Predicting who will win the Academy Awards (to be announced this Sunday, February 28 on ABC at 8:30 p.m. Eastern) can be a dicey proposition. But after many years of practice, which includes setting aside one's personal favorites and trying to think like the 7,000 or so Academy voters, it's possible to make some fairly accurate predictions.
So here, without further ado, are our official predictions of who will take home this year's Oscar gold.
Best Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stallone in Creed
Forty years ago, Stallone burst on the scene as the writer and star of a little film called Rocky. The ultimate underdog tale earned 10 Oscar nominations (including Best Actor and Original Screenplay for Stallone), and won Best Picture, Best Editing, and Best Director (John Avildsen).
The 1976 film inspired writer/director Ryan Coogler to create Creed, about the son of Rocky’s rival, Apollo Creed. Stallone’s powerful turn as the underdog turned older-dog mentor will be impossible for Academy voters to resist — and a win will also honor the film that was overlooked in other major categories.
Long-shot Dark Horse: Mark Rylance earned critical raves for Bridge of Spies, but it feels like The Year of Stallone.
Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl
The Swedish beauty stunned audiences twice last year — as the humanoid robot in Ex Machina, and as the artist who must contend with her husband (Eddie Redmayne) discovering her true gender identity. An Oscar for Vikander will not only honor both performances, it will recognize The Danish Girl’s delicate handling of the transgender experience.
Long-shot Dark Horse: Kate Winslet is a seven-time nominee and one-time Best Actress winner (The Reader) who gives yet another fine performance in Steve Jobs. As much as we’d love to see both Titanic stars clutching their Oscars (more on that later), our money is on Vikander.
Best Director: Alejandro Inarritu for The Revenant
Look for the Mexican visionary (and Birdman winner) to become the third director in Oscar history to win two Best Director statuettes in a row (joining John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz). The pain-porn survival epic is primarily a tour-de-force of direction and performance.
Long-shot Dark Horse: Oscar voters may reward 70-year-old action king George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road, but the gonzo film’s early buzz has cooled over the long awards season.
Before we move on to the big gun categories, let’s look at the categories on which Oscar pools are won or lost.
Best Original Screenplay: Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy for Spotlight
The true story of the intrepid Boston Globe journalists who uncovered the depth and breadth of the Catholic Church’s pedophilia epidemic was told with realism and suspense by Singer and (the film’s director) McCarthy.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Charles Randolph and Adam McKay for The Big Short.
Randolph and (the film’s director) McKay transformed Michael Lewis’s book about the weirdos who predicted the housing bubble collapse into a trippy, bro-tastic joy ride. A screenplay win will also acknowledge McKay’s fizzy vision.
Best Original Song: Lady Gaga and Diane Warren for “’Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground
Her Golden Globe win for American Horror Story, her flawless Super Bowl rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and her Grammy Awards tribute to David Bowie proved that this is The Year of Gaga. Her haunting song about campus rape (written with eight-time Oscar nominee Diane Warren) should bring home the gold.
Film Editing, Production Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Visual Effects, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing: Mad Max: Fury Road
The visual and sensory bravado of Mad Max: Fury Road was among its most outstanding qualities, so it's likely to make a clean sweep in those categories.
Costume Design: Sandy Powell for Carol
Those skirts! Those coats! The 12-time nominee and three-time Oscar winner should make room on her mantel for one more.
Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubeski for The Revenant
Look for Lubeski's haunting images of brutal nature to bring him his third consecutive Oscar (after Gravity and Birdman).
Original Score: Ennio Morricone for The Hateful Eight
The time has come for the six-time nominee and 2007 honorary Oscar award winning composer.
Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul
The powerful Holocaust drama from Hungary has already won Golden Globe, New York Film Critics Circle, and Critics Choice awards, making it the film to beat.
Animated Feature: Inside Out
Disney-Pixar films have won nine Oscars since the Best Animated Feature category was introduced in 2001. Inside Out was beloved by children, parents, and critics alike — and should make it an even 10.
Documentary Feature: Amy
This portrait of the brilliant but troubled singer drew complaints from her family, but praise from critics. It's also a chance for Oscar voters to honor Winehouse's unique talent and legacy.
Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant
The five-time Oscar nominee pulled out all the stops as fur trapper Hugh Glass on a life-threatening (and affirming) journey. Oscar voters love a performance that hits all the emotional notes — and they love making male movie stars prove themselves as characters who suffer — which makes this The Year of Leonardo.
Best Actress: Brie Larson for Room
Larson’s performance as a kidnapped young woman who raises her son in captivity — then must contend with life on the outside — is the beating heart of this moving, gets-under-your-skin film. While the Academy tends to award men who spend years paying their dues, they love to anoint fresh young actresses for their breakthrough roles (see Jennifer Lawrence, Reese Witherspoon, et al). For all of these reasons, Larson will win.
Best Picture: Spotlight
This is the most unpredictable Best Picture race in years, but The Revenant is likely to win for Best Actor and Best Director; Mad Max: Fury Road is likely to sweep the technical awards; and The Big Short’s wise-guy snark is likely to snag a screenplay win. This leaves Spotlight, with its smart but traditional storytelling, its pitch-perfect ensemble cast, and its important theme of child abuse in the Catholic Church, as the most likely Best Picture winner.
Which nominees do you predict, or hope, will bring home the Oscar gold? Share them in the comments below.