11 Crazy 2016 Oscar Facts, From Secret Frontrunners To Potential Record-Breakers

Bright and early this Thursday morning, the 2016 Oscar nominations will be announced to much fanfare. Awards season is always a roller coaster ride of emotion — and none more so than this year, which is proving to be one of the most exciting races in Oscar history. There is a wide base of passionate support for an eclectic group of films, including sobering real-life dramas, high-octane action flicks, macho revenge thrillers, and lush lesbian romances. The unsettled nature of the race this year brings with it plenty of rcrazy Oscar connections, patterns, and trivia facts.

The science of Oscar predicting often comes down to analyzing weird quirks and trends in the precursor awards, which include everything from local critics associations to industry groups to a boozy party hosted by foreign journalists. Some of these precursors are more accurate than others when it comes to seeing into the future of the eventual Oscar nominees... but that won't stop me from taking a close look at each one of them to try to figure out ahead of time whose name is going to be called when the nominations are announced.

Here are 11 crazy facts about the 2016 Oscars that you should know before the nominees are revealed this Thursday.

1. The Race Is Still Technically Wide Open...

Most years, at this point in the race, either one film has surged through all the precursors to land itself frontrunner status, or there are at least two worthy films locked in a dead heat. (Think: Birdman vs. Boyhood; The King's Speech vs. The Social Network; The Hurt Locker vs. Avatar.) This year, it seems like it's pretty much anyone's game, and it's impossible to tell what impact this wide-open status will have on the number of nominees this year. Under Academy rules, the Best Picture category can contain anywhere from five to 10 nominees, depending on how many films achieve a certain percent of first place votes. The large number of films in contention could mean a large number of films get nominated, perhaps reaching the maximum of 10 for the first time since the rule change. Or, with support spread so thin, it could mean that fewer films than usual receive the necessary percentage of first place votes, resulting in the lowest number of nominees yet — perhaps only five or six.

2. ...But There Are Really Only Two Frontrunners

Despite the appearance of a free-for-all, a closer examination of a few key precursors reveal that the 2016 Oscars might be more of a done deal than any of us think. Looking at the all-important five groups — BAFTA, PGA, DGA, SAG, WGA — reveals something interesting. Only two films run the gamut this year: journalism drama Spotlight and financial crisis comedy The Big Short. Both Golden Globes winners (Martian and Revenant) missed out on a crucial SAG Outstanding Cast nomination; no movie has won Best Picture without a nom in that category since 1995's Braveheart. The other two frontrunners — Carol and Mad Max — have only two nods apiece. (BAFTA/WGA and PGA/DGA, respectively.)

Between Spotlight and The Big Short, the former's early momentum has been waning while the latter's has been surging. Spotlight missed out on two key nominations — a Best Director BAFTA for Tom McCarthy and a nod from the American Cinema Editors (a film editing prize is often key to Oscar victory) — both of which the late-breaking Big Short received. Could we be headed for an upset by Anchorman director Adam McKay?

3. Iñárritu Could Make History

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If Alejandro G. Iñárritu is able to repeat his Golden Globe win for Best Director at the Oscars next month, he would become the first person to win back-to-back trophies for directing since Joseph L. Mankiewicz for 1949's A Letter To Three Wives and 1950's All About Eve — and only the third in history, also following John Ford for 1940's The Grapes Of Wrath and 1941's How Green Was My Valley. Even though The Revenant isn't one of the two aforementioned frontrunners, an Iñárritu upset isn't out of the question, given how often the Picture and Director winners have not been matching up lately.

4. Leo Better Win This Year

At this point, it's pretty much a sure thing that 2016 will be the year that Leonardo DiCaprio finally wins an Oscar; he's certainly a shoo-in for a nomination, at least. If, by some unfortunate circumstance, DiCaprio does get nominated, but ends up losing to someone else, he'll tie Glenn Close as the third most-nominated actor to have never won an Oscar, at six. However, Leo could take solace in the fact that he's far from the most under-award person in Academy history — that dubious honor belongs to sound mixer Kevin O'Connell, who has been nominated for 20 Best Sound awards over the course of 24 years for films including Top Gun, Twister, Armaggedon, and Transformers and yet, through some cruel twist of fate, has never managed to win.

5. Critics Love Room... But Not The Guilds

26-year-old Brie Larson is considered a lock for the Best Picture award this year for her compelling turn in Room as a young abducted mother raising her son in captivity... but can enthusiasm for her performance translate into a Best Picture nomination for the film itself? Room has been a favorite of critics groups everywhere, earning honors from the Golden Globes and the American Film Institute, among others.

But somehow that enthusiasm hasn't seemed to be able to translate into support from the all-important Guilds — where the film itself has been snubbed by the PGA, WGA, and DGA, missing out on that crucial SAG Cast nomination (although both Larson and her young co-star Jacob Tremblay were nominated individually), and failing to land nods in the top categories for Picture or Director at BAFTA. If Room still manages to sneak into the Best Picture race, I would say that a victory for Larson is all but guaranteed.

6. Jennifer Is The New Meryl

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It's a great sign for women in film when a Hollywood darling is the one most on-the-bubble for a Best Actress nomination. Lawrence's third collaboration with David O. Russell, Joy, underwhelmed critics this year, but she's still very much in the running. If she makes it into the category, she will have reached her fourth Oscar nomination by the age of 25; or, impressively, almost a decade sooner than Meryl Streep achieved the same feat. (Streep was 34 when she was nominated for her fourth Oscar, for Sophie's Choice — which she won.)

7. Remember Sicario?

This war-on-drugs thriller from director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) was much outcry when it premiered in September, particularly for Emily Blunt's and Benicio del Toro's performances. But it seemed to quickly drop out of the awards conversation in the face of much mightier opponents. You still don't see it popping up very often in many people's predictions for Best Picture... and yet, it could very much end up a dark horse inclusion in this year's race if the Guilds are any indication. Sicario was honored by both the Producers and the Writers Guilds, and it also picked up that crucial American Cinema Editors nod that Spotlight so memorably missed out on. Nominations by the Critics Choice Awards and the National Board of Review show that Sicario has critical support as well.

8. Category Fraud

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This year, the Lead Actress and Supporting Actress categories are both as unsettled as the Best Picture race... and that's all thanks to a couple glaring issues of category fraud. The Weinstein Company and Focus Features have been campaigning Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander as Supporting performers for their roles in Carol and The Danish Girl — despite the fact that actresses are clearly the co-leads of their films, alongside Cate Blanchett and Eddie Redmayne, respectively. This category fraud is most potentially damaging for Vikander, who is also under serious consideration for her Supporting performance in the sci-fi thriller Ex Machina, and the issue of conflicting films and categories could split and/or confuse voters so much that she ends up missing out on nominations for both films.

This is what happened to Scarlett Johansson back in 2003, when Focus Features decided to campaign the actress as Supporting for Lost In Translation so they wouldn't run up against her other Lead performance in Girl With A Pear Earring. The Academy ended up refusing to nominate her in the Supporting category for a performance that was obviously co-lead... and she ended up missing out entirely.

9. #OscarsSoWhiteAgain

Last year, all 20 acting nominees were notoriously white for the first time in 19 years. You would think the Academy — and the film industry at large — would take pains to avoid another #OscarsSoWhite fiasco just one year later... and yet, it's looking like a very real possibility. Of the 20 actors predicted to land nomination in the four acting categories by prognostication website Gold Derby , only one is not caucasian: Beasts Of No Nation's Idris Elba. If he is snubbed in the Supporting Actor category, we could be looking at 20 white nominees again.

There aren't that many waiting in the wings in case of an Elba snub, either. Concussion's Will Smith and Creed's Michael B. Jordan are both distant contenders for Best Actor, while Benicio del Toro (who is Puerto Rican) has a very slim chance of getting a Supporting nod for Sicario. That's pretty much it. There's not one woman of color listed in the Top 20 contenders for either Lead or Supporting Actress, according to Gold Derby.

10. Good & Bad News For Women

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Let's start with the bad news. Only four women have ever been nominated for Best Director at the Oscars, and that number is not going to change this year. Last year, it briefly looked like it might be the first time two women were nominated in the category before Angelina Jolie's Unbroken underwhelmed critics and Selma's Ava DuVernay was outrageously snubbed and we wound up with five men as usual. This year, there's not even a female director to be snubbed. According to Gold Derby, the highest-ranking women on the list of potential Best Director nominees are Sarah Gavron (Suffragette) and Angelina Jolie (By The Sea), coming in way down there at #21 and #22, respectively.

Things look quite a bit better in the two Screenplay categories. Per Gold Derby, four of the 10 movies likely to be nominated have female writers: Inside Out's Meg LeFauve and Straight Outta Compton's Andrea Berloff in Original; Room's Emma Donoghue and Carol's Phyllis Nagy in Adapted. That's more women than have been nominated in those categories in the last three years combined.

11. The Cobbler Factor

What exactly does a critically-reviled Adam Sandler comedy have to do with the Oscars? Good question. Did you know that The Cobbler was written and directed by Tom McCarthy? If that name's not ringing a bell, allow me to remind you: he also wrote and directed Oscar frontrunner Spotlight. Yes, the very same Tom McCarthy. So what is what I've deemed the Cobbler Effect? Just ask Eddie Murphy. Back in 2006, Murphy was the solid frontrunner for the Supporting Actor trophy for his performance in Dreamgirls — a role he won pretty much every precursor for, including at the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards, and the Critics Choice Awards.

But then, exactly 16 days before the Oscars, a little movie called Norbit came out. (For the record, voting usually stays open until about five days before the ceremony.) On the big night, Murphy ended up losing the award to Little Miss Sunshine's Alan Arkin — an upset that was so shocking at the time, it reportedly led Murphy to storm out of the theater in a rage. If they're smart, Open Road Films will do their best to keep the lid on the fact that McCarthy was even involved in The Cobbler. If that fact gets brought to the attention of Academy members before voting closes, who knows what impact it may have on their decisions?

The Oscar nominations will be announced this Thursday morning, and the ceremony will take place on Sunday, Feb. 28.

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