2016 OSCAR PICKS AND PREDICTIONS

The 88th Annual Academy Awards

Of all the actors and directors weighing in on the #OscarsSoWhite controversy this year, actress Emma Thompson had one of the best (and most amusing) responses:

"It's hilarious, but I mean, it's no change there. It's not as if it's ever been awash with people of color. Let's face it. I mean, the Oscars membership is mainly old white men. You know. That's the fact of it. So, I mean, either you wait for them all to die, or kill them off slowly. I mean, I don't know. There's so many options, aren't there?"

Thompson gets points for being funny. She gets more points for being right. And she gets even more points because—unlike her fellow Academy members Michael Caine, Charlotte Rampling, Julie Delpy, Meryl Streep, and the Coen Brothers—she is able to open her mouth on the subject and not make me want to hit her in the face with a bag of manure.

The Academy has always been an old white guy's club. It's also never really been a reliable curator of quality. And yes, these things are related: this is, after all, the body that not only failed to nominate Do the Right Thing for Best Picture in 1989, but actually gave the trophy to Driving Miss Daisy. The Academy's failures of inclusivity—its stubborn refusal to celebrate the vibrant, exciting work being produced by women and artists of color—is not just a disservice to society as a whole;  it's also a betrayal of the Academy's own mission, and a disservice to the art form it claims to support and promote. 

So the Academy hasn't really changed—and that's the problem. What is different is that we seem to have reached a cultural tipping point, powered—like the more important fights for justice happening elsewhere—largely by social media. The world has changed, the conversation has changed, expectations have changed, and bodies like the Academy—which refuse to change—are rightfully being called out for their failings. Their stubborn adherence to business-as-usual has come to seem less innocent, and more sinister.

And that's exciting: ironically, the conversation about the failings of the Academy has given the Oscar ceremony more relevancy than it's had in years. The backlash isn't going to go away: things will have to change, and watching actors and directors scramble to wrap their stubborn heads around that fact is exciting.

For example, I like the Coen Brothers' films as much as anyone, but their recent, aggressively tone-deaf comments reminded us all that they have gotten a pass on diversity for far too long. "You don’t sit down and write a story and say, ‘I’m going to write a story that involves four black people, three Jews, and a dog,’" Joel Coen said, patronizingly dismissing legitimate questions about representation as "idiotic." "Diversity is important," the brothers were quick to add, but the barely hidden subtext of their smug comments was "Just not to us."

I don't know if Chiwetel Ejiofor had the Coens specifically in mind when he weighed in on the controversy this week, but he could have:

"Casting or green-lighting a film that is essentially an all-white film was, at a certain point, just considered normal. But now, it's a choice. You are doing something very directly. You are making a choice to cast this thing entirely white, or green-light an entirely white movie. That is a choice."

Par for the course, a lot of filmmakers made that choice this year, and—par for the course—those are mostly the films the Academy chose to honor. Even where predominantly black films did manage to get made, get seen, and find critical and commercial success, they didn't get nominations. Cary Fukunaga's Beasts of No Nation was one of the must powerful, masterfully made films of the year, but it was completely shut out. (By my scorecard, it should have won a supporting actor Oscar for Idris Elba, and it should at least have netted nominations for Fukunaga and his brilliant young star, Abraham Attah.) Director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan both got absurdly snubbed in 2012 for Fruitvale Station, and they both got overlooked again this year for Creed—which got exactly one nomination, for (white) co-star Sylvester Stallone. And, while I didn't love Straight Outta Compton as much as the many critics who shortlisted it as one of the best films of the year, it's certainly notable that the only nomination it got was for its white screenwriters.

And while the diversity conversation has largely focused on race, we shouldn't ignore the Academy's many other failings. The gender gap is very real, and very shameful: outside of the gendered acting categories, women received less than 20 percent of the nominations this year. Only two films directed by women are represented at all: Liz Garbus's What Happened, Miss Simone? in Documentary Feature, and Deniz Gamze Erguven's fantastic Mustang in Foreign Films. Kathryn Bigelow's win for The Hurt Locker six years ago was only the fourth nomination for a woman in the Best Director category ever, the first win, and still the last time a woman was nominated. (If you want to know who I think they shamefully overlooked this year, watch Marielle Heller's The Diary of a Teenage Girl.)

Meanwhile, if we want to talk about LGBT representation, let's hope this is the last year the Academy is allowed to celebrate cisgendered men in transface—in tepid dreck like The Danish Girl—while overlooking exciting work like Sean Baker's Tangerine.

All of which is to say that sorting my way through all the Oscar nominees this year felt like a mixed blessing. There is a lot of good work represented here, but I felt painfully aware that there is a lot of good work not represented here. There is no doubt even more good work than I am aware of missing from the nominations: films that I—and millions of other people—might have been inspired to seek out, if only the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wasn't such an ancient white sausagefest.

So—with all of these mixed feelings, caveats, and concerns—here are my choices for who will win, who should win, and who—for the love of all that's holy—must not be allowed to win at the 88th Annual Academy Awards. (As usual, I'm presenting these in the order of last year's Oscar ceremony, which will almost certainly not be the order this year.)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

SupportingActor
Christian Bale, The Big Short; Tom Hardy, The Revenant; Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies; Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight; Sylvester Stallone, Creed

All five nominees gave good performances, though the nomination for Ruffalo here—as with the even stranger nomination for his castmate Rachel McAdams, below—seems more like a random bone thrown to the strong ensemble of Spotlight than a recognition of individual work. (If Liev Schreiber had been nominated, I'd understand it better.) My vote would probably go to Rylance, one of our finest living actors, giving—like Schreiber—the sort of subtle, restrained performance that doesn't win Oscars. The likely winner is Stallone, for a performance in the criminally overlooked Creed that reminds us he was once a very good actor. (Meanwhile, the absence of a nomination for Idris Elba's stunning performance in Beasts of No Nation almost renders this category null and void.)

Will Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Should Win:
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies 
Write-In Nominees: Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation; Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina; Benicio Del Toro, Sicario

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Costumes
Sandy Powell, Carol; Sandy Powell, Cinderella; Paco Delgado, The Danish Girl; Jenny Beavan, Mad Max: Fury Road; Jacqueline West, The Revenant

Here's a bold prediction: this early award, about which few of us particularly care, will be a strong indicator of what sort of night it's going to be. If Sandy Powell wins for the more deserving of her two nominations, for Carol, it will be a respectable night. If Jenny Beavan wins for Mad Max: Fury Road, it will be a fun night. If Jacqueline West wins for The Revenant, it will indicate the sort of tedious domination by an overrated film that will make this a very long night.

Will Win: Carol 
Should Win:
Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Makeup
Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damian Martin, Mad Max: Fury Road; Love Larson and Eva von Bahr, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared; Siân Grigg, Duncan Jarman and Robert Pandini, The Revenant

I will never understand this category. With only three nominations for hundreds of films, how can one of them be for the relatively simple aging makeup in a little-seen film like The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared? (Though this is the same body that nominated Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa two years ago. Their ways are often dark, and never pleasant.)

Will Win: The Revenant
Should Win: 
Mad Max: Fury Road  
Must Not Win: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM

ForeignFilms
Embrace of the Serpent (Columbia); Mustang (France); Son of Saul (Hungary); Theeb (Jordan); A War (Denmark)

This is the category that thwarted my dreams of seeing every nominee this year. For the poor, unaffiliated film critic—who doesn't receive screeners—three of the nominated foreign films—Embrace of the Serpent, Theeb, and A War—were almost impossible to see. I did manage to see the holocaust drama Son of Saul, which is almost a mortal lock to win, but personally I found its storytelling messy, thematically unfocused, and oddly coy. My vote goes to the other nominee I saw, which also happens to be one of my favorite films of the year: Deniz Gamze Erguven's vibrant debut feature Mustang.

Will Win: Son of Saul 
Should Win: Mustang

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM

LiveActionShort
Ave Maria; Day One; Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut); Shok; Stutterer

This is a tough race to handicap. There isn't a stinker in the bunch, though the lighter entries are also my least favorite: Ave Maria's comedy left me a little cold, and the otherwise charming Stutterer suffers terribly from an absurdly contrived ending. The other three are all powerful and harrowing—Day One almost grotesquely so—but my clear favorite is Patrick Vollrath's Everything Will Be Okay, the story of a little girl who gradually realizes that her "day out" with her non-custodial father is taking an unexpected turn. A taut exercise in escalating tension, Everything Will Be Okay also features one of the best performances I saw all year, from 10-year-old Julia Pointer as the daughter. The oddsmakers have Ave Maria favored to win here, but I'm calling a deserved upset.

Will Win: Everything Will Be Okay
Should Win: Everything Will Be Okay

BEST DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

DocumentaryShorts
Body Team 12; Chau, Beyond the Lines; Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah; A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness; Last Day of Freedom

It's been an emotionally rough awards season all around, but it was coming out of the Documentary Shorts that I really wished for some antidepressants. (You know you're in trouble when the story of a Vietnamese boy with severe birth defects from Agent Orange exposure—Chau, Beyond the Lines—is the closest thing to a "feel-good" film on offer.) Betting on a Holocaust film is always a safe call, so Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah may win here, despite feeling more like a really good DVD extra than a documentary film. My prediction—and my preference—is a win for Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman's Last Day of Freedom, the heartbreaking story of an executed Vietnam veteran told by the brother who tried—and failed—to save him. The film's delicate and effective rotoscoping may hurt its chances among documentary purists, but Last Day of Freedom is a smart and powerful exploration of familial guilt and societal failure.

Will Win: Last Day of Freedom
Should Win: Last Day of Freedom

BEST SOUND MIXING

SoundMixing
Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Drew Kunin, Bridge of Spies; Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo, Mad Max: Fury Road; Paul Massey, Mark Taylor and Mac Ruth, The Martian; Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom and Chris Duesterdiek, The Revenant; Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Here's a chance to either win or lose a bunch of bets in your office pool all at once. If Mad Max: Fury Road is going to take home any trophies, it's going to be in the technical categories. And one film often dominates this end of the pool, so if it takes home any of the technical awards—beating the overall favorite The Revenant and the box-office champion Star Wars: The Force Awakens—it's probably going to sweep them.  I'm betting it will.

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST SOUND EDITING

SoundEditing
Mark Mangini and David White, Mad Max: Fury Road; Oliver Tarney, The Martian; Martin Hernandez and Lon Bender, The Revenant; Alan Robert Murray, Sicario; Matthew Wood and David Acord, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Sicario is a film that got shamefully overlooked in the major categories, but I don't think it's going to squeak out an award here either. The more special-effects heavy Star Wars has a decent chance of pulling out a victory, but my money's still on Mad Max.

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

SupportingActress
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight; Rooney Mara, Carol; Rachel McAdams, Spotlight; Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl; Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Welcome to the toughest category of the night. Four of the five nominees have both a claim and a shot here. (The lone exception is Rachel McAdams, who had to have been the most shocked person in Hollywood the morning the nominations came out. I like McAdams, and she's perfectly fine in Spotlight, but there's nothing particularly demanding or memorable about her role.) The quietly brilliant Rooney Mara—who really deserved a nomination in the Actress category—would seem to be a logical choice, but logic rarely factors into these things. Alicia Vikander was fantastic in The Danish Girl (a film I disliked), and even better in Ex Machina (a film I adored). Kate Winslet is always good, and always a threat to win, even for a somewhat thankless role in the underwhelming Steve Jobs. Hollywood veteran Jennifer Jason Leigh is the wild-card here: she gave the best performance in a loathsome film, and she also did exquisite work this year in Anomalisa. I can easily see her taking home a somewhat surprising trophy here. I dunno: this one's a crapshoot.

Will Win: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Should Win: Rooney Mara, Carol
Must Not Win: Rachel McAdams, Spotlight

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

VisualEffects
Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett, Ex Machina; Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver and Andy Williams, Mad Max: Fury Road; Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence and Steven Warner, The Martian; Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron Waldbauer, The Revenant; Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I would love to see Ex Machina win here, but this is probably going to be a two-horse race between Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I expect Star Wars to triumph, and—my love for Ex Machina notwithstanding—it probably deserves to. 

Will Win: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Should Win: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

AnimatedShorts
Bear Story; Prologue; Sanjay's Super Team; We Can't Live Without Cosmos; World of Tomorrow

It's always dangerous to bet against Pixar, but I'm doing it. Sanjay's Super Team was good, but Don Hertzfeld's World of Tomorrow is an inventive, evocative masterpiece. Meanwhile, Prologue—though technically stunning—is not really a film at all, just a teaser for a longer work still in development. (Read my reviews of the Animated Shorts here.)

Will Win: World of Tomorrow
Should Win: World of Tomorrow
Must Not Win: Prologue

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Animated
Anomalisa, Boy & the World, Inside Out, Shaun the Sheep, When Marnie was There

Here, on the other hand, you'd have to be a fool to bet against Pixar. I liked but didn't love Anomalisa, and I doubt it has any chance here. (It would be nice to see an adult-oriented animated film win: something that has never happened.) It's hard to root or argue against Inside Out—which will win in a landslide—but I'm casting my hypothetical ballot for what may be Studio Ghibli's final film, the beautiful and delicately moving When Marnie Was There. (Side-note: speaking of #OscarsSoWhite, Shaun the Sheep—which was a lot of fun—also had some of the best representations of diversity I saw in any film this year. From supporting characters to simple crowd scenes, the Aardman team does an admirable job of remembering that not everybody is white and Christian. Live-action filmmakers could learn something.)

Will Win: Inside Out
Should Win: When Marnie Was There

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

ProductionDesign
Bridge of Spies (Adam Stockhausen; set decoration: Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard Henrich); The Danish Girl (Production design: Eve Stewart; set decoration: Michael Standish); Mad Max: Fury Road (Production design: Colin Gibson; set decoration: Lisa Thompson); The Martian (Production design: Arthur Max; set decoration: Celia Bobak); The Revenant (Production design: Jack Fisk; set decoration: Hamish Purdy)

Fair warning: there's a slim chance The Danish Girl could sneak in a disappointing upset here. (This category has historically favored genteel period fare over spectacle.) But seriously: this should be a no-brain win for the incredible world building of Mad Max: Fury Road.

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Cinematography
Ed Lachman, Carol; Robert Richardson, The Hateful Eight; John Seale, Mad Max: Fury Road; Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant; Roger Deakins, Sicario.

A tough category this year, without an undeserving nominee in the bunch. The smart money is definitely on Emmanuel Lubezki to three-peat here, after consecutive wins for Gravity and Birdman. (And it's hard to argue against it: whatever else it was, The Revenant was gorgeous.) Carol had some of the best cinematography I saw all year—a rich visual aesthetic essential to the mood of the film—but it probably doesn't have a shot against much flashier fare. Mad Max could pull out a win, but the real dark horse here is Sicario: this is director of photography Roger Deakins' thirteenth nomination, without a win. Eventually this perennial bridesmaid is going to be a bride, and his starkly brutal work on Sicario is absolutely worthy of a ring.

Will Win: The Revenant
Should Win: Sicario

BEST FILM EDITING

Editing
Hank Corwin, The Big Short; Margaret Sixel, Mad Max: Fury Road; Stephen Mirrione, The Revenant; Tom McArdle, Spotlight; Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

This should be another no-brainer for Mad Max: Fury Road. I could see The Big Short or Spotlight getting thrown a bone here, but neither the former's energetic gimmickry nor the solid, old-fashioned storytelling of the latter can compete with perfect confluence of chaos that is Mad Max: Fury Road. 

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Documentary
Amy; Cartel Land; The Look of Silence; What Happened, Miss Simone?; Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom

This is a remarkably strong category this year. Amy is probably going to win, and it's a deserving, emotionally powerful piece of work. Cartel Land is excellent as well: a doc that plays with the narrative drive of a feature, and featuring some of the very best cinematography I saw all year. But my vote goes to The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer's stunning and draining follow-up to 2013's The Act of Killing. Oppenheimer inexplicably lost this award at the 86th Academy Awards to the crowd-pleasing music documentary 20 Feet from Stardom. History will probably repeat itself here, but Oppenheimer's artistic and moving explorations of the Indonesian genocide are the kind of films this branch of the academy should celebrate.

Will Win: Amy
Should Win: The Look of Silence 

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Song
“Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey (Music and lyrics by Abel Tesfaye, Ahmad Balshe, Jason Daheala Quenneville and Stephan Moccio); “Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction (Music by J. Ralph and lyrics by Antony Hegarty); “Simple Song #3” from Youth (Music and lyrics by David Lang); “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground (Music and lyric by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga); “Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre (Music and lyrics by Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith)

How dedicated am I to my Oscar research? I watched Fifty Shades of Grey, just to hear an auto-tuned aural travesty performed by something or someone called "The Weeknd." (Seriously, it took five people to write that song?) I didn't particularly love any of the songs nominated here, and the contest probably comes down to Bond versus Gaga. I'll bet on Gaga's "Til It Happens to You," though my mild preference would be for David Lang's "Simple Song #3" from Youth. (By the way, two of the best documentaries of the year are hiding here: Louie Psihoyos's Racing Extinction is a beautiful—and even strangely uplifting—exploration of how we've fucked up the planet, and Kirby Dick's The Hunting Ground is an infuriating expose of rape culture on college campuses. Both are well worth seeking out.)

Will Win: "Til It Happens to You," from The Hunting Ground
Should Win: "Simple Song #3" from Youth

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Score
Thomas Newman, Bridge of Spies; Carter Burwell, Carol; Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight; Johann Johannsson, Sicario; John Williams, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I won't pretend to be more of a music expert than I am. Ennio Morricone is probably going to win for The Hateful Eight, and—since the music was the least objectionable aspect of that film—I'm okay with that. (John Williams could pull a sixth trophy for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but I doubt it.) My tone-deaf preference is for Carter Burwell's beautiful score to Carol. (Meanwhile, where the hell is Disasterpeace's eerie electronic score for It Follows?)

Will Win: Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight
Should Win: Carter Burwell, Carol
Write-In Nominee: Disasterpeace, It Follows

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

OriginalScreenplay
Bridge of Spies (Written by Matt Charman, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen); Ex Machina (Written by Alex Garland); Inside Out (Screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley; original story by Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen); Spotlight (Written by Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy); Straight Outta Compton (Screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff; story by S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berloff)

Spotlight is favored to win, but—though it's a solid piece of work—it wouldn't be my first choice. (There are some clunky scenes, and I felt like it was never as smart or convincing as the better movies to which it's been compared, like All the President's Men.) The very clever Inside Out could pull a victory here, but it seems unlikely: animated films simply don't win anything outside of the Animated category. (Pixar films are frequently nominated for screenplay, but no animated film has ever won.) I'd like to think—in yet another year with a shameful lack of diversity—that some Academy voters might vote for Straight Outta Compton in the only category where they can, but the screenplay by the (white) writers is too problematic for me to get behind. Bridge of Spies is excellent, but my vote goes to Ex Machina, as smart, strange, and surprising a film as I saw all year.

Will Win: Spotlight
Should Win: Ex Machina

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

The Big Short (screenplay by Charles Randolph and Adam McKay); Brooklyn (screenplay by Nick Hornby); Carol (screenplay by Phyllis Nagy); The Martian (screenplay by Drew Goddard); Room (screenplay by Emma Donoghue)

I've yet to meet anyone who really loved The Big Short. (Do those people really exist?) I thought it felt like a fair HBO TV movie, and I seemed to be less impressed than others with its smug, self-amused breaking of the fourth wall. This category is its best chance for a win, however. Room is probably the only other film that has a shot here, but for me that's a film that succeeds on the strength of its acting, not its writing. Carol, similarly, is a movie where extraordinary performances and a pitch-perfect aesthetic are compensating for what is ultimately a thin (and occasionally melodramatic) screenplay. Absent the best adaptations I encountered all year—Marielle Heller's The Diary of a Teenage Girl and Andrew Haigh's 45 Years—my vote here goes to Nick Hornby's work on Brooklyn, which—like his nominated script for 2009's An Education—brings vivid characterization and a fresh, funny authenticity to what could have been a dull period drama. 

Will Win: The Big Short
Should Win: Brooklyn
Write-In Nominees: The Diary of a Teenage Girl, 45 Years

BEST DIRECTOR

Director
Adam McKay, The Big Short; George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road; Alejandro Iñárritu, The Revenant; Lenny Abrahamson, Room; Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

Before we proceed, I'd like to remind everyone again that Alejandro Iñárritu is—in the words of Scott Tobias—"a pretentious fraud." And yes, this pretentious fraud is probably going to win a second consecutive Oscar here for The Revenant. (It happens.) Personally, I find the nominations this year baffling across the boards: I reluctantly understand Iñárritu's presence here, but the only other person I would have picked from this group is George Miller. I can bemoan the absence of Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) all I want, but that was always a longshot: so many better directors were left on the table, however, just from the other major nominated films. (I would definitely have given Todd Haynes (Carol), John Crowley (Brooklyn), Alex Garland (Ex Machina), Ridley Scott (The Martian), or even Steven Spielberg (Bridge of Spies) a nod before McKay, Abrahamson, or McCarthy.) I'm tempted to predict an upset by George Miller—how fun would that be?—but I've hurt my stats in the past by letting my logic be swayed by my emotions, and I won't make that mistake now.

Will Win: Alejandro Iñárritu, The Revenant
Should Win: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Write-In Nominees: Marielle Heller, The Diary of a Teenage Girl; Ryan Coogler, Creed; Cary Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation

BEST ACTOR

Actor
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo; Matt Damon, The Martian; Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant; Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs; Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

We all know Leonardo DiCaprio is going to win an Oscar: it has been agreed upon by whatever mysterious Illuminati controls such things, and there's nothing we can do about it. (Personally, I've always found DiCaprio an unconvincing actor, and the only nomination he's ever had that I thought he deserved was for What's Eating Gilbert Grape?) Either way, the deck is stacked in his favor: he did give the best performance of the five, albeit in the weakest slate of lead actor performances in a very long time. (No other category is a better demonstration of the shameful diversity problems in the Academy: Creed's Michael B. Jordan and Beasts of No Nation's Abraham Attah should be leading this pack. And cis-gendered Eddie Redmayne's pallid performance as a Trans woman—like Jared Leto's two years ago—should be condemned, not celebrated.)

Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Should Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, I guess, among the available choices
Must Not Win: Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Write-In Nominees: Michael B. Jordan, Creed; Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation

BEST ACTRESS

Actress
Cate Blanchett, Carol; Brie Larson, Room; Jennifer Lawrence, Joy; Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years; Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

I have an ethical conundrum here, because Charlotte Rampling really pissed me off with her painful "reverse-racism" bullshit about the diversity controversy. So I am rooting against her on principle, while objectively acknowledging that she gave the best performance of the bunch in the exquisite 45 Years. Fortunately, she's not going to win, and I can root in good conscience instead for Saorise Ronan (who isn't going to win either). Blanchett could pull an upset, but this is Brie Larson's award to lose. I'm probably wasting my breath bemoaning the absence of a nomination for The Diary of a Teenage Girl's Bel Powley, and I probably had a better chance of getting nominated than Chi-Raq's Teyonah Parris. But enough with fucking Jennifer Lawrence already. And you should watch Sicario and ask yourself what the hell Emily Blunt has to do to get an Oscar nomination. (Whatever it is, she can do it: I'm convinced now she can do anything.)

Will Win: Brie Larson, Room
Should Win: Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Must Not Win: Jennifer Lawrence, for being Jennifer Lawrence
Write-In Nominee: Bel Powley, The Diary of a Teenage Girl; Teyonah Parris, Chi-Raq; Emily Blunt, Sicario

BEST PICTURE

Picture
The Big Short; Bridge of Spies; Brooklyn; Mad Max: Fury Road; The Martian; The Revenant; Room; Spotlight

Sigh. If I was to name the best movies I saw in 2015, they would be—in no particular order—The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Ex Machina, Mustang, Creed, Beasts of No Nation, Sicario, and The Look of Silence. (To round out the eight, I might have thrown Tangerine in for innovation, or Mad Max or Star Wars for sheer entertainment value.)

That being said, this is actually a better-than-average list of nominees: I found things to enjoy in all of the films—yes, even The Revenant, I suppose—and the recognition for Mad Max: Fury Road is a surprising monkey-wrench thrown into an otherwise very old-fashioned slate.

So what will win Best Picture? It scarcely matters: at this point in the evening, we'll just want it to be over. Spotlight could surprise us here, but I assume it will be The Revenant, a movie tailor-made for old Academy acclaim. (A white male hero doing manly things? Check. Lip-service paid to communities of color, while really using those communities to lend false spiritual weight to the white hero's journey? Check. Shallowly pretty aesthetics and a compelling narrative about arduous filmmaking? Check. More than a couple of lines spoken by a woman? Nope!) My own vote—choosing among the available options—would go to Mad Max: Fury Road, a batshit crazy, beautiful spectacle of carnage with a subversive feminist spirit. If it could somehow squeak out a victory, I might end the evening on a positive note, believing that maybe the Academy can change—at least a little.

Will Win: The Revenant
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

So that's it for my predictions. (If you're making bets based on them, you should know I usually run about 70 percent on these: respectable, but don't ask me to cover your losses.) I'll probably be sporadically live-tweeting the Oscars on February 28th, so follow me for all the snark and outrage.

The Unaffiliated Critic

Michael G. McDunnah is a freelance writer, a recovering lit major, a pop-culture junkie, and an unaffiliated critic. He lives in Chicago.

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