This Sunday, February 26, 2017, the 89th Academy Awards will take place.
These are my semi-confident predictions, ranked in order of what I think is the likelihood of victory.
I’ll also live tweet the ceremony @tenkmovies.
For the past five years, I’ve tried to watch every nominated film (including all shorts) before the ceremony. I’ve yet to actually accomplish this task, but this year will be close. It looks like I’m gonna come up three films short (I Am Not Your Negro, My Life as a Courgette, and Watani: My Homeland). When I do my Oscar recap on Monday, I’ll give a final update on any last-minute developments in this effort.
9) Hidden Figures, about pioneering black women working at 1960s era NASA, is a crowd pleasing film, but it’s not in contention.
8) Lion, about an Indian boy who was separated from his family as a child, adopted by an Australian family, and later reunited with his birth mother as an adult, is a great story, but bogs down in the middle.
7) Hacksaw Ridge, about a conscientious objector who served as a medic in WWII, will not eclipse the baggage of its director, Mel Gibson.
6) Hell or High Water, about brother bank robbers who steal back the money corporate America stole from them, feels like No Country for Old Men 2, but, without a central figure like Anton Chigurh, it’s a pale imitation.
5) Manchester by the Sea, about a father dealing with guilt and grief following an unexpected tragedy, is quietly devastating, but A) I get the feeling Casey Affleck is pretty reviled in Hollywood, and B) outside of his performance, the rest of the film is ordinary.
4) Fences is a fine adaptation of a revered August Wilson play about a frustrated and selfish black man in 1950s Pittsburgh starring powerhouses Viola Davis and Denzel Washington. It seems primed for a possible upset, but I don’t think so.
3) Arrival, about an alien race that contacts earth and offers to help humanity change its perception of time in exchange for help in the future, is the latest from one of my favorite directors, Denis Villeneuve. Amy Adams’s character is briefly unstuck in time and her knowledge of the future presents creates a dilemma: should she change the future to avoid pain and loss if it means she’ll also forgo some pleasurable and enjoyable relationships? I really liked this movie, a slightly less complicated and less rewarding version of Interstellar.
2) Moonlight features a young black homosexual raised by an honorable drug dealer after his crack addicted mother abandons him who’s traumatized when a boy he had a sexual encounter with beats him up to prove his allegiance to a gang. I can feel the momentum building for this film and if the awards were held in another month, it might win (the reverse of what happened in 2005, when Crash beat the established LGBT themed front-runner Brokeback Mountain), but I don’t think it has enough time to overcome the winner.
1) La La Land, about the magic and allure of Hollywood, leads with fourteen nominations. The only other two films with fourteen nominations won Best Picture, so I’m pretty confident Damien Chazelle’s film will win this year. His previous feature Whiplash is a slightly better film, but this modern musical is a well deserved winner.
Predicted winner: La La Land
Desired winner: La La Land
5) Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge. No way the Academy rewards Mel any more than they already have.
4) Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea. This movie lives on Casey Affleck’s performance and that’s its best chance for victory.
3) Denis Villeneuve for Arrival. I loved his work in Incendies (2010) and Prisoners (2013). I liked this film, but since Amy Adams was left out of the Best Actress category, I don’t see any momentum for this film.
2) Barry Jenkins for Moonlight. There’s a last minute push, but I think the Academy will have to wait at least one more year until the first African-American winner of Best Director.
1) Damien Chazelle for La La Land. There’s a pretty strong correlation between Best Picture and Best Director, plus the film got fourteen nominations. I’d be surprised if he didn’t win.
Predicted winner: Chazelle
Desired winner: Chazelle, with Villeneuve a close second.
5) Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic. I like Viggo and the extremely liberal, against the grain father seems tailor-made for him, but he has zero chance of winning.
4) Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge. Take the Mel factor out of the equation and he might have a chance, but not much of one. I actually preferred his work in Scorsese’s Silence. As important as the story of this film is, it feels too safe.
3) Denzel Washington in Fences. This is obviously a passion project for Denzel. He played the role on Broadway in 2010, winning a Tony alongside costar Viola Davis. Denzel is well-respected in Hollywood and there’s a chance his peers reward his passion and make a statement by making him the first black actor and only seventh overall with three statues, but I don’t think he gets there.
2) Ryan Gosling in La Land. Gosling has paid his dues and delivered a number of excellent performances. His Golden Globe acceptance speech thanking his partner Eva Mendes was sweet and touching. But the key for me is I can imagine any number of actors in the same role and the film would have been just as good. The movie is great, but he rides its coattails.
1) Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea. Despite the backlash and the creepy stories which broke last winter about possible sexual harassment during the filming of I’m Still Here, I think Affleck will ride his earlier momentum to win. He really is excellent here.
Predicted winner: Casey Affleck.
Desired winner: I prefer Gosling, but not by much, and only because I like the movie more.
5) Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins. Zero chance they give Meryl a fourth Oscar for her work here. There was an outcry he was nominated and many will demand an investigation if she wins.
4) Isabelle Huppert in Elle. The Academy is not very likely to reward a French language performance in a movie about rape revenge. It’s a tough movie to watch, and I don’t see enough support to pull of the win.
3) Ruth Negga in Loving. It’s a fine movie about the couple behind the landmark US Supreme Court Case, but Negga doesn’t get to do a lot. I can’t remember a key scene involving her. Both leads in the film felt almost incidental. The movie is about something larger than either of them and their performances purposely eschew showiness. But this makes it hard for her win.
2) Natalie Portman in Jackie. I didn’t think I would like this, but I did, thanks to Portman’s incredible performance. She’s wonderful as the widow and suddenly single mom trying to balance protection of her husband’s legacy with the needs of her family.
1) Emma Stone in La La Land. In the opposite position as Ryan Gosling. I cannot imagine anyone else in this role. Stone is so charming and down to earth, her personality fills the room. She didn’t ride the film’s coattails so much as helped create them.
Predicted winner: Emma Stone
Desired winner: Emma Stone
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOr
5) Lucas Hedges in Manchester by the Sea. This was a surprise nomination. He’s fine, but there’s nothing spectacular in his performance and I’d be shocked if he one.
4) Dev Patel in Lion. I’m not really sure why this film got so much love this awards season. I don’t hear anyone talking about it.
3) Michael Shannon in Nocturnal Animals. Shannon has done better work elsewhere. The film is split between events in a novel and reader’s relationship to the author. The interior of the novel is the far superior story, but it would need to fleshed out more. Shannon’s role as a dying cop taking justice into his own hands is good, and there seems to be some momentum building, but I don’t think it’s enough.
2) Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water. Bridges is a beloved second generation star and does a fairly good Tommy Lee Jones impression in a film which is basically No Country for Old Men 2. He’s very good and in any number of years, he’d be the frontrunner.
1) Mahershala Ali in Moonlight. Ali is on a roll. A pretty important role in House of Cards, a nice run in a Marvel property (Luke Cage), and now his role as a drug dealer with a heart of gold (think Omar from The Wire) will likely win him an Oscar
Predicted winner: Mahershala Ali There’s always one race every year which defies expectations (see Mark Rylance beating Stallone last year), and if there is one this year, I think it’s here. However, I think after the #OscarsSoWhite controversy last year, self-conscious voters will be hard pressed to deny Ali here.
Desired winner: In perfect world, I’d like to see Jeff Bridges win.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
5) Nicole Kidman in Lion. This is little more than a cameo. She does very little as the adoptive mother of the main character.
4) Octavia Spencer in Hidden Figures. Spencer already won one Oscar for her work in a feel good civil rights era film. I don’t think she’ll win a second.
3) Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea. Williams has come a long way since her days pining for Dawson. She’ll win a statue one day, but not this year. Her role as the grieving mother is too peripheral to the film to resonate with voters.
2) Naomie Harris in Moonlight. Harris’s work as the crack addicted mother who abandons her son is touching and effective and seems to be riding the late momentum of the film, but it’s a little stereotypical and there’s not much she can do to unseat the frontrunner.
1) Viola Davis in Fences. This is an almost certain lock and has been since mid-October. A career achievement win for a beloved black actress the year after a major controversy erupted when no persons of color were nominated for their performances. When the producers of the film chose to position Davis in the supporting category instead of the more natural lead, they started writing her name on the statue.
Predicted winner: Viola Davis
Desired winner: Viola Davis
Best Foreign Language film
5) Tanna. A Romeo-Juliet style story set in the South Pacific. Pretty, but boring.
4) Land of Mine. After World War II, Danish authorities force young German prisoners of war to remove land mines. The material is ripe, but this never connected with me.
3) A Man Called Ove Part Harry and Tonto part Gran Torino. Ove’s wife recently died and he’s suicidal until he meets an immigrant family and begins a reluctant late life adventure with them.
2) Toni Erdman Winfried Conradi enjoys bizarre practical jokes. He tries to reconnect with his adult daughter, but he’s constantly getting in the way of her business. After she rebuffs him, he returns as a fake persona, Toni Erdman and inspires her to make drastic changes in her drab life. I liked this film a lot, and I’m super excited for the rumored American remake starring Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig.
1) The Salesman – Another film from Asghar Farhadi showing the tension between male and female, East and West, and old and new in modern-day Iran. He previously won the award for A Separation in 2011 and will soon add another statue to his collection.
Predicted winner: The Salesman
Desired winner: Toni Erdmann
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
5) The Red Turtle. This silent, animated film about a man abandoned on an island who develops a relationship with a mystical turtle is pretty, but not much else.
4) My Life as a Courgette This stop-motion film about the travails of an orphan sounds heartwarming, but most voters will never see it.
3) Kubo and the Two Strings. The lovely epic, fairytale from Laika tells the story of Kubo, Monkey, and Beetle. They don’t yet have the name recognition of Pixar, Disney, or even Studio Ghibli, but Laika’s films are excellent. I don’t think voters will reward them yet because it usually takes a little time to build the goodwill required to win this award.
2) Moana. The 56th animated feature from Disney sets its sites on Polynesian mythology. Starring The Rock and featuring music from Lin Manuel Miranda (who’s up for best song), it certainly carries brand recognition, but the criticisms of cultural appropriation will haunt it.
1) Zootopia This film about diversity (Disney’s 55th animated feature), has grossed over one billion dollars and is the 26th highest grossing film of all time. It’s a quiet juggernaut. This relatively new category tends to track box office pretty closely, so I expect a victory here.
Predicted winner: Zootopia
Desired winner: Kubo and the Two Strings
Best documentary Feature
5) Fire at Sea It won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival where it was championed by Meryl Streep, but despite the powerful subject matter of the immigration crisis, it didn’t leave an impression on me.
4) I Am Not Your Negro. The only one of the nominated docs I haven’t seen. It’s James Baldwin’s reminiscences of the Civil Rights movement. It might be good, but I don’t think many voters will see it.
3) Life, Animated. One of my favorite film of 2016 tells the story of Owen Suskind whose autism isolated him from his family, until they discovered they could use his obsession with Disney movies to communicate with him and bring him out of his shell. It’s a powerful film about the promises and possibilities of cinema
2) 13th Ava DuVernay’s film about the history of the 13th amendment is eye-opening and infuriating. Drawing a connection between slavery and the prison-industrial complex, she makes many astute and important points.
1) O.J,: Made in America: Twenty years after his trial captivated the nation, OJ is having a cultural moment. Between this fascinating, epic documentary and the limited series on FX, there seems to have been a collective obsession about OJ and trying to contextualize him in our culture.
Predicted winner: OJ
Desired winner: Life, Animated
Best Original Screenplay – I’d prefer 20th Century Women or The Lobster, but I think La La Land will win.
Best Adapted Screenplay – I’m a fan of Arrival and it would be cool for August Wilson to win a posthumous Oscar, but Moonlight will win.
Best Documentary Short – I haven’t seen Watani. But my guess is the movies about the refugee crisis cancel each other out and Joe’s Violin will win. I have little confidence in this prediction.
Best Live Action short –Sing was fun, but I really enjoyed Le Femme et le TGV, so I’m gonna guess it will win.
Best Animated Short – I think Borrowed Time by Pixar artists Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj will win.
Best Original Score – If La La Land is going to dominate (and I think it will), it wins this category easily.
Best Original Song – I’d be thrilled if Lin Manuel-Miranda won an Oscar and got an EGOT, but I don’t think he will. One of the La La Land songs will. My guess: “City of Stars.”
Best Sound Editing – I’m clueless when it comes to these categories, but I’m gonna guess Arrival wins.
Best Sound Mixing – Also clueless. Going with Rogue One just because I want a Star Wars film to have an Oscar.
Best Production Design – This feels like a win for La La Land, based on the opening freeway number alone.
Best Cinematography – I’d love for Silence to win something, but I doubt it will. Not sure, but I think La La Land will prevail.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling – I’m guessing A Man Called Ove, primarily because I don’t want Suicide Squad to win.
Best Visual Effects – The Jungle Book was pretty amazing, and I think it gets some much deserved love here.
La La Land will be the big winner with 8 total awards.
I’ll be back Monday (or Tuesday) with a recap of how my predictions turned out.