Oscar Nominations, 2017: Predictions

E:  How has this day come already?  There almost seems like there’s too much going on to think about movies.  But hey, by all means.  Let’s have an abrupt focus shift from politics to entertainment as Hollywood picks out what they want us to remember them by, what they consider the best and the brightest lights of the past crazy year.  Tomorrow is nomination morning.

That’s right folks.  Ready for a little Oscar speculation?

                                                                                      Best Actor

These Things We Know To Be True:

Casey Affleck, Manchester By the Sea

Denzel Washington, Fences

Consistently Nominated:

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

If Not Them, Then Who?

Joel Edgerton, Loving

Jake Gyllenhaal, Nocturnal Animals

Ton Hanks, Sully

Long Shot:

Adam Driver, Patterson

My Guesses:

Affleck, Garfield, Gosling, Mortensen,Washington

I actually think this slate is pretty set with the top five guys I listed: Affleck, Washington, Gosling, Garfield and Mortensen. All the major awards bodies have put them on their short lists. Affleck, of course, is a lock as the favorite for his absolutely devastating performance as a man struggling to go on living. I was deeply moved by his portrayal, but’s interesting, isn’t it, that the early awards hopes of Birth of a Nation‘s Nate Parker were totally destroyed by criminal allegations from his past, but Affleck remains untouched by his own more recent scandals?   Washington follows next in line for his much lauded performance as a frustrated father in August Wilson’s Fences,  a role for which he won a Tony and which he brought to the screen as director. Some people still think Washington can shoot to the top and grab a record third win, but that’s a question for another day. I should note that Washington was left off the BAFTA slate. Oddly enough, BAFTA has never nominated him, which hasn’t stopped him from earning 6 Oscar nominations and 2 wins.  What do you have against Denzel, Brits?  Whatever it is, it won’t stop him now.

Ryan Gosling has been nominated once before, for his gritty performance as Half Nelson‘s drug addicted teacher.  Though the Academy prefers its younger, handsomer actors in grungier roles, Gosling is still expected to make the list for his work as a charming, romantic jazz pianist as part of La La Land‘s anticipated strong showing.  Garfield has received kudos across the board for his turn as a quirky Southern medic who despite his conscientious objector status becomes a hero in World War 2.  He came very close to making the list for playing Mark Zuckerberg’s betrayed colleague in 2011’s The Social Network and fell just short; promisingly, Desmond Doss is not only a real person, but also a far more awards-baity role.  And then there’s the surprise, Viggo Mortensen, who seemed to come out of no-where as an unusual father raising his flock of kids alone and off the grid.

Yeah, it’s possible other people could sneak in: Edgerton’s stalwart husband (half of a precedent-setting interracial couple), who was lauded at the Globes, or Gyllenhaal’s not so stalwart ex-husband/novelist, chosen over Washington at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), or Tom Hanks’s heroic pilot, who skirted the edges at the Globes and Critics Choice/Broadcast Film Critics’ awards with their large nominee lists.  Edgerton’s star (and Loving‘s) seems to be on the wain, and Gyllenhaall’s got nothing like last year’s buzz for Nightcrawler (which still couldn’t land him a leading actor nod). But Hanks has had weird luck with the Academy this millenium.  Despite turning in impressive and beloved performances in Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks and Bridge of Spies, Hanks hasn’t managed to land a nomination since Castaway in 2001.  It’s rather mindboggling, isn’t it?  What’s America’s favorite actor got to do to prove he still has the right stuff?  If the Academy decides that Gosling and Garfield are too young and pretty to nominate together, then I expect either Edgerton or decides that Gosling and Garfield are too young and pretty to nominate together, then I expect either Edgerton or (perhaps even more likely) Hanks to slip in.


                                                                                         Best Actress

These Things We Know To Be True:

Amy Adams, Arrival

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Emma Stone, La La Land

The Big Pool of Possibilities:

Emily Blunt, The Girl on the Train

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Ruth Negga, Loving

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Don’t Count Out:

Annette Bening, 20th Century Woman

Outside Chances:

Jessica Chastain, Miss Sloane

Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures

Most years Best Actress is a race between 6 for 5 slots.  This year, we have 8, maybe even 9 I won’t totally count out, and at least half of the performances are from major movies that play in most theaters.  There’s far less congruity than usual, which is exciting because it means there were actually quite a few movies with excellent, meaty roles for women.  Huzzah!

Your winner, as all Oscar watchers will tell you, is pretty likely to be either Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy in the wake of her husband’s death, or La La Land‘s incandescent Emma Stone.  Stone of course has the edge, not simply because she won the Golden Globe for her portrayal of a struggling actress but because in a surprise upset Portman lost her Globe race to Isabelle Huppert.  (More on her in a second.) We’ll get a better indication of the momentum here after the SAG awards, but either way, those two are as much of a lock as there can be.  Almost as likely is Amy Adams as a linguist figuring out how to talk to aliens in the fantastic, if understated, Arrival.  For some reason Adams is often assured a nomination (five times already) yet is never in contention for the win.  Someday voters will decide that she’s gone long enough giving varied and impressive performances (she’s a Disney princess, she’s a hard-talking bartender, she’s Lois Lane, she’s a nun) and hand her a win, but the only way that happens this year is if there’s no consensus on Stone or Portman; in a three (or even four way) race, all bets are off.

Speaking of four way races, there’s someone else we have to talk about. According to most prognosticators, Huppert doesn’t have a spot sewn up (she was passed over by SAG and BAFTA) but she can’t be counted out as serious threat, not simply as a nominee but even as a potential winner.  Yes, she’s in a French movie, and foreign language performances always face a higher bar, but her portrayal of a rape victim won her top honors from the New York and L.A. Film Critics groups.  She’s actually won more precursor awards than anyone, and that often translates into a nomination.  My gut tells me there’s a lot of love for her out there, or she wouldn’t have won that Golden Globe.

On the other hand, SAG and BAFTA chose to honor Emily Blunt for her work as an alcoholic obsessive in this fall’s adaptation of literary blockbuster The Girl on the Train.  The movie wasn’t as highly acclaimed as the book, or even the blockbuster it might have been, but it did well enough, and Blunt’s performance has garnered a lot of late stage awards buzz.  We can’t count her out, either; like Huppert, it’s possible she’s on her way to her first nomination.  Unlike Huppert, I think she has no shot of winning if she’s nominated.  Maybe for that reason, or maybe because she’s less known as a dramatic actress, I’m guessing she’s slightly less likely to take a space on Oscar’s list.

The last of my picks, Meryl Streep, surely hasn’t done herself a disservice with the Hollywood community with her Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement award speech at the Golden Globes.  Before that speech, and before the SAG and BAFTA nominations, I’d have said her chances of snagging a nomination for her hilarious and incredibly moving portrayal of a delusional arts patron and aspiring singer had been fading, but taken together those events and accolades suggest that she’ll be receiving her record 20th nomination.  (Of course, everything she’s done has been a record for what, three nominations now?  So it’s just more whip cream and sprinkles on top of the sundae that is her monumental, unparalleled career.)

We should also talk, also, about Ruth Negga and Annette Bening, who’ve seen their early buzz fade as Isabelle Huppert snapped up all the critics prizes, and their work failed to snag nominations anywhere other than the Globes. Which, as I noted, Huppert and Stone won.   Their work as, respectively, a civil rights pioneer and a single mother in the 70s won them great acclaim, but neither seems to have the momentum.  Still, I wouldn’t be shocked if Annette pulled the kind of upset that Lauren Dern did with Wild or Max Von Sydow in Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close, picking up a nomination without getting any precursor nods.  We know the Academy likes Annette and that she’s both well connected and well respected in the industry as a whole.

Finally, I want to mention two potential dark horses.  First there’s two time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain as crisis manager/political fixer Miss Sloane, and Emmy darling/Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson, who plays NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson in Hidden Figures.  Though she had early buzz, I don’t see Chastain going anywhere after her movie disappeared; on the other hand, Hidden Figures might be peaking at the right time,  so if Hollywood is falling for the feel good true story the way the rest of the country seems to be, then Taraji might be back at the big show.

To sum up, I feel pretty certain that we’ll see Adams, Portman and Stone.  I feel less sure, but still pretty solid, about Meryl Streep.  And I’d guess Huppert for the last slot, though neither Bening nor Blunt would truly surprise me.  Even Negga and Henson are inside the realm of possibilities.

To Sum Up:

Adams, Huppert, Portman, Stone, Streep


Bening or Henson

                                                                                       Best Supporting Actor

They’ve Made All the Major Lists:

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins

Dev Patel, Lion

Duking It Out For Fifth:

Lucas Hedges, Manchester By The Sea

Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nocturnal Animals

Outside Shots:

Ben Foster, Hell or High Water

Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Outside Outside:

Issey Ogata, Silence

Why Didn’t We Hear Anything About Him?

Hugo Weaving, Hacksaw Ridge

In contrast to best actress, this category usually teems with potential candidates.  This year, however, the results have been surprisingly congruent.  At the Globes, BFCA and SAG, we have Ali (winner of most critics’ prizes), Bridges, Grant and Patel.  Taylor-Johnson not only joined the list but surprised pundits with a win at the Globes; Hedges took the fifth slot at SAG and was one of six at the BFCA.  Given Taylor-Johnson’s win, and his exclusion at SAG, this is the only category without a frontrunner.

Foster, Shannon, Ogata and Weaving would all be big shocks.  The real question here is, how much does Hollywood like Nocturnal Animals?  BAFTA seemed to like it quite a bit, and obviously so did the tiny Hollywood Foreign Press – but did it play as well domestically?  Selfishly, I’m hoping for Hedges to win the nomination, partly because I really enjoyed his performance as a grieving teen even at the points where I didn’t like his character, and partly because I just do not want to have to see Nocturnal Animals.

That said, I would have to predict Ali (perhaps best known for House of Cards), old Hollywood favorite Bridges, Grant’s actor playing the role of husband, Patel’s confident adoptee searching for his birth family, and – drum roll please – Golden Globe winner Aaron Taylor-Johnson just edging out Lucas Hedges.  I still think Ali is more likely to win, but the Globe statuette might be enough to put T-J on the Oscar ballot.  I won’t be at all surprised (and am in fact hoping for) Hedges to triumph instead; this is one of the times when I choose the one I don’t want in hopes of being wrong but also mitigating/preempting my disappointment if I’m right.

My Picks:

Ali, Bridges, Grant, Patel, Taylor-Johnson



                                                                                  Best Supporting Actress:

They’ve Made All the Lists:

Viola Davis, Fences

Naomi Harris, Moonlight

Nicole Kidman, Lion

Michelle Williams, Manchester By the Sea

Most Obvious Fifth:

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

If Not Her, Then Who?

Janelle Monae, Hidden Figures

Dark Horses:

Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Woman

Hayley Squires, I, Daniel Blake

It’s already virtually a guarantee that Viola Davis, a beloved and bravura actress coming into her greatest work in middle age, will win the Oscar.  She was close to a win for The Help, but her profile has only been raised in her recent television work, and she seems locked on target this year. The biggest question is whether the women on the slate with her will be those that we expect or if there’ll be a surprise entry. It’s fun to hope for a surprise, but the four roles I mention to start (all mothers in various stages of distress about their children) seem to be locks.

Given that, the two top contenders for the final slot both come from the same movie.  The Critics Choice Awards, with their six nominees, took both Monae and Spencer, playing an aspiring engineer and a mathematician in Hidden Figures.  Spencer’s work alone was been highlighted by SAG.  Monae’s profile, on the other hand, has been raised with her key roles in both Hidden Figures and Moonlight.  BAFTA went with Hayley Squires in an obscure-to-Americans drama, who seems highly unlikely to break in here.  And Gerwig could have ridden in on Annette Bening’s coattails back when she was deemed in contention for the win, but her movie has slipped quietly out of notice.  No, I think the Academy will give previous winner Octavia Spencer another nomination to add to her lifetime total.

My Picks:

Davis, Harris, Kidman, Spencer, Williams



                                                                                Best Director

These Things We Hold To Be True:

Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By The Sea

Better Than Average Shot:

Dennis Villeneuve, Arrival

And The Other White Men In Contention Are:

Garth Davis, Lion

David Mackenzie, Hell or High Water

It’s Not Impossible:

Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals

Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge

Ken Loach, I, Daniel Blake

Marty Scorsese, Silence

Denzel Washington, Fences

This is not the year of celebrity directors, is it?  The entire slate at the DGA (the first five names on this list) had never even been nominated once.  With the exception of Scorcese, there’s no Big Name Director anywhere near this list, and he’s a huge long shot.   You have to be a person who follows films to know who the best know of these fellows (Lonergan) is, and it’s unlikely that much of mainstream America has heard of most of his movies, let alone seen them.  Of course, there are a couple incredibly famous actors – Gibson and Washington – but I can’t see Hollywood going anywhere near Gibson (Oscar winner though he is), and Washington’s film was critiqued for not being able to take the staginess out of Wilson’s play.  Fashion designer Tom Ford is certainly a celebrity, but not as a director, and I think it’s highly unlikely he’d repeat his BAFTA nod with the Academy when his work is so polarizing and underseen.  I’m just not sure they take him seriously here yet as a filmmaker.  More likely, this is the year of new men.

The first of those new men is La La Land‘s Damien Chazelle, whose Whiplash was one of my favorite films from a few years back.  The only thing new about Kenneth Lonergan is the chance of the long time getting a director Oscar nomination; he first came to awards notice with  2001’s You Can Count on Me, which (as with Manchester) he both wrote and directed.  Like Chazelle did with Whiplash, Lonergan recieved a nomination for writing the quiet Laura Linney drama.  Both multihyphenates should be vaulting into new awards territory this year.  Arrival‘s Denis Villeneuve made a mild splash with 2015’s Sicario, even if his name isn’t one most people would recognize, and is likely to be yet another new face on Oscar night.

So I was slightly snarky in my category titles: this year’s slate is likely to feature the fourth black man nominated for Best Director; Barry Jenkins should take his place alongside John Singleton (the barrier-breaker from 1991), Lee Daniels (2009) and Steve McQueen (2013).  It’s worth noting that while McQueen’s film, 12 Years a Slave, was the favorite and winner of Best Picture, there has yet to be a black winner in this category.  This year will be unlikely to change that fact, give La La Land‘s unprecedented dominance at the Golden Globes, but you never know.  You also never know. And no where is there a better shot at repeating the 2016 #OscarsSoWhite snubs than here, in this notoriously volatile category.

That said, I fully expect Jenkins to receive a nod even though almost no one outside of Hollywood and the awards community has heard of him or his film.  Who’ll join these four?  The Directors Guild went with Garth Davis for his lovely, horrifying, assured Lion.  The director’s branch are the mavericks of the Academy, constantly flouting conventional wisdom and previous awards trajectories.  These lists almost never match up, but I don’t think there’s anyone else more likely to take that slot.  Am I being lulled into complacency by this surprise nod?  Probably.  Still, the totally obscure Mackenzie has absolutely no buzz, Loach’s film hasn’t made any ripples on this side of the Atlantic, and there isn’t a European waiting in the wings like Amour‘s Michael Haneke (having said that, watch Toni Erdmann‘s Maren Ade sneak out and bite me in the butt).   No, it really looks like the DGA has picked a solid group, who’re my guesses as well.

Of course, this is the director’s branch we’re talking about, my inability to imagine a surprising nominee doesn’t mean they won’t provide one.

My guesses:

Chazelle, Davis, Jenkins, Lonergan, Villeneuve

Dark Horse:



                                                                                       Best Picture

These Things We Hold To Be True:

La La Land

Manchester By The Sea


Almost as Obvious:


The Big Pool Of Possibilities:


Hacksaw Ridge

Hell Or High Water

Hidden Figures


Don’t Count Out:

Captain Fantastic

Florence Foster Jenkins



Because I’m Thorough:



Nocturnal Animals


Obviously, what makes this category impossible to predict is not merely the inevitable presence of surprise nominees, but the fact that we don’t know how many nominees there will be.  In 2009, the Academy switched the number of nominees from 5 to 10 in the hopes of pulling in more blockbusters and so engaging more viewers.  In 2011, they changed things up again.  There must be between 5 and 10 nominees, each one having to reach at least 5% of first place rankings in the new preferential ballot. Since they switched to the new rules (up to ten, depending on percentages of votes in the preferential ballot), we’ve never had 10 nominees; we’ve varied between eight and nine.  We’ve also seen fewer sweeps like Schindler’s List, Titanic and Return of the King, with nominations more evenly divided between a larger pool of admittedly more obscure movies.  I will be honest and admit that no one ever gets every single one, let alone me, even when we know the number, because favorites don’t always perform the way we expect: Carol is a recent, high profile example of this.  And when we have to guess if we’re looking at 7 films or 8 or 9 ones?  Yeah, it’s a trick.

That said, there are 4 obvious ringers – Arrival, La La Land, Manchester By The Sea and Moonlight.  Yes, La La Land was passed over for the Screen Actor’s Guild Ensemble award, which may or may not be because they didn’t consider it a real ensemble piece.  (I certainly don’t.  Even their few recognizable costars  melt into the background, mirrors to reflect Gosling and Stone and magnify their glow.)  It also won 7 Golden Globes (actor, actress, director, screenplay, score, song and picture), a feat never before achieved in the Hollywood Foreign Press’s 74 years of giving out awards.  It won’t win Oscars in all of those categories (Gosling was considered on the bubble earlier in the season, and won his Actor in a Musical or Comedy Globe without having to compete with Washington or Affleck) but it has solid shots at the other six and could even snag a few more not given out at the Globes, like production design and costumes.  It will be fascinating to see how that unfolds, especially given that we won’t see it in contention at next Sunday’s SAG Awards.

Deadpool (an R rated superhero comedy) would be unprecedented as  Best Picture Nominee.  It did make the Golden Globes and the Producer’s Guild Awards, but it’s still incredibly unlikely.  Florence Foster Jenkins is a complicated emotional dramedy about an older woman, so that’s not a typical item for Oscar these days either.   Silence and Loving fizzled up before they could even be seen, failing to secure nods anywhere. Surprise SAG ensemble nominee Captain Fantastic has always been a huge stretch (an under the radar August release – what is this madness?). Nocturnal Animals (thought viable, especially as a BAFTA nominee) didn’t inspire much love or box office, and Sully (which had both) hasn’t made the awards run it was expected to.  Maybe you need to stop opening your movies in the early fall, Tom Hanks?

After that, there are five films which have been nominated all around, making end of the year lists with abandon: Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, and Lion.  I think it’s entirely possible that all five of these films make the list.  All five are producers Guild nominees, and would be my picks if we’re looking at 9, which is still the most common number of nominees since the advent of the preferential ballot. The biggest question is, which one gets left out if they don’t all make it?  I could honestly make the case for each of them to be left off the list, but after marching this weekend, I have less time than usual for this post.  I will say, Hidden Figures has had huge buzz and audience responses through all of January, and that ought to keep the uplifting story on the list.  Hell or High Water came out of nowhere as a Best Picture contender (another August release?  seriously?) but it’s been solid all season. Despite Hollywood’s fractured relationship with Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge remained on voters minds, but it does lack both a SAG and a BAFTA nomination for Best Ensemble/Picture, which suggests that it might not be going the distance.  That’s true of Lion as well, but Garth Davis’s nomination for director might keep that film in contention.  So if I had to choose – and I do, obviously – I would suggest Hacksaw Ridge as the most disposable of the 9.

To recap:

If there are 9 nominees:

Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Manchester By The Sea, Moonlight

If there are 8:

Arrival, Fences, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Manchester By The Sea, Moonlight

If there’s a surprise inclusion:


And there we are!  There’s lots else I’m interested in hearing.  Just how many nominations will La La Land receive?  Does Hollywood really, really like this story of dreamers hoping to make it in Hollywood, or does the SAG nod show us that the HFPA’s faith is misplaced?  What are the inevitable snubs?  Will Finding Dory, one of the top blockbusters of the year as well as the best reviewed films, be shut out of Animated Feature?  Will Lin-Manuel Miranda throw away his shot at the MacPEGOT?  All these questions and more will be answered tomorrow morning.  I’ll be back at you with reactions later in the day, owning up when I’ve fallen short and cheering on the movies I still look forward to seeing.

One comment on “Oscar Nominations, 2017: Predictions

  1. MMGF says:

    Interesting! Such a tougher year for nominations than usual. I wouldn’t even be surprised to see Denzel or Adams – ostensible locks – passed over. Or, I could see Davis nominated for lead actress (which, I feel, would actually be the correct category.)
    And THANK YOU for the Hugo Weaving shout-out. I have no idea why HE isn’t winning best supporting actor this year. He was so far and away the best performance in Hacksaw Ridge.

    Let the games begin!!

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