To win your Oscar pool, it's often not that helpful just to know who's favored. You have to really understand the race in each category—which can be hard to do, given the large number of categories and the marathon awards season that provides context for each one. In politics, we turn to election handicappers to do this for us. For the Oscars, you can turn to me.
Every year, I give each Oscar category a Cook Political Report–style "race rating" to give those who don't obsessively follow the film awards an idea of the state of the race. These are a snapshot of the conventional wisdom in each category; they're not my personal picks, which can be found here. Here are this year's ratings:
Best Picture: Leans The Revenant
Having won two of the four main precursor awards, The Revenant is probably in pole position here, but no one should be surprised if The Big Short or Spotlight walks off with the top prize.
Best Director: Likely Alejandro Iñárritu
The Directors Guild of America Award moves in lockstep with this category, and Iñárritu won it this year for directing The Revenant. Iñárritu would be only the third director to win Best Director in back-to-back years, but that's only been possible eight times—so compared to the baseline 20% chance of winning in a five-nominee category, being a recent winner has actually helped your chances historically.
Best Actor: Solid Leonardo DiCaprio
Although it's largely a myth that you're more likely to win an Oscar if you're "due," DiCaprio has so much good will and so few Oscars (zero in five past nominations) that everyone agrees it's time to just give him a damn statue already.
Best Actress: Solid Brie Larson
The 26-year-old star of Room has blown away the competition at every awards show to date.
Best Supporting Actor: Likely Sylvester Stallone
There's not a lot of data here, which makes absolute certainty difficult, but there is a general consensus that sentimentality in Hollywood will give this award to Stallone for his Rocky cameo in Creed. But other major award shows failed to nominate him at all, with the Screen Actors Guild award going to Idris Elba (not nominated for Oscar) and the BAFTA going to British stage legend Mark Rylance. Stallone is kinda like America's Rylance, I guess?
Best Supporting Actress: Likely Alicia Vikander
Vikander received raves for her turns in both The Danish Girl, for which she is nominated here, and Ex Machina. The dual roles have likewise led to confusion on the precursor circuit, allowing Kate Winslet to win a BAFTA and a Golden Globe for Steve Jobs. But with only one place to honor Vikander at the Oscars, she is likely to consolidate support in this category. Still, keep an eye on Winslet...
Best Adapted Screenplay: Solid The Big Short
Of the Best Picture frontrunners, The Big Short is an adapted screenplay, Spotlight is an original screenplay, and The Revenant didn't get a screenplay nomination at all. That makes the screenplay categories really easy this year.
Best Original Screenplay: Solid Spotlight
Best Animated Feature: Solid Inside Out
Best Foreign Language Film: Solid Son of Saul
Best Documentary Feature: Solid Amy
Best Cinematography: Solid The Revenant
Best Costume Design: Tossup
Best Film Editing: Likely Mad Max
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Solid Mad Max
Best Production Design: Solid Mad Max
Best Original Score: Solid The Hateful Eight
Best Original Song: Solid "Til It Happens To You"
Best Sound Editing: Leans Mad Max
Best Sound Mixing: Tossup
Best Visual Effects: Leans Star Wars
Best Documentary Short: Tossup
Best Live-Action Short: Tossup
Best Animated Short: Tossup