The Academy Awards are right around the category, and like last year, we’re going to try our hand at predicting every single category. Note that this list is not picking the movies that most deserve to win. Rather, it’s picking the most likely winners. Predicting the Oscars requires a lot of annoying analysis, but in the end there’s no way to actually know for certain if a movie is going to win. If Crash can win Best Picture, anything is possible.
Predicting the Oscars isn’t necessarily as easy as drawing a name out of a hat. Most of these predictions come as a result of precursor award wins, reviews, box office numbers, and social commentary found in the movies. However, certain categories are clouded in mystery while others seem inevitable. This year is even more predictable than usual, so don’t be surprised if your predictions match up with those on this list.
Also don’t be surprised when these prediction lists inevitably match up with the winners. The descriptions for each category will be relatively brief, so if you’re looking for an in-depth analysis, you’re in the wrong place. Don’t worry though, the reasons for picking the winners should be fairly obvious!
Best Picture: La La Land
It won the Globe. It won the PGA. It won the Critic’s Choice Award. It won the BAFTA. It’s going to win the Oscar. La La Land obliterated expectations. It’s not as if people expected the director of Whiplash to release a turkey, but maybe tying for most nominations in a single year wasn’t originally on the agenda. It may not provide the same type of social commentary that can be found in movies like Hidden Figures and Moonlight, but its ability to keep viewers smiling is unmatched.
At this moment in time, the world is as divided as ever. So while a movie with a strong political leaning would feel like an important victory, it’s looking like people just want to appreciate a movie that makes them happy. La La Land is that movie. The (mostly) upbeat attitude combined with revelatory performances make for a movie with universal appeal.
The chances of a La La Land victory are incredibly high, but if Crash has proven anything, it’s that not everything is set in stone. The most obvious competition comes from Moonlight. It ended up winning the Golden Globe for Best Drama, and the reviews generally conclude that it’s the best movie of 2016. Still, its chances are next to nothing. It can win, but that’s not saying much.
Best Director: Damien Chazelle for La La Land
At one point a split between Best Picture and Best Director seemed possible. La La Land would take home Best Picture while Barry Jenkins would take home the Best Director prize. That is no longer the case. Chazelle has this one in the bag. He won the Globe, DGA award, BAFTA, and Critics’ Choice Award. In other words, he managed to win every award that matters when it comes to predicting the Oscars.
As previously stated, his only competition is Jenkins. Jenkins did well at the critics awards that came around early in the awards season. Generally speaking, the critics awards are meaningless when it comes to predicting the Oscars. The critics went nuts over The Social Network back in 2010, and we all know how that turned out. So even if Jenkins picked up a couple directing awards early on, it’s wise to take that with a grain of salt.
If La La Land is the eventual Best Picture winner, Chazelle will win the Best Director award. The only way he won’t take the award home is if the Oscars take some crazy left-turns. If the entire ceremony remains as predictable as people are anticipating, expect Chazelle to nab this award easily.
Best Actor: Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea
Many pundits have recently changed their prediction from Affleck to Washington after Denzel’s recent SAG win, but there is enough evidence to prove that Affleck may still have the slight advantage in this category. This one is definitely neck-in-neck, but there are things working in Affleck’s favor that pundits have overlooked.
For starters, it’s rare for the SAG winners to go 4-for-4 at the Oscars. It’s happened a total of six times since the mid-nineties. Considering the fact that the other categories are much closer to being locks, one could assume that the countless precursor victories will pave the way for an Affleck victory. The guilds are definitely the most reliable predictors, but Washington’s SAG win seems like an outlier.
This is one of the toughest categories to predict this year. In general, the guilds tend to match up with the Oscars far more often than other awards. At the same time, you can’t just assume the other precursors don’t matter.
When The Big Short won big at the PGA awards last year, people remained unsure of its Oscar chances considering the popularity of both The Revenant and Spotlight. If Washington wins, we have even more reason to value the SAG awards. If Affleck wins, we’re once again reminded that Oscar predictions are tricky business.
Best Actress: Emma Stone for La La Land
2016 was phenomenal in terms of female performances, so it’s hard to believe that Emma Stone has recently become something of a lock in this category. Natalie Portman was breathtaking in Jackie and Huppert delivered a game changing performance in Elle. Early pundits claimed that the Best Actress category would be a three person race. La La Land was the most popular movie out of the three, but it was hard to deny how much effort was put into all three of the aforementioned performances.
Portman and Huppert actually outdid Stone when it came to critic awards. In the game known as the Academy Awards, critics awards mean nothing. Stone eventually came out of left field and picked up a BAFTA, Globe, and SAG award. Those three wins practically cemented her Oscar chances. Could Huppert of Portman pull an upset? Absolutely. Statistically though, Stone is taking this award home.
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight
Mahershala Ali lost the Golden Globe and the BAFTA for this category. Aaron Taylor Johnson won the Golden Globe and Dev Patel picked up the BAFTA. Does that mean that Mahershala Ali is further from a lock than we had previously anticipated? No, not really.
He may have lost a couple of the precursor awards, but Ali still has a lot going for him in this category. For one, the Golden Globe winner didn’t couldn’t even muster up a nomination at the Oscars. Secondly, the BAFTAs love to honor their fellow Brits, which could be why Patel got that award. Most importantly though, neither of those actors beat out Ali for the coveted SAG award.
As you’ll hear again and again this article, the guild awards matter the most. However, it’s not just that the SAG gave him the award. Other important factors include the general adoration of Moonlight in general, one immensely powerful scene featuring Ali, and the undeniable amount of chemistry between him and every other performer that shares the screen with him. If you need more convincing, just give Moonlight a watch and see for yourself.
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis for Fences
In terms of acting categories, this is the biggest lock of the night. Ali and Stone seem like obvious choices as well in their respective categories, but there are a few obstacles in their way. Davis doesn’t have any of those obstacles. If she leaves empty-handed, it will be one of the biggest surprises of the night.
Here’s the thing. In every other category, pundits can pick out a runner-up fairly easily. In this category, people kind of shrug their shoulders. That’s because Davis has managed to avoid defeat whenever possible. Even the smaller awards that tend to deviate from the crowd have chosen to honor Davis’s performance. After losing to Meryl Streep back in 2011, it’s about time she earns redemption. The Oscar is going to Davis, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it from happening.
Best Original Screenplay: Manchester by the Sea
If the Oscars are willing to spread the love, then Manchester by the Sea is the most likely candidate to take this home. One of the most adored aspects of Manchester by the Sea is the heartwarming and often hilarious script.
This is in contrast to La La Land, where the script is less important than the music, the visuals, and the chemistry between the stars. Manchester by the Sea has plenty of other things worth praising, but the script is front and center. Lonergan has earned two Oscar nominations prior to this year, and it’s looking like he’s finally going to take home a win.
Manchester by the Sea will not win if the Academy chooses to go gaga over La La Land, which they very well could. In the cast of a La La Land sweep, it seems unlikely that the screenplay category would get left out. Also working in the favor of La La Land is the fact that it wound up winning the Golden Globe.
The other three contenders are pretty much hopeless. If Hell or High Water somehow wins, it’ll be a miracle. The other two have absolutely no shot. This is a heated battle between La La Land and Manchester by the Sea. Taste of Cinema just happens to have a little more faith in Lonergan’s script.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight
It’s harder to predict screenplay winners because the WGA has odd eligibility rules and the Oscars love to shove original screenplays into the adapted category. For example, Moonlight won the Best Original Screenplay award at the WGA awards over the past weekend, but it was nominated in the adapted category at the Oscars because it was based on a previously unreleased stage piece.
The good news is that Moonlight is faced with much less competition in this category. Prior to the category switch-up, it was assumed that this category would be Moonlight versus La La Land versus Manchester by the Sea. Now it’s looking like it should end up being something like Moonlight versus Arrival.
Arrival is probably the only competition facing Moonlight on Oscar night in this particular category. Even so, numerous other precursor awards have shown that Moonlight should pick this one up without breaking much of a sweat. It’s not an absolute lock like a lot of the other categories, but it’s far from a giant mystery.
Best Cinematography: La La Land
A movie like La La Land doesn’t immediately come to mind when you think of best cinematography. While this category was once the home of more visually extravagant blockbusters, it has since been taken over by smaller movies that aren’t as in your face with their use of cinematography. La La Land is one of those movies.
In our predictions, we have Arrival leaving the night with exactly zero Oscars. This could be the category where Arrival outshines La La Land. It’s maybe the easier choice, after all. Arrival is the more immediately attractive movie in this category. Then you get to thinking about the subtleties buried beneath the surface of La La Land. Voters have proven that they don’t care as much about picking the visual juggernaut anymore. That mindset should lead La La Land to victory.