Note: This is a long article. Scroll down a bit if you only want to read about my changes, and scroll all the way to the bottom if you want to see the predictions. Otherwise, please enjoy this labor of love
The last time I wrote an Oscar predictions update, it was July. Things were different then. I was younger, writing was a lot more frequent, we had two candidates that nobody liked instead of one president-elect that slightly over half the country doesn’t like, and we had no idea who would be frontrunners for Best Picture. The only consensus in the world was that The Birth of a Nation was a lock for nominations across the board while many people looked at my prediction of La La Land as a pipe dream. My how things change.
It’s been a wild race so far. We’ve watched a scandal take down the biggest contender. Hard. We’ve watched the unseen frontrunner taken down by its own major flaws. And we’ve seen one film tease us time and time again before finally entering the race. And now, we’ve seen the critics weigh in and decisively accelerate the race. We finally have a general idea about who is competing for most of these prizes. Now, there’s still a chance for surprises as we enter the guilds. Silence and Patriots Day have finally been seen after skipping the first part of the awards circuit, and both bombed terribly at the box office. We’ve seen twist after twist, as critics darling Elle has been eliminated from Foreign Language contention, and Tom Hanks has fallen away as a major contender for Best Actor (which I think is the correct choice, but still…shocking). And now, we’re entering the home stretch.
I had wanted to update these as frequently as possible as the season changed. As you can tell from this post, that didn’t happen. However, after spending the past few weeks crunching the data and looking at the critics and Golden Globes, I feel safe in these predictions, and look forward to the nominations tomorrow.
Before getting into my changes, I have to address something that many critics and Oscar gurus are currently struggling with: how is the election going to affect the awards race? Well, I’ll tell you: I don’t know. I honestly don’t. There’s three ways that the Academy could react, and I’m honestly not sure which it is. The first is that they could be so stunned they play the entire thing safe: the films will return to being lily white, the messages will only be gooey and uplifting (expect massive nominations for La La Land, 20th Century Women and Hail Caesar! in this universe), they could choose to fight back (expect films about race, LGBT rights and tolerance to make a big push, like Fences, Moonlight, Loving and Arrival), or a more red-blooded group could push through in a post-election celebration, and it could look like the American Sniper nominations (look for a push for Patriots’ Day and especially Hacksaw Ridge). I’m leaning towards some mix of the first two, but I also did not see the Sniper love coming, and I did not see this election coming, so I apparently have a huge blind spot on the front.
With all of this being said, let’s brush off my old predictions and see what’s changed.
I would like to tell you all a little story. At the beginning of the season, everyone was looking to Silence and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk as the frontrunners for Best Picture. Some also had Fences and Birth of the Nation in the running. However, many, if not all, of these critics felt that La La Land was going to be on the outside looking in. Being a contrarian, I predicted that La La Land would not only get nominated, but that it would win Best Picture. Why? Several reasons. One, I love musicals. Two, a good friend of mine in college had a cousin who was at one point married to Damien Chazelle, and who gave me updates on his career as he was just a young kid starting out. It made me feel invested, and it made me biased. Three, it just seemed like the movie that America needed after a tough, grueling 2016. I was confident that it would be a major player this February, and people laughed me off. And then it premiered at Venice. And then it premiered at Telluride. And I was proven right.
However, just because La La Land is the current favorite to win does not, in any way, make it a done deal. As of right now, it is in a battle with two other films to see who will be taking home the Oscar later this year. And then there are the other nominees. As I see it, there are three fields that remain: the Frontrunners (I’ve dropped the number from nine to eight in response to recent trends, with three films serving as the leaders), the seven Contenders, and the Longshots. I will only focus on the first two here.
I guess I should start by mentioning the two biggest casualties of the season. The Birth of the Nation was supposed to win the award for Best Picture this year. That was preordained after last year’s #Oscarssowhite controversy. Unfortunately, the film’s hero turned out to be its biggest adversary. Nate Parker, the film’s writer/director/star/Golden Boy, became embroiled in his own past as awful revelation after awful revelation came out over a rape accusation levied against him in 1999. That alone was enough controversy to hurt the film’s Oscar chances. Still, it would have been able to survive if it had done well at the box office. Unfortunately, it didn’t do that either, leaving it without a leg to stand on. Basically, barring some miracle, Birth of a Nation is out of Oscar consideration. Meanwhile, two-time Oscar winner Ang Lee was returning with a surefire contender in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a satirical look at the Iraq War and the way we treat our veterans. He went all out getting his cast and crew together. And what happens? The film bombs with the critics. Hard. Personally, I didn’t hate the film, and it’s still up in the air how the guilds treat it-they ended up going gaga for Life of Pi despite mixed reviews-but as far as most people, myself included, are concerned, Billy Lynn is sinking, and not even the frequent firing of flares will save it in the top tier categories.
As for what has taken their place in the clear Frontrunner position are two films: Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight. Both were films I doubted for a variety of reasons. For Manchester, it was a matter of being too sad, too Sundance-y, and not flashy enough for the Academy. Meanwhile, Moonlight seemed like another Carol or Brokeback Mountain: a technically perfect niche film that was too “out there” to be properly adorned by the Academy. Now it’s the critical favorite and buzz claims it is an Academy favorite as well. These three are now in a vicious fight for Best Picture, and they each have a wonderful problem: all three are well-liked and unhated. Here’s what I mean: every year, there’s are about one or two films that emerge as the favorite to win Best Picture. However, one of them will fall away due to the fact that something about it pisses people off. Sure, it could be a technically “better” film, but if people don’t like it, they won’t vote for it. And the Academy uses a preferential ballot. So basically, Boyhood, The Revenant, and The Big Short could theoretically get the most “#1 votes.” However, they also had many vehement opponents: Boyhood was one big gimmick, The Revenant was too bleak, and The Big Short was a comedy with no likable characters. This allowed films that people liked and no one hated to sneak through for the win-in their cases, Birdman and Spotlight. Following the preferential ballot has always been the easiest way to the Academy’s heart. However, all three of these would be the Birdman or Spotlight of their year: no one hates them, everyone likes them. So this makes it difficult to rank them. A lot of current evidence (guilds, buzz, etc.) suggests the pendulum is swinging towards Manchester by the Sea as the new favorite, and I’m hard pressed to argue. However, I’m going to do something risky, and I will tell you why: my order is going to be La La Land, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea. Here is why: obviously, I am going to put La La Land first, because it is my champion and I absolutely adored it. This leaves Moonlight and Manchester to compete. However, I have my own statistic that I follow: since I started making lists in 2008, no film has won Best Picture without being placed on my Top Ten list. From Slumdog through Spotight, every film has made it, even if it was a lowly #8. While my official list has not been published, I can tell you that La La Land and Moonlight both make it, but Manchester just misses the cut. Therefore, despite all of the evidence suggesting a late-season surge, I’m going to go with my gut and say that it is a battle between the plucky little musical and the quaint coming of age story.
Next we have two films I really didn’t expect much from: Arrival and Hell or High Water. Actually, that’s underselling it. I thought the former was going to be a stuffy, boring film, and I didn’t know the latter existed. And now both are battling it out for spots on my Top Ten list, and they are taking the awards season by storm. Frankly, Hell or High Water is shocking, but it shouldn’t be. It’s an excellent film, but the “heist caper” genre has always done poorly with the Academy. Yet when you couple it with a truly red-blooded tale, fill it with allegories that explain the rise of political candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, and allow Jeff Bridges to be Jeff Bridges, an entire subsection of the Academy becomes excited. Meanwhile, Arrival is a film that has the potential to leave you cold. It shouldn’t-it’s arguably the most warm movie of the year, and most audiences tend to agree, as it was a box office smash. However, the people who don’t like it really don’t like it. That made it seem like it would be a film sitting the season out. However, while that whole “not liking it” thing will keep it from winning Best Picture, it can’t prevent a nomination. And luckily, enough people like it that it should receive a nomination handily. Expect this one to be a big contender.
Next we have the two “safe” films. These are the films that aren’t necessarily “spectacular,” but your mom and dad would love them, so the older people in the Academy will love them. The first is Lion. I didn’t really expect anything from Lion. It was a bit of a dud in the critics’ circles, and I wasn’t really a huge fan. However, thanks to backing from Harvey Weinstein, a massive amount of success at the Golden Globes, and the fact that the guilds have been enamored with it (see that surprising nomination at the DGA), it seems that it’s going to be safe as it cakewalks its way to a nomination. And then there’s Fences. Fences is, for all intents and purposes, a glorified rendition of a stage play, directed by and starring Denzel Washington. That sounds like a negative sentence, but I mean it as a compliment. Fences is not so much a movie as it is a chance for audiences to see two fantastic actors read some really fantastic dialogue. Should it win Best Picture? Not at all. But if Best Picture is around to award the best film, and a film features two of the best parts around, then I think it deserves a chance. And I think the Academy will agree, considering the actors’ branch will love how juicy it all is.
This leaves us with the eighth spot. And this is where things get tough. This spot is so challenging, I almost want to cut it down to a predicted seven nominees just to be safe. However, this is a “Go Big or Go Home” industry, and therefore I’m going to have to make a decision. The guilds have been split so far, and no love has been given any particular way. Hacksaw Ridge has been cleaning up amongst the meat-eater population in the Academy, and could make for a redemption story for director Mel Gibson. Meanwhile, Hidden Figures has been coming on strong as a timely, beautiful blockbuster, and could be just open enough for the Academy to love it (unfortunately, it didn’t become a box office smash until after ballots were turned in, so that won’t have any impact on the voting). Two critical darlings, Jackie and Loving, still have a shot, even if the Academy has turned a blind eye to them. And then there’s the shock of the season: Deadpool. Yes, it seems the Merc with a Mouth has made a last second push for Oscar glory, and while I’m not convinced he’ll be the eighth nominee tomorrow, it would be negligent to ignore his rise to power, as no superhero film has had this level of acclaim since The Dark Knight. However, I’m going to play things both extremely safe and extremely risky by picking Martin Scorsese’s Silence. It seems odd to pick a well-reviewed Scorsese film as a risk, because he’s Martin Scorsese. However, there’s a lot of barriers that have been built to keep it out of the running. It’s too long, it’s too bleak, it’s too meditative, and it’s too religious (the Academy prefers its religion in a much more paint-by-numbers sort of way). Furthermore, the film is something of a box office bomb. It seems more likely that Silence will go the way of Kundun and The Last Temptation of Christ than it will the way of The Departed or Gangs of New York. However, with eight (to ten) spots available, the film being Scorsese’s passion project, and the lack of any other true “epics” in contention, I think that it will round out the category as the eighth and final nominee.
As mentioned above, I have been verified in my support of Damien Chazelle for Best Director. His work on the film has been rightly praised for being funny, dramatic, and highly skilled all at once. What he does with that finale is unearthly. Unfortunately, that may be my only major success in this field. Ang Lee has fallen out of the race, and Nate Parker is a bust. Sure, Scorsese could be safe, but Affleck may have to wait for his next film (well, after Batman) to finally get his Best Director nom. This leaves four new spots for me to fill. The easiest choice is to go with the likely-and deserved-nomination for Barry Jenkins and what he accomplished with Moonlight. It has Room level indie cred, but with the visual eye of Paul Thomas Anderson or Richard Linklater, and remains unique throughout. Add in the fact that Jenkins has been incredibly humble throughout the season (all he’s done along the trail is talk about how great other directors are and how great their films have been), and you have a very close battle between Chazelle and Jenkins. It’s very possible that one of them wins Best Picture while the other wins Best Director.
The last three spots are tricky. The easiest way to fill it is to look at past years. It’s sometimes a bit difficult, due to the very different styles and takes, but there is something of a pattern to what the Academy picks. We’ve got the indie star and the up-and-comer, which leaves us with the auteur the actors’ director, and the veteran. For the auteur, I’m going out on a limb and saying Denis Villeneuve will receive a nomination for Best Director. Villeneuve has been on the verge of a nomination for a while now, after two great films, and between is Canadian allure and his precise eye, he should be able to flash his way to a nomination.
Then there’s the actors’ director. Due to the Academy’s love for someone who can get great performances out of a whole ensemble, sometimes a director will be nominated for a quieter film. This would be David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, or Lenny Abrahamson for Room. The easiest choice would be Denzel Washington for Fences. Indeed, I’ve been flirting with Washington for some time now. However, there are two key issues that Washington faces. First, his direction just isn’t that impressive. Sure, the performance he gets out of Davis, let alone his own, is truly astonishing. However, everything else is just kind of…flat. This alone wouldn’t be a dealbreaker if he weren’t primarily an actor. Actors-turned-directors usually only have a 50/50 chance of getting a nomination, and I don’t see Washington on the same level as, say Gibson or Costner. Therefore, I’m going to give the edge to Kenneth Lonergan, who elevated Manchester by the Sea from a mopey melodrama into a piece of high art. That’s a little disappointing, considering we were, at one time, looking at multiple African-American nominees in a field that has only given us three in its entire history. However, I will take solace in the fact that that one is currently the frontrunner. That is something worth seeing.
And then there’s the veteran. This is the spot that goes to the acclaimed older director desperate to prove his worth. There are two potential nominees for this category: Mel Gibson and Martin Scorsese. Both have made technically masterful films that aren’t necessarily overall masterpieces. However, there’s one thing that I think makes this decision: Gibson’s past. Yes, Gibson is a bit of a controversial figure, and while he’s no longer the social pariah he once was, it would seem a bit morally dubious to immediately treat him as a golden boy his first time back after all of the horribleness he spewed. So I’m giving the edge to Scorsese, because even if Silence isn’t nominated for Best Picture, they may recognize a master working on his passion project.
Of course, this formula is only a placeholder. It is entirely possible one of these “types” are passed over for someone else. Garth Davis received a DGA nomination for Lion, and the British were fond of Tom Ford for Nocturnal Animals, but if there’s a true shocker cming, I’d put my money on David Mackenzie. The guilds have been fond of Hell or High Water, and supposedly the Academy truly loves it, showing that it may be the surprise nominee that no one sees coming (see: Abrahamson last year). I’m a little disappointed that things didn’t pan out the way they did earlier this year, when three African-Americans looked to make history in the normally lily-white Best Director category. However, I will take solace in the fact that one of those three is, in fact currently one of the frontrunners. That is truly something worth seeing.
This may be our biggest open and shut case. Over the course of the last few months, we have watched as two great actors have dashed out miles ahead of the competition. I’m not sure who will eventually be nominated for Best Actor, but there’s two that I can say with 100% certainty will be nominated, and one of whom will eventually win. They are Denzel Washington for Fences, a character study of a black man looking back on his life and his choices, and Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea, a heartbreaking story of a man caught in a perpetual cycle of grief. Both are meaty roles, and both actors milk them for all its worth, and it could go either way. After these two, the field opens up a little bit. After the pre-season, it seems two of my earlier predictions also ended up being correct. Ryan Gosling has cemented himself as a near-lock for a nomination for his performance in La La Land, and Andrew Garfield will be nominated for one of his two great performances in Silence and Hacksaw Ridge. Personally, I think the nomination is more deserving for Silence, but so far all of his precursor nominations have been for the latter. So I’m going to have to stick to safety and go fro Hacksaw Ridge.
As for that final slot, things become a little trickier. I can tell you it’s not going to be one of my former predictions of Nate Parker (for previously listed reasons) or Chris Pratt (Passengers bombed). No, I’m going to have to find a fifth selection. A few months ago, it seemed like Tom Hanks was a shoo-in for his performance as Sully. However, it currently seems like the Academy agrees with me that he’s just playing himself, because he’s received no precursor nominations. Then there’s the few who have gotten one or two nominations dispersed evenly by different groups, like Joel Edgerton (who I’m pulling for) in Loving or Jake Gyllenhaal in Nocturnal Animals. There’s even a chance that Ryan Reynolds gets nominated for his wonderful work on Deadpool. However, if you’re playing things safe, you’ll look to the one person who has been a constant so far: Viggo Mortensen for Captain Fantastic. I wasn’t a fan of the twee indie film, but considering Mortensen has been nominated everywhere so far, it’s just not likely to predict him missing out. I would love to be wrong on this one, but considering how weak the Best Actor field was this year, I don’t think I am.
Whoo boy. Back in July, I made an offhand comment that Best Actress was always competitive, and I didn’t expect this year to be any different. Well, turns out I was more right than I realized. This year is an absolute bloodbath. There’s not really a clear “frontrunner,” only two actresses that have any hope at a “lock” status (and even they aren’t exactly certain), one who is incredibly likely, and another eight possible contenders waiting in the wings. The only thing we know for certain is that Emma Stone completely steals La La Land and Natalie Portman does legendary work in Jackie. The two of them are in a gridlock for frontrunner status, and even they aren’t completely safe at their lofty heights. When I saw Jackie, I briefly considered making Portman my new frontrunner for Best Actress. However, as the love continues to pour in for La La Land, and groups overlook her in favor of Stone and Isabelle Huppert, it looks like I’ll stick with the scrappy little underdog who breaks our heart over the 35th first lady of the United States.
Despite my original fears that she would be forgotten for her subtle work, it seems the only other frontrunner at the moment is a certain Amy Adams. Adams is a force of nature, earning five nominations in her already-incredible career without ever winning. She had two performances this year that earned some awards buzz: the first for the fairly “meh” Nocturnal Animals, and the second for the critically and commercially successful Arrival. Arguably, Arrival is her best performance to date, and should earn her a sixth Best Actress nomination, and even put her in a long-shot scenario for the win. I’m not saying it will happen, I’m just saying that’s something that shouldn’t be taken off the table.
That leaves us with two spots and seven contenders: Isabelle Huppert for Elle, Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins, Annette Bening for 20th Century Women, Emily Blunt for The Girl on the Train, Jessica Chastain for Miss Slaone, Taraji P. Henson for Hidden Figures, and Ruth Negga for Loving. I think it’s safest to cross Blunt and Chastain off the list-despite popping up sporadically in earlier awards listings, Chastain failed to earn the needed buzz to earn the nomination, and Blunt’s film was lambasted by critics. While it’s not impossible for her to earn a nomination, especially with SAG and BAFTA to back her up, I don’t see the Academy nominating anyone from a film with a 30% Rotten Tomato rating. I would also eliminate Taraji P. Henson-she’s great in Hidden Figures, but she is not the focus of the film’s praise, and has failed to make headway up to this point. That leaves us with four: Huppert, Streep, Bening, and Negga. The safest choices would be Huppert, the critical darling, and Streep, the Academy’s darling. And while I know Streep is wonderful in her film, and I will be watching Elle later today to see how Huppert (the Golden Globe winner) does, I’m choosing not to play it safe. I predict the final two spots will go to Annette Bening and Ruth Negga, because those are two of my favorite performances of the year. Bening’s performance is the epitome of sweet and tic-driven. She creates an entire life from scratch, and it’s the best performance of her already incredible career. Negga, meanwhile, provides a drive to Mildred Loving that makes her incredibly human and understanding. It’s a performance that may be too muted for the Academy, but it’s one of my favorites, and I think it will receive the sole love for Loving. This is the type of field I love, because based on the number of great performances by talented performers, I wouldn’t be surprised if none of these contenders were nominated. I can’t wait to see how this bloodbath plays out.
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actor usually ends up being an irritating trainwreck of a category, and this year has proven no different. So far, there is no true frontrunner for the category. Sure, there are two that seem incredibly likely nominees, and one more who seems to be the critical favorite for the prize, but so far there’s no true “frontrunner” as there has been in past years. So let’s get down to it and see who’s safe and who’s still in the running.
Let’s establish this right off the bat: none of my original five predictions are still here. They have either bombed or moved out of the Oscar race. Once you cut them out, there’s three who remain on every list and every tongue: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight (the perceived frontrunner by most critics), Jeff Bridges for Hell or High Water (the potential upset winner and confirmed lock), and Dev Patel for Lion (not a lock, but they owe him for Slumdog Millionaire). After that, things become tricky.
Literally every Oscar predicator I’ve looked at has two names on their list that round out their Top Five: Hugh Grant for Florence Foster Jenkins and Lucas Hedges for Manchester by the Sea. These are two of my favorite performances of the year. However, I’m not convinced of their chances. I’m thinking the Academy will go a different direction altogether. The first is a nomination for Nocturnal Animals. Now, the smart money all year has been on Michael Shannon, who gives the best performance in the film. However, the love from the Globes (who gave him the win) and the BAFTAs has gone to Aaron Taylor-Johnson, whose performance is…memorable, to say the least. Personally, I just don’t see how he can be overlooked with that level of support (it’s not impossible, but I find it unlikely. So I think he’ll get in at the #4 position. And then there’s the fifth spot. Now, I’m going to be wrong here. I’m sure of it. But I just have this gut feeling that Issey Ogata will get in for his wonderful performance in Silence. He’s memorable, passionate, and humorous, even as he commits/supports unspeakable evil. It’s the best villain performance since Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds, and I think he’ll be rewarded for it in a surprise nomination. I don’t know, this is where the shock mostly happens every year, and I don’t expect 2017 to be any different, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Best Supporting Actress
Moving away from major surprises, Best Supporting Actress! Yes, the expected nominees of Naomie Harris and Michelle Williams are still in the running, and will indeed get nominations tomorrow morning. However, they might as well begin practicing their “Humble Loser” face, because this race is sewn up. You see, after noticing how tough the Best Actress race is, Viola Davis decided to jump ship over to Best Supporting Actress. And she’s phenomenal. And she’s gonna win. It’s over. Check this one off on your ballot now. But after these three, where do we go?
Well, there’s another lock that’s come along in the past couple of months: Nicole Kidman in Lion. It’s her best performance in years, and she plays it quite well, so it won’t be a surprise when she gets nominated tomorrow. But that leaves one more spot. And that’s where things get hazy. There’s basically three women who could potentially get that spot, and two from the same movie. You see, right now, the smart money is on Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures. She was nominated by the Globes and by SAG, which is usually a pretty good indicator. However, the fan favorite from the film has been Janelle Monáe, who steals that film and also gives one of the best performances in Moonlight, meaning she gets seen twice as often. But then there’s a third option: Greta Gerwig for 20th Century Women. Gerwig is an indie darling, and has several great and unnominated performances in her past. She creates a whole-heartedly wonderful woman here in Abbie, a recovering cancer patient who deals with her pain through the punk scene. If the Hidden Figures girls split the vote, don’t be surprised if Gerwig sneaks in there. And that’s going to be my prediction, as much as it pains me to make that choice, even if Spencer is more obvious and Monáe is my favorite.
There’s been a bit of a change in this department. You see, Moonlight and Loving, despite being eligible for Best Original Screenplay everywhere else, have been deemed Adapted by the Academy. So things become a little more interesting in the writing categories.
Let’s start with the easiest category, Best Original Screenplay. There’s three locks here that could each potentially win the award: Manchester by the Sea, the frontrunner, La La Land, the potential sweep-winner, and Hell or High Water, the spoiler. After that, things become fuzzy. Normally, the weirder the film, or the richer the dialogue, then the more likely it is to be nominated. That means The Lobster and Zootopia are the best potential contenders for the nomination. However, I’m going to play things a bit safer. I’m predicting the dialogue driven 20th Century Women in the number four spot and the brilliantly constructed Jackie in the number five spot.
Which brings us to Best Adapted Screenplay. Obviously, thanks to the new move, Moonlight is going to win the award this year. That leaves us with four spots. The two original frontrunners of Arrival and Fences follow along not too far behind. Then there’s Lion, which is looking to receive love throughout the top awards. Which leaves us with one. This could go to Nocturnal Animals, or to new contender Loving, or even to the raunchy-but-witty script for Deadpool, but if you ask me, I think this will be where they reward the box office success of Hidden Figures. The script wasn’t necessarily my favorite part of that movie, but it deserves love somewhere, and I think this is the place it receives that love.
Animated, Documentary, and Foreign Language
Animation is one of the most hotly contested categories this year. Disney is looking strong with two nominations, and could walk away with a third, while up-and-comers and foreign contenders look to challenge them with their best work yet. So let’s start with the locks: Zootopia and Moana are both in. No question. They could very well win, too, unless they split the vote and allow for a third contestant in. The most likely is Kubo and the Two Strings. I loved Kubo beyond comprehension when it came out, but I was afraid this would be the Lego Movie of this year where the best animated film gets snubbed despite its quality. However, a funny thing happened: it’s popping up everywhere. Like, places that animated films don’t normally pop up. Like Best Visual Effects, and Costume Design. It’s something of a phenomenon. This is a big deal, and I can’t in good conscience ignore it any longer. After that comes The Red Turtle. Normally, one anime film sneaks onto the list, and considering this is the one that’s blown everyone away so far, from Cannes to Toronto until now, I doubt the Academy will do anything different. With leaves us with one last spot. This could be anything, from The Secret Life of Pets to Sing (which I love) to Miss Hokusai to the raunchy Sausage Party. But it’s hard to bet against Pixar in any capacity, especially when they break box office records, so I’m going to have to play things safe and pick Finding Dory as my #5 prediction.
Moving on to Best Documentary, things become a little more challenging. This is the only category where my #1 prediction could, theoretically, not be nominated at all. That’s because while everyone seems to universally think O.J.: Made In America is a groundbreaking achievement (and it is), it still aired on TV. And that pisses off the Academy to no end. So while it will win the Oscar if it gets nominated, there’s still a very good chance it goes the route of Hoop Dreams and misses the nomination altogether. I’m still going with my gut and predicting a nomination, but I want it understood up front that this could potentially miss out. After that, the only other locks are I Am Not Your Negro and 13th, two other landmark documentaries exploring race relations in America. For multiple reasons, race will be on everyone’s mind going into the awards, and the fact that two of the year’s best films explore these issues will be too hard to overlook. After that, things are up in the air. Will the Academy be feeling light-hearted and uplifting, meaning The Eagle Huntress, Gleason, or Life, Animated get in? Or will they be negative nellies and lean towards Tower, a game-changing documentary about the famous Dallas Tower shooting. I’m going with the latter, because I think I know the documentary branch of the Academy. Which leaves us with one. Obviously, any of those films I just named could sneak in here, and probably will. But the film I can’t get out of my head is Weiner. Weiner was a frontrunner for this award until about late October, when Anthony Weiner not only got himself back in the news, but infamously resulted in the “October Surprise” that damaged Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Many people have not gotten over that fact, and they refused to watch and/or nominate this movie. I still think it will get in at #5, if only because it deserves to, but man has it had an uphill battle the past month and a half.
Which leaves us with Best Foreign Language Film. When the shortlist of nine films was announced in early January, people were shocked to find that critical favorites Elle and The Handmaiden did not make the cut. This leaves the category wide open to the other potential favorites Toni Erdmann and The Salesman. But this also means that there are three films destined to come out of nowhere to compete for the Foreign Language prize. Knowing little to nothing about the rest of these films, I will do my best to make my predictions accordingly, based on the names I know. Therefore, I believe that the animated Swedish film My Life as a Zucchini is, indeed, a lock for a nomination. I think the moderate summer success A Man Called Ove will also find some love. And then there’s the fifth spot. The money is currently on Tanna or Paradise to sneak in there, but I’m looking a different way. In order to make up for the fact that they ignored Mommy two years ago, I believe the Academy will nominate Xavier Dolan’s critically reviled Canadian melodrama It’s Only the End of the World for Best Foreign Language Film. Call me crazy, call me stupid, call me whatever you want, but I have a hunch and I’m sticking to it. We’ll see who’s right in the morning.
This is where things begin to become the La La Land show. There’s a reason the film is being called a “juggernaut,” and that’s because when it comes to the below-the-line categories, this film is the one to beat. Seeing as it is a musical (and the music is universally loved), let’s start by breaking down the music categories. Obviously, La La Land is going to win Best Original Score. That, my friends, is a given. However, after that, things become trickier. The second biggest score of the year was Arrival, which may have had the best chance at beating La La Land before it was deemed ineligible due to its use of a previously produced piece of music for the climax. What a shame. All this means is that the newbies have a strong chance at a showing. This means that the greatly understated score in Moonlight, the oddly overstated score in Jackie, and the basic-but-memorable score to Lion should all join the fray pretty easily. This, however, leaves us with one. And while I’ve seen many people making random predictions, including Rogue One: A Star Wars Story or the much-deserving Hell or High Water (hell, I’d love to see some love for Kubo), I think the fifth will go to the master. Yes, despite the film’s box office failure, I don’t think there’s any way John Williams doesn’t receive his fifty-first Oscar nomination for The BFG. Never bet against the master, folks.
Which leaves us with the bloodbath for song. Obviously, La La Land is going to win this song. The question is, how many La La Land songs get nominated? “City of Stars” is a mortal lock, but could “Audition” sneak in? What about “Start a Fire?” My guess is that “Stars” is in, and “Audition” also sneaks by (even if it is the better song by a mile), but that’s it. After that, we have the kids’ films. “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana will give Lin-Manuel Miranda a shot at his EGOT for sure, but that’s it for the locks. This leaves us with two spots to fill and about four contenders. Does the Academy reward the Song of the Summer, “Can’t Stop the Feeling?” Do they nominate the fun and energetic “Drive It Like You Stole It” from Sing Street? Do they stick to their Best Picture contenders and pick a Pharrell song from Hidden Figures? Or do they go with the tantalizing team-up of Stevie Wonder and Ariana Grande in “Faith?” If you ask me, I’d pick “Faith” and “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” but any combination of these nine could make for some of the most show-stopping moments in Oscar history. It’s going to be a field to remember, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
Ahh, the sound categories. Where things go boom and the music swells. These are two of the easiest predictions to make, if you know how to look at them right. And while frontrunners like Billy Lynn and Passengers have folded under the pressure, this just means new blockbusters can step in to take their place. So let’s get down to it.
We’ll start with Sound Editing, aka the Award for the Most Explosions. This is the award for the best sound effects in a film. This focuses solely on explosions, gunshots, and the like. Therefore, the two safest predictions are Hacksaw Ridge and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. After that, things become trickier. Due to its technical prowess and sci-fi background, I think Arrival could also sneak in here, and could very well win, despite a lack of major explosions or gunfights in the plot. And then things become hard. Most critics are predicting Sully or The Jungle Book to round out this top five. I think both are great, and both could theoretically get in, but I’m not seeing it happening. Not when Peter Berg is out there changing the sound editing game not once, but twice. That’s right, I’m predicting Best Sound Editing nominations for not only Deepwater Horizon, which is one big sound effect, but also for Patriots’ Day, which features one of the best climaxes of the year. It’s a bold prediction, especially considering the lack of love that seems to exist for Patriots’ Day, but I just don’t see how it could get ignored.
As for Sound Mixing, this is another lock. As this involves all of the sound blending together seamlessly, it often favors the musicals. You know, like La La Land. Now, I’m not going to pretend that La La Land has the best Sound Mixing I’ve ever seen-it doesn’t-but it’s a musical, and it’s a juggernaut, so in it goes, right there at the top. After that, you have to assume there will be crossover from the three Sound Editing frontrunners (they usually go hand in hand), so let’s bring on over Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. After that, things become complicated. I really want to predict Deepwater Horizon. That’s where the safe money should be. However, I just keep remembering the nominations for Bridge of Spies and Lincoln, and know that, deep down, that fifth spot normally goes to quiet arthouse films. And I don’t think there’s any film that fits this more clearly than the film that depends on its sound design: Silence. It won’t be a big contender across the board, but I think it will be safe here. It’s a risk, but one I’m willing to take.
The awards for the look of the film have changed significantly since the season began. In fact, only about three of my predictions remain the same between both categories. Let’s get right into them, shall we?
The Production Design category is designed to reward the best set, background, or general aesthetic. So, naturally, the film that utilizes all of these, La La Land, is going to be in for sure. After that, the only two locks are the gorgeous Rogue One and the technical wonder of Arrival. This leaves two spots, and I’m going to use them on two shockers. The first is for Hail, Caesar! Normally, beginning-of-year release don’t fare well with the Academy. However, the general look of this film has been praised across the board, and thanks to its appearance at the Art Directors Guild and the BAFTAs, this film feels incredibly safe for an Oscar nom. After that, the smartest money would be on Nocturnal Animals, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (some people’s favorite), or the more avant-garde Doctor Strange, but I’m going with a huge shocker: The Handmaiden. It wasn’t eligible for Best Foreign Language Film, making the list of those willingly watching it few and far between, but for some reason I keep thinking about The Grandfather, an arthouse foreign film that snuck into several categories in 2013. I think The Handmaiden could be this year’s The Grandfather.
Meanwhile, Best Cinematography is a bit safer, but not by much. The frontrunners are clearly La La Land and Arrival, and I think that Silence has a chance, but after that things become hazy. It seems to be a smart bet to predict Moonlight’s illuminating cinematography, but it’s still not a lock. And then where do you go from there? Nocturnal Animals? Lion? Hell or High Water? Or, like me, do you predict the master and go with Roger Deakins for Hail, Caesar!? That’s how I’m feeling, but I don’t feel great about it. I can hope, though.
Ahh, Costumes and Makeup. Two highly underrated departments in filmmaking, yet two of the most important. Shortlists have come out for the makeup category already, meaning only three of seven could end up being announced tomorrow, but let’s check out the Costume Design first.
Look, let’s get it out of the way. La La Land’s costumes have shapes and colors the likes of which I’ve never seen. It’s winning this award. Not too far behind is Jackie, which carefully recreates the former First Lady’s iconic wardrobe. But after that, where do we go? Well, on paper, the two most likely based on previous nominations are Hail, Caesar! and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which recreate outfits from the 1920s and 1950s, but then things become tough. There’s Live By Night, which has dropped out of the public eye after being a critical and commercial bomb. There’s Hidden Figures, a late-breaking contender that is receiving vast love. There’s Silence, which goes all the way back to the 1600s, but is decidedly not flashy. And then there’s The Handmaiden, which, again, could follow in The Grandfather’s footsteps. However, I’m going with another outlandish pick: Love and Friendship, a gorgeous, absurdist take on Jane Austen’s novellas. It’s quirky, but it’s got a great look, and I think the Academy will reward it.
As for Makeup, there’s only seven contenders, and shockingly, none of them are La La Land, Silence, or Jackie. Instead, we have Florence Foster Jenkins, Deadpool, A Man Called Ove, Hail, Caesar!, Star Trek Beyond, The Dressmaker, and, um, Suicide Squad. Let’s note the locks now: Florence Foster Jenkins is in, because Hollywood loves Meryl’s hairstylist (he gets nominated for all of her movies). They also love Deadpool, and this is the perfect place to reward it. So that leaves us with one spot, and that comes down one of three ways. Normally when a strange foreign film gets shortlisted, it’s in, so there’s a chance for Ove. And due to a need for science fiction, Star Trek has a chance. But I’m fond of Hail, Caesar! And I’ve learned to never go against my gut. So I’m going to follow my gut and predict Hail, Caesar! for the nomination.
Best Film Editing
And now we come to Best Film Editing, the Oscar make-or-breaker. This is the award that goes hand-in-hand with Best Picture, and whoever gets nominated here has the best shot at the top prize. Obviously this is a good sign for Best Picture frontrunners La La Land or Moonlight, and films that really depend on their editing as a storytelling device like Arrival and Manchester by the Sea also benefit. Which leaves one spot, normally designated for a “classically edited film.” Anything could fit in here-Hacksaw Ridge, Hidden Figures, Silence, Sully, etc. But I’m feeling the winds and listening to the whispers from the Academy, and I get the feeling that the love for Hell or High Water will bubble over here, allowing the fantastic and sharp modern western to etch out a nomination alongside the major Best Picture contenders.
Best Visual Effects
Now for the last of the technical awards, the Best Visual Effects award. These are the nominations for the “How the hell did they do that?” moments in films, and usually go to the best blockbusters of the year. Obviously from the shortlist of ten contenders, we have two very clear frontrunners in The Jungle Book and Doctor Strange, which really changed the game for visual effects, and you can count in any visually-driven Best Picture contender, so Arrival should be safe. Which leaves two more spots. Obviously, a new Star Wars film will sneak in, especially one that did that awesome/creepy (often at the same time) thing with Tarkin and Leia, so you can consider Rogue One safe. This leaves us with one spot. There are multiple great contenders, including the cute BFG and the realistic Deepwater Horizon, but I’m banking on history. I think the groundbreaking work on Kubo and the Two Strings breaks through to be the first animated Visual Effects nominee since The Nightmare Before Christmas. Wait for it-it’s gonna happen.
And now we come to the shorts. I’m not even going to bother defending my logic here. This is a crapshoot. I’ll throw up a description of these plots tomorrow after the nominations are announced, but all you need to understand is that I looked for the most depressing plot descriptions and picked those. That’s it. You can normally get three out of five right just doing that. And that’s all I can ask for. You can scroll down to see those choices.
The nominees will be announced tomorrow on Good Morning America at 8:30 a.m. EST. We’ll see how this all wraps up before entering the final phase of the season. I’ll have the nominations up in real time (hopefully-I’m still recovering from illness, and the sleep may be necessary), as well as a write-up later in the day. In the meantime, you can check out my updated nominations over here, and we’ll see you back here tomorrow for the results. The Oscars are coming, people!
- Hell or High Water
- La La Land
- Manchester By The Sea
- Casey Affleck-Manchester by the Sea
- Andrew Garfield-Hacksaw Ridge
- Ryan Gosling-La La Land
- Viggo Mortensen-Captain Fantastic
- Denzel Washington-Fences
- Amy Adams-Arrival
- Annette Bening-20th Century Women
- Ruth Negga-Loving
- Natalie Portman-Jackie
- Emma Stone-La La Land
Best Supporting Actor
- Mahershala Ali-Moonlight
- Jeff Bridges-Hell or High Water
- Issey Ogata-Silence
- Dev Patel-Lion
- Aaron Taylor-Johnson-Nocturnal Animals
Best Supporting Actress
- Viola Davis-Fences
- Greta Gerwig-20th Century Women
- Naomie Harris-Moonlight
- Nicole Kidman-Lion
- Michelle Williams-Manchester by the Sea
- Damien Chazelle-La La Land
- Barry Jenkins-Moonlight
- Kenneth Lonergan-Manchester by the Sea
- Martin Scorsese-Silence
- Denis Villeneuve-Arrival
Best Original Screenplay
- 20th Century Women
- Hell or High Water
- La La Land
- Manchester by the Sea
Best Adapted Screenplay
- Hidden Figures
Best Animated Film
- Finding Dory
- Kubo and the Two Strings
- The Red Turtle
Best Foreign Language Film
- It’s Only the End of the World
- A Man Called Ove
- My Life as a Zucchini
- The Salesman
- Toni Erdmann
Best Documentary Feature
- J.: Made in America
- I Am Not Your Negro
Best Documentary Short
- Close Ties
- Frame 394
- The Mute’s House
- White Helmets
Best Live Action Short
- Bon Voyage
- The Rifle, the Jackal, the Wolf and the Boy
- The Way of Tea
Best Animated Short
- Borrowed Time
- Happy End
- Inner Workings
Best Original Score
- The BFG
- La La Land
Best Original Song
- Audition-La La Land
- CAN’T STOP THE FEELING!-Trolls
- City of Stars-La La Land
- How Far I’ll Go-Moana
Best Sound Editing
- Deepwater Horizon
- Hacksaw Ridge
- Patriots’ Day
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Best Sound Mixing
- Hacksaw Ridge
- La La Land
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Best Production Design
- Hail, Caesar!
- The Handmaiden
- La La Land
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
- Hail Caesar!
- La La Land
Best Costume Design
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
- Hail, Caesar!
- La La Land
- Love and Friendship
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
- Florence Foster Jenkins
- Hail, Caesar!
Best Film Editing
- Hell or High Water
- La La Land
- Manchester by the Sea
Best Visual Effects
- Doctor Strange
- The Jungle Book
- Kubo and the Two Strings
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story