By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Feb 26, 2016 at 9:16 AM

It’s been over a month since the Oscar nominations came out, and after spending that time analyzing the nominees – after putting on a pair of sunglasses to protect our eyes from the blinding whiteness – interpreting the guild awards along the way, following the campaigns and, you know, actually watching the movies (a critical step many in the Academy miss!), here’s what we know: nothing.

While the acting categories have mostly sorted themselves out – but are still primed for an upset or two – the big prize is still a big mystery. There have been plenty of tight races in the past, but this year’s contest is one of the most wide open we’ve had in a while, with three movies each putting together a strong case for why it’ll come away the night’s big winner. Will it be the educational entertainment of "The Big Short"? The unremarkably remarkable "Spotlight"? Or perhaps the vapid virtuosity of "The Revenant"? Any of the three could win, and neither would be a surprise. In fact, almost anything could take the win and it wouldn’t be a surprise (except for "Bridge of Spies." Sorry "Bridge of Spies").

How to make sense of this year’s gold rush? Here are my picks for who will win – and who should win – Sunday night. Follow my picks at your own peril.

Best Picture

Will win: "The Revenant"

Should win: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

In the three-way race for Sunday’s top prize, the smart money is on "The Revenant" coming out on top, and honestly, I have no idea why. Apparently, there are people who think "The Revenant" was the best movie of the last year. They’re like "Everybody Loves Raymond" fans, somehow apparently everywhere and yet nowhere.

Last year, "Birdman" made sense as a winner; yes, it had its detractors – hello! – but they were clearly in the minority, and the movie’s themes – art! Passion! Struggle! – were right down the Academy’s lane. "The Revenant," though, doesn’t have any of that same overwhelming vocal support from critics and industry people, and its grim brutality makes it far from your typical Oscar pick. It does, however, have some virtuoso sequences and an in-your-face attitude about itself that wants you to be impressed at all times. At face value, it's the most obviously "great" movie of the bunch – if only because it desperately wants to prove how at all times how "great" it is.

If something’s going to knock "The Revenant" off its post and snatch away director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s second straight Best Picture win – he’d be the first to win back to back – it’d be either "Spotlight" or "The Big Short."

The former started out the frontrunner, nabbing several critics prizes and just enough guild awards to keep the momentum alive, but its fall from golden grace isn’t surprising. While "The Revenant" rubs its spectacle in the audience’s face until the viewer either sufficiently appreciates its grandeur or suffocates to death, "Spotlight" is an aggressively unremarkable movie – to its benefit. It’s too modest and subdued to create the kind of passion needed for a win like this.

As for "The Big Short," it has the flash, the star voltage and the Important Issue storyline to grab the win, but its flourishes are not as overwhelmingly loved, and its buzz also died down a little early, reaching its height around Christmas before the wave receded and washed back to the rest of the pond.

In a just world, "Mad Max: Fury Road" wins Best Picture, but can you really imagine a movie with a flamethrower guitar getting Best Picture? "Mad Max: Fury Road" will win a spot in film history, earning a place as the 2015 movie people will still talk about and watch and love for decades to come; "The Revenant," on the other hand, will win a spot in future movie trivia. So congrats for that.

Best Actor

Will win: Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Revenant"

Should win: Michael Fassbender, "Steve Jobs"

It’s a damn shame that Leonardo DiCaprio is going to finally win his Oscar for one of his least interesting performances, one that’s not even the best performance in "The Revenant." Hell, it’s not even the third best one – and I don’t mean that as a complement to "The Revenant."

Here’s my key argument for why Leo doesn’t deserve Best Actor: When "The Revenant" heads into its second hour and becomes the Leo Survival Show, focusing on him meandering and surviving in nature on his own, the movie gets worse. When the spotlight's on him, the film suffers. It’s not Leo’s fault; as written, it’s just a hollow character that’s all surface-level grunting and gurgling and grimacing (it’s worth noting that, for all its nominations, "The Revenant" was passed over for Best Screenplay). He’s so empty that he has to keep carving his lone motivation into rocks along the way to remind the audience why we should care.

However, as the famous quote goes, deserve’s got nothing to do with it. Leo’s been due for a while now, and it seems the Academy is finally willing to give him his Oscar. And if you’re one of those people who assumes effort equals quality, Leo tried real hard for this trophy, eating raw bison liver – despite a perfectly usable fire RIGHT THERE in the scene – and dragging himself through all sorts of lovingly shot snowy wilderness. Secretly, the best thing going for him this whole campaign has been how weak the Best Actor field was this year. I could barely muster the energy and enthusiasm to pick a "should win" against Leo despite how little his performance does for me.

So yes, Leo’s finally winning this year. It’s going to happen, and there’s nothing you can do. Just imagine it’s actually for "Django Unchained." Or "The Wolf of Wall Street." Or "The Aviator." Because like Pacino and "Scent of a Woman," history will be very confused when it sees the title of the movie next to his win.

Best Actress

Will win: Brie Larson, "Room"

Should win: Brie Larson, "Room"

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the lackluster Best Actor category, Best Actress is loaded with great and worthy performances – and that’s even with a few leading turns put in Best Supporting Actress for reasons solely having to do with awards season gamesmanship.

But of the actual five nominated, who’s going to win? Lawrence and Blanchett have won recently enough that they’re out of the running, and it doesn’t help that neither of their movies, "Joy" or "Carol," were particularly embraced that much by the Academy – one deservedly so, the other undeservedly passed over. Rampling could have been an intriguing dark horse pick – a strong sentimental choice for nabbing her first nomination over a long and impressive career – but it’s a quiet performance, and the Oscars have rarely been ones to go the way of nuance (see: everything I’ve already said about "The Revenant"). Plus, there was that whole thing about her saying stupid, awful things about racism, which pretty much shot her chances of winning in the face. Probably should have kept those as inside thoughts.

That leaves two up-and-coming stars, Brie Larson from "Room" and Saoirse Ronan from "Brooklyn," to duke it out, and while Ronan is great in the Irish immigrant romance – and is certain to win an Oscar someday – Larson has won almost all of the awards thus far, and her role does a little bit more heavy-lifting. It’d be a very deserved win in a young career loaded with great performances – and a few horrible pop songs, but we’ll let that slide.

Best Supporting Actor

Will win: Sylvester Stallone, "Creed"

Should win: Sylvester Stallone, "Creed"

Go ahead and roll your eyes at the idea of Sylvester Stallone winning an Oscar for the semi-seventh "Rocky" movie; you’d only be hurting yourself by missing a truly very good performance. Stallone simply IS Rocky in "Creed." You’re not watching a performance; you’re watching a guy live in a character that he knows on every level. It manages to wring the sentimentality of Rocky’s cinematic past while not feeling sentimental at all. "Creed" is a great movie, and in a just world where race wasn’t a factor and Warner Bros. put their Oscar campaigning efforts toward it rather than "Black Mass," we’d be talking about it in several categories. Instead, it’ll just be Stallone. And forget his past baggage and the #OscarsSoWhite controversy; he deserves it.

Best Supporting Actress

Will win: Alicia Vikander, "The Danish Girl"

Should win: Rooney Mara, "Carol"

Amusingly, the Best Supporting Actress race comes down to two roles that really are lead performances. Mara’s breathtaking turn is most certainly the co-lead in "Carol," while Vikander is the main character in "The Danish Girl," the one whose perspective we spend the most time in. Once again, "Carol" really didn’t win over many Academy members, missing out on Picture and Director when many saw it as a lock, so I give the edge to Vikander, who’s actually quite good in a quite not particularly good movie (I’ll imagine it’s for her superior turn in the superior film "Ex Machina").

Yes, there’s a chance Kate Winslet’s performance as Steve Jobs’ underappreciated assistant could swoop in for an upset – it’s won several awards during the season, mainly due to category confusion with Vikander and Mara though – but I have a hard time seeing the Oscars passing up a chance to anoint a new star in order to give Winslet yet another trophy. So the year of Vikander will end with a bang, not a whimper.

Best Director

Will win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, "The Revenant"

Should win: George Miller, "Mad Max: Fury Road"

Man, if I was George Miller and "Mad Max: Fury Road," I’d be grumpy as hell about how this Oscar campaign worked out. Not that "Mad Max" was ever going to win awards – the fact that an action movie this gear-grindingly insane is nominated is a win in its own right – but that "The Revenant" is scoring points where "Mad Max" clearly bests it.

The story with "The Revenant" was all about how hard it was to make, that Leo ate a raw bison liver and they only filmed in natural light and how it was pretty chilly. Meanwhile, "Mad Max" took four years to film and bring together, complete with on-set fights, insanely difficult stunts and their entire Australian post-apocalyptic set washing away thanks to rains the area hadn’t seen in ages. And even with all of that, Miller and company came away making the better movie.

Alas, "The Revenant" played its narrative right, and Inarritu and his faux-profound work will win again, making him the first director to win an Oscar in back to back years since Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1949 and 1950. And he will have deserved neither of them.

Best Original Screenplay

Will win: "Spotlight"

Should win: "Inside Out"

I know; I’m tired of ripping on "The Revenant" too (it’s not even that bad!), so let’s move onto Best Original Screenplay where a tight race has developed between "Spotlight" and "Inside Out." Both deserve the title; "Spotlight" does an incredible job of chronicling a tough story while giving each of its characters something to contribute, while "Inside Out" is exactly what you’d want from the words "original screenplay," a work filled to the brim with creativity and joyous ingenuity. I’ll give the nod to "Spotlight," as this is likely where the Academy will give Tom McCarthy’s movie its due. "Inside Out" will win Best Animated Film, and because of the bias against animation in the Academy, that’ll be considered enough.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will win: "The Big Short"

Should win: "Room"

Best Adapted Screenplay presents another strong category (you know it’s strong because "The Revenant" is nowhere to be found; I’m sorry, I swear I’m done ripping on Leo’s nature torture porn), one that’s 80 percent Best Picture nominees and one ("Carol") that probably should have been. I love "Room," but "The Big Short" is the winner here, pulling off the year’s most nimble balancing act. It entertains while educating and dumbs down its complicated economic babble without talking down to the audience.

Best Animated Feature

Will win: "Inside Out"

Should win: "Inside Out"

You might be swayed to think Charlie Kaufman’s excellent animation-for-adults drama "Anomalisa" could make things interesting … but you’d be wrong. "Inside Out" has this thing in the bag and pretty much has since it came out last summer and destroyed everyone’s tear ducts with Bing Bong.

Best Foreign Film

Will win: "Son of Saul"

Should win: "Mustang"

"Son of Saul" has won almost everything in the lead-up to the Oscars, so I have a hard time imagining it not winning now. With its startlingly new, visually inventive artistic approach to a famously award-friendly topic – the Holocaust – it’s the obvious pick. But if the voters are looking for something slightly less grim to go with, they could possibly lean toward "Mustang," a terrific Turkish drama about five rebellious young teen girls who get one-by-one forced into arranged marriages. Hey, I said SLIGHTLY less grim.

Best Cinematography

Will win: "The Revenant"

Should win: "Sicario"

Ever since it was announced that "The Revenant" was shooting in natural light, it was pretty much a give-in that cinematographer extraordinaire Emmanuel Lubezki would win his third Oscar in a row (Walt Disney has the record for winning eight in a row in, go figure, the Best Short Subject Cartoon category). And for all my griping about "The Revenant," this award would be totally deserved. It may be an empty movie, but it’s also sure as hell a gorgeous one, and "Chivo" deserves all the credit for that … again.

And now it’s time for the annual Moment of Being Sad For Roger Deakins, who will now have been nominated 13 times without ever winning. And this year, like in year’s past, it’s not because he’s being snubbed; there’s just always someone doing something equally impressive. If the Academy is feeling sentimental, they might finally toss Deakins a win for his precise, impeccably murky work in "Sicario." But I say that every year, and they never do. Poor guy. 

Best Editing

Will win: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

Should win: "The Big Short"

We’ve now reached the part of the Oscar predictions where "Mad Max: Fury Road" is going to win a lot of awards. While it won’t likely win any of the big prizes, George Miller’s road race epic will likely turn out Sunday night’s overall winner, riding triumphantly into Valhalla with a tanker of technical awards. That’ll start here with Best Editing, though the unconventional, almost stream of consciousness approach in "The Big Short" could make things interesting.

Best Production Design

Will win: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

Should win: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

 "Mad Max: Fury Road" will continue to ride shiny and chrome.

Best Costume Design

Will win: "Cinderella"

Should win: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

A technical award that "Mad Max: Fury Road" won’t win? MEDIOCRE! But really, "Fury Road" deserves costume for all of the crazy detail and insane creativity going on with its character’s wardrobe. I mean, Immortan Joe’s look alone is just loaded with intriguing details: the mask, the clear armor with the medals, that gear belt buckle thing. And that’s just one character. However, "Cinderella" has a literal showstopper of a costume with the fluffy blue meringue ball gown, and when it comes to costume, the Academy tends to lean traditional.

Best Makeup

Will win: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

Should win: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

We now return to your regularly scheduled riding into Valhalla shiny and chrome.

Best Score

Will win: "The Hateful Eight"

Should win: "Sicario"

Save for "Bridge of Spies," which isn’t a bad score but isn’t a particularly memorable one either, any of these nominees are worth a win. At first glance, John Williams and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" would seem to jump off the page as the obvious winner, but Ennio Morricone is just as legendary without ever winning an Oscar (in six tries; Roger Deakins scoffs). The Academy will likely give him the win as a final salute, but forget his legacy; he deserves this award because his "Hateful Eight" score is terrific, a perfect booming and haunting accompaniment to Tarantino’s Western parlor mystery. Anybody who saw the 70mm roadshow version knows as soon as his moody prelude started, your attention was rapt.

A special mention, however, is due for Carton Burwell’s beautiful and haunting "Carol" score – no real change of winning – and, my personal pick, Johann Johannsson’s ominously booming work in "Sicario." Some fine, fine work this year, movie composers.

Best Song

Will win: "Til It Happens To You," "The Hunting Ground"

Should win: "Simple Song 3," "Youth"

As long as it’s not Sam Smith’s mopey-ass Bond theme, I’ll be happy. A 20-minute long acoustic musical tribute to the bear in "The Revenant" performed with a kazoo would a preferred winner to "Writing’s On The Wall." Of the remaining four non-heinous nominees, I lean toward "Simple Song 3" because I like that it’s actually a key part of the movie and not just a random soundtrack selection, but I have a feeling the Oscars will go toward Lady Gaga and "Til It Happens To You." Hopefully her performance and eventual acceptance speech are more Super Bowl National Anthem Lady Gaga and less David Bowie Grammys Tribute Lady Gaga. Yeesh.

Best Sound Mixing

Will win: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

Should win: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

It’s been a while since I’ve picked "Mad Max: Fury Road" to win a technical award.

Best Sound Editing

Will win: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

Should win: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

It’s also been awhile since I’ve picked on "The Revenant," so here it goes: How is "The Revenant" nominated for these two sound awards when it features some of the worst audio dubbing I’ve seen this side of a Toho Godzilla movie? There are scenes in Inarritu’s film that play like a bad foreign film parody, with the spoken words not even resembling the mouths moving on screen. I am not emotionally prepared for another vapidly pretentious Inarritu movie to win awards this year. I may burn down my house.

Meanwhile, "Mad Max: Fury Road" will win another technical award.

Best Visual Effects

Will win: "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

Should win: "Ex Machina"

Though "Ex Machina" does a lot more meaningful and impressively integrated work with its limited special effects – is there ever a moment where you doubt Alicia Vikander is a robot? – "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" will win here. And even though it’s grossed $2 billion worldwide, I think it’s safe to assume this award is what Disney was truly gunning for. 

Best Documentary

Will win: "Amy"

Should win: "The Look of Silence"

"The Look of Silence" is the best film to come out in 2015, delivering an often jaw-dropping look into a world where brutal war criminals are allowed to live and rule unquestioned and unpunished because of social amnesia. But as that plot synopsis hints, it’s a real doozy to watch (though nowhere near as horrific and soul-punching as its predecessor, "The Act of Killing"), and in a smaller category like this where voters don’t quite care as much, that can make a difference. So I imagine the award here will go to "Amy," which is still harrowing but not quite as brutally so – plus it’s about the entertainment industry. Yet again, director Joshua Oppenheimer’s important, incisive work will lose to a good music industry doc. 

Best Documentary – Short Subject

Will win: "Body Team 12"

Should win: "Body Team 12"

It’s time for your yearly short film prediction grab bag! "Body Team 12" sounds a lot like "Short Term 12," which is a tremendous Brie Larson movie that you should see. Seems like as good and logical a reason as any to pick it!

Best Animated Short Film

Will win: "Sanjay’s Super Team"

Should win: "World of Tomorrow"

"World of Tomorrow" packs in more humor, emotion, creativity and ideas in just over 15 minutes than most feature-length films can muster in two hours. It’s a terrific, wonderful fun size film. However, I imagine more people will gravitate toward – AKA will have actually seen – the more conventional but still sweet and personally felt superhero short "Sanjay’s Super Team," giving it the win. Both are good picks; in fact, all five nominees are strong – if only because none of them are "Lava."

Best Live Action Short Film

Will win: "Ave Maria"

Should win: "Ave Maria"

"Ave Maria" seems like the perfect mix of lightness and seriousness that the Academy could embrace, so I’ll go with that. There, I’ve already thought about this category more than most voters.  

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.