Best Performance by a Grunter in a Leading Role
Leonardo DiCaprio is a special breed of movie star; Never content to sell out, actively seeking out vital directorial voices to work with, and capable of drawing audiences out in droves to see adult dramas. Something has to be said for that, and he's arrived at the point in his career when it feels like an Oscar is due. His fans will be happy, but a great many might be annoyed to see him finally gilded for a performance that doesn't come close to exemplifying his talent. Make no mistake, his work in The Revenant is committed (to the point that his suffering has become the story of the film), but a full-bodied character this is not. And yet having claimed every major precursor thus far, it seems clear that the industry is eager to cross his name off the we-owe-you-one list.
As for the other four, they all have their various hooks, but just never found a foothold in the season. Michael Fassbender at least attracted a healthy share of critics prizes for his scintillating work in Steve Jobs, but the film's box office underperformance cast an unfortunate shadow on its awards prospects in general. Eddie Redmayne was an on-paper default option since before he won last year's Oscar, but having indeed won that award a short twelve months ago probably will prompt many voters to give him a pass. Bryan Cranston is still enjoying the career momentum from six seasons of heralded work in Breaking Bad, and the Academy loves impersonations, and the Academy loves movies about Hollywood, but are they that in love with Cranston that they'd give it to him on his first nomination... and for Trumbo, a movie that is mediocre at best?
The only distant spoiler possibility, it seems to me, may be Matt Damon for his entertaining movie-star turn in The Martian, the only other Best Picture nominee represented alongside The Revenant. He easily collected the Golden Globe thanks to a dubious Comedy campaign, but the shenanigans obviously paid off. And I can't really complain. I'd call it an upgrade over snubbee Johnny Depp, and a pointless upgrade at that, given how locked in Leo feels.
Will win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Runner-up: Matt Damon, The Martian
Should win: Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Should be nominated: Tom Hardy, Legend