Breaking Down the 2016 Oscar Best Picture Race

2016 is proving to be a hard year to predict the Academy Award Best Picture race. The seeming frontrunners going into the Golden Globes were Spotlight and The RevenantThe Revenant came out of the Globes on top, while also picking up awards for Best Director and Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio (this appears to finally be his year for the Oscar, barring something crazy happening at the SAG awards, but that is an entirely different article).


The first wrench thrown at the Oscar race came during the Producers Guild Awards, where The Big Short surprised everyone by picking up the night’s biggest award. The PGA award has coincided with the Best Picture Oscar for the past eight years. As such, The Big Short is now being considered the frontrunner for Best Picture.

Something feels off about this claim.  The Big Short is by no means a bad film, but I found it tonally unbalanced with less cinematic punch than the other frontrunners. My current prediction for Best Picture sees The Revenant taking home the award, but perhaps this is only because it is what I want to see win.


Spotlight remained the film to beat throughout the early award season buzz, and it certainly is too soon to rule it out. The film sports one of the best scripts and ensemble casts of last year. Losing to The Revenant at the Golden Globes didn’t help its chances any, but a win at the Critics’ Choice Awards is keeping it in the mix.

Still, I feel the race is, as of now, between The Big Short and The Revenant. A win at the Directors Guild Awards for Alejandro G. Inarritu could solidify its chances come Oscar night, but even that isn’t a surefire way to secure frontrunner status. Ben Affleck’s win at the DGA Awards in 2013 didn’t result in an Oscar win. Almost always, the DGA and the Oscar are correlated, but there are always room for surprises.

Not to mention that a win for Best Director doesn’t always result in a win at Best Picture later in the night. Even if Inarritu wins the DGA and the Oscar, Best Picture could still go in a different direction, albeit this is unlikely.


Allow me pause to mention one minor thing. The other five nominees that I have not mentioned up to this point are ostensibly out of the race.

There is some dark horse talk for The Martian, which is understandable. However, a win from The Martian is highly unlikely given Ridley Scott was not even nominated for Best Director. Not only do the Best Director and Best Picture races almost always correlate, but a movie almost never wins Best Picture without its director being nominated for Best Director (Argo and 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy are the notable exceptions in recent memory).

Mad Max: Fury Road is primed to win plenty of technical awards, perhaps set to take home the most awards of the night if the chips fall in its favor. Still, a Best Picture win for the highly unconventional award season film is improbable. As aesthetically awesome as it is, Fury Road seems too out of the ordinary for a majority of Academy members to place it at number one.


The remaining films are simply too distant to catch up at this point. RoomBrooklyn, and Bridge of Spies are all fine films—some my favorite of the year—but they don’t have the buzz behind them to earn them first place votes from the Academy.

In short, the Best Picture race of 2016 is a three-horse dogfight to the finish line. Will Inarritu’s seemingly inevitable Best Director win (with the chances of an upset slowly increasing) lead to a Revenant victory? Will The Big Short’s newly anointed frontrunner status from the PGA Award win give it the buzz to pull an Oscar upset? Or will the critical darling of last year, Spotlight, regain traction and take home the gold?

These are the questions award season predictors will be asking themselves throughout the next month as we ramp up to Oscar night on Feb. 28. I’m personally holding on hope for The Revenant, but I feel a Spotlight victory is entirely plausible. As for The Big Short, that PGA Award win just baffles me.

You can read all of my Oscar predictions for 2016 here.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)

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