noconcessionsTwo big, bloody, and expensive R-rated hits lead the way toward Academy Awards this year–but there’s plenty of room for smaller films, including Room, to negotiate. Let’s review some of the top categories.

Best Picture: I’m not as keen on The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, or The Martian as some but it’s a sturdy list, and I’m happy to see my beloved Brooklyn on it. I’m thinking a three-way race between Spotlight, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant–is there enough appreciation for The Martian to make it a fourth?

(Much as I love Mad Max, I don’t see it going all the way, Return of the King-sequel style, and I do think The Martian and Star Wars: The Force Awakens will siphon off a few votes for it in the technical categories. That we’re even talking about Fury Road, a 30-years-later continuation, as an Oscar winner is almost honor enough.)

Best Director: Unless there’s something strongly dominant, and there isn’t this year, Oscar is all about the love for a particular film going somewhere, and with Ridley Scott bizarrely out of the race, in this case I see it going to Mad Max‘s driver, the veteran George Miller. Maybe Inarritu to repeat–but the love for the competition will go elsewhere. (Not The Big Short, however, which I suspect will join Bridge of Spies in being completely shorted of awards.)

Best Actor. Leo. Leo. And, Leo. His Oscar-winning contemporary Matt Damon presents a minor challenge, but, Leo. He ate raw bison. (And is outstanding in a hugely demanding part.) Yes, The Revenant is based on a true story, but it’s hardly a biopic, and I’m always heartened to see parts built from the ground up win. Would have been happy to see Creed‘s Michael B. Jordan get Eddie Redmayne’s spot–The Danish Girl is such a wan and dull film, made-to-order for awards nominations and this year’s undisputed Oscar dud–but AMPAS’ issues in that regard were under scrutiny minutes after the announcements were made.

Best Actress. Let’s talk about journey. One way to determine lead is, “Whose journey is this?” Carol isn’t about Cate Blanchett’s journey, nor is it about Rooney Mara’s journey–it’s about their journey toward each other. In other words, a rare instance of co-leads with performers of the same gender. But the Weinstein marketing machine had it otherwise, and Oscar played along–to the benefit I think of first-time nominee Charlotte Rampling, who has really come onto her own in film and TV these last few years. (Her special something has only grown more special with age.)

(But this is all academic: the journey of the year was taken by Brie Larson in Room, and at the end, Oscar. The other big journey, ignored: Charlize Theron’s in Fury Road.)

((Oh, and folks, there are plenty of great roles for women over 40–it’s just that 27-year-old Jennifer Lawrence is playing them.))

Best Supporting Actor: Who are the leads in the ensemble pieces The Big Short and Spotlight? Given third-act revelations, Steve Carell and Michael Keaton, so Christian Bale and Mark Ruffalo were correctly slotted. (Tom Hardy’s leads in Mad Max, where his journey is of lesser importance than Theron’sand Legend, an impressive double act in a less than legendary gangster biopic, didn’t quite have the heft.) Again, academic–the biggest cheers in the room this morning were for Sylvester Stallone, so take that as a good omen for Rocky in his seventh bout. Lock.

Best Supporting Actress: She shouldn’t be there, but look for Carol love–not strong enough to effect picture or director nominations, yet palpable–to shine upon Rooney Mara. I think. This is a tough one to call. Is there enough support for Steve Jobs or The Hateful Eight to move the needle toward Kate Winslet or Jennifer Jason Leigh? (With Steve Jobs not getting an Aaron Sorkin screenplay nod, a surprise, and The Hateful Eight withering away in the boxoffice snows, minus Oscar’s usual Tarantino swoon, I’d say not.) I don’t see the reserved admiration for Spotlight benefiting McAdams–and Vikander was simply nominated for the wrong film. (The right one is Ex Machina, which surprised elsewhere, yet hers is a lead performance there in a year crowded with them. Come to think of it, she qualifies as a lead in The Danish Girl, too. Muddy waters.)

Other Observations: Look for cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to three-peat with The Revenant. (Sorry, Roger Deakins, for the millionth time–but, Oscar, Robert Richardson was a good call for The Hateful Eight, a movie sold on its most laudable attribute, its photography.) Son of Saul to take Best Foreign Language Film and Inside Out for Animated Feature, to the consternation of Anomalisa fans.(Without them, the category would be a second foreign movie category, and I applaud its worldliness.)  Let’s see where the guild lands but Spotlight and Carol look strong for screenplay honors. Best Documentary should be The Look of Silence, making up for its companion The Act of Killing‘s loss, but the Academy does lean toward showbiz docs like the successful Amy. Hateful Eight love will flow toward Ennio Morricone for his score (a category that overlooked two notable efforts by Daniel Pemberton, The Man from UNCLE and Steve Jobs, Junkie XL’s propulsive Mad Max score, and Michael Brook’s beautiful Brooklyn score, in favor of Thomas Newman’s sub-John Williams music for Bridge of Spies and a rather familiar retread from Williams himself).

Come Again? Show of hands: Who other than my Cineaste peeps saw Swedish-made makeup and hairstyling nominee The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared?

Worst Nomination: The mostly awful Youth (sorry, Jane Fonda!) is about Michael Caine’s composer struggling with the albatross of his most famous composition. The smart move is for us never to hear it–but it’s unveiled at the end of the movie, and it stinks. Of course this middlebrow tripe is nominated, along with the Golden Globe-winning Spectre title track “The Writing’s on the Wall,” which many fans have written off as the worst Bond theme ever. (I’m not one of them, but Sam Smith fighting with those high notes live may not be a pretty thing to witness.)

The 88th Annual Academy Awards air on ABC Feb. 28. You can hear me flapping my gums about all this on the Twin Cities’ CBS radio station, WCCO, tomorrow, with host John Hines.