This year is unpredictable, and I have to say I am mainly going on hunches, but here are my thoughts:
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
Many are saying this award is locked up for The Revenant, but that is simply not the case. If you want to use statistics as a measure, there is a lot of things which challenge any film being labeled as a front runner. The top three contenders are The Big Short, The Revenant, and Spotlight.
Spotlight won Best Ensemble at the Screen Actors Guild Awards (SAG), Best Original Screenplay at the Writer's Guild Award (WGA), and Best Film at the Critics Choice Awards. You can knock out the Critic's Choice as a significant precursor right away, because there is no correlation of voting.
I would put Spotlight in third of this group, it has support from actors, and writers, and is generally well liked, but has not done as well across the board at the industry awards. Spotlight missed at the American Cinema Editor's (ACE) nominations where there are two categories, one for drama, and one for comedy/musical. The last time a film won Best Picture and missed this nomination was Driving Miss Daisy. Spotlight was nominated for Editing at the Oscars and over performed with 6 nominations. This film is still in the game, but at the moment the only other award its predicted to win would be Original Screenplay, and the Best Picture to win only two Oscars was The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). Are we underestimating three time Supporting Actor nominee Mark Ruffalo? Possibly, which would add to the win total, but I still think the film is in third.
The Big Short won the Producer's Guild Award (PGA), Best Adapted Screenplay at the WGA, and Editor's Guild (Comedy). Short has a leg up in one significant way, and that involves the PGA. The PGA winner is the only voting body which also uses the preferential ballot, the exact method used to determine the Best Picture winner at the Oscars.
I had The Big Short as my number one option after PGA, and I still think it has a chance to win. Short will win Adapted Screenplay, that's a guarantee. If Oscar voters decide to honor its Editing too, Short may come out on top as the winner that night. Outside of PGA, and WGA this film has not won a lot of awards, which keeps me at arms length from predicting this film from winning, although I do think its a strong spoiler.
The Revenant won Best Director at the Globes (could this be a make-up for last year from this small voting group), at the Director's Guild of America (DGA), and Best Picture and Director at the British Academy Awards (BAFTA). The Revenant also has won with the Sound Guild, Cinematographers Guild, and did better with the Visual Effects Guild than predicted. The Revenant is also the most nominated film with 12 nominations, it over performed like Spotlight, and is a huge box office success.
The DGA turned the tide for The Revenant, namely because Inaritu became the first person to win this award back to back. This also happened right as Oscar voting was starting. One of the few things this film has a statistical barrier is that only two other films have won Best Picture without a screenplay, ironically one starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Titanic (1997), and The Soung of Music (1965). Since this is not unprecedented, its not a barrier. My biggest hesitation with predicting The Revenant is likability, the film appears to run the gamete with extremer admiration and and strong hate. I am not sure people will rank this as a number 2 on their ballot, which is what helps a film win.
I think the The Revenant feels most like that "prestige" Best Picture winner, and is the film I going to stick with, although I do think any of these three films could win.
Will Win: The Revenant
Spoilers: The Big Short and Spotlight (in that order)
Matt Damon-The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio-The Revenant
Michael Fassbender-Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne-The Danish Girl
Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio-The Revenant
Charlotte Rampling-45 Years
Will Win: Brie Larson-Room
Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale-The Big Short
Tom Hardy-The Revenant
Mark Rylance-Bridge of Spies
This is one of the most inconsistent category with regard to nominees, except for Mark Rylance being present at every award show (in this category). Bale showed up lead at the Globes.
Stallone is person who everyone is predicting, but I wonder if the internet crowned this winner the way many think the internet pushed Mad Max forward. I think this award could be anyone's except maybe Bale who is the only previous winner in this category.
If love for The Revenant is strong, Tom Hardy could be swept along for the ride.The last person to win this category with such limited precursor attention was James Coburn in 199 for Affliction.
Ruffalo showed up at BAFTA, and the Critic's Choice, and this is his third nomination in this category, I could see him pulling off a win if people love Spotlight more than expected.
Mark Rylance won BAFTA, but is also British, which helps here. If Ruffalo won at BAFTA, I would give him a stronger chance, but in the end Rylance is the most consistent nominee. I am not sure that consistency matters enough here, and he was not present to accept his trophy at BAFTA.
My guess is that the Academy wants Rocky on stage, it honors the history of the legacy of the film, but never underestimate Stallone's poor track record after this to count him out like Eddie Murphy. Stallone was never nominated by an industry group (outside of the Oscars) he was nominated and won at the Globes and Critic's Choice which no connection to Oscar voters.
Will Win: Sylvester Stallone-Creed
Spoiler: Mark Ruffalo-Spotlight
Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Jason Leigh-The Hateful Eight
Alicia Vikander-The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet-Steve Jobs
This was a category I was going out on a limb for, but changed my mind as I looked at some of the statistics. I do believe it is between three women. Since 2000 a first time nominee has won this category 10 times, which is a staggering statistic in favor Alicia Vikander. Vikander won for this performance at SAG.
The other five women all won for their second (third for Zellwegger) nomination, which bodes well for Rooney Mara. Who was nominated previously for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The problem is Mara is getting no attention for this performance, and the film seems to be falling off the radar to win anything.
The person in second place for me is Winslet; she won at the Globes and at BAFTA, and is well respected. Winslet has never faced Vikander while Vikander was nominated for The Danish Girl, and won, although I am not sure the film matters. I do think Winslet could spoil, and has a chance
Will Win: Alicia Vikander-The Danish Girl
Spoiler-Kate Winslet-Steve Jobs
Alejandro G. Inaritu-The Revenant
Adam McKay-The Big Short
George Miller-Mad Max: Fury Road
This is a two man race, the person in the lead is Inaritu; he won at the Globes, DGA, and BAFTA, the three most important precursor awards.
The second person is the Critics darling George Miller, who won the Critics Choice. If Mad Max sweeps in more categories than expected, for example visual effects, costumes, and both sound, Miller has a strong chance of besting Inaritu, but I have become convinced that this is once again Inaritu's to lose. I hope I am wrong.
Will Win: Alejandro G. Inaritu-The Revenant
Spoiler: George Miller: Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Adapted Screenplay-The Big Short
Best Original Screenplay-Spotlight
Best Animated Feature-Inside Out
Best Foreign Language Feature-Son of Saul
Best Documentary Feature-Amy
Best Cinematography-The Revenant
Best Costume Design-Mad Max: Fury Road (watch out for The Danish Girl)
Best Film Editing-Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Make-Up Hair Styling-Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Production Design-Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Original Score-The Hateful Eight
Best Original Song-The Hunting Ground-Til' it Happens to You
Best Sound Mixing-The Revenant
Best Sound Editing-The Revenant
Best Visual Effects-Star Wars-The Force Awakens