Oscar voting ends in just two days, and the last bit of precursor love is starting to seep out this week as the Guilds announce their nominations. Next Thursday, in fact, after what has been one of the oddest Oscar races I've ever seen, we'll settle in on the nominees, and if history is any indication, we'll have a bit of a snooze in terms of who actually wins (it's rare that more than one Oscar acting category in particular is robustly contested). As a result of that, in the next few days I'll start to give out my final predictions for the Oscars, and since every real precursor prize has been handed out in terms of nominations, I'm going to start with the marquee races of the actors. I know you want to know where I'm leaning, so let's get started, shall we?
The weakest I think I've ever seen this category (or at least since 2006), the Best Actor race has become all about who will lose to Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) who after four losses appears destined to finally acquiesce to the internet's demands and win an Oscar. The only person who feels pretty much guaranteed to lose to him is Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl), who a year after his win appears likely to get a second nomination even if his film hasn't really resonated in a major way.
The rest of the field could go almost anywhere. Matt Damon (The Martian) is probably in, even though he was weirdly left out by SAG, as The Martian appears on-track to land a number of nominations, including Best Picture and Director and considering his star status Damon's lack of nods with the Academy seems odd (he's only been cited twice for acting). Michael Fassbender, like Redmayne and DiCaprio, was cited by every major precursor award but his film Steve Jobs was a massive under-performer and has become something of a swear word for Sony after the data breach. Bryan Cranston also made it in all of the precursors, but does anyone love Trumbo? Is this really a film that "needs" to be nominated? After a series of Emmys and a Tony, though, will Oscar want to yell "me too!"? Johnny Depp (Black Mass) and Will Smith (Concussion) are also names that have been mentioned throughout the year and they have a SAG and Globe spot, respectively, but is anyone wild about these two? They could get in on name alone, but they're likely to be their film's only nominations (save perhaps Makeup for Black Mass)-will the Academy want to latch onto two largely unnominated movie stars when they have zilch chance of winning? It's also still within the realm of possibility that Michael B. Jordan (Creed) or Ian McKellen (Mr. Holmes) make it, but the fact that they haven't been cited anywhere yet has to mean something and no one is clamoring to say these films are being unjustly pushed aside.
Finally, I can't help but shake the idea that Michael Caine (Youth) could still be a contender. Caine has been nominated every decade for the past five straight, and his nomination would be historic. His film is probably going to be seen if Jane Fonda's Globe nomination is any indication, and he's personally well-liked from all accounts. If he had been nominated almost anywhere else I would say this is certain to happen, but where was the love (particularly from the Globes)? I wouldn't be stunned, though, if the two-time Oscar winner gets one last hurrah in, particularly with so much adoration being showered on Leo since that could lead to pockets of the Academy getting their favorites into the competition.
My Predictions: Bryan Cranston, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Eddie Redmayne
Unlike Best Actor, this is the strongest Best Actress field since 1995, and as a result we have oodles of category fraud happening here. Rooney Mara (Carol) and Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) probably would have been nominated had their campaigns been honest, but now they've gotten nominations at both the Globes and SAG Awards in different categories, and the Academy may well go in either direction on them, as their fans, trying to cast strategic ballots could end up giving them enough support to end up in both categories, or possibly neither. However, both names have to be mentioned before we get to the women who will surely show up.
Brie Larson (Room), Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn), and Cate Blanchett (Carol) are all easy choices to be nominated. All three are leading theoretical Best Picture nominees, a pretty good way to make it into this category, and both Ronan/Larson fit the young, ingenue style nominee that the Academy likes to pick for a win. Most pundits have gone with Charlotte Rampling (45 Years) and Jennifer Lawrence (Joy) as the other two nominees, and with good reason. Rampling, after all, is an acting god who has never been cited before and Lawrence is the quintessential movie star of the moment, in many ways rivaling Liz Taylor in her heyday in terms of public fascination. However, Rampling hasn't been picked by any major precursor award that is usually indicative of an Oscar citation, while Lawrence missed with the SAG Awards and is in a film that has underwhelmed with critics. The Globes and SAG Awards splintered enough that we have a variety of names such as Maggie Smith (The Lady in the Van), Amy Schumer (Trainwreck), Lily Tomlin (Grandma), Sarah Silverman (I Smile Back), and Helen Mirren (Woman in Gold) in contention (anyone who poo-poos the latter two doesn't understand the ways that screeners work, and Mirren in particular is a bigger threat than I think anyone wants to admit). Blythe Danner's lovely work in I'll See You in My Dreams is divine, but she's too famous not to have gotten chosen somewhere already, so I suspect if someone makes it who couldn't land at either the Globes or the SAG Awards (other than Rampling) it will be Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road. A former Oscar winner, it'd be the sort of crazy fifth nomination that occasionally happens at the Oscars in very divided races, but she's also leading a likely Best Picture (which, as I've written before, is very rare). If I hadn't just predicted Michael Caine I'd probably risk it all and go with Theron or maybe Mirren here, but because I can't quite push it...
My Predictions: Cate Blanchett, Brie Larson, Jennifer Lawrence, Charlotte Rampling, Saoirse Ronan
This is the precursor category where lockstep sets in pretty quickly, especially if the field itself feels uninspired. This year that's almost assuredly the case. While Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) was a name we were all anticipating making the Final Five, Michael Shannon (99 Homes) and Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation) were not on that default list. Still, after scoring almost everywhere else and nabbing the Globe/SAG combo, it seems impossible that they both don't land nominations (Elba being the only likely black actor to be nominated, ending the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag for a year at least). Random fact about Rylance, btw-despite being an Oscar magnet in films that featured an extensive male cast, Gary Sinise is the only Supporting Actor nominee to ever be nominated alongside his costar Tom Hanks. However, if Rylance makes it and Hanks misses, this will be the 8th time an actor got in at Supporting Actor without Hanks making it in as his lead-a weird situation for a supposedly beloved Oscar contender.
The rest of the field is a few random men who made it in in one of the early precursors like Paul Dano (Love & Mercy) who got in with the Globes, Jacob Tremblay (Room) who got in at the SAG Awards, and Christian Bale (The Big Short) who got in with both. All three have serious "what category are they" problems, and have won citations for both lead and supporting, though, and could fall victim to the same sort of mixed campaign that is hurting Alicia Vikander and Rooney Mara. The same could be said for Michael Keaton (Spotlight), who along with his costar Mark Ruffalo is a potential fifth slot nominee if the Academy goes with someone that wasn't offered up before and really likes Spotlight, but it appears they might be vote-splitting and I suspect neither gets in as a result. Creed has lost steam and Sylvester Stallone should be nervous about Oprah Winfrey as a cautionary tale (another "comeback" actor who got in at some but not all of the precursors and seemed like a solid bet for a win only to not make it to the AMPAS five), but it's hard to imagine him not being able to make it above some of the weaker competition here. It's also possible that we'll see Leonardo DiCaprio work his "drag along the Supporting Actor" trick work once again (he did this with Michael Shannon and Jonah Hill in recent years) and take Tom Hardy into the conversation.
Finally, because apparently I'm going to be positing one wild card nominee in each of these five lineups, I think it would be foolish to completely dismiss Harrison Ford getting in for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The film is huge and seems likely to be a nominee for Best Picture by now, and Ford is a movie star who has made a lot of Academy members very wealthy. In fact, were he to be nominated he could well win (Alec Guinness came close in 1977, from what I have read). I wouldn't count on it, but considering that everything outside of Rylance missing is possible, I wouldn't be staggered if he landed.
My Predictions: Christian Bale, Idris Elba, Mary Rylance, Michael Shannon, Sylvester Stallone
Yes, I think you may have realized this but the flip side of the coin is true as Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander not being in my Best Actress predictions means they are going to be predicted here. There's so much going against them with Mara's lead campaign in particular taking off and Vikander stealing votes from herself not only here but in Best Actress as well, but it seems difficult for me to fathom that they don't land with Oscar at this rate-there's too much buzz around both of them, and I suspect one of them wins.
Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs is a pretty solid bet for the third nominee and her seventh one in total (interestingly enough, the same number that both Cate Blanchett and Maggie Smith are also trying to reach this year), and actually is a surer thing than either Mara or Vikander considering that she's been nominated everywhere, is an AMPAS favorite, and won't have to compete against herself. Jennifer Jason Leigh is famously not an AMPAS favorite, but her work in The Hateful Eight is showy and she's the only woman in a cast of all men, which usually helps. If Mara and Vikander both make it to lead, I suspect that she'll end up winning as we'll see evidenced by the Golden Globes in a few days. Rachel McAdams is also the only major woman of a cast of men in Spotlight, and part of me wants to go for her just because she's famous but never been nominated (Oscar likes to have at least one notch under longtime film star's belts), but Spotlight is a frontrunner that doesn't seem to be about the acting. Finally there's Helen Mirren in Trumbo, a show-boaty role that has scored everywhere and though Mirren has missed before (for Hitchcock) after landing everywhere else, it seems doubtful that they'll throw her out for playing in a film about the movies.
Honestly, it's those six women competing for the Oscar. Jane Fonda was the fifth nominee at the Golden Globes, but she's barely in Youth and the film isn't hitting anywhere (I'm aware I'm contradicting my Michael Caine comment, but this field is stronger than Best Actor and I need to go with a surprise somewhere in the acting fields). Kristen Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria), Elizabeth Banks (Love & Mercy), and Julie Walters (Brooklyn) are all names that have been bandied either by critics or by those who think they could nail a coattail nomination, but I'm not feeling any of them as legitimate contenders. Honestly, if both Vikander and Mara don't show up either because they are in Best Actress or miss entirely, the name that feels the smartest is Joan Allen in Room. She's a three-time nominee who has never won, in a major film with Best Picture buzz, and has some showy scenes late in the film. The thing that makes me think she won't be able to cash in as a nominee is that she should have been cited somewhere else considering her position, and Room buzz has quieted outside of Brie Larson as the season has continued. Count her as my Caine/Theron/Ford spot, but I'm not quite there on selecting her for the Top 5.
My Predictions: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rooney Mara, Helen Mirren, Alicia Vikander, Kate Winslet
There we are-I'm feeling the best about Actress, worst about Actor, but who knows in a season like this. The comments are there for the taking. Who are your acting predictions for this year's Oscars?