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Predicting the Oscars: Who will win and who should win

Plenty of Oscar categories are up in the air this year, including best picture, but one thing you can bet the farm on is that the movie that wins the most Academy Awards will be "Mad Max: Fury Road."

The supercharged sequel may have Oscar viewers thinking "sweep" tonight because it's likely to triumph in many of the technical categories that are given away early in the evening. Other titles will take over around the time you start thinking, "This show has been on for two hours and they've barely given out any interesting awards": "Spotlight" or "The Revenant" should dominate the later, higher-profile awards, but it's unlikely they'll be able to rack up enough gold to top the five or six trophies "Mad Max" seems destined to take home.

Which will it be, "Spotlight" or "The Revenant?" My opinion changes a couple times a day. Will "Spotlight" win because of its important subject matter and universal admiration? Or does "Revenant" have enough fervent support to take the top prizes? For that shaky prediction, and some that are more solid, check out my picks.

BEST PICTURE

Usually, it narrows down to a two-movie race by now but, this year, it may be three. We know "Spotlight" is the choice of the actors, who make up the largest branch of the Motion Picture Academy and who gave that movie's cast its acting-ensemble award at the Screen Actors Guild ceremony. The other based-on-fact drama with a ginormous ensemble cast, "The Big Short," also has its partisans. But "The Revenant" has been coming on strong of

late, winning several top prizes including the Directors' Guild award. The knock on it -- that some voters love it but some hate it -- isn't necessarily a hindrance in the ranked voting system of the Oscars, which is designed to reward a film's passionate support. I'm sticking with the actors' choice for my prediction, but I wouldn't be surprised if any of those three won.

Will win: "Spotlight"

Should win: "Spotlight"

BEST ACTOR

No need for anyone whose name isn't Leonardo DiCaprio to prepare an acceptance speech this year; he and last year's best actress, Julianne Moore, can go ahead and coordinate their outfits because she will be handing him the best-actor trophy. He has just about everything going for him: a high degree of difficulty in his performance, which involved arduous locations, working with computer-generated bears and capturing his character with very little dialogue; he carries the entire movie on his back and, after many nominations but no wins, he has reached a point in his career where he's due.

Will win: Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Revenant"

Should win: DiCaprio

BEST ACTRESS

Am I the only one who's not entirely sold on Brie Larson for this year's trophy? She's a terrific actress (I'd have given her the award a couple years ago for "Short Term 12") and she's good in "Room" -- but I think she and the movie get slightly off track in the second half. Larson has owned the pre-Oscar awards, though, so it looks like she'll triumph over the subtler work of Saoirse Ronan in "Brooklyn," the bold theatrics of Cate Blanchett in "Carol," the seen-it-before work of Jennifer Lawrence in "Joy" and the career-capping and complicated performance we might be talking about if Charlotte Rampling hadn't derailed her chances with ill-chosen remarks about race, right after the nominations were revealed.

Will win: Brie Larson, "Room"

Should win: Charlotte Rampling, "45 Years"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Speaking of career cappers, Sylvester Stallone seems to have this one wrapped up for his fine work in "Creed" and for a narrative that's too swell to overlook: He'll win for revisiting Rocky, the same character he was first nominated for playing, four decades ago. That gives him an edge over a very tough field: Few actors do more consistently good work than Mark Ruffalo ("Spotlight") or Tom Hardy ("Revenant"); Christian Bale ("Big Short") is an Oscar fave who is hampered by having won fairly recently, and Mark Rylance is an idiosyncratic theater veteran whose profile in Hollywood is still low, although his next two movies -- a Steven Spielberg project and a Christopher Nolan project -- will change that.

Will win: Sylvester Stallone, "Creed"

Should win: Mark Rylance, "Bridge of Spies"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Did the phrase "category fraud" exist before this Oscar season? I don't remember hearing it, although it's been a thing without a name at least as far back as Patty Duke winning the award in this category more than five decades ago. Like Duke's Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker," two of the women whose movie studios campaigned for them as supporting actresses clearly belong in the tougher-to-crack best actress category: Alicia Vikander has both the largest role and the title role in "The Danish Girl," and Rooney Mara may not be the title character but "Carol" is about her. That gives them a big advantage over the rest of the field because they have more screen time and more opportunity to demonstrate their talents in their respective roles. The other three nominees have their moments to shine: Check out Rachael McAdams' subtlety as a reporter balancing professionalism with compassion as she interviews victims of abuse in "Spotlight," and the gusto with which Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kate Winslet rip into their showy roles in "Hateful Eight" and "Steve Jobs." But the Swedish Vikander, who also benefits from voters' longtime love of tossing this award to a European actress (Juliette Binoche, Penelope Cruz, Ingrid Bergman, Katina Paxinou, etc.), is the likely winner.

Will win: Alicia Vikander, "The Danish Girl"

Should win: Kate Winslet, "Steve Jobs"

BEST DIRECTOR

This year, the prize could be renamed "Flashiest Director" because the race seems to be between "The Revenant's" Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who won last year for "Birdman," and George Miller, whose "Mad Max: Fury Road" is a pyrotechnical feat. Inarritu's union selected him for its prize, which likely means he has the edge.

Will win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, "The Revenant"

Should win: George Miller, "Mad Max: Fury Road"

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

It'll be bookends for Bloomington native Pete Docter, who previously won this category for "Up" and will take it again for the universally beloved "Inside Out."

BEST DOCUMENTARY

In recent years, such winners as "Searching for Sugarman" and "20 Feet From Stardom" have made this seem like the "Best Music Documentary" category. "Amy," about doomed singer Amy Winehouse, should fend off "What Happened, Miss Simone," a portrait of Nina Simone, for the win.

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