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Oscars 2016: Academy Award nomination predictions for Best Actor and Actress

Plus, we predict the wild supporting acting races.

Jennifer Lawrence will probably be nominated for Joy. But maybe I'm cursing her by putting this picture atop this article? One never knows!
Jennifer Lawrence will probably be nominated for Joy. But maybe I'm cursing her by putting this picture atop this article? One never knows!
20th Century Fox
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Go here for our predictions for Best Picture, Director, and screenplays.

Everything about the 2016 Oscars is chaotic. That includes the acting categories. Though both lead categories seem to have safe frontrunners — in The Revenant's Leonardo DiCaprio and Room's Brie Larson — the supporting ones are filled with potential nominees. And this is the first year in a long time when both of the women's acting categories have far more contenders than the men's categories.

Still, we are not cowards, and we don't shrink from a challenge. Here are our nomination predictions for the wildest Oscar pool in ages.

Best Actor

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars in The Revenant.
20th Century Fox

Normally, Best Actor is one of the most exciting, contentious races. That's not really the case this year. Of the four acting categories, it's by far the least interesting. Late-breaking contenders fizzled out at precursor awards, and the result is a staid list that's essentially been set in stone for a few months now.

My predictions

Categories tend to get stuck in the mud when there's a far-and-away frontrunner, and such is the case with DiCaprio here. Because he's so many people's favorite, the rest of the list will be dominated by second and third choices. Thus, DiCaprio has seemed joined at the hip with Fassbender, Cranston, and Redmayne for a while now.

The one "surprise" I'm predicting is Damon, who missed out at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in favor of Johnny Depp of Black Mass. But The Martian was so huge that I suspect Damon is the next safest bet here, after DiCaprio.

Other possible contenders

Depp, probably. There's been a little noise surrounding Creed's Michael B. Jordan, but probably not enough. The Big Short might have made a tactical error campaigning for Steve Carell here instead of in Supporting, but if the Academy really loves the movie — maybe? Finally, Will Smith could be the wild card for Concussion.

Best Actress

Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay in Room.
Brie Larson stars in Room.

Curiously, in a super-competitive year for the category (look at my "other possible contenders" section!), the same handful of names keep floating to the top, most of them prior Oscar nominees or winners.

My predictions

The Oscars had a bevy of Oscar-friendly films about women to choose from this year — and a few less Oscar-friendly films that were, nonetheless, amazing. That I'm predicting the nominees will mostly focus on films about men (as they did last year) should tell you a lot.

Blanchett, Larson, and Ronan have been safe bets for a while now — though Larson's presumed frontrunner status could be hurt by how little traction Room has elsewhere at the Oscars. Lawrence's movie wasn't much loved, but it made money (and, crucially, a lot of it right when Oscar ballots were being mailed in). She's also the biggest star in the world right now, which helps.

Finally, there's Rampling, in a movie nobody saw but one in which she's so good that I have to imagine her placing high on any ballot submitted by its smaller group of viewers. That exact scenario can often yield a nomination in this category.

Other possible contenders

Where to start? It's unconscionable that Charlize Theron somehow never joined the Mad Max Oscar train. The same goes for Emily Blunt in Sicario. Maggie Smith (The Lady in the Van), Lily Tomlin (Grandma), and Blythe Danner (I'll See You in My Dreams) all had memorable roles and are long-running veterans, which Oscar can often warm to. Sarah Silverman (I Smile Back) and Helen Mirren (Woman in Gold) both received SAG nominations for movies that few people saw. Rooney Mara (Carol) and Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) both could end up here or (more likely) in the Supporting Actress race. And, hell, nobody liked Suffragette, but Carey Mulligan was great in it.

Best Supporting Actor

Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan in Creed.
Sylvester Stallone (left) stars in Creed.
Warner Bros.

This is a battle between two veterans who cannot in any way be called Oscar favorites. One's a major stage actor; the other's a global superstar who decided to try acting for a change. Beyond those two, this category could end up feeling filled at random.

My predictions

Rylance (the stage actor) and Stallone (the superstar) are the main contenders here. Elba has a chance at spoiling — and would singlehandedly stave off another year of #OscarsSoWhite — but who knows whether Academy voters will have an anti-Netflix bias.

Beyond that, this race is a mess. It's probably down to three names — Bale, Shannon, and Room's Jacob Tremblay — but it's not hard to imagine, say, a couple of Spotlight actors randomly wandering in. I picked Bale and Shannon, who in the past have both received far more surprising nominations than these would be. But who knows?

Other possible contenders

Tremblay has a shot. Then there are the main Spotlight guys, Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo, though the film has had a lot of trouble building momentum for any individual cast member. Paul Dano got some attention for Love & Mercy, but I think the film might be too small. For a while I hoped that Seth Rogen might make it in for Steve Jobs, but alas, I don't think he has a chance. Finally, Benicio del Toro was great in Sicario — but a nod for him seems unlikely.

Best Supporting Actress

The cast of Steve Jobs
Kate Winslet, right, stars in Steve Jobs.


Remarkably, this category is also much more competitive than its male counterpart, to the degree that I could see recent Golden Globe champion Kate Winslet (of Steve Jobs) being snubbed completely. That's exciting, but also headache-inducing.

My predictions

Winslet is beloved, so she's probably in. Regarding the rest of the list, I have no idea. Leigh has never been nominated before, but it would be hard to see Eight and not give her a nod, I think. Mara feels like a more tenuous pick than she should, but she's the beating heart of Carol. And Mirren keeps popping up on other awards lists for Trumbo, so I guess.

Vikander is the real curiosity here. Her Danish Girl performance could compete in the lead actress race (much of the film's story is about her) but her studio is campaigning for it here, even as she's also earned lots of attention for her supporting role as a robot in Ex Machina. She was better in the latter, so I'm going to predict she's nominated for that, because it would be fantastic.

Other possible contenders

Again, where to begin? Rachel McAdams has snagged a number of nominations for Spotlight, as has Jane Fonda for Youth (working against her is the fact that nobody saw it). If the Academy goes over the moon for Room (unlikely but theoretically possible), Joan Allen could make it. So could Elizabeth Banks for Love & Mercy. Finally, Kristen Stewart was fantastic in Clouds of Sils Maria, and nothing would make me happier than seeing her pop up here, if only to watch the Twitter meltdown.

The Oscar nominations are announced at 8:30 am Eastern on Thursday, January 14.

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