On Sunday, the 2016 Oscars -- youthfully rebranded in 2013 from the Academy Awards -- will return to the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles for the 88th annual celebration of film, fashion and Hollywood's elite.
Some may tune in for the inevitable fashion commentary or for the chance to see Jennifer Lawrence fall on yet another red carpet. But most sit through the three-plus-hour ceremony's stiff jokes, awkwardly long acceptance speeches and pretty fabulous musical productions to find out the winners of, arguably, the night's most important categories: Cinematography, Actress in a Leading Role, Actor in a Leading Role and Best Picture.
This year's cinematographer nominees are Ed Lachman for "Carol," Robert Richardson for "The Hateful Eight," John Seale for "Mad Max: Fury Road," Emmanuel Lubezki for "The Revenant," and Roger Deakins for "Sicario."
Cinematography is the visual allure of a movie, and whether it's a brutally beautiful mountain landscape in all-natural light, a period drama that owes its "vintage" aesthetic to 16mm film or an effects-heavy desert sequence that required custom camera mounts, each nominee brings a unique talent and vision to the category. Neither the dangerous filming conditions nor the unexpected location change deterred Emmanuel Lubezki's goal of making "The Revenant" as immersive as possible for an audience, and as he has already made an impression this awards season with wins for his cinematography, Lubezki will likely take home a third consecutive Oscar for his early-1800s representation of the Midwest frontier.
The Actress in a Leading Role category is always a favorite, and five talented nominees are up for the 2016 title: Cate Blanchett in "Carol," Brie Larson in "Room," Jennifer Lawrence in "Joy," Charlotte Rampling in "45 Years," and Saoirse Ronan, in "Brooklyn."
With veterans such as Blanchett and Rampling in the running, it's hard to believe newcomers Larson and Ronan have stood out so strongly in their respective roles, but critics and moviegoers alike have taken notice of this year's young talent, including another nomination for the favored Jennifer Lawrence. Even though J.Law is loved by all and performed well in "Joy," she's had betters years, and Brie Larson, who delivered an acclaimed and heart-wrenching performance as Joy Newsome in "Room," seems to be the clear front-runner for best actress.
Five men representing strikingly different characters are nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role: Bryan Cranston in "Trumbo," Matt Damon in "The Martian," Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Revenant," Michael Fassbender in "Steve Jobs," and Eddie Redmayne in "The Danish Girl."
Each actor played his character with passion and conviction, but the academy members need to know one only thing to cast a well-informed vote for best actor: Leonardo DiCaprio ate raw bison liver -- and paid the price on screen -- in his formidable portrayal of Hugh Glass in "The Revenant." It's your year, Leo.
Sunday's final and most-anticipated Oscar will be awarded to one of the Best Picture nominees: "The Big Short," "Bridge of Spies," "Brooklyn," "Mad Max: Fury Road," "The Martian," "The Revenant," "Room," and "Spotlight."
Between the true story of The Boston Globe's investigation into the Catholic church, a post-apocalyptic rebellion fantasy and the uniquely original depiction of a mother and son surviving abuse and imprisonment, the winning team will be difficult to select. Any of the featured films will be deserving of the win, but popular opinion suggests "The Revenant" will sweep the final prize.
See all the glitz, glamour and gilded statues of the ceremony's other awarded categories, presenters and host Chris Rock at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.