This Thursday morning, the 2016 Oscar nominations were announced — and as usual, they were full of their fair share of surprises and snubs. The next six weeks will no doubt feature a lot of campaigning on the part of the stars, anticipating on the part of the fans, and analyzing on the part of the predictors, in an effort to accurately foresee who will be taking home trophies on Sunday, Feb. 28. Now that we officially know which films are nominated for what, it's time to ask the big question... What movie will win Best Picture this year? A quick glance at the nominees shows one film towering above the rest: The Revenant, with an impressive 12 nominations. But does the movie with the most Oscar nominations always win Best Picture?
The short answer is no, not always. There are rarely any patterns as reliable as that when it comes to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. For example, it used to be accepted wisdom that a movie pretty much couldn't win Best Picture without a nomination in the Best Film Editing category — a rule that held true for 24 years until Birdman broke it just last year. So no, predicting the Best Picture winner isn't as easy as just looking at the total number of nominations and calling it a day.
In fact, in the last 10 ceremonies, the film with the most nominations has only taken home the Best Picture trophy four times: Birdman in 2015 with nine nominations (tied with The Grand Budapest Hotel), The King's Speech in 2011 with 12, The Hurt Locker in 2010 with nine (tied with Avatar), and No Country For Old Men in 2008 with eight (tied with There Will Be Blood). However, one rule that generally can be relied upon is that the film with the most nominations will be at least nominated for Best Picture. Only once in the past decade has that not held true, when Dreamgirls earned eight nominations in 2007 (the most of its year) and yet missed out on a slot in the top category.
Rather than the most nominations, a more reliable indicator of a Best Picture victory is which movie gets the most wins. Eight out of the last 10 Best Picture winners have been the most awarded films (or at least tied for most awarded) at their respective ceremonies, the only exceptions being 12 Years A Slave in 2014 (three trophies to Gravity's seven) and Argo in 2013 (three trophies to Life Of Pi's four).
Both The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road (the second-most nominated film of the year with 10 nods) swept the technical categories, each landing nods alongside each other in Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup & Hairstyling, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects. Both also landed nods for Best Director; the difference in their total comes from The Revenant's two acting noms (for Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy), which does tip things a bit in The Revenant's favor, since Leo is a lock to win and actors make up the largest voting block of Academy voters. But watch closely for which of the two films starts to win more of the technical categories; if history holds true, the one that wins the most has a better shot at taking home the top prize.
But that doesn't mean the other six Best Picture nominees are out of the running, either. The Big Short and Spotlight , which went into the nominations announcement as the year's two frontrunners, both hit all the right notes to maintain that status: nods in Picture, Directing, at least one Acting category, Screenplay, and Film Editing. In the last 10 years, the movie with the least number of nominations that went on to win Best Picture was The Departed in 2007, which had five nominations — a threshold that The Big Short exactly matches, and Spotlight exceeds by one.
If The Revenant does manage to ride the momentum of its big win at the Golden Globes and its impressive number of nominations to a Best Picture trophy, it will be a victory unprecedented in 88 years of Oscar history: no filmmaker has ever directed two back-to-back Best Picture winners. While Joseph L. Mankiewicz and John Ford earned consecutive Best Director trophies (in 1950/'51 and 1941/'42, respectively), both men had one of their two films ultimately lose Best Picture to another contender. After winning Best Director and Picture for Birdman last year, Alejandro G. Iñárritu would be the first to complete this astounding feat if The Revenant were to win.
Has Iñárritu really directed the best movies of both 2014 and 2015? We'll find out what the Academy thinks when the winners are announced on Sunday, Feb. 28.
Images: 20th Century Fox; Fox Searchlight Pictures (2)