THR's awards analyst Scott Feinberg predicts the winners while chief film critic Todd McCarthy offers his picks for who really deserves the Academy Award.
WILL WIN: La La Land
This love letter to Hollywood, movies and jazz garnered a record-tying 14 noms, signaling support across the branches. (Both of the other films that got that many, All About Eve and Titanic, won.) Save for the best ensemble SAG Award, for which this two-hander understandably wasn’t nominated, all remotely predictive precursors — the Golden Globe, BAFTA, Critics’ Choice and guild awards, including the Producers’, also using a preferential ballot — have backed it.
SHOULD WIN: La La Land
Unlike a freak phenomenon like The Artist, which didn't trigger a rash of silent movies, La La Land already appears to have opened the floodgates to more original film musicals, a very welcome development. It's exhilarating, a breath of fresh air and — like most best picture Oscar winners over the past decade — not a film the big studios would have made.
WILL WIN: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins could become the first black person to win here, but every indication — including the prizes of the Golden Globe, BAFTA and especially the Directors Guild, which predicted this award all but seven times in 68 years — suggests different history will be made: for 85 years, Norman Taurog has been this category’s youngest winner, but on Oscar night Chazelle will be 221 days younger than he was.
SHOULD WIN: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
It takes a special set of gifts to pull off a modern musical that fluently blends song-and-dance elements with more naturalistic dramatic scenes, and in La La Land, Damien Chazelle managed this with seeming effortlessness. If Chazelle wins, he'll be only the second director to collect an Oscar for an original musical, after Vincente Minnelli for Gigi nearly 60 years ago.
WILL WIN: Denzel Washington, Fences
Manchester’s Casey Affleck looked unbeatable — he won almost every early award — but an understated performance, uneven acceptance speeches, chatter about years-old legal troubles and a more famous opponent who gave a showy turn and beat him at the SAG Awards (which have predicted this category 13 years in a row) suggest he’s vulnerable. This would be Washington’s third win; no male actor has four.
SHOULD WIN: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
A curiously reticent, intriguingly unemphatic actor through most of his career, Casey Affleck finally showed what he's made of in his performance as a deeply damaged man. His character is afflicted by pain that will never go away, and the performance has the impact of a series of depth charges going off at unpredictable levels of intensity and frequency.
WILL WIN: Emma Stone, La La Land
It’s been 12 years since this award went to a star of a best picture winner, but it’s hard to imagine Stone not being rewarded by the Academy — as she was by SAG, Golden Globe and BAFTA voters — for beautifully singing, dancing and acting in their favorite film. One caveat: the organization added many international members over the past year, and Elle’s Isabelle Huppert, who’s been a star longer than Stone’s been alive, could tempt them.
SHOULD WIN: Isabelle Huppert, Elle
It's always tough for a foreign-language performance to take Oscar gold, but if Isabelle Huppert doesn't win, it will stand as one of the permanent Academy disgraces, along with Greta Garbo or Peter O'Toole never winning competitive Oscars. Huppert's work in Elle is one of the best performances by one of the all-time great screen actresses and would deserve the prize in any year.
WILL WIN: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Ali won the Critics’ Choice and SAG awards — but his is a very brief turn and he lost the BAFTA to Lion’s Dev Patel (granted, a Brit — though BAFTA did anticipate last year’s Mark Rylance surprise) and Globe to Nocturnal Animals’ Aaron Taylor-Johnson (bounced by costar Michael Shannon), suggesting international voters may turn elsewhere. You can’t count out vet Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) or youngster Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea).
SHOULD WIN: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Mahershala Ali appears only in the first third of Moonlight, but his subtle, surprisingly layered performance initially is what reveals the unexpected depths the film intends to reach. The actor's gentle illumination of a Miami drug dealer as a sensitive role model and teacher to a withdrawn young boy opens the door to vast emotional insights.
WILL WIN: Viola Davis, Fences
There’s no safer bet than this revered actress, who gives a powerful performance (she previously won a Tony for the same part), is overdue (this is her third nom in nine years and would be her first win) and has the meatiest part of anyone in her category (many feel she should be in the lead actress category). She’s won every major award this season, and there’s no reason to believe that’ll stop now.
SHOULD WIN: Naomie Harris, Moonlight
By contrast with Ali's character, who has his life together and knows how to cope, Naomie Harris urgently plays the strung-out victim who can't begin to understand or handle her troubled son, the boy her dealer is helping. It's an electric performance, jumping from mood to mood in a compelling portrayal of a character destined to short circuit.
WILL WIN: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
It’s been 61 years since a musical (Interrupted Melody) won here, and only one other won before that (An American in Paris). La La Land won Globe and Critics’ Choice awards, but those aren’t decided by filmmakers, who seem to feel that musicals owe their success to music, not words. Here, Oscar voters reward emotional dramas and great playwrights, as offered by this Critics’ Choice, BAFTA, NBR and New York Film Critics Circle winner.
SHOULD WIN: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
The complexity, power and levels of distress conveyed by Kenneth Lonergan's screenplay lie well beyond the ambition or accomplishment of its competitors. Lonergan bores down into the raw fundamentals of his main characters in a way unapproached by any other writer this year.
WILL WIN: Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight
The USC Scripter, which has predicted this winner six years in a row, suggests Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney will become only the third and fourth black honorees in this category, but be careful: other groups classified their script as original, allowing Arrival to win the Critics’ Choice and Lion to win the BAFTA award for best adaptation, and it’s been 28 years since a play-inspired-film won here. A possible sleeper is charming Hidden Figures.
SHOULD WIN: Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight
Although I haven't read Tarell Alvin McCraney's autobiographical play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, it's clear that Barry Jenkins took considerable liberties, including creating a three-part structure. The script's sensitivity, insight and sometimes breathtakingly revelatory qualities make this the deserving winner here.
WILL WIN: O.J.: Made in America
Netflix made a big push for 13th and many critics backed I Am Not Your Negro, but a third doc about race in America has the edge because it’s also about L.A. and celebrity culture — two things of interest to many voters, who can vote without seeing all five nominees — and garnered the most attention, not least because, at 7.5-hours, it’s the longest feature ever nominated.
SHOULD WIN: O.J.: Made in America
The competition is fierce in a category that, with the inclusion of 13th and I Am Not Your Negro, features at least three of my top five films of the year. But the staggering account of O.J. Simpson's life, legal battles and far-reaching legacy occupies a category of achievement all to itself and stands as the most imposing work of any kind in film this year.
WILL WIN: The Salesman
German comedy Toni Erdmann was the early favorite, and news of a remake with Jack Nicholson boosted its profile. But it lost the pole position when Asghar Farhadi said he’d boycott the Oscars because of President Trump’s attempt at a Muslim travel ban. Look for voters to rebuke Trump by making Farhadi, five years after his win for A Separation, only the fourth filmmaker (after Fellini, Bergman and Saura) to direct multiple winners.
SHOULD WIN: Toni Erdmann
With two of the very best films of the year from any source, The Handmaiden and Elle, unfortunately not among the final five, the estimable and disarmingly engaging Toni Erdmann is the clear choice. The unfortunate eruption of the travel ban issue might have swung some votes to The Salesman, but the latter isn't on par with Asghar Farhadi's best work.
WILL WIN: Zootopia
Kubo and the Two Strings won the BAFTA, but the last time a Disney or Pixar pic was nominated here and lost was a decade ago. (Each time one wins, more studio employees become voters, leading to more wins.) This zeitgeist-capturing flick got better reviews and grossed more than any of its competitors and won the top Annie Award, which has differed from this category’s winner only five times since 2001.
SHOULD WIN: The Red Turtle
In a year when three small animated features are up against two Hollywood blockbusters, the tortoise beats the hare. As pared down and dramatically concise as Zootopia and Moana are elaborate and eventful, The Red Turtle has the simplicity of an ancient tale that has come down through the ages and could not be more elegantly done.
WILL WIN: La La Land
The American Society of Cinematographers, which has given its top award to the eventual winner in six of the last 10 years, picked Lion, but BAFTA, which has the same track record, went with La La Land, as did Critics’ Choice voters, who are six for the last seven. I think a combination of flashy camerawork and coattails should put the latter over the top.
WILL WIN: Jackie
Musicals long have done well in this category, but that’s because they’ve almost always been period pieces. Contemporary costumes like those in La La Land almost never are rewarded (it’s been 22 years since the last one), and besides, this rarely is a coattail category (Gladiator, Chicago, The Return of the King and The Artist are this century’s only best pic winners that won here, too). Voters usually back the nominee that reeks the most of glamour, even if they don’t love the film. This year, that’s Jackie, already the pick of BAFTA and Critics’ Choice voters.
WILL WIN: La La Land
Hacksaw Ridge won the BAFTA (7 of the last 9 winners went on to the Oscar) and Arrival won the best drama ACE Eddie (10 of the last 13 winners went on to the Oscar). But La La Land also guild support (it won the best musical ACE Eddie); musicals (e.g. Chicago) and films about music (e.g. Whiplash, edited by La La Land’s Tom Cross) have done well; and it should benefit from coattails.
WILL WIN: Star Trek Beyond
It’s doubtful that A Man Called Ove, a Swedish film seen by only a small percentage of the Academy, has enough support to fend off two blockbusters, Suicide Squad and the latest Star Trek installment, the latter of which was seen and liked by the most voters (and, incidentally, was the only one even nominated for the same Critics’ Choice Award). A best pic nominee, or the closest thing to it, almost always wins here — as did another Star Trek film seven years ago.
WILL WIN: La La Land
Musicals rarely have been nominated in this category — they tend to be connected by a string of songs more than a score — so it will be interesting to see how one that’s made it this far fares with the whole Academy. My sense is they will assume — rightly or not — that a musical’s score is harder to compose than a non-musical’s and reward one here that’s already won Globe, Critics’ Choice and BAFTA awards. (A strong best pic contender usually wins anyway.)
WILL WIN: “City of Stars” (La La Land)
The vote total for La La Land’s ‘theme song’ could be undercut by some support for another tune featured in the film, “Audition,” but plenty of past winners have beaten songs from the same pic, so I wouldn’t be too worried. Also, while other nominees have more famous songwriters — e.g. Sting, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Justin Timberlake — the films in which their music is featured were seen by far fewer Academy members and their names don’t appear on the ballot.
WILL WIN La La Land
You can’t count out the picks of BAFTA (Fantastic Beasts) or the Art Directors Guild (Passengers, in the fantasy category), and it has been 37 years since a contemporary film won here (All That Jazz) — but much of La La Land takes place in a highly stylized present (e.g. the “Someone in the Crowd” number, the “Epilogue” dance through an alternate life), hence its Critics’ Choice and the Art Directors Guild wins (the latter in the contemporary category).
WILL WIN: La La Land
Voters usually reward loud action or war flicks here, which could bode well for Hacksaw Ridge, the Motion Picture Sound Editors organization's big winner. Arrival won the best sound BAFTA, but the Brits have a spotty predictions track record and it seems a bit quiet for the Academy. Only one musical ever has been nominated (Aladdin), so it’s hard to know how voters will respond to having that option, especially for a movie they love, La La Land. I’m betting on coattails.
WILL WIN: La La Land
Arrival won the best sound BAFTA, which predicted this in 8 of the last 10 years. Voters also like gunshots and explosions, which gives hope to 13 Hours and Hacksaw Ridge. But this is the sound category that, with few exceptions (Moulin Rouge! lost to Black Hawk Down), almost always rewards nominated musicals (Chicago, Dreamgirls, Les Miserables) or films with a lot of music (Ray, Slumdog Millionaire, Whiplash), and the Cinema Audio Society already has given La La Land its seal-of-approval.
WILL WIN: The Jungle Book
Star Wars: Rogue One brought Peter Cushing back to life, but Disney’s reinterpretation of Kipling’s classic created an entire animal kingdom. Rogue One garnered a field-leading seven Visual Effects Society noms, but won none, while Jungle took home five, including the top one, which has predicted Oscar in nine of the last 14 years. The latter also was the pick of BAFTA and Critics’ Choice voters, the former of which has anticipated Oscar in nine of the last 11 years.
WILL WIN: Pear Cider and Cigarettes
Father-daughter weepie Pearl is the first VR film ever nominated for an Oscar and probably would win if voters realized how much work it required, but alas few actually saw it in VR. Piper, this year’s Pixar entry — meaning it comes with a built-in bloc — is charming (it’s about a bird leaving its nest) but slight. Borrowed Time, a side project of two Pixar animators, deals with mourning and feels a bit too dark. And Blind Vaysha features cool charcoal-like animation but a bizarre story. So I’m putting my chips on the longest and most adult-friendly of the lot, a noirish memoir.
WILL WIN: Watani: My Homeland
Netflix’s Extremis offers an interesting but oppressively sad look at end-of-life care. 4.1 Miles and The White Helmets (the latter also from Netflix, and now being adapted into a feature by George Clooney) both center on heroic first-responders to Syrian-related crises. And Joe’s Violin, this year’s Holocaust-related doc (it’s dangerous to bet against one), shows how kindness can bridge differences. But the most developed nominee is this portrait of a Syrian family’s refugee experience from start to finish. The others offer snapshots; this one tells a full story — and restores faith in humanity.
WILL WIN: Sing
Count out Silent Nights, the cliché-riddled story of an African immigrant in Denmark. Enemies Within, about an Algerian seeking French citizenship, feels like a promising start to a play, but ends unresolved. Timecode, about dancing parking guards, has a nice message about mankind’s desire not to conform and to express itself, but is pretty weird, as is The Railroad Lady, about a cloying eccentric. This one actually has something to say — about finding one’s voice, literally and figuratively — and gets a further leg up by featuring adorable children.