Ballots were due on a rainy Feb. 21 in Los Angeles as the Academy rounds the final corner en route to the 89th Oscars. So…what can we expect to happen?
Barring anything wildly unforeseen, “La La Land” should stay on track to win best picture, as well as director and actress honors following the same wins from the major guilds and the British Academy. Another safe bet is Viola Davis as supporting actress for “Fences,” after she swept through the precursor circuit.
The other two acting races present tighter contests. Lead actor, in particular, feels very much up in the air. But I’ll lean toward SAG winners Denzel Washington (“Fences”) and Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”) topping BAFTA winners Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”) and Dev Patel (“Lion”).
In the screenplay categories, the Academy’s shift of “Moonlight” from original to adapted keeps things interesting. I think it was a fortuitous move; Barry Jenkins’ script — which won the WGA’s original prize anyway — has an easier path to victory in the adapted category, with BAFTA winner “Lion” the toughest competition. That leaves original screenplay a two-horse race between presumed frontrunner “Manchester by the Sea” and “La La Land.” Flip a coin — I’ll go with Damien Chazelle as part of a dominant showing for the musical.
In the crafts categories, the easiest pick is “The Jungle Book” for visual effects; any other winner would be a shock. “La La Land” can probably count on original score and original song (“City of Stars”), plus the cinematography prize; the American Society of Cinematographers may have picked “Lion,” but the BAFTA Awards suggested that the “La La Land” aesthetic stands out to a broader group of voters.
After that, there are a lot of question marks. “Arrival,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” and “La La Land” have won editing prizes from the British Academy and the American Cinema Editors organization. My instinct for the Oscar is to go with “La La Land,” despite the fact that the best picture winner hasn’t taken this prize since “Argo.”
The makeup and hairstyling category pits two underwhelming studio blockbusters against a quaint Swedish film that’s also nominated for foreign language film. It depends on which movies Academy voters actually saw. Both “Suicide Squad” and “Star Trek Beyond” won makeup and hairstylists guild awards, but I’ll give “Star Trek” the edge. (BAFTA winner “Florence Foster Jenkins” isn’t even in play.)
“Arrival” won the sound prize at the BAFTAs, but the U.S. Academy splits the field into mixing and editing. It’s difficult to bet against a musical (Cinema Audio Society winner “La La Land”) for sound mixing, while sound editing could come down to the sci-fi drama (“Arrival”) versus a war film (“Hacksaw Ridge”). That BAFTA win has me thinking “Arrival” could walk away with it, but my gut says “Hacksaw Ridge,” particularly after a strong showing with the Motion Picture Sound Editors’ awards.
Finally in the crafts categories, costume and production design are toss-ups all around. “La La Land” is a fierce contender in each, but it’s a relatively modest production overall. I’ll bet on it in production design (which also feels like an interesting, if atypical, place to honor “Arrival”). But I’ll spread my chips over to BAFTA winner “Jackie” for costumes.
Rounding out the feature categories, I expect “Zootopia” to finish strong in animated, “O.J.: Made in America” to fend off competition from “13th” and “I Am Not Your Negro” in documentary, and a photo finish in foreign film between “A Man Called Ove” and “The Salesman.” I’ll take a flyer on the palatable “Man Called Ove” eking it out, despite a headwind of travel ban protest votes on behalf of “The Salesman.”
And to be completist, put me down for “Ennemis Interieurs” (live action), “Piper” (animated), and “Joe’s Violin” (documentary) in the shorts categories.
With all of that guesswork out of the way, questions still remain. How will the injection of nearly 700 new Academy members, many of them international artists, affect the vote this year? How will the #OscarSoWhite narrative continue to play out this season? Will emcee Jimmy Kimmel nail it or bomb?
We’ll get answers on Feb. 26.