Grant Pearsall
Staff Writer

In several weeks the 88th Academy Awards will commence– the ceremony a time-honored tradition of Hollywood’s self-congratulatory pomp and excess. This year the voting membership has nominated a seemingly diversity-bereft slate of films that fails to reflect the current American cinematic zeitgeist. This has given rise to social media movements like #OscarsSoWhite and countless criticism-come- think pieces on the subject. For better (and more often than not) worse, the Academy has offered eight films for consideration as “Best Picture” nominees for 2015. The list is a curious lot– a handful of cinematic gems and the head-scratchingly bland remainders, each for your consideration.

Mad Max: Fury Road – Impossibly and against-all-odds George Miller’s much-belated fourth entry in the post-post apocalyptic Mad Max series is the best action film to arrive in theaters in well over a decade. The work will only increase in critical favor over the next few years as it is so lovingly crafted, standing tall in an era of filmmaking by committee and slapdash cg-digital effects. Heed the ringing endorsements– this is a must-watch.
Chances of winning: Tragically middling at best.

The Big Short – Taking a turn for the dramatic, comedy director Adam McKay’s docu-drama dynamically highlights the collapse of the American housing market circa 2007. Solid performances elevate the material here– Hollywood’s handsomest baby goose, Ryan Gosling, a seething Steve Carell and the appropriately flaccid Christian Bale. While the mechanics of a collapsing market may read as absurdly byzantine, McKay gets the gold-star for most inroads made into explaining the situation for the eager layperson.
Chances of winning: Extremely likely and knotted up with Spotlight for favored film.

Room – A kidnapped mother (Brie Larson) and her son (Jacob Tremblay) attempt to both survive and thrive in a horrifying scenario ripped straight from the headlines. The less said about the plot and left for the viewer to discover, the better. Director Lenny Abrahamson is fast on the move, rising above indie-darling status to directoral powerhouse with this film and well worthy of the nomination.
Chances of winning: Medium, but the likelihood of Brie Larson taking home the award for Best Actress will be seen as the real big win on behalf of the film.

The Martian – Positively the best work from deeply inconsistent director Ridley Scott in years. Based on the bestselling book of the same name, it is the tale of Mark Watney (Matt Damon), an american astronaut left stranded on the surface of Mars after a NASA exploration mission gone horribly awry. The movie is delightfully stressful and triumphant– future astronauts will undoubtedly cite the film as inspiration for pursuing their career and dreaming of worlds beyond our own.
Chances of winning: Low, despite the Academy’s penchant for crowd-pleasing fare.

The Revenant – Long spurned by the Academy for a slew of admittedly quality performances, Leonardo DiCaprio swings for the fences as Hugh Glass, an 18th century explorer who is subjected to a plethora of outdoor hazards including a vicious bear attack, ice cold rivers and ravenously consumed raw elk meat. That director (and 2014’s Best Picture winner) Alejandro González Iñárritu subjected his actors to many of these same dangers in real life during the creation of this admittedly beautiful film is of little note and immaterial in the face of a dull, alienating plot.
Chances of winning: A frontrunner, but more likely to finally provide the lead a posthumous win for better performances of yore. Yes, Academy politics are bizarre.

Spotlight – For the working professionals and college journalism majors, Tom McCarthy’s procedural recounting of The Boston Globe’s expose of corruption and pedophilic scandal in the Catholic Church is high validation. For everyone else the film is as dry a plate of un-buttered toast and twice as artful.
Chances of winning: Unbelievably high and favored to win by bookies and critics the Internet over.

Bridge of Spies – The latter day work of Steven Spielberg is baffling to behold. Every film is more lavish than the last with twice attention to period detail and half on characters, plot and tone. The Cold War, an era chocked full political tension and espionage has never been more nap inducing than in this– the cinematic equivalent of a melatonin supplement.
Chances of winning: Low to none.

Brooklyn – A light drama/romance that is a young woman’s tale of personal growth and discovery as an Irish-immigrant in early 20th century America. Creed, Inside-Out, Beasts of No Nation, It Follows and Straight Outta Compton must have fallen out of the ballot box or something, right?
Chances of winning: Ask a math major what happens when you try and divide by zero.