On Hollywood Boulevard, the Oscar posters are mounted, the scaffolding is being assembled and, in a day or so, the winners of the 88th Academy Awards will be announced.

What a race it's been.

Flash back to September, when this year's red carpet roller-coaster started, and the road to Oscar looked quite different. Fan favourite Bryan Cranston was starring in the topical costume drama Trumbo, while best actor incumbent Eddie Redmayne seemed to zero into the zeitgeist with his transgender transformation in The Danish Girl

Golden Globes Nominations

Early last fall, best actor incumbent Eddie Redmayne seemed to zero into the zeitgeist with his transgender transformation in The Danish Girl. But the Tom Hooper drama won't win the top Oscar, predicts Eli Glasner. (Agatha A. Nitecka/Focus Features/Associated Press)

Yet here we are just months later as those films join other also-rans (hello there, Black Mass) whose Oscar moxie never fully matured. Instead, three subsequent films rose to the top.

In Spotlight, the critics' favourite, director Tom McCarthy masterfully conveys the story of a newspaper's exposé on abuse in the Catholic Church with empathy and exactitude.   

Then there was the surprise breakout of the season: The Big Short.  From the director of Anchorman and featuring a cast of actors who looks like they belong in an Ocean's Eleven spin-off, this madcap examination of the U.S. mortgage crisis gave Wall Street-weary audiences a "Mad as Hell" moment for the new millennium.

But with the ballots now carefully counted, the late-December release The Revenant is the one to beat.  So how did Leonardo DiCaprio's tango with an ornery grizzly bear vault to the top? Here are five reasons why I think The Revenant will win.

The Bear

The academy tends to reward films that are extreme, epic and emotional. Cue DiCaprio's spit-spewing and teeth-chattering in Inarritu's Bro-Magdon tour-de-force. (Copyright 20th Century Fox)

1.  Box office bang

With a box office haul of $380 million US and counting, The Revenant has something many Oscar contenders lack: a clear connection to an enthusiastic audience. Though critics have been divided on its artistic merits, the industry loves a film that resonates and those box office bona fides could help the movie earn the 50 per cent of the votes needed to secure a best picture win.

2.  The Oscar whisperer

The Revenant has one of the globe's premier Oscar consultants in its corner. Cynthia Schwartz developed her craft while working under movie Svengali Harvey Weinstein. Since setting up her own publicity firm, Schwartz has helped Crash, Argo, The Hurt Locker and Birdman all land best picture.

The Revenant

Accepting a Golden Globe for his role in The Revenant, Leonardo DiCaprio, seen here in a scene opposite actress Gracey Dove, paid tribute to First Nations history and culture. (Leonardo DiCaprio/Instagram/20th Century Fox)

3.  The diversity factor

For Hollywood voters looking to soothe their guilt over #OscarSoWhite, The Revenant offers a couple of advantages. Not only is the intense survival thriller directed by Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Inarritu, but after DiCaprio's Golden Globe acceptance speech (for best actor in a film drama), the movie has pivoted to a politically progressive agenda that pays tribute to First Nations history and culture.

4. Lining up for Leo

Love him or hate him, DiCaprio is one of the last true movie stars. He's the kind of name that can draw audiences in droves. With four Oscar nominations under his belt, he's an established favourite with the academy. The "It's Leo's turn" movement has serious traction.

Mideast Israel Oscar Swag

There's a definite 'It's Leo's turn' movement in support of four-time Oscar nominee Leonardo DiCaprio. (Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press)

5.  The epic advantage

At the Oscars, all that subtlety earns you is a weak smile and a place in line at the buffet. The academy tends to reward films that are extreme, epic and emotional. It's not the best actor or best director that wins, but rather what voters consider most acted and most-directed.

When it comes to the kind of old-fashioned, ambitious movie that "Hollywood just doesn't make anymore," The Revenant rises above. Sure, The Big Short won the Producers Guild's top prize, but comedies don't play well with the film academy. Though Spotlight shines a light on rampant sex abuse, director McCarthy's understated approach can't compete with DiCaprio's spit-spewing and teeth-chattering in Inarritu's Bro-Magdon tour-de-force.  

Make all the bear jokes you want, but my prediction is that The Revenant goes home with Oscars for best picture, actor, director and cinematography.

Mad Max

George Miller's post-apocalyptic thriller Mad Max: Fury Road, starring Tom Hardy, has a lock on the technical categories, predicts Eli Glasner. (Warner Bros.)

Choosing the rest

And about all those other categories...

Best actress: Brie Larson's searing performance in Room is the clear front-runner

Best supporting actressIt's not fair, but Alicia Vikander appearing in both Ex Machina and The Danish Girl gives her a clear advantage.

Best supporting actorMark Rylance's sly comic turn in Bridge of Spies was charming, but going up against Sly Stallone in his sentimental return as Rocky Balboa in Creed makes this no contest.

Best original screenplay: This will be Spotlight's consolation prize and a well-deserved one.

Best adapted screenplayBy all rights, this should go to Nick Horby's Brooklyn or the artfully restrained Carol. Then again, remember what I said about subtlety? Bank on The Big Short.

In the technical categories, when in doubt, mark your ballots for Mad Max: Fury RoadBest editing, sound mixing, sound editing and production design? All hail Furiosa.

Best score: The academy will not pass up the opportunity to give 87-year-old Italian composer Ennio Morricone his first Oscar for The Hateful Eight.  

For my complete list of Oscar picks, see my ballot here — and fill one of your own here.