In alphabetical order:
Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg) You can never count out Spielberg, unless it’s one of his sci-fi action flicks like Jurrasic Park or War of the Worlds. This one is a Cold War tale with Tom Hanks. Of course, they also made The Terminal together.
Brooklyn (John Crowley): A film about an Irish emigre in New York City, this film, starring Saorsie Ronan, looks like an old-fashioned film that Oscar used to love.
The Danish Girl (Tom Hooper): Hooper’s last two films have been nominated in this category. It’s about the person first recognized for having gender-change surgery, and stars last year’s Best Actor winner Eddie Redmayne. Gender identity is very much on the minds of many these days, so the zeitgeist might be right. I’ll pick this as the picture to beat.
The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino): Tarantino is on a two-film streak with Best Pictures, so why not this one, which has a large collection of cool actors in a Western? With Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained he’s shown that blood-soaked pictures and over-the-top performances can still be nominated in this category.
Inside Out (Pete Docter): While the Academy had a mandatory ten-film slate of nominees, animated films got in (Toy Story 3 and Up). Not so since it’s been anywhere from five to nine nominees. If it’s ten this year, I think Inside Out, generally acclaimed as great by critics and audiences, will get in.
Joy (David O. Russell): Russell is on a three-film streak, and he is teaming with Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro for the third time in this story of the woman who invented the Miracle Mop. Based on the pedigree, this has to be a contender.
The Revenant (Alejandro Innaritu): Last year’s winner was directed by Innaritu, can he get two in a row? This film, about Leonardo DiCaprio as a mountain man bent on revenge, has been full of stories about problems in the set, but if it’s good as it could be, it should be a lock.
Sicario (Denis Villaneuve): Starring Emily Blunt in a role the studio wanted a man to play, it seems to be about Mexican drug cartels and, with Benicio Del Toro as a co-star, reminiscent of Traffic. That would be a good thing.
Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle): There’s already been one film about the Apple founder which bombed, starring Ashton Kutcher. The difference here is that it’s Michael Fassbender as Jobs and the script was written by Aaron Sorkin. If he can do with Jobs what he did with Mark Zuckerberg, the film should be great.
Suffragette (Sarah Gavron): A story about the women’s-right-to-vote moment in England, this film looks great in the trailer and has lots of great parts for women. But movies about women haven’t won many Best Pictures.
Also in contention: Black Mass (Scott Cooper); By the Sea (Angelina Jolie); Carol (Todd Haynes); Freeheld (Peter Smollett); In the Heart of the Sea (Ron Howard); The Martian (Ridley Scott); The Secret in Their Eyes (Billy Ray); Star Wars: The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams); Trumbo (Jay Roach); Youth (Paola Sorrentino).