As always, Awards Frenzy is back with its annual year in advance predictions. Last year, we correctly predicted Boyhood and The Imitation Game as Best Picture nominees. We picked The Imitation Game for Best Picture, and it had a reasonable shot early in the season, winning the audience award at the Toronto Film Festival. At last, the creativity and showmanship of Birdman was just too much to ignore. This year, we’ve put even more hard work into our predictions and as a result, are more confident than ever. Here are our 2016 Oscar Predictions:

2016 Best Picture Nominees:

Carol – This drama backed by The Weinstein Company is about a department store clerk (Rooney Mara) who falls in love with a married woman (Cate Blanchett). It’s directed by Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, Little Children). The story seems original enough and we forsee this film becoming a critical darling.

The Revenant – Occupying the position of frontrunner (which is never a good thing) is this revenge drama by newly minted Oscar winning director Alejandro G. Inarritu. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a frontiersman who seeks revenge against the men who desert him after he is mauled by a bear. Tom Hardy also stars.

St. James Place – You can never bet against Spielberg, at least when it comes to getting a nomination. We can’t think of the last high profile Spielberg film that did not get nominated for Best Picture. Here, the maestro is reunited with Tom Hanks in a real life story about a CIA recruited lawyer who fights to secure the release of a pilot during the Cold War.

The Sea of Trees – This one is interesting. It’s a Gus Van Sant film starring Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe about a suicidal man who forges an unexpected bond with a Japanese man while roaming through a forest at the base of Mt. Fuji.  Van Sant is one of those talented directors who is overdue for recognition and the story has the likely emotional appeal to win over Oscar voters.

Joy – After three straight Best Picture nominations, we still think David O. Russell may be due for a letdown, but we’re not betting against him, especially not when he’s reteamed with Jennifer Lawrence in this true tale of a single mom who becomes a widely successful entrepreneur. Rumors of discord on the set between Lawrence and Russell is interesting, but we doubt it will have any effect on the finished product. Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro are back, so it’s basically a Silver Linings Playbook reunion.

Steve Jobs – What happened to the days when Hollywood waited a while to make a biography of a living person? This is the second major studio attempt (the first with Ashton Kutcher fell flat…gee, big surprise). This time, the pedigree is more impressive. Behind the camera is Oscar winning director Danny Boyle and in front as Jobs is the versatile Michael Fassbender. Who wants to make a wager on who wins an Oscar first, Fassbender or Benedict Cumberbatch? The odds must be even.

Snowden – Another prestige bio-pic that simply cannot be ignored. Oliver Stone tackles one of the most intriguing men of modern times, Edward Snowden. The delectable cast includes Joseph Gordon-Leavitt as Snowden and Shailene Woodley as his wife. We miss Stone. His movies are always a delight, whether you agree with his perspective or not. W was vastly underrated. Snowden looks to be a hit.

The Hateful Eight – It’s Quentin Tarantino’s follow-up to Django Unchained about bounty hunters in post Civil War Wyoming. The cast features Kurt Russell, Channing Tatum, Bruce Dern, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Where is Christoph Waltz? While we’re more than slightly bothered by that omission, there should be no denying Tarantino yet another Best Picture nod. Now when he will finally go mainstream enough to win the top prize?

Black Mass – Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace) directs Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger, one of Boston’s most famous criminals who goes on to become an FBI informant. Benedict Cumberbatch also stars. While we’re not so thrilled with Depp’s last few (or three, or four, or five) showings, crime dramas tend to fare well with the Academy and Cooper is a talented new director.

Just Missing the Cut:

We were tempted to throw the Will Smith NFL drama “Concussion” in there, but with an unproven director and controversial subject matter, it may not resonant that strongly with audiences. Ron Howard moved his survival epic “In the Heart of the Sea” to the Fall into the Heart of Oscar season, which is a good sign. We’re still not buying Chris Hemsworth as a lead though. Likewise, another survival drama “Everest,” starring Jake Gyllelhaal and Keira Knightley figures to be more of a commercial hit than a critical one. We’ve given up on Terrence Malick. He was supposed to have a film starring Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, and Rooney Mara ready two years ago. We’re positive now it will never see the light of day. And while the Sundance winner has cracked the Best Picture list the last three or four years, something just doesn’t feel right about “Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl.” There just may be too much competition for it to squeeze in this year.

Best Actor:

Sure, everyone’s going to be betting on Leonardo DiCaprio for his role as frontiersman Hugo Glass, but something tells us it’s not going to be his year (again). Though their performances are bound to be magnificent, Michael Fassbender and Joseph Gordon-Leavitt may have a hard time winning the ultimate prize by portraying contemporary figures for which there may not be enough historical perspective (yet). I wouldn’t count out McConaughey in “The Sea of Trees,” but he just won. A trendy pick will be Bryan Cranston as a blacklisted 1940s screenwriter in “Trumbo,” but we doubt that film will pick up much steam. Therefore, we’ll go with an upset and pick Tobey Maguire for “Pawn Sacrifice.” He plays the legendary chess champion Bobby Fisher and the Academy always loves a tortured historical figure.

Best Actress:

The frontrunner has to be either Jennifer Lawrence in “Joy” or Cate Blanchett in “Carol,” but both have just recently won, so you would think the Academy might go in a different direction. We’ve been picking Naomi Watts for years and now that Julianne Moore has won, she seems a no-brainer for their next “lifetime achievement” Best Actress award, but the question is, what’s the vehicle? She’s opposite McConaughey in “Trees” and Gyllenhaal in “Demolition,” but neither looks like an Oscar winning role. Sairose Ronan may get some attention for the immigrant drama “Brooklyn,” but most likely a nomination will be her prize. The feminist movement drama “Suffragette,” features Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep, and Helena Bonham Carter, but it’s hard to tell who’s really the lead. So we’re going to play it safe and pick Blanchett again. She’s such a great actress and people genuinely like her. Academy members probably wouldn’t think twice of writing her name again, particularly if there is no other overwhelming performance.

Best Supporting Actor:

This category is loaded. You’ve got Bradley Cooper in “Joy.” Can he make it four acting nominations in a row? There’s Tom Hardy in “Revenant,” Kevin Bacon in “Black Mass,” Alan Alda in “St. James Place,” Ken Watanabe in “The Sea of Trees,” Seth Rogen in “Steve Jobs,” and Bruce Dern in “The Hateful Eight,” among many others. A Dern win would be a great story and he’ll get some love since he was just nominated for “Nebraska” two years ago, but we’ll give the slight edge to Watanabe. He’s a great actor who’s been in a ton of movies over a glorified career and it would be pretty neat to see an Asian actor finally win an Oscar!

Best Supporting Actress:

At first glance, we like Shailene Woodley as Snowden’s wife in Oliver Stone’s bio-pic, but she may be more of a lead than a supporting role. That being said, lead disguised as supporting roles often win. Case in point see Patricia Arquette from last year. Or Rachel Weisz in “The Constant Gardener.” Jennifer Jason Leigh will have a shot in Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight,” as will Ellen Page in “Freeheld,” a drama co-starring Oscar winner Julianne Moore about domestic partners fighting for pension benefits when one is diagnosed with cancer. Ultimately though, we’re siding with Rooney Mara in “Carol.” She’s got probably a dual lead role but will likely be placed in supporting, and she’s an up and coming young actress which this category often favors.

Best Director:

As usual, this category parallels that of Best Picture, so the key is figuring out which films will stand out the most at the end of the year. The Jobs and Snowden bio-pics may cancel each other out, though Stone will likely still earn a nomination for his ambitious effort. We wouldn’t be surprised to see Inarritu among the list of nominees again, but another win is probably not in the cards. His track record, if you look closely, is not as impressive as some of the other “A-list” directors. Spielberg and Russell will receive consideration, as expected. In the end, though, it may come down to the veteran Gus Van Sant against indie darling Todd Haynes. Both would be worthy winners who exemplify the definition of directing – forge a unique vision, don’t care what anyone thinks, and see it all the way to the end.

Best Picture:

And here we go, the big one. Picking Best Picture a year in advance requires many different elements. First of all, you need a good film of course. You also need a film that people can get behind and finally, you need a film that kind of embodies the mood of the nation (sometimes). Meeting the first two criteria may be enough in some years. Looking at past winners can tell you a lot. “Argo” and “The Artist” won because they told very compelling stories that were quite original in the years they came out. “12 Years A Slave” won because it was so important it just couldn’t be denied. What about “Birdman?” The jury may be still out on this one since it’s so soon, but one explanation may be because it was so creative and “out there.” It certainly didn’t hurt that it was about acting. So what about this year? We’re ruling out the bio-pics because bio-pics rarely win. “The Sea of Trees” is prestigious enough, but may be too much of a downer to have people get behind it. Spielberg’s “St. James Place’ is probably the opposite, a fascinating movie with likely a little too much sentimentality. We almost want to pick “Carol,” because we think it will be one of the best films of the year, but that doesn’t mean it will be Best Picture. Something tells us it’s got to be something bigger. So in conclusion, we’re going with the inspirational true story of the struggling Long Island single mom who becomes one of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs when she invents the “Miracle Mop.” It’s time for David O. Russell to finally know what it is to have made the Best Picture of the Year.

Summary of Predictions:

Best Picture: Joy

Best Director: Gus Van Sant, The Sea of Trees

Best Actor: Tobey Maguire, Pawn Sacrifice

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Carol

Best Supporting Actor: Ken Watanabe, The Sea of Trees

Best Supporting Actress: Rooney Mara, Carol