It’s time to predict the Oscar nominations, which will be revealed painfully early in the morning on Tuesday, January 24. For each category, I’ve listed the candidates in numeric order of what I think is their likelihood of being nominated. For best picture, I think the top nine will be nominated. For all other categories, it’s the top five.
The Holy Trinity:
1. La La Land
3. Manchester by the Sea
The Nearly Sure Thing:
4. Hidden Figures
The Steak Eaters’ Pick:
5. Hacksaw Ridge
The Art House Picks:
8. Hell or High Water
Probably Not These:
11. Captain Fantastic
13. Nocturnal Animals
16. 20th Century Women
When predicting the nominees for best picture, process is key—and it’s a process that’s almost completely different than the one that decides the best picture winner. For that, second place votes are crucial. But for the nomination process, they don’t mean a thing. Here, it’s all about the first place votes.
To get a best picture nomination, you have to achieve a minimum of 5% of the first place votes. The raw numbers of that means that around 325 members of the Academy have to think you were *The* best film of the year. So it comes down to demographics—with every best picture candidate, what branches and taste groups of the Academy seem likely to think it’s the very best film of the year? And are there at least 300 or so people in those groups?
There are seven candidates that I don’t think meet those criteria. 20th Century Women didn’t open early enough, Loving is a movie that a lot of people respect but no one seems passionate about, and people love Deadpool but it’s still extremely difficult to imagine more than 300 Academy members naming it the best film of the year. Nocturnal Animals has been extremely well reviewed and will be widely appreciated by the more arty contingent of the Academy, but the problem is that those voters will also adore Moonlight, and are there really over 300 of them that won’t put Moonlight (or Jackie) higher on their ballots?
Captain Fantastic is one I’ve wrestled with. People often forget that casting directors make up a branch of the Academy, and there are few challenges better understood by casting directors than assembling an utterly perfect ensemble of six children. It’s also a film clearly loved by the actor’s branch—as evidenced by its best ensemble nomination at the SAG Awards—AND by the writer’s branch. But how many people in any of these branches will think it’s a better film than Moonlight, or Manchester by the Sea? Not enough, I think.
Silence still has a decent chance because of the level of respect people have for Scorsese. Remember, the last five features Scorsese released during Oscar season—The Wolf of Wall Street, Hugo, The Departed, The Aviator, and Gangs of New York—all received best picture nominations. But those films were also all a hell of a lot more accessible than three hours of 17th century priests being tortured in rural Japan. And the “daring cinephile” voting contingent that Scorsese is used to cultivating has better choices this year.
With Fences, who is championing this film besides actors? It’s hard to imagine Academy voters from any other branch loving it, because it doesn’t show off the talents of any of those branches. It’s not memorably directed, photographed, or edited, has no effects/production design/makeup to speak of, barely even has a screenplay, etc. Yes, the actor’s branch is the biggest one, and Fences could get in on their support alone, but how many actors will think Fences is the better display of their craft than Manchester by the Sea?
For the last several years, one or two art house films have rounded out the best picture slate—films that everyone knew had no chance of winning, but which garnered enough support to get a nomination. Last year it was Brooklyn and Room, and the years before that saw films like Whiplash, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, and Beasts of the Southern Wild receive nominations. If you’re looking for what fits that demo this year, Jackie and Hell or High Water are your best bets. Both have broad appeal across Academy branches (directors, actors, screenwriters, and editors) and fit a taste niche (Jackie is more obviously feminine than any other film in this year’s race, and Hell or High Water is one of the most masculine). I expect both to make the final field, but they have one major hurdle to overcome—the broad consensus on the top three films. In most years, there’s a lot of disagreement on the year’s best films, which has led to eight or nine best picture nominees in every year since the rules changed (the rules that now allow any number from five to ten). But this year, it kind of seems that everyone agrees that either La La Land, Moonlight, or Manchester by the Sea is the year’s best film, and if each of those get around 20-25% of the first place votes, we might be looking at a year with only six or seven best picture nominees.
On the other hand, both Lion and Arrival give voters something they aren’t finding in any of the other choices. Lion is a classic weepy that makes you believe good things can happen in the world (plus it’s the sole candidate for the Weinstein Company, and their focus on it should not be underestimated). And Arrival will be passionately supported by a lot of members of the craft branches, particularly visual effects artists and production designers, that don’t have another horse in the race. I think both are in.
And then there are the Steak Eaters. This term, coined by Indiewire’s Anne Thompson, describes the typically old white male members of the Academy that vote for “classic” Oscar fair—films that feel big in scope, that probably tell stories of Great Heroic Men, and that remind them of the Hollywood of old. You know, the kinds of movies that old white men tend to like. In 2016, their film is Hacksaw Ridge, and no matter how controversial Mel Gibson may be—I don’t expect him to get a director nomination—it’s getting a best picture nomination.
Hidden Figures, which was the #1 film in the country during voting (and still is), is surging, and has extremely broad appeal. And the top three are the top three for a reason. Consensus is consensus, and these are the few things that everyone agrees on.
The New Masters:
1. Damien Chazelle, La La Land
2. Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
3. Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
4. Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
Fifth Slot Possibilities:
5. Pablo Larraín, Jackie
6. Martin Scorsese, Silence
7. Garth Davis, Lion
8. Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals
9. Ted Melfi, Hidden Figures
10. David Mackenzie, Hell or High Water
Persona Non Grata
11. Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
The best director category has given us some major surprises in recent years, such as Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow getting left out in 2013, and Ridley Scott’s snub just last year. The only truly safe bets are that Chazelle and Jenkins will get nominated, and Mel Gibson won’t. Beyond that, just about anything could happen. Lonergan seems like a third lock because his film is so beloved, but it’s also not showy, and might strike some as a masterpiece in writing and acting, but not direction. On the other hand, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is far showier, but this category has been notoriously cruel to genre films (Christopher Nolan, for example, has never been nominated). But both Lonergan and Villeneuve received nominations from the Directors Guild, and I think they’ll get in here.
The fifth slot is tricky. I don’t think Ted Melfi has a great shot, because fair or unfair, Hidden Figures is viewed as a more populist movie, and those don’t typically get nominated in this category. Garth Davis got a nomination from the DGA, and Tom Ford got a nomination from the Golden Globes. Both could be the fifth name here, as could Martin Scorsese, who is certainly beloved by his fellow directors, and if there’s any branch of the Academy that will appreciate the craft and challenge of Silence, it’s the directors. But I’m predicting Pablo Larraín will round out the field. He’s been a very well respected international filmmaker for years (with his 2012 film, No, receiving a best foreign language film nomination), he has two acclaimed films this year (the other is Neruda), and the subtle care he brings to Jackie as a foreign filmmaker working in English for the first time—not to mention deftly handling the story of an American icon—should win over his fellow filmmakers.
1. Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
2. Denzel Washington, Fences
3. Ryan Gosling, La La Land
4. Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
5. Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
6. Joel Edgerton, Loving
7. Tom Hanks, Sully
8. Michael Keaton, The Founder
There are two acting categories this year that look like we already know the five nominees AND the winner: best actor and best supporting actress. For best actor, really the only question is whether Edgerton can knock out one of the presumed nominees. But Loving is fading fast (it might actually not get a single nomination), and not only are Hacksaw Ridge and Captain Fantastic much buzzier films at the moment, their lead actors also give showier (and I would say better) performances. It’s hard to imagine Edgerton knocking out either one. As for the long shots, Keaton’s film looks dead in the water, and if Hanks couldn’t get a SAG nomination, where the more populist stuff stands a better shot, then it’s hard to imagine him breaking through here. Affleck, Denzel, Gosling, Viggo, and Garfield will be the five nominees.
The Only Lock:
1. Emma Stone, La La Land
Five Names, Four Slots:
2. Natalie Portman, Jackie
3. Amy Adams, Arrival
4. Annette Bening, 20th Century Women
5. Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins
6. Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Faded From the Conversation:
7. Ruth Negga, Loving
Joined the Conversation Too Late:
8. Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures
Anyone that says they know what’s happening in this category is lying, because there are six women assumed to be in, and math dictates that one of them won’t be. Who that will be is tricky. Portman has been widely acclaimed, but some don’t like her voice as Jackie O, and Jackie might turn out to be one of those films that only critics like. Arrival was an acclaimed hit, but genre films rarely get nominated in acting races. Bening is assumed to be a sentimental favorite here, but who knows if voters even actually watched 20th Century Women (SAG voters sure didn’t; or worse, they did and just found it unworthy). Before the Golden Globes, I thought Streep could be the one to get left out, but her anti-Trump speech might have solidified voters’ love for her (and that career montage sure didn’t hurt). And Huppert just won the Globe (which at least might inspire voters to watch Elle), but who knows how enthused her fellow actors will be for a French film about a woman that maybe enjoys being raped—especially in this political climate.
One of these women will be disappointed Tuesday morning, and I think it’ll be Huppert. While she’s a legend to critics that see all her French films, other actors might not see her that way, so she won’t be perceived as “due.” And, on the other hand, Adams and Bening are definitely seen as due, which will increase their vote totals at the expense of… somebody else.
And this all assumes that Negga has fallen out of the race and Henson never quite got in. Maybe those aren’t safe assumptions.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The Sure Things:
1. Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
2. Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
3. Dev Patel, Lion
4. Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins
5. Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
6. Kevin Costner, Hidden Figures
7. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nocturnal Animals
8. Simon Helberg, Florence Foster Jenkins
9. Ralph Fiennes, A Bigger Splash
10. Trevante Rhodes, Moonlight
11. Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals
12. Jovan Adepo, Fences
Three weeks ago, it seemed like we knew the five names that would be nominated here. But then Hidden Figures became a massive hit (considerably elevating the odds of Costner being nominated), and Aaron Taylor-Johnson somehow inexplicably won the Golden Globe.
I still think this race will go chalk. The Globes voters is a very small group that has no overlap with the Acamdey, so Taylor-Johnson’s win means nothing beyond that it may inspire more Academy members to check out Nocturnal Animals. But that may just lead to more support for Michael Shannon, and ultimately neither of them gets the boost they need to leapfrog Grant or Hedges. Hugh Grant may suffer from some category confusion—he was in the lead actor race at the Globes. But this is where he’s being campaigned, and I expect this is where voters will put him (it's hard to be anything but supporting when acting with Meryl Streep). Keep in mind, he’s never been nominated, and voters should relish the opportunity.
Hedges is in the most vulnerable spot, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Costner bumps him out. Costner has been nominated once before (best actor for Dances with Wolves), but he remains underrated as an actor, and, on paper, it’s difficult to imagine some kid beating him out. But that kid is really wonderful in the movie that’s being lauded as the best “actors” film of the year, and overall support for Manchester by the Sea should push him through.
Personally, I’m sad that Helberg (who received a Globes nomination and is, in my mind, the best part of Florence Foster Jenkins) and Ralph Fiennes (whose movie I hated but his performance is wonderful) aren’t getting more of a chance here, but both are considered major long shots.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Just Hand Her the Damn Oscar Already:
1. Viola Davis, Fences
Very Sure Things:
2. Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
3. Naomi Harris, Moonlight
Fairly Sure Things:
4. Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
5. Nicole Kidman, Lion
Vaguely Possible Spoilers:
6. Janelle Monáe, Hidden Figures
7. Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women
Did Anyone Even See These?:
8. Julianne Moore, Maggie’s Plan
9. Felicity Jones, A Monster Calls
This is a five-woman race with five slots, so the math works itself out quite nicely. While I wouldn’t completely count out Monáe (Hidden Figures is surging), this race is all but set in stone. Davis, Williams, Harris, Spencer, and Kidman will be the five nominees, just as they were at both the Globes and SAG Awards.
And that’s how it’ll go down! (Possibly.)