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Oscars 2016: Our predictions for the show and the winners

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The long and bumpy road to the 88th annual Academy Awards is almost at an end, and Sunday's telecast of the ceremony is look to be just as interesting for what goes down on stage than on the actual awards outcome — maybe more so. With many prominent filmmakers and actors opting out of the show, an all-but-clinched win for the Academy's Susan Lucci, and the unlikely alliance of Joe Biden and Lady Gaga, the show promises to be all but predictable. That didn't stop us from making some very specific predictions.

The Revenant and Mad Max will split the top honors

George and Alejandro

Emily Yoshida: The odds are still currently pointing to Alejandro González Iñárritu to become the third director in history to win best director two years in a row. (The other two, in case you're curious: Joseph Mankiewicz and John Ford, who were working in an era where it was much more common for a big-ticket director to crank out a film a year.) But can he pull off the best-picture-best-director double whammy twice in a row? Common sense would say yes (he got the DGA award, which usually means a lock for the Oscar) but my gut says no. The Revenant is not as universally loved as last year's Birdman, which itself had strong detractors. There's already an air of shrugging inevitability around Leonardo DiCaprio's all-but-guaranteed best actor win for the film, I don't know that there will be much passion left for the film to take home both picture and director.

Desert vs. Mountains! Pelts vs. Prosthetics! Liver-eaters vs. Petrol Guzzlers!

So who will it split with? The film everyone is affectionately calling their long shot, the film people vote for and simultaneously assume one else is voting for: Mad Max: Fury Road. And while I think the critical favorite (literally, it swept the Critic's Choice Awards) has a small chance of getting best picture, I think George Miller could come in with the sneak attack and grab best director. Counter-intuitively, Miller's narrative is incredibly appealing to the pre-purge Academy that's voting on this year's awards. An aging veteran filmmaker staging a flawless comeback after years of radio silence? You know the aging veteran filmmaker contingent of the Academy is eating that up. You could also argue that we see more of the director's hand on screen in Mad Max's highly imaginative action sequences than we do in The Revenant — other than Iñárritu's executive decision to plop everyone in the frozen wilderness.

Ultimately, the Oscars will be a fight between the desert and the mountains, pelts and prosthetics, liver-eaters and petrol-guzzlers. however it shakes out, now's about the time to cue up your thinkpieces.

No matter what, the winner of best animated short will deserve it

Chris Plante: Just look at this year's animated short nominees. In any other year, against the annual collection of melancholy stop-motion and rot-your-teeth sweet family cartoons, any of these nominees would walk away with gold in hand. This year, for better or worse, they must contend against each other. This year's films are largely meant for mature audiences, and not merely because of occasional nudity and violence (especially in the case of the masterful "Prologue.") Their bright, colorful palettes and charming designs conceal universal anxieties about mortality, abandonment, and the unquestioned pursuit of technology. Even Pixar’s heartfelt "Sanjay’s Super Team," which ran before The Good Dinosaur, spends seven minutes examining the relationship between a young Indian boy and his father’s religious devotion. Of course, if I had complete say, the Oscar would go to Don Hertzfeldt’s "World of Tomorrow," a incessant finger picking at the scabby question of "Why do we exist?" But if it doesn’t, I, a disinterested party, can sleep peacefully knowing someone truly deserving had their work validated by a bunch of rich folks in fancy suits.

Chris Rock will definitely make a joke about Leo vaping

Lizzie Plaugic: Chris Rock has hosted the Oscars once before (in 2005) in one of many attempts the Academy has made to bring some edge and / or relevance to its event. Rock took the Academy to task for its lack of diversity — a topic he'll likely address again (there were only four black actors nominated in 2005, which is four more than this year). But the rest of Rock's material largely amounted to mocking actors like Sean Penn (for being humorless) and Jude Law (for being a nobody).

It seems likely that more of the same is in store for Sunday, and best actor nominee Leonardo DiCaprio has already positioned himself as an easy target. Rock might make a joke about Leo sleeping inside a horse, or tango-ing with a bear in The Revenant, but the actor's recently exposed second life as a vape enthusiast is fertile territory for a comedian who's proven he's comfortable taking jabs at broad-chested actors. I predict Rock will make a joke about DiCaprio's vape habit. The camera will pan to DiCaprio. He won't be laughing — maybe because he's already expecting the ridicule.

Lady Gaga will dedicate her Oscar to Kesha

Jamieson Cox: I won't be surprised if Lady Gaga takes another step toward her inevitable EGOT Sunday night by winning the Oscar for best original song. She's nominated for "Til It Happens to You," a dramatic ballad recorded for the college sexual assault documentary The Hunting Ground, and Joe Biden is going to introduce her performance. Gaga is also one of the loudest and most prominent voices supporting Kesha, the pop star fighting for liberation from her contract with her former producer and alleged abuser Dr. Luke. ("The very reason women don't speak up for years is the fear that no one will believe them," wrote Gaga on Instagram. "What happened to Kesha has happened to many female artists, including myself, and it will affect her for the rest of her life.") I'm almost positive Gaga will publicly declare her support for Kesha in some way. It might be part of her performance, and it'll definitely be part of her victory speech if she ends up winning. It's one of the biggest platforms imaginable; there's precedent for similar declarations (see Adele at the Brit Awards a few days ago); Gaga is smart enough to appreciate the opportunity and passionate enough to use it. It could be the tipping point for a case that's about to become a mainstream concern.

Leo will dedicate his Oscar to the inevitable heat death of our planet

The Revenant

Bryan Bishop: It's no stretch at this point to say that pretty much everybody is expecting Leonardo DiCaprio to win Best Actor for his performance in The Revenant. And really, who can blame Oscar voters? After years of questionable facial hair choices and scraggly on-screen goatees, DiCaprio finally proved he could go Full Beard, and the effect was nothing short of terrifying. But if there's one thing we know about DiCaprio, it's that he's got a strong passion for environmental issues, and it's hard to imagine him taking the stage at the Dolby Theater on Sunday and not using the opportunity to mention global warming and climate change. Or perhaps he'll mention how inspiring he finds Bernie Sanders to be on the topic; this is an election year, after all.

Will anybody actually take him seriously when they can talk about vaping, bears, or the afore-mentioned SuperBeard? Not really ... but you can't blame DiCaprio for trying.

Ryan Reynolds will appear in costume as Deadpool and do something that becomes this year's Ellen Pizza

Kaitlyn Tiffany: What if the joke that went on too long at this years Oscar's was actually a joke that has already gone on too long, just in general? While Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool in the film Deadpool is witty and endearing (I can hardly believe it, but it's true!), Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool in promotional materials for Deadpool and in promotional materials for Ryan Reynolds' completely superfluous comeback is one long, excruciating dad joke. Unfortunately, Reynolds can't say "balls" on network television, so he'll have to try even harder than usual. I can already picture the nonplussed look on Maggie Gyllenhaal's face.

Whoever presents best actor will wait an abnormally long time to announce the winner, just to watch Leo squirm

Ross Miller: At this point, everyone has accepted that Leonardo DiCaprio will win best actor. The Revenant star, who has been "robbed" of his Oscar about a half dozen times before, has won virtually every acting award this year. Hell, Vegas has him at 1-to-20 odds — betting on anyone else is just throwing money away. It will be, without question, the most predictably boring part of an already very predictable night.

Just imagine the look on Leo's face

So maybe this is less a prediction and more a plea to from me to Julianne Moore, the likely presenter of the best actor award (since it's traditionally done by the previous year's winner for best actress). Dear Julianne:

I know we don't know each other personally, but please, do everything you can to stall. Use all of your magnificent acting prowess to milk the moment as long as possible. Fumble with the envelope until the front row starts looking like they might stand up to come help. Hold off saying Leo's name until the orchestra wonders if they should play you off. Just... stall like you've never stalled before.

Why delay the inevitable? Because imagine, if you will, that moment where the camera is zoomed on Leo's face, and he... he starts to doubt... maybe he won't win it, after all. Give Leo a moment of genuine doubt so that the win is that much sweeter — not just for him, not just for me, but for literally everyone watching.

Thank you in advance.