This year, a coronation will be held during the Academy Awards ceremony.
It happens periodically: An actor has waited an eternity to win an Oscar, and then a year comes when his or her performance is so undeniable (and, maybe, the competition not as strong as usual), and suddenly it’s the moment.
That’s why King Leo the First will be crowned at Sunday’s Oscar event. For years now Leonardo DiCaprio has worked his keister off in a variety of ambitious, ultra-serious roles.
He’s been a pretender to the throne before, nominated for “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “The Aviator,” and a couple of other roles. But his physically exhausting stint in “The Revenant” will likely put a statuette up on his mantelpiece.
Aside from that sure thing, there are some toss-ups in the Oscar race this year. Best Picture remains a tantalizing guess: Will the Oscars go with the momentum of “The Revenant,” or reward the social-issue punch of “Spotlight”? Or does the political satire of “The Big Short” catch the mood of the moment?
The Oscars always set up storylines, and they often revolve around the handing-out of gold watches for veterans or encouragement for newcomers. This year, you’ve got some kicky possibilities.
How about Sylvester Stallone, who at age 69 occupies the role of old pro? In “Creed,” the latest incarnation of his boxing franchise, Stallone takes a supporting part and tugs a few heartstrings as he recalls the days of “Rocky” past. And yes, that’s the kind of thing that wins Oscars.
At the other end of the age spectrum, you’ve got a group of fresh-faced new actresses like Brie Larson, Rooney Mara, and Alicia Vikander as nominees. For some reason, Oscar is fond of rewarding young women near the beginnings of their careers.
All the suspense of the evening will not rest with what happens when the envelopes are torn open. Since the nominations were announced, the pronounced whiteness of the honorees has been a hot topic.
With Chris Rock as host, the subject won’t remain unmentioned long. In fact, the kerfuffle should make this the liveliest Oscar broadcast in memory.
Actually, one notable black filmmaker won an Oscar this year, but you’ll only get a glancing mention of it during the ceremony. That’s because the Academy has lately relegated its honorary awards to a separate event, so as not to terrify a global audience with the sight of industry veterans. Still, Spike Lee got an award this year (and so did Gena Rowlands and Debbie Reynolds).
Controversy aside, there are still some predictions to be made. This was a lot more fun before the internet, when guessing the Oscars still seemed like a quaint parlor game. Now it’s overkill — but old habits die hard.
Here are some predictions, with the usual proviso that these are the films and people I think will win, not what I think should win. The envelope, please:
Best Picture: “Spotlight.” This account of the Boston Globe’s report on the Catholic Church’s cover-up of sex abuse has everything an Oscar-winning movie has: great acting, sharp writing, an important subject. It would be rare for Academy voters to reward a comedy, but “The Big Short” has its advocates. “The Revenant” is the current oddsmakers’ choice, and its epic visions are incredible. This is a very close call.
There aren’t enough youthful voters to push “Mad Max: Fury Road” over the top, although that film will win a lot of technical awards. Much less likely to cop the top spot are “Room,” “Bridge of Spies,” “Brooklyn,” or “The Martian.”
Best Actress: Brie Larson, “Room.” This seems to be a late-breaking pick. Larson’s role, as a protective mother held hostage for years, is a demanding one, and she’s excellent (although she’s actually been better in some of her previous indie pictures). Cate Blanchett (“Carol”) is already an Oscar winner, which probably works against her, while Saoirse Ronan’s work in “Brooklyn” is superb but less showy than Oscar usually likes. Too bad for Charlotte Rampling (“45 Years”) and Jennifer Lawrence (“Joy”).
Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant.” Not really close. Last year’s winner Eddie Redmayne is back for “The Danish Girl,” and we’ve also got Bryan Cranston (“Trumbo”), Michael Fassbender (“Steve Jobs”), Matt Damon (“The Martian”).
Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl.” The Swedish actress has had a strong run of roles (notably in “Ex Machina”), and everybody likes an It Girl. Don’t be too shocked if Kate Winslet wins for “Steve Jobs,” however, as she probably should have won more Oscars by now. It would be fascinating if Jennifer Jason Leigh’s cranky turn in “The Hateful Eight” won an award; there’s an actress who’s paid her dues and then some. Probably out of luck are Rooney Mara (“Carol”) and Rachel McAdams (“Spotlight”).
Best Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stallone, “Creed.” This seems to be the prognosticators’ pick, and it’s a classic sentimental Oscar in the making. But do people in Hollywood actually like Stallone? Because these awards are as much about liking somebody as evaluating their work. In any case, it’s a category stacked with goodies: Mark Rylance really deserves to win for his Cold War turncoat in “Bridge of Spies”—and I wonder if a big sweep for “The Revenant” might include Tom Hardy in its broom. Also strong: Mark Ruffalo, “Spotlight,” and Christian Bale, “The Big Short.”
Best Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu, “The Revenant.” Even if “Spotlight” wins the top prize, Inarritu seems likely to take home his second consecutive prize (he won last year for “Birdman”) for the film’s huge, bold visions. Tom McCarthy directed “Spotlight,” and he’s clearly in the running. As for Adam McKay, would the Academy really vote the Best Director prize to the man who made “Step Brothers”? Maybe, if “The Big Short” has momentum. It seems less likely for George Miller (“Mad Max: Fury Road”) or designated indie guy Lenny Abrahamson (“Room”).
Best Animated Feature: “Inside Out.” There seems to be an overwhelming consensus for the Pixar hit. The other nominees, “Anomalisa,” “Boy and the World,” “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” and “When Marnie Was There,” will have to be content with the “it’s an honor to be nominated” line.
Best Original Screenplay: “Spotlight,” Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy. For a fine job of wrestling real life into a lucid 128-minute screenplay—no easy task. There’s some sentiment behind “Inside Out” getting this award, in part because animated films never get enough credit. The other nominees include “Straight Outta Compton,” “Ex Machina,” and “Bridge of Spies.”
Best Adapted Screenplay: “The Big Short,” Adam McKay and Charles Randolph. Also for wrestling real life into a mostly lucid if sometimes silly movie. On deck: “Brooklyn,” “Carol,” “The Martian,” and “Room.”
Best Foreign Language Film: “Son of Saul,” Hungary. This stunning Holocaust drama will be a deserving winner if it gets the prize. Denmark’s “A War” is a more conventional movie that has a chance. I haven’t seen the other nominees yet, but people seem most impressed by “Mustang” (France, though in Turkish), with “Embrace of the Serpent” (Colombia) and “Theeb” (Jordan) also in there.
Best Score: “The Hateful Eight,” Ennio Morricone. There was much ado about the great Italian composer providing some tasty original music for his worshipper Quentin Tarantino, and the other entries are not especially strong this time. Still, Carter Burwell did evocative work on “Carol,” and old pro John Williams is still making new themes in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Also humming along: “Sicario” and “Bridge of Spies.”
Best Documentary Features: “Amy.” The Oscars have been in love with music documentaries in recent years, and this study of Amy Winehouse was well received. Probably more deserving is “The Look of Silence,” the powerful follow-up to “The Act of Killing,” a 2013 nominee that lost to, “Twenty Feet from Stardom,” a doc about backup singers. Oh well. This year’s other honorees are “Cartel Land,” “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom.”
Best Song: “Til It Happens to You,” from “The Hunting Ground.” I guess this will win, because Lady Gaga is involved, and she wins awards. That’s as good a reason as any in this wacky category, which includes songs played during end-credits sequences that nobody really hears, and other interesting things. Surely a James Bond theme is always a possibility, although “Writing’s on the Wall” from “Spectre” got lousy reviews. Plus: “Earned It,” from “Fifty Shades of Grey”; “Manta Ray,” from “Racing Extinction”; and the very elaborate “Simple Song #3” from “Youth.”