Another year, another Oscars. Jimmy Kimmel will host the 89th Annual Academy Awards on Sunday, February 26 at 4pm PST on ABC. The show promises to be fraught with political tension. (But honestly, when has it not been?) There’s been some talk that perhaps the event should even be canceled, given some nominees won’t be able to attend (and/or plan to boycott the event) because of Trump’s immigration policy.
But like Nicole Kidman said upon accepting her award back in 2003 in the wake of a newly-started Iraq war: “Why do you come to the Academy Awards when the world is in such turmoil? Because art is important.” And the money these kinds of award shows garner for films and advertisers doesn’t hurt, either.
The big story for 2017 is La La Land’s record-tying 14 nominations. (Only Titanic and All About Eve has matched the feat.) I’ll get it out of the way and say this: You’re not going to see a lot of love from me for the Hollywood-worshipping, dumbly named musical on this list. It’s not a bad movie, per se, but like the opposite of cheese, it gets worse in my head over time.
For your Oscar pools this year, it might be a fun side bet to predict just how many out of 14 nominations La La Land gets. (Or you can just borrow my guess: 5/14).
Last year, I predicted 14/24 categories correctly. A grim 58%, but are we grading on a curve? I’ve gone a little easier on myself this time, limiting my guesses to the top 8 categories. I had some help from early predictors like Trevor Duek at Sports Betting Dime, plus a ragtag arsenal of other resources. These include Vegas odds, winners of other award shows like The Golden Globes and the SAG Awards and finally, my trusty third eye. Use my predictions in your Oscar pools at your own risk.
- Hacksaw Ridge
- Hell or High Water
- Hidden Figures
- La La Land
- Manchester by the Sea
Let me begin with my yearly rant lamenting 10 nominees in the best picture category: It’s too many goddamn nominees. If Lion had come out during the summer instead of late December/early January, we wouldn’t be talking about it. Extend it to 7 if you must, maybe. 10 nominees just makes space for 3-4 unneeded, politically motivated choices.
Having said that, this list features four of my top 10 films of the year, so can’t really complain. Arrival, Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight all qualify as “masterpieces.” Hell or High Water is very good. Fences has some of the best performances of the year. And some of these other movies are probably also okay.
Will Win: Moonlight
I’m sticking my neck waaaay the f out for this one. Obviously, the sane option is La La Land, but I didn’t like it, Moonlight won best dramatic film at the Golden Globes, and last year Spotlight came out of nowhere.
I’m delusional. It’s going to be La La Land.
Should Win: Manchester by the Sea
It was the best overall film of 2016. I would be equally pleased to see Arrival or Moonlight take home the top prize.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
- Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
- Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
- Ryan Gosling – La La Land
- Viggo Mortenson – Captain Fantastic
- Denzel Washington – Fences
Will Win: Casey Affleck
Affleck is my top choice as well, and not just because I think he’s super cute. (I don’t think the academy even takes that into consideration.) It’s a crushing, subtle performance and a vote for Affleck works double to honor a great film that may lose out in other categories.
Dark Horse: Denzel Washington
Washington won the SAG award but the Vegas odds still slightly favor Affleck. Still, he’s one of the greatest living actors we have. A win here would give him a third Academy Award, which would put him in good company with Meryl Streep, Katherine Hepburn, Jack Nicholson, Daniel Day-Lewis… I guess it’s not that uncommon.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
- Isabelle Huppert – Elle
- Ruth Negga – Loving
- Natalie Portman – Jackie
- Emma Stone – La La Land
- Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins
Will Win: Emma Stone
Dark Horse: Isabelle Huppert
Nobody’s really considering Huppert a contender, but hear me out: Firstly, she won in the leading actress category at the Golden Globes somewhat unexpectedly. Secondly, awarding foreign language performances isn’t as uncommon as you might think (recent winners include Marion Cotillard and Christopher Waltz). Thirdly, it’s hands down the best female performance of the year, 1,000 times richer and more complex than Stone’s.
Finally, she represents a bizarre, wonderful film that should have been nominated in the best foreign film category but was instead brutally snubbed. The defense rests.
Write In: Amy Adams – Arrival
Look, I’m as sick of seeing Amy Adams in critically acclaimed films as anyone. But she’s so wonderful in this picture. I have to agree with others who have suggested this was one of the biggest Oscar snubs of the year. Arrival was my second favorite film of 2016, and Adams’ subtle, gut-wrenching performance brings the human element to a movie that’s sort of (but hardly at all) about aliens.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
- Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
- Jeff Bridges – To Hell or High Water
- Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
- Dev Patel – Lion
- Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals
Will Win: Mahershala Ali
Ali is a mesmerizing and awesome presence in an overall wonderful film. There’s a lot of strong competition in this category: Michael Shannon never falters and it’s nice to see the young Lucas Hedges recognized here. Still, it’s hard to imagine anyone else walking away with this one.
Dark Horse: Jeff Bridges
Pardon me for saying so, but I think his character is the worst part of an otherwise splendid film. His turn as the Country Cop in To Hell or High Water plays like a parody of better films that came before. I don’t think they’re going to give it to him this year. People voting for the less qualified, old white man? That would never happen!
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
- Viola Davis – Fences
- Naomie Harris – Moonlight
- Nicole Kidman – Lion
- Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
- Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea
Will Win: Viola Davis
What is it with female leads perpetually being downgraded to supporting performances? The same thing happened with Alicia Vikander’s win for The Danish Girl last year. In Fences, when Viola Davis says, “I’ve been standing right here with you,” I think the academy took it a tad literally. She is the soul and the center of the film, and the performance belongs in the leading actress category. Nevertheless, she will win the award for supporting and it’s well deserved.
Dark Horse: Michelle Williams
Williams will likely continue to be a bridesmaid. At least her role supports the lead actors. Harumph!
Also worth noting: Nicole Kidman will most certainly be overlooked for her performance in Lion, and it’s fine. You really should go down with the ship, but I have to say: She’s the very best thing in that film. “The nomination is the award,” as they say.
Best Achievement in Directing
- Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
- Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
- Damien Chazelle – La La Land
- Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
- Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Will Win: Damien Chazelle
I hate it and it sucks but Chazelle is the tentative favorite for the award. If I were him, as soon as I got home I would take my Oscar, cross off the words La La Land and write Whiplash in its place.
In the end, however, any prediction in this category is pointless until the Directors Guild Award announces their winner on February 4. If you’re reading this after Saturday, take my prediction and replace it with whatever won the DGA’s. It’s the most predictive measure there is.
Dark Horse: Barry Jenkins
Vegas Odds list Lonergan as next in line after Chazelle, but I think they’re crazy. Did you see his face when he lost best original screenplay at the Golden Globes to a dumb musical? Lonergan is a man who can’t allow good things to happen to him. It would ruin his art.
This is a complicated situation, bear with me: If Moonlight somehow ekes ahead to take Best Picture, then Chazelle wins best director. They’ve been splitting the difference with these two categories more often than usual the last few years. But if La La Land takes the top prize, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Barry Jenkins become the first black man to win in this category. And it would be great and well earned! Then again, I said the same thing about Steve McQueen after 12 Years a Slave came out, and obviously, I was wrong.
Best Original Screenplay
- Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water
- Damien Chazelle – La La Land
- Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou – The Lobster
- Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
- Mike Mills – 20th Century Women
Will Win: Manchester by the Sea
I wrote it, but I don’t believe it. Vegas odds have La La Land and Manchester in a dead heat. I just can’t accept in my heart that anyone could have seen Lonergan’s film and not thought: “Wow. Here’s a movie that stretches and unfolds like a novel, that makes dozens of characters dimensional and real, that breaks our heart and makes us laugh at the same time. There isn’t a better script this year.”
Dark Horse: The Lobster
Because it’s not nominated for anything else, people love this movie, and every Oscar tends to have at least one out-of-left-field upset.
Best Adapted Screenplay
- Arrival – Eric Heisserer
- Fences – August Wilson
- Hidden Figures – Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi
- Lion – Luke Davies
- Moonlight – Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney
Will Win: Moonlight
Moonlight‘s script is based on Tarell’s unproduced play, which somewhat arbitrarily makes it an adaptation. It’s a lucky distinction for the movie, because the competition in this category is less fierce.
About some of these other nominees: Lion features a scene with a character who maps out his obsession on a big board with thumb tacks and string, which is just to say—the writing’s not exactly breaking the mold. Fences features some pretty awesome lines, but I’m biased against adaptations of plays in this category. (Remember when Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet showed up here? That’s not okay.) Plus, no offense to dead people, but August Wilson is no longer living. Finally, I have not seen Hidden Figures (but I’ve heard good things)!
Dark Horse: Arrival
Arrival is the best science-fiction film in recent memory, thanks to a smart, elegant script, great special effects, thoughtful characters and the talented humans who play them. It would be a nice surprise to see the film honored in this category, especially if Moonlight wins some of the other awards I’m predicting for it.
There you have it, folks! Don’t miss this year’s 89th Annual Academy Awards on Sunday, February 26, 4pm PST. And check back to VANGUARD the day after for my recap on all the fashion, surprises, utter lack of surprise and who we’re mad got left out of the death reel.