Star Wars: The Force Awakens for Best Picture? At this rate, maybe. After two rounds of major nominations, from the Screen Actors Guild and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association — which included some real snubs and surprises — it’s anyone’s guess which movies will be the big winners at the Oscars. What does seem clear is mainstream hits like Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, and Straight Outta Compton could finally get the love that in recent years has been reserved for smaller, indie fare. And now that Star Wars was named one of the year’s 10 best flicks by the American Film Institute, is the Force with J.J. Abrams’ space adventure? It’s hardly a lock, but this year, never say never.
Fill out your Oscar ballot in pen with these names: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl), and Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), all of whom received nominations from both SAG and the Hollywood Foreign Press. Add to that list Bryan Cranston, who cuts a fine figure as the outlandishly talented Communist screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. SAG and Globes noms put him on the path to Oscar recognition for his work in Trumbo, and Academy voters love nothing more than movies about Hollywood. As for that last spot? Impressive performances from Will Smith (Concussion) and Matt Damon (The Martian) both earned Globe nominations, but there are a few wild cards with real potential in this race: Don’t count out Michael Caine for the Italian dramedy Youth or Ian McKellen as an aging icon in Mr. Holmes.
With so many strong roles for women this year, the Academy might want to temporarily expand the number of nominees in this category. Cate Blanchett (Carol), Brie Larson (Room), and Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) each scored noms from SAG and Globes voters and appear to be the surest of bets. Then there’s Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), Charlotte Rampling (45 Years), and Sarah Silverman, whose startling dramatic turn as a woman suffering from depression in I Smile Back earned her SAG recognition. Perhaps the thorniest situations involve The Danish Girl actress Alicia Vikander and Blanchett’s Carol costar Rooney Mara. Focus Features and The Weinstein Co., respectively, are campaigning the women in the supporting category, though most critics and pundits have argued that their performances should be considered as leads. The HFPA followed that logic and awarded nominations for both; Oscar voters could do the same.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR AND ACTRESS
Statistics don’t lie. SAG and the Globes reliably predict the Oscar nominees in the supporting categories, with SAG edging over the HFPA by about 8 percent. By that rationale, expect to hear the Academy announce the names of Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Christian Bale (The Big Short), and Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) next month. Also possible? Room’s young star Jacob Tremblay, who scored with SAG. Sylvester Stallone’s revival as Rocky Balboa had Hollywood buzzing following Creed’s release, but a nod from the Globes and a snub from SAG wouldn’t appear to spell certain victory for the champ. Among the women, Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs) is a lock, likely joined by Vikander, Mara, and Helen Mirren for her portrayal of gossip columnist Hedda Hopper in Trumbo. To round out the list, our money’s on Jane Fonda for Youth. She hasn’t won an Oscar since 1979, yet her brief but commanding performance proved unequivocally that she’s still got it.
BEST PICTURE AND BEST DIRECTOR
Journalism procedural Spotlight and its director, Tom McCarthy, remain frontrunners, bolstered by nominations from SAG and Globes voters. Both The Big Short, Adam McKay’s funny dissertation on the housing bubble, and Trumbo got serious lift courtesy of the Screen Actors Guild, improving the odds that Academy voters will give them a second look. Same goes for Straight Outta Compton, which scored with a best-ensemble nomination from the actors’ organization. The Globes, meanwhile, singled out Ridley’s Scott’s crowd-pleasing hit The Martian (in the comedy category) and George Miller’s propulsive Mad Max: Fury Road (as a drama), nominating both filmmakers as well. Revenant director Alejandro G. Iñárritu also made the cut. Trending downward? David O. Russell for Joy and director Lenny Abrahamson for Room. But the wild card here is Steven Spielberg and Bridge of Spies. It’s never wise to count out the veteran director — while the SAG and Globes nominations are informative, sometimes the Academy simply goes its own way.
Surprises and Snubs
Johnny Depp, Black Mass
Depp was looking golden for a Best Actor nod after his SAG nomination, and he certainly may still sneak into the Oscar race, but we’re stunned that the HFPA — the body that nominated him for his role in the critically maligned The Tourist—ignored his best work in years playing notorious gangster Whitey Bulger.
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
The 25-year-old Oscar winner has been nominated by SAG three times — so when the organization overlooked her performance in David O. Russell’s Joy, it left us thinking that her chances at another Oscar might be slimmer than expected.
Michael Keaton, Spotlight
We were certain his portrayal of Boston Globe investigativeteam leader Walter “Robby” Robinson would land Keaton the Oscar that eluded him for his starring turn in Birdman last year. But with no recognition from either SAG or the Globes, it looks like Keaton split the supportingactor votes with the other members of the cast, including the equally deserving Mark Ruffalo.
Mad Max: Fury Road
The epic road race has landed on nearly every critic’s best-of list. Although SAG nominated only the movie’s stunt ensemble, the HFPA’s recognition of the meaty allegory in both the picture and directing categories just turned the volume on the film’s awards buzz way up. That sound you hear? It’s the Doof Warrior wailing his way to the Oscar stage.