Leonardo DiCaprio will finally get his Oscar, but will his film prevail too? For the first time in years, we’ve got a three-horse Best Picture race, between The Revenant, The Big Short and Spotlight after they each took key industry wins. But each has to overcome some history and long-held stats to get to the Dolby stage on Sunday’s ceremony (8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. PT, ABC). In the meantime, let’s make some predictions for the top prizes. Check out the nominees here, make your picks and compare them to ours below.
The Revenant tops Oscar nominations
Who will win: The Revenant
If The Revenant had won the Producers Guild Award, this would be a done deal, as the PGA has predicted Oscar 19 times in its 26-year existence, including the last eight, and it employs a preferential voting system like the Oscars. The Revenant, which topped the Golden Globes, fell to The Big Short at PGA and wasn’t even nominated for the Screen Actors Guild ensemble award, which went to Spotlight. (Braveheart is the only Oscar Best Picture winner without a SAG ensemble nod.) But it snagged an all-important Directors Guild Award victory for Alejandro G. Iñárritu, which marked the fourth time that PGA/SAG/DGA has split among three films, not counting 12 Years a Slave and Gravity’s PGA tie two years ago. The Revenant’s been building momentum since, with picture and director wins at BAFTA, and it leads the field with 12 nods. Breathtakingly majestic, it’s the traditionally cinematic epic the Oscars adore, but it’s also a brutal, painstaking slog to watch, which could hurt it if haters rank it low on their ballots. In a preferential system, No. 2 and No. 3 rankings matter more than No. 1s. (Here’s a tutorial on how it works.) But there might be enough sheer admiration for the survival tale to push it over the 50-percent-plus-one finish line.
Watch out for: The Big Short
It’s hard to bet against the pick of the PGA, which has been perfect forecasting Oscar for the last six years since the implementation of the preferential ballot. Inventive and timely, The Big Short, which would earn producer Brad Pitt his second Best Picture Oscar in three years if it wins, is in the same predicament early season favorite Spotlight is in — and not just because they both tackle social issues and the abuse of power. Because they’re straightforward contemporary films, they’re not up for a slew of tech awards like The Revenant is. (Spotlight has six nods; The Big Short, five.) Both films are locks in only one of their categories — original and adapted screenplay, respectively — and no film has won Best Picture with just one other win since 1952’s The Greatest Show on Earth.
Did you know? The Revenant would be the eighth film and first since Titanic 19 years ago to win Best Picture without a screenplay nomination. Four of the other six — Wings, The Broadway Melody, Grand Hotel and Cavalcade — are from the first six years of the Oscars, while the other two modern ones are 1948’s Hamlet and 1965’s The Sound of Music.
Who will win: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant
You can write off Iñárritu’s Globe and BAFTA wins as make-goods by the organizations after they bypassed him for Boyhood’s Richard Linklater last year before Iñárritu won the Oscar. But his biggest precursor win this season, just like last year, was at the DGA, where he became the first person to win two straight years. In the DGA’s 67-year history, it’s only mismatched with the directing Oscar seven times. If that doesn’t already bode well for Iñárritu, The Revenant boasts the technically impressive flourish that Oscar typically eats up. He would be the third director, after John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and the first in 65 years to win back-to back-Oscars.
Watch out for: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
The only other person in the field who could match Iñárritu in technical prowess is Miller. Mad Max: Fury Road is his singular vision brought to dazzling life. A sentimental choice and longtime idol of filmmakers, Miller, who has an Oscar for Happy Feet, ought to benefit from the snub of the Oscar-less Ridley Scott (The Martian), who won’t be eating up the fellow sci-fi votes. The only thing that hurts Miller is that his raucous reinvention of the action film lacks the snob appeal like that of The Revenant and is at best fourth place in the Best Picture race.
Did you know? If The Revenant wins, Iñárritu would be the first person to direct back-to-back Best Picture champs. Both Ford and Mankiewicz went 1-for-2 in the top race when they received their two consecutive directing Oscars. Ford won for The Grapes of Wrath and How Green Was My Valley, but Grapes lost Best Picture to Rebecca. Mankiewicz triumphed for A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve, but All the King’s Men bested the former.
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Who will win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Relax, Internet, it’s happening. The stars have finally aligned. Leo’s the right age (over 40), starring in the most nominated film helmed by an Academy favorite (all six of Iñárritu’s films have received at least one Oscar nomination), and unlike his previous four acting nominations, he’s actually the front-runner, having won the Globe, Critics’ Choice, SAG and BAFTA awards after dominating the critics circuit for the first time with his visceral performance. But what’s really helping DiCaprio’s overdue narrative is the helluva campaign 20th Century Fox has put together for him. You know the one. It was so damn hard making the movie! They were in subzero temperatures! He ate bison liver! He almost died! Really, Leo has talked more about how cold it was on set over the last two months than he said actual words in the movie. The “degree of difficulty” angle, whether in the performance (see: all three of Daniel Day-Lewis’ winning transformations) or the “suffering for the art” of it all or in some cases both, is irresistible to Oscar.
Watch out for: Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Cranston would be three-fourths of the way to an EGOT if the night’s biggest upset comes to fruition. The Breaking Bad star could pull an Art Carney, riding the love from his beloved TV show and his overall likability to Oscar glory. Playing one of their own, Oscar-winning blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, doesn’t hurt either. Plus, Cranston has experience taking down huge favorites: He trumped Matthew McConaughey (True Detective) at the Emmys two years ago, which was five months after McConaughey beat DiCaprio at the Oscars. It could come flat full circle!
Did you know? Cranston would be the first person to win Best Actor as the sole nomination for his film since Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) nine years ago. Who did Whitaker beat? DiCaprio.
Who will win: Brie Larson, Room
Larson has had a stranglehold on this category all season. Her odds only improved when Room director Lenny Abrahamson landed a surprise nod, bumping out Ridley Scott. Larson’s soul-crushing performance is absolutely deserving, and like DiCaprio, it’s also her time. No, she’s not overdue — quite the contrary. When it comes to actresses, Oscar is about discovery vs. longevity for dudes. Most actresses win in their 20s (Larson is 26) for a breakthrough or “You’ve arrived!” performance. Besides, a win for Larson is a win for Jacob Tremblay, which means we all win.
Watch out for: Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Armed with an immensely relatable, quietly beautiful portrait of independence, the 21-year-old would also fit the ingénue bill for the Oscars. Unlike Larson, Ronan’s been on the Academy’s radar much longer, having earned her first nomination when she was 13 for Atonement. She’s only the third former child nominee to receive another nomination as an adult after Sal Mineo and Jodie Foster (Foster’s won twice).
Did you know? Ronan would be the category’s second youngest winner behind Marlee Matlin (Children of a Lesser God), who was also 21, but younger by a couple months. Ronan is also runner-up to Angela Lansbury, who holds the record as the youngest person to receive two acting nominations, which she pulled off at 20.
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Who will win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed
You can already hear the opening strands of Creed’s updated Rocky theme playing. Any other year, it’d be hard to call someone who missed SAG and BAFTA nominations (chalk that up to early deadlines and lack of screeners) a front-runner, but Sly, like Rocky Balboa, has been the people’s choice since his restrained, delicate performance came out of nowhere and knocked everyone over. There is still massive affection for Rocky — just look at the rapturous applause for Stallone when he won the Globe and Critics’ Choice Award — and many of the older Academy members probably voted for Rocky 39 years ago. Stallone, who lost Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay back then, was not a producer on Rocky and so did not share in its Best Picture victory. This would be a belated thank-you for creating and embodying everyone’s favorite underdog.
Watch out for: Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Would it help if Rylance campaigned more? Probably. But that’s not the three-time Tony winner’s style. Rylance, who steals the show from Tom Hanks in the film by slyly underplaying his KGB spy, has been the only constant nominee in the supporting actor field this season, resulting in a BAFTA win. Also watch out for Tom Hardy, who got swept into the race with The Revenant love. His nomination is one of 37 times a performer made the Oscar shortlist without Globe or SAG nods.
Did you know? Stallone, one of six people to receive multiple nods for playing the same person, is tied with Jack Palance for the fifth-longest gap between first and most recent/last nominations at 39 years. Katharine Hepburn’s 12 nods and four wins spanned a record 48 years.
Who will win: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Category fraud will prevail! Vikander, who like rival Rooney Mara (Carol), ought to be in lead, will get this as much for her breakout year (six films, including Ex Machina) as she will for The Danish Girl. She bagged the Critics’ Choice Award and SAG, the latter of which has a 14 out of 21 correlation rate with the Oscars here, including the last six years.
Watch out for: Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
If the voters really want to create buzz and score high ratings, they’d give Jack and Rose Oscars on the same night. Winslet’s unrecognizable turn has nabbed her the Globe and BAFTA. The caveat? She beat Vikander’s Ex Machina performance both times. When she went against Vikander’s Danish Girl performance at Critics’ Choice and the SAGs, she lost. The Globe-BAFTA combo has had opposite results for the sexes: Three of the five men with those awards lost the Oscar, while three of the four women with that hardware won the Oscar. That one loss was two years ago, when Critics’ Choice and SAG champ Lupita Nyong’o edged out Globe and BAFTA winner Jennifer Lawrence in this category.
Did you know? Winslet, who took home Best Actress for The Reader, would be the 13th person to win both lead and supporting categories. She’d join Helen Hayes, Ingrid Bergman, Maggie Smith, Jack Nicholson and Gene Hackman in winning in supporting after winning in lead.
Who do you think will win?