Gone are the days when you could gather around your Oscar pool sheet and truly wonder who was going to win the major categories, jolted by a win for Marlee Matlin or shocked by “Shakespeare in Love” beating “Saving Private Ryan.”
These days, awards season is followed almost as closely as the latest Instagram from the “Star Wars” set, leaving little room for the unexpected.
Between handicapping sites, wins from various guilds and simple Oscar chatter, predictions harden fairly quickly into conventional wisdom.
Still, it’s not as if the envelopes have already been opened. Here’s what to expect at Sunday night’s show.
Best picture: For much of awards season, “Spotlight” was leading the best picture race. The film, about a group of investigative reporters looking into sexual abuse by Catholic priests, won best film honors from the broadcast film critics, the American Film Institute and the SAG Awards, among others.
But in recent weeks, “The Revenant,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a vengeful trapper left for dead in the 1820s frontier, has come on strong. It won the Golden Globe for best drama, the BAFTA for best film and the Directors Guild honor. “The Revenant” was also nominated for pack-leading 12 Oscars, often a good indicator of best picture strength.
Still, don’t count out such nominees as “The Big Short,” about financial wizards who take advantage of the 2008 market meltdown, or “Room,” which may be helped by a best picture voting system that gives everyone’s second choice an edge. Assuming “Room” is everyone’s second choice.
Best director: Usually, picture and director are in lockstep, so “Revenant’s” win at the DGA helps its director, Alejandro González Iñárritu. If Iñárritu, who won for “Birdman” last year, wins again, he’ll be the just the third director to win consecutive best director trophies — and the first in 65 years, since Joseph L. Mankiewicz did it for 1949’s “A Letter to Three Wives” and 1950’s “All About Eve.”
However, “Mad Max: Fury Road’s” George Miller has earned strong support from critics’ organizations, and if enough Oscar voters have been impressed by his handling of the film’s wild bikers and gleeful action sequences, he could sneak in.
Best actor: There’s really no question here: If the winner isn’t Leonardo DiCaprio, it will be the biggest shocker since Roberto Benigni won for “Life Is Beautiful” in 1999. Not only has DiCaprio never won — despite his performances in such films as “The Aviator” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” — he ate a bison liver for his role. The academy loves that kind of commitment.
If it’s not DiCaprio? Well, it could be anyone. But probably the best bet is Matt Damon, who put on a one-man show as a stranded astronaut in “The Martian.”\
Best actress: What started out as a competitive category, featuring the likes of two-time winner Cate Blanchett (“Carol”) and the popular Jennifer Lawrence (“Joy”), has turned into Brie Larson’s to lose. The 26-year-old star of “Room” has won everything in sight for her performance as a kidnapped mother protecting her young son, and the Oscars — which love anointing up-and-coming actresses — should be no different.
Larson’s main competition comes from the equally youthful “Brooklyn” star Saoirse Ronan, 21, who’s been here before: She was nominated eight years ago for “Atonement.”
Best supporting actor: The standing ovation “Creed’s” Sylvester Stallone received at the Golden Globes means his colleagues like him, they really like him, and he’ll probably also waltz away with an Oscar for playing Rocky Balboa, 39 years after his best actor nomination for the same role. Any other year, this award would probably go to Mark Rylance, who gives a quietly powerful performance as a Russian agent in “Bridge of Spies.”
Best supporting actress: Of the acting categories, this is the most unsettled, but oddsmakers are leaning toward “The Danish Girl’s” Alicia Vikander. The Swedish actress came on strong in 2015, appearing in four major films.
Right behind her are Kate Winslet (“Jobs”) and Rooney Mara (“Carol”), both of whom could easily take the prize.
Will the conventional wisdom be correct? Tune in Sunday to find out.