AND THE OSCAR GOES TO ... [IT'S ANYBODY'S GUESS]

BEST PICTURE

"The Big Short" "Bridge of Spies" "Brooklyn" "Mad Max: Fury Road" "The Martian" "The Revenant" "Room" "Spotlight"

What should win: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

What will win: "The Revenant." Unless it's "Spotlight." Or "The Big Short."

What should have been nominated: "Creed"

More than any Oscar season in recent memory, the best picture race remains an open question.

The awards shows leading up to the Oscars — which usually allow us to predict who will take home the big one with a fair amount of certainty — weren't much help this year. Because each show backed a different horse.

The Producers Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild of America gave their top awards to, respectively, "The Big Short," "Spotlight" and "The Revenant."

Now, conventional wisdom says that the PGA win by "The Big Short" makes it the front-runner, as that award has predicted the eventual best picture winner for the past eight years.

On the other hand, the best ensemble win by "Spotlight" at the SAG Awards (the organization's top prize), is less of a boon, as that award lines up with the best picture winner only about half the time.

A more helpful indicator coming out of the SAG Awards is that "The Revenant" was not nominated for the best ensemble award. Only one film has gone on to win best picture without at least being nominated for the SAG ensemble award: "Braveheart."

So you'd think no "Revenant" win here. However ... Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's winning of the DGA award for "The Revenant" complicates things further. The DGA has a great track record of not only predicting the Oscar win for best director but best picture as well. Furthermore, "Revenant" won best picture and director at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards. The BAFTAs have a spotty history predicting best picture, though the guild has some overlap with the Oscars: About 500 people vote for both award shows, says the Hollywood Reporter.

"Revenant" seems to have the slightest edge here, but its victory is far from certain. "Spotlight" or "The Big Short" might sneak past it.

In any case, with the best picture category's goofy preferential voting system, this is going to be an extremely tight race.

One final note: While you're watching the show tonight, remember that "Mad Max: Fury Road" is clearly the deserved winner and that history will judge the academy — harshly — for not correctly identifying the greatest movie ever made.

DIRECTING

Adam McKay, "The Big Short" George Miller, "Mad Max: Fury Road" Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, "The Revenant" Lenny Abrahamson, "Room" Tom McCarthy, "Spotlight"

Who should win: Miller

Who will win: Inarritu

Who should have been nominated: Ridley Scott, "The Martian"

With the surprise DGA win, as well as his BAFTA victory, Inarritu is the most likely winner here, but Miller remains a possibility. Had Scott been nominated, he very well might have taken the award, especially as Scott has never won and "The Martian" is the first great film he's made since 2001's "Black Hawk Down."

If Inarritu does win — he won for "Birdman" last year — he will become only the third director to score two in a row. The others are John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

And consider this possibility: "The Revenant" has a decent chance at winning both best picture and best director, as "Birdman" did. That would make Inarritu the recipient of the first back-to-back picture/director win in the academy's history.

BEST ACTOR

Bryan Cranston, "Trumbo" Matt Damon, "The Martian" Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Revenant" Michael Fassbender, "Steve Jobs" Eddie Redmayne, "The Danish Girl"

Who should win: Damon

Who will win: DiCaprio

Who should have been nominated: "Michael B. Jordan, "Creed"

I'll be as happy as anyone to see vaping enthusiast DiCaprio scream-crawl Hugh Glass-style up onto that stage tonight and finally get his little gold man, the months-long narrative of his Oscar triumph coming to fruition.

But, as with many Oscar wins past, this feels more like a lifetime achievement award than anything. The win recognizes all the grunting, howling and filthy bearding he brought to "Revenant," but it also acknowledges an astounding body of work.

"The Revenant" is not his best role. More deserving would have been his performances in "The Wolf of Wall Street," "The Departed," "The Aviator" or "Catch Me If You Can." But, all the same, thrilled to see the dude get his prize. Maybe now he can go off and take it easy with a rom-com or something.

It's an absurd long shot, but I'd love to see a Damon win. His performance was equal parts actorly prowess and movie star charisma. If only he'd eaten raw bison liver instead of poopy potatoes, then he might've stood a chance.

BEST ACTRESS

Cate Blanchett, "Carol" Brie Larson, "Room" Jennifer Lawrence, "Joy" Charlotte Rampling, "45 Years" Saoirse Ronan, "Brooklyn"

Who should win: Larson

Who will win: Larson

Who should have been nominated: Charlize Theron, "Mad Max: Fury Road"

After her Globes win (which isn't relevant here) and her SAG win (which is), Larson is the one to beat. Though there remains the thinnest sliver of a chance that Ronan could upset.

It was a refreshingly strong year for female roles (so much so that Alicia Vikander and Rooney Mara's lead-ish performances were relegated to supporting). But none of the actresses hit viewers in the throat as hard as Larson. As a mother struggling for her son's survival, as a woman outraged that her life was stolen from her, Larson just nails every moment. Brutal.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Christian Bale, "The Big Short" Tom Hardy, "The Revenant" Mark Ruffalo, "Spotlight" Mark Rylance, "Bridge of Spies" Sylvester Stallone, "Creed"

Who should win: Rylance

Who will win: Stallone

Who should have been nominated: Benicio Del Toro, "Sicario"

This is the most open of the acting categories, thanks to an unexpected SAG Awards outcome, which honored Idris Elba for his "Beasts of No Nation" performance. As Elba wasn't nominated for an Oscar (one of the omissions that fueled the #oscarssowhite controversy), that leaves this race unsettled.

Had Bale or Rylance (once the presumed front-runner) won the SAG, he would have had a clear path to victory here. But Stallone, not even nominated for a SAG, has emerged as the sentimental favorite. There is precedent for such a win: A few years back Christoph Waltz won the same award for "Django Unchained," despite being snubbed at the SAGs.

What helps Stallone's chances is that "Creed" is his first honest-to-God good movie since 1997's "Cop Land." And seeing him nab a comeback win for reprising the same role he was nominated for nearly 40 years ago? Well, that will just be a neat Oscar moment.

When Sly gets up on that stage, the big lug better thank "Creed" writer-director Ryan Coogler until he's red in the face with effort.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Jennifer Jason Leigh, "The Hateful Eight" Rooney Mara, "Carol" Rachel McAdams, "Spotlight" Alicia Vikander, "The Danish Girl" Kate Winslet, "Steve Jobs"

Who should win: Vikander

Who will win: Vikander

Who should have been nominated: Mya Taylor, "Tangerine"

Vikander scored the supporting actress win at the SAG Awards, a better predictor than the Golden Globes, which gave the award to Winslet.

Though all the performances here are great, Vikander's is the one that sticks with you the most. And she was not only the best part of a rather staid prestige pic, she also had a banner year altogether, with great turns in "Ex Machina," "Testament of Youth" and "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."

Vikander and Brie Larson are both realizing the "star is born" narrative with a vengeance.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

"The Big Short"

"Brooklyn"

"Carol"

"The Martian"

"Room"

What should win: "The Martian"

What will win: "The Big Short"

AdamMcKay and Charles Randolph's wildly inventive adaptation of Michael Lewis' book has all the momentum in this category, including a win at the Writers Guild Awards. We'll soon be able to truthfully identify McKay as an Oscar-winner and the director of "Anchorman 2."

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

"Bridge of Spies"

"Ex Machina"

"Inside Out"

"Spotlight"

"Straight Outta Compton"

What should win: "Spotlight"

What will win: "Spotlight"

The research and development Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer put into their "Spotlight" screenplay was great journalism in its own right, and the academy is going to reward that.

PREDICTIONS CONTINUED ONTHENEXT PAGE

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