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Predicting the 89th Academy Awards

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The biggest possible screen for the likeliest winner…but would that make it better? (Source)

We’re getting down to the wire here, people.

I’ve watched every Picture, Director, acting, and writing nominee, and most of the tech nominees, and pored over a season’s worth of winners and nominees, to bring you a thorough overview of the nominations and a carefully considered prediction of the winners in each category.

Get comfortable, kids. We’ve got a lot of territory to cover.

The rankings in each category are based on the versions of these lists which I prepared before seeing Neruda and Toni Erdmann and adjusting a few rankings in connection with preparing my own awards.

The rankings in most cases are not significantly different. In any case, my thoughts about the nominees themselves and my predictions of the winners remain the same.

Best Picture:

  • Arrival
  • Fences
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Hell or High Water
  • Hidden Figures
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Manchester By the Sea
  • Moonlight

Average nominee score: 80.9 (out of 100)

Average nominee rank: 36 (out of 114)

A major drop from last year, when the average nominee scored 86.25 and ranked 12.5.

  • Fences (#4) – It’s a great film. It’s the only **** film and the only film in my top 10 to get nominated. It wasn’t nominated by the Globes or BAFTA – it wasn’t even a sure thing that it would get nominated here. And it didn’t win the SAG ensemble award. So it has no real chance at winning. I’m not even sure I’d root for it to win. It’s more a triumph of acting than filmmaking.
  • Arrival (#17) – I’m really glad the Academy is opening up more and more to science-fiction. This isn’t on the same level as Fury Road, Her, or Inception, and I’d argue it doesn’t hold that well to repeat viewings, but it’s extremely well made and definitely blows your mind the first time around. That said…it has no chance at winning. It just doesn’t have the traction in any major categories, and the Amy Adams snub doesn’t help.
  • Moonlight (#22) – This was the frontrunner for a minute, and I don’t think you should count it out. True, it’s lost steam in recent weeks, and I wouldn’t put money on it to upset…but it opened earlier than La La Land, has fervent support, got 8 nominations including the four classic requirements (Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Editing), and coming off two years of #OscarsSoWhite, might be able to ride the tide of support all the way to a win. It’s certainly a good enough film to where I would support it doing so.
  • Hell or High Water (#23) – The sleeper hit of the summer. The film which, like Fury Road, kept on getting nominations and staying in the conversation, never fully dispelling our doubts, but finally rising up and entering the Best Picture canon. And since it’s a really good film, I’m quite all right with that. Without a Director nomination or notable wins to its name, it has no realistic shot at winning, but getting nominated in the first place is the real triumph.
  • Lion (#27) – As with Philomena, a film one might expect to be just another piece of Weinstein Oscar-bait turns out to be genuinely good. In fact, if the whole film was as good as its first half, I’d consider nominating it myself. But it does lose steam in the second half, and the end result isn’t quite good enough to champion, but that’s a moot point because it isn’t winning. Had Garth Davis gotten into the Director race, or had it gotten into Best Picture at the BAFTAs, we might be having a different conversation, but instead it’s a quintessential also-ran…which is not the worst thing to be.
  • Manchester By the Sea (#30) – I’m not sure if this was ever really the frontrunner (the NBR win might have skewed my opinion for a moment), but it was up there with Moonlight and La La Land as a consistent nominee throughout the season. It just didn’t win enough Best Picture awards along the way to really challenge either of them, and once it missed out on Best Editing, that pretty much ended its chances at an upset. It’s the third likeliest winner, but it’s a very distant third.
  • Hacksaw Ridge (#58) – They let Mel back into the fold. Granted, a period-piece war epic with religious overtones is textbook Oscar fodder (especially if the film itself isn’t overtly evangelical), but there was certainly room for doubt. The Director and Actor nominations (and the Editing nom) certainly put this in a better-than-expected position, even without a Screenplay nod, but as with Arrival and Hell or High Water, it doesn’t have the wins to suggest there’s quite enough support to push it over the top. It’s not a great film, either, at least not outside of the battle scenes, and I’d imagine I’m not the only one who thinks so.
  • Hidden Figures (#67) – That SAG ensemble win throws an interesting wrench into things. Had it gone to Moonlight, that would resolve this into a clear two-horse race, but instead they gave it to a film which only has three nominations (and didn’t get into Director or Editing). It is the highest-grossing nominee as of this writing, and it certainly fits the inspirational/historical model which made many a past winner, but the lack of support outside of that win leads me to consider it a red herring. I’ll rank it higher as a potential winner because of the SAG win, but I don’t think it has an actual chance at winning. It’s also not that great of a film, but the stats validate my doubts, not the other way around.
  • La La Land (#76) – The undisputed frontrunner. It won the BAFTA, the PGA, the DGA, BFCA, Satellites, and had a record-breaking sweep at the Globes. It tied the all-time record for nominations, has been a huge critical and financial success, and is, bitter-sweet though it may be, a feel-good film. So what if it’s incredibly overrated? So what if it’ll be the worst Best Picture winner (by a full 5 points) since I began doing my own awards? It’s beloved, and in a way I’m not sure any other nominee is. To be fair, it opened comparatively late, and it might be seen as too light-weight or too white-washed by some, but at this point I doubt enough voters will think so to change the outcome.

It’s La La Land‘s to lose. Moonlight is a threat, but as I said, it’s lost a lot of steam. Unless it starts losing sure-fire awards on Oscar night, don’t bet against it.

In order of likelihood of winning: La La Land, Moonlight, Manchester By the Sea, Hidden Figures, Hacksaw Ridge, Fences, Hell or High Water, Arrival, Lion.

Will Win: La La Land

Could Win: Moonlight

Should Win: Fences 

Best Director:

  • Damien Chazelle, La La Land
  • Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
  • Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
  • Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By the Sea
  • Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

Average nominee rank: 15*

*Since I don’t have an official rank for Gibson, I only averaged the four nominees I have ranked.

  • Denis Villeneuve (#4) – He does a great job with it, not just in technical terms, but in telling a story founded on a revelation. Yeah, going back to it, you can see how he telegraphs it, but it works a lot better than it would in most directors’ hands. Add to that the name he’s been making for himself over the past few years (and for me, from Prisoners onward), and he’s easily my pick. He won’t win, in large part because he hasn’t won any other award for it, but this should help him build momentum to win at some point down the road.
  • Barry Jenkins (#13) – It’s a solid directing job, and you can definitely tell that the story is one very close to his heart. You could make a case for him being the best choice, and I wouldn’t argue, especially since this is kind of a weak category. As with his film, he’s definitely got a chance at upsetting the front-runner. He won the NBR, NSFC, NYFCC, and L.A. Film Critics, and those are nothing to sneeze at. I suspect his reward will come elsewhere, but I could actually see him winning this while La La Land still manages to walk off with Best Picture. It’s not overly likely, but it wouldn’t the biggest shock either.
  • Damien Chazelle (#15) – My problems with the film are more with his writing than with his direction. There’s a lot of energy and invention (or at least spirited imitation) here, and his joy at being able to make this film comes through in a lot of the best sequences. It’s certainly not a faultless job of direction – it doesn’t overcome the issues with the script or the fundamental weightlessness of the whole thing – but I would mind him winning this much less than the film winning Best Picture. And given that he’s won the DGA, BAFTA, and Globe, it’s probably his award to lose.
  • Kenneth Lonergan (#28) – Decent character drama direction. The use of music is a bit overbearing, but he gets great work out of the actors and keeps it moving along fairly smoothly. He’s not winning at all, but given the support for the film he was almost certainly getting on.
  • Mel Gibson (#N/R) – Honestly, if I went back and saw the film again, I’d probably rank him above Lonergan. The battle scenes are really incredible – they’re incredibly bloody and horrific, but they’re incredibly powerful as well. It’s just that the film and the direction sag a bit (or in some cases, a great deal) outside of them, and that brings my overall score for his work down. That, and all the reasons why we figured he would never even get nominated. (I have to assume it was close.) That said, since he is on, he might be the third likeliest winner…but a very distant third behind Chazelle and Jenkins.

Chazelle is the industry favorite. Jenkins is the critical darling. Where the Oscars are concerned, bet on the former. But never rule out the latter.

In order of likelihood of winning: Chazelle, Jenkins, Gibson, Villeneuve, Lonergan.

Will Win: Damien Chazelle

Could Win: Barry Jenkins

Should Win: Denis Villeneuve

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One certain winner and one distinct possibility.

Best Actor:

  • Casey Affleck, Manchester By the Sea
  • Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
  • Ryan Gosling, La La Land
  • Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
  • Denzel Washington, Fences

Average nominee rank: 11.75*

*As with Director, I don’t have an official rank for Garfield, and so only averaged the other four nominees.

  • Washington (#1) – His winning SAG made this race interesting. He lost the Globe and wasn’t nominated for the BAFTA, and he hadn’t won a whole lot elsewhere – it was pretty much all Casey Affleck (and a dash of Adam Driver). You can speculate as to whether his winning SAG is a portent of things to come, if it was partially recognition for what he achieved in bringing to the film to the screen in the first place, or whether the revelation of Affleck’s sexual-harassment suit gave him just enough of an edge. I prefer to think he won because he gave the best performance – watching the film, there was little doubt in my mind that he would be my own #1. I don’t know if he can overcome Affleck’s momentum, or if his two prior Oscars will count against him, but given the scope of his achievement here, I could see it happening. I think the odds are still about 60-40 in Affleck’s favor, but this might be a photo finish either way.
  • Affleck (#2) – It took a second viewing to fully appreciate his work here. He really does do a hell of a job playing a man who’s mostly dead on the inside without making him boring or off-putting. And in the flashbacks, he hits all the right notes as well; the police station scene is hellishly effective. He also finds the humor in the role (if you haven’t heard, it’s quite a funny film, for a tragedy) without cheapening the drama. If he weren’t such a creep, I’d have no problem with him winning. And given that he’s won almost everything, he probably will. But that SAG loss is hard to overlook. And I wonder if his being a creep will cost him in the end. (Probably not.)
  • Gosling (#17) – A bit of a drop, no? This is really a two-horse race, and he isn’t one of them. It is, to be fair, a solid performance. He doesn’t totally overcome how unlikable Seb is as written, but we should be glad he played the role rather than Miles Teller (the original casting choice), who’d have probably been outright insufferable. He’s charming, has good comic timing, and has good chemistry with Emma Stone. But aside from the Globe, he hasn’t won much of anything, and being in the Best Picture front-runner only gets him so far. He’s third likeliest to win, but as with Mel Gibson in Best Director, he’s a very distant third.
  • Mortensen (#27) – Did anyone see this coming? I mean, once he got nominated by the Globes, SAG, and the BAFTAs, sure, but before then? For a film that made less than $6 million and got good but not outstanding reviews? And for a performance which is solid, yes, but hardly so impressive or memorable as to justify his unlikely nomination? Well, he’s here, and he obviously has his supporters. But his is the only nomination for his film, and only five times ever* has an actor won under such circumstances. So between that and the film’s comparative obscurity, I think his chances are small indeed.
  • Garfield (#N/R) – Probably if I saw the film again I’d at least get the nomination. But man…those scenes early on, when he’s trying to woo Teresa Palmer, and trying to be charmingly awkward…I thought he was just creepy as shit. For most of the film he’s better, but I still didn’t leave the theater thinking he was really good enough to deserve a nomination. Then he started getting nominated everywhere, and I didn’t get it at all. Between the film being a Best Picture nominee and his being in Silence, he’s probably the fourth-likeliest to win. He might even be third, now that I think about it. But it’s a moot point, because we’ve already established the front-runners in this race.

*1927-28 (Emil Jannings), 1950 (José Ferrer), 1968 (Cliff Robertson), 1987 (Michael Douglas), and 2006 (Forest Whitaker).

I’m rooting for Washington, and the SAG win is hard to overlook – you’d have to go back to 2003 to find a SAG winner who lost. But Affleck has so much momentum that I can’t in good conscience say he isn’t the one to beat.

In order of likelihood of winning: Affleck, Washington, Gosling, Garfield, Mortensen.

Will Win: Casey Affleck

Could Win: Denzel Washington

Should Win: Denzel Washington

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Snub her…at your peril. (Source)

Best Actress:

  • Isabelle Huppert, Elle
  • Ruth Negga, Loving
  • Natalie Portman, Jackie
  • Emma Stone, La La Land
  • Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Average nominee rank: 6.2 – the best of any acting category

  • Portman (#1) – What a performance. She’s not one of my favorite actresses, and I didn’t think she really deserved the Oscar she won in 2010 (it was just such a one-note performance), but she really blew me away here. She balances the public and private Jackies so well, and shows how her little of her private is actually left after her years in the public eye. It’s a damn shame the film never really took off with the awards groups; she won the Critics’ Choice award and a couple of other minor awards, but that’s it. This race, like so many others this year, is really down to two contenders, and it’s only her stature as a performance and the nature of the role that would lead you to think she’s one of them. She’s not. She’s yet another distant third.
  • Huppert (#3) – I’m still so happy she managed to get in. She, Portman, and Rebecca Hall in Christine are all practically tied for first with me, so don’t take my ranking as a criticism of her work. I liked her and her film a lot the first time around, but it was on the second viewing that I really saw the greatness of both; the way she depicts the battlefield that is Michèle’s life and the various tactics she uses to negotiate it is just breathtaking to watch. Honestly, since Portman has won before, I’m rooting for her. As for the likelihood of her winning, she won the Globe, NSFC, NYFCC, L.A. Film Critics, and the Satellite. But she wasn’t nominated by SAG, she wasn’t BAFTA eligible, and her film, in addition to being rather…dark, shall we say, has made only $2 million in the U.S. She is a respected veteran, and she’s been praised left and right for her work here, but will it be enough?
  • Streep (#6) – I’m sure quite a few of you groaned a bit when she got on – “They nominated her again?” – but watch the film. She does a really good job here. She walks a fine line here, showing Florence’s absurdities without turning her into a buffoon, even allowing for moments where she subtly suggests Florence is more self-aware than you would think. She also nails Florence’s singing voice, as they demonstrate at the end of the film – as if there were any accents she could not master. If she’d perfectly nailed her final line, I might have even bumped her up to 5th place, but as it is, she must settle for a very respectable 6th. Oh, and she has no chance at winning. If she’d won the Globe over Emma Stone, maybe I’d say she has an outside chance of upsetting, but no. She’s fourth likeliest at best. (Also, can I just say, Hugh Grant got fucking snubbed. Whichever category you want to put him in.)
  • Negga (#9) – I think we were all a little surprised to see her get on, since her film had been all but forgotten, and she had missed both SAG and BAFTA. But she got on, possibly bumping off Amy Adams in the process (though, since Adams is my #8, I don’t consider it a grievous snub). She’s really quite solid in her own right, though. It’s a low-key performance – the Academy was actually really good at noticing subtle performances this year – but it’s a very believable one; the kind of performance where she communicates as much with her eyes as with her voice. It’s a little weird that she’s here and Joel Edgerton, but so it goes. (For my money, he’d have been much better than Viggo Mortensen or Andrew Garfield.) She has no shot at winning, having won no major awards thus far, but good on her for getting nominated in the first place.
  • Stone (#12) – While her replacing Emma Watson isn’t the slamdunk Gosling replacing Miles Teller was, I can’t imagine Watson bringing nearly as much to the role as Stone does; I’m not terribly fond of the songs, and if you really pay attention to them, the lyrics for “Audition” are frightfully inane, but damned if Stone doesn’t sell it. And damned if she isn’t charming and likable and sympathetic (as sympathetic as a Damien Chazelle character can be, at least) throughout. it’s not the best performance of the year, or even the best performance I’ve seen from her (she was better in Birdman), but I get it. She has SAG, BAFTA, and the Musical/Comedy Globe to her name. She’s young, a beloved star, and she’s in the Best Picture front-runner. She’s probably winning this.

Only three times in the last 25 years has the Globe – Drama winner lost the Oscar to someone other than the Globe – Musical/Comedy winner. So it’s effectively down to Stone and Huppert. Stone has the advantage of being in a widely seen and loved film, while Huppert has the advantage of critical acclaim and several key awards. I don’t want to get my hopes up that Huppert can somehow pull it off, but I won’t rule it out, either. I’d say the odds are 65-35 in favor of Stone, with Natalie Portman a distant third.

In order of likelihood of winning: Stone, Huppert, Portman, Negga, Streep. (You could swap Negga and Streep. But Negga might get more votes in the final analysis.)

Will Win: Emma Stone

Could Win: Isabelle Huppert

Should Win: Isabelle Huppert

Best Supporting Actor:

  • Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
  • Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
  • Lucas Hedges, Manchester By the Sea
  • Dev Patel, Lion
  • Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Average nominee rank: 13.8*

*I officially rank Bridges as a lead, but looking at my rankings decided he would come in around 10th in Supporting Actor, and factored him in thus.

  • Shannon (#1) – I’m so glad he got on. I’m so glad this film got something. And I’m so glad he got on and not Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who looked like he was going to for a second there). It’s hard to describe the greatness of this performance, beyond simply appreciating Michael Shannon for the brilliant actor he is. He’s offbeat, but not quirky; he’s funny, but not clownish; he’s sympathetic, but not sappy. He just shows up and steals every second he’s on the screen. He has no shot at winning, and might even be the least likely winner (though it’s close), but he’s by far my choice.
  • Bridges (#11 in Lead; about #10 here) – It’s a good performance. Maybe even better than I’m giving it credit for. It just seemed to be Rooster Cogburn v. 2.0, maybe a little less eccentric and little harder-bitten. He and Gil Birmingham make a great pair, their (frequently racially-charged) banter ringing extremely true. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the performance, so I can’t go into as much detail as I’d like, but suffice to say I quite enjoyed it, though I wouldn’t personally have nominated it. He’s not winning (his only major win is at the NBR), but I’m cool with him being here. I’m glad this film went over well.
  • Ali (#11) – I confess, I’ve never quite understood the acclaim for this performance. It’s not that he’s bad – far from it – it’s more than he doesn’t actually have that much to do in the film, and he’s outclassed by at least two of his co-stars (Ashton Sanders as the teenage Chiron and André Holland as the adult Kevin in particular). He is quite good when he’s onscreen, and the “What’s a faggot?” scene is quietly devastating, in part due to the restraint of his response to such a painful question. But he’s gone from the film after the first 35-40 minutes, and I just don’t think his character or performance haunt the memory like certain other performances in the film do. (I also think the character as written is a bit too saintly, but that’s another matter.) He’s not the unequivocal front-runner. He had been, but then he lost the Globe in a massive upset, and the BAFTA in a milder one. He did win SAG, and got a lot of positive press for his acceptance speech, but I can only consider him the likeliest winner, rather than the favorite.
  • Hedges (#16) – Something of a surprise nominee, at least over Hugh Grant, but given the acclaim for his film it makes sense. He’s solid; he’s really good in his scenes with Casey Affleck, their bantering/head-butting being both entertaining and believable. He’s not quite great – the freezer scene in particular doesn’t come off – but I don’t mind the nomination too much. It’s not like he’s going to win. You could argue that his getting on shows more support for the film than I’m giving it credit for, but even so, he’s just lucky to be here.
  • Patel (#39) – The low ranking shouldn’t be seen so much as a criticism of his performance – which is fine – than a criticism of the nomination itself. I get it. The role is very much in the Academy’s comfort zone, he was arguably snubbed for Slumdog Millionaire (possibly because of category confusion), and Harvey Weinstein was behind him. But it’s just a decent, likable performance. Not the kind of performance that merits an Oscar. Sunny Pawar (my #17) would’ve been a much better choice. His winning the BAFTA improves his chances somewhat, but I’d say he’s third likeliest to win. Maybe second.

Ali is the safe bet. Patel or Bridges is the runner-up. Probably Patel, but I just don’t see why he was nominated everywhere for that role. For Hedges and Shannon, the nomination is the reward. This category is more up in the air than most, and yet…who else do you really think is going to win?

In order of likelihood of winning: Ali, Patel, Bridges, Hedges, Shannon.

Will Win: Mahershala Ali

Could Win: Dev Patel

Should Win: Michael Shannon

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One past front-runner, and one present. (Source)

Best Supporting Actress:

  • Viola Davis, Fences
  • Naomie Harris, Moonlight
  • Nicole Kidman, Lion
  • Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
  • Michelle Williams, Manchester By the Sea

Average nominee rank: 8.2

  • Davis (#1) – It’s not just that she’s won the Globe, the SAG, and BAFTA. It’s not just that she’s an immensely respected actress who’s been seen as overdue since 2011. It’s that, just as with Denzel Washington, you watch the film, you watch her, and you realize she’s far and away the choice. Even in a good year she’d be a good choice, but this year no one else comes close. The “I’ve spent 18 years in the same spot as you” scene, where tears are running down her face and she’s gasping out her words because a torrent of emotions are forcing them out…it’s the mark of a great performance by a great actor that she can play that pitch without going overboard. About the only thing you can say against her is that she should’ve gone lead (she’s in a little over 50% of the film, so you could really go either way). She has this in the bag, and it’s utterly deserved.
  • Harris (#2) – She won the NBR, and because of the acclaim for the film, she’s been in the conversation all season long, but once Davis went supporting, that pretty much killed her chances. But she’s really quite good here, showing the concerned mother, the desperate addict, and the weary repentant, and charting Paula’s emotional journey over a 20-year period while only actually showing her at roughly 10-year intervals. And when you also factor in that she filmed the whole performance in 3 days, it’s an impressive achievement. She’s the second or third likeliest winner, and regardless of which she’s a long way behind Davis, but she does deserve to be here.
  • Spencer (#7) – It’s a strong performance she gives, as always. She gets to be headstrong, she gets to be funny, she gets to be sympathetic, she gets her toe-to-toe scenes with Kirsten Dunst…it’s the kind of performance that makes perfect sense as a nominee. With the film winning the SAG ensemble award, it’s not totally impossible that they end up voting for her. Unlikely, because she hasn’t won any individual awards for it, but not impossible.
  • Williams (#9) – I’ve come around on this performance somewhat. She’s certainly convincing in the flashback scenes as the kind of woman married to the kind of man Casey Affleck plays – the kind of wife who sometimes has to be a mother to her husband. And her big scene with him towards the end is effective, although I really thought the film would (and should) have brought her back to resolve her arc more fully, or reveal the horrible things she supposedly said. As it is, the performance doesn’t quite feel substantial enough to be a winner, and aside from the NSFC and NYFCC, she hasn’t won anything major. I’d probably say she’s second-likeliest to win, since this is her fourth nomination and she’ll probably be in line to win sooner rather than later, but nobody’s beating Viola Davis.
  • Kidman (#22) – I get her nomination a little more than Dev Patel’s, but I still don’t really get why she got nominated everywhere for this. She does a solid job, and she gets her big speech about why she wanted to become an adoptive mother, but it’s really just one of those instances where a well-liked actress in a well-liked film gives a well-liked performance and is unanimously nominated – and goes on to win nothing.

It wasn’t a great year for this category; the Globes, SAG, and Oscars all matched 5/5 (and the BAFTAs swapped out Spencer for Hayley Squires from I, Daniel Blake), which just means no one else had any traction. At one time there might’ve been some suspense here, but Davis has solidified her position as the one to beat. And I can’t see anyone else coming close to her now.

In order of likelihood of winning: Davis, Williams, Spencer, Harris, Kidman.

Will Win: Viola Davis

Could Win: Michelle Williams

Should Win: Viola Davis

Best Original Screenplay:

  • Hell or High Water
  • La La Land
  • The Lobster
  • Manchester By the Sea
  • 20th Century Women

Average nominee rank: 5.5*

*As with Director and Actor, I don’t have an official rank for the screenplay of La La Land, and so only averaged the other four nominees.

  • The Lobster (#1) – I breathed a sigh of relief once this got nominated. Because the Academy managed not to fuck this category up. It’s a brilliantly funny script, taking an audacious, even absurdist premise and exploring it with intelligence, imagination, daring, and just a little more heart than you would expect. I don’t expect it will win (though the L.A. Film Critics win does give me the faintest shred of hope), but I don’t really care. It’ll always be my choice.
  • Hell or High Water (#3) – It’s a really strong script, bringing together Western tropes, economic allegory, and well-drawn characters to serve as the backbone for a film that works very well on at least three different levels. I’d be completely okay with it winning, but as it is it’s only won a few critics’ awards and stands as a distant second in this category. It might even be third.
  • Manchester By the Sea (#7) – Parts of the script ring very true – the back-and-forth between uncle and nephew, and the depictions of grief, marriage, and machismo in particular. Other parts don’t work so well; its depiction of teenage life, or the underdevelopment of pretty much every female character (who are mostly there to be ex-wives or sex partners anyway). But the general critical opinion is far better than my own, and I suspect this will take the Oscar. Had it won the WGA, it wouldn’t be a question, but it won the BAFTA and has been pretty widely awarded elsewhere (it won the NBR, NSFC, and NYFCC). Consider it the one to beat.
  • 20th Century Women (#11) – This is the prime beneficiary of Moonlight getting pushed Adapted. It’s also the kind of script which you can understand getting nominated, dealing as it does with quirky, intellectual characters, straddling as it does the line between comedy and drama. I’m not the biggest fan of it; the characters and story don’t hold up to scrutiny all that well, and many of the flourishes (especially the flash-forwards) don’t really work for me. But it does have a lot of warmth and truth in it as well, and in a year that wasn’t overflowing with great original scripts, I can see how it got in.
  • La La Land (#N/R) – I don’t like this script much at all. I think Seb & Mia aren’t really very likable or well-drawn characters (it’s the performers who make them compelling), I think the story isn’t especially compelling and falls apart under scrutiny – Seb & Mia both have absurd strokes of good and bad fortune, and the big argument which all but ends their relationship is one of the most obnoxiously contrived spats I’ve seen in a critically-acclaimed film. Oh, and the fact that none of the characters outside of them amount to a pile of shit (aside from John Legend, who speaks more truth than all the other characters in the film put together) really doesn’t help. Yes, there are some good lines (“Okay, a mutual decision then.” “Made by me.”), but this is still by far the weakest of the nominees, and the one Oscar I’ll actually begrudge La La Land if it wins (because I’ve reconciled myself to it winning Best Picture). It won the Globe and the Critics’ Choice, and it’s definitely got a chance at winning, but I’d still put it behind Manchester in terms of likelihood.

Manchester feels like the one to beat. La La Land could win as part of a sweep, and Hell or High Water could upset, but neither of those seem all that likely to me.

In order of likelihood of winning: Manchester By the Sea, La La Land, Hell or High Water, The Lobster, 20th Century Women.

Will Win: Manchester By the Sea

Could Win: La La Land

Should Win: The Lobster

august-wilson

11 years dead, but his work lives on. (Source)

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  • Arrival
  • Fences
  • Hidden Figures
  • Lion
  • Moonlight

Because I list Hidden Figures and Lion as Factually-Based rather than Adapted, I won’t do an average ranking for this category.

  • Fences (#4) – I haven’t read the original play, so I’m not sure if they really changed much; apparently Tony Kushner was brought in to do some tweaking, but August Wilson – dead 11 years this past October – gets sole screen credit. In any case, it feels like they opened up the second half a bit more, but for the most part left well enough alone. And given that it’s a great play (if not a flawless one; Cory in particular tends to act a bit more like a plot device than a person), you can’t really blame them. Ironically, this is probably the least likely script to win, and it’s hard for me to really root for it, since there seems to have been so little real adaptation. But it’s arguably the best of this bunch.
  • Arrival (#6) – This won the WGA Award for Adapted Screenplay. That makes this category nice and complicated. It’s certainly the most ambitious script here, fleshing out a short story (which I ought to read) and employing a delicate chronological scheme which does not become entirely clear until late in the film. There’s certainly a lot to recommend it, but I have enough quibbles with it (mostly one-dimensional characters, at least one undercooked subplot) that it falls just outside my top 5. That said, given the relative weakness of this category, it might actually be the one I root for to win. I think it’s the second-likeliest winner, but not so distant a second it couldn’t take this in the end.
  • Moonlight (#9) – This won the WGA Award for Original Screenplay and the USC Scripter Award (a pretty solid prognosticator). There’s a lot of debate as to whether it should be considered original or adapted, and the Academy opted for the latter (I agree with them, personally), making this an extremely competitive category. Given that Moonlight is a serious contender for Best Pic ture, given that the screenplay tells the story of a young gay black man, a demographic seriously under-served by Hollywood, and given that the film is so clearly a passion project for Barry Jenkins, I do think he will be the likeliest winner here. I don’t think the script is without problems; the third segment in particular has always felt somewhat underdeveloped to me. But it’s still a good script and became a very good film, and if it wins, I’ll be happy with the outcome.
  • Lion (#8 in Factually-Adapted) – It’s weird, given that I actually liked Lion, how little I agree with most of its nominations. The script is decent, but the best part of the film is the first half, which relies less on the writing and more on Garth Davis’ direction. The second half is simply less gripping, and you can either say the writing is to blame, or that the second half of the story is simply less dramatic and the writing doesn’t do enough to change that. It did win the BAFTA, which throws the smallest of wrenches into matters, but not enough to make it more than the fourth-likeliest winner.
  • Hidden Figures (#10 in Factually-Adapted) – I don’t love this script. Too much of it feels contrived to make for clearer heroes and villains and to allow for plenty of stand-up-and-cheer moments. I’ve pointed to the Jim Parsons character in particular as not ringing true; the script (and Parsons’ performance) make him an obnoxious clod at the expense of our ability to take him seriously as a NASA scientist. And the lack of narrative focus is a big part of why the film tends to drag. There are moments which work very well – the dynamic between Octavia Spencer and Kirsten Dunst in particular – but this is, for my money, the weakest script in the category. It did get BAFTA and WGA nominations, and the film being so well-liked leads me to think it’s third-likeliest in this category, but well behind the top two.

Can I just say how much better this category would’ve been had Nocturnal Animals been nominated instead? It would’ve been my choice easily.

Moonlight is the one to beat. Arrival should be considered a definite threat, and I wouldn’t totally rule out Hidden Figures, but for prediction purposes, err on the side of Moonlight.

In order of likelihood of winning: Moonlight, Arrival, Hidden Figures, Lion, Fences.

Will Win: Moonlight

Could Win: Arrival

Should Win: Arrival

Best Cinematography:

  • Arrival
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Moonlight
  • Silence

Average nominee rank: 7.6

  • Silence (#1) – It’s a beautifully shot film. Whatever qualms I have with it, I can’t deny how good it looks. It’s telling that this was the only nomination it received (when, before it came out, we all probably thought it would be a front-runner for Best Picture), and unfortunately, it almost certainly won’t win – the last time a film won in this category from its only nomination was 1949.
  • Arrival (#3) – Bradford Young did a hell of a job here. A lot of the film is shot in low or very muted lighting, and he keeps it visually compelling throughout – the scene where Forest Whitaker picks up Amy Adams at her house in the middle of the night with a helicopter is particularly striking. But unless the film sweeps the tech categories (which is looking less and less likely), it won’t win.
  • La La Land (#6) – It’s a bright, colorful film with lots of camera movement (especially in the first couple of musical numbers) and lighting flourishes, and a widely-acclaimed final sequence which is almost entirely visual. It’s won the BAFTA and the Critics’ Choice. The fact that it hasn’t won more (and lost the ASC) keeps me from calling it the unequivocal favorite, but I’d say it’s the one to beat here. In fact – if it loses this, don’t rule out an upset in Picture or Director. I’m calling it now, this is a potential swing category.
  • Lion (#12) – The first half, depicting the young Saroo lost and wandering the streets of Calcutta, is especially well shot. The second half looks pretty good as well, though (I’ve probably given the impression that the second half of the film is borderline mediocre, and it isn’t). It won the ASC, which makes me think it might actually have a chance of winning this. I’m not sure whether I’d say it’s the second or third-likeliest winner, but it’s certainly in the running.
  • Moonlight (#16) – I remember really focusing on the cinematography here and thinking there were impressive shots, but that most of it just looked fine. So I wouldn’t especially be inclined to vote for it, but it’s worth noting that it won several major critics awards (NYFCC, NSFC, L.A. Film Critics), and you should probably consider it the second-likeliest winner here, especially since the film itself is so well-liked. If it wins this…watch out for Best Picture.

It’s pretty much down to the two Best Picture front-runners, with Lion not far behind. It’s honestly not unlike 2011, when The Tree of Life was winning critics’ awards left and right (along with the ASC), but then Hugo, a 3D film which swept the tech awards, won the Oscar. I think La La Land will add this to its own sweep, but again, if it loses, especially to Moonlight, we may be in for an upset.

In order of likelihood of winning: La La Land, Moonlight, Lion, Arrival, Silence.

Will Win: La La Land

Could Win: Moonlight

Should Win: Silence

Best Editing:

  • Arrival
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Hell or High Water
  • La La Land
  • Moonlight

Average nominee rank: 14.75*

*I don’t have an official ranking for Hacksaw Ridge in this category, and so only averaged the other four nominees.

  • Arrival (#2) – This film is all about the editing. The chronological scheme is just exquisitely handled. Yeah, there are parts that drag a bit (which is why it’s not my own #1), but honestly, this should win by a mile. However, it lost the BAFTA, and although it won the Drama ACE award, the Comedy/Musical award went to a film which might just set a new record for wins. I’d still say it’s the second likeliest winner, but I can’t predict it to win.
  • Hell or High Water (#15) – It’s a very solid job of editing, weaving together the two main pairs of characters as they play their cat-and-mouse game. It’s not overtly memorable – it’s the writing and acting that are the main attractions here – but the fact that it got on here shows how well the Academy liked it. I’ll say it’s the least likely winner and leave it at that.
  • Moonlight (#16) – The trailers had me thinking the three segments of the narrative would be interwoven, rather than sequential. (I’m not sure that wouldn’t have worked better, honestly.) The segments themselves are quite well-edited, though, especially the climactic moments of the first two. I’d say it’s third likeliest based on the film’s overall chances. It might realistically be fourth, but we’re splitting hairs at that point. It won’t win unless the film sweeps.
  • La La Land (#26) – This won the other Eddie award and the Critics’ Choice. It lost the BAFTA, which is weird, but the BAFTAs do sometimes go their own way here. I’d say it probably wins this, just because I expect it’ll sweep the major categories, but this is a moderately open category. The editing is certainly decent, but compared to the relentlessness of Whiplash it’s not that impressive.
  • Hacksaw Ridge (#N/R) – This won the BAFTA, in a bit of an upset. I’m not sure why; the battle scenes are well-edited, but the film as a whole is overlong and not notably well-paced. Given that the film might be a bigger winner than expected, I’ll say it’s the third likeliest in this category, but I’d be genuinely surprised if it won.

How can you not vote for Arrival here? I really don’t get it. La La Land isn’t that well-edited. But it’s the big, beloved film of the year, and don’t be surprised if it walks off with this…and don’t be too surprised if it doesn’t.

In order of likelihood of winning: La La Land, Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Moonlight, Hell or High Water.

Will Win: La La Land

Could Win: Arrival

Should Win: Arrival

Best Production Design:

  • Arrival
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Hail, Caesar!
  • La La Land
  • Passengers

Average nominee rank: 12

  • Passengers (#5) – The film itself might have been mediocre, but the Avalon is a hell of a set. I’m not quite sure just how much of it was actually built, but there’s enough style and variety on display here for me to say the nomination was deserved. And given that most of the best production design of the year didn’t get nominated, this is arguably the best of the nominees. It did win the ADG (Art Directors Guild) award for Fantasy Film, so it’s not the least likely winner, but the film’s dubious reception and the presence of a clear front-runner probably preclude it from winning.
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (#9) – A mix of 20s sets and fantasy sets, all very well done, if not outstanding. It won the BAFTA, too. No Harry Potter film ever won an Oscar, and I’m not sure this’ll be the one to break the trend, especially since it lost the ADG to Passengers. Don’t rule it out as an upset (since this category sometimes has those – like Lincoln), but I think we all know there’s at least one film more likely to win here.
  • Arrival (#12) – The heptapods’ ship is a fairly simple design, but very well executed. The army base camp and Amy Adams’ house are also solidly done. The only way this wins is if it sweeps the techs, and even then, contemporary science-fiction never wins here: Inception, Gravity, Interstellar, and The Martian all lost this category. I’ll put it fourth, but it won’t win.
  • Hail, Caesar! (#15) – I rewatched this recently, and I have to admit, it’s a nice looking film. The visual homages to classic cinema are really well executed – the beach house is straight out of Hitchcock – as are other locations like the Merrily We Dance set and the Chinese restaurant. This being the film’s only nomination, and the film having come out so long ago (over a year now), I really doubt it’ll win. It also the ADG Period Film award to Hidden Figures, which wasn’t even nominated here (it was my #11). But it wouldn’t be a bad choice, not with this category lacking a runaway winner.
  • La La Land (#19) – Yet again, this movie has to be considered the one to beat. It won the ADG Contemporary Film award, the Critics’ Choice, and the Satellite. And, of course, it’s La La Land. It wouldn’t be that bad of a choice, either – the house Emma Stone is living for the first half of the film is a good set, and the epilogue has some nice, colorful stylized settings. (At other points, though, I think its depiction of Hollywood is pretty visually trite.)  And since the Academy managed not to nominate The Handmaiden, High-Rise, Florence Foster Jenkins, or Jackie (the last two were nominated for Costume Design as well, which makes their omission here all the stranger), I don’t really give a shit what wins here.

This should go to La La Land easily. And if it loses, it won’t portend an upset. So it really doesn’t matter.

In order of likelihood of winning: La La Land, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Passengers, Arrival, Hail, Caesar!

Will Win: La La Land

Could Win: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Should Win: Passengers

gallery-1479828010-marianne

The nominee I didn’t see. Who can say where I would’ve ranked it? (Source)

Best Costume Design:

  • Allied
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Florence Foster Jenkins
  • Jackie
  • La La Land

Average nominee rank: 10.75*

*I have not seen Allied and thus have no rank for it. I have only averaged the other four nominees.

  • Florence Foster Jenkins (#7) – 40s costumes, opera costumes, high society costumes…it’s a sure-fire nominee. Like Passengers, it’s tops in this category, if not tops for the year as a whole. However, it lost the Costumer Designers Guild award to Hidden Figures which, as in Production Design, did not actually get an Oscar nomination. (Which is rather weird in of itself.) So I doubt it’ll win.
  • Jackie (#9) – 60s costumes, most notably Jackie’s wardrobe, with the pink outfit and pillbox she wore the day JFK was assassinated as the centerpiece. Not necessarily the best work in the category, but between my love for the film, the fact that it got so fucked over as a whole, and the fact that it won the BAFTA, Critics’ Choice, and Satellite in this category, I’m assuming it’ll win handily. The CDG loss, as with Florence, gives me a bit of pause, but looking at this category…who else is there?
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (#11) – 20s outfits. Mostly pretty mundane, but some of the characters wear formal attire or have a fantastical edge to their wardrobe. It lost the Fantasy Film CDG award (to…Doctor Strange?), and I wouldn’t take it for a front-runner here, but I’ll say it’s not the least likely nominee.
  • La La Land (#16) – A lot of it is pretty standard contemporary attire, yes, but there are also the pastel costumes in the opening number (and to a degree in “Someone in the Crowd”), and there are also the stylized costumes in the epilogue. I wouldn’t really say there’s enough here to actually give the award to (it did win the CDG for Contemporary Film, though), but being La La Land, I’d say it wins this if Jackie doesn’t. But the last time anything like a contemporary film won in this category was The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in 1994, and these costumes aren’t exactly in the same league as those.
  • Allied (#N/A) – I never got around to seeing this film. In fact, even though it made more than Jackie or Florence (it actually made over $100 million worldwide), it was pretty much viewed as a dud, and this nomination probably came as a surprise to some. The costumes (40s threads, not unlike Florence) look pretty nice from what I’ve seen, but I can’t see it winning. I’d say it might even be the least likely contender, based just on the film itself.

Jackie or La La Land. More likely Jackie. But I’ll be honest, I’ll take the costumes in The Love Witch over either of them any day.

In order of likelihood of winning: Jackie, La La Land, Florence Foster Jenkins, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Allied.

Will Win: Jackie

Could Win: La La Land

Should Win: Florence Foster Jenkins

Best Makeup & Hairstyling:

  • A Man Called Ove
  • Star Trek Beyond
  • Suicide Squad

Average nominee rank: 2*

*I do not have an official rank for A Man Called Ove, and so have only averaged the other two nominees.

  • Star Trek Beyond (#1) – Great makeup here. The work on Sofia Boutella has the highest profile, but this being Star Trek, there are lots of great supporting and background characters with memorable design. It also won the MUAHS Guild award for Special Makeup Effects, leading me to think it’ll win this easily. And since the film itself was quite fun (and not, I think, properly appreciated), I’m more than okay with that.
  • Suicide Squad (#3) – Yes, the makeup is good. Killer Croc, Harley Quinn, the Joker, Enchantress…there’s some well-executed work here. The movie itself is hot flaming shit, and I’m not exactly keen to give it anything, but if it won this Oscar, on a purely technical level I couldn’t argue with it. It also won the MUAHS award for Period and/or Character Makeup, putting it almost even with Star Trek in terms of precursors. But the film itself being mostly hated leads me to give Star Trek the edge.
  • A Man Called Ove (#N/R) – There’s not really that much here. Some aging makeup on Ove, I guess. It’s not like The 100-Year-Old Man Who… (although, same makeup artists), where they aged a guy over many decades and well beyond his actual age. It is a nice film, and a possible upset for Best Foreign Film, but if this wins, I’ll shit.

The CDG Contemporary Makeup award went to Nocturnal Animals, and Contemporary Hairstyling went to La La Land. The BAFTA went with Florence Foster Jenkins. The Critics’ Choice went with Jackie. So the precursors are of limited help. But looking at this category, it seems pretty straightforward.

In order of likelihood of winning: Star Trek Beyond, Suicide Squad, A Man Called Ove.

Will Win: Star Trek Beyond

Could Win: Suicide Squad

Should Win: Star Trek Beyond

Best Score:

  • Jackie
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Moonlight
  • Passengers

Average nominee rank: 6.6

NOTE: I have only officially ranked 15 scores for the year. So take these rankings with a grain of salt.

  • Jackie (#2) – Mica Levi delivers another superb score, and the Academy finally notices. No, it’s not quite as mind-melting as her work for Under the Skin, but it’s a score perfectly suited to the film – audacious, yet classy. It’s won some critics awards and is probably in the top three most likely to win…but there’s a decided front-runner here that will be very hard to top.
  • La La Land (#6) – It’s an original musical that’s the favorite to win Best Picture. If it loses this…how can they give it Best Picture? Even I’ll admit the music itself is quite good (it’s the lyrics I don’t like). It’s won the BAFTA and the Globe, and to lose this would be to undermine its very status as the film of the year. Bank on it.
  • Moonlight (#7) – I literally just swapped this and Lion. In the moment, the Lion score impressed me just a bit more, but this is the one that’s stuck with me. That main theme, with the piano and the dry strings (or however you’d describe), is really quite beautiful and haunting. The score as a whole might be a bit repetitive, but it fits the film very well, and I’d probably vote for this before I’d vote for La La Land (admittedly, for partially extra-musical reasons). I’d say it might actually be the second likeliest winner based on the status of the film itself (though it hasn’t won much, if anything), but for it to win would be a major upset.
  • Lion (#8) – It’s a really good score. Hasn’t stuck with me as much as some of the other nominees, but listening to it, I considered it for my top 5 for a hot second. I can’t really say much about it, though, which is fine, because it won’t win. That much is certain.
  • Passengers (#10) – Yeah, this came out of nowhere. It’s obviously the score that got in because the score for Arrival was deemed ineligible (I haven’t officially ranked the Arrival score, but it’s definitely better). That said, it’s a solid score in its own right, with some nice blending of the electronic and orchestral. Not a chance in hell it wins – it’s the last-place nominee without question – but it’s not a disgraceful choice either.

La La Land wins this, or we rethink everything about this race.

In order of likelihood of winning: La La Land, Jackie, Moonlight, Lion, Passengers.

Will Win: La La Land

Could Win: Jackie

Should Win: Jackie

Best Song:

  • “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”, La La Land
  • “Can’t Stop the Feeling!”, Trolls
  • “City of Stars”, La La Land
  • “The Empty Chair”, Jim: The James Foley Story
  • “How Far I’ll Go”, Moana

Average nominee rank: 20*

*I have not seen Jim: The James Foley Story, and thus have not officially ranked “The Empty Chair.” I have only averaged the other four nominees.

  • “How Far I’ll Go” (#1) – I’m torn between this and “Gone 2015” as my favorite film song of the year. It’s a great Disney Princess song, stirring and catchy and choke-uppable, particularly at the end as it builds to that climax. And Auli’i Cravalho does it great job with it in the film itself. It’s the best song in this category by far. And because it’s so good, because Disney has such a great reputation in this category, and because Lin-Manuel Miranda is about as beloved in the songwriting community as anyone can be right now…I’d say it has a legitimate chance at winning this. However, there’s an elephant in the room, and you know damn well what it is.
  • “City of Stars” (#20) – And here it is, both song and film. I’ve gone back and forth as to whether I prefer this or “Audition”, and at the moment this wins out. I don’t love it especially, but it’s reasonably catchy and the lyrics are passable (though that last forced rhyme “for me”/”bright-lee” is pretty awkward). More to the point, it’s won the Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice, and Satellite awards, and that’s about all the awards it can win, since most awards groups don’t even do a Best Song category. And since we’re talking about an original musical that’s favored to win Best Picture, is there any reason to conclude it won’t win Original Song into the bargain?
  • “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” (#21) – I’ve said elsewhere that I really don’t love the songs of La La Land; in particular, I find the lyrics pretty inane and graceless, though the music is generally decent. This song is a good example of that dichotomy; the music builds slowly to a sweeping, inspirational climax, and in the film itself it’s Emma Stone’s big solo, an 11 o’clock number that seals Mia’s destiny and serves as the emotional climax of the film, and she puts it across with great emotion. And what does she sing about, at this audition which will win her a role which will be built around her for several months before she gets to take a working vacation in Paris to shoot it, an audition for which she is simply asked to tell the casting agents a story? She sings about her aunt jumping in a river. Okay, yes, it was the Seine, but am I the only one who finds connecting an impulsive dunk and the audacious artistic spirit just a tad ridiculous? I hope not. Anyhow, I feel like this is probably the third-placer in this category; if “City of Stars” doesn’t win, “How Far I’ll Go” will be what beats it.
  • “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” (#38) – It’s digestible, I’ll say that for it. As far as modern pop goes, it’s pretty tolerable. That said, it’s not particularly good; it’s essentially Muzak, perfect for listening to while you’re shopping and not really paying more than fleeting attention. If you actually focus on it, though…there’s just nothing there. (Fitting, given the film it was in.) At least the La La Land songs had some ambition, even if they weren’t that good. This has received a lot of air-time over the past few months, which might earn it some votes…but it won’t win. If “Happy” didn’t win, no way in hell should this.
  • “The Empty Chair” (#N/A) – I didn’t see the film, but I did listen to the song. It’s…okay, I guess? It’s a downbeat ballad, suitable for a documentary about a war correspondent who was tragically murdered. Quality-wise, I’d probably put it fourth on the list. But it’s the least likely winner by a long, long way. The film isn’t well-known enough and the song isn’t good enough for even a chance at an upset.

La La Land losing here would be less earth-shaking than it losing Original Score. But it would be a surprise.

Oh, and Sing Street being completely snubbed here is a travesty. I think we all know this.

Will Win: “City of Stars”

Could Win: “How Far I’ll Go”

Should Win: “How Far I’ll Go”

Best Sound Mixing:

  • Arrival
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • La La Land
  • Rogue One
  • 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Average nominee rank: 5.75*

*I have not seen 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, and so have only averaged the other four nominees.

The precursors, I’ll tell you right now, are totally divided. The CAS (sound mixers’ guild) went with La La Land. The BAFTA went to Arrival. The Critics’ Choice went to Hacksaw Ridge.

  • Arrival (#1) – It sounds incredible. I’m a sucker for science-fiction soundscapes, and this is a damn good one, especially given how central sound and communication are to its story. It would be my vote, and it’s certainly in the running, but I don’t think it’s a sure thing. Because…
  • La La Land (#3) – Musicals traditionally do very well here. Since 2000 we’ve seen Chicago, Ray, Dreamgirls, Les Misérables, and Whiplash win here. And this has pretty damn good mixing. Some have grumbled that the lyrics are difficult to hear, especially in the opening number, but for the most part it sounded fine to me. In any case, this won the guild award, which arguably carries more weight than the BAFTA or Critics’ Choice. I think it’ll win here.
  • Hacksaw Ridge (#6) – The sounds of war – and given that this is war as filmed by Mel Gibson, it’s even more intense than usual. This could totally win here. War films are also frequent honorees in this category – Black Hawk Down and The Hurt Locker being the two most recent picks. Really, this category could go one of three ways and none of them would shock me.
  • Rogue One (#13) – That this ranks relatively low is less because I thought the sound mix was deficient, than because it didn’t really stand out to me as more than a solid action-film mix. It’s rare anymore for a film to make truly distinctive use of sound, and this doesn’t. On top of that, the two nominations this film earned feel a bit…token? They gave Force Awakens five nominations (and who knows how close it came to winning some of them), and this got only two. So it probably won’t happen.
  • 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (#N/A) – Never saw the film (although I had considered it). I’m sure the sound mix is accomplished enough. Michael Bay makes them loud. But this was a surprise nominee to begin with (how often do January releases manage to get nominations?), and the head mixer, Greg P. Russell, is on his 17th Oscar nomination, with no wins as of yet. This isn’t going to change that.

La La Land feels like the choice here. I could see it going another way, but I’m erring on the side of a sweep.

In order of likelihood of winning: La La Land, Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Rogue One, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.

Will Win: La La Land

Could Win: Arrival

Should Win: Arrival

Best Sound Editing:

  • Arrival
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • La La Land
  • Sully

Average nominee rank: 4.5*

*I have no official ranking for La La Land in this category, and so have only ranked the other four nominees.

  • Arrival (#1) – The sounds of this film are so important, and so well done. Honestly, I’d vote for this film in both sound categories, but at this point it seems like the Academy probably won’t vote for it in either. It could win here, but as with Mixing there seems to be another film with better chances.
  • Deepwater Horizon (#2) – I was really impressed by the sound of this film when I saw it, the way it achieved the sonic chaos of the rig’s destruction. It would be a completely worthy winner here, but the film didn’t make that big of an impact and was frankly lucky to be nominated at all. It might even be the least likely winner here.
  • Hacksaw Ridge (#4) – I think this is the only category which managed to nominate at least three of my personal top 5. Gunshots, explosions, the sounds of bodily dismemberment…it’s brutal, but it’s effective. And given that this won the Golden Reel (the sound editors’ guild award) for Dialogue & ADR in a Feature Film and Sound Effects and Foley in a Feature Film, along with the generally good performance of war films in this category (U-571, Pearl Harbor, Letters from Iwo Jima, The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, and American Sniper all won), I have to consider this the favorite here.
  • Sully (#11) – The only nomination this ended up getting. Not undeserved, though – the sound work in the “forced water landing” scenes is really quite good. And since this was a well-liked film that only managed the one nomination, I could see this getting votes. Probably not enough to top Hacksaw Ridge, but the guys who did this also did Letters from Iwo Jima and American Sniper. Don’t rule them out.
  • La La Land (#N/R) – This was the nomination we were all waiting to see if La La Land would pull off. Because this was the one it needed to get 14 nominations and tie the all-time record. And guess what, it did. How, I couldn’t say – I didn’t notice any sound effects or editing worth ranking. It did win the Golden Reel for Music in a Musical Feature Film (Music in a Feature Film, hilariously, went to Warcraft), but I would be surprised if this won. Mixing and Editing often go hand-in-hand…but not when Mixing goes to a musical.

Look for this to be Hacksaw Ridge‘s one win, but honestly…don’t be too surprised at any outcome.

In order of likelihood of winning: Hacksaw Ridge, Arrival, Sully, La La Land, Deepwater Horizon.

Will Win: Hacksaw Ridge

Could Win: Arrival

Should Win: Arrival

Best Visual Effects:

  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Doctor Strange
  • The Jungle Book
  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Rogue One

Because I have not seen Doctor Strange and have not officially ranked Kubo and the Two Strings in this category, I won’t do an average ranking for this category.

  • Deepwater Horizon (#4) – The effects of the rig’s destruction, practical and digital, are extremely impressive and convincing. This did win a key award at the VES (visual effects guild) awards, for Supporting Visual Effects, so don’t completely rule it out as a possibility. However, it’s got a lot of ground to make up if it’s going to beat…
  • The Jungle Book (#5) – Most people, seeing this film, would agree that this wins, hands-down. For me, the effects are impressive, especially given their scope, but I think the animals tend to look just a bit artificial. Not to an “uncanny valley” degree, but just enough that other, more seamless effects jobs were able to push it down my own list. But it would be a worthy winner, and consider what it’s already won: the VES awards for Visual Effects and Animated Performance in a Photoreal Film (and three other awards), the BAFTA, the Critics’ Choice, and the Satellite. On top of that, it’s a critically-acclaimed film which is, as of this writing, the 5th-highest-grossing film of the year. Given all that, is there any real reason to believe this won’t win?
  • Rogue One (#7) – Yeah, it’s Star Wars, of course it’ll have good effects. I might rank it higher if I saw the film again, but I just didn’t think the effects here were as memorable as those in The Force Awakens…especially when you factor in the controversial CGI Moff Tarkin, who does verge on the uncanny valley. (He looks like a video-game cut-scene character to me.) Given that controversy and the fact that there’s a clear favorite here, I don’t think it’ll win. At best, it’ll come in second.
  • Kubo and the Two Strings (#N/R) – I didn’t think to rank the visual effects when I saw it. I’m not sure how you determine what counts as special effects in an animated film, honestly (though the video above gives you some idea), which may be why this is only the second animated film ever to get a Visual Effects nomination (the first was The Nightmare Before Christmas). It’s a well-respected film and a gorgeous-looking one, but I’d be really surprised if this managed to win. I might say it’s more likely to win than Deepwater Horizon, being the more beloved film, but I wouldn’t put it higher than fourth.
  • Doctor Strange (#N/A) – Full disclosure, I saw about the first 2/3 of this film at an employee screening before I had to leave. And from what I saw, the effects, especially in the reality-bending sequences, were pretty fucking cool. However, no Marvel film to date has ever won an Oscar, which doesn’t bode well for it.

Ex Machina winning last year shows how unpredictable this category can be. Don’t completely rule out any of them. However, The Jungle Book has by far the most traction, and should be considered the one to beat. They didn’t tout it as being filmed entirely in downtown L.A. for nothing.

I’d also like to add that Arrival getting snubbed here was a travesty. How a science-fiction film can be nominated for Best Picture, Director, and six other awards and not Visual Effects is beyond me.

In order of likelihood of winning: The Jungle Book, Rogue One, Doctor Strange, Kubo and the Two Strings, Deepwater Horizon.

Will Win: The Jungle Book

Could Win: Rogue One

Should Win: Deepwater Horizon

Best Foreign Language Film:

  • Land of Mine (Denmark)
  • A Man Called Ove (Sweden)
  • The Salesman (Iran)
  • Tanna (Australia)
  • Toni Erdmann (Germany)

Because I’ve only seen two of the nominees, I won’t do an average ranking for this category.

  • A Man Called Ove (#7 foreign-language film; #40 overall) – It’s a very nice, charming little comedy-drama, with a well-realized central character. The final few minutes feel rushed, and frankly superfluous (they probably play out better in the book, which I need to get around to reading), but the film still earns a solid ***½ from me. It’s not the unlikeliest winner; it’s a feel-good film, very digestible, and the Makeup nomination could give it a boost. But honestly, I’d put it third on the list; it hasn’t won any major awards, and there are two films with a lot more traction ahead of it.
  • Toni Erdmann (#8 foreign-language film; #73 overall) – I managed to see this just in time. Unfortunately, I wasn’t entirely taken with it; it has some great moments and good performances, but it’s much longer than it needed to be, and a lot of that extra time is just dead air. It’s still a mid-to-high *** film in my book, but that’s not enough to make me root for it. And it’s gone from being the outright front-runner to being a close second; it lost the Globe and BAFTA, though it won the NSFC and NYFCC. It could still win, but I’m not comfortable banking on it.
  • Land of Mine (#N/A) – Danish WWII film, about how German POWs were used to clear the Danish coast of mines…often at the cost of their own lives. It got solid (if not Oscar-level) reviews, but it hasn’t been much of a factor all season. So you can probably safely count it out.
  • The Salesman (#N/A) – This has become the front-runner in recent weeks for several reasons. First, it’s managed to win several major awards: it won the NBR and the Satellite, and this on top of two awards at Cannes. Second, because of Trump’s travel ban, director Asghar Farhadi has chosen not to attend the Oscars (though he apparently would’ve been able to get a dispensation), and for the mostly liberal Academy, giving it the Oscar would send a distinct message to the White House. That it’s apparently an excellent film on top of that (dealing at least in part with the theater and acting) only helps its case. Certainly it looks quite good, though I can’t totally shake the specter of its relatively cool critical reception at Cannes.
  • Tanna (#N/A) – Australia gets its first foreign film submission, for a Vanuatu-set romance about a couple who marry against the wishes of their families. I’ve heard some decent things, but the reviews seem too muted and the film has too low a profile to make a case for itself. I might even say this is less likely to win than Land of Mine (though it sounds much more interesting to me).

This category would’ve been so much better if Elle and Neruda were here.

The Salesman should win this by a hair. Toni Erdmann is a definite threat, but I think the motivations to vote for The Salesman are strong enough to carry it over the top.

In order of likelihood of winning: The Salesman, Toni Erdmann, A Man Called Ove, Land of Mine, Tanna.

Will Win: The Salesman

Could Win: Toni Erdmann

Should Win: N/A (haven’t seen enough of the nominees)

Best Animated Feature:

  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Moana
  • My Life as a Zucchini
  • The Red Turtle
  • Zootopia

Because I have only seen three of the nominees, I won’t do an average ranking for this category.

  • Moana (#2 animated film; #16 overall) – A lovely film. Narratively, it’s a little generic, but the animation is beautiful, the voice acting is strong, and the songs are wonderful (4 in my top 10 alone). It’s a critically acclaimed box-office success…but it hasn’t won much. It’s actually probably more likely to win Best Song than this.
  • Zootopia (#4 animated film; #24 overall) – The first two-thirds are great; a smartly written, well-voiced exploration of prejudice which also works as entertainment. It loses a lot of steam in the third act, though, when the plot sinks into predictability and the message falls by the wayside. But most don’t seem to mind; it won the Annie Awards for Animated Feature, Directing, and Writing, along with the Globe, PGA, Critics’ Choice, and NYFCC awards. It did open quite early (over a year ago now), which might work against it, but given how well it was received, I’d still say it’s the front-runner, albeit with a slimmer lead than it had, say, a month ago.
  • Kubo and the Two Strings (#6* animated film; #51 overall) – A gorgeously animated film, undermined, to my mind, by an uneven script with a murky plot and often inane dialogue (itself somewhat redeemed by excellent voice acting). The Visual Effects nomination certainly gives it a boost, as do its wins at the BAFTAs and the NBR. I’d put it second to win, and had it been a box-office success, I’d say it’s almost neck-and-neck with Zootopia.
  • My Life as a Zucchini (#N/A) – A French-language stop-motion film about a young boy in an orphanage. I’d like to see it when it comes out over here. I doubt it’s been widely seen enough to win (not over the competition), but it did win the Satellite, for what that’s worth.
  • The Red Turtle (#N/A) – An international co-production (by a Dutch director) with no dialogue, about a man stuck on a desert island and his relationship with a…red turtle. It sounds incredible, and I’ve heard really good things, but I haven’t been able to see it. It won the Annie for Independent Animated Film, but it too is probably too little-known to overtake the big three in this category.

It’s effectively down to Zootopia and Kubo, with Moana a possible spoiler. I think Zootopia takes it, but Kubo is right there.

In order of likelihood of winning: Zootopia, Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, The Red Turtle, My Life as a Zucchini.

Will Win: Zootopia

Could Win: Kubo and the Two Strings

Should Win: N/A (haven’t seen enough of the nominees)

Best Documentary Feature:

  • Fire at Sea
  • I Am Not Your Negro
  • Life, Animated
  • O.J.: Made in America
  • 13th

Because I have only seen O.J.: Made in America, I won’t do an average ranking for this category.

  • Fire at Sea – Italian documentary about the island of Lampedusa, a major transit hub for refugees and migrants. Won the Golden Bear at Berlin. Deals with a timely subject. But there are at least three films in this category with more buzz.
  • I Am Not Your Negro – A combination of interviews with James Baldwin discoursing on race relations in America and Samuel L. Jackson reading from Baldwin’s previously unpublished writings on the subject. Apparently incredible. Looks incredible. I hope to see it sooner or later. It won the L.A. Film Critics award and several other critics’ awards. But it didn’t start building much of a buzz until fairly late in the race. I think there are at least two more likely winners.
  • Life, Animated –  An autistic man finds a means of connecting with the world and his family via his love of Disney films. It’s the inspirational one of the bunch (by a long way), and that might count for something. It also won Best Director at Sundance, for what that’s worth. I might actually put this third, because the Academy does sometimes opt for uplift over tragedy (like when 20 Feet from Stardom beat The Act of Killing). But I don’t think that’ll happen this year.
  • O.J.: Made in America (#2 documentary; #6 overall) – It’s one hell of an achievement. Nearly eight hours long (it’s the longest film ever nominated), telling a story most viewers already know, and it’s absolutely gripping and heart-breaking the whole way through. It’s one of the most critically-praised films of the year, and it’s won the PGA, DGA, ACE Eddie, NBR, NYFCC, NSFC, L.A. Film Critics’ award for Film Editing, IDA (International Documentary Administration) award, the AFI Special Award, and many other critics’ awards. I do wonder if the length and subject matter might count against it with the Academy voters, but looking at the momentum it’s earned, I’d say it’s the front-runner.
  • 13th – Ava DuVernay, who became the first woman of color to direct a Best Picture nominee (Selma), tells the story of systemic racism in the American criminal justice system, and how the disproportionate incarceration of blacks in modern America is merely a continuation of slavery. It’s been heavily promoted and heavily championed; it also won the BAFTA and Satellite. By all accounts, it’s incredibly powerful and upsetting. It could win this. Having a major director behind it (who was arguably snubbed for Best Director), dealing as it does with the racial politics of America in perhaps a more immediate way than any other nominee…it’s right up there with O.J. as a potential winner. It’s also much, much shorter, which might work in its favor.

I just have to add: Weiner was robbed. No two ways about it.

It’s a tight race between O.J. and 13th. Logic says the former, instinct says the latter. I’d be shocked if any of the others take it.

In order of likelihood of winning: O.J.: Made in America, 13th, Life, Animated, I Am Not Your Negro, Fire at Sea.

Will Win: O.J.: Made in America

Could Win: 13th

Should Win: N/A (haven’t seen enough of the nominees)

I’m not going to bother with the shorts. I didn’t have a chance to see them (aside from seeing Piper in front of Finding Dory), and this post doesn’t need to be any longer – I think it’s the longest one I’ve ever written.

Average nominee rank: 11.275

  • Without Best Picture: 9.627
  • Counting only categories where every nominee was ranked: 12.77

To give the Academy credit where it’s due: they nominated my #1 in 10 categories, including all four acting categories; they nominated my #2 in 5 categories, and my #1 and #2 in 3 categories. They also nominated my #3 in 5 categories.

In only two categories did the Academy fail to nominate one of my top 5: Costume Design and Foreign Language Film. (However, in both of those categories, I have not seen all the nominees, so that could eventually change.)

Predicted totals:

  • 9 awards: La La Land
  • 2 awards: Manchester By the Sea, Moonlight
  • 1 award: Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Jackie, The Jungle Book, O.J.: Made in America, The Salesman, Star Trek Beyond, Zootopia

Biggest snubs by category:

  • Picture: Elle
  • Director: Pablo Larraín, Jackie
  • Actor: Logan Lerman, Indignation
  • Actress: Rebecca Hall, Christine
  • Supporting Actor: Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins
    • NOTE: I list Grant as a lead, but the studio was pushing him supporting, so he would’ve been nominated here.
  • Supporting Actress: Rachel Weisz, The Lobster
  • Original Screenplay: Don’t Think Twice
  • Adapted Screenplay: Nocturnal Animals
    • NOTE: Nocturnal Animals is my #3 Adapted Screenplay (my top two were not nominated either), but with Globe, BAFTA, and WGA nominations, it was seemingly bound for a nomination.
  • Cinematography: Jackie
  • Editing: Jackie
  • Production Design: Florence Foster Jenkins
    • NOTE: Florence Foster Jenkins comes in 3rd on my list, but since it was nominated for Costume Design, unlike my top two films, I consider it the greater snub.
  • Costume Design: Silence
  • Makeup & HairstylingHacksaw Ridge
    • NOTE: Hacksaw Ridge comes in 4th on my list, but given its Picture and Director nominations, the fact that it failed to even make the shortlist is really absurd.
  • Score: The Neon Demon
  • Song: “Gone 2015”, Miles Ahead
  • Sound Mixing: Deepwater Horizon
  • Sound Editing: Star Trek Beyond
  • Visual Effects: Arrival
    • NOTE: Arrival is my #2 in this category, but given its Picture and Director nominations, I find its omission here inexplicable.
  • Foreign Language Film: Elle
  • Documentary Feature: Weiner

And now we wait.

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One thought on “Predicting the 89th Academy Awards

  1. Pingback: Wrapping Up the 89th Academy Awards | If you want the gravy...

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