By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Oscar season climaxes on Sunday evening when the 88th edition of the Academy Awards ceremony taking place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood unfurls in front of an immense international television audience.

Of late, Oscar outcomes in the major categories have seemed predetermined and predictable as a result of the consensus provided by the lesser awards – the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, and Screen Actors Guild awards – that have recently been bestowed.

And yet surprises somehow still manage to happen.

BEST PICTURE

The three titles destined to be also-rans grateful to be included in the evening’s climactic final category should benefit at the box office but are not likely to attract many first-place votes:

Brooklyn, from director John Crowley, is a well-acted charmer about an Irish immigrant and the two men she loves. It received three nominations, but it’s seen as a “little” movie, lacking the scope of some of the other nominees.

Bridge of Spies, which received six nominations, comes from the estimable Steven Spielberg, but lacks the power and indelibility of the director’s most illustrious movies.

And Room, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, as unusual and powerful as it is, is perceived as limited and modest.

But any of the other five nominees could emerge victorious.

The Big Short, with five nominations, is directed by Adam McKay, a comedy veteran leaving his comfort zone to tackle the 2008 fiscal crisis. It’s been gaining momentum as a unique and ambitious undertaking, but it remains a long shot, just not as long as first expected.

A win by Mad Max: Fury Road, from veteran Australian director George Miller, would be a surprise just because it’s an action flick and they don’t get much attention at Oscar time. But this action flick got ten – count ‘em, ten – nominations.

When accomplished veteran director Ridley Scott’s The Martian opened in October, it got much praise and few complaints. But as the year wound down, and despite its seven nominations, it got less attention than the two other titles that appear destined to duke it out for the top prize.

The survivalist thriller, The Revenant, directed by last year’s Best Director, Alejandro G. Inarrito, of last year’s Best Picture, Birdman, has built momentum throughout the awards season while leading the way with an imposing 12 nominations. It has a strong chance to take home the Oscar.

But so does director Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, with its six nominations and its vivid demonstration of the importance of investigative print journalism by telling the compelling and urgent story of the sexual-abuse scandal and cover-up in Boston uncovered by the Boston Globe.

This one’s a coin flip.

But look for Spotlight to eke out a victory even though my theoretical vote would go to the intelligence-celebrating The Martian, in my view the movie that came the closest to realizing its artistic ambitions.

As for Best Director, Tom McCarthy should claim it if Spotlight wins Best Pic, while Inarritu would be the choice if The Revenant wins Best Pic.

But wait: Or the Academy could make it a split decision and reward one film with Best Pic and the other with Best Director.

Stay tuned.

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BEST ACTOR

Bryan Cranston’s nomination for his portrait of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in Trumbo won’t win him the Oscar, but will elevate his status from accomplished TV actor to legitimate movie-screen presence.

Matt Damon’s easygoing performance as a resourceful astronaut/scientist stranded on Mars in The Martian is audience-friendly, but he makes it look too easy to emerge as the statuette recipient.

Michael Fassbender continues to impress as the title character in Steve Jobs, but he already finds himself in the ho-hum-another-great-turn category of taken-for-granted performers.

In a way, Eddie Redmayne is competing with himself because his astonishing performance as the first person to undergo gender-reassignment surgery in The Danish Girl is seen as Oscar bait – and perhaps it is. But it’s also seen by many as not measuring up to his great, Oscar-winning transformation into physicist Stephen Hawking in last year’s The Theory of Everything.

Leonardo DiCaprio has long been an underappreciated screen actor, one whose excellence we take for granted, and his bear-attacked, left-for-dead, revenge-seeking hunter in The Revenant should finally bring him an Oscar for all the good work throughout his career.

Look for the Academy to crown Leo, but my vote, if I had one would, in a close call, go to Redmayne.

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Christian Bale, with three nominations and one Oscar under his belt (for 2010’s The Fighter), is a quirky ensemble member in The Big Short, which makes his financial whiz a very unlikely winner.

Mark Ruffalo’s reporter in Spotlight is similarly perceived as an ensemble member and is similarly unlikely to win despite his one emotional outburst in the late going in an otherwise understated film.

Chameleon Tom Hardy’s villainous turn in The Revenant is a bit more showy, but it doesn’t connect with audiences sufficiently to bring him a prize.

Mark Rylance is undeniably brilliant as the undercover agent captured in Bridge of Spies, and in many years he’d waltz off with the Oscar.

But this appears to be the year that sentimental favorite Sylvester Stallone, who had the wisdom to respond to a script that turned Stallone’s iconic boxer, Rocky Balboa, into an age-appropriate supporting character in Creed, reminds us how fine he was in the original Rocky in 1976 with this consummately lived-in character.

Look for the Academy to bestow the Best Supporting Actor Oscar on Stallone, and he’d get my vote as well if I had one.

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BEST ACTRESS

It’s about time that the Academy acknowledged the fine work that British actress Charlotte Rampling has been delivering throughout her career. And that will have to suffice as her reward for another gem as the jealous wife in 45 Years.

Jennifer Lawrence gets her fourth nomination in five years for her unlikely entrepreneur in Joy, although her agreeable performance is seen as not quite up to her Oscar-winning standards in Silver Linings Playbook. But It’s been an embarrassment-of-riches recent run.

Cate Blanchett, also a perennial Oscar player, scores her sixth nomination for her well-heeled wife in the lesbian romance, Carol. Not that she can ever be ruled out, but her work in The Aviator in 2004 and Blue Jasmine in 2013 are so vivid and impressive, they seem to diminish this outing to also-ran status.

Saoirse Ronan – who, despite her youth, already has an Oscar nomination to her credit (for 2007’s Atonement) – is exemplary as an Irish immigrant involved in a romantic triangle in Brooklyn, and in most years would have a strong chance.

But not this year, because Brie Larson is about as close to a lock as any Oscar contender. Her dedicated, desperate mother in abusive captivity in Room, a performance for the ages, is an astounding piece of work. And she also gets at least some of the credit for the magical performance by Jacob Tremblay opposite her as her son.

Expect Larson’s coronation on Sunday evening as her stock soars to the A-list. And she’d have my vote as well.

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Rachel McAdams is fine as an intrepid in Spotlight, but her first nomination is for an ensemble contribution that’s unlikely to attract many votes.

Jennifer Jason Leigh, also receiving her first nomination, takes plenty of abuse as a bounty hunter’s prisoner in The Hateful Eight, but won’t be taken too seriously as an award recipient.

For Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Carol is her second nomination, but her admired, Audrey Hepburn-recalling performance in the lesbian romantic drama remains a long shot.

Because of Kate Winslet’s track record – seven nominations already as well as one Oscar for 2008’s The Reader – you can never rule her out. But her vigilant marketing executive in Steve Jobs is likely to be a runner-up.

As for Alicia Vikander, her conflicted but supportive wife opposite Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl could easily be seen as a lead role. But whether that perception helps or hurts her chances remains to be seen.

It looks from here as if that will help and that the Swedish actress will take home the Oscar. She’d be my choice as well.

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