As usual I haven't seen most of the contenders yet, but the Oscars have always been more about politics than merit, and we're definitely deep into the season at this point. The various critics' circles will start announcing their nominees soon, followed by the guilds and the other major awards organizations. What am I hoping for this year?
Well, it's going to be an interesting race because there aren't a lot of front runners yet and no clear favorites. Thomas McCarthy's "Spotlight" has been singled out as a possible winner, but it's a quieter picture with a modest campaign so far. The populist choices are "The Martian," and "Inside Out," but neither seems to have the support for a win. We've been hearing a lot about what it took to make "The Revenant," but who knows if it's any good or not. That leaves us with a lot of films from familiar names that sound like safe bets: Todd Haynes' "Carol," David O. Russell's "Joy," Tom Hooper's "The Danish Girl," Quentin Tarantino's "Hateful 8," Danny Boyle's "Steve Jobs," and Steven Spielberg's "Bridge of Spies." There are also some smaller, more interesting titles from relative newcomers in the mix: John Crowley's "Brooklyn" and Lenny Abrahamson's "Room." I'm also gunning for longshots "Love & Mercy" and "Mad Max: Fury Road."
Best Actor looks like it's going to be a fight between Leonardo DiCaprio and Michael Fassbender. I wouldn't mind if either of them won, because they're both due some recognition. Eddie Redmayne will almost certainly be back for "The Danish Girl," and I'm guessing Johnny Depp for "Black Mass," since he's gotten enough good press for the role. Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Bryan Cranston, and Will Smith are all in contention for the last spot. In the Best Actress race, Brie Larson is our early frontrunner for "Room." Saoirse Ronan for "Brooklyn," Cate Blanchett for "Carol," and Jennifer Lawrence for "Joy" are also very likely. The fifth spot is a lot harder because there are so many smaller, actress-led films that tend to fly under he radar but get nominations with a good campaign. Julianne Moore won with the completely pedestrian "Still Alice," remember. I'm going to guess that Carey Mulligan swings a nod for "Suffragette."
The supporting categories are a lot harder to gauge, but I'm rooting for Paul Dano and Elizabeth Banks for "Love & Mercy," and Jane Fonda for stealing the show in "Youth." The ones to beat will be Mark Rylance who seems to have bee the only part of "Bridge of Spies" worth talking about, and Rooney Mara for "Carol." Who I'd love to see in the Best Supporting category, but who will almost certainly have no shot, is Oscar Isaac for "Ex Machina." Instead, this is usually where we see token nominations for minority actors, like Idris Elba for "Beasts of No Nation" and Benicio Del Toro for "Sicario," or older favorites like Joan Allen for "Room" and Sylvester Stallone for "Creed." Who ends up with a nomination could depend largely on which picture picks up momentum as we get closer to the deadline.
For the rest of the categories, a miscellaneous assortment of thoughts: Cinematography is going to see yet another Deakins and Lubezki showdown. I'm rooting for Deakins, just because Lubezki's already won twice. Otherwise, this would be a good place to recognize Cary Fukunaga for "Beasts of No Nation," and "Mad Max: Fury Road." In Documentary, the Amy Winehouse profile "Amy" is the frontrunner, and "Going Clear" is going to have to fight simply secure a nomination. I'm rooting for "The Look of Silence" personally.
In the Foreign Language category, the only major contender seems to be "Son of Saul" from Hungary. I'm also curious about Hou Hsiao-Hsien's "The Assassin" and the Icelandic "Rams." For Animated Film, as much as I loved "Inside Out," I'm rooting for Charlie Kaufman's "Anomalisa" sight unseen, because it would set such a good precedent for this category is something for grown-ups finally won.
And then you have all the wild cards and dark horses, of which there are plenty this year. Will controversy help "Truth"? What's going on with "By the Sea"? Is "99 Homes" going to get lost in the shuffle? What about "Concussion," "Macbeth," The Program," and "The Lobster"?
And what of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"?