Oscar flashback: ‘Joy’ predicted to win Best Picture, ‘Spotlight’ not in contention at start of awards season

The eve of balloting for Oscar nominations is a good time to look back at the state of the race at the beginning of awards season in late August. When we first canvassed our experts (journalists who cover the Oscar beat year-round), “Joy” sat atop our chart for Best Picture while current frontrunner “Spotlight” did not even make the top 10. Both then and now, “The Revenant” was in second place. 

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To compare various points in time over the past four months, go to this page, scroll down and click any two dates (after Aug. 31) on the calendars. You will see what our experts were predicting to prevail on each date. And be sure to click on the different categories on the left-hand side of the page to see the changes in those races as well.

We canvassed our Oscarologists for the first time a week before Open Road’s “Spotlight” unspooled at the Venice film festival. Our expectations were muted for Tom McCarthy‘s docudrama that delves into the Boston Globe investigation of the Catholic church pedophile priest scandal. Then came the critical raves that give it a score of 97 at Rotten Tomatoes (which uses a pass/fail system) and 93 on the sliding scale at MetaCritic. And it has done well in its platform release, taking in almost $25 million stateside. “Spotlight” was named top film of the year by the Los Angeles film critics and picked up multiple bids with all three key kudos in advance of the Oscars: Critics’ Choice (8), Golden Globes (3) and SAG (2). 

At the outset of this awards season, our experts had high hope for Fox 2000’s “Joy,” which reunites writer/director David O. Russell with Jennifer Lawrence for a third time. Lawrence — who plays a character inspired by entrepreneur Joy Mangano — won an Oscar in 2012 for their first film together (“Silver Linings Playbook”) and contended for their second (2013’s “American Hustle”). While the film opened at Christmas to middling notices, the star power of Lawrence translated into box office receipts of $21 million. Although it is now a longshot for a Best Picture nomination, Lawrence looks like a lock to reap a Best Actress bid. 

Best Picture nominations ballots counted differently than rest

Fox’s “The Revenant” is an epic adventure from last year’s big Oscar champ Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Birdman”) who was inspired by the true-life exploits of frontiersman Hugh Glass. Leonardo DiCaprio — who has lost four previous Oscar bids for acting as well as one for producing Best Picture nominee “The Wolf of Wall Street” — is far out in front to win Best Actor for his gripping portrayal of a man abandoned after a bear attack who treks hundreds of miles to exact his revenge. He represents the film at the SAG Awards and numbers among the four Golden Globe and nine Critics’ Choice nominations. 

As with “Spotlight,” our experts underestimated the Oscar appeal of current third-place contender “The Martian,” a sci-fi spectacular from Fox with Matt Damon as an astronaut accidentally abandoned on the red plantet who strives to return home. This 3D blockbuster is directed by Ridley Scott who is the frontrunner to finally win Best Director after three losses. And his film, which scored 93 at Rotten Tomatoes and 80 at MetaCritic, is solidly in third place for Best Picture. Although snubbed by SAG, it reaped nine Critics’ Choice nominations and four Golden Globe bids, including Best Comedy/Musical Picture which it is predicted to win

The Weinstein Company’s “Carol,” Todd Haynes‘ film version of Patricia Highsmith‘s 1952 novel “The Price of Salt,” started the season in third but has been bumped down to fourth. Critics have showered this intimate drama, which charts the love affair between a housewife (Cate Blanchett) and a store clerk (Rooney Mara), with praise; it scores 95 at Rotten Tomatoes and a jaw-dropping 96 at MetaCritic. The film won four awards from the New York film critics, including Best Picture. And it reaped nine Critics’ Choice nominations, five at both the Golden Globes and Indie Spirits as well as SAG bids for Blanchett and Mara. 

See latest Oscar rankings when Experts’ predictions are combined

One of the big stories of the season has been the rise of Warner’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” which began the season in 10th place. Since then, this summer blockbuster has risen to fifth, buoyed by its boffo box office, critical hosannas (97 at Rotten Tomatoes; 89 at MetaCritic) and Best Picture win at the National Board of Review. While it was snubbed by SAG, it reaped a leading 13 Critics’ Choice nominations and contends for a pair of Golden Globes. 

MIA from our original line-up were two films that got big boosts from the festival circuit, one last-minute entry into the derby and a long-scheduled Christmas release that could become the highest grossing film of all time.  

A24’s “Room” won the People’s Choice prize at the Toronto film festival and is now sixth on our Best Picture chart. Lenny Abrahamson‘s intense drama, which stars Brie Larson as a kidnap victim who raises her son (Jacob Tremblay) in captivity, won over the critics too, scoring 97 at Rotten Tomatoes and 86 at MetaCritic. Larson, who is far out front in the Best Actress race, is among the four nominations for the film at Critics’ Choice as well as the three bids at both the Globes and Spirits and two at SAG. 

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Fox Searchlight’s “Brooklyn” began the year by premiering at the Sundance film festival and ends it in eighth place for Best Picture. In between, this romance charmed the critics (RT: 97; MC: 87) and audiences ($25 million and counting). Saoirse Ronan won Best Actress from the New York film critics and contends at the Globe, Critics’ Choice and SAG awards. 

Paramount was so enthusiastic about “The Big Short” that it bumped this seriocomic film set against the backdrop of the housing-market crash that ignited the Great Recession of 2008 into this year’s derby. Critics embraced this smart and sassy satire (RT: 87; MC: 81) which we have ranked seventh. It contends for six Critics’ Choice Awards as well as three Golden Globes and twice at SAG (Ensemble, Christian Bale).  

Disney knew it would do well commercially with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” But this seventh film in the franchise is also such a hit with critics (RT: 94; MC: 81) that the BFCA reopened balloting just to include it among the Best Picture nominees at the Critics’ Choice awards. This box office juggernaut is currently ranked in 10th place on our Best Picture chart. 

Click here to see ups and downs of Oscar races over entire awards season

Bridge of Spies,” remains in contention although this Disney flick has slipped from sixth to ninth. Steven Spielberg teams up with his pal Tom Hanks for this taut Cold War thriller about James Donovan, a reluctant recruit in the cold war stand-off between the USA and the USSR. Critics embraced this period piece and it scores 91 at Rotten Tomatoes and 81 on MetaCritic. Three-time Tony Award winner Mark Rylance is a strong contender for Best Supporting Actor for his subdued portrayal of Russian spy Rudolf Abel.  

We expected three other true-life tales — “The Danish Girl,” “Steve Jobs” and “Black Mass” — to be strong contenders. While all were well-reviewed, they have underperformed at the box office and with the precursor prizes. Now, none of them are in the top 10. 

Back in August, Focus Feature’s “The Danish Girl” was in fourth place. The film pairs Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”) with last year’s Best Actor champ Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”) who plays the first man to undergo a sex change operation. Oscar-winning helmer Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”) was expected to have a strong contender with Universal’s “Steve Jobs,” his fast-paced picture about Apple’s patron saint which began in fifth place. And Warner’s “Black Mass,” Scott Cooper‘s crime drama about Boston gangster Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) started off in seventh. 

And our original eighth and ninth place contenders also have fallen out of the top 10. Pixar’s “Inside Out” remains the frontrunner for Best Animated Feature while the Weinstein Company’s “The Hateful Eight” is likely to be a strong contender for Best Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Cinematography and Score.

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