Well the time is almost here, the 89th Academy Awards ceremony is this Sunday, February 26th! It has been a year since the 88th ceremony where Spotlight ended up besting The Revenant in one of the more interesting upsets in recent memory. A deserving winner for certain. Leonardo DiCaprio has an Oscar after a career of frequent snubs, but so does Adam McKay after finding the perfect mix of his style of comedy and drama in The Big Short. If you had tried to predict the Oscars a year ago it’s doubtless that films like Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, The Birth of a Nation, Martin Scorsese’s Silence, and Collateral Beauty would have popped up. Of those only Silence managed to make it all the way, with a single nomination in Cinematography. Instead a 32 year-old director’s third movie, a contemporary musical starring two of our best young movie stars and with all original music managed to find its place perfectly in the zeitgeist and now La La Land threatens to tie or exceed Oscar records. Right behind it is a movie about a young African-American’s man struggle to find himself amid the projects, directed by a semi-retired writer-director and based off of a never-produced play. That film is Moonlight.
Also in the mix is another Sundance premiere which people thought would pale in comparison to Birth of a Nation, focusing on the smaller tale of one man’s life ruined by grief, made by a first time director named Kenneth Lonergan, called Manchester by the Sea. The question that’s left is which films will walk away with which awards? Will the Oscars take a note from the BAFTA’s and spread some love below the line while giving plenty of awards to its top winner? Can we have a repeat of the 2014 ceremony where Gravity dominated below the line and even won Best Director but ultimately lost to a more socially-conscious picture that also took a supporting acting and screenwriting prize? Can a feel-good film about race relations that’s managed to touch audiences come from behind and surprise everyone a la Crash? Numerous guilds and creative groups, whose members overlap extensively with the various members of the Academy have already weighed in on their feelings, but maybe the the Academy felt a change of heart and voted for some interesting surprises. Stranger things have happened.
The Short Films- Documentary, Live Action, Animated
The short film categories: Best Documentary-Short Subject, Best Live Action Short Film, and Best Animated Short Film, often go underappreciated by general audiences. They may not be the length of the top prize winners but they are still well-crafted and charming films whose winners can take away a sign of appreciation for their oft-unrecognized work. There is a wide-ranging field this year, but unfortunately aside from one or two of the nominees in these three categories I can’t profess full knowledge due to the relative limited ability for people outside of the Academy to see all of them. So here are my predictions:
Documentary Short: The White Helmets
Alternate: Joe’s Violin
Live Action: La Femme et le TGV
Best Visual Effects
The Best Visual Effects category is full of diverse nominees including Deepwater Horizon, which also managed to score a nomination in Sound Editing, a good sign of support, Doctor Strange, backed by Marvel’s might, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, following The Force Awakens’ surprising loss last year. Two winners especially stand out here: The Jungle Book and Kubo and the Two Strings, the former is a visual and technical powerhouse that managed to win critical acclaim, box office success, and won five awards at the Visual Effects Society ceremony on February 7th. Kubo and the Two Strings is a beloved, albeit underperforming, animated film that also got an Animated Feature nod, which means that this could end up being its consolation prize if it loses there. However, The Jungle Book just seems too strong at this point to lose. But then again I’m sure some people said that last year about The Force Awakens and Ex Machina managed a huge upset.
Predicted Winner: The Jungle Book
Alternate: Kubo and the Two Strings
Best Film Editing
This year Best Film Editing is a solid category full of potential winners in any other year. Arrival‘s editing helps to weave together a story that transcends a single time period and mental state, Hacksaw Ridge‘s editing helps to bring the horrors of war to the big screen, Hell or High Water‘s editing keeps the straightforward narrative alive, while La La Land‘s and Moonlight‘s are but a part of the technical brilliance that have made each of them among the year’s best. Although there used to be a strong connection between Best Film Editing and Best Picture, the Academy has become more used to giving the award to deserving tech-heavy films in recent years like The Social Network, Gravity, and Mad Max: Fury Road. BAFTA went for Hacksaw Ridge, but the American Cinema Editors went for La La Land and Arrival. Moonlight could potentially surprise here but in keeping with how the awards gone in recent years, that win might just be a bit too surprising. It’s worth noting that Tom Cross, who edited La La Land also won two years ago for Damien Chazelle’s last film, Whiplash. We’ll just have to see.
Predicted Winner: La La Land
Best Costume Design
Best Costume Design is an interesting category as it tends to have gone one of two ways in the past couple of years: either for a period piece that’s winning one or two awards like Alice in Wonderland, The Great Gatsby, and Anna Karenina, or for a more universally-loved film that’s winning out in the tech categories like The Artist, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Mad Max: Fury Road. Allied will just be happy to hear its name called on Sunday, but the remaining four: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Florence Foster Jenkins, Jackie, and La La Land are all seriously in contention here or elsewhere. La La Land won the Costume Designers Guild Award for a Contemporary film, while Jackie lost out to Hidden Figures, a late-season favorite that isn’t nominated here. Jackie won the BAFTA, which is key to keeping it alive here, but Fantastic Beasts‘ nomination in Production Design shows it has a similar level of support among the general body. This category could come down to the wire, and two films stick out as fitting into the two categories mentioned above.
Predicted Winner: Jackie
Alternate: La La Land
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
This category was a bit of a heartbreaker even before the nominees were announced thanks to Deadpool being snubbed and Suicide Squad getting in instead. Just imagine that being on the Blu Ray box. Anyway, there are only three nominees in this category: A Man Called Ove, Star Trek Beyond, and Suicide Squad. Any of these three could win, with Ove seeming like the odd one out, especially considering both Star Trek Beyond and Suicide Squad won Makeup Artist and Hairstyling Awards. Star Trek won the Oscar seven years ago while Suicide Squad‘s win just doesn’t sit right with me because of its tarnished critical reputation, and I imagine that the Academy might feel the same way. Seems like a done deal.
Predicted Winner: Star Trek Beyond
Alternate: Suicide Squad
Like Editing, Cinematography is another great category this year, including its first-ever African-American nominee, Bradford Young for Arrival, who does his best work yet. Linus Sandgren has been rightfully lauded for making the camera dance in La La Land, which is also being a more traditional, visually-appealing winner. Lion, shot by Greig Fraser, benefits from Fraer’s style of filming that helps to keep the film together, garnering him an American Society of Cinematographers win. Moonlight is a gorgeous-looking movie with very innovative cinematography, earning James Laxton a deserving nomination here. Meanwhile, the previously-mentioned Silence got its sole nomination here for Rodrigo Prieto’s splendorous work capturing the natural beauty of Asia. ASC went for Lion, but La La Land took home the BAFTA, and even Arrival is in contention here considering its numerous technical nominations. Nonetheless, I’m going to go with a safer pick.
Predicted Winner: La La Land
Best Production Design
Best Production Design decided to go for a very diverse field this year, spanning numerous genres like musicals with La La Land, pseudo-period pieces like Fantastic Beasts and Hail, Caesar!, as well as sci-fi films like Arrival and Passengers. Hail, Caesar! didn’t score anywhere else, and despite being made by the Coen brothers wasn’t a huge financial success even if critics liked it, while Passengers did make some money but was critically panned. Fantastic Beasts won the BAFTA for this category, possibly pushed over the line by it being a Harry Potter movie. Arrival has good production design but La La Land is the one to beat here, having won an Art Directors Guild award for a Contemporary film, helped along by its Epilogue sequence. Passengers and Hidden Figures also won at the ADG, with the latter not being nominated here. An ADG winner tends to prevail here, and I doubt that Passengers is going to do it.
Predicted Winner: La La Land
Alternate: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Best Sound Mixing
The Sound categories tend to have major crossovers, and this year was no exception with Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, and La La Land all being nominated in both Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. Rogue One and 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi are both nominated here, but I’m pretty sure 13 Hours is another “happy to be nominated” film. Arrival has great sound work, as does Hacksaw Ridge thanks to its battle scenes, but Sound Mixing is a category made for musicals or films with lots of music, like Whiplash, Les Misérables, Dreamgirls, and Chicago, just to name a few winners. If there are any tech categories where La La Land can feel pretty safe it’s probably here, and its Cinema Audio Society award win seems to secure that. However, that didn’t prevent BAFTA from awarding Arrival in this category, a nice shake-up that will keep people guessing until tomorrow night. Either would be a more than worthy winner.
Predicted Winner: La La Land
Best Sound Editing
Let me take some time here to explain the difference between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing as best I can: sound mixing is the mixing of levels of sound and combining them to form a smooth mixture, which is why musicals tend to win because of the singing, while sound editing is the designing and creation of sound effects and their placement in the movie, which is why this award tends to go to war movies. That’s what Mad Max: Fury Road won here last year, as have American Sniper, Zero Dark Thirty, and The Hurt Locker. Other winners here tend to be sci-fi movies or fantasy films that create interesting and visually-appealing new worlds that require great sound effects. Think recent winners like Gravity, Hugo, or Inception. Arrival and Hacksaw Ridge both fit into those two categories, while La La Land should never be underestimated, and Deepwater Horizon and Sully both have their own fans. Those first three seem to be the most likely winners, and if La La Land wins here then it’ll probably be part of an even larger sweep. Again, Arrival won BAFTA, but Hacksaw Ridge is a war movie and won at the Motion Picture Sound Editors awards.
Predicted Winners: Hacksaw Ridge
Best Original Song
Unfortunately, BAFTA doesn’t have an award to help clear up how a large body of voters feels about these nominees. The Golden Globes went with “City of Stars” from La La Land, as did the Critics Choice Awards, both signs of broad support for the song that pops up in every trailer for the film. La La Land is a double nominee here for “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” while “You Can’t Stop the Feeling” from Trolls was a huge hit outside its movie. “How Far I’ll Go” has the star power of Lin-Manuel Miranda to back it up, as well as Moana‘s late-season boost in box office returns. “The Empty Chair” from Jim: The James Foley Story is an interesting and deserving nominee, and got here at least partially because of Sting. However, this category is made for movies like La La Land, which should dance away with this category, with “City of Stars” holding the slight edge for having already won several awards. “Audition” could pop up as a surprise winner, especially if Emma Stone is winning Best Actress since these two are somewhat interconnected. There is a situation in which the two songs split the vote, allowing Moana to come from behind and snatch it, however. Never underestimate Disney.
Predicted Winner: “City of Stars” from La La Land
Alternate: “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana
Best Original Score
This may be one of the strongest years for Best Original Score in my lifetime. Justin Hurwitz’s beautiful mix of jazz and Broadway-style music in La La Land is the frontrunner, but don’t let that distract you from Mica Levi’s innovative work on Jackie, Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka’s work in Lion, which provides the film with its emotional impact, and Nicholas Britell’s incredible work for Moonlight, giving the audience a peek into Chiron’s inner thoughts through music. Also Thomas Newman for Passengers. In any other year any of the first four that I mentioned could have won, but this seems like another safe category for La La Land, if not its safest. As a contemporary and popular new musical, this may also be the place where La La Land is the most deserving. It’s won the Golden Globe, the BAFTA, and it’ll probably win the Oscar. Jackie and Moonlight would be excellent, albeit nontraditional winners, while Lion certainly would be a traditional winner if it can manage it. If you want to listen to any of the wonderful music from these films, click here.
Predicted Winner: La La Land
Best Documentary Feature
Best Documentary Feature is another very strong category, and a reflection of the Academy’s aim for diversity that was assisted by a group of very deserving nominees. Life, Animated is an interesting and unusual nominee for this category, but the talk here comes down to the other four nominees: Fire at Sea, about the European migrant crisis, I Am Not Your Negro, a reflection on race in America based on a manuscript by James Baldwin, O.J.: Made in America, another examination of race in America through the lens of one of its most charged and high-profile murder trials, and 13TH, a documentary with a political message aimed at mass incarceration. Any of these four would be deserving winners, especially 13th and O.J., which have both established themselves as frontrunners. 13TH won the BAFTA here, where O.J. wasn’t nominated, while O.J. won the Producers Guild Award for Best Documentary Feature, a good sign. This is one of the tightest races this year, made even more interesting considering that O.J. started as a TV series that has been campaigned aggressively and screened in all of its 467 minute glory for the voters willing to sit through it. Both of these things could help it or hurt it.
Predicted Winner: O.J.: Made in America
Best Foreign Language Film
Prior to the publishing of the shortlist and the nominees for this category, potential winners like Neruda or Elle were at the top of this category. Now it’s been shaken down to a less-diverse but nonetheless well-liked group of nominees: Land of Mine from Denmark, A Man Called Ove from Sweden, The Salesman from Iran, Tanna from Australia, and Toni Erdmann from Germany. BAFTA didn’t do much to clarify this category because differing release schedules ended up giving Son of Saul, which won this category last year, a win across the pond. Toni Erdmann and The Salesman are the most critically-acclaimed here, but interesting outside events could shake up the race. The Salesman is directed by Asghar Farhadi, who won this category a few years ago for A Separation, and who is now boycotting the Oscars for political reasons. This could actually help the film considering the statement that it could make when he isn’t there to pick up his award. Meanwhile Toni Erdmann has the fact that it’s being remade with a comeback role for Jack Nicholson, meaning those who wanted to vote for it could feel relieved of doing so for now.
Predicted Winner: The Salesman
Alternate: Toni Erdmann
Best Animated Feature Film
The Best Animated Feature category has done a great job the past couple of years nominating excellent foreign films or ones that would normally not gain traction in other categories like When Marnie Was There or Song of the Sea. This year they’ve nominated not only big US releases like Zootopia, Kubo and the Two Strings, and Moana, but also My Life as a Zucchini and The Red Turtle. However, being nominated and winning are two very different things, and usually this award still goes to Disney or Pixar. Disney has two films up this year, Zootopia and Moana, with the former representing a bold step for Disney into socially conscious issues like police brutality and racial profiling, while Moana represents the more traditional Disney winner. However, Laika, the studio behind Kubo and the Two Strings, has been making huge strides in its animated films and the Academy could be looking to reward that. The Producers Guild went with Zootopia, but BAFTA went with Kubo, meaning this race could go either way.
Predicted Winner: Zootopia
Alternate: Kubo and the Two Strings
Best Adapted Screenplay
Now we’re getting into the heavy-hitting categories. Both screenplay categories are very strong this year, with Adapted Screenplay including Arrival, Fences, Hidden Figures, Lion, and Moonlight. Arrival expands a short story into a heavy sci-fi drama that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Fences uses a screenplay by the late August Wilson to adapt his own Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play for the big screen, albeit without the apparent need to make changes to reflect the medium. Hidden Figures may have some cliche lines but manages to make you feel for its numerous characters and to feel involved in the history they’re making. Lion puts you firmly in the world of a young Indian-Australian man trying to find his birth family. And last but not least, Moonlight adapts Tarell Alvin McCraney’s never-produced manuscript into an incisive and powerful look at the life of a young Black man. There’s a day where any of these films could win, Fences for its prestige and contentiousness in other categories and Hidden Figures for its late-season support. However, Arrival has a Writers Guild award for Adapted Screenplay, while Moonlight won Original Screenplay there. Lion won the BAFTA, possibly due to it being based an Australian book. Moonlight not only has WGA, but also the USC Scripter, a relatively unknown award which tends to be a good predictor for this category.
Predicted Winner: Moonlight
Best Original Screenplay
Another strong writing category, Best Original Screenplay crosses time period, geography, and class this year, nominating Hell or High Water, La La Land, The Lobster, Manchester by the Sea, and 20th Century Women. Any of these would be a deserving winner, with The Lobster and 20th Century Women sticking out here as their film’s only nominations. Hell or High Water, meanwhile, has been in the conversation here all season and its support in three other categories is a good sign of support for it among the Academy. Look out for it to pull a huge upset under the right conditions. Manchester by the Sea and La La Land, however, seem to have this category down to a two-horse race. They tied at Critics Choice, while La La Land won in a surprising victory at the Golden Globes and Manchester took home the BAFTA. This leaves this category up in the air, and Moonlight‘s WGA win doesn’t make this any easier to predict. La La Land could pick this up if it’s sweeping its nominations, while Manchester by the Sea could win even if that’s happening, but especially if La La Land isn’t winning all or even most of the categories in which it’s nominated. It’s almost too close to call.
Predicted Winner: Manchester by the Sea
Alternate: La La Land
Best Supporting Actress
This is another strong category full of deserving nominees: Viola Davis for Fences, Naomie Harris for Moonlight, Nicole Kidman for Lion, Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures, and Michelle Williams for Manchester by the Sea. Viola Davis’ nominations has been criticized as being for a lead performance, but the Academy decided it belonged here, and since then she’s done nothing but win. Davis has the Golden Globe, the BAFTA, and the Screen Actors Guild awards, not to mention she gives one of the best performances of her career in Fences. The only other person I could imagine making an upset is Michelle Williams, who has a very supporting role in Manchester, and would be a more traditional winner in this category. Too bad she doesn’t have any hardware to show for it.
Predicted Winner: Viola Davis for Fences
Alternate: Michelle Williams for Manchester by the Sea
Best Supporting Actor
Now things are getting interesting. Best Supporting Actor has a group of great nominees: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight, Jeff Bridges for Hell or High Water, Lucas Hedges for Manchester by the Sea, Dev Patel for Lion, and Michael Shannon for Nocturnal Animals. In the end I could see any of these nominees besides Hedges winning the Oscar. Hedges is great in Manchester by the Sea, but I don’t have any reason to believe that he’s a winner here, especially given his youth. On the other hand, Ali has the Screen Actors Guild award, Bridges has age, experience, and a loving fan base in the Academy, for himself and for his film, while Patel has a BAFTA win. Michael Shannon is the most interesting potential alternate, considering his costar in Nocturnal Animals, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, won the Golden Globe but wasn’t nominated. This is the exact same thing that happened about forty years ago with a film called The Sunshine Boys, for which Richard Benjamin won the Globe for Supporting Actor but his co-star George Burns ended up winning the Oscar. This strange historical occurrence could provide a place for Shannon, overdue for a second nomination and a win, a chance to overtake the weak frontrunner, Mahershala Ali.
Predicted Winner: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight
Alternate: Michael Shannon for Nocturnal Animals
A strong category full of great performances, this year’s Best Actress category is packed with excellent nominees who could have won in any other year: Isabelle Huppert in Elle, Ruth Negga in Loving, Natalie Portman in Jackie, Emma Stone in La La Land, and Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins. Huppert won the Golden Globe and continues a string of great foreign actresses making their way in here, while Streep’s powerful speech at the Golden Globes made her nomination a political statement. Negga was a bit of a surprise after missing out on SAG, and Portman could have been a major challenger in another year. But this seems to be Emma Stone’s year. The love for La La Land in Hollywood is palpable and perhaps just a little too strong, and Stone has won a Golden Globe, as well as the SAG and BAFTA awards for Best Actress. It might not be signed, sealed, and delivered just yet, but an upset by anyone would be quite a surprise. Even if La La Land isn’t doing too well at the Oscars, Stone seems to have this one locked down. And for a deserving win at that.
Predicted Winner: Emma Stone for La La Land
Alternate: Isabelle Huppert for Elle
Now we come to the most competitive category of the night. At least unless you’re Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge or Viggo Mortensen for Captain Fantastic. This category has come down to two nominees: Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea and Denzel Washington for Fences. Affleck has the Golden Globe and BAFTA awards, while Washington has the Screen Actors Guild award. Affleck gives the performance of his career while Washington gives another great performance in a career full of them, and with two Oscars already under his belt. But what Washington doesn’t that Affleck does is a small scandal around sexual harassment on a previous film shoot, while also being slightly propped up by two years of OscarsSoWhite. There’s a strong case to be made for either actor, and both would be a deserving winner. Ryan Gosling, meanwhile, represents a dark horse, acting in the Best Picture frontrunner, and a sweeping win for La La Land could land an Oscar right in Gosling’s lap.
Predicted Winner: Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea
Alternate: Denzel Washington for Fences
In my opinion, this could be the strongest category of the night, with Denis Villeneuve for Arrival, Damien Chazelle for La La Land, Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea, Barry Jenkins for Moonlight, and even Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge forming a strong five. Gibson is lucky to be here considering his past, and his nomination is a good sign of support for future projects. Let’s hope he doesn’t screw it up. Lonergan’s directorial debut shows his greatness as a storyteller, but his screenplay may stand out to voters more than his directing. Villeneuve, meanwhile, has built a consistently great body of work in the last few years with films like Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, and now Arrival. But realistically this is coming down to Chazelle and Jenkins. Chazelle is the far-and-away frontrunner, leading with a Golden Globe, Directors Guild, and BAFTA award for his work. Jenkins doesn’t have anything except a group of loyal followers who will try their best to help his film upset La La Land. This could help Moonlight a lot in Best Picture, but the narrative around Chazelle’s work and his hat trick of awards makes him just a little too strong to predict any other winner.
Predicted Winner: Damien Chazelle for La La Land
Alternate: Barry Jenkins for Moonlight
Here it is, the most prestigious award in Hollywood. 88 films have won Best Picture before, thus securing their place in film history, for better or for worse. The Academy has nine films in this category: Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea, and Moonlight. Arrival hasn’t won anything to warrant consideration here, nor has Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Lion, or Manchester by the Sea. Meanwhile, Hidden Figures has the Screen Actors Guild Ensemble award, which helped Spotlight win here last year, and Moonlight has the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Drama, which helped 12 Years a Slave win here two years before that. But La La Land is the one to beat. It has the Golden Globe, the BAFTA, and this award’s best predictor, the Producers Guild award. Not to mention fourteen nominations behind it as a show of support and love. La La Land has not only managed to capture the imagination of Hollywood, but the zeitgeist of American film culture by combining an admiration for Classical Hollywood musicals with a contemporary pair of stars. Not to mention its uplifting effect on audiences and making big box office money. I would love to see Moonlight mount a surprise here, and this wouldn’t be unprecedented. After all, La La Land does teach us the importance of believing in dreams, however unlikely.
Predicted Winner: La La Land
As I’ve detailed above, tomorrow night seems like a big one for La La Land, which I’ve predicted to win 9 awards. However, the BAFTA’s have shown us that there’s a case to be made for a night in which La La Land wins largely above the line with awards like Best Actress, Director, and Picture, as well as Score and maybe one or two others, but lets the Academy spread the love below the line among other worthy nominees like Moonlight or Arrival. Another scenario in the back of my mind is one similar to the 2014 ceremony, in which Gravity won Best Director and six technical awards, while 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Sounds similar to Moonlight‘s prospects. In any case, it will surely be an interesting night and potentially full of surprises.