Oscarathon 2016: Predictions: Best Picture

In All, Movies by David

After my nomination previewOscarathon 2016 begins in earnest with the first in a five-part series predicting this year’s Academy Award winners and losers. Each of these posts will take on one or more awards, and we’ll keep coming back to each in the run up to the official ceremony in our continuing coverage of the 2016 Oscar race. Enjoy!

To start with, everything else is good and all, but what everyone really cares about is Best Picture. Here are the nominees:

The Big Short
Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers

Bridge of Spies
Steven Spielberg, Marc Platt and Kristie Macosko Krieger, Producers

Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey, Producers

Mad Max: Fury Road
Doug Mitchell and George Miller, Producers

The Martian
Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Michael Schaefer and Mark Huffam, Producers

The Revenant
Arnon Milchan, Steve Golin, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Mary Parent and Keith Redmon, Producers

Ed Guiney, Producer

Michael Sugar, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin and Blye Pagon Faust, Producers

I know it’s been tough, but your effort has you on top. For now…

Current Predicted Winner: The Revenant

Current Rankings:

  1. The Revenant
  2. Spotlight
  3. The Big Short
  4. Mad Max: Fury Road
  5. The Martian
  6. Room
  7. Bridge of Spies
  8. Brooklyn

What Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Should Have Been Nominated: Sicario (I’ll keep this to one to be nice)

Current Analysis

  • The nominations are in, and it looks like things went roughly as I thought they would in my nominations prediction post. I got seven of the nominations correct, but stumbled because I thought there would be nine nominations instead of eight and picked the wrong period romance drama to fill that last slot (Carol instead of Brooklyn). Still, nothing was a really surprise, as there were a lot of quality films this year so nothing weird could sneak in. No matter what, a lot of good films were always going to be left out, even if there had been ten nominations. (Although it would have helped. I mean, really, if a year like this can’t get ten nominations, then really why bother pretending it can actually happen?)
  • Brooklyn was a bit unexpected, but certainly deserving (if it really was a case of Carol vs. Brooklyn then you couldn’t really go wrong, although I wish both could have gotten in). I am sad that Inside Out and Sicario missed out, but I had already prepared myself for both of them to be excluded. Inside Out was doomed by the Academy’s snobbish attitude toward animated films. Sicario just got lost in the shuffle, or was left out because the Academy hates great things (okay, I promise the bitterness is over now). I feel for Straight Outta Compton, which ran a great campaign, has a lot of support, and could have certainly help the growing perception problem the Oscars are gaining when it comes to race. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens would have also helped with those issues, and was deserving, but I have a hard time feeling bad for the biggest film of all-time (I think it will survive). (Even so, TFA is the first #1 box office movie of all time not to get a nomination. – Ed) I don’t want to believe that Carol missed out because of how focused it was on the feminine and queer perspective, but sadly, that possibility really can’t be entirely discounted. Still, as I said, there were always going to be strong films left out, so this is to be expected at some level.
  • The list as a whole is rather solid, and at the very least there doesn’t look to be any underserving films on the list (unlike if, say, Joy had made it).

So what should we expect in the upcoming Oscar race? Sunday will be the Critics Choice Awards, which will help provide some more clarity in the early stages of this award season. Until then, all there is to go off of is the Golden Globes (dear Lord), top ten lists, and nomination totals from both the Oscars itself and every other award show. That makes thing a little iffy, but even with the limited information available, there is a clear divide in the eight nominations: one half seem to be the frontrunners, while the other half should just be glad they were nominated (unless something changes very soon).

The Happy to Be Here Nominees

Enjoy the ride because this is as good as it gets.

Enjoy the ride, because this is as good as it gets.


  • The biggest surprise of the nominations, Brooklyn is the the poster child of “happy to be there” nominees. This film relied upon the love for Saoirse Ronan’s brilliant performance and industry love for Nick Hornby to nab a nomination. It’s a nice story and all, but there is not a snowball’s chance in hell of this film winning. Still, I for one am very happy to see this film get recognized.

Wait, is the Spielberg shot being used in the poster? Dear Lord.

Bridge of Spies

  • As the only film on this list that I have yet to see, I can’t give any personal thoughts on this film yet, but really I don’t need to have seen this film to say anything about its Oscar chances. Bridge of Spies has comparatively little award support nomination-wise, other than the BAFTAS (which, to be fair, is the one place this film could really make some noise), and the universal love for Mark Rylance. The main reason I always knew that it would get nominated is because the Academy loves Steven Spielberg, and at this point will nominate anything he makes as long as it is a live action movie for adults (and really, only the live action part of that may be important). After all, how else can you possibly explain War Horse‘s nomination, a movie where literally everyone involved phoned in what they were doing? (Then again, maybe this just helps reinforce why the 2012 Oscars had one of the weakest fields ever.) So the Spielberg voting block got its job done and secured Bridge of Spies a nomination, but that is as far as this goes. With that said, it does have six Oscar nominations total, so it has a better chance than Brooklyn.

The Snowball’s Chance Nominees

It’s a nice story, but this is probably where it ends.


  • Oh man, the people that love Room really love Room the Best Picture Nom itself was pretty expected. Brie Larson was always going to be nominated, and is probably the current frontrunner for the win. What changed things were Room’s two other noms: the stunning Best Directing nomination and the surprising Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. These extra nominations slightly recalibrated Room‘s ceiling. It still seems very unlikely that this film could actually win, as it still feels like the little indie that could but which never wins the big prize, but these extra nominations mean that the support for Room was even larger than initially thought. If it builds up some momentum in the coming weeks, there is a reality in which I could see it win–it just isn’t likely this reality.

I am still not sure how this happened, but the film’s chance are what they are.

The Martian

  • Just as much as the nomination announcements helped Room, they doomed The Martian. Riding Golden Globe love (albeit for being a Comedy) for Ridley Scott, Matt Damon, and the movie as a whole, The Martian at least looked like a contender, but that all changed when the film missed out on both a Best Directing and Best Editing nomination. The film still got six nominations, but it just doesn’t have enough support in the right areas to see it realistically winning. It also doesn’t help that a lot of the support that would come for the movie seems to see the film as the third choice behind The Revenant and Mad Max. That is just too much for this film to overcome, no matter how much science it throws at the problem, so while The Martian has a chance to go on an Argo-like run (after Ben Affleck’s similar Oscar snubbing for Best Director in 2013), it seems unlikely at this time. (Argo actually won for Best Editing in 2013, to further emphasize how big a deal is that The Martian missed out).

The Contenders

  • Now we’ve hit the real contenders. Unless thing drastically change, I will be really shocked if the winner isn’t one of these four movies. Before getting to each of their individual strengths I will first talk about what they all have in common. They all got at least five nominations, but more importantly these four films got two key nominations along with their Best Picture noms: Best Director and Best Editing. Films need to at least be nominated in one of these categories to have a real chance, so getting both nominations is huge. It shows the films have the support of essential voting blocks. The winners of each category have been less and less predictive of the Best Picture winners (which is good, because the Best Edited or Best Directed film is not always the best film, no matter what some people might believe), but these films definitely have a leg up on the rest of the field for now.

Though you may be tempted, don’t sleep on this movie quite yet.


  • Spotlight nabbed six nominations, and more importantly is probably the most widely loved film of the year, so its support is rather universal. The Mark Ruffalo nomination shows some support for the acting, and unlike Mad Max and The Revenant, Spotlight picked up a screenplay nom. More importantly, Spotlight has SAG support, which only The Big Short can also claim. All of this makes for a strong case, but Spotlight is not the current frontrunner for a number of reasons. One is that, in a year where really big and loud movies have been nominated, Spotlight deals with events in an understated fashion. This is about the nuance and tedium of journalism, which is not the sexiest thing. It can easily be overwhelmed by, let’s say, the narrative that a film was the hardest thing to make ever (The Revenant). Nor does Spotlight have much award support on the technical and, for lack of a better word, “pretty” side of things; while less predictive of success than the places the film does have support, this does suggest a group of voters that may look in another direction depending on how much they value such things. Also, there is just the strong chance that this film is ultimately just the movie everyone loved, but that not enough people felt it was actually the best film. In that sense it would take the spot I thought Carol would–the movie that gets many nominations but which wins few or no awards. Still, the best thing that could probably ever happen to Spotlight is that The Revenant stole its frontrunner status. That may be huge going forward.

Your road to Valhalla is probably about to be halted.

Mad Max: Fury Road

  • With ten nominations (the second most), this film is riding high. No matter what, there is a strong chance it is going to win a slew of technical awards, and there is a strong chance George Miller could collect his first Oscar as well. More importantly, like Room, the people who love this movie really love this movie, but in this case there are a lot more of them. The support for Mad Max has been pretty universal, and the film has been named best picture by a number of groups (such as The National Board of Film Review, which to be fair, may not be the best thing considering that group’s shaky history with picking winners). Even with all this said, Mad Max is probably the worst bet of the real contenders. For one thing, the film has no support from SAG, and lacks best picture support from the BAFTAs. It also has no writing support, even if it has tons of support for its excellent visuals. Most importantly, though, every strength Mad Max has The Revenant has too, but the latter has a better campaign narrative, more momentum, and more nominations. Mad Max needs something to change fast, or its place in this group might slip away. Perhaps a big showing at this weekend’s Critic Choice Awards. Critics love his movie, as shown most clearly during the nomination announcement, where every Mad Max nomination was met with cheers. So if the critics aren’t willing to pick Mad Max, it is hard to see others being willing to do so.

Is this a sleeping giant waiting to be awakened?

The Big Short

  • So, everything I said about Spotlight? Pretty much all of it applies equally to The Big Short. The big differences are that The Big Short only has five nominations as opposed to Spotlight‘s six, and its support hasn’t been quite as universal as Spotlight‘s. This means that, narrative-wise, Spotlight has been taking all of the headlines The Big Short would normally garner, and right now would be a better bet to win. This could change, though, mainly because, unlike Spotlight, which is just about the most understated film possible, The Big Short is loud. Covering the buzzier topic of the events that caused the housing crisis and banking collapse in 2008, The Big Short doesn’t even try to be subtle. It is in your face, and does something Hollywood loves: crusading against a group that did something wrong. This is the kind of film that would allow Hollywood to pat itself on the back about its willingness to attack the “wrongs” of the world. If The Big Short can pick up a couple of wins in the coming weeks, this film might be able to use its immense star power to claim the big prize. But until it actually wins anything, it is the third contender at best.

The Early Frontrunner

All hail the current king of the hill.

The Revenant

  • Here we go, your current leader of the pack. This film has tons of momentum, and has really started to pick up steam lately after its Golden Globes triumphs–not to mention its trendy narrative, as people have decided that a film being hard to make makes it the best film. The universal love for director Alejandro González Iñárritu, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio has started to build around this film, and could lead to a Birdman-like run. Add in that this film has the most nominations with 12, including two for acting (unlike Mad Max), plus BAFTA support for Best Picture (also unlike Mad Max), and this film is the best bet to win currently. Of course, that doesn’t mean much yet, because it is still really early in the season. This film still is going to be hurt by its lack of SAG support, but it will at least get buzz from the show when Leo likely wins for Best Actor. The Revenant also has to contend with the fact that it may not play as well in the screener market as Spotlight or The Big Short, because this is a film that really needs to be seen in theatres, and, well this movie is really, really long. Add in the fact that no director has ever directed back-to-back Best Picture winners, and history is not on The Revenant‘s side. The Revenant has earned its place on top of the pack, but it also entered the game pretty late, and hasn’t been dissected like the other films on this list have, so once that begins to happen, this film may start to lose support. Much like with Avatar, people might begin to realize that this film looks much better than it actually is. (Something I will cover more when I do my Anticipated on this film.)

That about covers this for now, but the race is underway, and you never know what could happen (other than there is absolutely no way Brooklyn is winning). I’ll keep you updated on the twists and turns going forward as Oscarathon 2016 continues.

Next Update: January 21st 2016