THR film critic Todd McCarthy and awards analyst Scott Feinberg weigh in with their picks for "shoulds" and "wills," respectively.
SHOULD WIN: Manchester by the Sea
The most telling conclusion to be drawn from the best picture nominations in both categories is that only one is from a major studio (and did the makers of Deadpool imagine it would be nominated?). As good as Hell or High Water and Moonlight are, Manchester is affecting and effective in every creative respect.
WILL WIN: Moonlight
The HFPA likes Mel and Harvey, and a win for Hacksaw Ridge or Lion, respectively, would be a game-changer. But this category's leaders in overall nominations, Moonlight (6) and Manchester (5), are also its only representatives in the directing and screenwriting races, important shows of strength. If voters truly loved Manchester, Lucas Hedges would've gotten a nom alongside Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams. So …
SHOULD WIN: La La Land
For once there’s a legitimate, for-real, honest-to-God original musical competing in this rather expansively conceived category (The Martian, anyone?). Lovers of the song-and-dance genre long have been waiting for
something as enchanting and distinctive as La La Land to come along.
WILL WIN: La La Land
This original musical is a slam-dunk with a field-leading seven noms, including directing, screenwriting and score mentions (no other musical/comedy has any of those), and no major threat among its fellow nominees (20th Century Women, Deadpool, Florence Foster Jenkins and Sing Street).
SHOULD WIN: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Despite impressive showings by Barry Jenkins and Kenneth Lonergan, the clear winner here is Chazelle, who pulled off the nearly unimaginable feat of resurrecting that ancient Hollywood artifact known as the original musical and pumping it full of new and exciting life.
WILL WIN: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
The whiff of scandal emanating from cologne-gate probably dooms Nocturnal Animals’ Tom Ford, and Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins and Manchester’s Kenneth Lonergan probably stand a better shot in the screenplay category. That leaves Hacksaw’s Mel Gibson — whom the HFPA loves as much as any group and kept inviting to their party even when he was persona non grata to many others — and La La Land’s helmer, whose unique film, humility and appreciation for European cinema has endeared him to many. Bet on the young and untainted.
SHOULD WIN: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Viggo Mortensen and Denzel Washington give him a run for his money, but the choice here has to be Affleck who, after a chameleon-like early career, finally burst through with a great, deeply felt performance in a full-bodied, tragic role the likes of which you more often see onstage than in films these days.
WILL WIN: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Loving’s Joel Edgerton and Captain Fantastic’s Viggo Mortensen are happy just to be nominated. Hacksaw’s Andrew Garfield is great in the film and charming in person, and honoring him would be a way of honoring his director. But this is probably between Denzel Washington (Fences) and Affleck. Most groups have broken for the latter, and I suspect this one will, too, particularly after Washington made fun of them while accepting their career achievement award a year ago.
SHOULD WIN: Isabelle Huppert, Elle
This is the easiest choice for me in any category, so brilliant, risky and unparalleled is Huppert's performance. This is an indelible performance by one of the two or three most accomplished film actresses now working.
WILL WIN: Amy Adams, Arrival
None of these nominees hail from a best picture nominee. Conventional wisdom suggests the award is Natalie Portman’s to lose for Jackie — she’s won twice before at the Globes, once more than at the Oscars — but her film doesn’t connect with non-Americans in the way it does with Americans, plus nobody is more popular with the HFPA than Adams. This is her seventh nom in a decade, and she’s won twice, even for Big Eyes!
SHOULD WIN: Ryan Gosling, La La Land
The competition here is pretty thin. Essentially by process of elimination it boils down to Gosling, the only actor in this category who's in a first-rate film and does everything that's asked of him — sing, dance and pull his weight in a contemporary love story — very effectively.
WILL WIN: Ryan Gosling, La La Land
This could break any number of ways. Jonah Hill (War Dogs) and Colin Farrell (The Lobster) represent the sole noms for their films, so they're not winning. That leaves three extremely handsome and charming fellows from best picture nominees: Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool), Hugh Grant (Florence) and Gosling. Edge to the guy from the movie they loved the most.
SHOULD WIN: Emma Stone, La La Land
The performance in this category I enjoyed the most was Hailee Steinfeld's funny and affecting turn in The Edge of Seventeen, but I'm not sure I can really call it the best. My vote would go to Stone, whose winning turn was a key element in the overall chemistry that made La La Land jell so well.
WILL WIN: Emma Stone, La La Land
It would be a stunner if any of this category’s nominees not named Stone — either the veterans, Annette Bening (20th Century Women) and Meryl Streep (Florence), or the young guns, Lily Collins (Rules Don’t Apply) and Hailee Steinfeld (The Edge of Seventeen) — manage to beat La La Land’s leading lady, who acts, sings and dances onscreen, and charms and moves viewers, as well as any of them. It’s her moment.
SHOULD WIN: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
While Jeff Bridges provides constant pleasure masticating his tasty dialogue in Hell or High Water, the standout in this category is unquestionably Ali in Moonlight, a film that provided this fine actor with a long-awaited seize-the-day opportunity, which he maximized in a way that put him indelibly on the map.
WILL WIN: Dev Patel, Lion
The win for Florence Foster Jenkins’ Simon Helberg and Nocturnal Animals’ Aaron Taylor-Johnson truly was just getting nominated. Most prizes in this category have gone to either Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali or Hell or High Water’s Jeff Bridges. But my hunch is that this category will go, in an upset, to Lion’s representative. He’s excellent — plus the HFPA and Lion distributor Harvey Weinstein go back a long way and, as many in the HFPA see it, they’ve got to take care of him somewhere. This category seems as logical a place as any.
SHOULD WIN: Naomie Harris, Moonlight
This is a strong field in which convincing cases could be made for all the contenders except for Nicole Kidman. But for me the choice comes down to Harris and Michelle Williams. Both are terrific, but the ferocity and unexpected notes of Harris' performance as the crack-addled mother in Moonlight gives her the slight edge.
WILL WIN: Viola Davis, Fences
Williams (Manchester by the Sea) isn't winning for 11 minutes of screen time, nor is Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures) for providing one part of a three-piece puzzle. Lion's Kidman could surprise — she's been nominated 11 times in 25 years and won three times before — but this feels like a race between Harris and Davis. Davis has paid more dues, as an actress and as a friend of the HFPA, and while it's a bit disconcerting that she lost all four prior noms — two for films and two for How to Get Away with Murder — this feels like her moment (particularly with Paramount and Scott Rudin providing considerable wind beneath her wings).
SHOULD WIN: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Both Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea acutely pinpoint and explore wrenching emotional states as experienced by characters who are illuminated with great sensitivity and assurance. I give the edge to Lonergan for his dogged playwright's skill at investigating the nooks, crannies and deepest recesses of his working-class characters.
WILL WIN: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Most people agree that this category contains the one La La Land nomination that won't pan out into a win since, fairly or not, people feel musicals owe more to their music than to their scripts. Hell or High Water and Nocturnal Animals are worthy contenders, to be sure, but this is between Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight. And I think this, if nowhere else with this group, is where Moonlight will get its moment in the spotlight.
SHOULD WIN: [abstain]
I will respectfully bail on this category, having seen just one of the five nominees.
WILL WIN: Moana
I wouldn't expect the HFPA to go too artsy (Kubo and the Two Strings or My Life as a Zucchini) or too popcorny (Sing) here. Instead, it looks like a battle between the Disney entries, Zootopia and Moana. I don't think the HFPA will want to recognize Moana's nominated song over La La Land's — especially when they can get Lin-Manuel Miranda up to the stage by honoring his film here.
SHOULD WIN: Toni Erdmann
I love the audacity of Paul Verhoeven's hard-edged mystery-thriller Elle, but I'll give the slight edge to Maren Ade's zig-zagging, constantly surprising comedy-drama about a professional woman's trials and tribulations with her father and work.
WILL WIN: Elle
Most groups are gravitating toward Germany's Toni Erdmann, but the HFPA historically has shown little inclination for either German films or comedies, so good luck with a German comedy. They might go for Iran's The Salesman, which was directed by the director of the film that won in this category five years ago, A Separation. But I'm going with Elle — France is well-represented in the HFPA and in this category (nominee Divines also is French), they know and like Verhoeven (he first was nominated in this category 37 years ago), they like leading lady Isabelle Huppert (a best actress nominee) and this would allow them to show up the Academy (whose foreign-language committee scandalously didn't even include Elle on its shortlist).
SHOULD WIN: Justin Hurwitz, La La Land
All the nominated composers did good work, but how can you compare music designed to provide emotional support to a full original song score that constitutes the backbone of a film? Hurwitz for La La Land all the way.
WILL WIN: Justin Hurwitz, La La Land
I cannot imagine that any of the four non-musicals (Moonlight, Arrival, Lion and Hidden Figures) can trump the musical in this category — especially when said musical also happens to be the organization's favorite film of the year.
SHOULD WIN: "City of Stars," La La Land
Lin-Manuel Miranda's "How Far I'll Go" from Moana is energetic, but I'll go with Hurwitz's simply produced "City of Stars" from La La Land — which features the agreeable but hardly big-time voices of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone backed up by piano — if only for its homemade quality as opposed to the hyper-production tenor of the other nominees.
WILL WIN: "City of Stars," La La Land
For the HFPA, the big names represented in this category — Justin Timberlake ("Can't Stop the Feeling!" from Trolls), Stevie Wonder ("Faith" from Sing), Iggy Pop and Danger Mouse ("Gold" from Gold) and Lin-Manuel Miranda ("How Far I'll Go" from Moana) — will be very hard to resist. But "City of Stars" has beaten them even when it also has had to compete against another song from La La Land, and I think it will prevail here, too.