How to Win Your Oscar Pool
Each year, Hollywood's biggest stars descend on, well, Hollywood to celebrate a year in movies at the Academy Awards. And each year, you and a bunch of friends cram into a living room, watch eagerly as winners are named, and pray those three movies you managed to catch in theaters gave you a leg up in your Oscar pool.
Well, this year, you're going to win. Or, we're rooting for you. And we're here to help. We've been watching movies all year, analyzing the awards-season contests, and are ready to declare predictions with confidence in our step. Are we 100% sure who's going to take home Best Sound Mixing? No. But we're pretty sure. So read on for Oscar-pool cheat sheets -- and a few recommendations on how to fool the competition.
Nominees: The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room, Spotlight
What to pick:The Revenant
Let us explain: The biggest competition of the night is also the toughest to call. The frontrunners -- The Big Short, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, and Spotlight -- have each picked up major accolades during awards season. What gives The Revenant the edge? As you'll see below, the snowball effect. People may love Mad Max, but it's only going to win technical awards. The Big Short and Spotlight couldn't muscle into the acting categories in serious ways. The Revenant has it all.
How to foil the competition: "Hey, everyone, don't let the buzz get you down. Don't let 'The Man' tell you how to live. You loved, Mad Max? Vote for Mad Max. Be true to yourself. Vote from the heart."
Nominees: Cate Blanchett, Carol; Brie Larson, Room; Jennifer Lawrence, Joy; Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years; Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Who to pick: Brie Larson
Let us explain: Larson is The Next Big Thing and will be anointed on Oscar night. Blanchett and Lawrence are powerhouses who'd normally put up a fight, but they've also won trophies in the last five years. Time for new blood.
How to foil the competition: "Aw, there's Jennifer Lawrence again. America's sweetheart. She's unstoppable. Really. My word."
Nominees: Bryan Cranston, Trumbo; Matt Damon, The Martian; Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant; Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs; Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Who to pick: Leonardo DiCaprio
Let us explain: The done deal of the year. Accept it. Move on.
How to foil the competition: "Um, look over there."
Best Supporting Actress
Nominees: Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight; Rooney Mara, Carol; Rachel McAdams, Spotlight; Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl; Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
Who to pick: Alicia Vikander
Let us explain: Kate Winslet is a legit contender in this category, having won both a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for her work as Steve Jobs' number two. But go against the grain! After a killer year that included Ex Machina and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., we think Vikander's breakout status gives her the edge. Oscar politics forced her into this category, dominating The Danish Girl as Eddie Redmayne's co-lead, but oh well. We're happy when fresh faces win big.
How to foil the competition: "Huh? What was that? I'm still lost in Rooney Mara's wide-eyed Carol gazes, sorry."
Best Supporting Actor
Nominees: Christian Bale, The Big Short; Tom Hardy, The Revenant; Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight; Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies; Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Who to pick: Sylvester Stallone
Let us explain: Everyone loves a comeback. Forty years after first playing Rocky, Stallone reprised the role yet again. He's already picked up a Golden Globe for his work this year -- the first step towards Academy Awards glory. The problem: he did not win a coveted Screen Actors Guild Award earlier this month. His Oscar chances would be questionable if it weren't for the fact that Idris Elba, who won the SAG prize for Beasts of No Nation, wasn't even nominated.
How to foil the competition: "Don't forget: Rocky lost in the first Rocky. He's a big loser."
Nominees: Adam McKay, The Big Short; George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road; Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant; Lenny Abrahamson, Room; Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Who to pick: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Let us explain: Mr. Birdman does it again. Like Best Picture, this category was (and could still be) up in the air until the final leg of the race. Maybe voters would split Picture and Director to honor Miller for Mad Max. Maybe McKay or McCarthy would see love for enacting their snappy scripts. Abrahamson and Room were total surprises, but hey, maybe that means something. The one-two punch of a Golden Globes and Directors Guild Awards win should put your bet on Iñárritu, who will earn the rare distinction of winning back-to-back in this category. The Academy loves its gliding long shots, apparently.
How to foil the competition: "Room really had some amazing mise-en-scène. What, you don't know mise-en-scène? Trust me."
Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominees: The Big Short, Brooklyn, Carol, The Martian, Room
What to pick: The Big Short
Let us explain: The screenwriters guild honored Anchorman writer-director Adam McKay for his foray into drama, and the Oscars will likely follow. Even working off source material, Michael Lewis' nonfiction book of the same name, The Big Short feels inventive, with its blistering humor and impromptu celebrity lessons. There's stiff competition, but McKay's movie has weight.
How to foil the competition: "'Science the shit out of it.' Ha, ha, ha. The Martian was hilarious!! Total winner."
Best Original Screenplay
Nominees: Bridge of Spies, Ex Machina, Inside Out, Spotlight, Straight Outta Compton
What to pick: Spotlight
Let us explain: Considered a Best Picture frontrunner, the Catholic church sex-scandal movie will likely settle for this writing award, piggybacking off its screenwriters guild win in the same category. Everyone praises Spotlight for condensing a sprawling investigation down to coherent screen story. This is where the props finally turn to gold.
How to foil the competition: "This is Straight Outta Compton's only nomination. Must mean something."
Best Animated Feature
Nominees:Anomalisa, Boy and the World, Inside Out, Shaun the Sheep Movie, When Marnie Was There
What to pick:Inside Out
Let us explain: Stare into Bing Bong's dying eyes and tell me Pixar's latest won't woo the crowd.
How to foil the competition: "A very respected and handsome critic once said Anomalisa was the most human movie of the year."
Best Foreign Language Film
Nominees: Embrace of the Serpent, Mustang, Son of Saul, Theeb, A War
What to pick:Son of Saul
Let us explain: Bet against the award-winning, appropriately lauded Holocaust drama? What do we look like?
How to foil the competition: "Embrace the Serpent? Don't mind if I do."
Best Documentary Feature
Nominees: Amy, Cartel Land, The Look of Silence, What Happened, Miss Simone?, Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom
What to pick: Amy
Let us explain: There's been an uptick in artist-centric Best Documentary winners in the last decade, and with a tragic star at the center, Amy has all the makings of an Oscar winner. Plus, it's great! Whine when the earth-shattering The Look of Silence loses, but don't deny the obvious.
How to foil the competition: "Did you see Miss Simone on Netflix? That's right, Netflix owns it. And you can watch it on Netflix. You love Netflix. Netflix: so hot right now."
Best Visual Effects
Nominees: Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
What to pick: The Revenant
Let us explain: You'd think this would go to one of the big action movies, but open your mind, man. While Star Wars picked up a number of trophies at the annual Visual Effects Awards, invest in the brilliance of The Revenant's CG bear. Each year, Industrial Light & Magic VFX artist Todd Vaziri breaks down the historical and factual information that points to a winner. He says The Revenant, so we're saying The Revenant.
How to foil the competition: "I liked the hot robot in Ex Machina."
Nominees:Carol, The Hateful Eight, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, Sicario
What to pick: The Revenant
Let us explain: In 2014, Emmanuel Lubezki won this award for Gravity. In 2015, he won for Birdman. In 2016, he'll win for The Revenant, which could easily be retitled Screensaver: The Movie. Every frame of the American frontier-set movie is stunning, and his colleagues agree -- Lubezki took home the cinematography guild's 2016 award, too. Maybe Mad Max: Fury Road, which pulled 73-year-old John Seale out of retirement to capture its flame-red insanity, could pull upset. But probably not. It's The Revenant.
How to foil the competition: "Well, Sicario did have that night-vision scene..."
Best Original Score
Nominees:Bridge of Spies, Carol, The Hateful Eight, Sicario, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
What to pick: The Hateful Eight
Let us explain: The 87-year-old legend Ennio Morricone, whose Western licks transformed Clint Eastwood into a cowboy, is beloved. Quentin Tarantino adores him. Hollywood adores him. Voters will adore him. And in all his years, with dozens of musical scores up for consideration, he has never won an Oscar. Until now.
How to foil the competition: "Name a composer. Oh, John Williams? Ha, funny, he's actually up for an Oscar..."
Best Original Song
Nominees: "Earned It" from Fifty Shades of Grey, "Manta Ray" from Racing Extinction, "Simple Song #3" from Youth, "Til It Happens to You" from The Hunting Ground, "Writing's on the Wall," from Spectre
What to pick: "Til It Happens to You," from The Hunting Ground
Let us explain: Between her Golden Globes win for American Horror Story and blowing out "The Star-Spangled Banner" at this year's Super Bowl, Lady Gaga is having a year. The singer will come one step closer to EGOT status when she wins here for the song she performed in this powerful sexual assault-focused documentary.
How to foil the competition: ♫"THE WRIIIIITINGGG'SSSS OOOOON THEEEEE WAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLL!!!!!!"♫
Best Production Design
Nominees:Bridge of Spies, The Danish Girl, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant
What to pick:Mad Max: Fury Road
Let us explain: At the Oscars, "best" can often read as "most" to voters. Both apply in Mad Max's case, a film that fits right in line with previous category winners like Alice in Wonderland, Avatar, and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.
How to foil the competition: "You didn't see Bridge of Spies? Guess you didn't see the bridge..."
Best Costume Design
Nominees: Carol, Cinderella, The Danish Girl,Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant
What to pick: Mad Max: Fury Road
Let us explain:Carol is an en-vogue period piece. The existence of Disney's Cinderella remake is vindicated by its lavish gowns. History tells us one of these two should win. But both movies were designed by costumer Sandy Powell. We say she splits the vote, clearing the way for Mad Max: Fury Road to add another notch to its War Boy belt.
How to foil the competition: "How does anything beat Cinderella? Her shoes were made out of Swarovski fucking crystals!"
Best Makeup & Hair
Nominees: Mad Max: Fury Road, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared, The Revenant
What to pick: Mad Max: Fury Road
Let us explain: All of DiCaprio's frozen snot was real, so this'll go to the movie with face-painted, boil-encrusted mutants. (The movie also won the hair and makeup guild's 2016 award, so there's precedent.) Sweden's 100-Year-Old Man, congrats on joining the party!
How to foil the competition: "The foreign film no one's ever heard of always wins! Every time!!"
Best Film Editing
Nominees:The Big Short, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, Spotlight, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
What to pick:Mad Max: Fury Road
Let us explain: Mad Max: Fury Road is the rare movie where every shot smashes to the next, an ecstasy of editing. While the American Cinema Editors group split the vote between the dystopian action movie and The Big Short, which won a comedy-editing award, we'll put our money on Max. There's a built-in sweetness to the Fury Road win; editor Margaret Sixel is director George Miller's wife. You wish you and your loved one were this punk.
How to foil the competition: "The best editing is invisible."
Best Sound Mixing
Nominees: Bridge of Spies, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
What to pick: The Revenant
Let us explain: For the delicate process of keeping Leo's on-location grunts sounding guttural, the Cinema Audio Society, Hollywood's sound professional clique, awarded The Revenant its top Sound Mixing honor. We take full responsibility if Mad Max snatches this one away (or The Revenant steals the Sound Editing award).
How to foil the competition: "Did you know they sent a probe to Mars just to capture background noise for The Martian? It's true."
Best Sound Editing
Nominees: Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Sicario, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
What to pick:Mad Max: Fury Road
Let us explain: Remember, sound editors are the folks who fill out a movie's soundscape with onomatopoeia-worthy effects. Mixers take sounds, layer in the recorded dialogue, cover it with ambiance, and level out the movie's audio tapestry. For its otherworldly approach to vehicular mayhem, we suggest Mad Max, since The Revenant is all over the major prizes. The momentous task of giving sonic life to the sound of guzzolane pumping through the War Rig is easily recognized.
How to foil the competition: "Man, how many blaster noises do you think they had to layer into Star Wars? What a task."
Best Documentary Short
Nominees: Body Team 12, Chau, Beyond the Lines, Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Last Day of Freedom
What to pick: Body Team 12
Let us explain: Every one of this year's documentary shorts will wreck you. Maybe the Holocaust-themed Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah slips in here, but we have faith in Body Team 12. The movie stands out for being an HBO production (corporate power!) and having a character worth rooting for. The movie profiles the only female member of a team collecting the bodies of those who died during the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Not an upper of a movie, but a hero's tale.
How to foil the competition: "Who bets against the Holocaust drama?"
Best Short Film -- Live Action
Nominees:Ave Maria, Day One, Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut), Shok, Stutterer
What to pick: Shok
Let us explain: Welcome to the shot-in-the-dark categories. Each year, the Academy's short-film race makes and breaks many an Oscar ballot. Here's some comfort: we've seen the movies. This year, gamble on Shok, the story of two young boys living in Kosovo circa 1998. War erupts, and so does their friendship. A devastating portrait of conflict that surely made an impact on voters. But, hey, smile! You may win this category.
How to foil the competition: "Is our Oscar pool like the SATs? Is it better to leave a category blank than fill in a wrong answer?"
Best Short Film -- Animated
Nominees: Bear Story, Prologue, Sanjay's Super Team, We Can't Live Without Cosmos, World of Tomorrow
What to pick: Bear Story
Let us explain: This is a category with fierce competition. Standouts include World of Tomorrow, a heady, stick-figure-illustrated sci-fi parable and Sanjay's Super Team, a Pixar short that turns Hindu gods into superheroes. But pick the Chilean Bear Story. It's the touching story of an artist... who happens to be a bear. And as The Revenant proves, bears are very in this year.
How to foil the competition: "Did I mention the superhero movie is Pixar? Yeah, THE Pixar."
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Matt Patches is Thrillist’s Entertainment editor. He previously wrote for Grantland, Esquire.com, Vulture, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Guardian. He was really pulling for The Big Short this year, but alas. Find him on Twitter: @misterpatches.