Handicapping a tight race for Oscar gold

With most Oscar races in the past decade, very few categories have really delivered this kind of drama. Gay Atlanta film critic and aficionado calculates the odds.

There are few things more exciting than a good competition, where no one’s 100 percent sure of the outcome. If you really follow the races, by the time the Oscars happen, it’s fairly easy to guess the winners in at least the major categories.

Not this year. This year’s race for Best Picture is actually too close to call. Out of the eight films nominated, three – The Big Short, Spotlight, and The Revenant – are legitimately in contention for the win.

Why is it so hard to predict? In a word: precursors. In the month or so before the Oscars, various groups give out their annual awards. Each one has their equivalent of Oscar’s Best Picture category, and a handful of groups have voter overlap with the Academy. Among them are the guilds for directors, screen actors, producers and writers. They don’t always choose the same films for their top prize, but there’s usually a clear favorite in the results.

This year, the three big guilds – PGA, SAG, DGA –each went with a different film. Combined with other awards from other groups, and even taking each film’s other Oscar nominations into account, there’s no clear frontrunner. Let’s break it down into pros and cons for each of the three:

The Big Short
Pros: Won WGA’s Adapted Screenplay. Frontrunner for Adapted Screenplay Oscar. Won PGA’s top prize, which has lined up with the Best Picture winner every year since the PGA and Oscars shifted in 2009 to a larger list of nominees and a preferential ballot.

Cons: Not a likely winner for any other Oscar category; the last film to win Best Picture without at least two other wins was The Greatest Show on Earth (1952).

The Revenant
Pros: Won top honors at both DGA and BAFTA. Only Brokeback Mountain (2005) and The Graduate (1967) have won both and not Best Picture. Leads all films with the most nominations this year (12). Likely winner in Best Actor, various tech categories.

Cons: First film to win both DGA and BAFTA, but miss PGA. Wasn’t nominated for SAG’s top honor; the only film to win Best Picture without that nomination was Braveheart (1995). Wasn’t nominated for its screenplay at the Oscars; only seven Best Picture winners have won without that nomination, most recently Titanic (1997). No precedent for the same creative team to win back-to-back in this category; the producers of this film won last year for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

Spotlight
Pros: Won SAG’s top award. The only time a film won BAFTA, DGA and PGA but lost Best Picture was when Brokeback Mountain lost to SAG winner Crash. Frontrunner for Original Screenplay Oscar.

Cons: See The Big Short’s cons. In other words, it’s entirely reasonable to choose any of these three as the winner. An upset from another nominee is entirely within reason.

AND THE REST…
Fortunately, the rest of this year’s major races are a bit easier to guess.

Best Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu was the recipient of The Revenant’s DGA win, which makes him a likely winner – except the last director to win this category in consecutive years was Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1949 (A Letter to Three Wives) and 1950 (All About Eve). A likely alternative: Mad Max: Fury Road director George Miller. The film earned ten nominations, and Miller’s the key to making it work. It’s a toss-up, but I’d give the slight edge to Miller.

Best Actor: Look, everyone knows that Leonardo DiCaprio is so desperate for one of these that if he doesn’t win for The Revenant, he may actually die making his next film to ensure a win. The only way he’s losing is if enough people want to make that happen.

Best Actress: The Oscars love giving this award to young, pretty actresses doing challenging work. Rest assured, Brie Larson absolutely earns the attention in Room (and deserved it a few years ago for Short Term 12, too).

Best Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stallone earned a pair of nominations 40 years ago for writing and starring in Rocky, losing both while the film won Best Picture. Creed gave Stallone a well-deserved critical comeback, and a win here gives the Academy a chance to give him a Rocky-related Oscar.

Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) and Rooney Mara (Carol) are nominated in this category for undeniably lead roles, which could hurt them. But Vikander has the advantage of also getting acclaim for her turn in Ex Machina, and voters will likely see a vote for Vikander as recognizing her breakthrough year.

_____

Originally published in David Atlanta.

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