I realize I said this last year. But it really could go a few different ways at the Academy Awards, at least in the best-picture category. That makes things kind of fun — even though I know my pick for the best movie of the year won’t take home the top prize. Still, here are some thoughts on how things could shake out in the top categories Sunday night — and I’d love to hear your predictions, as well.
Nominees: “The Big Short,” “Bridge of Spies,” “Brooklyn,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Martian,” “The Revenant,” “Room,” “Spotlight.”
Will win: “The Big Short”
Should win: “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Wild card: “The Revenant”
I have secret dreams of “Mad Max” sweeping the whole night, but it’s not going to happen. I didn’t love “The Big Short.” It’s not even on my top 10 list. But it vividly captures a devastating point in our recent history with equal amounts of humor and outrage, and it gets its arms around a complicated subject — the events that caused the housing crisis of 2008 — in a way that’s both entertaining and informative. It also has the distinction of taking a dense non-fiction book and turning it into a rollicking feature film. I suspect it’ll resonate with a lot of Oscar voters. Then again, all these main contenders could split the top votes and something like “Room” could sneak in and win, which would be amazing. Who knows? (Also I should mention: I love “Spotlight” but I suspect it will for its screenplay and that’s it.)
Nominees: Adam McKay, “The Big Short”; George Miller, “Mad Max: Fury Road”; Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, “The Revenant”; Lenny Abrahamson, “Room”; Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight.”
Will win: Inarritu
Should win: Miller
Wild card: McKay
Like “The Big Short,” I didn’t love “The Revenant.” It’s a half-hour too long and it’s a return for Inarritu to the kind of dour, self-serious dramas he made before last year’s mesmerizing “Birdman.” It left me cold, if you’ll pardon the pun. But it is an extraordinary technical achievement, and Inarritu’s daring and artistry — as well as his creative connection with the brilliant cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki — are formidable. Plus, he won at the Directors Guild of America awards, which is a pretty great predictor of what will happen in this category.
Nominees: Bryan Cranston, “Trumbo”; Matt Damon, “The Martian”; Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”; Michael Fassbender, “Steve Jobs”; Eddie Redmayne, “The Danish Girl.”
Will win: DiCaprio
Should win: Damon, maybe?
Wild card: No one.
It’s Leo’s year, right? He’s due, as the logic goes. It’s hard to imagine anyone beating him. This is his fifth Academy Award nomination, and it’s for a role that was notoriously arduous. (Are you aware it was cold in Canada when they shot “The Revenant”? It was really cold.) What’s interesting about it is that his performance as the stoic Hugh Glass is so vastly different from the ones he’s made his name on throughout his career: charismatic, fast-talkers like Jack Dawson in “Titanic,” Frank Abagnale in “Catch Me If You Can” and Jordan Belfort in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Here, he grunts. If that. On the campaign trail, though, he’s been saying everything right. It’ll finally be his night.
Nominees: Cate Blanchett, “Carol”; Brie Larson, “Room’: Jennifer Lawrence, “Joy”; Charlotte Rampling, “45 Years”; Saoirse Ronan, “Brooklyn.”
Will win: Larson
Should win: Larson or Rampling
Wild card: Ronan
Brie Larson is just devastating in “Room” as a young mother trying to create a rich, fulfilling life for her 5-year-old son within the confines of a 10-by-10-foot garden shed. I’m not shy about describing the way this film wrecked me, and so much of that has to do with the truth in Larson’s performance and the deeply believable bond she forged with the excellent young actor Jacob Tremblay. But she’s been great for a long time now — even though she’s only 26 — in films ranging from “Short Term 12” to “The Spectacular Now” to “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” The rest of the world is finally figuring it out. (Rampling, by the way, is exquisite in “45 Years,” but maybe her nomination alone will get folks to seek out this intimate, insightful film.)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Nominees: Christian Bale, “The Big Short”; Tom Hardy, “The Revenant”; Mark Ruffalo, “Spotlight”; Mark Rylance, “Bridge of Spies”; Sylvester Stallone, “Creed.”
Will win: Stallone
Should win: Stallone
Wild card: None
Did you watch the Golden Globes? Did you see the outpouring of affection in that room as Sylvester Stallone took the stage to accept the supporting-actor prize for “Creed”? That’s going to happen all over again at the Academy Awards — only it’s going to be even bigger and more heartfelt. Reprising the role that made him a superstar, he brings both swagger and vulnerability to the older and wiser Rocky Balboa. Stallone is the sentimental favorite but he deserves the award, too. He’s really great in “Creed” — he reminds us he really can act — and he helps Michael B. Jordan achieve his own sensational performance which should make him a superstar in his own right (and should have earned him a best-actor nomination).
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Nominees: Jennifer Jason Leigh, “The Hateful Eight”; Rooney Mara, “Carol”; Rachel McAdams, “Spotlight”; Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl”; Kate Winslet, “Steve Jobs.”
Will win: Vikander
Should win: Vikander
Wild card: Leigh
For a while, I was certain that Jennifer Jason Leigh would win for “The Hateful Eight” — even though it’s a performance I’m not all that fond of — just because in a room full of outlaws and liars, she’s the showiest and ballsiest of them all. And she still might. But increasingly, I’ve come to think Alicia Vikander will win. Maybe I’m just hoping that will happen. But she’s the real heart and soul of “The Danish Girl” (and she was just as good last year in an extremely different role in “Ex Machina”). Vikander has the more complicated and compelling arc, even though Eddie Redmayne is playing a real-life figure who underwent gender reassignment surgery. Plus she’s an exciting star on the rise — and this award often provides sparkling validation of such on Oscar night.