Hey, the Oscars fixed diversity this year! Just kidding; the very breakthroughs I’m sure will psyche up a lot of Academy members with the usual self-importance are exactly why the awards process and the industry it represents can still be pretty galling (for example: the first black cinematographer nominated for an Oscar! Happening now! In 2017!). But because 2016 had a lot of good movies to choose from, there are also plenty of good Oscar nominees to choose from, should The Academy, in all its unknowable collective will, so favor us. There are, as ever, a lot of categories to cover so let’s cut the preamble short and get to the Oscar predictions as I figure out who will win (place your bets!), who should win (place your hearts!) and who was SNUBBED (by which is meant, not nominated for any number of reasons, intentional or not).
Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
Will Win: Viola Davis gives a towering (and essentially co-lead) performance in Fences, and the combination of her impeccable skills and some careful category tinkering will send her one step closer to EGOT territory. In fact, when she triumphs this weekend, only the Grammy remains, and you know she can nail some audiobook to knock that last one out.
Should Win: My only objection to Davis is that she probably belongs in the lead category; she’s phenomenal in Fences, and Michelle Williams will have to wait her turn. This is her fourth nomination, so maybe she and Amy Adams can get some drinks.
Snubbed: Probably “Jayla from Star Trek” is a stretch BUT you know who rocked it in a genre-y movie this year? Imogen Poots in Green Room. Her spooky intelligence is one wild card of many in that white-knuckler, and she nails the year’s best closing line. Thank you, Imogen Poots, for finally definitively answering the question, “wait, why do I like Imogen Poots?” There’s also a terrific pair of performances in the final stretch of Certain Women: Lily Gladstone (a lead in her segment, but support as part of an ensemble) and Kristen Stewart (supporting even in that same segment, so probably not quite enough).
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel, Lion
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals
Will Win: Bridges has one, Hedges is too young, Patel is both the lead of the movie and kind of recessive in it, and Shannon will be back in something better. This one goes to a very deserving Mahershala Ali.
Should Win: Ali makes a huge impression on Moonlight without being de facto co-lead. The latter pitfall is sort the case for everyone else here except Shannon. So Ali deserves to win all over the place. [I feel good about this. You feel good about this. We all feel good about this. Mahershala Ali as Juan in Moonlight becoming an instant addition to the American canon is a good thing that everyone is right about. Jeff Bridges will win. -Ed.]
Snubbed: If everyone but the single person with the absolute most screen time in the movie is considered supporting, that means Ben Foster would be eligible for Hell or High Water, and I was more impressed with his performance than I was with Bridges who, good as he is, can do the mumbly, crusty lawman in his sleep. Foster plays a part that seems like his wheelhouse to a fault—a fuck-up; a creep—and gives his daredevil bank-robbing brother of Chris Pine real soul and a weird kind of lovability. You know who else was kind of slept on? Liam Neeson in Silence. I don’t know if the initial impression was just disappointment that he wasn’t in the movie that much [I think the initial impression is that there’s no such movie as Silence, like everyone has just decided that American cinema’s leading artist didn’t release an epic longtime passion project in the last weeks of 2016. -Ed.] but his scenes in the last hour or so are pretty terrific.
La La Land
Will Win: This specifically isn’t for the movie’s songs, but I can’t imagine voters not checking off the La La Land box just by some “movie has music” reflex.
Should Win: I like the ambient strangeness of the score for Jackie, which is instrumental to the movie in a way that the non-song music in La La Land may not be.
Snubbed: Aw, jeez, guys, this stuff just doesn’t stick with me anymore. [The Academy’s understanding of what constitutes an “original score” is unsurprisingly in keeping with the trade group’s retrograde ideas about intellectual property; Johan Johansson wuz robbed. -Ed.]
“Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” La La Land
“Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Trolls
“City of Stars,” La La Land
“The Empty Chair,” Jim: The James Foley Story
“How Far I’ll Go,” Moana
Will Win: The real question is whether La La Land fans will go for Emma Stone’s emotional showcase, or the movie’s de facto theme song. I think “City of Stars” will prevail.
Should Win: I love La La Land, so I don’t have that particular aversion to get over… but of these songs, I’m actually most moved by the Moana tune.
Snubbed: Studios have become cautious about oversubmitting in this category; Disney, presumably after several Enchanted songs split their votes and lost about a decade ago, tends to let just one or two from each movie these days. Hence Moana didn’t even try to get the ebullient The Rock-sung highlight “You’re Welcome” a nomination (only “How Far I’ll Go” and “We Know the Way” were submitted, which seems like a redundancy). Lionsgate even got into the act, submitting the two songs that made it from La La Land, plus “Start a Fire,” presumably as a sop to John Legend, while ignoring the more delightful “Another Day of Sun” or “Someone in the Crowd.” So the studios are to blame for those non-snubs, but the Academy has only itself to accept chastisement for failing to nominate “Drive It Like You Stole It,” a neat 80s pop pastiche from Sing Street, or “I’m So Humble,” the submitted song from Popstar. This could have been the best Best Song category in ages, but like 2014, which had a similarly stacked batch of contenders, they done fucked up.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
La La Land
Will Win: It’s a widely accepted and probably true maxim that Hollywood loves itself, but that particular onanism might have trouble focusing itself with both La La Land and Hail, Caesar! offering up stylized versions of Los Angeles. I get the sense the combo of period and fantasy in Fantastic Beasts will prevail, which as a booster of sci-fi and fantasy in this category I find distasteful, because the Old New York sets of Fantastic Beasts were actually pretty disappointing; there’s a scene at Macy’s, for fuck’s sake, and it barely registers as such.
Should Win: Arrival and Passengers are both here repping the oft-overlooked spaceship constituency (I didn’t see Florence Foster Jenkins, miraculously un-nominated here; did it not have sets, or something? Was the whole thing shot backstage at Carnegie Hall? Was this basically an Aaron Sorkin backstage drama disguised as a Meryl Streep August programmer for the olds? [There’s no such movie as Florence Foster Jenkins, it’s a throwaway-joke movie title from a TV show about Hollywood, like The Critic or something. -Ed.]). Of those two, Arrival was far more interesting to look at.
Snubbed: One of my A.V. Club colleagues made a great case for American Honey in the costume category, and I think both that and Green Room have similarly strong cred in this one, too.
MAKEUP AND HAIR
A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Will Win: It seems like the nascent gamer/nerd voting blocs will be split and A Man Called One will triumph for its traditional old-age work, but I don’t know, I think Suicide Squad could pull out a victory here for its valiant attempts to disguise Jared Leto’s face—though in my day, directors did this by beating or mutilating the ever-loving shit out of whatever character he was playing.
Should Win: My heart belongs to Star Trek Beyond because the makeup in question helped to create Jayla, one of my favorite movie characters of 2016 and a major proponent of “beats and shouting.” But I can’t say I’d be disappointed in Suicide Squad became Academy Award Winner Suicide Squad, not least because I own Suicide Squad on Blu-ray. Do you think they’ll send me an Oscar sticker if it wins? [One night last August I was on a bar trivia team called “PeePee Comics Presents Poo-icide Squat Starring Will Squish as Deadshit, Margot Rob-pee, and Jared Let-a-big-dump-out.” We came second, but won one round outright. -Ed.]
Snubbed: Nocturnal Animals seems like it could have gone in here, and I’m pretty pleased that it didn’t.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins [Stop gaslighting me. -Ed.]
La La Land
Will Win: Usually modern stuff is the kiss of death here, but I’m thinking that yellow dress from La La Land, which you actually remember, will edge out the likes of Allied.
Should Win: Yellow dress! Also other nice colors! [Marion Cotillard’s silk olive-green pantsuit for the target-practice scene! Allied is great! -Ed.]
Snubbed: I like it when stop-motion cartoons get costume awards because they’re so much harder to make than regular costumes! They’re tiny! Making costumes in Kubo and the Two Strings must have been like making little costumes for mice! (Or perhaps smallish rats.)
La La Land
Will Win: I just watched Hacksaw Ridge (about which, more later) and they exploded the shit out of a lot of shit, so probably that.
Should Win: Arrival seems like the more delicate and subtle choice.
Snubbed: I think we’re probably good.
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Will Win: This is the less effects-oriented sound category, which often favors music when it doesn’t favor clanking, so: La La Land.
Should Win: I’ve heard complaints that the mixing on some of the La La Land songs, particularly the opening number, was not strong [I don’t think the mixing was the problem. -Ed.], and I can kinda get that, though I was too drunk on the beauty of that opening number to really register the first time. I wish I had more of an opinion here, but I just don’t.
Snubbed: Strangely, I do have an opinion about what was left out. Neon Demon forever!
Land of Mine
A Man Called Ove
Will Win: The Salesman seems likely, especially now that the director can’t get into the fucking country.
Should Win: I actually only saw Toni Erdmann and I know that’s the answer I’m supposed to give anyway, but the thing is, I did not get that movie at all. Well, “at all” is pushing it, because there are some truly memorable scenes within this New York Film Festival Comedy, by which I mean it is European, too long, and not very funny. Maren Ade seems like a terrifically smart and talented filmmaker, but the actual experience of watching Toni Erdmann did not provide me with the freewheeling delight it apparently gave others.
Snubbed: Look, I don’t really have a leg to stand on here, but I will defer to Mark on this topic, but I did think The Handmaiden was fucking awesome. [Of the films submitted by various countries, BK Mag critics have stumped for Neruda, Chevalier, Videofilia (man, imagine if a movie that Factory 25 released at the Spectacle got nominated for a freakin’ Oscar), Sierranevada, Under the Shadow and Julieta. Fire at Sea and Elle were acknowledged below. -Ed.]
Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
O.J.: Made in America
Will Win: O.J.: Made in America is the one a ton of people watched, right? Largely because it was on TV. In many easily digestible hourlong segments. Because it’s not really a movie.
Should Win: The segments (which is to say, episodes) (because it’s a TV show) that I saw of the O.J. thing were fascinating. I’ve been meaning to watch 13th and Life, Animated since missing them at their respective festivals, but haven’t yet. My daughter picked up my Fire at Sea screener and used it as a friend and projectile for like two weeks so I think that one is out but I do thank it for its service.
Snubbed: Have you noticed that I don’t really watch documentaries?
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets
Will Win: Without reading any synopses, I’m predicting “Joe’s Violin.”
Should Win: Okay, I’m back and I’ve read the synopses, and I still think “Joe’s Violin” is a good bet (I swear I didn’t know upfront that it involved the Holocaust), but “Watani: My Homeland” sounds like a possible challenger.
Snubbed: I couldn’t tell you. [A modest proposal: eliminate the three short film categories, and fill the time with longer acceptance speeches/more interpretive dance. The live-action short category originated as a way to honor one- and two-reel comedies in wide commercial release. Some of my favorite films of recent years are shorts, but recognizing this sort of work is not really what the Oscars, a TV show, are for; and I guess I’d be surprised if an Academy Award makes much of a difference in the career trajectory of a short-subject filmmaker given how talent is usually spotted. But I dunno. -Ed.]
Kubo and the Two Strings
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
Will Win: The inclusivity and inventiveness of Zootopia should carry the day, especially for the way it feels, in retrospect, like a rebuke to Trump’s America.
Should Win: For all that, as a movie I prefer Moana, a familiar concept with an exciting telling, contrasted with Zootopia‘s clever concept with sometimes-rote storytelling.
Snubbed: It’s weird that there’s no Pixar here this year, but not that weird, because their movie was the totally decent but second-tier Finding Dory.
Pear Cider and Cigarettes
Will Win: Based on what I’ve heard about them, I’m wondering if this will go to “Pearl,” the only potential drawback being that it was designed for VR and that’s almost certainly not how voters will experience it.
Should Win: I usually try to catch the animated shorts, but this year I’ve only seen “Piper,” a super-cute if somewhat minor Pixar number that was in front of Dory.
Snubbed: Hard to say for sure without seeing the other nominees, of course, but I thought that “Inner Workings,” the short that played in front of Moana, was pretty solid.
LIVE ACTION SHORT
The Railroad Lady
Will Win: “Silent Night” is both immigration-centric and from a producer of the fairly risible 2014 winner “Helium,” so I’m going with that, unless some confused voters check the box for “Sing” because they remember hearing that their grandchildren liked it.
Should Win: I didn’t see the live action shorts this year. The one I’d like to watch is “Timecode.” [They remade Timecode? -Ed.]
Snubbed: Honestly, when I have seen the live action shorts I’ve come out wondering if there are more than six or seven live action shorts even submitted.
Will Win: This has to be where they’re rewarding Moonlight; either the movie is pulling off a surprise upset that starts here, or it’s not and this is how you get Barry Jenkins onstage anyway.
Should Win: Moonlight is a great choice; I’d probably vote for Arrival, which seems opaque, then gimmicky, then emotionally devastating, and I think it winds up being a pretty strong piece of writing. Based on a short story, too, because adapting novels is actually a stupid idea a lot of the time.
Snubbed: Kelly Reichardt’s script for Certain Women adapted some short stories (BECAUSE ADAPTING NOVELS IS OFTEN STUPID) with a lot of grace, which to me is more valuable than wrestling with true stories and not really coming up with a wholly compelling narrative a la Hidden Figures or Lion. [Whit Stillman for Love & Friendship! What’s the problem here? A Jane Austen source, a longtime writer’s-writer finally gaining a bit of industry traction, movie did $14 million domestic. Tiny green balls! Seems like a no-brainer. Also entitled to feel snubbed is My Queen Kate Beckinsale, the Best Actress. -Ed.]
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
20th Century Women
Will Win: Like Adapted and Moonlight, Best Original Screenplay is a convenient way to give an Oscar to the director of Manchester by the Sea without giving him Best Director, and even Lonergan emphasizes his writing over his filmmaking (which is also skillful! Don’t sell yourself short, Sad Kenny!).
Should Win: Manchester deserves it. The Lobster is probably “more” original, and Hell or High Water has some flavorful dialogue, but Manchester is just fucking right and has the courage of its convictions. Also, while I can’t really join the anti-La La pile-on, I will say, it’ll be fucking stupid if it wins a screenplay award.
Snubbed: Do you guys remember how for a few years between No Country and True Grit, the Coen Brothers had a little bit of that Woody Allen thing where they would just get serious Oscar nominations for whatever? (Do you guys remember how A Serious Man got a Best Picture nomination?! That was the best.) I’m not saying it’s a tragedy that Hail, Caesar! was not able to ride that wave (though maybe I am saying it is that Inside Llewyn Davis wasn’t), and I’m not even sure it deserves to supplant any of these five, but the Coens are really good writers, even when it seems like they’re just stitching together set pieces.
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Will Win: Absent a really showy, action-heavy choice, this usually goes to the Best Picture movie, so probably La La Land, unless Hacksaw Ridge counts as showy or action-heavy (please no).
Should Win: I’m good with La La here.
Snubbed: It’s a solid two hours and forty minutes, but I’m sure there was a potential cut of American Honey that might have lasted as long as several days [Reader, bite your tongue! -Ed.]. Also, the rhythms, moods, ebbs, and flows of Andrea Arnold’s exhausting, often brilliant road trip probably owe a lot to the editing.
Bradford Young, Arrival
Linus Sandgren, La La Land
Greg Fraser, Lion
James Laxton, Moonlight
Rodrigo Prieto, Silence
Will Win: This seems like one of the areas where La La Land is vulnerable, simply because cinematography is often a one-off category, unmoored from prevailing Best Picture favorites—I kinda get a Silence vibe, despite it being the only one of the five not nominated for the big prize. But that seems like a longshot. [Rodrigo Prieto is like Margaret Lockwood in The Lady Vanishes after the lady vanishes, trying to run around convincing people that there really was a movie called Silence before they succeed in silencing him. -Ed.] Probably La La.
Should Win: And for my money, it deserves it, not just for having pretty colors and being shot on 35mm, but because the cinematography, fluid and playful, is what makes a lot of the musical numbers work as well as they do.
Snubbed: Besides American Honey, The Fits derives a lot of its power from its naturalistic yet poetic lensing. Ugh, I just said “lensing.”
The Jungle Book
Kubo and the Two Strings
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Will Win: I’m pretty sure the voters are collectively suckers for well-rendered talking animals, and The Jungle Book could pretty much just be titled Well-Rendered Talking Animals.
Should Win: Kubo and the Two Strings snuck into this category as an animated movie. It’s a rarity, but it shouldn’t be (the “live action” Jungle Book is also basically an animated movie); the movie’s effects work is complicated and beautiful.
Snubbed: Arrival had the kind of mid-level effects that serve the story just well enough to get overlooked, and sure enough, and I feel like The BFG was punished for being a box office flop (it’s not as “realistic” looking as The Jungle Book but it sure uses its effects in more interesting ways).
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic [Watch that if you haven’t, it’s a treat. -Ed.]
Denzel Washington, Fences
Will Win: Casey Affleck is the presumed favorite here, and Denzel Washington’s SAG win could be chalked up to him never having won over there before (those awards haven’t been around for nearly as long as the Oscars, of which Denzel has two). But I have a nagging suspicion that Denzel will prevail. He won Best Actor back in 2002, part of a historic night when Halle Berry also won Best Actress, and a cynical part of me thinks a lot of Academy folks will love the optics of three-quarters black acting winners this year, especially if they can cap it by giving Washington a Nicholson-esque third Oscar. Just a hunch.
Should Win: I love Denzel, but he already has two, and Affleck’s work in Manchester carries the full weight of an extremely heavy (yet also sometimes quite funny) movie.
Snubbed: In a relatively thin year for Best Actor contenders, Colin Farrell deserved a spot for his understated work in The Lobster. Specifically, you could trade him in for the cornpone resolve of Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge. Or if you want to meet me halfway, honor Garfield for Silence, at least. [That’s right! Don’t let them trick you into believing that Silence isn’t a real movie, or that Florence Foster Jenkins is. -Ed.] Jesus wept, because He must have found Hacksaw Ridge a bit much, too. [Anyway speaking of people who were good as both a conflicted priest in Silence and as a conflicted soldier in another movie this year: The vanguard of the mainstream culture industry’s collective crush on Adam Driver, and his absolutely fantastic work in Paterson as a blue-collar poet with PTSD—seriously, they missed a trick marketing this one, especially given Driver’s military service—all but guarantees the guy two-three nominations in the next five-six years for movies far inferior to Paterson. -Ed.]
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins [FAKE NEWS!!! -Ed.]
Will Win: Conventional wisdom, along with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Lawrence and Natalie Portman and Brie Larson, suggests that Oscar loves an ingénue or at least a near- ingénue, which would give Emma Stone the edge. Her closest competition seems to be Isabelle Huppert, but winners here tend to be American or English or mmmmaybe Australian if they’re posh like Nicole Kidman. Marion Cotillard is the only Foreign Language Film nominee to win over the past bunch of years, and the category is way more competitive this year than most.
Should Win: I’m going to be straight with you guys: Natalie Portman and Emma Stone make this the Best Actress group heaviest on my personal movie crushes in years. So when I say I’d vote for Emma Stone, you can’t really trust that I’m not just giving her a premature career award for The House Bunny. But she’s really good in La La Land, right? And her character probably reads a little thin on the page, so the depth of feeling that comes across on screen is largely Stone. And, realtalk, I’m not sure we know any less about Stone’s Mia than we do about Ruth Negga’s Mildred Negga. I love a quiet, unshowy performance as much as anyone, but I daresay the excellent Negga may have gone so far in that direction that her performance didn’t really knock me out. Anyway, my actual choice for this category didn’t get nominated and Portman already has an Oscar, so I’m saying Stone deserves it.
Snubbed: Look, I didn’t “see” Florence Foster Jenkins because it “looked” “terrible.” [And because it “isn’t” a “real” “movie”. -Ed.] (Actually, I kind of want to see it now for Oscar completism slash confirmation bias, but I don’t think I have time before this goes to “press”). But even giving Streep the benefit of the doubt, it’s hard for me to imagine she gave a better performance than Amy Adams in Arrival, because the nominees I like the most in this category honestly might not have given better performances than Amy Adams in Arrival. Also, she’s been nominated for five Oscars, so it’s weird when she does great and often subtle leading work here or in Big Eyes and then gets ignored for her skill (even when, as was the case with Arrival, the rest of the movie was embraced). They’re gonna make her do something super hammy and “scene-stealing” to win one of these, aren’t they?
Denis Villenueve, Arrival
Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Will Win: Unless one of the increasingly frequent but still not typical picture/director splits happens and favors Barry Jenkins, this is going to Damien Chazelle. It might be a little early in his career, but it seems like this guy’s got the stuff.
Should Win: Chazelle, Villenueve, and Jenkins all did excellent work (so did Lonergan, but as good a director as he is, it seems more like he matches his material than exceeds it). I’m probably supposed to hate Chazelle, but whatever. Everyone here should be back for future awards consideration. EXCEPT MEL GIBSON. Does this constitute evidence of an abusive relationship between Gibson and Hollywood Jews? Or is it the strongest evidence yet that the Hollywood Jew stereotype is bunk? For that matter, why are humans going out of their way to nominate Gibson for an award? I’m perfectly capable of attempting to separate the artist from the art, but the nice thing about Hacksaw Ridge is that you don’t have to, because it’s not a good movie! Mel is giving you an easy out right here, and the Academy isn’t having it! I know they love actors who direct, but Denzel Washington is standing right there, and Fences may not have really transcended its theatrical roots, but it’s a good movie and Washington just basically preserved a classic of the American theater for future generations. Whereas Gibson is over here jerking off to his war-is-hell-but-first-the-torture carnage.
Snubbed: The Best Picture nominees offer at least two very solid choices for Gibson replacement: Washington as well as David Mackenzie, who hit a career best with Hell or High Water. That’s not even reaching far outside the Academy’s wheelhouse to choices like Andrea Arnold or Anna Rose Holmer or Jeremy Saulnier or Robert Eggers.