2016 Oscars Predictions

Ah, here we are again. Mere days from another Oscars telecast. Now, I know that awards don’t matter (even though they, you know, do [link previous article about Oscars importance]), and I know that my tastes certainly don’t represent those of the world as a whole. These are truisms that are so fundamental to modern criticism that they shouldn’t even be said, but such things are the reason why opening paragraphs exist in the world. This year’s Oscars is sure to be a particularly contentious, both thanks to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and how that will put host Chris Rock into not the most enviable of positions (in case you were not aware, The Academy is, as a whole, a big fan of itself, so even the most tasteful ribbing can turn the crowd), and because 2015 was such a wonderful year for movies. This Oscars ceremony will disappoint like all Oscars ceremonies will disappoint. It will be overlong (though that hasn’t been nearly as big an issue as it was in the mid-2000s), the wrong people will win, the speeches will be alternatingly stultifying and exhilarating, and everything will go as it always does. But that doesn’t stop us from coming back for more.

So here we go. As I am wont to do, the categories are presented in my proprietary order of “Least Interesting Category to Most Interesting Category,” with my personal rankings of where I believe the nominated should fall. Question marks indicate a film I have not seen. The nominee in bold is who I am predicting to win. Let’s do this.

Best Documentary Short Subject

? "Body Team 12"

? "Chan, Beyond the Lines"

? "Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoab"

? "A Girl the River: The Price of Forgiveness"

? "Last Day of Freedom"

We start, as we always do, with the shorts. The difficulty with the short subject documentaries is their length, which usually results in the docs being broken up into two screenings when they make their rounds outside of press events and Academy screenings and the like. This is my way of finding an excuse for why I haven’t seen them, if you couldn’t tell. By virtue of the Academy’s somewhat reliable sense of “misery sells,” I would expect Body Team 12 to get the win. It appears to have the emotional gravitas that so often sees victory in these categories, and while most of the nominees are similarly grim fare, Body Team 12 seems the bleakest of the bunch.

Best Short Film, Live Action

? "Ave Maria"

? "Day One"

? "Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)"

? "Shok"

? "Stutterer"

I don’t have nearly as good an excuse for why I didn’t see the Live Action shorts beyond “It was super cold in Boston that day and I decided I didn’t want to go outside.” I am nothing if not committed to the craft. As with the Doc shorts, I’m going off of plot summaries to guess the most likely winner.

Best Short Film, Animated

1. "World Of Tomorrow"

2. "Sanjay's Super Team"

? "Bear Story"

? "Prologue"

? "We Can't Live Without Cosmos"

There is one clear emotional favorite here, as evidenced by the fact that Don Hertzfeldt’s lovingly beautiful and strange and surreal and charming World of Tomorrow was one of my three favorite films of last year regardless of length, but time will tell whether the Academy shares the same sentiment. It is clearly a two horse race between Hertzfeldt and semi-juggernaut Disney/Pixar’s Sanjay’s Super Team (I say semi-juggernaut, as no studio who releases Lava should be allowed the title of full juggernaut). At the end of the day, it comes down to whether the Academy goes for the safe (Super Team) or the daring (World of Tomorrow), and whether the rapturous acclaim for Hertzfeldt’s 16 minute work of genius has the penetration beyond the critics who have lauded it since 2015’s Sundance festival. I have hope that the right call is made (and would legitimately be more excited for a World of Tomorrow win than any other outcome Sunday night), but I would not bet on it.

Best Song

? "Earned It" ("Fifty Shades of Grey")

? "Manta Ray" ("Racing Extinction")

? "Simple Song #3" ("Youth")

? "Til It Happens to You" ("The Hunting Ground")

? "Writing's on the wall" ("Spectre")

...Meh? (Abstaining from rankings because….meh?)

I will say, though, that this category makes it so Fifty Shades of Grey can refer to itself as an Academy Award nominated film, while Mistress America and It Follows and The Duke of Burgundy and Clouds of Sils Maria cannot.


Best Sound Mixing

1. "Mad Max: Fury Road"

2. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

3. "Bridge of Spies"

4. "The Revenant"

5. "The Martian"

The sound categories are always tough, and with the way this year’s nominees have played out, things look to be particularly difficult. Normally, there’s one major “Academy-sponsored” film that has the potential to run roughshod over the technical categories over more populist fare. This year, with The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road and the Martian (though my expectation is that with Ridley Scott not making the Best Director category, The Martian will not win a single award), there are no less than three visually dazzling Best Picture nominees duking it out alongside a strong Spielberg film and the most culturally significant film release of the last decade (at least). This is also the first of ten categories where Mad Max and The Revenant find themselves squaring off (and if you’re paying attention, that means that all 10 of Mad Max’s nominations are opposite The Revenant). If The Revenant is set to be the Academy’s darling, it could easily maraud its way through the tech categories en route to winning 9 or more statues. But the sound categories are also the sort of places Mad Max could be thrown a bone as well. It seems like Bridge of Spies and The Martian are right out, and Star Wars fans might have to be content with a Visual Effects win as the battles between man and desert and man and forest look to duke it out for the golden calf. I’m sticking my neck out for Mad Max in this and many of the upcoming technical categories. Hopefully it doesn’t get chopped off.

Best Sound Editing

1. "Mad Max: Fury Road"

2. "Sicario"

3. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

4. "The Revenant"

5. "The Martian"

A similar situation to sound mixing, with Spielberg replaced by the pulse-pounding (and rifle heavy) Sicario, this category is likely to be just as hard a call. It wouldn’t be out of left field for a film like Sicario to win this, as warfare can be a popular option here (this is the one category American Sniper won in last year’s ceremony), but that seems like a stretch (and both Mad Max and The Revenant have the gun battle angles covered as well). I wouldn't be surprised if we get a repeat winner from Sound Mixing, but I could also see The Revenant and Mad Max split the categories to give each a little love.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

1. "Mad Max: Fury Road"

2. "The Revenant"

? "The 100-Year Old Man"

This is probably the one category I feel most confident choosing Mad Max to take the statue. There is certainly more makeup and hairstyling in Mad Max compared to The Revenant, and more varied examples of it at that (indeed, the People Eater should be enough proof for victory in this case). Though I guess if there’s a bloc of Academy voters who love snow-flecked frozen beards (and considering nearly everyone in Fury Road is bald, perhaps that’s a strike against one half of the category), Mad Max’s most sure-fire victory could be in jeopardy. Still have no idea what that other movie is.

Best Costume Design

1. "Carol"

2. "Mad Max: Fury Road"

3. "Cinderella"

4. "The Danish Girl"

5. "The Revenant"

Having both Cinderella and The Danish Girl as costume dramas really messes with my predicting metric here. Both cover the “period piece costume drama with lots of flowy dresses” checkboxes that so often lead to a win in this category, and while The Danish Girl doesn’t have much of any non-Alicia Vikander momentum, it’s more of a prestige film than Cinderella is. But at the same time, Cinderella could win on the balance of the blue dress alone, which is not only stunning but also a major plot point of the film. I don’t want The Danish Girl to win anything, so I’ll do my best to will things in the direction of Cinderella.

Best Production Design

1. "Mad Max: Fury Road"

2. "Bridge of Spies"

3. “The Revenant"

4. "The Martian"

5. "The Danish Girl"

The shiniest and the chromest of the production designs should rightly win here. Again, so often these categories are decided by the “bigger/more is better” ethos (which makes some amount of sense when you consider that the entire Academy votes for the winner, and they may not be experts on the subtlety of production design), but in this case, more is better, or at least it is when it comes to the whacked out craziness that has been hatched from the demented brain of the septuagenarian Australian who disappeared into the Namibian desert and emerged with Mad Max: Fury Road. Other than maybe editing, this is the category Mad Max deserves to win the most, so here’s hoping it pulls it out.

Best Visual Effects

1. "Mad Max: Fury Road"

2. "Ex Machina"

3. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

4. "The Martian"

5. "The Revenant"

If Star Wars is going to win anything (and for a movie that made close to a billion dollars at the domestic box office, it feels like it, you know, should), it’s this category. I must say, though, that I love the nomination of Ex Machina purely for how unassuming its effects are. So often, as can be the case with many of the technical categories, the more ostentatious effects get the nominees, so that’s a nice change of pace.

Best Foreign Film

1. "Mustang" (France)

2. "Son of Saul" (Hungary)

? "Embrace of the Serpent" (Colombia)

? "Theeb" (Jordan)

? "A War" (Denmark)

This is always a difficult category for those of us platooned outside New York and LA when it comes to seeing every nominee. I believe Theeb, Mustang and Son of Saul are the only three that have played in Boston, and I don’t believe Theeb received any sort of extended run in theaters. I’m disappointed I won’t get a chance to see Embrace of the Serpent before the ceremony, as it sounds fantastic, and it’s disappointing I only managed to see two of the nominees this year. Granted, those two nominees are the presumptive favorites, so they are the right two to have seen, so that’s useful. It’s a tight race between Mustang and Son of Saul, but I personally preferred the Turkish coming of age story, though Son of Saul should be the winner without too much surprise or controversy, and it is more than worthy of the title.

Best Documentary Feature

1. "Amy"

2. "The Look of Silence"

3. "Cartel Land"

4. "Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom"

5. "What Happened, Miss Simone?"

Funny that there is a real chance Joshua Oppenheimer’s second Indonesia documentary will lose to another music documentary (The Act of Killing lost out to Twenty Feet from Stardom two years ago), though in this case I perhaps controversially believe it’s the right choice. I love both films dearly, but I found the horror elements of Amy to be profoundly effective and touching, managing to put it slightly over the top. There isn’t really a feel good option on the list, so there’s no Twenty Feet from Stardom or Searching for Sugar Man to take the prize as a comfort vote, but Amy’s the most high profile of the nominees, so it should have the inside track to victory.

Best Score

1. "Carol" (Carter Burwell)

2. "The Hateful Eight" (Ennio Morricone)

3. "Sicario" (Johan Johannsson)

4. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" (John Williams)

5. "Bridge of Spies" (Thomas Newman)

I watched Carol again this past weekend, and had entirely forgot just how undeniably enchanting its score is. That makes it a slight favorite of mine over Morricone, who is the closest of second places, as his main theme of The Hateful Eight is completely brilliant. The Carol and Hateful Eight scores are very similar in the way they heavily (heavily) bias themselves on one recurring central theme, but when that central theme is as shattering as Morricone and Burwell’s themes here, it’s by no means a bad thing. Bit of a shame that Johan Johannsson finds himself lost in the shuffle for the second straight year. I thought his score of The Theory of Everything was the best of last year’s nominees, and what he brings to the table in Sicario is so wonderfully and bizarrely strange and grating that it could easily be a front-runner if not for the genius Burwell and Morricone. I’d argue that both Bridge of Spies and The Force Awakens got their nominations by virtue of expectation; of course Spielberg’s big movie gets a score nomination, and of course John Williams is going to be nominated for writing Star Wars music again, despite the fact that both felt more than a little by-the-numbers in their execution. Williams is a dark horse for a win here, but I’d have trouble believing that Morricone, who has never won a competitive Oscar (read that sentence again and marvel), will certainly get his due now.

Best Animated Feature

1. "Anomalisa"

2. "Inside Out"

3. "Shaun and the Sheep Movie"

? "Boy and the World"

? "When Marnie Was There"

I appreciate that this category seems to be more and more bold in their choices, eschewing popularity (Minions/The Good Dinosaur) for actually good animated films. There is absolutely no way Anomalisa will ever win this category, but the fact that there’s an excellent Pixar film to challenge it nails the coffin shut pretty resolutely. Really, it’s likely that even a mediocre Pixar film would pass over a stop-motion Charlie Kaufman movie featuring explicit puppet sex (and yes, it is required of every article that mentions Anomalisa to point out the fact that it features explicit puppet sex). I appreciate Shaun the Sheep Movie, which is essentially a Buster Keaton silent comedy starring some sheep, sneaked into the category. It’s not nearly as good as Anomalisa or Inside Out, but it’s great that it got some notice, and I’ll go to bat for stop motion every day of the week.

Best Film Editing

1. "Mad Max: Fury Road"

2. "Spotlight"

3. "The Revenant"

4. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

5. "The Big Short"

Editing is often seen as a major keystone toward an eventual Best Picture win, so the film to take home the trophy here could speak volumes, especially considering all three major guild winners (Spotlight, The Big Short and The Revenant) are all here. Personally, this should be a slam dunk victory for Mad Max, if only for its obsessive and borderline psychotic manipulation of frame rates on a shot to shot level, which deserves some pretty serious recognition just for the audacity of it all. I don’t think it will, which is certainly unfortunate. I would expect the flashiness of The Big Short to take the win here, as most Academy members would probably feel more comfortable choosing the flashiness of a prestige movie like The Big Short over the flashiness of a crazy-ass movie like Mad Max: Fury Road. But it could go either way here.

Best Adapted Screenplay

1. "Carol" (Phyllis Nagy)

2. "Brooklyn" (Nick Hornby)

3. "Room" (Emma Donoghue)

4. "The Martian" (Drew Goddard)

5. "The Big Short" (Adam McKay and Charles Randolph)

I am filled with unquenchable rage.

Best Original Screenplay

1. "Spotlight" (Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer)

2. "Inside Out" (Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley)

3. "Ex Machina" (Alex Garland)

4. "Straight Outta Compton" (Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff)

5. "Bridge of Spies" (Matt Charman, Joel & Ethan Coen)

Spotlight definitely wins here in part because it’s not going to win anything else, so a screenplay award is, like, the second best option, right? This takes nothing away from Spotlight’s excellent journalism procedural script. It so easily could have been dry as a bone in the wrong hands, but McCarthy and Singer tug the strings in just the right way to keep it propulsive from beginning to end. I would argue that every other script in this category lags in some way (I’m probably the only person in the world who thinks much of the second act of Inside Out is lacking, the end of Ex Machina is weak, Straight Outta Compton gets a tad too biopic-y at times and Bridge of Spies’ second half is not nearly as interesting as its first), so I’m glad Spotlight is at the top of the heap.

Best Cinematography

1A. "Carol"

1B. "Mad Max: Fury Road"

3. "The Hateful Eight"

4. "Sicario"

5. "The Revenant"

Lubezki seems destined to be the first cinematographer to ever win this award three years in a row (after Gravity in 2013 and Birdman in 2014), and while there is certainly no denying his virtuosity, The Revenant is the first example of his where it feels like he’s stealing the spotlight away from the story itself. I guess, from the perspective of technical expertise, I can see the win, but as a vessel for storytelling, I find the ostentatiousness of The Revenant to be off-putting and exhausting beyond the first 45 minutes or so. Something like Ed Lachmann’s Carol could not be further on the other side of the spectrum, with his inspired choice of shooting it on Super 16mm film stock creating that hazy historical feel while lavishing over the faces of his two stars as they traverse 1950’s a 1950’s New York City resplendent with hats (so many hats!). Lachmann’s taken my number one position over John Seale’s Mad Max by the slimmest of margins, and I seem to be one of the few people who laud Tarantino and cinematographer Robert Richardson for resurrecting Ultra Panavision cameras and lenses long lost to history in order to shoot a film that takes place almost entirely indoors. And as for Roger Deakins, well, always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

Best Supporting Actor

1. Mark Rylance, "Bridge of Spies"

2. Tom Hardy, "The Revenant"

3. Sylvester Stallone, "Creed"

4. Mark Ruffalo, "Spotlight"

5. Christian Bale, "The Big Short"

Stallone has this in the bag, which I cannot imagine is something anyone ever thought they would see. It’s certainly a winning performance, a nice case of the intersection of a lifetime achievement sort of win mixed with a performance that actually earns it (no Save the Tiger situation here). I will of course be devastated that Mark Rylance’s highly skilled and perfectly calibrated performance in Bridge of Spies will go unawarded; he gave what is unquestionably my favorite male performance of the year, carrying that film on his sympathetic shoulders (so much so that the film is noticeably worse when he disappears for much of its second half). Hardy was the best aspect of The Revenant, chewing scenery with an adventurous accent as only he can, but neither he, nor Bale nor Ruffalo really has any sort of shot here.

Best Actor

1. Michael Fassbender, "Steve Jobs"

2. Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Revenant"

3. Matt Damon, "The Martian"

4. Bryan Cranston, "Trumbo"

5. Eddie Redmayne, "The Danish Girl"

So Leo’s winning this, which is fine. I’m not over the moon with him in The Revenant, but it’s a relatively weak field, so I don’t feel like there will be any gross injustice once the inevitable happens. Damon is good, though the Academy seems unlikely to award what could on balance be considered a lighter performance is unlikely to gain traction when faced with the passion of the Leo. Cranston’s fine but utterly, utterly boring in the most ineffectual of films, and Eddie Redmayne is not only undeserving for The Danish Girl, but actively insulting in his mincing portrayal of a transitioning woman. On balance, I would contend that Fassbender gives the best overall performance. He doesn’t particularly look or sound like Steve Jobs, but his commitment to the performance is undeniable, and he executes the bite and the intrigue of Aaron Sorkin’s script with aplomb. This really is a terrible category of options for such a high profile award. I think I fell asleep writing this paragraph.

Best Supporting Actress

1. Rooney Mara, "Carol"

2. Jennifer Jason Leigh, "The Hateful Eight"

3. Alicia Vikander, "The Danish Girl"

4. Kate Winslet, "Steve Jobs"

5. Rachel McAdams, "Spotlight"

The toughest field of the year, in part because two of the performances are leads. Rooney Mara gave my favorite female performance of the year, and she probably has the most raw screen time of any of the actresses in this category (being the absolute lead of the film will do that for you). Vikander is also a lead, and while she’s essentially the only redeeming quality of The Danish Girl, she’s a step below both Mara and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s scenery chewing (in a good way) raving psychopath from The Hateful Eight. I think everyone but McAdams has a serious chance to win this award, and I’m wondering if the indecisiveness of the category will lead to a dependable face like Winslet taking the award, creating the very strange experience of my being upset and disappointed that Kate Winslet won something for a role she performs well. But hey, I’m tough to please. Vikander is the frontrunner, but you can only win your Oscar pool when you go out on a limb from time to time. So here we are. The limb is nice this time of year.

Best Actress

1. Saoirse Ronan, "Brooklyn"

2. Brie Larson, "Room"

3. Charlotte Rampling, "45 Years"

4. Cate Blanchett, "Carol"

5. Jennifer Lawrence, "Joy"

There’s no way Brie Larson isn’t winning this. Which is pretty awesome, considering Brie Larson is one of my favorite actresses working right now (I’ve basically been in love with her since Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World). She had her first big shot at awards consideration with the excellent Short Term 12, but Room has made her Hollywood’s darling and for good reason. This is four fifths of an outstanding category (I am aware that even Joy detractors like Lawrence’s performance, but she’s so utterly miscast that I can’t get into it, especially with the likes of Mara and Vikander shunted off into the supporting categories and the likes of Charlize Theron and Juliette Binoche looking in from outside), so it would be difficult to go wrong. I’m personally a huge booster of Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn; her tender and assured performance makes a film that could easily have come off as slight or inconsequential into a soaring Old Hollywood romance sure to stand the test of time (and my God those eyes). Despite my love for Larson and her wonderful work in Room, I’d personally give it to Ronan. But I won’t be upset in the least when Larson is called to the stage.

Best Directing

1. George Miller, "Mad Max: Fury Road"

2. Tom McCarthy, "Spotlight"

3. Alejandro G. Inarritu, "The Revenant"

4. Lenny Abramson, "Room"

5. Adam McKay, "The Big Short"

It seems like Inarritu winning the DGAs has sufficiently shut the door on any chance of George Miller winning here, which is a crying shame. Perhaps if Miller had constantly talked about how terrible it was to shoot in the deserts of Namibia, he would have had a shot.

It is possible that I might be a tad bitter.

Best Picture

1. "Mad Max: Fury Road"

2. "Brooklyn"

3. "Room"

4. "Spotlight"

5. "The Martian"

6. "Bridge of Spies"

7. "The Revenant"<