The animated feature, documentary and foreign language film categories all sport heavy favorites. Will they prevail? A look at those races, the front-runners and what could catch them
"Boy and the World"
"Shaun the Sheep Movie"
"When Marnie Was There"
And the winner is: "Inside Out" stands as Pixar's most celebrated movie since "Toy Story 3," a return to form for a studio that has won this Oscar seven times, most recently for 2012's "Brave." To put that into perspective: If "Inside Out" wins this year as expected, Pixar will have as many Oscars in this category as every other animation studio combined.
With a 94 score on movie review aggregator Metacritc, Pixar's inventive, deeply moving look at the evolving emotions inside an 11-year-old girl rated as the second-best-reviewed movie of 2015, trailing only "Carol." Early on, I thought it might have a shot at a best picture nomination too. But academy voters are largely disinclined to vote for an animated movie here, believing the genre has its own category and that should be sufficient. That feels patronizing — and limiting.
Unless: This is the strongest group of nominees since 2009's all-star slate, led by "Up." The two GKIDS movies — Brazil's chaotic, colorful treatise about (among other things) economic injustice "Boy and the World" and the lavish "Marnie," from the celebrated Studio Ghibli — are well worth finding. And the warm, funny "Shaun the Sheep" seems ripe for discovery too as it managed only $19 million at the box office.
"Anomalisa," Charlie Kaufman's latest tale of existential angst, managed to wrest a few critics group prizes away from "Inside Out." Had Kaufman snagged a screenplay nomination, it might have posed a challenge. But the only way "Inside Out" will lose is if too many grown men resent being seen crying in public.
"Embrace of the Serpent"
"Son of Saul"
And the winner is: Hungary's "Son of Saul." After winning the Grand Prix prize at Cannes, it seemed possible that László Nemes' claustrophobic concentration camp drama could also become a prime best picture contender. But just nine foreign-language films (including Clint Eastwood's "Letters From Iwo Jima") have been nominated in that category over the years, and most come from established filmmakers. Perhaps newcomer Nemes will get there with subsequent films. "Saul" won the Golden Globe and numerous critics group prizes for the way it managed to newly illuminate the horrors of the Holocaust. This Oscar seems assured.
Unless: Colombia ("Embrace of the Serpent") and Jordan ("Theeb") have reason to celebrate, winning their first nominations in this category. Denmark's entry, "A War," might be the strongest counterpoint to "Saul," an immersive, complex look at a compassionate military commander dealing with the consequences of a decision he made while his company was under attack. But if there's going to be an upset here, it will probably belong to "Mustang," the story of five sisters expressing defiance over societal restraints in a northern Turkey village. As a persuasive portrait of sisterhood, it feels very much a movie of this moment.
"The Look of Silence"
"What Happened, Miss Simone?"
"Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom"
And the winner is: "Amy." After the academy opened up voting in this category to its entire membership, the music-themed docs "Searching for Sugar Man" and "20 Feet From Stardom" took the first two Oscars. Last year, in a field dominated by heavy, issue-oriented films, the Edward Snowden doc "Citizenfour" prevailed. Look for the pendulum to swing back to the entertainment side as Asif Kapadia's empathetic look at the late singer Amy Winehouse has won both critical and commercial success.
Unless: Joshua Oppenheimer's "The Look of Silence," a companion piece to his 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary "The Act of Killing," which focused on former Indonesian death-squad leaders, will likely attract the attention of voters disinclined to reward yet another music documentary. The harrowing subject matter of "Silence" — looking at those Indonesian mass killings that began in 1965 and how those atrocities are viewed (and ignored) today — might be a hard sell for some academy members. But once seen, it isn't easily forgotten. Plus, Oppenheimer's previous Oscar nomination could lay the foundation for an upset.