Sunday is Hollywood’s biggest night of the year. That’s right, it’s time for the 89th annual Academy Awards and in preparation, we’re making our predictions known — as well as our hopes. With the diversity and caliber of this year’s crop of nominees, it’s hard to choose one to reign over its competitors. However, we’ve taken on that daunting task to pick what we think are the best of the best and who should go home with that coveted golden statuette at the end of the night.
Will Win: La La Land
Damien Chazelle’s modern-day musical La La Land has won over nearly everyone: Hollywood (it does love nothing so much as itself), critics, and adoring fans (as shown by its impressive global box office performance). The film brings a contemporary couple’s story to life, all while set to song and dance numbers harking back to Classic Hollywood, and has become nearly a shoe-in for this top category. Unless, of course, the backlash wins out or the split votes between this and Moonlight pave the way for a third, dark horse contestant to win.
Should Win: Moonlight
Still, we think it’s Barry Jenkins’ tour de force should walk away with Best Picture at the end of the day — and our writer Dino has laid out why. What Moonlight is able to accomplish in its tender storytelling of a young, repressed, gay black man in Miami is truly breathtaking. Many people are still buzzing about the film and the way it’s been able to deeply affect as many viewers as it has is a true accomplishment.
Will Win: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
At 30 years old, Damien Chazelle brought Old Hollywood to the 21st century with a seemingly simple story but in a completely original way. The long takes during musical numbers and a saturated palette make viewers feel as though they’re watching a true classic. Whether or not he wins, and he is the frontrunner, Chazelle has proven himself a talented filmmaker with his follow-up to the acclaimed Whiplash and we can’t wait to see what he does next.
Should Win: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Still, at the end of the day, Barry Jenkins’ direction of Moonlight is an absolute revelation. The film is quiet and poignant, beautifully constructed and shot, and shows the audience a story unfolding, rather than simply telling it. The deep intensity and heart of the film all come from Jenkins at the center and he deserves every accolade he receives this season.
Will Win: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck has been on a roll with awards season wins for his performance in Manchester by the Sea and is the favorite to win. However, between Denzel Washington coming from behind and winning the SAG Award, as well as the controversy surrounding Affleck, he’s slightly less of a sure thing. Absolutely, one could say the director picked the person he believed was the best choice for the job regardless of actions outside the film. Is that true, though? When you compare Affleck to those he is up against, and what was asked of him to do (a white male returns home in the face of tragedy and must raise a young family member), have we never seen that before?
Should Win: Denzel Washington, Fences
Speaking of performances we’ve seen before, Denzel Washington won the Tony Award for this same performance in 2010. But that doesn’t mean his work in the film adaption of August Wilson’s play Fences is any less impressive. Washington absolutely commands this film with his increasingly tense performance as the patriarch of a family in 1950s America. And we think that makes him worthy of winning his third Oscar.
Will Win: Emma Stone, La La Land
From one of the first scenes Emma Stone appears in as the lead in La La Land, at an audition for a film, she conveys an evolution of emotions in just a few moments. With a tight close-up on her face, there’s no hiding. She delivers consistently strong work throughout the film — even if her singing and dancing leave a bit to be desired — but with the competition she faces in her category, we think she should get her Oscar in another year (and she will get an Oscar).
Should Win: Natalie Portman, Jackie
As hinted at, of all the acting categories in this year’s awards season, Best Actress is truly a Battle Royale of top-notch talent. While Natalie Portman once led the pack, she has since fallen behind, but that shouldn’t be the case. In fact, come Sunday, she’s the one who should be able to snag her second Oscar for her incredible, searing performance as the iconic first lady. What was once hers to lose is now her uphill battle and hopefully the Academy will see what an astounding performance Portman gave.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Will Win & Should Win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Mahershala Ali gives one of the most moving performances of 2016 in Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, turning the known character of a drug dealer into something far more nuanced and heartfelt. As the mentor to young Chiron aka Little (Alex Hibbert), Ali was instantly likable and warm, giving his character multiple facets and a deeply layered humanity. When you realize that he actually taught Hibbert to swim in the scene pictured above, his performance becomes even more elevated.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Will Win & Should Win: Viola Davis, Fences
Viola Davis is an absolute powerhouse in Fences, a role which she first played on Broadway and won her a Tony Award alongside her costar, Denzel Washington. She is the heart of the film, going toe-to-toe with Washington and earning sympathy and respect from the audience in an instant. She fires on all cylinders in this performance when she is equal parts loving, patient, resilient, angry, and, more than anything else, human. This will be her third nomination and it’s about time she won.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Will Win: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Respect must be paid to Kenneth Lonergan this year. We know he’s not going to beat out Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins for Best Director. He already lost to Jenkins at the WGA Awards, but guess what? The Academy ruled that Moonlight belongs in the Adapted Screenplay category! Aided by an excellent cast led by Casey Affleck, Lonergan delivered not one or two, but at least five gut-punch dramatic scenes that will stick with you long after the end credits. He has always been a keen observer of the human condition, but here he captures an entire spectrum of emotions. Manchester may not feature flashy direction, but it had one of the best screenplays of the year, and we expect the Academy to recognize that.
Should Win: Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water
Hell or High Water might feel like a film you’ve seen before as two brothers set to rob the banks that they feel robbed them, but Tyler Sheridan’s pitch perfect script brings complex emotions to the impeccably tight story. The story feels universal and timeless, while still fresh, in an era where it can feel like you’ve seen every story before and that’s what makes it deserving to win Original Screenplay.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Will Win: Barry Jenkins & Tarell Alvin McRaney, Moonlight
It is in Moonlight’s screenplay that the characters first come to life. Though the film is largely quiet, the screenplay gives the story a direction to unfold as beautifully as it does. As both director and writer, Barry Jenkins, more than anything else, has accomplished something great in the world of storytelling and his win will be deserved. Still, there’s some stiff competition in this category this year.
Should Win: Eric Heisserer, Arrival
Screenwriter Eric Heisserer has been around for some time, penning genre scripts like Nightmare on Elm Street, Final Destination 5, and Lights Out. He’s proven himself skilled but Arrival is a complete change of pace in style and tone. Heisserer took a seemingly un-adaptable short story in which a doctor comes in contact with aliens who view the world in a non-linear timeline and managed to make a heart-pounding character drama, complete with a classic three-act structure and message that resonates particularly well with the current political climate.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Will Win: Zootopia
Walt Disney Pictures
Set in a world of anthropomorphized animals, Zootopia unexpectedly and skillfully explores themes like racial profiling and stereotyping. Its subversive nature made it soar high in 2016 but the Animated Feature category is one of the strongest of the year and while Zootopia is absolutely worthy of the statue, there are some other titles that are equally as impressive and should have the shot to win the prize.
Should Win: Kubo and the Two Strings