road trusted its production design and its actors’ makeup to do some narrative heavy lifting, letting its incredible realization of a dying world speak for the backstory the movie didn’t feel it needed to overemphasize. The result wasn’t just stunning vehicles and the labyrinthine setup of the Citadel, but a movie with confidence that the audience could gather information from the wealth of details in each frame. —A.W.
Mad Max: Fury Road, Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega, and Damian Martin
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared, Love Larson and Eva von Bahr
The Revenant, Siân Grigg, Duncan Jarman, and Robert Pandini
Will win: Another slam-dunk win for Mad Max: Fury Road. Ride eternal, shiny and chrome! —A.B.V.
Should win: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared may be the third-highest-grossing Swedish film of all time, but I confess to not having seen this year’s most left-field nominee, and so can’t speak to the excellence of its hair and makeup choices. The Revenant turned its whole cast into a pack of identically beardy, grimy, frostbitten men, a move which may have been historically accurate but made it all the more difficult to invest in their individual survival, no matter how realistic their bear-issued wounds were. But Mad Max: Fury Road used prosthetics to evoke a feral, fading civilization blighted by mutations and illnesses, without the need of a full backstory. Plus, Furiosa’s grease warpaint gave the world a Halloween costume for the ages. —A.W.
Bridge of Spies, Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, and Drew Kunin
Mad Max: Fury Road, Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff, and Ben Osmo
The Martian, Paul Massey, Mark Taylor, and Mac Ruth
The Revenant, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom, and Chris Duesterdiek
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio, and Stuart Wilson
Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road! It is awaited in Valhalla! —A.B.V.
Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road was a roar of automobiles, attacks, a thrumming score, and a warlord who traveled with his own soundtrack— and yet the characters’ carefully chosen lines were never lost in the cacophony. —A.W.
Mad Max: Fury Road, Mark Mangini and David White
The Martian, Oliver Tarney
The Revenant, Martin Hernandez and Lon Bender
Sicario, Alan Robert Murray
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Matthew Wood and David Acord
Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road! Witness! —A.B.V.
Should win: The Revenant did offer up an impressive soundscape, from the hiss of arrows through the air, to the trickle of the river, to the roar of that damn bear. —A.W.
Ex Machina, Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington, and Sara Bennett
Mad Max: Fury Road, Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver, and Andy Williams
The Martian, Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence, and Steven Warner
The Revenant, Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith, and Cameron Waldbauer
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan, and Chris Corbould
Will win: The visual effects in Ex Machina are the most quietly astonishing of the five nominees, and the blend of real-world stunts with pointed CGI helped to make Mad Max: Fury Road such a sensation. But Star Wars: The Force Awakens had its own heady blend of practical and virtual visual effects — part of what made the movie such a delight, in fact, was how much director J.J. Abrams insisted on getting back to the tactile feeling of the original Star Wars trilogy. Plus, it is, y’know, the highest-grossing movie domestically of all time — it’s gotta win at least one Oscar, right? —A.B.V.
Should win: I ask you: Why does this category even exist if not to celebrate a movie in which dozens of actual stunt performers drove actual post-apocalyptic hot rods through an actual desert? Mad Max: Fury Road, forever. —A.W.
Ave Maria, Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont
Day One, Henry Hughes
Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut), Patrick Vollrath
Shok, Jamie Donoughue
Stutterer, Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage
Will win: Previous Best Live-Action Short winners have most often focused on suicide, children, or suicide and children, so I’m going to guess that Shok, about the friendship between two boys from different ethnic backgrounds living in Kosovo in 1998, stands the best chance to win here. —A.B.V.
Should win: This category can tend toward glib — films with a punchline or a conclusion that feels more tidy than resonant. But that’s not a description you could ever pin on Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut), a drama about a divorced dad picking up his kid for the weekend that simmers with slow dread. It doesn’t take long to figure out what’s making him so anxious, but the movie refuses to ease the tension, even when his daughter starts to understand what’s on his mind and what he has planned. It’s her empathy that makes this drama as sad as it is unflinching. —A.W.
Body Team 12, David Darg and Bryn Mooser
Chau, Beyond the Lines, Courtney Marsh and Jerry Franck
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah, Adam Benzine
A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
Last Day of Freedom, Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman
Will win: This is an unrelentingly bleak category, and I pity any voter who chooses to suffer through watching all of its respective stories about the Ebola crisis, Agent Orange, the Holocaust, honor killing, and the death penalty. Of these, I think Body Team 12 — which is about the lives of an Ebola response team in Liberia — will win. —A.B.V.
Should win: Of all of the stories of suffering that make up this category, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness is the most enraging and, in a bitter way, the most suspenseful. It’s a film about an attempted honor killing that (it goes without saying) will make your blood boil with its story of 18-year-old Saba, who survived an attempt on her life carried out by her own father and uncle, then has to face community pressure as to whether or not she’s going to have them prosecuted. Saba’s crime is one of choosing to marry the man she wanted rather than the man her family deemed wealthier and more on their level; for her daring, they took her out, shot her, and dumped her body in the river. She managed to survive, but what follows is an exploration of a system that not only makes it easy for men to do this to women in their family who disobey but that can incentivize it. For all of Saba’s quiet strength, the image that will linger with you is the one of her father, unapologetic behind bars, insisting he acted rightly, because in his Pakistani village, male pride is more valuable than a female’s life. —A.W.
Bear Story (Historia de un Oso), Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala
Prologue, Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton
Sanjay’s Super Team, Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle
We Can’t Live Without Cosmos, Konstantin Bronzit
World of Tomorrow, Don Hertzfeldt
Will win: Unlike the animated feature category, the short films made by major animation studios are not default Oscar winners: Pixar and Disney have lost more than they’ve won here. Which means the funny and brainy World of Tomorrow or the resourceful and sad Bear Story could easily win, and I’m tempted to make one of them my picks. But the dazzling Sanjay’s Super Team ends with a sneaky emotional punch in its story of a son learning to connect with his father’s faith, so I’m going to flip a three-sided coin and guess that it will win the day. —A.B.V.
Should win: Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow is a miniature masterpiece of heartbreak, dark humor, and bleak sci-fi concepts, acted out with surprisingly emotional stick figures. Sanjay’s Super Team is sweet and sincere and will be a perfectly good winner, but Hertzfeldt deserves all the awards. —A.W.
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