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Persall makes his Oscar predictions

What can be accurately predicted about Sunday's 88th annual Academy Awards?

Not nearly as much as usual.

Returning host Chris Rock will have plenty to say about Oscar's diversity issue. Despite calls for brevity, acceptance speeches will run too long.

Other than those dependables and a couple of category locks, almost anything goes this year, one of the most wide-open Academy Awards ever.

It's enough to make chronic prognosticators skittish, except that every other guesser faces the same daunting task. Tea leaves are tossed to the wind, and rules are riddled with exceptions. There is no truth to the rumor that Wolfgang Puck is serving crow at the Governor's Ball on Sunday night, but it isn't a bad idea.

Therefore, for the sake of tradition and embarrassment, here are my yearly predictions for 24 categories voted upon by academy members. No wagering, please, unless you have money to lose.

PICTURE

The Big Short

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Room

Spotlight

Every shred of conventional Oscar wisdom flew out the window as The Big Short, The Revenant and Spotlight divvied up the most dependable award precursors. There's also deep, lingering support for Mad Max: Fury Road, the runnerup in overall nominations with 10. Four viable winners splitting votes means anything could happen, even a Chariots of Fire sort of left-field upset.

Persall's pick: Late momentum with top prizes from the Producer and Director Guilds of America, plus the British academy awards, tips the scale toward The Revenant.

ACTOR

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

Matt Damon, The Martian

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Likely the only acting race with no chance of surprising viewers. DiCaprio is modern Hollywood's role model, doing high-quality work while maintaining a Nicholson-like air of mystery. He's overdue for an Oscar, which still matters now and then.

Persall's pick: DiCaprio.

ACTRESS

Cate Blanchett, Carol

Brie Larson, Room

Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Larson claimed nearly all major prizes in this category leading up to Sunday night. Blanchett won two years ago, and voters didn't seem overly impressed with Carol. Ronan has the best shot at an upset but won't pull it off.

Persall's pick: Larson.

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Christian Bale, The Big Short

Tom Hardy, The Revenant

Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Some happy endings in Hollywood write themselves. When Stallone's seventh portrayal of Rocky Balboa turned out terrific, an Oscar for creating such an indelible character seemed inevitable. Ruffalo is the perfect candidate for an upset (respected, overdue, very good in a best picture nominee).

Persall's pick: Stallone.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara, Carol

Rachel McAdams, Spotlight

Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Mara and Vikander could each fit easily into the lead performance category, always an advantage here. Like Ruffalo, McAdams has Spotlight's stature on her side. Winslet played her surprise card at the Golden Globes.

Persall's pick: Vikander, because the academy often crowns newcomers here.

DIRECTING

Adam McKay, The Big Short

George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

Alejandro Iñárritu, The Revenant

Lenny Abrahamson, Room

Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

This category's results have matched the best picture winner at a 72 percent clip (63 of 87 times), but this year anything's possible. Iñárritu can join history as the first back-to-back honoree since John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz more than 65 years ago. At age 70, Miller has sentiment on his side. McKay or McCarthy could be a consolation prizewinner.

Persall's pick: If anyone asks what a director does, just show them The Revenant. Iñárritu wins.

ANIMATED FEATURE

Anomalisa

Boy and the World

Inside Out

Shaun the Sheep Movie

When Marie Was There

Here's the evening's tightest lock. Disney-Pixar's Inside Out is the lone finalist with another major nomination (original screenplay) and universal admiration. It doesn't hurt that one Disney faction or another has ruled this category since its 2001 inception.

Persall's pick: Inside Out experiences Joy; all others Disgust.

COSTUME DESIGN

Carol

Cinderella

The Danish Girl

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Two sartorial favorites (Cinderella, Carol) were each designed by Sandy Powell, possibly splitting votes to allow The Danish Girl to sneak in. When you think about it, though, Cindy is all about the dress, and Lily James rocked that shimmering blue number.

Persall's pick: Cinderella.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Amy

Cartel Land

The Look of Silence

What Happened, Miss Simone?

Winter on Fire

Chronicling Amy Winehouse's meteoric rise and fall, the movie bearing her name is part of a new strain of rock docs, expertly cobbled from home movies. The boozy chanteuse is revealed as a tragic product of too many people saying yes, when perhaps all Winehouse needed was a "no" or two.

Persall's pick: Back to black, Amy wins.

DOCUMENTARY SHORT

Body Team 12

Chau, Beyond the Lines

Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah

A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness

Last Day of Freedom

Previously honored themes are represented (the Holocaust, Vietnam, women's suppression), so let's look in a fresher direction. Body Team 12 focuses on body collectors in Liberia during the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak. Having actor Olivia Wilde as a producer helps in rounding up votes.

Persall's pick: Body Team 12.

MAKEUP AND HAIR STYLING

Mad Max: Fury Road

The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

The Revenant

We know well what faux aging and grubbiness look like. We haven't seen much in movies like Immortan Joe and his War Boys, the People Eater's leprotic nose and Imperator Furiosa's truck-grease war paint.

Persall's pick: Mad Max: Fury Road.

ORIGINAL SONG

Earned It from Fifty Shades of Grey

Manta Ray from Racing Extinction

Simple Song #3 from Youth

Til It Happens to You from The Hunting Ground

Writings on the Wall from Spectre

Here's a prediction: Nobody leaves the Dolby Theatre Sunday night humming the winner from this nondescript playlist. Diane Warren has been nominated eight times without claiming an Oscar. That changes, if only because Warren hitched her wagon to co-writer Lady Gaga.

Persall's pick: Til It Happens to You.

ANIMATED SHORT

Bear Story

Prologue

Sanjay's Super Team

We Can't Leave Without Cosmos

World of Tomorrow

Don Hertzfeldt is regarded as one of the finest animators to never win an Oscar. I'm not a fan of his World of Tomorrow stick-figure navel gazing, but it's the favorite here. Bear Story and Sanjay's Super Team are more audience friendly, so voters could be swayed.

Persall's pick: World of Tomorrow.

LIVE ACTION SHORT

Ave Maria

Day One

Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)

Shok

Stutterer

Day One is written and directed by U.S. Army veteran Henry Hughes, inspired by two tours of duty in Afghanistan. It's also a terrific story told from a woman's wartime perspective in 25 minutes, soon to be expanded to feature length. There isn't a weak nominee in the bunch, but Hughes' backstory gives him an edge.

Persall's pick: Day One.

SOUND EDITING

Mad Max: Fury Road

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The Martian

The Revenant

SOUND MIXING

Bridge of Spies

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Rather than trying to explain the difference between sound editing and mixing, let's cut to two chases. One movie this year will likely dominate the technical categories, so here's your daily double.

Persall's pickS (for both categories): Mad Max: Fury Road.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Sicario

More Oscars history to be made: No one has ever claimed this award three years consecutively. Emmanuel Lubezki has a solid chance to do that, for his immersive outdoors imagery in The Revenant. Compare this to his claustrophobic Birdman lensing, and the outer space expanse of Gravity before that. We are witnessing a master's career procession of greatness.

Persall's pick: The Revenant.

FILM EDITING

The Big Short

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Spotlight

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Movies seldom feel as propulsive as Mad Max: Fury Road, owing much of that trait to Margaret Sixel, director George Miller's go-to editor for decades and, not coincidentally, his wife.

Persall's pick: Mad Max: Fury Road.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia)

Mustang (France)

Son of Saul (Hungary)

Theeb (Jordan)

A War (Denmark)

Only one nominee was booked before Friday in a Tampa Bay theater, but it's a stunner. Son of Saul brought a new angle to Holocaust horror, told from the perspective of a prisoner assigned to clear corpses from death chambers.

Persall's pick: Son of Saul.

ORIGINAL SCORE

Bridge of Spies

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

While Carter Burwell's score for Carol is the loveliest nominee, the academy is likelier to reward aging master Ennio Morricone, after receiving the Tarantino stamp of approval.

Persall's pick: The Hateful Eight

PRODUCTION DESIGN

Bridge of Spies

The Danish Girl

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Those postapocalyptic punk armored vehicles, practical stunt setups and that flame-throwing guitarist hood ornament didn't invent themselves.

Persall's pick: Nothing else in movies lately looks like Mad Max: Fury Road.

VISUAL EFFECTS

Ex Machina

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Tossing a bone to the mega-grossing pop culture touchstone that saved Hollywood's ledger yet isn't worth a best picture nomination.

Persall's pick: Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

The Big Short

Brooklyn

Carol

The Martian

Room

Even if The Big Short's macroeconomics aren't always clearly explained, at least the movie delves into an important issue.

Persall's pick: The Big Short.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Bridge of Spies

Ex Machina

Inside Out

Spotlight

Straight Outta Compton

Without source material, Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer became investigative journalists of sorts, learning and conveying how a Pulitzer Prize-winning expose comes together.

Persall's pick: Spotlight.

Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

Persall makes his Oscar predictions 02/24/16 [Last modified: Friday, February 26, 2016 4:24pm]
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