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The Force is starting to take its toll on the Oscar race.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens finally opened in theaters, and continues to pack in crowds as you are reading this. (Hopefully you aren’t reading this on your phone during a screening of The Force Awakens, because you might miss an important plot twist.) Lord knows we’ve done our part to cover every aspect of J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi tentpole. In this particular space, however, we focus on awards, and whether or not Star Wars has a chance to contend for some major hardware.

I think the movie has a very good chance at securing some important Oscar nominations.

In an effort to preserve the majority of its secrets, Star Wars: The Force Awakens didn’t screen for regional and national critics ahead of major groups handing out their year-end awards. That allowed admired films like Spotlight and Carol to pick up well-deserved awards momentum. I don’t think you can argue, however, that any one film has gripped the moniker of "Frontrunner" at this stage of the race. Could the door be left ajar for Star Wars to jam a robotic toe in?

On the flip side, we are starting to see major critics are reacting to the buzz created by Star Wars. Earlier today, the Broadcast Film Critics Association polled its membership to see if The Force Awakens should be added to the Bets Picture category. And the New York Times notes that Disney is undergoing a full-court press for Force, hoping to compete against similar genre fare like The Martian or Mad Max: Fury Road.

The Academy has loosened its boundaries on blockbusters, letting movies like Avatar, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Toy Story 3 contend for Best Picture. I believe the same will happen with Star Wars. Below the line categories are a lock. Picture is possible, as is Best Supporting Actor, for Harrison Ford. (For that one scene, alone. You know which one.)

With all of that said, here’s where I think all of the Oscar contenders stand on December 21:
oscar winner prediction
The Frontrunners

The Martian
The Contenders

45 Years
The Big Short
Bridge Of Spies
Ex Machina
The Hateful Eight
Inside Out
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Revenant
Steve Jobs
The Dark Horses

Beasts of No Nation
Black Mass
The Danish Girl
The Longshots

The End Of The Tour
Love & Mercy
Straight Outta Compton
The more I think about Spotlight, the more I realize it doesn’t have an ounce of fat on it. It’s airtight, and its precision – from the script to the performances – can be traced back to Tom McCarthy. I need to see it one more time, but he might be running away with this category. Can Quentin Tarantino or David O. Russell disrupt his flow?

oscar winner prediction
The Frontrunner

John Crowley, Brooklyn
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Ridley Scott, The Martian
The Contenders

Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Todd Haynes, Carol
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies
The Dark Horses

Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs
Ryan Coogler, Creed
Scott Cooper, Black Mass
Alex Garland, Ex Machina
Tom Hooper, The Danish Girl
Adam McKay, The Big Short
David O. Russell, Joy
Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight
The Longshots

J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Peter Docter, Inside Out
Sarah Gavron, Suffragette
Peter Landesman, Concussion
Now that I’ve seen Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, I can tell you that I think he gets in. Not only that, I think he’s the one to beat in this category. Not because he gives the year’s best performance. (In fact, Tom Hardy’s slightly better than DiCaprio in the SAME movie!) However, the narrative that it’s DiCaprio’s time is strong, and I’m not sure that there’s another powerful male performance ready to knock Leo out this year. Depp and Damon are possible. Outside of those three, I’m not seeing it.
oscar winner prediction
The Frontrunners

Matt Damon, The Martian
Johnny Depp, Black Mass
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
The Contenders

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Samuel L. Jackson, The Hateful Eight
Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
The Dark Horses

Steve Carell, The Big Short
John Cusack, Love & Mercy
Michael B. Jordan, Creed
Will Smith, Concussion
The Longshots

Michael Caine, Youth
Ian McKellen, Mr. Holmes
We are seeing a lot of the same names in the category, as if the candidates had been established for weeks, and now they are just jockeying for position. Carol boasts two spectacular performances. Saoirse Ronan is brilliant in Brooklyn, and Brie Larson is picking up early critics’ awards for Room. Having seen Joy, I predict Jennifer Lawrence stays firmly in the Best Actress conversation this year. And I’m pulling for Charlotte Rampling, who is devastating in 45 Years. What say you?
oscar winner prediction
The Frontrunner

Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
The Contenders

Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Carey Mulligan, Suffragette
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
The Dark Horses

Emily Blunt, Sicario
Marion Cotillard, Macbeth
Blythe Danner, I’ll See You In My Dreams
Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road
Lily Tomlin, Grandma
The Longshots

Sarah Silverman, I Smile Back
Easily this year’s most competitive race, which means several worthy names will be left out when the nominations eventually are announced. How many actors from Spotlight can get in? You could almost give all five slots to members of the outstanding Spotlight ensemble, but in reality, I bet two make the cut. Mark Rylance still feels like a lock for Bridge of Spies. After that, though, there are SO MANY names that deserve consideration. This is the hardest race to narrow down, and I predict it will come down to the wire.
oscar winner prediction
The Frontrunners

Michael Keaton, Spotlight
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Jacob Tremblay, Room
The Contenders

Tom Courtenay, 45 Years
Paul Dano, Love & Mercy
Harrison Ford, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Liev Schreiber, Spotlight
Michael Shannon, 99 Homes
Sylvester Stallone, Creed
The Dark Horses

Christian Bale, The Big Short
Benicio Del Toro, Sicario
Bruce Dern, The Hateful Eight
Joel Edgerton, Black Mass
Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
Ryan Gosling, The Big Short
Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina
Seth Rogen, Steve Jobs
Kurt Russell, The Hateful Eight
Jason Segel, The End of the Tour
The Longshots

Jim Broadbent, Brooklyn
Albert Brooks, Concussion
Jason Mitchell, Straight Outta Compton
Alicia Vikander long has been the frontrunner in this category, not just for her soul-baring work in The Danish Girl (which should earn her an Oscar win, not just a nomination), but in recognition of the exquisite year she had as a performer. I also finally caught Youth last week, though, and I understand why many believe Jane Fonda’s scant bit of screentime will earn her a nod. It’s a showy, vitriolic turn that drips with the resentment of an older actress – and a Hollywodo legend – leveling bitter (but accurate) criticisms at her industry. Biting the hand that has fed her for years? What better way to get Oscar’s attention? I bet it works in her favor come nomination morning.
oscar winner prediction
The Frontrunners

Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Rooney Mara, Carol
The Contenders

Joan Allen, Room
Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy
Jane Fonda, Youth
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Kate Winslet, Jobs
The Dark Horses

Helena Bonham Carter, Suffragette
Helen Mirren, Trumbo
The Longshots

Jessica Chastain, The Martian
Katharine Waterston, Steve Jobs

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