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Oscars 2016: predictions for all 24 Academy Award categories

The Best Picture race is one of the most competitive in years.

Barring a freak accident, Leonardo DiCaprio will win an Oscar for The Revenant.
Barring a freak accident, Leonardo DiCaprio will win an Oscar for The Revenant.
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.

The 88th annual Academy Awards will begin at 8:30 pm Eastern on Sunday, February 28, broadcast live on ABC from the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles.

But right now, if you're thinking about the Oscars, it's probably because you're filling out a ballot in hopes of winning your friendly local Oscar pool. And if you need informed choices, we've got 'em.

There isn't much room for upset this year, even though there will always be one or two assumed locks that completely fall apart. However, the biggest category of them all — Best Picture — is a tight, three-way race, and the prize could go to any one of the three movies with a legitimate shot.

So who will win? Here are our best guesses.

Best Picture

The Big Short
It's a competitive year, but we predict The Big Short will just eke out a win.

Only three of the eight nominees in this category have a real shot at winning: The Big Short, The Revenant, and Spotlight. Let's take a look at the case for each.

The Big Short: The strongest possible argument that you can make in favor of The Big Short is that it won the Producers Guild of America award, one of the three most telling pre-Oscar industry prizes. (The other two went to the other two nominees we're discussing right now.) The PGA has predicted the Oscar Best Picture winner every year since 2010.

What's significant about 2010? That was the year when both the PGA and the Academy switched to a preferential ballot (read more about what that means right here). In contrast, many other awards use a simple plurality vote. And while The Big Short may not be a lot of voters' top choice, it's probably a lot of people's second or third choice. On a preferential ballot, that's a good position to be in.

Also working in The Big Short's favor are the fact that it tells a historically significant story (the movie is about the 2008 financial collapse) and the fact that it's basically Bernie Sanders's presidential campaign in movie form.

The Revenant: The Revenant also won an industry prize that tends to predict the Oscars: the Directors Guild of America award, for its director, Alejandro G. Iñárritu. That's in addition to winning the Golden Globe for Best Drama (not so telling) and the British Academy's Best Picture prize (often telling).

The movie has also been a huge, huge hit at the box office — especially for what is essentially an oft-silent art film — and it has the most storied production of any of the Best Picture nominees; tales of how hard it was to make have reverberated throughout Hollywood all winter long. It has 12 total nominations, the most of any film, and its studio, Fox, has won the last two Best Picture prizes.

Working against The Revenant is the fact that just last year, Iñárritu won both the Best Picture trophy and the Best Director trophy for Birdman. A few people have won Best Director two years in a row, but no one's ever won both two years in a row. Plus, the film is hugely divisive. It's a lot of people's number one choice — but how many second- and third-place votes will it get?

Spotlight: Spotlight won the "best ensemble" prize from the Screen Actors Guild. Since actors make up the largest subset of the Academy, the film's SAG win indicates that it could be very popular with that very influential voting bloc. And Spotlight's attempt to create a narrative around itself — suggesting that a vote for the movie is a vote against systemic corruption in all its forms — has been fitfully successful but much stronger than the campaigns of either of its two competitors.

Spotlight has the lowest box-office total of the three, however, and its SAG prize is its only major win. Meanwhile, its distributor, Open Road Films, is playing this game for the first time, unlike Fox and Paramount (the distributors of The Revenant and The Big Short, respectively).

All things considered, I think that preferential ballot will be the dealbreaker.

Win: The Big Short

Place: The Revenant

Show: Spotlight

Should win: If you handed me a Best Picture ballot, I would vote for the wild, visionary Mad Max: Fury Road in a heartbeat.


Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Leonardo DiCaprio on the set of The Revenant
Alejandro G. Iñárritu (left) and Leonardo DiCaprio on the set of The Revenant.
20th Century Fox

Remember how I said people have won Best Director two years in a row, but have never won both Directing and Best Picture two years in a row? I think that's going to hold true again, with Iñárritu taking home his second consecutive directing trophy but losing Best Picture to The Big Short.

Win: Iñárritu

Place: McKay

Show: Miller

Should win: What George Miller did with Mad Max — which barely had a script! — qualifies as the sort of mad genius only a truly great director can pull off. That he'll likely to lose to Iñárritu for that director's second straight empty spectacular is really irritating.


Brie Larson has won every major pre-Oscar award. She has a big, Oscar clip scene that will play in awards' reels of great performances for years to come. And she has the "up and coming ingenue" status that Oscar voters love in this category. She'll win.

Win: Larson

Place: Ronan

Show: Rampling

Should win: Much as I love everybody in this category who's not named Jennifer Lawrence, I'd cast my vote for Ronan. Her movie doesn't work without her at its center.


Reread everything I said above about Larson and apply it to DiCaprio, minus the "up and coming ingenue" bit. The Revenant isn't his best performance — far from it — but he benefits from an extraordinarily weak year for the Best Actor category.

Win: DiCaprio

Place: Damon

Show: Cranston, I guess. But nobody's beating DiCaprio.

Should win: Steve Jobs has its problems, but Fassbender's work is not among them. His facility with Aaron Sorkin's rat-a-tat dialogue is superb.

Supporting Actor

If there's going to be an upset in the acting categories, I'd look for it here. Stallone is the putative frontrunner, and when Idris Elba (who was snubbed by the Oscars) won the equivalent SAG award, Stallone was left open to waltz to the prize. But Stallone has his enemies in Hollywood, which could lead to a surprise win from someone else. It's just not clear who.

Win: Stallone

Place: Ruffalo

Show: Rylance

Should win: Stallone's gruff manner has never been better than it is in Creed.

Supporting Actress

Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl.
Alicia Vikander stars in The Danish Girl.
Focus Features

Vikander won the SAG. Winslet won the Golden Globe (Vikander was nominated in the Lead Actress category). And both are playing variations on one of the Oscars' favorite type of role for this category — the supportive wife. (Winslet's just a work wife.) But as I hinted above, the Oscars love fresh faces in the actress categories, so Vikander has the advantage.

Win: Vikander

Place: Winslet

Show: Mara

Should win: Carol was not the Oscar favorite it should have been, but some part of me still hopes Mara will improbably win this prize.

Adapted Screenplay

  • The Big Short, Charles Randolph and Adam McKay
  • Brooklyn, Nick Hornby
  • Carol, Phyllis Nagy
  • The Martian, Drew Goddard
  • Room, Emma Donaghue

If The Big Short is going to win Best Picture, it will also win something else (and probably two something elses, since it's very rare to win Best Picture without two additional Oscars in your corner). Adapted Screenplay is its single best bet.

Win: The Big Short

Place: Room

Show: Brooklyn

Should win: Hornby's script for Brooklyn manages to bring us inside the head of its protagonist without resorting to cheap voiceover. It's lovely.

Original Screenplay

  • Bridge of Spies, Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen
  • Ex Machina, Alex Garland
  • Inside Out, Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley; story by Docter and Ronnie del Carmen
  • Spotlight, Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy
  • Straight Outta Compton, Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff; story by S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus, and Berloff

See everything I said above about The Big Short, but magnify it for Spotlight, which really doesn't have too realistic of a shot in any other category. But it should win handily.

Win: Spotlight

Place: Inside Out

Show: Bridge of Spies

Should win: Spotlight's screenplay makes a tough genre — the newspaper drama — look easy.

Foreign Language Film

Holocaust dramas have always done well at the Oscars. Son of Saul's unconventional filming style (read more about it here) might put off some voters, but the enormity of its subject matter should clinch the win.

Win: Son of Saul

Place: Mustang

Show: A War

Should win: Mustang is a considerable achievement, and would mark a win for a woman filmmaker, something the Oscars have always struggled to recognize.

Animated Feature

Inside Out
It will be hard to beat Inside Out.

Pixar has won this category seven times in the category's 14 years of existence. Inside Out should easily make the studio eight-for-15.

Win: Inside Out

Place: Anomalisa

Show: Shaun the Sheep Movie

Should win: It's hard to argue against the raw, emotional power of Inside Out.

Documentary Feature

This year's Documentary Feature race is trickier than usual. Amy has won plenty of early prizes, but Cartel Land scooped up the critical DGA prize. And Look of Silence has its partisans as well. Still, it's safest to go by Amy's sheer quantity of awards.

Win: Amy

Place: Cartel Land

Show: The Look of Silence

Should win: Silence is a harrowing look at the impossibility of justice, or even a sincere apology. The film will stay with me for years.


  • Carol, Edward Lachman
  • The Hateful Eight, Robert Richardson
  • Mad Max: Fury Road, John Seale
  • The Revenant, Emmanuel Lubezki
  • Sicario, Roger Deakins

The only thing that could possibly stand in the way of The Revenant is if enough Oscar voters somehow get it in their head that Lubezki — who's won the last two consecutive Cinematography prizes — has too many awards. Since only the name of the movie — and not the name of the person nominated for that movie — appears on the ballot in the technical categories, that won't happen.

Win: The Revenant

Place: Mad Max: Fury Road

Show: The Hateful Eight

Should win: Mad Max was an astounding visual achievement, and its hyper-saturated desert wastelands were a big part of that. Plus, Seale came out of retirement to shoot it. Who doesn't love a comeback story?

Film Editing

  • The Big Short, Hank Corwin
  • Mad Max: Fury Road, Margaret Sixel
  • The Revenant, Stephen Mirrione
  • Spotlight, Tom McArdle
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey

Another tricky category. If The Big Short wins Best Picture, it could very well win Film Editing. Mad Max has flash to burn, while The Revenant could rack up a huge sweep. Finally, Star Wars is probably going to win something (though it probably won't be this). I think it'll be a good night for Mad Max.

Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Place: The Big Short

Show: The Revenant

Should win: In some ways, Corwin's editing of The Big Short is what makes the movie. Without it, it probably doesn't work.

Production Design

Mad Max: Fury Road
Mad Max: Fury Road should be undeniable in Production Design. SHOULD be.
Warner Bros.
  • Bridge of Spies, Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard Heinrich
  • The Danish Girl, Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Michael Standish
  • Mad Max: Fury Road, Production Design: Colin Gibson; Set Decoration: Lisa Thompson
  • The Martian, Production Design: Arthur Max; Set Decoration: Celia Bobak
  • The Revenant, Production Design: Jack Fisk; Set Decoration, Hamish Purdy

There's a really good chance that Mad Max runs the board in the technical categories. There's an equally good chance that The Revenant does. But Production Design is the one category where I struggle to see Mad Max losing. The sets for its post-apocalyptic future were too massive an achievement.

Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Place: The Revenant

Show: The Danish Girl

Should win: See above in re: massive achievement. Mad Max.

Costume Design

  • Carol, Sandy Powell
  • Cinderella, Sandy Powell
  • The Danish Girl, Paco Delgado
  • Mad Max: Fury Road, Jenny Beaven
  • The Revenant, Jacqueline West

Powell has won this award many, many times. And Costume Design feels like the kind of category where something completely strange could interrupt the Mad Max or Revenant love fest, which would seem to point to Cinderella. But given how important costumes are to the storytelling of The Danish Girl, I might lean that direction.

Win: The Danish Girl

Place: Cinderella

Show: The Revenant

Should win: So much of Carol's story is told simply through the contrasting outfits of its two main characters. Powell is a genius at using clothes to enhance a story, and she does so on a budget here.

Makeup & Hairstyling

  • Mad Max: Fury Road, Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega, and Damian Martin
  • The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared, Love Larson and Eva von Bahr
  • The Revenant, Siân Grigg, Duncan Jarman, and Robert Pandini

Though I would vote for The 100-Year-Old Man, it's the odd movie out here. Mad Max's makeup is showier, but The Revenant has a better shot at winning Best Picture. Voters often check off Best Picture favorites in these lower-ballot categories, as a matter of course.

Win: The Revenant

Place: Mad Max: Fury Road

Show: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared

Should win: Well, like I said, I would vote for The 100-Year-Old Man. It featured some of the best old-age makeup I've ever seen!

Original Score

  • Bridge of Spies, Thomas Newman
  • Carol, Carter Burwell
  • The Hateful Eight, Ennio Morricone
  • Sicario, Jóhann Jóhannsson
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens, John Williams

Without either The Revenant or Mad Max present among the nominees, here's a chance to honor something else. Williams and Morricone are living legends. Newman has 13 nominations and no wins. Burwell is a longtime pro who's finally landed his first nomination, and Jóhannsson is an exciting up-and-comer. But, as mentioned, none of their names are printed on the ballot. My guess? Morricone, who's never won, was all over the marketing for The Hateful Eight, and that movie had the most noticeable music.

Win: The Hateful Eight

Place: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Show: Bridge of Spies

Should win: Burwell has long been one of my favorite film composers, and his ruminative work on Carol would be a fitting winner.

Original Song

Not one of these movies earned a single nomination elsewhere, which could make for an exciting, hard-to-predict race. But Lady Gaga is nominated here (for The Hunting Ground). She'll win.

Win: "Til It Happens to You"

Place: "Earned It"

Show: "Manta Ray"

Should win: "Earned It," by The Weeknd, is a sexy, soulful tune — with the added bonus of being a radio hit. And c'mon. Don't you want to be able to say, "The Academy Award-winning Fifty Shades of Grey"?

Sound Editing

  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Sicario
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I'm tempted to flip a coin between Mad Max and The Revenant, though Star Wars could prove a spoiler. Still, this award is for sound created in post-production (or sound effects, in layman's terms). Mad Max was more impressive in that regard.

Win: Mad Max

Place: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Show: The Revenant

Should win: I loved the eerie, echoing gun battles of Sicario.

Sound Mixing

  • Bridge of Spies
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Again, I'm tempted to flip a coin between Mad Max and The Revenant, but this award is for how all the elements of a film's soundtrack work together, and that seems like an easier win for The Revenant.

Win: The Revenant

Place: Mad Max: Fury Road

Show: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Should win: To be honest, I don't know. But it feels wrong to not give something to The Martian. So why not this?

Visual Effects

Star Wars Force Awakens
Star Wars fans: here's your best shot at a win.
  • Ex Machina
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Here is Star Wars' chance to shine. Most folks I trust are predicting The Revenant, but struggle to believe it could win solely for the bear attack. And Mad Max's "we created fewer things with computers!" bragging point could end up being a detriment. Star Wars it is.

Win: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Place: The Revenant

Show: Mad Max: Fury Road

Should win: Ex Machina's effects are the best I've ever seen in a film of its budget level, and it should earn extra points for its degree of difficulty. Without the effects it used to create a robotic Alicia Vikander, the film does not work.

Documentary Short Subject

The shorts categories are always impossible to call, because it's hard to guess what the Academy will value. I think Documentary Short Subject is between three movies, though, and for different reasons: the hopefulness of Chau, the on-the-ground visceral nature of Body Team 12, or the way Claude would allow the Academy to retroactively award his monumental Holocaust documentary Shoah (by giving someone else an award for a film biography of the great documentarian). I'm probably wrong, but I'm betting hope wins.

Win: Chau

Place: Claude Lanzmann

Show: Body Team 12

Should win: Last Day of Freedom is rough going, but its unique presentation (it's animated) and its complex human story about PTSD, family obligation, and the death penalty make it my favorite option.

Live Action Short Subject

Another category where it's hard to say what will sway voters. Ave Maria and Day One seem like the most likely victors to me. The former plays off themes of religious conflict, but in a gentle, comedic context, while the latter is an ultimately hopeful tale of the Afghanistan War. Also, much of Day One is in English, which might help.

Win: Day One

Place: Ave Maria

Show: Everything Will Be Okay

Should win: I found Everything Will Be Okay mesmerizing to watch. It's hard for a short to tell as involving of a story as it did in just 30 minutes.

Animated Short Film

Bear Story
Bear Story is sad. It's so sad!

World of Tomorrow is considered the favorite, but I think it may prove too weird for the Academy. Look, instead, to Bear Story, which confronts weighty themes in a cutesy package.

Win: Bear Story

Place: World of Tomorrow

Show: Sanjay's Super Team

Should win: World of Tomorrow is a brilliant, brilliant film, and it's one that I have thought about many times since I first saw it. It would be one of the best winners of the night if it pulls off the victory.