…And the award for Best Picture goes to?


The Oscar nominations are in, which means there’s no time to waste in predicting who will take home little gold men at next month’s awards. Per the Academy’s regulations, campaigning is a far quieter endeavor once the ballot has been announced. That’s not to say things can’t shift dramatically between now and Feb. 28, but it does mean we have a semi-clear window into what might bulldoze the Best Picture race. Let’s take a look at each of the eight nominees, presented in alphabetical order. (P.S. Fear not, “Carol,” we’re still mourning your egregious snub.)

“The Big Short”
“The Big Short” collected all the requisite nominations to make it a front-runner: Adam McKay nabbed a direction nod and a screenplay nod (which he shares with Charles Randolph), Christian Bale made an appearance in Best Supporting Actor, and Best Film Editing gave the movie a fundamental boost among the tech kudos. In depicting the insiders who predicted the 2008 housing-bubble burst before it ravished the American economy, “The Big Short” has an urgency about it that could register with voters. But the other movie to amass acting, directing, screenplay and film-editing salutes was “Spotlight” — and “Spotlight,” which tackles sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, is riding a longer front-runner wave.
“Bridge of Spies”
The Academy consistently recognizes Steven Spielberg’s work, but only one movie he’s directed — 1993’s “Schindler’s List” — has garnered the top prize. The Cold War espionage drama “Bridge of Spies” seemed like an iffy player in the Oscar derby until the Producers Guild — a reliable predictor of what will score Best Picture nominations — included the movie among its annual awards. A Best Original Screenplay nod also helps, and there’s a chance Mark Rylance could walk away with the Best Supporting Actor trophy. But the buzz surrounding the polished, traditionally crafted “Bridge” has been comparatively mute, and it’s hard to imagine a majority of voters checking its box over the category’s other choices.
Statistically speaking, it’s hard to win Best Picture without a Best Film Editing nomination. Why? Because editing is essential to a movie’s quality — you’re not supposed to notice the tricks that seamlessly unite multiple storylines and characters. “Birdman” stole the top prize last year without a film-editing nod, but that’s an anomaly: Since the category was introduced in 1934, only 10 movies have won Best Picture without an editing designation. That doesn’t bode well for “Brooklyn,” whose only other categories are Best Actress (Saoirse Ronan) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Nick Hornby), making it 2016’s Best Picture title with the fewest nominations.
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
With 10 nominations, “Mad Max” is second only to “The Revenant” as the year’s most-honored film. That means its visibility is high, despite having opened way back in May. The problem is, outside of George Miller’s deserved Best Director nod, the other eight are technical plaudits. Charlize Theron’s Best Actress absence isn’t a deal-breaker, as “Argo” and “Slumdog Millionaire” recently won Best Picture without any acting acknowledgements. More fatal is the lack of screenplay shout-out, as the last movie to win Best Picture without a screenwriting nod was 1997’s “Titanic.”
“The Martian”
“The Martian” scored the Golden Globe for Best Picture, but that doesn’t mean much because a) the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has no voting overlap with the Academy and b) we can partly chalk it up to the movie sliding into the Globes’ comedy categories, where it faced less competition. Still, “The Martian” is a great movie that concludes with the sort of grand sentimentality that registers with the Academy. Ridley Scott’s Best Director snub hurts, but Ben Affleck’s didn’t prevent “Argo” from annexing the prize in 2013. The acting branch liked Matt Damon’s performance enough to nominate him, and the writers appreciated Drew Goddard’s script, which means “The Martian” may have enough voters championing it to slip ahead.
“The Revenant”
The last person to grab two consecutive Oscars for Best Director was Joseph L. Mankiewicz, for 1949’s “A Letter to Three Wives” and 1950’s “All About Eve.” That makes it unlikely that Alejandro González Iñárritu, who won last year for “Birdman,” will see dual victories. And since Best Director often goes to the guy (or Kathryn Bigelow) who helmed the year’s Best Picture winner, that advances the statistical improbability that “The Revenant” will sweep. Furthermore, the movie was left off the Best Ensemble shortlist at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the actors branch — which has a huge overlap with SAG’s membership — is the Academy’s largest. And though its Golden Globe win provides a minor boost, “The Revenant” has another strike against it: no screenplay nomination. That’s a lot of hindrances, and yet the inescapable campaign surrounding this movie’s arduous arctic shoot — Leo suffered for his art, people! — seems to imply it still has momentum.
Lenny Abrahamson’s unexpected inclusion in Best Director gives “Room” a momentum many didn’t expect. In fact, some pundits on awards-handicapping bible GoldDerby removed it from their Best Picture predictions after the Producers Guild and Writers Guild awards left it off their shortlists. Despite Emma Donoghue’s screenplay recognition and what could be a Best Actress victory for Brie Larson, its lack of technical nods doesn’t bode well: The last movie to win Best Picture without making it into a single tech category was 1980’s “Ordinary People.”
Declared the festival circuit’s Best Picture front-runner back in September, “Spotlight” was never a question in this category. It could still prevail, even though it lost the Golden Globe and missed out on a couple of vital SAG nominations. There are a lot of grandiose movies to pick from (“The Revenant,” “Mad Max,” “The Martian,” even “Bridge of Spies”), and if voters can’t decide which feat of technical mastery to select, “Spotlight” offers an easy alternative. That’s hardly the only reason it could win, though. Alongside “The Big Short,” it’s the only other movie to earn all four bellwethers in the Best Picture bullseye: Tom McCarthy is up for Best Director, it has two acting nominations (Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams), McCarthy and Josh Singer’s screenplay was recognized, and it boasts a coveted slot in Best Film Editing. Its triumph would mean voters can avoid consecutively awarding Alejandro González Iñárritu movies, and they can also, in a way, revisit the glory days of 1970s cinema, when the thematically similar “All the President’s Men” competed for the same prize. Besides, voters might relish the chance to prioritize such an unfussy, effortlessly crafted film.
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