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Which Oscar Nods Will Surprise Us Tomorrow? Two Slate Critics Make Final Predictions.

The Martian.
Veteran director + menschy star + non-franchise film = Oscar catnip? 

Photo by Aidan Monaghan. Image curtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

Aisha Harris: Well, Dan, after months of speculation, we’ve finally made it to the home stretch of awards season: Oscar nominations! Actual, real-life Oscar contenders will be revealed on Thursday. Let’s just dive head-first into our unabashed, perhaps kind of wrong but ultimately not too far off predictions! What do you think the Best Picture category is going to look like, aside from Spotlight?

Dan Kois: Well, the first question is: How many nominations will there be? Last year I (incorrectly) declared there would be six Best Picture nominees. I was wrong. But this year, influenced in part by this argument on Indiewire, I’m once again predicting six. Which means a lot of hopefuls—indeed, movies that once felt like locks—will be left out in the cold. My six Best Picture nominees:

The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
The Martian
The Revenant
If 7: Brooklyn
If 8: Mad Max: Fury Road
If 9: Inside Out
If 10: Room

What about you?

Harris: Hm, that Indiewire piece is convincing! But I have a feeling there will be 10. They will look like this:

The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Inside Out
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Straight Outta Compton

The Martian seems to be on everyone’s prediction lists, but I’ve been scratching my head over that. Not just because, while I enjoyed it, I don’t think it comes close to being worthy of such an honor, but also because I hear no one really talking about it, ever. It just shows up on people’s lists, but I haven’t read a convincing argument as to why. On the other hand, it did just score a DGA nomination for Ridley Scott. So odds are good I’m really wrong about this. What makes you think it will make it in, Dan?

Kois: Oh, I think The Martian is as close to a lock as there is this year. Nominating The Martian gives Hollywood a chance to reward a big hit movie by a much-loved director with a menschy star—and one that, unlike all the other big hit movies, is a non-franchise story. Look, the Oscar voters can say. We don’t just make superhero sequels. We make original stories, and those original stories make money.

Harris: On another note: I know I’ve gone on the record before as thinking Creed has a real shot at being nominated, and I think it still does! But I feel like, at this moment, it’s just on the outside of what will be the top picks, mainly because Straight Outta Compton has stolen some of its thunder in recent weeks, racking up PGA, SAG, and (less importantly) WGA noms—while Creed has remained mostly absent from awards season. I probably don’t have to say this, but in case you’re wondering why I think two very different movies dealing with very different subject matters could cancel out one another’s chances, look no further than the race of the main participants involved in each of them.

Kois: I don’t think either Creed or Straight Outta Compton will be nominated, but I think Creed has a much better shot. Who are your five Best Director picks?


Todd Haynes, Carol
Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies

I think Spielberg will be the old guard choice here—and while it hasn’t made quite the splash that the others have, so many people have praised Bridge of Spies for its self-assured direction and classic Hollywood vibe.

Kois: My picks are very similar! But I think that the old-guard choice is the man I think will very likely win: Ridley Scott.

Todd Haynes, Carol
Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Ridley Scott, The Martian

Harris: Oh goodness—do you think The Martian could take Best Picture? I guess it wouldn’t feel that different from Argo winning.

Kois: No, I anticipate the (now nearly de rigueur) Picture-Director split, but Ridley’s my frontrunner for Director.

Harris: Got it. And let’s get the least interesting category out of the way now: Who do you have for Best Actor?

Kois: Leonardo DiCaprio and four chumps.

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Harris: Mine is a little different:

Michael Caine, Youth
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Kois: I agree with you that Cranston’s first (of many, surely) Oscar nomination comes this year. But it doesn’t matter, because Leo gets what Leo wants.

Harris: Well, this year Leo gets what Leo wants. Because this handsome guy who transitioned smoothly from child actor to respected Hollywood A-lister and only dates 20- to 25-year-old supermodels hasn’t had a single break in his life up until this point.

Kois: Bless his heart. Much more interesting is Best Actress, with 10 good candidates (or more)! Who do you have?


Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Lily Tomlin, Grandma

This is such a great bunch! Except for J-Law. I like her, but this is her most miscast role to date in a pretty bad film. She gets in here, I think, because she’s J-Law—not quite at Meryl “my-nomination-is-basically-a-given-any-year-I-have-a-prestige-film-out” Streep, but close enough. Lily is the biggest toss-up here, but I say she grabs the (much-deserved) Elder Stateswoman Who’s Finally Getting Some Juicy High-Profile Roles nod.

Kois: I give that slot to Charlotte Rampling, who I also think might win.

Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Mostly because I think Oscar voters will love 45 Years more than Grandma, fun as it is.

Harris: Interesting. Yes, it was a toss up for me between the two. Either way, I think Brie has it on lock.

Kois: Your lips to God’s ears, Aisha. One missing Best Actress contender in both our lists is … Meryl Streep. Ricki and the Flash is not a prestige film, but a) Meryl is great in it and b) she’s gotten nominated for FAR weaker roles in the past. Is the Academy over its Meryl fixation? Or is this evidence of a brighter era in women’s roles?

Harris: I think it’s definitely the latter. Though I don’t think it helped at all that Ricki and the Flash was both a total flop and it came out in the summer—everyone’s forgotten about it. August: Osage County may have flopped, but it still came out at the right time when everyone would have to be thinking about it (and not really digging it).

Kois: Tell that to Oscar nominee One True Thing, Aisha. So, last question: Many years a movie comes out of nowhere to garner a bunch of surprise nominations. Maybe it lands in Best Picture, maybe it just puts in a surprisingly strong showing in other categories. Two years ago it was Philomena. Three years ago it was Amour. Do you have a dark horse this year? A movie that, though it isn’t currently among most people’s predictions, could score multiple nominations in major categories?

Harris: Creed. I would be pleasantly surprised if it mimicked its predecessor’s success nearly 40 years ago, and found its way into several major categories, including Best Picture, Best Director for Ryan Coogler, and Best Actor and Best Supporting for Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, respectively. (And hey, if/when Stallone steals it out from under Mark Rylance, he’ll hopefully be sure to thank Coogler and Jordan before he thanks his imaginary BFF, Rocky Balboa.)

Kois: I bet he only thanks his agent once this time! I would be delighted if Creed snuck into those races. I’d also like to see it in Editing, Cinematography, and one or both of the sound categories.

Harris: Last year when we did this same ambitious predicting, you named a “good” unexpected nod and a “bad” one, so I’ll follow suit. Here’s my negative: the academy rushes to nominate the tame tackling of trans issues (compared to Tangerine) and The Danish Girl gets nominated for all the awards. What do you think could be unexpectedly big?

Kois: I would be surprised, but only a little surprised, if Son of Saul showed up big on Thursday morning, in Picture, Actor, Director, and Screenplay. People love this movie when they see it, and the Oscar voters, as a group, really, really love rewarding Holocaust stories. That this one is particularly well-made and surprising isn’t necessarily a disqualifier!

Harris: That would be a big surprise! I could actually see Géza Röhrig sneaking into Best Actor, at least.

Kois: If the academy nominates The Danish Girl as a way of embracing trans issues, I hope Sin-Dee and Alexandra from Tangerine burst into the Samuel Goldwyn Theater and tear some shit UP.

Harris: Sin-Dee and Alexandra forever!

Read more in Slate about the 2016 Oscars.