If you will give us a moment, we are going to defend the Oscars.
We are not going to defend their record of diversity, because it is indefensible. We are not going to defend the actual awards show, which turns the reading of names off an envelope into a bloated four-hour exercise in self-absorption. And we are not going to defend that time they let Seth MacFarlane host, because we’re pretty sure that’s the worst thing that ever happened.
But we are going to defend the Academy Awards as an institution that, ultimately, does more good than harm. The movie industry is one that, left to its own devices without some sort of little chrome man to make it feel better about itself at the end of the year, would never deign to make anything halfway decent; imagine that new announcement that Paramount is making Transformers movies for the next four years, and imagine that happening every week. The moviegoing public buys dreck, so Hollywood makes it. It’s not that different than fast food, or reality television, or Presidential elections.
The Oscars, though, give them something to shoot for. Sure, it’s self-interest: Rich, famous, pretty people wanting to be Taken Seriously, the fourth plank in their Desk of Self-Actualization. But if it results in better movies, why should we as an audience care? Sure, we get as exhausted of hacky Oscar bait like Trumbo, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and The Theory of Everything as everyone else does. But there are financial incentives for studios to go after Oscars, and this is an industry that thinks solely of financial incentives. Do movies like Room, or Carol, or Nebraska, or Beasts of the Southern Wild—fine small movies all—do they even exist if someone with money doesn’t think they have a chance to win an Oscar?
Your favorite movie is probably not going to win an Oscar, and you’ll surely complain about whatever movies and actors do. But on the whole, there are more good movies because the Oscars exist than there would be otherwise. For all the many problems with the Oscars, that’s good enough for us.
Here are our annual wrong predictions for who will win the eight major categories at the Academy Awards on Sunday night.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, The Big Short
Nick Hornby, Brooklyn
Phyllis Nagy, Carol
Drew Goddard, The Martian
Emma Donoghue, Room
Leitch: The Big Short has been the biggest surprise of the Oscar season, riding a wave of positive publicity and audience enthusiasm to become one of the three favorites for Best Picture. It’s the only one of those three films—the others are Spotlight and The Revenant—to be nominated in this category, a category that rewards the movie’s best element. The film might not make it all the way to the finish line in the Best Picture race, but at the minimum, it’s a cinch here.
Grierson: Let’s take a moment to reflect on how strange it’s going to be to affix the title “Academy Award-winner” to Adam McKay’s name from now on. The director and co-writer of Will Ferrell smashes such as Anchorman and Talladega Nights, he (alongside cowriter Charles Randolph) sculpted Michael Lewis’s nonfiction book into a brisk, very funny, openly angry condemnation of the 2008 financial crisis that nearly sunk the country. For a brief moment after The Big Short won the PGA Award, there was talk that maybe this comedy could go all the way and snag Best Picture. That looks a lot less likely now, but Best Adapted Screenplay will be the Academy’s chance to show the film some love.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, and Matt Charman, Bridge of Spies
Alex Garland, Ex Machina
Josh Cooley, Ronnie del Carmen, Pete Docter, and Meg LeFauve, Inside Out
Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, Spotlight
Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman, S. Leigh Savidge, and Alan Wenkus, Straight Outta Compton
Leitch: That The Revenant—many people’s pick to win Best Picture—isn’t even nominated here is a bit of a baffling oversight. Maybe the Academy just didn’t imagine all those “grunt”s written down? Either way, as much fun as it might be to imagine the Coen brothers getting a fluke fifth Oscar for a Steven Spielberg movie, this one is Spotlight’s to lose. The only major criticism we’ve heard of the film is its lack of visual flair, but no one contests the tautness of the screenplay. Maybe McCarthy will apologize for The Cobbler in his speech?
Grierson: With Inside Out as the only possible upset, this screenplay prize seems a shoe-in for Spotlight writers Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy. What has become clear as this year’s Oscar season has rolled along is that voters admire Spotlight’s lean, intelligent script more than its subdued, economical storytelling, so a screenplay win makes a lot of sense. (Plus, it’ll give the Academy a chance to honor McCarthy, who also directed the movie but has no chance in that category.)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Leitch: The case for Rylance is that he’s the best part of a well-regarded film. The case for Hardy is that he’s the showy bad guy in a film favored to win Best Picture. The case for Ruffalo is that he’s the standout in a crazy-deep cast of supporting roles. The case for Bale is actually similar to Ruffalo’s. These are not bad cases, but none of them are as strong as the case for Sylvester Stallone, which has the trifecta of: a) a man who has made the industry a ton of money playing his most beloved, profitable character; b) a man who has never won an Oscar and in fact had his last nomination 39 years ago; c) a man starring in a film made, produced by, and starring African-Americans in a year when #OscarsSoWhite is the dominant conversation. Sort of strange that we live in a time that Sylvester Stallone, of all freaking people, would benefit from an industry’s collective guilt spasm about diversity, but here we are.
Grierson: If Christian Bale pulls off the upset, then The Big Short’s Best Picture chances suddenly start to look a whole lot better. Ditto Mark Ruffalo and Spotlight. (And if Tom Hardy wins, well, The Revenant is going to have an even better night than prognosticators thought.) But the two most likely winners are Mark Rylance and Sylvester Stallone, with Stallone quickly establishing himself as the sentimental favorite. Academy voters love industry veterans in the midst of a feel-good comeback story, and Stallone fits the bill perfectly. In 1977, Rocky won Best Picture, while Stallone lost Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay. Sunday night, Sylvester Stallone finally gets his Oscar for playing the same character.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
Leitch: Winslet might have had a better chance if Steve Jobs had more lift to it, and it would have been a perfect comeback year for Jennifer Jason Leigh if The Hateful Eight hadn’t left so many people, particularly women, feeling sour about it. (Mara would have had a real shot too if Carol had caught on more.) With no obvious standout, the pick here is Alicia Vikander, who had a breakthrough year with both The Danish Girl and Ex Machina, and will be starring opposite Matt Damon in this summer’s new Bourne film.
Grierson: A category that at one point seemed to belong to Rooney Mara has now irreversibly shifted toward Alicia Vikander, whose breakout 2015 is about to be capped by an Oscar. Her win is no slam-dunk—The Danish Girl was only a bit player in this year’s awards season, and Vikander is still a relative newcomer—but it’s hard to make a compelling case for any of her competitors. Steve Jobs has been largely forgotten—and Winslet’s won an Oscar already—and Mara’s muted performance doesn’t deliver the sort of emotional fireworks Academy members usually like. (As for Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rachel McAdams, they’re relegated to the happy-just-to-be-nominated realm.) So the pick here is Vikander—but get ready for Film Twitter to remind folks that she was even better in Ex Machina right as she heads to the podium to accept her award.
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Leitch: If you squint, you can maybe make a case for Ronan, who effortlessly carries a well-reviewed film that makes old people—the primary demographic of the academy— comfortable and happy. Blanchett and Lawrence have won too recently and Rampling—well, let’s just say this is, uh, probably not her year. Brie Larson has had this wrapped up for months.
Grierson: Perhaps an argument could be made for Charlotte Rampling, who just turned 70 and had never been nominated for an Oscar. But her regrettable comments about #OscarsSoWhite have probably sunk any chance for an upset. Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Lawrence have already won Oscars, and the Academy doesn’t seem particularly enamored of their latest movies. As for Saoirse Ronan, she’s not yet 22 and has already earned two Oscar nominations—her previous one was for Atonement—but Brooklyn doesn’t seem to have the necessary momentum to put her in the winner’s circle. That leaves Brie Larson, whose Room received four nominations in major categories. Best Actress is the most likely victory for this dark but ultimately feel-good drama.
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Leitch: Not to put too fine a point on it, but this person is not wrong.
And I like the movie! But yes: If Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t win this, he’s going to eat someone in the audience. Maybe Eddie Redmayne.
Grierson: It’s been assumed since The Revenant started screening in early December that Best Actor was Leonardo DiCaprio’s to lose. Nothing’s changed since then. Is this his greatest performance? Probably not, but it’s a muscular, go-for-broke portrayal that’s intense and deeply emotional—all adjectives that are catnip to Academy voters. Add in the fact that so many in the industry think that he’s due, and you’ve got an Oscar sure thing. Five years from now, you’re going to be hard-pressed to even remember who else was nominated alongside him.
Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Alejandro González Inñárritu, The Revenant
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Adam McKay, The Big Short
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Leitch: I’m super tempted to go with Miller here, with his career-capping achievement for a film that everybody loves but will likely only end up with technical awards. And McKay has been such a presence on the media circuit that he’s only helped himself. But there’s a Revenant wave right now, and it’s difficult to see it cresting without Alejandro González Inñárritu winning his second consecutive Best Director Oscar.
Grierson: Once Ridley Scott failed to snag a nomination, Best Director suddenly became a lot more wide open. Room doesn’t have the heat to propel newcomer Lenny Abrahamson to a win, and McCarthy and McKay will probably have to settle for screenplay Oscars. That leaves the men behind two brawny epics. A win for George Miller would be an acknowledgment of his legacy as a groundbreaking action filmmaker—a lifetime-achievement award, of sorts—capped by the gonzo Mad Max: Fury Road, while Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s triumph would put him in rarefied company. (Only Joseph L. Mankiewicz and John Ford have won Best Director in back-to-back years.) It’s a close call, but Team Revenant have done a superb job of creating a compelling narrative around how arduous their movie was to make. That sales job is resonating with Oscar voters, who will want to honor the director who kept the boat afloat.
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
Leitch: It’s difficult to remember the last time three movies, coming down the home stretch, all had a legitimate chance to win. (Last year, Birdman and Boyhood were fighting late, too.) Spotlight was the early favorite and remains an audience pleaser. The Big Short was the shocker, the underdog that stunned everyone and has shown considerable staying power. But you cannot ignore the trends, and the fact is, The Revenant has swept all the recent awards, including the powerful indicator that is the Producers Guild Awards. I’m still a little nervous about one director’s films winning two straight Best Pictures, which has never happened before, but that film has all the momentum. I want to bet against it, but I won’t.
Grierson: This is a three-film race between The Big Short, The Revenant, and Spotlight, with each nominee earning sufficient kudos during this awards season. But it would be madness to bet against The Revenant. Others have tried to lay out reasons why this rugged survival tale might not walk away with the top prize, but none of the arguments hold much water. For the first time since Titanic, a movie that failed to get a screenplay nomination will win Best Picture—and The Revenant will make Academy history when Iñárritu becomes the first director to helm back-to-back Best Picture champs. Plus, The Revenant is one of the highest-grossing of the eight nominees, and it’s peaking at the right time. Like Leo’s trapper character furiously and relentlessly working his way across the untamed American West, nothing can stop The Revenant from reaching its final destination.
For more on the Oscars, we recommend this episode of the Grierson & Leitch podcast: