“The Revenant” is gaining steam after its big Golden Globes win, but there are other top contenders in the best film race. Here’s a look at what will play into each movie’s favor, and what’s working against them. Plus, our critic’s original star rating.
The Big Short
The story: A few financial savants foresee the housing crisis and take on the big banks.
In its favor: With humor and layman’s language, it breaks down a complex subject into understandable bites, stoking a fine sense of outrage.
Then again: We’re put in the position of rooting for guys who make millions off others’ misery.
Bridge of Spies
The story: A New York lawyer is recruited to represent a Soviet spy in this true-life Cold War tale.
In its favor: Three words: Spielberg and Hanks. Plus two more: Mark Rylance.
Then again: It wears its square all-Americanism on its sleeve. And Amy Ryan is wasted as the long-suffering wife of cliché.
The story: A young Irishwoman finds a new life in America, even as the old sod beckons.
In its favor: Saoirse Ronan is luminous as Eilis, and her central dilemma makes for wrenching drama.
Then again: The tender, old-fashioned style might strike some as too saccharine.
Mad Max: Fury Road
The story: Drifter Max Rockatansky joins forces with the rebel Furiosa in post-apocalyptic Australia.
In its favor: Fueled on pure adrenaline, it’s what fast and furious really look like. The rare action movie that passes the Bechdel Test.
Then again: It’s been compared to a glorified video game.
The story: An astronaut/botanist left for dead on Mars must find a way to stay alive.
In its favor: Cheeky and tense in equal measure, it gives scientists the chance to bask in a heroic glow.
Then again: Human emotion is in as short supply on the Red Planet as water and oxygen.
The story: A frontiersman seeks revenge after a brutal bear mauling.
In its favor: A feral, tour de force performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, epic cinematography and the golden pedigree of “Birdman” director Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Then again: Did we mention the bear? It’s a harrowing and unrelentingly grim journey.
The story: A young woman raises her son in the tiny shed where they are kept captive.
In its favor: Brie Larson and the wondrous young Jacob Tremblay are achingly believable.
Then again: The first act is so uncomfortably claustrophobic that you might not stick around for the denouement.
The story: The Boston Globe uncovers systematic abuse and coverup by the Catholic Church.
In its favor: This “All the President’s Men” for a new generation makes digging through dusty files seem urgent and thrilling.
Then again: It’s resolutely unglamorous, kinda like journalists themselves.