Oscar outlook: It's all over now but the shouting.

Final balloting for the 88th annual Academy Awards ends Feb. 23, but by now most Oscar voters have made their choices. On Feb. 28 the sealed envelopes will be ripped open and we'll know if things turned out as expected or whether there are any big surprises. It's the sort of year where either scenario is possible.

If expectations are met, the likely best picture winner is "The Revenant."While it didn't score in the best picture equivalent votes by the Producers Guild of America (PGA) or the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), it triumphed with the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and the British Academy (BAFTA).

Only seven times since 1950has the DGA winner not also taken home the best directing Oscar. Mostly, but not always, a best picture win goes hand-in-hand with a best directing victory. That was the case last year when "Birdman" and its director Alejandro G. Inarritu both won.

This time around Inarritu returns with a DGA win already to his credit, giving him front-runner status in Oscar's best directing race.

"Revenant" also looks good after taking home five British Academy BAFTAs, including best picture, director and lead actor (Leonardo DiCaprio). About 500 of the British Academy's approximately 6,500 members also are members of our Academy and are likely to vote the same way for the Oscars.

Our Academy went to 10 best picture nominees in 2009 and two years later switched to between five and 10 noms, but the BAFTAs remain a fivehorse race. Over the last seven years, BAFTA'swinner was Oscar's best picture winner every time -- except for last year when BAFTA went for "Boyhood" and our Academy voted for "Birdman." 

Meanwhile, "Revenant" has additional luster from its12 Oscar nominations, the most noms for any film this year. That translates into solid support from a dozen Academy branches -- and bringing in the vote is how you win best picture.

"Spotlight" has six Oscar noms and "The Big Short" has five, so they're at a disadvantage. On the other hand, both of those films have also generated major success in other races that are well established bellwethers for the Oscars.

"Short"won the Producers Guild of America's (PGA) outstanding producer award. The PGA and Oscar best picture winners have matched up for each of the last eight years. And in the eight years prior to that, they matched up four times. That's 12 out of 16 matches --- or 75 percent of the time.

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG)'s best ensemble cast award went to "Spotlight."Actors are the Academy's biggest branch with 1,138 out of 6,261 voting members. That's about 18 per cent of the Oscar voters and chances are they'll vote for Oscars just as they did for SAG.

SAG's given an ensemble cast award for 20 years and it's matched up 10 times with Oscar's best picture vote. That's a 50 percent correlation, which is good, but not as good as the PGA's 75 percent correlation. Last year saw SAG and Oscar match-up with "Birdman" winning both awards.

So there are compelling arguments for all three front-runner films to take home the best picture Oscar. Over the course of about eight months of non-stop campaigning, fueled by endless spending on ads, screenings, encrypted DVD screeners and social events targeted to Academy voters, every reason to support these titles as well as many other wanna-be contenders has been put out there for consideration.

Over all those months, votes by other groups enhanced the prospects of some titles at the expense of others. By now, most Oscar observers probably don't even remember who won what where or when. So here's a look back at the twisting road leading to the 88th annual Oscars.

At last May's 68th annual Cannes Film Festivalthere was lots of talk, as there always is, about Oscar prospects, but in the end there was very little help from Cannes in getting there.

The Palme d'Or went to the French drama "Dheepan," which did not go on to receive a best foreign language film Oscar nod. The runner-up Grand Prize and the international critics' prize (FIPRESCI) went to "Son of Saul," which is nominated as Hungary's official selection in Oscar's foreign language film race. The Cannes jury presidents were directors Joel and Ethan Coen ("No Country For Old Men").

Cannes split its best actress award between Rooney Mara ("Carol") and Emmanuelle Bercot ("Mon Roi"). Mara is a best supporting actress Oscar nominee.

Best actor honors went to Vincent Lindon for the French drama "The Measure of a Man."No Oscar nom here.

Cannes' directing award went to Taiwan's Hou Hsiao-Hsien for "The Assassin." He's not in the Oscar race either.

The film festival circuit heated up again in early September with the 72nd annual Venice Film Festival. Its opening night selection Sept. 2, out of competition, was the world premiere of "Everest," which did not get into the Oscar race. Two nights later, "Black Mass" world premiered at Venice, but it, too, went nowhere in terms of the Oscar race.

"Spotlight," however, had much better luck at Venice, sparking immediate Oscar talk after its premiere. That put it on the path to its current shared best picture front-runner status.

Venice's top prize, the Golden Lion, went to the Venezuelan drama "From Afar," which is not an Oscar nominee for best foreign language film. The Venice jury was chaired by "Gravity" director Alfonso Cuaron.

More Oscar hopefuls descended upon Colorado's 42nd annual Telluride Film Festival from Sept. 4-7, including the world premiere of "Steve Jobs."Despite tremendous excitement about its Academy potential, "Jobs" did not wind up in Oscar's best picture, directing or adapted screenplay races. It did, however, land Oscar acting noms for Michael Fassbender (best actor) and Kate Winslet (supporting actress).

"Beasts of No Nation" also made the scene at Telluride, but also failed to make any headway with Oscar. Idris Elba, who starred, wasn't Oscar nominated, but did win SAG's supporting male actor award and was a BAFTA supporting actor nominee.

"Black Mass" screened at Telluride after premiering in Venice, but still didn't move forward in terms of Oscar buzz.

The action then shifted to the 40th annual Toronto International Film Festival(TIFF) where 399 films screened from Sept. 10-20. Oscar buzz expectations are typically very high at TIFF since all the best picture Oscar winners screened there from 2007 through 2013.

TIFF had an unusual situation in 2014 when "Birdman," after playing at Venice and Telluride, skipped TIFF to be the prestigious Closing Night Selection at the New York Film Festival. It went on to win the best picture Oscar.

Among the many films in TIFF's 2015 spotlight were:      "Spotlight," which became one of Oscar's three best picture front-runners after igniting interest at TIFF. It generated helpful headlines like this one from the L.A. Times, a newspaper that many Academy members read: "Scandal film's buzz builds/Toronto audience takes a shine to 'Spotlight,' about church sex abuse."

"Black Mass,"which just didn't resonate with Academy members despite media expectations that it would.

"The Martian," which wound up getting 10 Oscar noms, including picture, directing (Ridley Scott) and lead actor (Matt Damon).

"The Danish Girl," which isn't Oscar nominated for best picture or directing, but does have noms for lead actor (Eddie Redmayne) and supporting actress (Alicia Vikander, who's the front-runner in her category after winning in the SAG race).

"Beasts," which got nowhere with Oscar, possibly because it's from Netflix, which is competing hard with the traditional studios that most Academy members work for.

"Room," which won the People's Choice Award at TIFF, sparking a major Oscar buzz. That led to four Academy noms, including: best picture, directing (Lenny Abrahamson), adapted screenplay (Emma Donoghue) and lead actress (Brie Larson, who's the front-runner in her category after winning in the SAG and BAFTA votes).

"Trumbo," which isn't Oscar nominated for best picture or directing, but did land a lead actor nom for Bryan Cranston.

The next stop on the film festival railroad was the 53rd annual New York Film Festival(NYFF) at Lincoln Center from Sept. 25 through Oct. 11. NYFF's opening night screening of "The Walk" was moved back one day to Sept. 26 to avoid conflicting with Pope Francis' visit to New York. "Walk" didn't generate the kind of Oscar buzz it takes to run in the best picture race.

NYFF's centerpiece selection, "Jobs," struck out in terms of Oscar's best picture and directing noms although Michael Fassbender received a best actor nod.

"Bridge of Spies" did much better, landing six Oscar noms, including best picture and supporting actor (Mark Rylance, who won the BAFTA, but faces very strong competition in the Oscar race from Sylvester Stallone for "Creed," who wasn't BAFTA nominated).

"Carol" hoped to ignite a best picture Oscar buzz, but that didn't happen.

"Brooklyn," on the other hand, found that lightning struck, leading to three Oscar noms, including best picture, adapted screenplay (Nick Hornby) and lead actress (Saoirse Ronan).

Smaller film festivals in locations accessible to good media coverage can also play a part in advancing Oscar hopes. But that wasn't the case for "Truth," which opened the 23rd annual Hamptons International Film Festival Oct. 8, but did not get into the Oscar race.

As the fall moved forward, so did "Spotlight." An Oct. 12 article in the New York Times, another paper Academy members are believed to read, was headlined: "In Oscar Favorite, Dogged And Ink-Stained Heroes." It referred to an online awards site whose handicappers "recently listed 'Spotlight' as their No. 1 prospect" for the Oscars.

By early December the first nigh profile awards were making headlines. The National Board of Review(NBR), which has been around for the past 106 years,announced Dec. 1 that "Mad Max: Fury Road" won best picture. It went on to land 10 Oscar noms, including best picture and directing (George Miller).

Matt Damon won the NBR's best actor award for "The Martian" and is Oscar nominated for his performance. Brie Larson won best actress for "Room" and is Oscar nominated and favored to win.      Sylvester Stallone won supporting actor for "Creed"and is  Oscar nominated and favored to win. And Jennifer Jason Leigh won supporting actress for "The Hateful Eight" and is Oscar nominated.

NBR is not only a good match for Oscar noms in those prime categories, but it also looksgreat in some other key races. Its foreign language film winner,"Son of Saul," is Oscar nominated. NBR's animated feature winner "Inside Out" just won the BAFTA and is Oscar nominated. And NBR's documentary winner, "Amy,"just won the BAFTA and is Oscar nominated. All three films are regarded now as the front-runners in their races.

Dec. 2 saw the New York Film Critics Circle name "Carol" as its best picture. Some other key votes went to: Actor – Michael Keaton for "Spotlight."Actress -- Saoirse Ronan for "Brooklyn"(Oscar nom). Director – Todd Haynes for "Carol." Supporting actor – Mark Rylance for "Spies"(Oscar nom). Supporting actress – Kristen Stewart for "Clouds of Sils Maria."

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association announced its winners Dec. 6. Its best picture winner was "Spotlight."Some other key votes went to: Actor – Michael Fassbender for "Jobs"(Oscar nom). Actress – Charlotte Rampling for "45 Years"(Oscar nom). Director – George Miller for "Fury Road"(Oscar nom). Supporting actor – Michael Shannon for "99 Homes."Supporting actress – Alicia Vikander for "Ex Machina"(Oscar nom, but for "Danish Girl").

The National Society of Film Critics kicked off the New Year Jan. 3 by naming "Spotlight" best picture. Some other key votes went to: Actor – Michael B. Jordan for "Creed."Actress – Charlotte Rampling for "45 Years." Director – Todd Haynes for "Carol." Supporting actor – Mark Rylance for "Spies." Supporting actress – Kristen Stewart for "Clouds."

The 73rd annual Golden Globes' noms were announced Dec. 10, sparking an Oscar buzz for "Carol," whose five nods were the most for any film, and for "Big Short,""Revenant" and "Jobs," each of which boasted four noms (although "Jobs" did not get a best picture-drama nod).

"Martian,"which many observers regarded as a sci-fi adventure, was nominated in the Globes' best picture-comedy category, sparing it the tougher competition to get into the best picture-drama race.As the awards season dragged on, more than a few jokes were made about the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) having voted to classify"Martian" as a comedy.

The Globes winners were announced Jan. 10. Some of the key wins were for: Best Picture-drama – "Revenant." Best Picture-comedy – "Martian." Actor-drama – Leonardo DiCaprio for "Revenant."Actor-comedy – Matt Damon for "Martian."Actress-drama –Brie Larson for "Room."Actress-comedy – Jennifer Lawrence for "Joy."Director – Alejandro G. Inarritu for "Revenant." Supporting actor – Sylvester Stallone for "Creed." Supporting actress – Kate Winslet for "Jobs."

The Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) announced its 21st annual Critics Choice Awards nominations Dec. 14 with "Fury Road" leading the pack with 13 noms. "Carol,""Martian" and "Revenant" followed with nine noms. "Spotlight" received eight and "Big Short" had seven.

The BFCA unveiled its winners Jan. 17. Some of the key wins were for: Best Picture – "Spotlight." Actor – Leonardo DiCaprio for "Revenant."Actress – Brie Larson for "Room."Director – George Miller for "Fury Road." Supporting actor – Sylvester Stallone for "Creed." Supporting actress – Alicia Vikander for "Danish Girl."

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) announced its 22nd annual awards nominations Dec. 9 with "Trumbo" leading the pack with three noms. "Spotlight,""Big Short" and "Beasts"each had two noms.

SAG announced its winners Jan. 30. The winners were: Best Ensemble Cast (Best Picture equivalent) – "Spotlight."Male Lead Actor – Leonardo DiCaprio for "Revenant."Female Lead Actor – Brie Larson for "Room."Male Supporting Actor – Idris Elba for "Beasts."Female Supporting Actor– Alicia Vikander for "Danish Girl."

The Producers Guild of America (PGA) announced its 27th annual nominations Jan. 5 with a field of 10 contenders: "Big Short,""Spies,""Brooklyn,""Ex Machina,""Fury Road,""Martian,""Revenant,""Sicario,""Spotlight" and "Straight Outta Compton."

The PGA announced Jan. 23 that its Outstanding Producer award (Best Picture equivalent) went to "Best Short."

The British Academy's 69th annual BAFTAs were the last of the high impact awards to make headlines before the Oscars. When the BAFTA noms were announced Jan. 7, "Spies" and "Carol" led with nine noms each and "Revenant" received eight.

Some of the key wins announced Feb. 14 were for: Best Picture – "Revenant." Actor – Leonardo DiCaprio for "Revenant."Actress – Brie Larson for "Room." Director – Alejandro G. Inarritu for "Revenant." Supporting actor – Mark Rylance for "Spies." Supporting actress – Kate Winslet for "Jobs."

Bottom line:With three strong best picture front-runners still running hard in the homestretch, it's tough to put your money with great confidence on any one of them.

Nonetheless, "Revenant" looks like the most likely winner given its:(a) 12-noms-most-for-any-film-this-year;(b) strong likelihood of winning for directing (Inarritu won the DGA vote) and lead actor (DiCaprio won the SAG vote) races; and (c) best picture BAFTA win, which usually – but not always -- matches up with a best picture Oscar victory.

Also adding to "Revenant's" momentum is that it's the only best picture nominee that's still in wide national release and still performing well at the boxoffice. Last weekend, it was the only Oscar contender in the Top 10, placing ninth with $3.8 million and a nine week cume of $165.1 million.

Academy members like their best picture winners to have enjoyed boxoffice success, so it's helpful that "Revenant"has. "Big Short" after 11 weeks has a $67.1 million cume. And "Spotlight" after 16 weeks has grossed $38.1 million.