It may have been marred by controversy, but there's still no doubt that the eyes of the entertainment world will be fixed on Hollywood this Sunday night as the winners of the 88th Oscars are announced. 2015 was a truly superb year for film-making, as evidenced by highly competitive shortlists from which it's often difficult to predict a winner. Some of the world's greatest actors, writers and directors have been showcased on the big screen this year; it's just a shame there's such a desperate lack of diversity among those recognised by the Academy.
The outcry over lack of representation for black actors and filmmakers should at least lead to genuine change in the future. That hugely important issue aside, the nominations set up some intriguing battles for the ultimate prizes in cinema; here's my best guess at where some of those coveted statuettes may end up.
Eight films make up the shortlist for the night's biggest prize, and they're a diverse bunch - from the carnage of Mad Max: Fury Road to the gentle, understated charm of Brooklyn. Slick (if sexist) financial crisis ensemble The Big Short is in with a chance, but most critics think it's a straight showdown between Alejandro González Iñárritu's bleak snowy survival epic The Revenant, and Spotlight, the story of the Boston journalists who uncovered a Catholic abuse scandal which turned out to have global implications. I'm tipping the latter to scoop the award - but not by much.
While Spotlight arguably demonstrates the best example of straightforward storytelling, for sheer spectacle and directorial flair there are really only two contenders - and Mad Max is just a little too out there to deliver George Miller the Best Director prize. That means Alejandro González Iñárritu should win the award for the second year running, after 2015's surprise victory for Birdman. Iñárritu rivals Danny Boyle as one of the most interesting and diverse storytellers working in modern cinema, and his award studded career is likely to achieve further recognition on Sunday night.
Surely it's Leo's turn. Having missed out for The Aviator, The Departed and The Wolf of Wall Street, most critics are certain that the most significant male lead of his generation will finally cross the line with his extraordinary physical performance in The Revenant. There are some fine contenders on the shortlist, including last year's winner Eddie Redmayne for The Danish Girl and Matt Damon for his pivotal role in The Martian. It's hard to look beyond Leonardo Di Caprio though - not only does his body of work deserve the ultimate recognition; he's utterly compelling in the film for which he's nominated.
No film released in the last 12 months was more extraordinary or hauntingly memorable than Room, Lenny Abrahamson's dark drama about a mother and child held captive in a small garden cabin. The film - the stunning first half of which is let down by a rather pedestrian second - relies entirely on the central relationship between Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay (desperately unfortunate not to be nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category), and the former is superb as a woman pushed to the very edge of sanity and survival by her ordeal. Cate Blanchett (for Carol) and Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) were both excellent in their respective roles, but it's surely Larson's Oscar.
Best Supporting Actor
Well this is an interesting one. In an unsentimental world, this would be a straight contest between Mark Ruffalo - whose performance in Spotlight hinges on one marmite speech (which I loved), and Christian Bale's slightly hammy but supremely watchable turn in The Big Short. But the Academy aren't robots, and they're also prone to springing the occasional surprise, and into that context steps Hollywood action legend Sylvester Stallone, whose nomination raised a few eyebrows, as well as the pulses of film geeks everywhere. His performance as Rocky Balboa (again) in boxing movie Creed is a great reprisal of an iconic role, but could it really win an Oscar? The fact that he's already scooped the Golden Globe equivalent, coupled with the overwhelmingly positive feelings toward him from the film-making fraternity means it might just happen.
Best Supporting Actress
Some terrific actresses and roles take their place on the BSA shortlist, including Kate Winslet for her sounding board / punchbag role opposite Michael Fassbender's Steve Jobs, and Rachel McAdams, holding her own against a male-dominated cast of acting heavyweights in Spotlight. It's a fairly open category, but my best guess is that Alicia Vikander will win for her subtle, sympathetic performance in elegant two-hander The Danish Girl.
Best Original Screenplay
There was some truly brilliant original writing on show throughout 2015, and it's recognised in shortlisted movies like Inside Out, Bridge of Spies and Ex Machina (a film everyone apart from me loved, so I concede I'm probably wrong). For me though, Spotlight's tight, gripping script stands head and shoulders above the rest; I hope and expect to see Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer walk away with the Oscar.
Best Adapted Screenplay
It might have been sexist, but there's no denying that The Big Short, had the smartest, slickest, wittiest script of 2015. Nick Hornby's screenplay for Brooklyn is tender, heartfelt and proof that you don't need to write the word "EXPLODES" on every page to hold an audiences' attention, while Emma Donoghue's adaptation of her own book for Room stays with you long after the credits roll. I just can't look beyond those bankers however - Adam McKay and Charles Randolph's adaptation of Michael Lewis' non-fiction book of the same name is just too perfect in capturing a world driven mad - and blind - by greed.
Roll on Sunday night, and laugh along with me as Mad Max, Michael Fassbender and Ex Machina end up being the evening's big winners...