Usually by this point in the season, we've had enough indicators lining up behind one title to make calling Best Picture a mere formality on our Oscar night scorecards. The only instance in the last ten years that caused any confusion was two years ago, when the PGA ended in an unprecedented tie. The Producers Guild may not have split hairs this year, but they may as well have, because the rest of the industry has been so uniformly divided among the top three contenders that this may be an even tighter race than the famous Gravity/Slave sprint.
For starters, we can pare down the field of eight nominees. Figuring where they'd rank is an exercise in pure, unfounded speculation. But it's also kinda fun, so humour me.
I suspect that the title chasing the pack is Brooklyn. Lovely little movie that it is (unlikely at the bottom of anybody's list), it probably lacks enough 1st place votes to survive the initial tabulation rounds.
Room probably has more in the way of a small, concerted passion vote. The People's Choice honour from TIFF is testament to that, and therefore it won a berth here despite floundering with most guilds. But a broad level of support was always gonna be tough for a film like this to establish.
A movie like Bridge of Spies is more likely to hang around through a couple of rounds. It's respected enough to garner at least some 1st place ballots, and may pick up a healthy helping of 2nd and 3rd places too. But can it outlast more populist options?
Our two genre entries in the field, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian, make sense as the closest nominees to ousting one of the top three (which we'll never know, of course). These are films whose extensive guild recognition suggests wide support, but they've also inspired some very impassioned fandoms. That of Mad Max has been the more audible of the two in online circles, but if the industry can't even see fit to honour George Miller -- by far the critical preference, and rightly so -- how can we expect them to be more embracing of the whole project? I suspect its Ridley Scott's crowd-pleaser that holds more appeal for the Academy, despite the fact that it looks like it's going home empty-handed.
Spotlight looked like an early frontrunner, scooping up the majority of regional critics prizes and landing all the key guild nominations except for the ACE Eddie. But perhaps it was always destined to please the media (for obvious reasons) more than the Academy, who have never given a movie as verbose and reserved as Spotlight an Oscar for Best Picture. Still, the virtues of its superb writing and acting have not flown over people's heads. I'd say there's just enough hope to keep me watching.
They prefer their movies to feel more conspicuously "cinematic", and there was another talkative issue movie with more vim and vinegar lurking in the wings, waiting to steal the spotlight (as it were). The Big Short would make an unusual winner, but then so was Birdman last year. I wouldn't normally expect such an abrasive comedy to succeed on a preferential ballot, but the PGA proved that wrong. The biggest argument going against it is that Best Adapted Screenplay is the only category it has locked down. Can it really win Best Picture and only one other award?
Indeed, when staring at the (perceived) final tallies, plus the DGA+BAFTA combo, it's awfully hard not to think The Revenant will make history. Never before has a director helmed back-to-back Best Pictures, but Inarritu is on the verge. His gargantuan wilderness epic looks poised to take Best Director, Actor, Cinematography, and probably a couple other craft distinctions as well. To see it win all of this and then lose the top award seems incongruous, but why are we so quick to forget what happened two years ago? Gravity clearly inspired awestruck admiration for its aethetic elements and visionary direction, but even a haul of seven Oscars wasn't enough to trump a more "important" movie.
Will win (ranked):
1. The Big Short
2. The Revenant
4. The Martian
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
6. Bridge of Spies
Should win: (ranked):
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
4. The Martian
6. Bridge of Spies
7. The Revenant
8. The Big Short
Should be nominated:
Inside Out, Carol, Son of Saul, Steve Jobs, Sicario, Creed