For months, filmmakers, actors and others racing towards the Oscars have been running an awards season gauntlet: gamely participating in a marathon of red carpets, film junkets, academy luncheons and countless film festivals — all designed to convince the roughly 6,100 Academy Award voters to chose their names on the ballot.
It all comes to a head early Thursday morning, with the revelation of the 2016 Oscar finalists.
Much has been made in recent years of the composition of these academy voters, who are mostly men (76 per cent) and mostly Caucasian (94 per cent), with an average age of 63.
Still, for all of its faults, foibles and failings, the Oscars remain arguably the most prominent, universally-recognized yardstick of cinematic excellence. Even a single nomination means lifelong bragging rights and, typically, a boost at the box office.
That said, here are my guesses for the academy's picks for 2016.
Who will be nominated: The Revenant, Spotlight, The Big Short, The Martian, Mad Max: Fury Road.
Who will be snubbed: Although it rode into the Toronto International Film Festival on a wave of anticipation, The Danish Girl faded quickly from sight and failed to make a splash upon release. Similarly, Carol's delicate lesbian love story hasn't gained a lot of traction with the generally conservative academy voters and could also find itself left out.
Who will be nominated: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (The Revenant), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), Adam McKay (The Big Short), Ridley Scott (The Martian), Todd Haynes (Carol).
Who will be snubbed: Although Ryan Coogler's Creed was a vibrant, visceral and surprisingly relevant revival of the Rocky franchise, it hasn't been considered an awards season heavyweight. Steven Spielberg could squeak in with Bridge of Spies, but it's more likely that the best director category will be where voters express their appreciation for Haynes's artful Carol.
Who will be nominated: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl), Matt Damon (The Martian).
Who will be snubbed: Again, I'd love to see Creed get some love and Michael B. Jordan on this list. But while my heart says "yes," my cynical brain says "no." Also expected to earn a "no" is Johnny Depp's overcooked mobster from Black Mass.
Who will be nominated: Cate Blanchett (Carol), Brie Larson (Room), Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl), Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn).
Who will be snubbed: On the periphery is Charlotte Rampling's masterful, slow burn of a performance in 45 Years. She's fascinating to watch, but it's unlikely that her performance will unseat Hollywood's newest It-Girl Vikander.
And the balance
What else? Getting into the weeds of the supporting actor and actress races is tricky business, because that's where the Oscars tend to throw curve balls.
It would be lovely to see Idris Elba break through for Beasts of No Nation, but the Netflix movie's violent content and piddling theatrical release has hurt its chances.
In terms of Canadiana, our best chances rest with London, Ont.'s Emma Donoghue for her screenplay of Room. The film's young co-star, Vancouver's Jacob Tremblay, is a long shot for the supporting actor category, but he'll have Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) and the resurgence of Rocky (Creed's Sylvester Stallone) to contend with.
Overall, the academy will likely stay true to voting for movies with the most acting, but not necessarily the best acting. The same is true for direction. The Revenant may have divided critics, but it's impossible to ignore the extreme effort that went into the epic (and especially when influential industry publication Variety publishes a cover depicting DiCaprio and Inarritu under the title "The Survivors"). What The Revenant, The Big Short, The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road all share is that they are big pictures with massive stakes. This leaves smaller, more solemn and serious films such as Carol, Spotlight and Sicario at a serious disadvantage.
Reviewing the best picture winners of the past five years shows that the academy has favoured titles that either celebrate the craft of movie making (The Artist, Argo, Birdman) or harkened to the epic, widescreen tales the industry was built upon (The King's Speech,12 Years a Slave).
With all the various guilds and studios lobbying for votes, predicting the final result is a mug's game. Can Will Smith's charm save his saccharine performance in Concussion? Will the Spielberg fan club rally behind Bridge of Spies and its all-American everyman Tom Hanks? Might a Straight Outta Compton surge silence ever-present complaints about the Oscars' lack of diversity?
The only thing guaranteed (well, besides DiCaprio's nomination) is that there will be lots to argue about as soon as the nominations are announced.