Will win: La La Land
Could win: Hidden Figures
Should win: Moonlight
Should have been here: Silence
The skinny: It’s going to be a long, suspense-free night on Sunday. La La Land is going to sweep in every category it’s nominated, except Best Actor. There’s the remote possibility a few technical awards might not go its way (and maybe not even original screenplay), but expect to hear the orchestra play Justin Hurwitz’s score almost the entire night. If there’s a shocking upset, it would go to the crowd-pleasing historical drama Hidden Figures, by far the biggest of this year’s nominees. But that would be a true anomaly, since it won’t win any other Oscars.
Will win: Damien Chazelle
Should and could win: Barry Jenkins
Should have been here: Martin Scorsese, Silence
The skinny: Chazelle’s got this in the bag. At 32, he would be the youngest Best Director winner ever. His only competition is Barry Jenkins, but if Moonlight doesn’t win Best Picture (which it won’t), I don’t see how he can win this. And while I’m a big advocate of not just nominating the same people over and over, it’s a real shame Scorsese’s most challenging film this century only had to settle for a cinematography nomination.
Will win: Denzel Washington
Could and should win: Casey Affleck
Should have been here: Colin Farrell, The Lobster
The skinny: Side-stepping any discussions of morality in honoring Casey Affleck (besides, this is the same Academy that gave Roman Polanski an Oscar, so morality doesn’t really factor into their decisions), I think they want to give Denzel his third Oscar. It’s been 15 years since he won for Training Day and he should have won for Flight. Fences was something of a passion project for him and his role is the kind of meaty part that wins this award. That’s in contrast to Affleck’s performance (which I think is the year’s best, though I haven’t seen Fences yet), which is all internal pain and mumbling. Those performances never win, or else Joaquin Phoenix would have a couple awards by now and Colin Farrell would be nominated this year.
Will win: Emma Stone
Could win: Isabelle Huppert
Should win: Natalie Portman
Should have been here: Amy Adams, Arrival
The skinny: With at least three actresses that deserved a spot here – including Amy Adams, Annette Bening and Rebecca Hall, which was never going to happen – it’s hard to pick the most deserving, because they’re all doing wildly different things. I think Emma Stone’s going to win, and I adore her, and this is probably the best performance she’s given to date. But when I think about the performances I’m going to remember years from now, it’s Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy. Her voice is perfect, but more impressively, she’s taking us really deep into a woman we think we know, but didn’t really. In my mind, it’s up there with Helen Mirren in The Queen. But she just won a few years ago for Black Swan, so if it’s not Stone, and since Amy Adams was bafflingly excluded, it could be Isabelle Huppert, who’s given a lifetime of bold performances, but is somehow on her first Oscar nomination. But critics don’t vote on this, so that would take a miracle.
Will and should win: Mahershala Ali
Could win: Jeff Bridges
Should have been here: John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane
The skinny: This seems like the closest thing Moonlight has to a lock. If anyone else has a shot, it’s Bridges, but he just won for Crazy Heart a few years ago, and it’s not like he needs another feather in his cap at this point. Plus, Hell or High Water still feels to me like a movie that’s punching above its weight class. It’s a fine cops-and-robbers thriller, but it’s not the profound statement on Red State America it thinks it is. This should go to the man who’s been turning in great performances for years and is ready to enter the next phase of his career.
Will win: Viola Davis
Could and should win: Michelle Williams
Should have been here: Lily Gladstone, Certain Women
The skinny: Ever since it was announced Davis would campaign as a supporting actress, this award has been hers to lose. Of course, I’ve said that before. She should already have two trophies for Doubt and The Help, but was thwarted by the two best parts of otherwise bad movies (Vicki Cristina Barcelona and The Iron Lady). I don’t think that will happen this time. It’s a big part with at least one big monologue, and her award-winning work on How to Get Away with Murder (honored by her peers in the Television Academy and the Screen Actors Guild) certainly factors into this as well. But that unfortunately means Michelle Williams will have to wait yet again for her much-deserved Oscar.