I know, I know. Every year, we rant and rave about the Oscars: the drawn-out discussion of them, the dubious impact of them, their long history of ignoring the right people and rewarding the wrong ones. But at the end of the day – and this case, “the day” is the Friday before the ceremony – it’s difficult not to give in to the spectator sport of it all, to the pools and prognostications, so here we are: time to unveil our carefully considered guesses as to who’s going to win Sunday night, and who we’d hand it to if we were in charge. Adjust your ballots accordingly.
Arrival Fences Hacksaw Ridge Hell or High Water Hidden Figures La La Land Lion Manchester by the Sea Moonlight
PREDICTION: Everyone agrees that this one has come down to La La Land vs. Moonlight, and nothing less than the fate of our civilization rests upon the outcome, or something. Hot take: they’re both pretty good! Moonlight is better! There are plenty of reasons to believe either one could triumph: La La Land is the kind of valentine-to-Hollywood that Academy voters just can’t resist (see Birdman, The Artist, Argo); Moonlight is the moving story of a young, poor, gay black man, and its triumph would be a stirring response to last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy (and a testament to the power of the huge new, and more diverse, voting bloc). But this critic has read enough of those horrifying “Honest Oscar Voter” pieces, and is aware enough of the industry’s casual racism and general lack of self-awareness, to figure La La Land is going to take the prize. (Disclaimer: while my prediction accuracy ratio is pretty damned impressive overall, I’ve been wrong on Best Picture for the last two years running. So, even more than the rest of these, grain of salt.)
Damien Chazelle, La La Land Barry Jenkins, Moonlight Denis Villeneuve, Arrival Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
PICK: Denis Villeneuve.
PREDICTION: These first two prizes used to be fairly inseparable (as recently as 2012, the last of six straight years in which the same film won Director and Picture), but that trend has shifted over the past few years, with the prize in 2013, 2014, and 2016 going to a more technically showy/ambitious title than the Best Picture winner (Life of Pi, Gravity, and The Revenant, respectively). Which is a long way of saying that if Moonlight pulls Best Picture, Damien Chazelle will probably win this. But if La La Land takes Best Pic, it probably won’t split the other way (unfortunately, as Jenkins would be the first black director to win the prize, and is only the fourth to be nominated); the exception to the recent rule was 2014, when Best Picture winner Birdman was also (on the surface, anyway) the most directorially challenging of the Best Director nominees.
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Isabelle Huppert, Elle Ruth Negga, Loving Natalie Portman, Jackie Emma Stone, La La Land Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins
PICK: Ruth Negga.
PREDICTION: The lead-actor races tend to be pretty well settled early on, but this year’s Oscar-night drama mostly comes in the form of two races that, for once, are very close indeed. Most agree that this one is down to Stone, the popular favorite, and Huppert, the critical darling. Huppert would be a big deal – the French acting legend has never been up for an Oscar before – but a win for her would mean Oscar voters a) not only watched but understood the very challenging Elle, and b) didn’t succumb to the charms of Stone, a young ingénue up for a prize that has lately gone to the likes of Brie Larson, Jennifer Lawrence, and returning nominee Portman. So yeah, Emma Stone wins it.
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Ryan Gosling, La La Land Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea Denzel Washington, Fences Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
PICK: Casey Affleck.
PREDICTION: The night’s other most closely-watched race, with early favorite Affleck winning most of the bellwether prizes, but coming into the night battered by ongoing and troubling allegations of previous sexual harassment. And thus, the tide seems to have shifted to two-time winner Denzel Washington, who took the reliably predictive SAG Award in this category; his win here may also be seen by some as a nod towards his (un-nominated) direction of Fences.
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Viola Davis, Fences Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures Naomie Harris, Moonlight Nicole Kidman, Lion
PICK: Viola Davis.
PREDICTION: The surest thing of the night is Viola Davis. Mark it down, take it to the bank, move on.
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea Dev Patel, Lion Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals
PICK: Mahershala Ali.
PREDICTION: Mahershala Ali isn’t quite as sure a thing as Davis – Patel, for example, won the BAFTA for Supporting Actor – but it’s pretty damn close, and as Moonlight seems less likely to win Picture or Director, this is a nice high-profile prize for that very good film.
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Kubo and the Two Strings Moana My Life as a Zucchini The Red Turtle Zootopia
PICK: Kubo and the Two Strings.
PREDICTION: This is not a category where voters tend to get all that daring – except in the nominations, which customarily include a couple of surprisingly tiny titles (this year, to the exclusion of the juggernaut Finding Dory). But the big Disney or Pixar movie has won the award eight of the last nine years, so while it’d be nice to see LAIKA finally get their due, the megahit Zootopia is the most likely winner.
Hell or High Water La La Land The Lobster Manchester by the Sea 20th Century Women
PICK: 20th Century Women.
PREDICTION: There was a time, not that long ago, when the Original Screenplay trophy was something of a consolation prize, given to a film that didn’t win Best Picture, but was perhaps more daring (and, often, longer-lasting) than the film that did; previous Original Screenplay winners include Thelma & Louise, Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects, Fargo, Almost Famous, Talk to Her, Lost in Translation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Juno. So by those standards, it’s easy to figure this one’ll go to the wise and witty script for Manchester by the Sea (I harbor no illusions that my beloved 20th Century Women will win this, its only nomination). But that pattern has shifted in recent years – in 2014 and 2015, the award went to Best Picture winners Birdman and Spotlight, while the two years before that, the Best Picture winner also won the Best Adapted Screenplay trophy. So based on these new patterns, I’m gonna call it for La La Land, though Manchester could still pull it out.
Arrival Fences Hidden Figures Lion Moonlight
PREDICTION: The late August Wilson would seem a sentimental favorite for his Fences script, but that’s a risky call – contrary to popular opinion, they don’t always go for the sentimental favorite. (Ask Sylvester Stallone or Mickey Rourke.) I’m more inclined to believe that this will be seen as the consolation prize for Moonlight, which won the WGA award (albeit for Original Screenplay, which was how that organization classified it, for reasons too complicated to get into here).
Arrival La La Land Lion Moonlight Silence
PREDICTION: Arrival’s Bradford Young has been doing terrific, textured work for years now (his other credits include Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Selma, and A Most Violent Year), and if there were any justice, he’d pick up his first Oscar. But it seems unlikely, particularly if it’s a big night for La La Land, that voters will be able to resist Linus Sandgren’s candy-coated photography.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Land of Mine A Man Called Ove The Salesman Tanna Toni Erdmann
PICK: The Salesman.
PREDICTION: It was a two-way race from the beginning between the sleeper hits Toni Erdmann and The Salesman, but the word on the streets is that Academy members are seeing a vote for The Salesman as a fuck-you to Donald Trump, whose travel ban prompted Salesman director Asghar Farhadi to decline the opportunity to attend the ceremony. If it weren’t the best film of the bunch, maybe that’d be unfair. But it is the best film, so no biggie.
Fire at Sea I Am Not Your Negro Life, Animated O.J.: Made in America 13th
PICK: I Am Not Your Negro.
PREDICTION: A particularly juicy crop of documentaries reflects a very good year for nonfiction film – and an encouraging one for representation, as four of the five nominees are people of color, three of them tackling issues directly related to the struggles of African-Americans in our country’s past, present, and future. Of those three, O.J.: Made in America seems most likely to walk away with the statue – but don’t count out the possibility of the notoriously persnickety documentary branch getting hung up on O.J.’s television origins and going with 13th or I Am Not Your Negro instead.
Allied Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Florence Foster Jenkins Jackie La La Land
PREDICTION: Again, don’t rule out La La Land taking it as part of a wider sweep, but it seems more likely that the voters will go for Jackie’s Madeline Fontaine, who won the BAFTA and (among many achievements) faithfully and convincingly reproduced one of the most iconic dresses of the modern era.
Arrival Hacksaw Ridge Hell or High Water La La Land Moonlight
PREDICTION: A tricky category, and one most folks don’t quite get; “Best Editing” is sometimes confused with “Most Editing.” This one’s sort of wide open, so when in doubt, bet on La La Land.
Arrival Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Hail, Caesar! La La Land Passengers
PICK: Hail, Caesar!
PREDICTION: The general aesthetic pleasantness of La La Land will go a long way here – that, and the credit to David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, a team with a long list of much-loved previous films, but no previous nominations.
“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
PICK: “Audition (The Fools Who Dream).”
PREDICTION: I still can’t believe that a) “Can’t Stop The Feeling” is a song that people willingly listen to and enjoy (full disclosure: I am a parent with a Trolls screener DVD, and that song is the fuel of my nightmares), and b) that Disney decided to push the “Colors of the Wind”-Lite “How Far I’ll Go” over the far superior “You’re Welcome.” Anyway. “City of Stars” is the most memorable and widely-sung song from a big-screen musical, so that win feels like a pretty easy call.
Jackie La La Land Lion Moonlight Passengers
PREDICTION: While I’d love to see the daring experimentation of Nicholas Brittel’s Moonlight score or Mica Levi’s Jackie music take this one, who’re we kidding; again, La La Land is a movie musical, so it’s hard to imagine the Academy not honoring Justin Hurwitz’s music.
DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
Extremis 4.1 Miles Joe’s Violin Watani: My Homeland The White Helmets
PICK: The White Helmets.
PREDICTION: The White Helmets seems like the safest bet – it’s one of three doc shorts dealing with the Syrian crisis, but it’s far and away the most widely seen and discussed, thanks to its availability on Netflix.
LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
Ennemis Intérieurs La Femme et le TGV Silent Nights Sing Timecode
PREDICTION: I would love to tell you that I did my due diligence and saw all of theses, but that would be a bald-faced lie. However, my go-to experts, Variety’s Kris Tapley and Indiewire’s Anne Thompson and Jude Dry, both selected Ennemis Intérieurs, and that’s good enough for me.
ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Blind Vaysha Borrowed Time Pear Cider and Cigarettes Pearl Piper
PREDICTION: Piper, for the above-stated reasons.
Deepwater Horizon Doctor Strange The Jungle Book Kubo and the Two Strings Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
PICK: Doctor Strange.
PREDICTION: All the prognosticators seem to agree that The Jungle Book is the one to beat here, though frankly, the line between that film and an animated feature seems mighty thin to me. I’d hand it to Doctor Strange for showing me something I’d never seen before, as opposed to a convincing sorta-live-action recreation of a classic cartoon, but what the hell do I know.
MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
A Man Called Ove Star Trek Beyond Suicide Squad
PICK: A Man Called Ove, just because I’m delighted that for the second year in a row, a tiny Swedish movie was nominated alongside mega-budget Hollywood behemoths.
PREDICTION: Star Trek Beyond, mostly because I don’t think anyone wants to contemplate the phrase “Oscar winner Suicide Squad,” technical prize or not.
Arrival Deepwater Horizon Hacksaw Ridge La La Land Sully
PREDICTION: One of the oldest saws of Oscar prediction – and even voting, according to those stupid “Honest Oscar Voter” things that it’s hard to resist hate-reading, but you should – is that no one knows the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing (below). Our friend Tim Gray at Variety laid it out very simply last year: “E comes before M in the alphabet, so sound editing occurs before mixing.” Sound Editing is the assemblage of elements, some existing, some creating; they put together the dialogue (live and post-recorded), sound effects, atmosphere, etc. But the films that are most sound effects-heavy tend to do well here, so the battlefield-porn Hacksaw Ridge probably wins.
Arrival Hacksaw Ridge La La Land Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
PICK: La La Land
PREDICTION: Sound Mixing, on the other hand, is one of the final elements of post-production; as Mr. Gray puts it, “after the sound editor has assembled what the audience hears, the sound mixer determines how they hear it.” So that means determining levels, intensity, and the like, for those original Sound Editing elements as well as musical score and other additions. So La La Land is a pretty easy pick here, combining as it does the studio and location soundscapes with the aforementioned songs and score.
And there you have it, your Oscar predictions; if you use them in your office or Oscar party pool and win, hey, feel free to send us a little taste. Meanwhile, be sure to join us Sunday night, where your film editor will be live-tweeting the big show (follow us, if you aren’t already, @flavorwire).