Falling off: Black Mass, The Walk
Rising star: Sicario
The skinny: Lukewarm critical response and box office returns may have doomed Black Mass and The Walk, though both seem like locks for craft categories (Make-Up & Hairstyling for the former, Visual Effects for the latter). Carol still holds the lead until it doesn’t, but Spotlight is riding high. A favorable comparison to a past Oscar winner like All the President’s Men will do that.
Falling off: None
Rising star: Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
The skinny: We’ll stick with these five until Spotlight picks up more steam. McCarthy and Haynes are the only directors here that have never been nominated before. All the others have won.
Falling off: Johnny Depp, Don Cheadle (moved to 2016)
Rising star: Matt Damon, The Martian
The skinny: Are Cranston and Hanks liked enough to get nominated for, shall we say, less challenging roles? I would hope so, but as Hanks learned a couple years ago, nothing is for certain, as his snub for Captain Phillips ranks as one of the Academy’s most egregious oversights in recent years. But you know who is well-liked and in a challenging role? Matt Damon, who has but two acting nominations in the past 20 years (Good Will Hunting and Invictus). The Martian is a huge hit and I don’t see why it can’t enjoy the goodwill bestowed upon Gravity.
Falling off: Meryl Streep, Alicia Vikander (moved to supporting)
Rising star: Maggie Smith, The Lady in the Van
The skinny: Streep is always in the conversation, but TriStar doesn’t have the deep pockets to push Ricki and the Flash. Plus, the recent hubbub over her T-shirt doesn’t help. Focus is engaging in some blatant category fraud by shifting Vikander to supporting, but that’s definitely to their advantage. Since Joy remains unseen, Blunt moves to the front of the line. Should Room not be as warmly welcomed by Academy voters as it was by festival-goers, expect Maggie Smith to step right up in a very Oscar bait-y role.
Falling off: Bradley Cooper, Kurt Russell
Rising star: Jacob Tremblay, Room
The skinny: Everyone here would be a first time nominee, except Del Toro, who won in this category in a similar role for Traffic. But right now, I’d give it to Rylance, who’s superb as the Soviety spy Rudolf Abel. He’s got exactly the right words and grace notes to play and just the right amount of screen time.
Falling off: Ellen Page
Rising star: Jane Fonda, Youth
The skinny: If anyone will fall victim to Freeheld‘s poor reception, it will be Page. She’s been nominated once before, but she’s not as well-respected as Julianne Moore, who just won and hits the two-fer of playing a gay character dying of cancer. So I’ll just pre-emptively give this to Vikander, playing essentially the lead of the picture as Lily Elbe’s wife. If Youth plays well with the very old, very white, very male Academy, Jane Fonda might not be the only star to pick up a nod.
Falling off: Suffragette
Rising star: Anomalisa
The skinny: This category is especially thin this year, but these are all solid nominees. Anomalisa, despite great reviews out of Toronto, may find difficulty in the finicky Animated Feature category, but might find luck here.
Falling off: None
Rising star: Room
The skinny: Whichever one of these films is not a Best Picture nominee will likely be shut out here, but I still see Aaron Sorkin’s talky biopic remix as the presumptive winner.
Falling off: The Little Prince, The Prophet
Rising star: When Marnie Was There
The skinny: People are still banging the drum for Inside Out as a Best Picture nominee. Believe me, I agree it’s deserving, but since the shift away from a set 10, I have a hard time believing it will make the cut. But this is a clean sweep.