Who Will Win: “The Big Short,” the sensationalized account of the 2008 financial crisis, is sure to take home Best Picture, and it certainly deserves it. With the swerving cinematography and electrically intricate storyline, director Adam McKay (“Anchorman”) finds a way to simultaneously entertain and educate the American public about arguably the stodgiest, most boring industry. With its fresh, populist take on big business alongside some of the biggest names in Hollywood, “The Big Short” is hard not to root for.
Who Should Win: “Room,” the indie darling of this awards season, is the excruciating but uplifting tale of Jack (Jacob Tremblay, “Before I Wake”) and his Ma, played to perfection by Brie Larson (“Trainwreck”). The beauty of “Room” comes from the dichotomy of being the most anxiety-producing film of the year and existing as a quiet testament to growing up, highlighting the love between parents and children. The humanity of the plot and the subtle but effective cinematography bolster the unadulterated power of the performances of Tremblay and Larson, leaving the viewer unnerved and exhilarated by the film’s close.
— Rebecca Lerner
Best Original Screenplay:
Who Will Win: It can be easy to look toward the most harrowing or dramatic film when predicting the Best Original Screenplay winner, but overlooking equally clever but lighter films can lead to some unexpected upsets. “Spotlight,” which presents an incredibly precise mix of honest fact and subtle emotion in depicting Boston Globe journalists exposing the Catholic Church molestation cover-up, seems like the most likely winner for 2016.
Who Should Win: Don’t let “Inside Out” ’s clever and engaging exploration of emotions within a developing mind fall completely to the side — it’s an unexpected but equally viable candidate for its ability to characterize such a complex concept. We often have trouble understanding feelings within ourselves, but “Inside Out” makes it look easy.
— Lauren Wood
Who Will Win: On the Oscar campaign trail, there’s no shortage of “The Revenant” hardship stories. Between the frigid temperatures and unique natural-light shooting, director Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Birdman”), who induces as much pain in his characters as Darren Aronofsky (“Noah”) or Stanley Kubrick (“The Shining”), crafted a mind-blowingly visceral survival story in the American West.
Who Should Win: There’s an incredibly strong case to be made for George Miller (“Happy Feet”), whose “Mad Max” revival, “Fury Road,” stunned critics and audiences alike with its phenomenal effects, nearly 90 percent of which were practical. But my choice is Tom McCarthy (“Win Win”), whose Boston-focused journalism story, “Spotlight,” is perhaps the only movie ever to make a Microsoft Excel sequence absolutely riveting.
— Daniel Hensel
Who Will Win: Leo’s not going to win because he deserves to (the Academy loves snubbing “deserving” winners). He’s going to win because he gave the sort of immersive performance award shows go crazy for. Remember when Matthew McConaughey almost starved to death for “Dallas Buyers Club,” or when Daniel Day-Lewis broke two ribs getting into character for “My Left Foot?” The Academy loves when actors suffer for their art, and Leo’s performance in “The Revenant” this year finds the actor at peak suffering. He slept in animal carcasses and ate raw liver for a month. He’s practically killing himself for the Oscar. And the Academy is going to go crazy for that.
Who Should Win: “Room” featured both of the year’s strongest performances. Brie Larson is a deserving shoe-in for Best Actress, and her co-star, nine-year-old Jacob Tremblay, should be a shoe-in for Best Actor. But he’s not even nominated. He’s not even nominated for Best Supporting Actor. And yet his performance as a young child who is born and raised in a small room is full of the one thing lacking in that of the actual nominees: honesty. The scene in which Tremblay comes eye-to-eye with the sky for the first time in his life is one of the year’s most powerful because Tremblay’s performance is so simple and pure. This year’s actual nominations for Best Actor are weak and disappointingly typical of the Oscars — older white guys playing biographical roles. Why not bring in a ringer and give Tremblay the recognition his performance deserves?
— Madeleine Gaudin
Who Will Win: She has won Best Leading Actress from BAFTA, the SAG, the Golden Globes and Chicago Film Critics Association. If past awards are any indicator of who will win the Oscar (which they are), odds are good for Brie Larson as Ma in “Room.” Her performance is, in fact, incredible. She elicits such raw, visceral emotion, primarily interacting with only one other actor in a very confining set in the first half of the movie. Her liberation from the room that coincides with her emotional and mental incarceration is a frightening experience that’s well delivered by Larson. Through Larson’s performance, “Room” creates a vivid reality.
Who Should Win: Although all the nominees are deserving of the Oscar in some respect, Saoirse Ronan’s (“Atonement”) performance in “Brooklyn” is especially heartwarming and beautiful — that said, her character in the movie naturally lends itself to this type of performance, so the difficulties of playing such a character are limited. Brie Larson’s performance, on the other hand, is downright impressive. She had little to work with (a single set and a child actor), yet she makes Ma feel like a real person. Larson has earned this Oscar.
— Joe Wagner
Who Will Win: 13 nominations later, is it finally time for the acclaimed Coen brothers (“Hail Caesar!”) cinematographer Roger Deakins (“Unbroken”) to take home the gold? Not likely. Sicario looked great in a horribly dismal sort of way, but methinks the Academy will recognize Chivo’s downright breathtaking accomplishments with “The Revenant” as the visual splendor to win it all this year. It will be the third time Emmanuel Lubeszki’s (“Birdman”) won consecutively, and the only hat trick ever by a cinematographer at the Oscars.
Who Should Win: Sorry Roger, but I’m going to have to go with one Mr. John Seale (“The English Patient”) on this one. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is the rare big-budget film where every single cent of the however-many-millions went to make sure every single frame was masterful — the intimate kind of masterful that can’t just be done in post. “Fury Road” had a unique splendor completely unmatched by any other action movie, even including films within its own franchise. Not even “The Revenant” ’s jaw-dropping nature photography could beat Seale’s ultrastylized wasteland.
— Jacob Rich