5 big questions now that Oscar nomination voting is officially over

This town needs a drink
Charlize Theron in "Mad Max: Fury Road."
Charlize Theron in "Mad Max: Fury Road."

It’s official. Phase one of the 2016 Academy Awards is now over. Member’s votes are being tallied and now all the contenders can do is attempt to drink off their nerves at the various pre and post Golden Globes parties over the weekend. (Except for the Visual Effects branch that will have their annual bake-off presentation Saturday night before picking their final five). On Monday it will be back to stressing over the DGA nominations (handed out on Tuesday) as well as CAS (Cinema Audio Society) and the Makeup and Hair guild on Wednesday.

This has been a somewhat unexpected season with the late arrival of unexpected contender “The Big Short,” the almost historic fade of “Steve Jobs,” the mistaken December release of “Joy” and the slowly, but surely, settling of “Spotlight”…or is it? Every guild or industry honor announcement has provided more questions than answers this season and there are very few campaign veterans who can honestly say they are confident in who will get nominated and who won’t (at least in the major categories).

This means Oscar is set for a ton of surprises early Thursday morning when the nominations are announced, but in the meantime the following questions will no doubt linger in the heads of each studio chief, publicist, Oscar consultant, pundit and contender over the next few days.

Are we looking at just five Best Picture nominees or will the field expand to 10 again?
There has been some debate over whether so many Best Picture contenders means only a few will consolidate enough first place votes or whether it means the field (which contracted to eight nominees last year) will hit 10 for the first time since the new voting rules were put into place. My guess is that it returns to nine, but it will be a case study for future “competitive” years.

Who on earth is rounding out the Best Actress five?
It’s something of a given that “Carol’s” Cate Blanchett, “Room’s” Brie Larson” and “Brooklyn’s” Saoirse Ronan will fill three of the Best Actress slots, but after BAFTA failed to nominate their native icon Charlotte Rampling while still snubbing Jennifer Lawrence the other two are completely up in the air. Will both ladies make the cut? Will Alicia Vikander duplicate her Globe and BAFTA nomination in the leading category instead of the supporting one Focus campaigned her for? Or will Vikander get shut out? Will “Grandma’s” Lily Tomlin make a comeback? Will Helen Mirren somehow duplicate her SAG nomination for “Women in Gold”? Could “Sicaro’s” Emily Blunt come out of nowhere to make the final five?

Is “Mad Max: Fury Road” in trouble in the major categories?
One of the most disheartening aspects of the BAFTA nods was to see George Miller shut out from the Best Director field and for “Mad Max” to miss out on a Best Film honor. Arguably the critic’s choice for Best Picture of the Year (you can make the case for “Carol”), the National Board of Review winner landed a must have PGA nod, but the late surge for Adam McKay may find him shut out of DGA. There is circumstantial evidence that many BAFTA members never even watched the movie and some Academy members have dismissed it as well. Are there are enough passionate votes among the below the line and…director’s branch…to get it in? Warner Bros. should be nervous, but if it doesn’t happen you can argue the studio spent too much time trying to push “Black Mass, which may only earn a token nomination or two at best, instead of letting critics drive the “Mad Max” march.

Is “The Martian’s” fate secure?
Ridley Scott’s October hit was on the tip of every Academy member’s lips as their favorite film through most of November, but December has been a different story. The enthusiasm may have cooled dramatically and the SAG snubs were still a huge red flag. Has the 20th Century Fox player become a silent one along the lines of “Bridge of Spies” or will it miss out in key categories Oscar nomination morning? Something to watch for as the nominations are revealed.

Is “The Big Short” a real Best Picture contender?
The fact “The Big Short” landed nominations in every key BAFTA category is eyebrow-raising. The question is whether it’s another “Up in the Air” (Paramount still shudders when remembering that campaign) or “American Hustle,” two films that earned major nominations only to go home empty handed. “Hustle” may be the closest comparable as it also opened in December and earned nods from every key branch (Directing, Acting, Editing and Screenwriting). Beyond the fact “Spotlight” may still win without Tom McCarthy earning a directing nod (see “Argo”) it’s important to remember that no film released in December has won since “Million Dollar Baby” 11 years ago and anecdotally, most members have decided on their Best Picture pick by the end of phase one. Now, if “Spotlight” loses SAG Ensemble and the PGA Award? Then you’ve got something to talk about.

What are your big predictions for the 2016 Oscar nominations? Share your thoughts below.

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With over a decade of experience in the movie industry, Ellwood survived working for two major studios, has written for Variety, MSN and the LA Times and co-founded HitFix, Inc. serving as its first Editor-in-Chief and President. Ellwood spends his time relaxing hitting 3’s on the basketball court and following his beloved Clippers.
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