The 88th Academy Awards are still two months away, but as the year winds down and the various critics circles, film festivals and top ten lists continue to emerge, so do a few clear front-runners for the major Oscar categories.
Whether you’re a devoted Oscar-watcher who keeps close eye on the race, participates in office pools and hosts the party every year, or the cynical type who insists it all comes down to which studio was willing to pump the most money into marketing campaigns and swanky screening parties, the Academy Awards undeniably influence the course of the film industry for months, if not years, down the line. Every year, careers are coronated and trends are established. Like it or not, the Oscars can make a difference.
The Academy Award nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 14h, and the ceremony will take place on February 28th, hosted by Chris Rock.
We’ve tallied up the major award wins (W) and nominations (N) that have been announced in the awards season thus far to give you a sense of where the year’s most critically praised films currently stand.
George Miller, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD – 9W – 10N
Thomas McCarthy, SPOTLIGHT – 1W – 14N
Todd Haynes, CAROL – 3W – 10N
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, THE REVENANT – 1W – 12N
Ridley Scott, THE MARTIAN – 1W – 10N
These five directors seem to be the most likely to fill out this category, with few others earning quite as much universal praise over the course of 2015. Ridley Scott, who has had a series of misfires in recent years, came roaring back to life with the crowd-pleasing The Martian, while long-respected veteran Todd Haynes made what many believe to be his best–and most accessible–film in ages. George Miller is probably the category’s ‘underdog’, leaving Spotlight director Todd McCarthy–who managed to make a movie about journalism and pedophilia both exciting and uplifting–and The Revenant’s. Inarritu, who won for last year’s Birdman. McCarthy will likely eek this one out, as rumors of dangerous working conditions on The Revenant’s set have conjured up that most dirty of words in Academy circles: ‘controversy’.
Is it Leo’s year? That’s the big question of the 88th Academy Awards. But Bryan Cranston could get a win just going off of the love, respect and good-will he earned through his run on AMC’s Breaking Bad. Eddie Redmayne was an early favorite, but it would be surprising to see such a young actor take home the trophy two years in a row. That said, he’s earning rave reviews for another challenging performance that is undeniably incredible–not to mention Oscar-baity–which means he become the first actor since Tom Hanks to take home back-to-back Best Actor statues (Hanks pulled this off in the early nineties for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump). Michael Fassbender’s uncompromising portrait of Steve Jobs and Matt Damon’s intensely, and hilariously, human performance should secure their nominations, but the Academy could shake things up by rewarding Johnny Depp for his Whitey Bulger in Black Mass or Will Smith for his timely depiction of Dr. Bennet Omalu in Concussion.
With the exception of Brie Larson and Cate Blanchett, the rest of the category is up in the air. Alicia Vikander and Rooney Mara are both technically leads in their films, but so far, they’ve been pushed to supporting roles in the early awards season. Despite lackluster critical response to Joy, Jennifer Lawrence seems to be that film’s saving grace, while Carey Mulligan gives an excellent performance in Suffragette, though few have actually seen it. The early-touted Emily Blunt could still get a nom for Sicario, while Lily Tomlin’s performance in Grandma is still getting the iconic actress plenty of love. And leaving room for a possible upset in this category: Bel Powley could get a nomination for Diary of a Teenage Girl.
Best Supporting Actor
Mark Rylance, BRIDGE OF SPIES – 4W – 11N
Paul Dano, LOVE & MERCY – 5W – 10N
Sylvester Stallone, CREED – 3W – 10N
Michael Shannon, 99 HOMES – 2W – 10N
Idris Elba, BEASTS OF NO NATION – 1W – 6N
WILD CARD: Michael Keaton / Mark Ruffalo, SPOTLIGHT
Whether enough voters have seen Dano’s Love & Mercy or Shannon’s 99 Homes will determine their fate, but Mark Rylance is probably the best chance Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies has to pick up an Oscar. We should note, our count here doesn’t include the ensemble awards that have been bestowed upon the cast of Spotlight, which includes both Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo. Keaton is almost certainly bound to get a nomination–especially after many believed he was robbed of the Best Actor statue last year for his anchoring performance in Birdman–while Ruffalo’s bigger performance in the same film could be right in there with him. Christian Bale’s work in The Big Short has had critics split, and will likely do the same for Oscar voters. Don’t be surprised to see one of The Hateful Eight–Kurt Russell or Samuel L. Jackson–muscle their way into the category.
Best Supporting Actress
Alicia Vikander, EX MACHINA – 4W – 9N / THE DANISH GIRL – 1W – 13N
Rooney Mara, CAROL – 3W – 11N
Kristen Stewart, CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA – 3W – 7N
Jennifer Jason Leigh, THE HATEFUL EIGHT – 2W – 9N
Kate Winslet, STEVE JOBS – 0W – 5N
Vikander and Mara are almost guaranteed nominations here–assuming, that is, they’re not bumped up to the more crowded Best Actress field. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s comeback role in The Hateful Eight is spurring plenty of buzz, and Kristen Stewart seems to have finally stepped out from the shadow of Twilight to deliver a performance that many insist is the best of the year in Clouds of Sils Maria. Kate Winslet, who won for Best Actress for The Reader in 2009, could sneak in with her chameleon-esque performance in Steve Jobs. But here’s an odd bit of trivia–because an actor cannot be nominated twice in the same category, Vikander and her reps are undoubtedly calculating for which of her two breakout performances they should lobby. Do they want The Danish Girl to shoot to the top of the Supporting Actress category, or push it to Best Actress–where she will lose to Larson or Blanchett–in order to let the lesser-seen, and therefore riskier, role in Ex Machina make Supporting Actress? It’s a tricky, but crucial, calculation that should be interesting to watch. From the Academy Awards Rules, Rule Six, paragraph 5 (oscars.org):
In the event that two achievements by an actor or actress receive sufficient votes to be nominated in the same category, only one shall be nominated using the preferential tabulation process and such other allied procedures as may be necessary to achieve that result.
Best Original Screenplay
Josh Singer and Todd McCarthy’s script for Spotlight is the hands-down favorite at this point, although Quentin Tarantino’s screenplay for The Hateful Eight actually made headlines long before the film even came out (remember that whole thing about the script leaking and QT threatening to never make the movie? Yeah, about that…). Alex Garland’s Ex Machina certainly impressed critics and audiences alike, but this is the category where the Academy tends to actually honor comedies for once, and Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck could be this year’s Bridesmaids–at least as far as original screenplays are concerned.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Aaron Sorkin, who previously won this category for The Social Network, could make a run for his script for Steve Jobs, although the film’s underperformance at the box office has caused it to more or less fade from the zeitgeist. The Big Short, based on Michael Lewis’s book, saw Adam McKay somehow convince audiences to root against the global economy, and Room pulled off a Carol is certainly a strong contender here, but if the Academy shuts out The Martian in other categories, it’s very likely Drew Goddard, who masterfully handled Andy Weir’s science-jargon filled novel with deft and seeming ease to make a crowd-pleasing adventure, will walk away with Oscar gold.
SPOTLIGHT – 10W – 15N
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD – 4W – 15N
CAROL – 2W – 15N
THE MARTIAN – 0W – 14N
ROOM – 0W – 12N
BROOKLYN – 0W – 11N
THE REVENANT – 0W – 11N
THE BIG SHORT – 0W – 10N
INSIDE OUT – 0W – 9N
SICARIO – 0W – 9N
Spotlight, The Martian, The Revenant, and Carol appear to be the shoe-ins for the Best Picture category, and despite Mad Max: Fury Road’s unrelenting, bombastic action–something stuffier Academy voters would typically thumb their noses at–it has performed too well early on to simply be ignored. And if that’s true, Fury Road would certainly be one of the most unorthodox choices in recent memory. Pixar’s Inside Out will obviously make the Best Animated Feature category, if not dominate it, but whether or not it’s rare blend of powerful insight and brilliant humor will push it into the Best Picture category remains to be seen. The recent critical response to The Big Short and its powerful ensemble seem to suggest its nomination is all but secure, while Room and Sicario’s September release dates–a distant memory given the incredibly crowded December field–could impact their chances of landing a coveted Best Picture nomination come January.
Perhaps the biggest question being raised this week is whether or not Star Wars will dazzle critics enough to push it into the Best Picture category, or whether Academy voters will be maxed-out on The Force Awakens by that point. The Hateful Eight, Straight Outta Compton, The Danish Girl, Joy, and Black Mass are all still in contention (perhaps in that order) for a remaining spot in the Best Picture category. Tarantino’s Western is currently having trouble standing its ground against Star Wars–a bit of laundry the outspoken director has been airing out in public recently–and history shows that the Academy will plant its head deep in the sand at the first whiff of anything that could be remotely considered a controversy. All in all, if Spotlight’s steam runs out before we get into February, that could put Carol in prime position to become the Best Picture of 2015.
Sources: Hollywood Stock Exchange, MetaCritic, Rotten Tomatoes, IMDBPro