This Sunday, for the 88th year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will hand out the awards for the best achievements in film. For almost as long, office workers around the country have been placing bets on the winners.
So how do you -- everyday office worker who hasn’t seen all (or maybe even any) of the nominated films and performances -- hope to claim that sweet office jackpot? How do you defeat the obnoxious film major hipster in IT, with his endless hot takes on the nominations? How can you best the office snob, who spends hours in the local art house theater and simply will not stop gushing about the amazing performances by actors you’ve never heard of?
Have no fear, gentle viewer, we’ve got you covered.
First of all, let’s dispense with the notion that there is an objective “right” answer. Much as the Oscars can and do award excellence in cinema, both behind and in front of the camera, do not forget that they are also a popularity contest in a money-driven business. There is as much objectivity to the Oscars as there is to the typical prom court nominations.
This year is especially challenging, as there are no clear cut favorites (other than Leo), but if you know how to read the tea leaves, if you see who is working the press right and getting the appropriate notices and sending the correct gift baskets, you can almost always tell which way the wind is blowing.
Here are some picks from the well-informed tea leaves:
Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
For years, the Best Supporting Actress Oscar has been somewhat derisively called “the Ingénue Award” and has been considered a bit of a curse. Previous winners such as Marissa Tomei and Mira Sorvino illustrate the way the award was given to pretty young women who had trouble repeating their award-winning performances. They would either fade from the spotlight like Sorvino or spend some time in the wilderness before re-emerging as a serious actress like Tomei. Recent winners Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong’o have done their best to overcome this perception.
Will win: Alicia Vikander. Vikander put in two well regarded performances, both here and in the sleeper sci-fi hit Ex Machina. The general consensus about The Danish Girl is that it is being rewarded more for having its heart in the right place than for the actual quality of the film. If Vikander wins, it will be as much for her other work and her industry buzz as her specific performance here.
But don’t be surprised if: They give it to perennial Oscar favorite and eventual Meryl Streep replacement Kate Winslet. Nobody saw Jobs. Nobody like Jobs. Those who did said Winslet’s accent was distractingly bad … but you gotta love Kate.
Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed
If Supporting Actress is the “Ingenue Award” then Supporting Actor tends to be the de facto lifetime achievement award. Often given to a hard-working actor who’s never won for a role that might not actually be the best, or even their best, the award is as much for the career as the performance. Sean Connery in The Untouchables is the classic example.
Will win: Look, Rocky’s going to win. He just is. Did you read what I just wrote? Rocky’s going to win.
But don’t be surprised if: No, be surprised, but there is the chance that Tom Hardy will ride The Revenant Express (along with good will for Mad Max) to a win.
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
In a year in which the Oscars will probably receive their lowest ratings ever, when none of the best picture nominees have much heat behind them, when racial controversy and think pieces are bigger stories than anything, there is one narrative that will keep viewers interested this year: Is Leo finally going to get his Oscar?
Will win: Leo. It’s the only thing anyone cares about.
But don’t be surprised if: No, it’s going to be Leo. Bet the house on it. (Note: Don’t actually bet the house on anything, ever.)
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
This is actually one of the more interesting races in this year’s awards. Not because it is wide open, but simply because there is a clear winner, though one who runs contrary to the way that the awards usually work. Despite the pretense that the Oscars exist in a vacuum where the nominated performance is all that is considered, we know that not to be true. As such, the Academy tends to be reluctant to hand out its top awards to newcomers, preferring to issue the supporting trophies to youngsters with the idea that their time will come for the big award (see Leo, for instance). This leaves us with the peculiar predicament of Brie Larson…
Will win: Brie Larson. Room is not a debut performance for Ms. Larson, but for many in Hollywood she is a newcomer, and this role is the latest on a fairly short resume. On the flip side, nearly every single major award and critical association has gone her way. On the flip side to that flip side, the movie’s subject matter (a young woman raising her son while confined to a single room as a sex slave) has made it a difficult sell for audiences, no matter how many accolades it gains.
But don’t be surprised if: If the Academy can’t bring itself to award a seeming neophyte, Oscar stalwart Cate Blanchett will probably be the benefactor. There was an outcry that Carol was passed over for Room in the Best Picture nominations, and this may end up being a consolation prize.
Adam McKay, The Big Short
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant
Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
For most of its history, the Best Director award has tended to go the winner of the Best Picture as well, but that has changed a bit in recent years, particularly with the expansion of the top field to include as many as 10 nominees.
Will win: Alejandro González Iñárritu. If this is indeed The Revenant’s year, swept in by weak competition and the Leo bandwagon, count on Inarritu to be a repeat winner from last year.
But don’t be surprised if: Some critics have expressed surprise that Adam McKay could transition from silly comedies to a truly cogent and wildly entertaining takedown of the financial crisis, but it still seems unlikely that the Academy will reward him, at least until he proves he can do it again. If anyone is going to rain on Inarritu’s parade, it will be Australian mad scientist George Miller. Mad Max is unlike the films that typically get rewarded, but is a wildly entertaining, critically acclaimed fun house ride that proves the old man still has some tricks up his sleeve. This could see the biggest cheers of the night.
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
When considering the big prize, it is important to look at the exact mechanism by which a winner is chosen (assuming it’s honest, of course). Unlike the specific categories, which are voted on by the members of the same specialty (directors vote for Best Director, editors for editing, etc), Best Picture is voted on by the entire Academy. So not just all of the actors and directors, but also all of the sound effects editors. All of the costume designers and set builders. The dudes sitting behind computers making little CGI hobbits and the guy taping down the wires. Given that rule, big tent movies tend to have a better chance. A film like Titanic wins because half the Academy worked on the damn thing. This year there is no obvious behemoth to claim the prize.
Will win: In a year without a clear favorite, the Leo express will take The Revenant with it. Even those who found it cold or unpleasant can’t deny its technical prowess.
But don’t be surprised if: Like with Director, there could be a Mad Max-shaped surprise on Sunday. Again, it is entirely unlike the kind of film the Academy typically rewards, but then it is such an unusual and special film that they might make an exception. On the flipside, a relatively under-the-radar film like Spotlight could carry the traditionalist voters who just want a good old fashioned talky drama with showy performances. Still, probably The Revenant.