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Oscars 2016: 5 burning questions

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Voting ended Tuesday night. Campaigning is complete. All everyone can do now is sit back, hold their collective breath, and watch for the envelopes to finally be opened at the 88th annual Academy Awards on Sunday night. And what a crescendo it’s sure to be. Between the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and the wide-open Best Picture race, this year’s marathon campaign season has been stuffed with intrigue, one of highs and lows and an ungodly amount of money spent to convince voters which films deserve the gold. 

While the Guild awards have help identify the longshots and the sure-things — Leo, get that speech ready! — there are still a bunch of burning questions that remain. Let’s examine where the biggest surprises may lay Sunday night. 

1. Does the Academy care that Alicia Vikander and Rooney Mara were nominated in the supporting category for what are essentially lead performances? 

This has been a mini-controversy that seems to irk the media more than it’s really bothered voters. Both women turned in brilliant performances that were deserving of recognition. Yet that recognition really should have been in the Best Actress category. But with that grouping so chock-a-block with powerful performances (Brie Larson, Cate Blanchett), studios strategically shifted Rooney and Vikander to Supporting Actress. Will that matter to voters? The Acting branch didn’t care. They nominated both performances, and Vikander won at the Screen Actors Guild awards for her role in The Danish Girl. She’s still the odds-on favorite to win the Oscar, but on her heels is Kate Winslet, an Academy fave whose role in Steve Jobs is the epitome of supporting. She nabbed the prize from BAFTA (which had slotted Vikander in the Best Actress category). Can she nab her second Oscar on Sunday? It’s not out of the question. 

2. Best Supporting Actor is all about Sylvester Stallone — unless it’s not.

Rocky won at the Globes, though Stallone’s acceptance speech didn’t have anyone gushing for an Oscar encore. He’s campaigned like mad, even revealing in a New York Times profile that perhaps he should have given up the action roles earlier in his career. He seems like the favorite to win, relying specifically on that appealing narrative that the underdog role that brought him to stardom some 40 years ago may become the role that finally brings him an Oscar. Then there is the #OscarsSoWhite drama and the fact that his performance is the only component being honored in Creed, a film conceived by African-American director Ryan Coogler and starring Michael B. Jordan. Does that help him or hurt him? Stallone has been upfront about the controversy, even admitting that he asked Coogler for guidance over whether he should boycott the show or not. He’s also a guy many of his peers seem to be rooting for — perhaps sparing him the fate that Burt Reynolds ran up against when he seemed to be riding a similar wave of goodwill for his role in Boogie Nights. A surprise could still happen, but if a Mark Rylance or Tom Hardy takes the prize, expect audible gasps from the room.

3. Mad Max: Fury Road could win the most Oscars, but will that mean anything to the Best Picture race?

Editing, Costume Design, Sound Mixing and Editing, Makeup and Hair, Production Design and possibly Visual Effects. Mad Max: Fury Road could sweep them all. Yet, it’s still not a favorite in the Best Picture category — at all. Nor is it likely to get a win in the Best Director category, though a George Miller acceptance speech would surely be one of the night’s biggest highlights. But with Alejandro G. Inarritu and The Revenant favored to win both Director and Best Picture, Mad Max might end up like Gravity, which won seven Oscars but lost the biggest award of the night to 12 Years a Slave.  

4. Speaking of Best Picture: Who is going to land the big one?

If there is one category that’s still up in the air, it’s the Best Picture prize. Yes, The Revenant has surged in recent weeks with important wins at the BAFTAs and the DGA. (It doesn’t hurt that Inarritu’s expensive art film cleaned up at the box office, too, with $165.5 million.) And with the most nominations, the gritty Western should be expected to land the Best Picture prize. Yet it didn’t win at the Producers Guild, which preferred The Big Short. And it doesn’t have a screenplay nomination, which is usually a must for a Best Picture win. You have to go all the way back to Titanic to find a Best Picture winner that didn’t get an accompanying nomination for Best Screenplay. The film that does have a screenplay nomination, and will likely win the Best Adapted screenplay prize, is The Big Short, which is why Adam McKay’s “docu-tramedy” about the financial meltdown is our dark horse pick for Best Picture. There’s also Spotlight, which won top honors from the Writers Guild and the Screen Actors Guild; The Martian, which is hoping for an Argo Effect after Ridley Scott was snubbed for Best Director; and Room, the little engine that could that seemed to be sprinting towards the finish. Whichever film is called on Sunday night, few will be shocked. 

5. But let’s be honest: We are all just tuning in to see Chris Rock, and the biggest question is how far will the comedian go on the issues of race and inequality in Hollywood?

It’s staggering just how prescient the choice of Chris Rock as Oscars host looks today. Picked months before the nominations and the subsequent diversity debate that became a social movement, the comedian is perfectly poised to address the issue of race and critique Hollywood in his own incisive way. It wouldn’t be the first time: back in 2005, when he hosted the Oscars for the first time, he addressed the issue of race head-on. And that was when there were four African-American actors nominated. How far will he go this year? Will he make diversity the entire focus of the show’s opening act, delivering comic haymakers without mercy? Or will he quickly make his point with a few jabs, and then settle in to a more conventional show where the focus isn’t on the controversy? The stakes are high, for the Oscars and Rock, who some are counting on to wave the #OscarsSoWhite flag and deliver biting, meaningful social commentary. Rock has reportedly been test-driving jokes at Los Angeles comedy clubs, but millions will tune in on Sunday night for the real thing. No pressure, Chris. 

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