It happens every year. You lock your FINAL Oscar predictions in and then you get the Deadpool “Did I leave the stove on?” moment of panic where you want to change them all.
This has certainly been an Oscar season unlike many in a long time; through controversy over the all-white acting nominees and the shutout of any black-led film in Best Picture to the three-way split between the top guilds to what feels like a lack of passion for any one film, this has made for a very difficult predicting season. For me, that’s great. I find it the most fun. Oscar punditry is a fickle animal; when things are too predictable and you know all the winners far ahead of time the race gets called boring and people start writing pieces to inject some fight into the race. When things are crazy unpredictable, pundits get fussy that they actually have to do their job of predicting and it puts everyone’s instincts and history out there and can make losers and winners in this game.
This year we definitely have locks in a few categories like Best Actor and Actress and I’m not going to pretend that either of those are vulnerable because they aren’t. But there are a handful that might seem comfortable but could find themselves at the bar right after their category is announced.
With a SAG win in hand, Alicia Vikander is by most estimations a clear frontrunner here, almost a lock. She bested her closest rival, Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs), in the most important battle at the Screen Actors Guild. But, it was their only head-to-head battle in which Vikander was nominated for The Danish Girl as she is at the Oscars. At the Golden Globes and BAFTA, where Winslet won, Vikander was nominated for Ex Machina in Supporting and The Danish Girl in Lead. Who knows if she would have been able to pick up those other two awards, leaving Winslet winless this season. It makes Winslet prime for a major upset here. Much has been hyped in the media about the idea of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet photo-ops and the Titanic duo have done a far amount of shmoozing together at awards shows but I can’t imagine that would be much a push for an Academy voter to want to see that happen. It feels more like a media construct than an actual prediction. Still, Winslet is a former winner and six-time nominee and she wants this.
Most see this race between VES and BAFTA winner Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Best Picture nominee Mad Max: Fury Road. Not an unreasonable prediction, by any means. Historically, Mad Max: Fury Road should be the favorite by being a Best Picture nominee. As we all know by know (Lord knows I’ve been this statistic to death) only one film has ever won Visual Effects as a non-BP nominee against a film that is; Tora! Tora! Tora! from 1970 beating Best Picture winner Patton. In a year where stats are going to fall left and right, this is one that certainly could. Or, voters, who didn’t nominate it in Best Picture, could simply feel that Star Wars: The Force Awakens now being the highest grossing film of all time (domestically, not counting inflation) is prize enough. Plus, some feel that the effects in Star Wars don’t have much of a wow factor; that director J.J. Abrams stuck so close to the style of the original trilogy we don’t see much innovation. Mad Max: Fury Road has more visual effects than you’d expect but the company line throughout the season has been the pride in the amount of ‘practical’ effects used in the film. The ‘Toxic Storm’ sequence, for which it won a VES award is a very showy sequence though. Bu the prevailing belief that there aren’t many visual effects but that the look was achieved more by stunt coordination and production design could hurt its chances.
Which brings me to The Revenant. The film was also a big winner at the VES, winning three awards and it even won a prize at the ANNIEs. Why? The bear. Think of the five films nominated for this award (Ex Machina and The Martian are also here but longer shots than are worth being discussed) and what stands out the most? The bear attack. Anyone that talks about The Revenant immediately starts with that scene. As they should, it’s one of the most photorealistic animal sequences (if not the most) in cinema history. There’s weight to it, physical weight that makes you wonder and marvel. Plus, if The Revenant is going to give us our first big sweep since 2009 then it’s winning here.
Five-time nominee and Honorary Oscar winner Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight) is the heavy favorite here. Having never won a competitive Oscar there is a groundswell of sympathy for him, even if it’s for a score that doesn’t feel terribly ‘new’ for him (despite being his first Western score in 40 years) and for amounting to only about 30% of the film’s running time. Still, much like Sylvester Stallone’s likely win, this feels inevitable. Unless…voters think that the ailing John Williams, on his 50th nomination, deserves a 6th win for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Or, as I will posit for the purposes of this piece, 13-time bridesmaid Thomas Newman could very spoil for his Bridge of Spies score. While the film didn’t hit as many nominations as Spielberg’s last effort, Lincoln (which won that random Production Design award), this might be the best place to reward the film if the Academy is feeling like spreading the wealth (and if Mark Rylance doesn’t win Supporting Actor), as they have done the last few years. Like Visual Effects, it’s very difficult for non-Best Picture nominee to beat a Best Picture nominee in this category. The last time it happened was in 2003 when Frida beat The Hours. It also happened in 2000 when Newman’s score for the Best Picture winner American Beauty was beaten by The Red Violin. Bridge of Spies is the only BP nominee here and there aren’t too many predicting Thomas Newman, on his 13th nomination. This would be one of the big shockers of the night if it happens, especially since the 87-year old Morricone plans on attending the show.