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89th Academy Awards Predictions

Concept sketch for the 89th Academy Awards by Derek McLane places host Jimmy Kimmel on a stage decorated with crystals from Swarovski.

Nearly six full months after what felt like its start (a post-Labor Day screening of Sully, which ended up being unable to go the distance in anything but a sound category), Hollywood's long awards season comes to an end this weekend with the Academy Awards. Having seen nearly all of the nominated features plus a few of the nominated shorts, I feel as qualified to make predictions as I've ever been.
In truth, not much has changed since the snowy Tuesday before Thanksgiving when I came out of my La La Land screening certain that this film was going to clean up at the Oscars. Others expected as much back in late August and early September when the film first screened at Venice and Telluride.

Pundits and bloggers have tried to make the race seem more open and exciting, but after three consecutive years where the Best Picture remained somewhat in doubt until that last envelope was opened, this year has felt predictably in the full possession of Damien Chazelle's original Los Angeles musical. People have tried to make cases for Moonlight and Hidden Figures as some kind of timely reaction to the election of Donald Trump and his policies. And yes, that argument made just as little sense typing it out right now as it has in reading it. Oscar speeches may reflect the times, but the winners reflect the industry's tastes more than any politics and world events.

And so with no further ado, here are my predictions, in some approximation of the order in which they might be given, along with some commentary. I don't expect any huge surprises and you probably shouldn't either.


With far more screentime than the competition, Viola Davis seems likely to run away with the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her fantastic work across from Denzel Washington as Rose Maxson in "Fences."

Supporting Actress
Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Predicted Winner: Viola Davis, Fences

This is the night's surest bet. The only case you can make against Davis is that she's in the film enough to be considered a Lead Actress. But after losing in that category for 2011's The Help (to Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady...hmm), she will win this one for sure. You can't even imagine a scenario in which one of the others win, though perhaps Williams will end up runner-up.

Anticipated to be more of an awards contender than it ended up being, "Jackie" still has a great shot at winning Best Costume Design.

Best Costume Design
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
La La Land

Predicted Winner: Jackie

If this is one of the first awards given, it could be one of the first to let us know just how ga ga the Academy is for La La. Jackie is a better fit for what Costume Design has gone for in the past and the Academy hasn't shown preference to the films they regard more highly. (The Young Victoria, Alice in Wonderland, and The Duchess won with no chance of winning any major honors.) So there's definitely a chance for Florence Foster Jenkins! But if La La Land pulls off a win here, winning a record 12 or 13 Oscars is still in play and those who dislike the film are in for a long night.

Love it or hate it, you can't deny that "La La Land" is a feast of production design, beginning with its colorful opening highway number.

Best Production Design
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hail, Caesar!
La La Land

Predicted Winner: La La Land

This is but the first of many awards likely to go to La La Land. I guess you can kind of see Fantastic Beasts or Arrival pulling off a surprise. But even the biggest haters of La La Land would probably concede it deserves this award.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad

Predicted Winner: Star Trek Beyond

The least predictable award of the night, this could easily go one of three ways, but the original Star Trek reboot won it, so maybe this third installment will too against a foreign film not many have seen and a superhero movie many saw but critics hated.

Though it will have to defeat "La La Land", I predict Kenneth Lonergan's "Manchester by the Sea" will win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

Best Original Screenplay
Hell or High Water
La La Land
The Lobster
Manchester by the Sea
20th Century Women

Predicted Winner: Manchester by the Sea

20th Century Women and The Lobster should feel honored just to be here. This really seems to be between Manchester by the Sea and La La Land and I could see it going either way. But what may be on voters' minds is that La La Land is getting its wins elsewhere, while the moving and genuine Manchester may not. That could and should push things in Manchester's favor. Hell or High Water would be a surprise win out of left field.

"Moonlight" seems likely to win the Best Adapted Screenplay award with its earnest three-act tale of an African American's journey from boyhood to manhood.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Hidden Figures

Predicted Winner: Moonlight

This category became the night's surest place for Moonlight recognition once it was classified as Adapted for being based on an unproduced play. Fresh off its win at the Writers Guild for Original Screenplay, Moonlight seems like it would win either category, but it has lighter competition here. There are crazier things that could happen than any one of the other four pulling off a surprise victory here, with the possibility that all but Fences could otherwise get shut out for the night. But this is Moonlight's for the taking and, per my predictions, the only one of eight nominations it's turning into a statuette.

Expect "La La Land" to win early and often, beginning with technical honors and proceeding to some of the biggest awards of the night.

Best Film Editing
Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water
La La Land

Predicted Winner: La La Land

There is often some correlation between Best Editing and Best Picture, in that it's tough to win the latter without even being nominated for the former (which pretty much dashes any hopes that Manchester by the Sea and Hidden Figures might otherwise have held). Birdman defied that...but with a presentation that looked like it was devoid of editing. Anyway, I'd say anything but Moonlight has a chance here, but that final sequence of La La Land is simply first-class cinema and that alone probably earns it this prize.

Best Cinematography
La La Land

Predicted Winner: La La Land

La La Land lost the American Society of Cinematographers' award to Lion, but I don't think that matters much here where the entire Academy votes on the winner.

Best Documentary Short
4.1 Miles
Joe's Violin
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets

Predicted Winner: The White Helmets

I've only seen Extremis and The White Helmets, but I can easily imagine either winning. Extremis has more human interest, but White Helmets has perhaps more relevance in terms of political climate. But Joe's Violin seems to be campaigning more than any of the others so maybe that could pay off.

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Related Reviews -- Nominees:
Best Picture: La La Land Manchester by the Sea Moonlight Hacksaw Ridge Hell or High Water Arrival Lion Hidden Figures
Acting Categories: Loving Elle Florence Foster Jenkins Jackie Nocturnal Animals
Best Animated Feature: Zootopia Moana Kubo and the Two Strings Red Turtle
Best Foreign Language Film: Toni Erdmann Land of Mine Tanna
Tech Categories: Silence Doctor Strange The Jungle Book Sully Deepwater Horizon Hail, Caesar!

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Posted February 24, 2017.

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