My Predictions for the 2017 Academy Awards

Every year, as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announces its list of new members, there’s talk about whether the young invitees will shakes things up when the time comes to award the Oscars. And while it’s hard to say whether this year’s list of nominees is directly linked to the Academy’s modernization efforts, the line-up is notably more diverse this year (compared to 2016, the year of #OscarsSoWhite). People of colour feature in many of the top categories.

Of course, the more cynical industry watchers may attribute this to a perceived lack of award-worthy, diversity-focused films in 2016, or (more troubling still) an overcompensation by the Academy in 2017 to prove they’re not prejudiced. However it came together, the list of nominees is slightly overshadowed by the assumed dominance of Damien Chazelle’s La La Land when the actual trophies are handed out. While the film was one of my top 3 of the year, and I predict that it will claim a lion’s share of awards, I don’t believe it’s set for a record-breaking 14-Oscar sweep. Instead, I think a 8 or 9 award haul is more likely, which will hopefully allow some of the many fantastic movies this year shine a little brighter.

Below, you’ll find my list of predictions for the major categories (i.e., the ones that can actually be predicted). As always, I’ll list my prediction, followed by who I want to win, and the possible dark horse in the category.

Best Picture

Who Will Win: La La Land

As much of an accomplishment as Moonlight may be, the film that has the most momentum behind it is La La Land. It’s been cleaning up at most of the precursor award ceremonies (most recently as of this writing at the BAFTAs). It also happens to be my personal favourite of the nominees, but I still hope that Moonlight gives it a run for its money in other categories.

Who I Want to Win: La La Land

Dark Horse: Moonlight

Best Actress in the Leading Role

Who Will Win: Emma Stone (La La Land)

Best Actress is one of the harder races to call this year, as more than a few critics would note that Emma Stone’s work in La La Land may not be the most technically impressive performance among the nominees. Natalie Portman is a close second, but her previous win for Black Swan in 2011 knocks her chances back slightly. Ruth Negga and Isabelle Huppert may come from behind for a surprise win, but the fact that Stone won the SAG in this category is a strong indicator for her to come out on top.

Who I Want to Win: Emma Stone

Dark Horse: Isabelle Huppert (Elle)

Casey Affleck stars as Lee Chandler in 'Manchester by the Sea'.

Casey Affleck stars as Lee Chandler in 'Manchester by the Sea'.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Who Will Win: Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)

Best Actor is another tricky category this year, especially since Casey Affleck was receiving much of the buzz in the lead-up to the SAGs, only for Denzel Washington to claim the award (which seemed to pleasantly surprise him). Conventional awards-prediction wisdom holds that the SAG will likely net Washington the Oscar (cue accusations of anti-#OscarsSoWhite strategic voting), but my gut tells me Affleck will take the prize, given the amount of restraint and craft on display in his Manchester by the Sea performance, as well as Washington’s previous wins.

Who I Want to Win: Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)

Dark Horse: Denzel Washington (Fences)

Best Director

Who Will Win: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

Much like his film as a whole, Damien Chazelle has been riding a wave of precursor awards for his directing in La La Land. His Directors Guild win a few weeks ago is an almost surefire predictor of Oscar glory (the DGA award and the Oscar have gone hand in hand 17 times in the past 20 years). It’s great to see the Academy reward a filmmaker as young as Chazelle (with only two previous features to his name). But a part of me still wants to see Barry Jenkins claim the prize, given how much of Jenkins’ personal history is reflected in Moonlight.

Who I Want to Win: Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

Dark Horse: Barry Jenkins

Viola Davis as Rose Maxson in 'Fences'.

Viola Davis as Rose Maxson in 'Fences'.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Who Will Win: Viola Davis (Fences)

Viola Davis’ presence in the Supporting Role category is controversial, as it exposes some of the politics that are ever-present at the ceremony each year. Many would have expected her to have a slot in the Leading Role list, given that she plays the wife of Denzel Washington’s character in Fences. It’s thought, though, that Davis was nominated here because Paramount felt she could have gotten lost in the strong Best Actress roster, and would be more likely to win as a supporting actress. The studio’s gamble paid off, and Davis’ unsurprising dominance in the precursor awards all but guarantees her the Oscar, coloured as it may be by studio gamesmanship.

Who I Want to Win: Naomie Harris (Moonlight)

Dark Horse: Naomie Harris

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)

Ali is another actor who has done well in the pre-Oscars circuit, nabbing the SAG and a number of critics’ association accolades. His chances for the Oscar are improved by some of his co-nominees: Jeff Bridges is a previous winner and Michael Shannon is nominated for a film (Nocturnal Animals) that few people saw. Ali’s biggest competition may be from Lucas Hedges, whose work in Manchester by the Sea helped balance out the film’s sombre tones.

Who I Want to Win: Mahershala Ali

Dark Horse: Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)

Best Original Screenplay

Who Will Win: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

With the Writers Guild awards still a week away, it’s difficult to feel 100% confident in my screenplay picks, but I have a feeling that the Original Screenplay award will end up being part of the wave of Oscar love for La La Land. Still, part of me thinks that the Academy may also want to use the category as a consolation prize for Lonergan, whose film will likely miss out in some of the other major races. Even so, my non-prediction, wished-for outcome would be The Lobster, a film that anyone who’s seen it would argue puts the emphasis on “Original”.

Who I Want to Win: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou (The Lobster)

Dark Horse: Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)

Alex Hibbert as Little in 'Moonlight'.

Alex Hibbert as Little in 'Moonlight'.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Who Will Win: Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

Moonlight is the frontrunner here, partly due to industry buzz and partly due to a likely desire on the part of the Academy to ensure Jenkins still goes home with a trophy (as Chazelle is leading the pack for Best Director). The selfish part of me, however, would like to see this one go to Arrival, not so much because of Heisserer’s work with his adaptation of the Ted Chiang short story, but because the film as a whole will likely miss out on some much-deserved Oscar attention (don’t get me started on Amy Adams missing a nom for Best Actress).

Who I Want to Win: Eric Heisserer (Arrival)

Dark Horse: Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures)

Best Animated Feature

Who Will Win: Zootopia

The animated feature category has the makings of being a potential sore spot for me once the winners are actually announced. All the indicators suggest that the prize will go to Zootopia, and in many ways, the film deserves it. But I have grown tired of the Academy’s constant focus on CG-animated works in recent years, while beautiful films like 2015’s Song of the Sea and 2016’s Kubo and the Two Strings - made with hand-drawn and stop-motion techniques, respectfully - get passed over. The behind-the-scenes clips used in the credits for Kubo demonstrate how much unadulterated labour and ingenuity went into the film, and the fact that the film is also nominated in the visual effects race gives me hope that it may pull off a surprise win.

Who I Want to Win: Kubo and the Two Strings

Dark Horse: Kubo and the Two Strings

Best Foreign Language Film

Who Will Win: The Salesman (Iran)

One of the keys to this race in 2017 has less to do with the films in contention and more to do with the schedule of Oscar voting. Because the voting for the winners starts on Feb 13th, there’s plenty of reason to expect voters to use the category as a political statement, by handing the award to Asghar Farhadi for The Salesman. Farhadi is perhaps the most prominent nominee to be temporarily denied entry to the U.S. as part of President Trump’s (currently suspended) travel ban. Given how politically active the year’s awards shows have been, it won’t be surprising if artistic accomplishment isn’t the deciding factor in this category.

Who I Want to Win: Toni Erdmann (Germany)

Dark Horse: Land of Mine (Denmark)

Best Documentary Feature

Who Will Win: O.J.: Made in America

In years past, the documentary feature category often puts forward a strong frontrunner, which usually ends up claiming the prize. This year, the buzz appears to be centering on O.J.: Made in America, an eight-hour miniseries from the sports network ESPN, which spans the life and legal troubles of O.J. Simpson. Intriguing as it may be for the Academy to allow a miniseries to compete against standard feature-length movies, the category this year also boasts two other powerful films on racial politics (13th and I Am Not Your Negro) which may still snatch the trophy.

Who I Want to Win: 13th

Dark Horse: I Am Not Your Negro

Best Cinematography

Who Will Win: Linus Sandgren (La La Land)

While cinematography is often overlooked by most viewers during the ceremony, the category this year does work like a microcosm of the broader Oscars field. Sandgren will likely take the award for La La Land, as another piece of the film’s haul, but Laxton’s expressive lighting and bold colours in Moonlight are equally (if not more) deserving.

Who I Want to Win: James Laxton (Moonlight)

Dark Horse: James Laxton (Moonlight)

Best Editing

Who Will Win: Tom Cross (La La Land)

Prediction-wise, it’s best to treat editing like cinematography this year, even though Cross won just last year for Chazelle’s Whiplash. That being said, Moonlight’s three-chapter structure and stylistic assembly may grab votes from the more technically-minded people in the editing bloc. These two obvious choices aside, I’m holding a candle for Arrival as a want-to-win, due to how integral editing is to understanding and appreciating the resolution of the movie.

Who I Want to Win: Joe Walker (Arrival)

Dark Horse: Joi McMillon, Nat Sanders (Moonlight)

There you have it! Am I right or wrong about the winners I named above? Will you be playing along to see who wins? Join the conversation about the 2017 Oscars in the comments section below!