The end of every year naturally leads into the next, but it also marks the start of a very important time in Hollywood: awards season. The critics have chimed in with their top 10 picks throughout December, and now the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences members will chime in with their picks for the best of the best in 2015. The nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 15, but what's the fun of just waiting for the Academy to tell us what is right? While we wait for the Oscar nominations to roll in, we have pored over all of this year's critical darlings, and, through a highly-scientific method (i.e. educated guessing), we're presenting our predictions for the 88th Annual Academy Award nominations and winners.
Now, even the most esteemed of pundits aren't usually 100% correct. There isn't actually any "highly-scientific method" of predicting the nominees. Every year there are surprises, but even those who try to predict the surprises get surprised themselves. This isn't an exact science, but it sure is fun to speculate about beforehand... and then complain about afterwards. Still, there are several things to take into consideration, especially considering what kinds of movies the Academy typically favor... and what movies they don't.
Movies based on true stories are generally surefire Oscar bait, as far as nominations go, although there are certainly no guarantees. Last year, four of the nine Best Picture nominees were based on true stories (American Sniper, Selma, The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything), but an original movie about a washed up movie star mounting a Broadway comeback (Birdman) wound up taking home Best Picture. This year, there will be plenty of movies based on a true story to choose from, like Mad Max: Fury Road. OK, I'm kidding, but that blockbuster does provide a nice segue.
On its surface, Mad Max: Fury Road doesn't look like your typical Oscar movie, but we reported in October that Warner Bros. was planning to mount an Oscar campaign for this summer blockbuster. As it turns out, that campaign actually paid dividends, as it was named the best movie of the year by the National Board of Review, the first Oscar season indicator, and it has been raking in awards and nominations since then, including a Golden Globe nod for Best Picture - Drama. Can this be the year that a big-budget movie breaks through and takes the top prize? The last movie of that ilk to win Best Picture was The Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King back in 2003, so perhaps the blockbuster is overdue.
It's also quite possible that this will be the first year that a Netflix original movie gets some Oscar love with The Ridiculous 6... sorry, I just couldn't help myself. Beasts of No Nation, the streaming service's first original narrative movie, has been getting rave reviews since debuting in October, with Idris Elba getting some serious Oscar buzz for his performance. Netflix has earned Oscar nominations in back to back years for documentaries The Square and Virunga, but its foray into original narrative movies could change the Oscar landscape once again. Later this year, Netflix will debut War Machine starring Brad Pitt, which could very well be in the Oscar hunt next year.
On the acting side, there are plenty of worthy picks in all four categories (Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress), but only a handful of "locks." But, there are also just as many dark horse candidates as there are front-runners. While Brie Larson is considered by most to get a nomination for the indie drama Room, but some think that her nine-year-old co-star Jacob Tremblay could be a surprise nominee for Best Supporting Actor. Also, while none of the actors from Straight Outta Compton have been garnering any serious awards buzz, the entire cast was nominated for a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. Basically, what I'm trying to say is that it's really anybody's guess who will be nominated and who won't, but, below, you'll find our guesses.
Below you'll find our picks for all of the major categories, along with a few potential sleeper picks thrown in to boot. Now, these aren't, per se, our personal picks, because if that was the case, you'd probably find Mad Max: Fury Road getting every nominee for every category, including Best Documentary, Best Animated Feature and Best Live-Action Short Film, just because. No, these picks are based on the intangible amount of "buzz" swirling around each category, and represent our best educated guesses as to what the esteemed members of the Academy may choose for the nominees and winners. So, without further ado, take a look at our predictions for the 2016 Oscar nominations and winners.
- The Big Short
- Bridge of Spies
- Mad Max: Fury Road
- The Martian
- The Revenant
- Straight Outta Compton
Ever since expanding the Best Picture field to a possible 10 nominees instead of five, the Academy has only picked 10 nominees twice, in the first two years of this new rule, in 2010 and 2011. This would be the perfect year to fill out the field completely, but it also sheds light on an intriguing development. If these are, in fact, the 10 nominees, Mad Max: Fury Road will be the only "original" movie in the bunch... and even that movie is set in a previously-established universe with a new rendition of a well-known character. Straight Outta Compton and Spotlight aren't technically adapted from any source material, but they are both based on true stories, while all of the other potential nominees are adaptations. While this doesn't necessarily have any bearing on any of these movies' chances, it's some interesting food for thought. Sleeper Picks: Inside Out, Sicario, The Hateful Eight, Ex Machina, The Danish Girl.
Adam McKay Big Short
- Alejandro González Iñárritu - The Revenant
- Adam McKay - The Big Short
- George Miller - Mad Max: Fury Road
- Ridley Scott - The Martian
- Thomas McCarthy - Spotlight
Most pundits have these five filmmakers at the very top of their lists, and it's hard to blame them. Adam McKay took an incredibly complex subject and made it comprehensible to the moviegoing public, George Miller delivered some of the most cinematic and gorgeous action set pieces in recent history, Ridley Scott showed us what it would truly be like to be trapped on Mars, Golden Globe winner Alejandro González Iñárritu showcased the brutal 1800s frontier landscape in thrilling ways, and Thomas McCarthy brought a remarkable story to the big screen. It would honestly be surprising to see any of these picks get snubbed, but hey, it's the Oscars. Strange things happen all the time. Still, it seems highly unlikely that any upset picks could sneak in, but that's not to say there aren't plenty of worth candidates. Sleeper Picks: Steven Spielberg - Bridge of Spies, Denis Villeneuve - Sicario, F. Gary Gray - Straight Outta Compton, Quentin Tarantino - The Hateful Eight, Lenny Abrahamson - Room.
Matt Damon The Martian
- Bryan Cranston - Trumbo
- Leonardo DiCaprio - The Revenant
- Matt Damon - The Martian
- Michael Fassbender - Steve Jobs
- Eddie Redmayne - The Danish Girl
The Best Actor field continues the trend of projects based on true stories leading the way in Oscar nods this year, with four out of these five roles based on actual people, all except The Martian's Mark Watney (Matt Damon). Both Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio took home Golden Globes for their performances on Sunday night, although it's still laughable that they put The Martian in the "comedy" category. Still, like most of this year's top races, there isn't a surefire front runner, but many are wondering if Leonardo DiCaprio can finally break through and win his first Oscar. He's been nominate four times before but never won, and many felt he was snubbed from being nominated several other times as well, including his performances in Titanic, Gangs of New York, The Departed and Inception, all of which were nominated for Best Picture. In a year without a true front runner, this could be Leo's time to finally take home that little gold man. Sleeper Picks: Johnny Depp - Black Mass, Michael B. Jordan - Creed, Tom Hanks - Bridge of Spies, Will Smith - Concussion, Ian McKellen - Mr. Holmes.
Room Brie Larson
- Cate Blanchett - Carol
- Brie Larson - Room
- Charlotte Rampling - 45 Years
- Saoirse Ronan - Brooklyn
- Alicia Vikander - The Danish Girl
After winning the Golden Globe for Best Actress, Room star Brie Larson is most likely the front runner in this race, after many thought Cate Blanchett would run away with her third Oscar for her role in Carol. If these predictions turn out to be true, it will also mark the first Oscar nominations for Charlotte Rampling (in a 50 year career), Brie Larson and Alicia Vikander. If Saoirse Ronan wins, she will be just the second youngest actress ever to win the award at 21 years of age, just a few months behind Marlee Matlin when she won in 1987 for Children of a Lesser God. As of now, it seems to be a two-woman race between Brie Larson and Cate Blanchett. Sleeper Picks: Jennifer Lawrence - Joy, Rooney Mara - Carol, Emily Blunt - Sicario, Sarah Silverman - I Smile Back, Helen Mirren - Woman in Gold.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Sylvester Stallone Creed
- Christian Bale - The Big Short
- Idris Elba - Beasts of No Nation
- Mark Rylance - Bridge of Spies
- Sylvester Stallone - Creed
- Jacob Tremblay - Room
During Brie Larson's acceptance speech for her Golden Globe award last night, she thanked her Room co-star Jacob Tremblay and said she shared her award with him. Jacob Tremblay is one of my surprise nominations, with many prognosticators picking Sicario's Benicio Del Toro or the Spotlight duo of Mark Ruffalo or Michael Keaton ahead of him. The problem with ensembles like Spotlight, or even The Big Short, is even at the nominations stage, movies with multiple nominees often split the votes, leading to other candidates prevailing. I'm guessing this is what could allow nine-year-old Jacob Tremblay to be the second youngest nominee in the category ever (behind eight-year-old Kramer vs. Kramer star Justin Henry), but even if he does get the nomination, he's going up against a slew of veteran contenders. Mark Rylance and Sylvester Stallone are most likely the top two candidates thus far, but Sly may have a slight edge after his Golden Globe win. Sleeper Picks: Mark Ruffalo - Spotlight, Michael Keaton - Spotlight, Benicio Del Toro - Sicario, Michael Shannon - 99 Homes, Paul Dano - Love & Mercy.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jennifer Jason Leigh Hateful Eight
- Jennifer Jason Leigh - The Hateful Eight
- Rooney Mara - Carol
- Helen Mirren - Trumbo
- Alicia Vikander - Ex Machina
- Kate Winslet - Steve Jobs
If these picks turn out to be true, along with the Best Actress nods, then Alicia Vikander will be the first actor or actress since Cate Blanchett in 2007 (I'm Not There, Elizabeth: The Golden Age) to score two acting nominations in the same year. This rare feat has only happened 10 times before, but since both categories are highly-competitive, we'll have to wait and see how this race shakes out. Even though Kate Winslet won the Golden Globe for Steve Jobs, there isn't necessarily a true front runner for Best Supporting Actress, and it's truly anyone's award to win, so to speak. If Alicia Vikander does manage to get nominated and actually win both awards, she would be the first to ever pull off this feat, and in a year like this, it seems that truly anything can happen. Sleeper Picks: Jane Fonda - Youth, Rachel McAdams - Spotlight, Julie Walters - Brooklyn, Elizabeth Banks - Love & Mercy.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Big Short Screenplay
- The Big Short - Adam McKay, Charles Randolph
- Carol - Phyllis Nagy
- The Martian - Drew Goddard
- Room - Emma Donoghue
- Steve Jobs - Aaron Sorkin
This category may be one of the only ones with a true front runner, Aaron Sorkin, who is poised to take home his second Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Steve Jobs, after winning the award five years ago for The Social Network. The screenplay awards are often seen as "consolation prizes" for films who won't win Best Picture, and, ironically, Steve Jobs is the only projected nominee that most likely won't be up for Best Picture. Still, Aaron Sorkin's scripts have become the stuff of legend, and I don't see him having any trouble winning once again in this category. Sleeper Picks: Brooklyn - Nick Hornby, Trumbo - John McNamara, The Revenant - Alejandro González Iñárritu, Mark L. Smith, Anomalisa - Charlie Kaufman, The Danish Girl - Lucinda Coxon.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Hateful Eight Screenplay
- Ex Machina - Alex Garland
- The Hateful Eight - Quentin Tarantino
- Inside Out - Josh Cooley, Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve
- Spotlight - Thomas McCarthy, Josh Singer
- Straight Outta Compton - Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus
Unlike the Adapted category, the Best Original Screenplay category doesn't have a front runner, and cases could easily be made for any one of these scripts to take home the award. Inside Out will also surely be in contention for Best Animated Feature, so that may impact the film's hopes for a Best Original Screenplay win, but at this point, it's anybody's game. Ironically, both Pete Docter and Thomas McCarthy were both nominated for co-writing Pixar's Up, and now they're competing against each other in the same category. If Quentin Tarantino wins, it would be his third Oscar in the category, tying him for the most wins ever with Woody Allen. Sleeper Picks: Bridge of Spies - Matthew Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Sicario - Taylor Sheridan, Trainwreck - Amy Schumer, Joy - Annie Mumolo, David O. Russell, Love & Mercy - Michael A. Lerner, Oren Moverman.
- Carol - Edward Lachman
- The Hateful Eight - Robert Richardson
- Mad Max: Fury Road - John Seale
- The Revenant - Emmanuel Lubezki
- Sicario - Roger Deakins
This category is packed full of former Oscar nominees and winners, in would could be the most contested race of the year. Robert Richardson could have the edge here, with his use of 70mm photography on The Hateful Eight, the first time a film was shot in that format in nearly 50 years, but don't count out any of these other candidates as well. Then again, Richardson wasn't honored by American Society of Cinematographers this year, so it's possible he may not be nominated either. The Oscar voters could have their work cut out for them in this category, that's for certain. Sleeper Picks: Bridge of Spies - Janusz Kaminski, The Martian - Dariusz Wolski, Steve Jobs - Alwin H. Kulcher, Room - Danny Cohen, Son of Saul - Matyas Erdely.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
John Williams Score Star Wars 7
- Bridge of Spies - Thomas Newman
- The Danish Girl - Alexandre Desplat
- The Hateful Eight - Ennio Morricone
- Spotlight - Howard Shore
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens - John Williams
Composing legend Ennio Morricone won his first major American award this weekend by taking home the Golden Globe for his work on The Hateful Eight. All of these potential nominees are just as esteemed as the Golden Globe winner, and this is truly another race where it could be anyone's game. The Academy does love to hand out "legacy" awards for esteemed artists who have never received an Oscar before, and Ennio is certainly deserving of a little gold man, after five nominations and no wins. Could this be his year? We'll have to wait until February 28 to find out for sure. Sleeper Picks: Inside Out - Michael Giacchino, Carol - Carter Burwell, Sicario - Jóhann Jóhannsson, Brooklyn - Michael Brook, The 33 - James Horner.
BEST FILM EDITING
Mad Max Fury Road Editing
- The Big Short - Hank Corwin
- Mad Max: Fury Road - Margaret Sixel
- The Martian - Pietro Scalia
- The Revenant - Stephen Mirrione
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey
The Best Film Editing category used to serve as a benchmark for predicting the Best Picture winner in the past, but that hasn't been the case in recent years. 2012's Argo was the last movie to win Best Picture and Best Film Editing, but this year's prospective nominees are also among our picks to get a Best Picture nod as well. If there is any candidate here that may be in danger of falling off the list it's The Revenant's Stephen Mirrione. This could be due to the film's bold, sweeping shots with many sequences that have no cuts, much like last year's Best Picture winner, Birdman, also directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Still, his work in The Revenant is still masterful, and most likely will be one of the nominees. Sleeper Picks: Spotlight - Tom McArdle, Sicario - Joe Walker, Bridge of Spies - Michael Kahn, Steve Jobs - Elliot Graham, Room - Nathan Nugent.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Mad Max Visual Effects
- Ex Machina - Andrew Whitehurst
- Mad Max: Fury Road - Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver, Andy Williams
- The Martian - Richard Stammers, Chris Lawrence, Anders Langlands, Steven Warner
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Chris Corbould, Roger Guyett
- The Walk - Kevin Baillie, Jim Gibbs, Viktor Muller, Sebastien Moreau
This is normally the category where the big-budget blockbusters get recognized, but it may be a bit different this year. Both Ex Machina and The Walk aren't necessarily huge tentpole movies, but their exemplary work in visual effects should score them nominations along with the blockbusters like Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. However, the fact that they aren't huge movies could work to their disadvantage, with tentpoles like Jurassic World and Avengers: Age of Ultron waiting in the wings. We'll have to wait and see who the Academy favors. Sleeper Picks: Jurassic World, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Tomorrowland.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Most pundits believe this is a two-way race between the indie stop motion film Anomalisa and Pixar's blockbuster Inside Out. Both are widely acclaimed by critics, but even though Inside Out has a massive edge at the box office, it's may not be as big a favorite as you think. Both films ended up on a lot of critics' top 10 lists, and some even think that Inside Out may have a shot at getting a Best Picture nomination as well. Still, even though it's essentially down to two candidates, there is no real front runner quite yet. Sleeper Picks: The Good Dinosaur, Minions, The Boy and the World, Home, When Marnie Was There.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Look of Silence
- Cartel Land
- Listen to Me Marlon
- The Look of Silence
- Winter on Fire
The powerhouse doc Amy has been the huge favorite to win this award ever since it debuted in July, but there is still plenty of competition. Michael Moore's new film Where to Invade Next remains on the bubble, but he might be able to get yet another nomination, even though he hasn't taken home Oscar gold in more than a decade. Netflix will most likely return with its third straight nomination in this category with Winter on Fire, following The Square and Virunga, but as of now, most believe it's Amy's Oscar to lose. Sleeper Picks: Where to Invade Next, He Named Me Malala, What Happened, Miss Simone?, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Best of Enemies.
The Best of The Rest
Furious 7 song
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
- The Brand New Testament (Belgium; Jaco Van Dormael)
- Mustang (France; Deniz Gamze Ergüven)
- Labyrinth of Lies (Germany; Giulio Ricciarelli)
- Son of Saul (Hungary; László Nemes)
- Viva (Ireland; Paddy Breathnach
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
- Brooklyn - Odile Dicks-Mireaux
- The Danish Girl - Paco Delgado
- Carol - Sandy Powell
- Cinderella - Sandy Powell
- Crimson Peak - Kate Hawley
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
- Black Mass - Joel Harolow, Gloria Casny
- Mad Max: Fury Road - Lesley Vanderwalt, Damian Martin, Elka Wardega
- Mr. Holmes - Dave Elsey
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
- "So Long" from Concussion
- "See You Again" from Furious 7
- "Til It Happens To You" from The Hunting Ground
- "Feels Like Summer" from Shaun the Sheep
- "Simple Song #3" from Youth
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
- Bridge of Spies - Adam Stockhausen; Rena DeAngelo, Bernhard Henrich)
- Cinderella - Dante Ferretti; Casey Banwel, Francesca Lo Schiavo
- Crimson Peak - Thomas E. Sanders; Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau
- The Danish Girl - Eve Stewart; Michael Standish
- Mad Max: Fury Road - Colin Gibson; Katie Sharrock, Lisa Thompson
BEST SOUND EDITING
- The Hateful Eight - Wylie Stateman
- Mad Max: Fury Road - Scott Hecker, Mark Mangini, David White
- The Martian - Oliver Tarney
- The Revenant - Martin Hernandez, Randy Thom, Lon Bender
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens - David Accord, Matthew Wood)
BEST SOUND MIXING
- The Hateful Eight - Mark Ulano, Christian P. Minkler, Michael Minkler
- Mad Max: Fury Road - Ben Osmo, Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff
- The Martian - Mac Ruth, Paul Massey, Mark Taylor
- The Revenant - Chris Duesterdiek, Frank A. Montaño, Jon Taylor, Randy Thom
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Stuart Wilson, Andy Nelson, Chris Scarabosio
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
- Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah - Adam Benzine
- A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness - Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
- Last Day of Freedom - Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman
- Minerita - Raul de la Fuente
- Starting Point - Michael Szczesniak
BEST SHORT FILM - ANIMATED
- Bear Story (Historia de un Oso) - Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala
- Love in the Time of March Madness - Melissa Johnson and Robertino Zambrano
- Sanjay's Super Team - Sanjay Patel and Nicole Drindle
- We Can't Live Without Cosmos - Konstantin Bronzit
- World of Tomorrow - Don Hertzfeldt
BEST SHORT FILM - LIVE ACTION
- Ave Maria - Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont
- Day One - Henry Hughes
- Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut) - Patrick Vollrath
- Shok - Jamie Donoughue
- Stutterer - Benjamin Cleary
That wraps it up for our 88th Annual Academy Award nominations predictions. Be sure to check back on Thursday, January 14 for the official nominations. Do you have any surprise predictions you think the Academy will announce this week? Or what movies do you think are worth of the top prize at this year's Oscars? Chime in with your thoughts, and stay tuned for more as this year's awards season kicks off.