Oscar nominees: The predictions

Could Mad Max: Fury Road make the cut for nominations for Best Picture? The Reel Dad thinks so and also predicts a nomination for Charlize Theron as Best Actress.

After years of smaller movies winning Academy Awards, while larger movies dominate the box office, Oscar 2015 offers wide-open races with many contenders. Will the Academy think big or small when it announces its nominations next Thursday, Jan. 14? Here are my predictions.

Best Picture

All the leaders – big and small – tell stories about bravery. While Oscar usually ignores action movies, the salute to apocalyptical heroes in Mad Max: Fury Road is too thrilling to overlook. So is The Martian, a movie that reaches beyond special effects to focus on a man trying to survive in a strange land, a theme also at the heart of The Revenant, a bold epic from the director of last year’s Oscar-winning Birdman, Alexander G. Iñárritu. On a smaller scale, Spotlight salutes investigative reporters who expose controversies in the church, while Carol portrays daring women who pursue a relationship in the early 1950s. Brooklyn recreates a young Irish woman’s adjustment to life in the United States, while The Big Short humorously explains the economic meltdown of 2008, and Room relives one mother’s devotion to her son. Because the Academy can nominate up to 10 films, we could see Steve Jobs (despite bombing at the box office) or Star Wars: The Force Awakens on the list, too. Or the Academy could honor Bridge of Spies’ take on the Cold War or Straight Outta Compton’s plea for tolerance.

Best Actor

Will Leonardo DiCaprio finally win an Oscar? He delivers a thrilling performance as a man trying to find his way home in The Revenant. DiCaprio has been nominated before, as has Michael Fassbender who would lead the pack if Steve Jobs had attracted audiences. Bryan Cranston reaches beyond the clichés of the Trumbo script to deliver a credible transformation as a blacklisted screenwriter, Johnny Depp stages a compelling comeback as a gangster in Black Mass and last year’s Best Actor, Eddie Redmayne, delivers a daring portrayal as a man seeking sex reassignment surgery in The Danish Girl. This leaves the deserving Tom Hanks (Bridge of Spies), Will Smith (Concussion) and Matt Damon (The Martian) on the sidelines.

Best Actress

Brie Larson will be difficult to beat for her portrayal of a brave mother in Room. She will be joined by Saoirse Ronan – as a woman looking for a home in Brooklyn – and two-time Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett – as a suburban housewife looking for unconventional love in Carol. The power of Mad Max: Fury Road rests on Charlize Theron’s performance with minimal dialogue, while Charlotte Rampling captivates as a woman holding her marriage together in 45 Years. She could get bumped if Academy voters consider Alicia Vikander’s role in The Danish Girl as a lead and nominate her in this category. That would leave Rampling joining Lily Tomlin (Grandma), Blythe Danner (I’ll See You In My Dreams) and Maggie Smith (The Lady in the Van) in the “veteran actresses who deserved Oscar attention” club.

Best Supporting Actor

Mark Rylance impresses as a suspected spy in Bridge of Spies while Tom Hardy almost steals The Revenant from Leonardo DiCaprio. Child actor Jacob Tremblay is a most believable hero in Room, Michael Shannon a most frightening bad guy in 99 Homes, and Christian Bale a charming eccentric in The Big Short. Unfortunately, Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), Steve Carrell (The Big Short), Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton) and Paul Dano (Love and Mercy) may need to make other plans for Oscar night despite their strong performances.

Best Supporting Actress

Watch out for Alicia Vikander. If the Academy considers her role in The Danish Girl a supporting role, look for her to be nominated in this category. Or, if she is named for Best Actress for playing Eddie Redmayne’s wife, she could also be nominated here for Ex Machina. Rooney Mara could face the same situation – for her role in Carol – but will likely be nominated as supporting. Joining them should be Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs), Rachel McAdams (Spotlight) and Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight). This leaves Jane Fonda (Youth), Joan Allen (Room), Helen Mirren (Trumbo) and Kristen Thomas (Clouds of Sils Maria) on the sidelines.

Best Director

While the Academy can nominate up to 10 movies for Best Picture it can only nominate five directors. This year’s nominees should be Tom McCarthy for the storytelling of Spotlight, last year’s winner Alexander G. Iñárritu for his innovative approach to The Revenant, and Todd Haynes for the precise detail of Carol. Joining them should be veteran directors George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road and Ridley Scott for The Martian. This leaves out John Crowley (Brooklyn), J. J. Abrams (Star Wars), Lenny Abramson (Room), Steven Spielberg (Bridge of Spies) or Adam McKay (The Big Short).

More Oscar Nominees

With the Academy Award nominations to be announced Thursday, January 14, here are more predictions from The Reel Dad.

Best Original Screenplay

Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer lead the possible nominees for bringing humanity to details in Spotlight as do Matt Charman, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen for their story of Cold War tension in Bridge of Spies. Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, Alan Wenkus and Leigh Savidge create a fascinating plea for racial tolerance in Straight Outta Compton while Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley have a lot of fun (and offer good lessons) in the animated Inside Out. Two-time Oscar winner Quentin Tarantino should also be nominated for his creative take on The Hateful Eight. That means the deserving screenwriters of Straight Outta Compton, Love & Mercy, Sicario, Son of Saul and Ex Machina will probably go home empty-handed as will Amy Schumer for writing Trainwreck.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Aaron Sorkin is the one to beat for his striking take on Steve Jobs, closely followed by Phyllis Nagy’s sensitive interpretation of Carol (based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith) and Charlie Kaufman’s creative work on the animated Anomalisa (from his play). Adam McKay and Charles Randolph should be nominated for their unconventional storytelling in The Big Short and Drew Goddard should be honored for humanizing the challenges of The Martian. That leaves the writers of Brooklyn, The Revenant, Room and The Danish Girl waiting in the wings.

Best Cinematography

This category honors how a film is photographed. After winning back-to-back Oscars for Gravity and Birdman, Emmanuel Lubezki leads this year’s list for his breathtaking camera work on The Revenant. Roger Deakins should be nominated for Sicario (after 12 nominations without a win) along with John Seale (Mad Max: Fury Road), Edward Lachmann (Carol) and Robert Richardson (The Hateful Eight). That likely means there is no room for the cinematographers of Bridge of Spies, The Martian, Son of Saul, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Room or Brooklyn.

Best Production Design

The art direction of a film – including the design of its sets – can impact a film’s effectiveness. This year, the Cold War comes to life in the detailed look of Bridge of Spies and Europe in the early 1920s is recreated with care in The Danish Girl. Brooklyn in the 1950s becomes a vivid backdrop for the characters in Brooklyn, while Carol recreates Manhattan during the same period and Mad Max: Fury Road imagines the demise of civilization. Likely left off the nomination list will be the excellent work for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Revenant, The Martian, Cinderella and The Hateful Eight.

Best Film Editing

This category – that often can predict an ultimate Best Picture winner – honors a film’s pace, rhythm and timing. Topping the list of possible nominees are Margaret Sixel for Mad Max: Fury Road; Tom McArdle for Spotlight, Pietro Scalia for The Martian, Michael Kahn for Bridge of Spies and Elliot Graham for Steve Jobs. In such a competitive years, any of these films could be bumped by The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Sicario and The Big Short. This category is always one to watch.

Best Costume Design

Oscar loves to honor lavish costumes that recreate a moment in time. Sandy Powell, with 10 nominations and three Oscars, is a likely nominee for both Carol and Cinderella. (Yes, this category does permit double nominations). She should be joined on Oscar night by the costumers for The Danish Girl, The Hateful Eight and Mad Max: Fury Road. The folks behind the costumes for Brooklyn, Bridge of Spies and Suffragette could be potential spoilers.

Best Original Music Score

This competitive category honors the music written for a film. Thomas Newman – with 12 nominations and no wins – should be nominated for Bridge of Spies. Look for two five-time Oscar winners to compete – Ennio Morricone at age 87 for The Hateful Eight and John Williams at 83 for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Tom Holkenborg’s unique score for Mad Max: Fury Road is a contender along with Daniel Pemberton’s work on Steve Jobs. That leaves no room for the lush, traditional scores for Brooklyn, Carol and Inside Out along with the innovative work for The Martian, Spotlight and Sicario.

Best Song

To be honored, an original song must be performed or played in a film, including the final credits. Diane Warren – who has never won an Oscar – should be in contention for Till it Happens to You from the documentary The Hunting Ground along with her co-writer, Lady Gaga. Look for the other nominees to be See You Again from Furious 7, Simple Song #3 from Youth, Love Me Like You Do from 50 Shades of Grey and So Long from Concussion. Unfortunately, the Academy disqualified Brian Wilson’s One Kind of Love (from Love and Mercy).

Best Visual Effects

It’s no surprise that the year’s big movies will dominate this category, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian. Joining these nominees should be The Walk and The Revenant although In the Heart of the Sea or Jurassic World could make the list.

Best Makeup and Hair Design

The visual transformation of actors in characters highlights the nominees in this category. Look for the splendid work of Mad Max: Fury Road to top the list along with Black Mass and Mr. Holmes, with The Revenant, Legend and Concussion in reserve.

Best Sound Mixing

The first of two categories for sound honors how a film is recorded, re-recorded and mixed. Again, the big films should be honored, including Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Hateful Eight and The Revenant. This leaves Spectre, The Walk, Sicario, Straight Outta Compton and Inside Out on the wait list.

Sound Editing

This category recognizes how a film uses sound effects in its final production. Look for the big movies – including Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Hateful Eight and The Revenant – with possible upsets by Bridge of Spies, The Walk, In the Heart of the Sea, Inside Out or Sicario.

Best Animated Feature

Once again a movie from Pixar dominates the conversation – the popular Inside Out – with Charlie Kaufman’s creative Anomalisa in rapid pursuit. Other likely nominees include The Peanuts Movie, Shaun the Sheep Movie and The Good Dinosaur.

Best Foreign Language Film

For a film to be nominated, it must first be selected by its home country. Son of Saul from Hungary – a fascinating (and heartbreaking) account of one father’s priorities while in a Nazi death camp – tops the list of contenders with its win at the Cannes Film Festival. The Academy will also likely nominate Mustang from France, Labyrinth of Lies from Germany, Viva from Ireland and A War from Denmark.

Best Documentary Feature

To compete in this category, a documentary must be nominated by a special committee of the Academy. This year’s nominees should include Amy, detailing the life of Amy Winehouse; Michael Moore’s whimsical but biting Where to Invade Next; the exploration of the Indonesian genocide of the 1960s in The Look of Silence; the return to television journalism of the 1960s in Best of Enemies; and the visit to drug cartels in Mexico in Cartel Land.