Oscars: Who will win, who should win

Randy Myers
San Jose Mercury News (TNS)

This year's Academy Awards has already created a lot of drama. Expect more of that Sunday.
How will emcee Chris Rock address the lily whiteness of this year's nominees? Will stars boycott?
Beyond the lack of diversity in the nominees, we can expect drama of another sort, as in who will actually take home the trophies.
Aside from Leonardo DiCaprio as a shoo-in, there are few clear favorites in the major categories as is reflected in the roulette wheel of picks from national critics groups and other awards organizations.
Here then are my mostly uncertain predictions:

FILE - This file photo released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Tom Hardy, as Max Rockatansky, in a scene from, “Mad Max:Fury Road." “Mad Max: Fury Road” is the only best-picture nominee available through a subscription service, HBO Now. If you have a cable subscription with HBO, you can catch it on HBO Go. (Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP, File)
This photo provided by courtesy of Open Road Films shows, Rachel McAdams, from left, as Sacha Pfeiffer, Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes and Brian d’Arcy James as Matt Carroll, in a scene from the film, "Spotlight." The 73rd annual Golden Globe nominations in film and television categories will be announced Thursday morning, Dec. 10, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif.  (Kerry Hayes/Open Road Films via AP)

The nominees: "The Big Short," "Bridge of Spies," "Brooklyn," "Mad Max: Fury Road," "The Martian," "The Revenant," "Room," "Spotlight"
What will win: This is the toughest category to call. "The Martian" is the biggest crowd-pleaser, but it's only a good adventure film — not a great one. "Brooklyn's" gentle demeanor brings light to the immigrant experience, but Oscar doesn't favor low-key dramas. Everything about Steven Spielberg's "Bridge of Spies" is polished, but the glacial pace of the Cold War spy tale kills it chances. "Room" could be a dark horse, but once again its subject matter — abducted mom raises son the best she can — remains a formidable challenge (just look at those box-office numbers). "Mad Max: Fury Road" represents spectacular, go-for-broke filmmaking, but action movies rarely pole-vault to the podium. And while "The Revenant" took guts and stamina to make, and even sit through, the Academy will find it too grueling. So it's down to two true-life takes on scandals. "Spotlight" took a tenacious journalist-like approach depicting the Boston Globe's investigation into the clergy sex abuse cover-up. It's a noble film, one to admire, respect and get incensed about. It could win. But I'm placing my bets on "The Big Short." Adam McKay's caffeinated dramedy that manages to simultaneously make us laugh and feel outrage at the subprime mortgage debacle all over again. Oscar adores movies with a message, and this one delivers it with gusto.
What should win: "Mad Max: Fury Road." Even more than "The Revenant," "Fury" created a unique and startling vision. Using minimal dialogue, it defied franchise expectations by turning a female character into one of the strongest action characters since "Alien's" Ripley landed. In between the Cirque du Soleil-like polecats and front-fender guitar-playing, burbled commentary about religion, oppression and fascism. It's an action classic. But should "Room" or "Spotlight" sneak in for the win, I'm more than satisfied, too.
The nominees: Adam McKay, "The Big Short;" George Miller, "Mad Max: Fury Road;" Alejandro G. Inarritu, "The Revenant;" Lenny Abrahamson, "Room;" Tom McCarthy, "Spotlight"
Who will win: In "Room," Abrahamson worked wonders with both his lead actors, and handled a horrifying subject with remarkable sensitivity. In "Short," McKay made the complicated subject of financial collapse not just comprehensive but compelling. Still, others struggled more for their art. A steady, principled McCarthy gave us one of the best portraits of journalism ever, but will Oscar forgive him for having written and directed Adam Sandler's "The Cobbler" the same year? Inarritu endured reshoots, obsessive method actors and snowstorms to make the audacious "The Revenant." But he won last year (for "Birdman"), so a repeat is doubtful. I suspect the Academy will honor Miller, a highly respected industry veteran who brought new vitality to not just a franchise but a genre.
Who should win: Miller. His "Mad" vision will become a classic.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass in “The Revenant.”
This photo released by 20th Century Fox shows Matt Damon in a scene from the film, "The Martian." The film was nominated for an Oscar for best picture on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. The 88th annual Academy Awards will take place on Sunday, Feb. 28, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles (Aidan Monaghan/20th Century Fox via AP)

The nominees: Bryan Cranston, "Trumbo;" Matt Damon, "The Martian;" Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Revenant;" Michael Fassbender, "Steve Jobs;" Eddie Redmayne, "The Danish Girl"
Who will win: Cranston was a fireplug as blacklisted author Dalton Trumbo, but he didn't stretch much. As a music-loving astronaut saddled on Mars, the charming Damon made us care about his fate. As the iconic Jobs, Fassbender made Aaron Sorkin's meaty screenplay sing. While Redmayne was eloquent as a man undergoing a gender reassignment surgery, he got last year's. So to no one's surprise, it's DiCaprio's year. As a vengeance-seeking frontiersman who survives a bear attack and other cruelties, both man-made and in nature, he will win. After all, he did eat real, raw bison liver.
Who should win: For a career Oscar, I'd love to see the award go to Leo. He's been robbed of Oscar gold before, with his terrific performances in "Shutter Island" and "The Wolf of Wall Street" for starters. But for this year's best performance? Come to the podium, Damon. It's unfortunate he'll be dismissed for delivering a "light" performance, because without his genial presence, Ridley Scott's film would have been utterly lost in space.

In this image released by A24 Films, Brie Larson, left, and Jacob Tremblay appear in a scene from the film, "Room." The 88th annual Academy Awards nominations will be announced on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, Calif. The Oscars will be presented on Feb. 28, 2016, in Los Angeles. (A24 Films via AP)

The nominees: Cate Blanchett, "Carol;" Brie Larson, "Room;" Jennifer Lawrence, "Joy;" Charlotte Rampling, "45 Years;" Saoirse Ronan, "Brooklyn"
Who will win: Now, we're talking some truly great performances. This year finally saw an uptick in quality roles for women. As a rich housewife with a curious eye out for a New York shopgirl, Blanchett was icy and complicated. Lawrence took a half-baked screenplay about the Miracle Mop inventor and helped clean up a scattered mess. Ronan gave a nuanced, soulful performance as an immigrant torn between the responsibilities of two worlds in "Brooklyn." Veteran actress Rampling made every critical second count as a former English teacher who discovers the extent of her husband's premarital affair. And Larson masterfully expressed the torment, love and commitment of a mother trying to protect her child in extraordinary circumstances in "Room." It's the kind of performance that wins Oscars.
Who should win: Larson's turn is also the caliber of a performance that deserves an Oscar. I'm a huge fan of Rampling, but after seeing "45 Years" a second time, I have to say Larson had a more challenging role. The scene in which her character is interviewed on TV is crushing to witness. It's a brilliant performance that's never manipulative.

This photo provided by Paramount Pictures shows, Christian Bale as Michael Burry, in the film, "The Big Short," from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises. (Jaap Buitendijk/Paramount Pictures via AP)
Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan in "Creed." (Warner Bros. Entertainment)

The nominees: Christian Bale, "The Big Short;" Tom Hardy, "The Revenant;" Mark Ruffalo, "Spotlight;" Mark Rylance, "Bridge of Spies;" Sylvester Stallone, "Creed"
Who will win: Rylance, a tremendous thespian, graced us with one of the most intriguing characters of the year, a socially awkward spy who loved to paint. He was amazing, but the role didn't require his character to change much. Hardy was terrific as the cruel, greedy sociopath in "Revenant," but he'll be back another year. Ruffalo brought his usual passion to his role as a dogged reporter in "Spotlight," but it really wasn't a headline-making performance. As a hard-rock-lovin' Silicon Valley hedge fund manager who saw a crisis barreling toward investors, Bale was so convincing you forgot he was ever the Dark Knight. But Hollywood loves a comeback story and after years of trudging through misfires such as "Grudge Match," Stallone comes out looking like a champ as a wiser and more humbled Rocky Balboa in "Creed." He'll win.
Who should win: Bale. In a film populated with colorful eccentrics, Bale was the one who gave the most focused and fascinating performance. The best of the lot in this category.

This image released by Focus Features shows Alicia Vikander in a scene from "The Danish Girl." Vikander was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actress on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, for her role in the film. The 88th annual Academy Awards will take place on Sunday, Feb. 28, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Focus Features via AP)

The nominees: Jennifer Jason Leigh, "The Hateful Eight;" Rooney Mara, "Carol;" Rachel McAdams, "Spotlight;" Alicia Vikander, "The Danish Girl;" Kate Winslet, "Steve Jobs"
Who will win: As a foul-tempered prisoner stuck in a room full of duplicitous men, Jennifer Jason Leigh got knocked around so much she certainly earned her spot here. But that performance didn't move the needle much. Mara played it timid and mousy as a shop girl falling in love with a married woman. But it wasn't a passionate performance, and the part needed a bit of that. McAdams gave her all as a journalist assigned to get at the heart of a groundbreaking story about sexual abuse. "The Notebook" star has never been better, but it's a modulated performance, not one that was overly challenging. In Winslet's telling eyes, we glimpsed the genius of Steve Jobs, along with how frustrating it would be to work for him. But what was going on with that accent? The Academy will stick to tradition and reward relative newcomer Vikander. She had a breakout year, and showed passion and range as the supportive wife of a man undergoing a historic gender-assignment surgery. This, however, was a main role, not a supporting one.
Who should win: It's a no-brainer: Vikander. When I think of "The Danish Girl" it's more about her heartfelt performance than Redmayne's. She's that good.

(Randy Myers is president of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.)