As a massive Oscar nerd I get excited when we have a close two horse race for Best Picture. Like last year when “Birdman” edged out “Boyhood”. Or in 2013 when “12 Years A Slave” beat “Gravity” in a nailbiter. So this year I have been in Oscar procrastinating heaven with a razor-thin four horse Best Picture derby between “The Revenant,” “Spotlight,” “The Big Short” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
It has been one of the most crowded Best Picture showdowns in Oscar history, featuring films where our heroes have taken on stockbrokers, priests and bears… oh my.
So in a year where there has been so many contenders in the Best Picture stakes, how do we land on a winner? I think the race has crystallised in the last two weeks: “The Revenant” will win. The film has vaulted into first place at Gold Derby with combined odds of 2/3. Those odds are based on the combined predictions of 27 Expert film journalists along with our seven in-house Editors who cover awards year-round, the Top 24 Users who got the top scores predicting last year’s Oscars, the All-Star Users who did the best for the past two years combined and the thousands of entrants in our prediction contest who make up the largest (and often savviest) bloc of predictors.
The rise of “The Revenant” and its win on Sunday is due to four components of the race that likely would not have fermented in any other year:
1. It has ‘The Big Mo’
In a year with so many films in the mix, “The Revenant” kicked off the derby strong with big wins at the Globes including Best Drama Picture. It then lost some steam on the awards circuit as “The Big Short” won PGA, “Spotlight” won the SAG ensemble and “Mad Max: Fury Road” dominated the creative guild awards. The last two major bellwethers were the DGA and the BAFTA; both broke to “The Revenant.” The film has hit its stride at the right time. And these were two of the most important precursors. Thirteen of the last 15 DGA winners and six of the last seven BAFTA winners have gone on to be the eventual Oscar champ.
2. It will win the key battleground
That DGA award is particularly key. It places “The Revenant” helmer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu as the solid frontrunner in the Oscar race for Best Director. A perceived weakness of the other two prime frontrunners –“Spotlight” and “The Big Short” — has been their lack of a leading contender for Best Director. That category that has gone hand in hand with Best Picture 19 times in the past 25 years. Becoming the presumptive directing winner cements the film’s chances in the picture stakes.
3. It won the ‘anti-ensemble-ment lane’
I’ve noticed that an unusually crowded field has led to the development of two different lanes of Best Picture contenders. In the ‘ensemble-ment lane’ there are“Spotlight” and “The Big Short.” These films appeal to voters who prefer dialogue-driven ensemble pieces that hone in on an important social issue. In the ‘director lane’ there are “The Revenant” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.” These films appeal to voters who prefer the more technical marvels helmed by an acclaimed helmer. With Inarritu winning the DGA, “Mad Max: Fury Road” lost in its best chance to gain steam. “The Revenant” has consolidated the support in its lane. And by splitting the SAG and PGA there is no clear frontrunner in the ‘ensemble-ment lane.’ This should allow “The Revenant” to get more than 50% of ballots (which is needed to win the Best Picture race) before the other films.
4. It has a Leo-ding contender
It’s probably an understatement to say that not all stories surrounding the Oscars have been positive this year. But the most exciting narrative of the season has been that six-time nominee Leonardo DiCaprio is finally going to win an Oscar. And with 1/10 odds at Gold Derby he IS going to win that Best Actor race. Having an acting Oscar already locked up is helpful for a Best Picture contender. More than half of the Best Picture winners of the last 15 years have won an acting award. And with that particular one being the most hyped of the year, it adds even more likelihood that the picture will get taken along for the ride.
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Photo credit: “The Revenant” (Fox)