For the second year in a row, we’ve created a big bumper-size playlist for you to whack on in advance of tonight’s Academy Awards!  What more can we say, other than “enjoy, hope you have fun, hope you’re not too disappointed by the insane and irritating wins that are sure to come up”? Here’s the Playlist and, below, our final predictions and analysis…


There were, about 10 days ago, two very possible spoilers here in the forms of Spotlight and The Big Short. But their narratives have absolutely stalled, enveloped by the shadow of a much grander, wilder film that, in its singular vision and probably unreasonable length, recalls some of the Oscar greats – as well as one ’70s also-ran that voting film people continue, like the rest of us, to truly admire: Apocalypse Now. This could be the first genuinely, foolishly crazy film to win, and many are blown away by what it took to get it made. Even if most agree that the whole is perhaps a little stodgy, there’s no denying the way critics, audiences and Oscar voters are going gaga for the micro-elements, including its inevitable wins for acting and cinematography and some likely upsets across the board (see below). The Revenant seems already to be crowned the 88th Academy Award winner for Best Picture.


Alejandro G Inarritu_Birdman

Courtesy of: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

George Miller became a sudden, and rather surprising, likely candidate in this category shortly after the nominations were announced; but then that huge Revenant groundswell happened, and with it is sweeping up its utterly mad director, Alejandro G. Iñárritu. The Academy favourite is helped, of course, by the narrative of the film’s actual shoot and all the hell that went with it, so at the very least voters will be rewarding him for his tenacity and his sheer obsession with getting this rather impressive film off the ground and then, eventually, finished. It also helps, we think, that he continues to be seen as an actors’ director as much as anything, securing nominations over the years for Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Adriana Barrazza, Rinko Kikuchi, Javier Bardem, Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Tom Hardy and now, of course, a probable win for Leo DiCaprio. And that’s just in five films. Believe us, the actors who make up the Academy’s largest voting percentage are gonna go mad in their efforts to keep this guy at the top.


Leonardo DiCaprio and Brie Larson have owned the Lead categories all season, and will continue here. It helps, of course, that one has the “overdue” narrative and the other is a relative ingenue competing as a rising lead actress, which statistically helps a lot. In terms of the Supporting races, we have two once-shaky candidates who seem in recent weeks to have absolutely cemented their winners’ narratives via a real explosion in great publicity and, consequently, a sense of inevitability (so vote for Stallone, basically). The one upset in these four categories could be Kate Winslet winning Supporting Actress; unlike Rooney Mara and Jennifer Jason Leigh, she’s actually come from less buzz to winning a Globe and a BAFTA. Rachel McAdams, meanwhile, has been pretty consistently not talked about – leaving the consistently very much talked-about Alicia Vikander (our pick) to go head-to-head with the increasingly buzzy Winslet. But again, we think the ingenue narrative will prevail for this fantastic and prolific young Swede.


Tom McCarthy_Spotlight

Courtesy of: Open Road Films

Spotlight was the Best Picture frontrunner for so very long that it would seem, for many voters, a great shame to suddenly tear it down; after all, another frontrunner, Carol, was decidedly pipped at the post come nominations morning, and its remaining support is essentially its reward. But Tom McCarthy’s film came so close for so long, and has such support and such respect, that there’s no way the screenplay – co-written with Josh Singer, and winner of so many precursors (including WGA and BAFTA) – can possibly lose here. Some, by the way, have Inside Out pegged as a spoiler, but when one considers its lack of a Best Picture nom – which would have shown a major, major swell of general support beyond its Animated Feature ghettoisation – a writing win seems fundamentally implausible.


Unlike the above, there’s barely any reason to justify our pick of The Big Short. Look deep down in your heart of hearts, remember the film and the surprisingly lucid and explanatory way it’s told, and realise that actually, it’s probably the strongest case of ‘adaptation’ on this incredibly strong list. Although more importantly, the Academy really really love this film for some reason, and will want to do a Spotlight-style consolation with it.


Pete Docter_Inside Out

Courtesy of: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

It was always Inside Out. Come on!


The Look of Silence got fewer headlines than its predecessor, The Act of Killing, which controversially lost two years ago to the music documentary Twenty Feet from Stardom. Expect the same to happen tonight, except without the controversy: all who saw Amy agree it’s a masterpiece of both theme and form, and Asif Kapadia deserves it after his Senna was curiously snubbed from this category a few years ago. It’s not even close; Cartel Land has proved somewhat controversial (despite being amazing) and the Netflix films – What Happened, Miss Simone? and Winter on Fire basically cancel each other out. Mr Kapadia, we salute you.


We in the UK haven’t had the benefit of seeing most of these by this point (as always), but prevailing wisdom points towards Cannes award-winner Son of Saul netting it, for its importance and considerable formal innovations. We, in fact, gave it four stars for just those reasons. Just last year saw another great, forward-thinking Holocaust drama win, with the brilliant Ida: as with that film’s triumph over lighter dark-horse fare such as Wild Tales, we can expect Son of Saul to beat out popular favourite Mustang. This reviewer, by the way, considers Jordanian nominee Theeb to be one of the best things released last year, so close this window now and go find it.


Quentin Tarantino_The Hateful Eight

Courtesy of: The Weinstein Company

Sicario is wounded by a soundtrack emphasising atmosphere over melody – while it’s very (very) clever, it simply won’t have gelled with the wider voting body. Bridge of Spies and The Force Awakens stand good chances, largely because Oscar voters could want to reward veterans Thomas Newman and John Williams – doubly so, perhaps, for the former, who notoriously has gone 13-for-13 without a win. Carol‘s Carter Burwell, meanwhile, has not only composed the most tender of the scores here, he’s also arguably worse off than Newman, having just nabbed his first nomination in 25 years of scoring iconic (and Best Picture-nominated) movies. But the fifth nominee has also never won, and is also a legend, and has contributed the most immediately grandiose and memorable score of the year: Ennio Morricone will, by some way, win this for The Hateful Eight.


The Lady Gaga song, ‘Til It Happens To You’, has several things going for it: it was written for a well-enough seen and respected film, which was considered for some time a frontrunner for Best Documentary (its lack of a nomination in that category, in turn, can only have boosted this important campus-rape film’s chances, as voters will want to reward it and raise its profile); it is perhaps objectively the best here, or at least the most Oscar-y in its beautiful, epic-pop way; and, finally and most importantly, it was co-written with Diane Warren, who at eight nominations with no wins is the Roger Deakins of this category. The other nominees don’t stand a chance.


Emmanuel Lubezki_The Revenant

Courtesy of: 20th Century Fox

Speaking of which, Roger Deakins stands little chance for Sicario – his work here is not as grand as his recent nominations (including Prisoners and Skyfall), and he has Emmanuel Lubezki to contend with who, for The Revenant, will easily triumph here. The conceit of using only natural light had film nerds gripped before the film’s release; the surprising natural beauty of his results (and the characteristic long takes, which always impress) have simply cemented this third win for the living legend.


It’s really coming down to Mad Max: Fury Road, in its likely sweep of the technicals, and The Big Short wherein, like last year’s winner Whiplash, the manner of its editing is seen as one of the most obvious elements to contribute towards its success. We can’t rule Adam McKay’s film out here, given its broad support as a probable Best Picture spoiler: and Editing usually goes to just such a major contender; the last winner with zero shot at Picture was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, in 2011. Though The Revenant, as the main Best Picture probability, is a major dark horse here, and though Fury Road will probably be rewarded copiously below the line, we think the more traditional, yet unconventional, editing of the more self-announcing Big Short will pip it here.


Tradition dictates that this one goes to things with guns and weaponry and technology and other inventive sounds, which certainly holds true across all five of this year’s nominees: Sicario in a not-so-surprise bid, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 39 years after defining good sound editing with its iconic original, The Martian with its clanky spacecraft and computer sounds and, finally, tussling at the top, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant, either of which could prevail here. We may live to regret this prediction, but we think it’ll go to The Revenant in a general sweep of acclaim; that bear, man. That bear. Creature sounds are popular choices for Sound Editing, and this may sound even better to voters than the almost been-there-done-that clanky noises of Fury Road. This could well be the Mad Max convoy’s one upset in the technicals.


George Miller_Mad Max

Courtesy of: Warner Bros. Pictures

We’re predicting a split on this one, though we could have it the wrong way round. Nevertheless, while some have this as a Revenant win and Sound Editing as a Fury Road win, we feel it’s more likely that the dense, immersive soundscape of the latter will gild it here. So while our official pick for Best Sound Mixing is, as part of its likely technical wipeout, Mad Max: Fury Road, look out for The Revenant as a spoiler, particularly if it sweeps the board and finds votes here from those who, as always, can’t tell the difference between the sound categories. And, just to cover our bases, don’t entirely discount the windswept The Martian, which does some very interesting things with sound (though some, like yours truly, may have been too incensed by Matt Damon’s loud chewing sounds to truly rate it).


Look at the other four nominations – Bridge of SpiesThe Danish GirlThe Martian and even the beloved Revenant – and ask yourself: do any of them stand a chance against the world of Immortan Joe and the Fury Road?


Though Fury Road‘s costume work is arguably not as obviously strong as its other considerable achievements, we think the technical sweep will continue here – after all, last year’s big below-the-line winner The Grand Budapest Hotel extended its reach to a Makeup win that many thought hinged more on Tilda Swinton’s face than anything else. Its closest contender is probably Cinderella for featuring the lavish costuming usually so beloved by this category; The Danish Girl, meanwhile, is only a tad less likely than Carol to surge, which leaves The Revenant for a potential steal. But surely the Academy’s respect for that film can’t extend to a bunch of ugly fur coats? As always, we expect the more obviously imaginative work of Fury Road to win out against a nominated film that would seem to have only made the cut thanks to seasoned guild support.


Alex Garland_Ex Machina

Courtesy of: A24

No one’s seen The 100-Year-Old Man… which is another way of saying it won’t win. The Revenant may, yet again, triumph with its Rick Baker-style prosthetics (right down to Leo’s flappy throat), but we think the Fury Road cleanup will continue here given the breadth, skill and imagination required across its many heavily made-up and stylised characters.


As always, there is a good mix of really blatant effects with much subtler ones, and of CGI with practical work: Mad Max: Fury Road serves probably the most obvious mix of these. Ex Machina is too subtle to register, with its only notable effect being the admittedly rather amazing work on Alicia Vikander; The Martian is a bit rote with its CG extravaganzas; Star Wars: The Force Awakens could upset given the series’ legendary status in this category (each of the original trilogy triumphed), but the mo-cap still looks a bit mo-cappy, and JJ Abrams’ carefully talked-up emphasis on old-fashioned practical stuff isn’t that distinguishable from the digital work. It comes again down to The Revenant – largely for its bear – and, more prominently, the probable winner Mad Max: Fury Road, which does everything we’ve just listed and more in its wide-ranging creation of a completely wild new universe. You thought Vikander’s see-through body was impressive? The Fury Road guys have had to delete Charlize Theron’s arm… while she’s jumping about on giant fucking titan cars.

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