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What to expect during Sunday’s Oscars; ‘Revenant’ in hunt for top honors

There are plenty of storylines heading into the 88th annual Oscars, aka the second annual #OscarsSoWhite.

Diversity, or the lack thereof, certainly tops the list. But while all of the acting nominees are, in fact, so white, Alejandro G. Inarritu (“The Revenant”) is looking to take home his second consecutive directing Oscar. His win would be the fourth straight for a minority director, following those by Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity”) and Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”).

Inarritu also would be just the third back-to-back directing winner, following John Ford (1940’s “The Grapes of Wrath” and 1941’s “How Green Was My Valley”) and Joseph L. Mankiewicz (1949’s “A Letter to Three Wives” and 1950’s “All About Eve”).

Elsewhere, Sylvester Stallone, as Rocky Balboa in “Creed,” is just the sixth actor to be nominated more than once for playing the same character. He’s looking to join Paul Newman (“The Color of Money”) as the only ones to win an Oscar in the reprisal.

Jennifer Lawrence, 25, is the youngest four-time Oscar-nominated actor and is once again looking to displace Luise Rainer (28) as the youngest two-time winner.

And “The Big Short,” which brought most of its characters to Caesars Palace for the American Securitization Forum, could become the first Best Picture winner to have filmed scenes in Las Vegas since “Rain Man” in 1989. (It would be the first Best Picture winner with a Las Vegas storyline since 2005, when Hilary Swank’s Maggie Fitzgerald fought here in “Million Dollar Baby.”)

With that in mind, here’s a look at what to expect from the major categories during the Oscars broadcast (5:30 p.m. Sunday, ABC):

BEST DIRECTOR

The nominees: Adam McKay, “The Big Short”; George Miller, “Mad Max: Fury Road”; Alejandro G. Inarritu, “The Revenant”; Lenny Abrahamson, “Room”; Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight.”

The background: As mentioned, Inarritu is the reigning champ. Of the other nominees, Miller has been here the most, having been nominated in 1993 for the screenplay for “Lorenzo’s Oil,” in 1996 for Best Picture and screenplay for “Babe,” and in 2007 he won best animated feature for “Happy Feet.” McCarthy has been here, too, as a nominee in 2010 for original screenplay for “Up.” The biggest surprise, based on previous experience, has to be McKay, the co-founder of Funny or Die, whose directing credits include “Step Brothers,” “Talladega Nights” and the “Anchorman” movies.

The winner: Inarritu. He’s already won at the Golden Globes, the Directors Guild of America and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and he appears to be a lock.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

The nominees: Jennifer Jason Leigh, “The Hateful Eight”; Rooney Mara, “Carol”; Rachel McAdams, “Spotlight”; Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl”; Kate Winslet, “Steve Jobs.”

The background: “The Hateful Eight” wasn’t even Leigh’s best performance this year; she was outstanding as the voice of the lonely snack food sales rep in the stop-motion “Anomalisa.” Likewise, Vikander — nominated for her role as painter Gerda Wegener, the wife of transgender artist Lili Elbe — was better, and a Golden Globe nominee, as the android in “Ex Machina.” The Academy loves Winslet, having nominated her seven times, but she’s only won once, in 2009 for “The Reader.”

The winner: Vikander. While Winslet won the Golden Globe, Vikander took home the Screen Actors Guild Award, which has correctly predicted the Oscar winner every year since 2009.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

The nominees: Christian Bale, “The Big Short”; Tom Hardy, “The Revenant”; Mark Ruffalo, “Spotlight”; Mark Rylance, “Bridge of Spies”; Sylvester Stallone, “Creed.”

The background: Bale and Ruffalo represent two of the three movies thought to have a shot at being named Best Picture. Hardy represents the third, and he also starred in Best Picture nominee “Mad Max: Fury Road.” But this is believed to be a two-man race between British stage actor Rylance, who was remarkable as cuddly Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, and Stallone, the sentimental favorite.

The winner: Stallone. SAG winner Idris Elba wasn’t nominated here. Rylance took home the BAFTA. But Stallone won the Golden Globe, which has predicted every winner since 2007. Plus, Hollywood loves a comeback story.

BEST ACTRESS

The nominees: Cate Blanchett, “Carol”; Brie Larson, “Room”; Jennifer Lawrence, “Joy”; Charlotte Rampling, “45 Years”; Saoirse Ronan, “Brooklyn.”

The background: Lawrence won the Golden Globe for best actress in a musical or comedy. But she and Blanchett, who have 10 nominations between them, both won Oscars in 2014. Ronan was nominated in 2008 for her supporting role in “Atonement.” Rampling is a first-time nominee at age 70, but her movie has the lowest profile by far. The role of a young woman who was kidnapped and held in a shed for seven years has been a breakthrough for Larson.

The winner: Larson. She won the Golden Globe for drama as well as the SAG, the BAFTA and seemingly everything else this season. There’s no reason to think that will change.

BEST ACTOR

The nominees: Bryan Cranston, “Trumbo”; Matt Damon, “The Martian”; Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”; Michael Fassbender, “Steve Jobs”; Eddie Redmayne, “The Danish Girl.”

The background: Redmayne just won last year for another demanding role in “The Theory of Everything.” As blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, Cranston is that film’s lone nominee, although Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood. As stranded astronaut Mark Watney, Damon turned in an engaging performance in a big, crowd-pleasing, box-office smash — and won the Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy or musical. As 19th century explorer Hugh Glass, DiCaprio survived a grueling shoot that included his eating raw bison liver and stripping naked in freezing temperatures to curl up inside a hollowed-out horse carcass.

The winner: DiCaprio. He’s been due for a while and would have won in 2014 for “The Wolf of Wall Street” had he not run into that awards buzzsaw known as Matthew McConaughey. Like Larson, DiCaprio already has taken home the Golden Globe for drama, SAG and BAFTA. He’s the closest thing to a sure bet all night.

BEST PICTURE

The nominees: “The Big Short”; “Bridge of Spies”; “Brooklyn”; “Mad Max: Fury Road”; “The Martian”; “The Revenant”; “Room”; “Spotlight.”

The background: This is essentially a three-picture race involving “The Big Short,” “Spotlight” and “The Revenant.” It’s also the most wide open, best Best Picture race in years. Hollywood’s three most prestigious guild awards were split, with SAG going with “Spotlight,” DGA choosing “The Revenant” and the Producers Guild of America backing “The Big Short.”

The winner: “The Revenant.” Conventional wisdom says “The Big Short” will win, because the PGA is the only ceremony that uses the same preferential ballot as the Oscars — in which voters rank their choices rather than simply selecting a favorite — and has correctly predicted the past eight Best Picture winners. But it just feels like a big night for “The Revenant,” which had the early momentum with a Golden Globe victory and regained it late with triumphs at the DGA and BAFTAs.

— Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com. On Twitter: @life_onthecouch

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