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Our Academy Award Predictions for 2015

Oscar nominations often say more about the people who vote for them than they do about the movies themselves.

Predicting Oscar nominations often involves understanding the psychology of Academy voters a lot more than it involves understanding movies. That said, the Oscar predictions parlor game is one that we find ourselves unable to resist. Here are our guesses as to whose phones will be ringing very early on Thursday morning. 

Best Supporting Actress

Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Helen Mirren, Trumbo
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs 

Winslet was the surprise winner at the Golden Globes for her role in Steve Jobs, which might actually make her the favorite in a difficult category this year, one with no obvious standout. Vikander could also be nominated for Ex-Machina; we bet she goes here, even though she has more of a leading role in The Danish Girl. The momentum for Trumbo appears to have stalled, but Mirren should still hang on, even though her part (and the movie) is a bit of a dud. We would love to sneak Jane Fonda of Youth in this category, but her part may be too small, in too small of a movie. Also: Between you and us, we secretly like Jason Leigh more in Anomalisa than we do in The Hateful Eight.

Best Supporting Actor

Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
Michael Keaton, Spotlight
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

If Spotlight is the Best Picture frontrunner, and we still think it is, how many members of its ensemble get nominations? The two most likely are Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton, the latter continuing a career renaissance that began with last year’s nomination for Best Actor in Birdman. As for the rest of the field, Beasts of No Nation gave Idris Elba the opportunity to play the sort of magnetic, monstrous villain that Academy voters love. We find his nomination more likely than that of Christian Bale (The Big Short), Paul Dano (Love & Mercy), Tom Hardy (The Revenant) or Michael Shannon (99 Homes), none of whom have generated enough voter enthusiasm to land in the Final Five. That leaves the two gentlemen who are considered the main competitors for the award. In one corner, you have Mark Rylance, a respected character actor in theater, television, and film who’s the quiet, melancholy center of Bridge of Spies. In the other, there’s the year’s big comeback story. Sylvester Stallone didn’t exactly reinvent himself in Creed: Rather, he dug deeper into his most beloved character, Rocky Balboa, finding pathos in a former champion grappling with mortality. Thirty-eight years ago, Stallone was nominated for Best Actor playing the same role in Rocky. In 2016, he could win.

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn 

There is always a chance that Charlize Theron could sneak into the field for Mad Max: Fury Road, making her only the third Best Actress nominee in the last 30 years to come from a sci-fi/action movie. (The other two: Sandra Bullock for Gravity and Sigourney Weaver for Aliens.) But it’s looking more likely that two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, one-time winner Jennifer Lawrence, and one-time nominee Saoirse Ronan will square off with two actresses that have never been nominated. One of them, remarkably, is Charlotte Rampling, who will turn 70 next month but has never been recognized by the Academy, despite a storied career that has included work in everything from Georgy Girl to The Verdict to The Wings of the Dove to Swimming Pool. Her superb role as a disillusioned wife in 45 Years will finally land her a nod, but she (and the rest of the nominees) will likely lose to another first-time nominee, Brie Larson. But even that’s no sure thing: Room has been looking wobbly in other categories, and so Larson’s once-seeming lock on Best Actress is far from guaranteed.

Best Actor

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl 

There’s an outside chance that Johnny Depp could sneak in here for Black Mass, a movie that has been oddly forgotten in the last couple of months. Cranston’s a great actor who is as hammy as his movie in Trumbo, but everybody loves him and no one will begrudge him his first Oscar nomination. Redmayne’s the defending champ here, and Damon and Fassbender shone in high-profile roles in high-profile movies. But nobody’s kidding themselves: DiCaprio has this sewn up for The Revenant, and probably has for several months now, even before most people had seen his movie. This isn’t his best performance, but it’s still a good one, and he’s likely overdue anyway. DiCaprio is the biggest lock on the board.

Best Original Screenplay

Bridge of Spies, Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen
The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino
Inside Out, Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley
Spotlight, Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer
Trainwreck, Amy Schumer 

This is the category that most often lends itself to eccentricity—it’s where odd little films are often thrown a bone—and it’s an odd one this year; it’s difficult to think of five more different films than these. Spotlight’s strength is its tight, efficient script, and it’s the favorite in this category. But what could be more fun than a nod to Schumer, whose Trainwreck, before it falls apart at the end, feels truly original, taking chances in a way even none of these other four movies take. Pretty impressive to have your first screenplay nominated for an Oscar, by the way.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Big Short, Charles Randolph and Adam McKay
Brooklyn, Nick Hornby
Carol, Phyllis Nagy
The Martian, Drew Goddard
Steve Jobs, Aaron Sorkin 

With Best Adapted Screenplay, there are six strong contenders battling it out for five spots. We feel most confident that The Big Short, Carol, and Steve Jobs will make the cut. After that? The Martian looks to be well positioned for a Best Picture run, which would presumably mean broad support for the film in several categories, including this one. (Our only worry: Will voters consider the movie more of a technical triumph than an artistic/creative one?) So, who gets the final spot: Room or Brooklyn? Room, adapted by Emma Donoghue from her bestselling novel, had a huge amount of buzz coming out of the Telluride and Toronto film festivals back in early September, but since then the movie’s momentum has stalled. By comparison, Brooklyn was an under-the-radar charmer way back in January that has slowly and steadily continued to win over people throughout the past 12 months. Brooklyn looks like a more formidable Oscar contender in general than Room does, and Nick Hornby’s screenplay will be the major reason why in many voters’ minds. 

Best Director

Todd Haynes, Carol
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Ridley Scott, The Martian 

It’s important to remember that, at the nomination stage, Academy members vote in their specific field. (Actors vote for acting categories, cinematographers for Best Cinematography, etc.) So, for Best Director, you have to ask yourself: What movies might impress directors? We were tempted to go for a sleeper pick like Brooklyn’s John Crowley or The Big Short’s Adam McKay—or even an industry heavyweight like Bridge of Spies Steven Spielberg—but instead we’re sticking with the five contenders whose movies most demonstratively mix technical challenges with first-rate filmmaking. If we end up being right in our predictions, that sets the stage for a showdown between last year’s winner, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, and four men who have never won. The most surprising in that latter bunch may be Ridley Scott, who even Martian star Matt Damon thought had won an Oscar. (He didn’t produce the Best Picture-winning Gladiator, losing out on Best Director to Steven Soderbergh for Traffic.) That could be a compelling narrative for some voters if they decide that Scott, who just turned 78, is due.

Best Picture

The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant

Remember, this category can have any number of nominees between five and ten, and we almost always predict nine: It’s all-encompassing without maxing out all the spots. The two we think are most likely to be dropped from these nine are Room (which has lost most of its early momentum) and Mad Max (which might be too intense for the older Academy members), but this looks like a safe nine. And thankfully, because this isn’t the Golden Globes, we don’t have to pretend that The Martian is a comedy.

Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly for the New Republic. Follow them on Twitter @griersonleitch or visit their site Listen to their film podcast below.