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02/26/2016 10:04 am ET Updated Feb 26, 2016

Our Final Oscar Predictions, Plus Who Should Actually Win At Sunday's Awards

Will the Academy put the spotlight on "The Revenant"?
Fox/Warner Bros/Open Road

With days to go until the 88th annual Academy Awards celebrate the skills of a lot of glitzy white folks, it's time to lock in your ballot in the office pool. It's been a wild awards season -- some categories still don't have clear front-runners. In other words, good luck.

But we're here to help! We've been monitoring the Oscar race since it began around Labor Day, and while much has erupted over the course of those six months, we do have at least a vague idea of who will have the most cause to celebrate come Sunday night. Below, we'll weigh in on who will -- and who should -- win this year's prizes.

  • Best Picture
    <strong>Nominees:</strong>&nbsp;"The Big Short," "Bridge of Spies," Brooklyn," "Mad Max: Fury Road," "The Martian," "The Rev
    Paramount/DreamWorks/Fox/Warner Bros/A24/Open Road
    Nominees: "The Big Short," "Bridge of Spies," Brooklyn," "Mad Max: Fury Road," "The Martian," "The Revenant," "Room" and "Spotlight"

    Will win: Last year's Best Picture champ, "Birdman," nabbed the three top-tier guild prizes, distributed by the Screen Actors Guild, Producers Guild and Directors Guild. That made it a virtual shoo-in for Best Picture, no matter how much hope we had for "Boyhood." This year, each of those awards went to different movies, leaving us with the most open-ended Best Picture contest in recent memory. SAG, which has a large overlap with the Academy's biggest voting branch, honored "Spotlight," while "The Revenant" won favor with the Directors Guild and "The Big Short" took the Producers Guild kudos. Its recent BAFTA victory signals an added lead for "The Revenant," which would be the most expensive Best Picture winner, and the first to miss out on a screenplay nod, since "Titanic."  I'm not totally convinced "Spotlight" or "The Big Short" won't abscond with the hardware thanks to their resonant social messages, but you're probably safest betting on "The Revenant."

    Should win: My response to "The Revenant" is as chilly as Leonardo DiCaprio's experience making it. In fact, there's only one rightful winner here, and that's the thunderingly original "Mad Max: Fury Road." And to think it's a reboot! "Mad Max" will have to settle for a slew of technical accolades, so in its place, it would be lovely to see something as effortless and unfussy as "Spotlight" or "Brooklyn" strike gold.

    Biggest snubs: This category has two vacant spots, which should easily be filled by "Carol" and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." 
  • Best Actress
    <strong>Nominees:&nbsp;</strong>Cate Blanchett, "Carol" / Brie Larson, "Room" / Jennifer Lawrence, "Joy" / Charlotte Ramplin
    Weinstein/A24/Fox/Alchemy
    Nominees: Cate Blanchett, "Carol" / Brie Larson, "Room" / Jennifer Lawrence, "Joy" / Charlotte Rampling, "45 Years" / Saoirse Ronan, "Brooklyn"

    Will win: 
    There's no question that this little gold man will wind up in the hands of "Room" headliner Brie Larson, who gave a star-making turn as a young mother held captive in a garden shed. Larson has been one of the season's dignitaries, adorning magazine covers and ingratiating voters alongside her 9-year-old co-star Jacob Tremblay. After winning the SAG, Golden Globe, BAFTA and several critics prizes, no one else stands a chance.

    Should win: Larson had to shove several years of her character's captivity into one hourlong sequence set inside a single location. She's a marvel, but even more remarkable is the quiet work of Charlotte Rampling, who rises to the difficult task of telegraphing her "45 Years" character's interior breakdown.

    Biggest snub: Jennifer Lawrence feels shoehorned into this category by virtue of her star power and the simple notion that she starred in another (pretty bad) David O. Russell movie. Replace her with Lily Tomlin for "Grandma."
  • Best Actor
    <strong>Nominees:</strong> Bryan Cranston, "Trumbo" / Matt Damon, "The Martian" / Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Revenant" / Michael
    Bleeker Street/Fox/Universal/Focus Features
    Nominees: Bryan Cranston, "Trumbo" / Matt Damon, "The Martian" / Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Revenant" / Michael Fassbender, "Steve Jobs" / Eddie Redmayne, "The Danish Girl"

    Will win: 
    You're kidding, right? If you don't think this is Leonardo DiCaprio's year, your mind must be as frozen as that tundra he battled to make "The Revenant." The whole "this was hard" mantra has worked quite well for DiCaprio and his colleagues, but he also has the advantage of a steadfast "he's overdue!" narrative and almost every notable precursor award in the book.

    Should win: This just isn't the movie DiCaprio should win for. "The Revenant" required him to experience physical sensations, not create a character. If my vote counted, I'd say Michael Fassbender had a loftier task in front of him with the three-act structure of "Steve Jobs."

    Biggest snub: Frankly, this is the lamest Best Actor race I can recall. The problem? There aren't many fellas to take over. Still, it would be a treat to see Michael B. Jordan recognized for helping to elevate "Creed" above the conventional fare it could have been.
  • Best Supporting Actor
    <strong>Nominees: </strong>Christian Bale, "The Big Short" / Tom Hardy, "The Revenant" / Mark Ruffalo, "Spotlight" / Mark Ryl
    Paramount/Fox/Open Road/DreamWorks/Warner Bros
    Nominees: Christian Bale, "The Big Short" / Tom Hardy, "The Revenant" / Mark Ruffalo, "Spotlight" / Mark Rylance, "Bridge of Spies" / Sylvester Stallone, "Creed"

    Will win: 
    Pundits seem locked in on Sylvester Stallone, who did prompt me to burst into spontaneous tears during "Creed." I'm not so sure Stallone is a guarantee, considering he wasn't even nominated at the SAG Awards. The thing is, there's no tell-tale sign of who could trump him. The perennially well-liked Mark Ruffalo might be the guy to do it, but Mark Rylance did make off with the BAFTA trophy. 

    Should win: Idris Elba. Oh, that's right, #OscarsSoWhite. So, instead, I'll toss my support to Mark Rylance, the "Bridge of Spies" standout who imbued his character with clammy confidence. It's fun to see Stallone have a moment after racking up years of Razzie Awards, but I'm not persuaded his plaudits are much more than a blast-from-the-past field day for longtime fans of "Rocky" and/or comeback narratives.

    Biggest snub: I know I championed Idris Elba a second ago, but it's really Paul Dano who made my heart sink on the morning of Oscar nominations. People toss around the word "transcendent" far too often when describing screen performances, but Dano's turn as Brian Wilson in "Love & Mercy" really is just that -- even if his performance is technically the biopic's co-lead.
  • Best Supporting Actress
    <strong>Nominees: </strong>Jennifer Jason Leigh, "The Hateful Eight" / Rooney Mara, "Carol" / Rachel McAdams, "Spotlight" / A
    Weinstein/Open Road/Focus Features/Universal
    Nominees: Jennifer Jason Leigh, "The Hateful Eight" / Rooney Mara, "Carol" / Rachel McAdams, "Spotlight" / Alicia Vikander, "The Danish Girl" / Kate Winslet, "Steve Jobs"

    Will win: 
    This has been a shapeshifting category since awards season began. Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander's lead performances are victims of category fraud, relegated to the supporting realm because their respective studios thought that would be easier to win. In Mara's case, it didn't help. For Vikander, who was also praised for "Ex Machina" last year, it might. She won the SAG, which makes this a two-way race with veteran Kate Winslet, who seized the Golden Globe and BAFTA.

    Should win: What a travesty it is that Rooney Mara hasn't stampeded through this race. Cate Blanchett may play the title character, but "Carol" is Mara's movie. Her turn as a naive shopgirl discovering her sexuality in 1950s Manhattan is flung out of space.

    Biggest snub: I'll advocate for Kristen Wiig's "Diary of a Teenage Girl" performance and Cynthia Nixon's "James White" work until the industry writes them apology notes. But those were pipe dreams all along. The real lapse here is Kristen Stewart, who reached a new career high with the understated "Clouds of Sils Maria."
  • Best Director
    <strong>Nominees: </strong>Lenny Abrahamson, "Room" /&nbsp;Alejandro Gonz&aacute;lez I&ntilde;&aacute;rritu, "The Revenant" /
    AP/Getty
    Nominees: Lenny Abrahamson, "Room" / Alejandro González Iñárritu, "The Revenant" / Tom McCarthy, "Spotlight" / Adam McKay, "The Big Short" / George Miller, "Mad Max: Fury Road"

    Will win: 
    All signs point to Directors Guild winner Alejandro González Iñárritu -- except no one has scored consecutive Best Director trophies since Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1949 and 1950. That leaves three semi-viable challengers: Adam McKay, Tom McCarthy and George Miller, who could coast ahead at the 11th hour in deference of the practical effects that made "Mad Max" an impressive coup.

    Should win: Somewhere deep down, the Academy knows this award should go to George Miller. He proved that action blockbusters can be more than noise and CGI, all while giving us one of the year's most thrilling tales.

    Biggest snub: No question there -- the chronically overlooked Todd Haynes should have numerous Best Director nominations by now, especially after finding such a subtle visual language for the two central characters in "Carol."
  • Best Original Screenplay
    <strong>Nominees: </strong>Matt Charman &amp; Joel and Ethan Coen, "Bridge of Spies" / Alex Garland, "Ex Machina" / Josh Cool
    DreamWorks/A24/Pixar/Open Road/Universal
    Nominees: Matt Charman & Joel and Ethan Coen, "Bridge of Spies" / Alex Garland, "Ex Machina" / Josh Cooley, Ronnie del Carmen, Pete Docter and Meg LeFauvre, "Inside Out" /  Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, "Spotlight" / Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman, S. Leigh Savidge and Alan Wenkus, "Straight Outta Compton"

    Will win: 
    For their deft research and economical plotting in "Spotlight," Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer are nearly guaranteed this distinction, especially with the Writers Guild of America's original-screenplay prize in their pockets. The duo face a slight threat in "Inside Out" and "Straight Outta Compton," especially if the Academy is in the mood to atone for the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. 

    Should win: All of these scripts are worthy. "Ex Machina" was a brooding bastion of sci-fi originality and "Inside Out" made for 2015's most clever lark. But there were so many ways Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer could have flubbed up on "Spotlight," and they bypassed every single one.

    Biggest snub: Some would say Quentin Tarantino deserves a spot for "The Hateful Eight," but I've long thrown my support behind Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch's sensitive and humorous "Tangerine" script.
  • Best Adapted Screenplay
    <strong>Nominees: </strong>Emma Donoghue, "Room" / Drew Goddard, "The Martian" / Nick Hornby, "Brooklyn" / Adam McKary and Ch
    A24/Fox/Paramount/Weinstein
    Nominees: Emma Donoghue, "Room" / Drew Goddard, "The Martian" / Nick Hornby, "Brooklyn" / Adam McKary and Charles Randolph, "The Big Short" / Phyllis Nagy, "Carol"

    Will win: 
    There's a case to be made for each of these writers, but the contest is tipped in the favor of Adam McKay and Charles Randolph. Their work on "The Big Short" nabbed the Writers Guild of America's adapted-screenplay citation and has remained one of the season's runaway successes.

    Should win: It's hard to argue against Phyllis Nagy's sophisticated "Carol" script, but I think Nick Hornby submitted the best work. "Brooklyn" was the year's most complete and graceful piece of storytelling.

    Biggest snub: Who'd have thought Aaron Sorkin would be omitted for "Steve Jobs"? But the real oversight is with Marielle Heller's keen approach to "The Diary of a Teenage Girl."
  • Best Documentary Feature
    <strong>Nominees:&nbsp;</strong>"Amy," "Cartel Land," "The Look of Silence," "What Happened, Miss Simone?" and "Winter on Fir
    A24/The Orchard/Drafthouse/Netflix
    Nominees: "Amy," "Cartel Land," "The Look of Silence," "What Happened, Miss Simone?" and "Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom"

    Will win: "The Act of Killing" lost to show-biz doc "20 Feet From Stardom" two years ago, and it appears its revered companion piece, "The Look of Silence," will succumb to one, as well: "Amy." The stirring portrait of jazz-pop chanteuse Amy Winehouse's brief fame and well-chronicled overdose garnered the BAFTA and the Producers Guild's documentary award.

    Should win: On first blush, "Amy" can seem like a standard music documentary. But director Asif Kapadia did much with little, threading together narratives about the singer's topsy-turvy family life, the media's obsession with her behavior and the innate talent that suffered at the hands of her insecurities.

    Biggest snub: It's a shock that "Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck" didn't make the Academy's official documentary shortlist. Of the films that did, "Heart of a Dog" or "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief" should replace the uninspired "What Happened, Miss Simone?"
  • And everything else
    <strong>Best Foreign Language Film:&nbsp;</strong>"Son of Saul"<br><strong>Best Animated Feature:&nbsp;</strong>"Inside Out"<
    The Weinstein Co.
    Best Foreign Language Film: "Son of Saul"
    Best Animated Feature: "Inside Out"
    Best Film Editing: "Mad Max: Fury Road"
    Best Original Song: Diane Warren and Lady Gaga, "Till It Happens To You" (from "The Hunting Ground")
    Best Original Score: Ennio Morricone, "The Hateful Eight"
    Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, "The Revenant"
    Best Costume Design: Sandy Powell, "Cinderella"
    Best Makeup and Hairstyling: "Mad Max: Fury Road"
    Best Production Design: "Mad Max: Fury Road"
    Best Sound Editing: "Mad Max: Fury Road"
    Best Sound Mixing: "The Revenant"
    Best Visual Effects: "Mad Max: Fury Road"
    Best Short Film, Live Action: "Stutterer"
    Best Short Film, Animated: "Sanjay's Super Team"
    Best Documentary, Short Subject: "Body Team 12"


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