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Oscar Race Update: Will Leo Get His Trophy? Can Mad Max Win Big?

Photo: REX Shutterstock.
This week, Academy members will begin selecting Oscar nominees. Voting begins December 30 and closes January 8.

I'm expecting to be surprised when the noms are announced on January 14. This year's race has already been an odd one with few dominant narratives, and nominations for 2016's other big awards shows didn't do much to clear anything up.

Now that all the movies in contention have been released (including, yes, Star Wars), let's take a look at who might be in the running for one of those coveted gold statues.

Best Picture

If there’s anything close to a lock for this category, it’s Spotlight. The movie about journalists investigating the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal has appeared to be the frontrunner since it premiered at festivals this September, and it’s one of the few films to get both a SAG ensemble nomination and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture. (The other one is The Big Short, also a odds-on nominee with a rising profile.) It's unlikely that major Spotlight backlash will crop up to thwart its rise, considering one squabble about accuracy hasn’t gained much traction.

So, what other movies going to join it? My bets are on the aforementioned The Big Short, The Martian, Carol, Room, The Revenant, and Mad Max: Fury Road. In fact, Mad Max is starting to seem like more and more of a sure thing, and a possible winner. George Miller's feminist action film picked up nominations for Best Picture and Best Director at the Golden Globes. It’s a blockbuster that's also the work of an auteur — a cinematic masterpiece and a crowd-pleaser.

Up to 10 films can be nominated for Best Picture, though. The Broadcast Film Critics’ Association gave Star Wars: The Force Awakens an after-the-fact nomination, even though the contenders for that prize had already been declared. I doubt the sci-fi-resistant Academy will be as enthusiastic about the film. Perhaps its members will give props to the other reboot of a franchise from the ‘70s, Creed, or to Quentin Tarantino's latest opus, The Hateful Eight. They have recognized films from Tom Hooper and David O. Russell in the past, but reception for The Danish Girl and Joy have been muted. My hope is they'll forgo those in favor of Pixar's unimpeachable Inside Out or the lovely Brooklyn.

R29's Predictions:
The Big Short
Inside Out
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant

Best Actress
This is the most competitive category this year, and there are a lot of variables. One of them is whether Academy members will nominate Rooney Mara for Carol and Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl in the lead or supporting categories. The studios are running them as supporting, but Academy members do not have to honor that. The Golden Globes didn’t, and both Mara and Vikander are up for Best Actress in a Drama. Three women are a lock: Cate Blanchett for Carol, Brie Larson for Room, and Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn. Joy hasn’t been particularly well received by critics, but everyone loves J Lawr, so count her in. If Vikander and Mara go supporting, Charlotte Rampling could enter the race for her work in 45 Years. Back in October, Larson looked unstoppable, but my bets are now on Ronan. I think something about her sweet performance in an old-fashioned film will appeal to Academy voters.

R29's predictions:
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Best Actor
Leo. Leo. Leo? Yes, Leo. It does indeed look like it’s Leo’s year. Finally. DiCaprio put his body through hell to play 19th-century fur-trapper Hugh Glass in The Revenant. The Academy loves awarding a performance that comes with anecdotes about great physical struggle, and DiCaprio certainly has that down with his talk of eating raw bison liver.

Who will join DiCaprio? Well, the rest of the category feels largely up in the air. Steve Jobs flailed at the box office, but chances are Michael Fassbender will still sneak a nomination for playing the mercurial Apple co-founder. Matt Damon is also likely to get a nod for being stranded on Mars in The Martian, and last year's winner, Eddie Redmayne, gives another strong performance in The Danish Girl. So, what about the the last slot? Before the SAG and Golden Globe nominations were announced, no one would have bet on Bryan Cranston for Trumbo. Lesson learned: Don't challenge Walter White. Some awards pundits have long been arguing that Johnny Depp will be up for playing Whitey Bulger in Black Mass. I'm not so sure. I'm rooting for Michael B. Jordan, who was marvelous in Creed, but that seems like a long shot, leaving this category (and this year) very white once again — unless Will Smith is honored for Concussion.

R29's Predictions:

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
The Supporting Races
As I mentioned, there are some questions of who will go lead and who will go supporting in the actress race. That goes for the men as well. The Big Short's Christian Bale, for instance, was nominated for supporting by SAG and for lead by the Golden Globes. I bet he goes supporting at the Oscars, which is where the movie's campaign is placing him. Those categories' sure things are Sylvester Stallone for his heartbreaking return as Rocky Balboa in Creed, Mark Rylance for his subtle, slippery work in Bridge of Spies, and Kate Winslet for playing Steve Jobs' conscience.

R29's Predictions (Supporting Actress):
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Helen Mirren, Trumbo
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

R29's Predictions (Supporting Actor):
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed