Oscars 2017 Predictions: Who Should Win, Who Will Win

A complete assessment of this year's incredible crop of talented nominees


    This feature initially ran in late January. We’re reposting because there’s a little awards show this Sunday where they give out golden statues.

    Another year, another boring round of Oscars, right? Not quite.

    After being hilariously trolled by last year’s #OscarsSoWhite campaign — not to mention, you know, 2016 host Chris Rock — the Academy made an effort to shake things up by diversifying its membership, adding 683 new members, a pool that breaks down to 46% female and 41% people of color. Judging from this year’s offerings, it worked.


    Then again, it helps that Hollywood also took note. Although the year started out rough, with miserable blockbusters and reboots piling on top of one another like oozing summer garbage on New York City streets, 2016 came to a close with some wildly diverse stories, from Moonlight to Hidden Figures to Fences to Lion to Loving. That’s only a handful!


    The Oscars reflect that this year. Sure, some might argue the 14 nominations for Damien Chazelle’s La La Land are a bit much — not this writer, who can’t stop singing “Someone in the Crowd” every morning in the shower — but they’re also forgetting that not every would-be juggernaut actually walks home as one. Just ask Richard Linklater…


    When it comes to this ceremony, it’s anyone’s game, and looking ahead, it’s hard to really scoff at any of the potential Best Picture winners. They’re all bonafide critical darlings — hell, one particular win for one less favorable filmmaker could be seen as an unlikely Hollywood redemption story — and that’s the best case scenario, right?

    Well, it sure as hell beats seeing Deadpool on there. Nevertheless, take a closer look with us as we breakdown each category and try and decide who should win and who will win. Some believe there’s a science to this shit, and they’re goddamn fools.


    It’s nothing but a crapshoot.

    –Michael Roffman

    Best Animated Feature Film


    Kubo and the Two Strings
    My Life As A Zucchini
    The Red Turtle

    What should win: Kubo and the Two Strings

    What will win: Moana

    In a surprisingly stacked year for animated features (Finding Dory is a notable, high-grossing exclusion from this year’s nominations, for starters), this race will probably come down to familiarity over general quality. That’s not to say there are necessarily any bad entries here; Disney showed up in a big way, and their dual nominations speak to the increasing quality of their in-house work. But although we see the incredibly popular Moana taking home the prize — especially as it’s picking up steam in the weeks following the Golden Globes’ pick for Zootopia — it’s Laika’s gorgeously ambitious stop-motion/CG hybrid Kubo and the Two Strings that we favor most.

    –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

    Best Foreign Language Film


    A Man Called Ove
    Land of Mine
    The Salesman
    Toni Erdmann

    What should win: Toni Erdmann

    What will win: A Man Called Ove

    Okay, so maybe Toni Erdmann was too good for this world. It absolutely could have been nominated for Best Picture. Or Best Director. Or Best Original Screenplay. Or Best Actor. Or Best Actress… For Christ’s sake Oscar, did the 160-minute runtime bum you out before you gave this movie a shot!?! IT HAS MORE HEARTBREAK AND HILARITY IN IT THAN ALL THE OTHER NOMINEES! YOU SHOULD FEEL SO LUCKY TO HAVE SOMEONE LIKE TONI IN YOUR LIFE! HE GOT US TO SING WHITNEY HOUSTON AGAIN! TAKE LIFE LESS SERIOUSLY! THIS FILM HAS A 40-MINUTE NAKED BRUNCH THAT IS QUITE POSSIBLY THE FUNNIEST AND MOST BIZARRE COMEDY SCENE THIS SIDE OF A BLAKE EDWARDS FARCE LIKE 10 OR THE PARTY.


    Sorry, where was I? Oh! Best Foreign Language Film. Toni Erdman, simply put, rules. It’s a new absurdist classic; devastatingly, deliriously human. It took Cannes by storm, had a minor release from Sony Picture Classics last fall, and was more-or-less snubbed by the Academy. So here, right here, is where deserving praise can be heaped on the eccentrically unforgettable work by Maren Ade. Before the inevitable American remake. But the Academy’s probably gonna reward the more middle-ground Man Called Ove, which is fine … but he’s not Toni.

    –Blake Goble

    Best Documentary Feature


    O.J.: Made in America
    Fire at Sea

    Life, Animated
    I Am Not Your Negro
    The 13th

    What should win: O.J.: Made in America

    What will win: O.J.: Made in America

    A look back at the last 20 years of Best Documentary Oscars is not without its share of classics. Films like Man on Wire, Searching for Sugar Man, and March of the Penguins turned their subjects into something bigger than the screen, the kind of stories friends would tell each other over drinks, its subject matter so captivating that it demands to be shared. O.J.: Made in America is something different. Like Amy Winehouse and Muhammad Ali (who also saw docs about them win statues), the story of O.J. was already known. Hell, it wasn’t even the only acclaimed presentation of his life this year. But O.J.: Made in America might have been the most ambitious film of 2016 regardless for genre. Running 467 minutes over five parts, it does its damndest to tell the whole story of O.J. Simpson, letting it sprawl to cover greater issues of race in America, landing on something so insightful and thorough that no other documentary released this year stands a chance in hell.

    –Philip Cosores


    Best Cinematography


    Linus Sandgren, La La Land
    Bradford Young, Arrival
    Rodrigo Prieto, Silence
    James Laxton, Moonlight *
    Greig Fraser, Lion

    Who should win: Linus Sandgren, La La Land

    Who will win: Linus Sandgren, La La Land

    La La Land has proven to be a “your mileage may vary” kind of film, but even its detractors can’t deny that this thing looks good. Get used to this sentiment, because you’ll be seeing it a lot in the entries to come. Linus Sandgren should and will win for his sumptuous take on Los Angeles—that dizzying final sequence alone makes him a sure thing—so let’s take a minute to rhapsodize about some of the year’s most expertly captured films. Silence? Breathtaking. Arrival? Awesome, and in the most literal sense of the word. Moonlight? The only potential spoiler here, as James Laxton does as fine a job capturing real-world Miami as Sandgren does capturing dream-world L.A. Jackie? Inexplicably shut out. Lion? Yeah, sure. This category may be as sure a thing as things come, but the competition sure is pretty.

    –Allison Shoemaker

    Best Editing


    Tom Cross, La La Land
    Joe Walker, Arrival
    John Gilbert, Hacksaw Ridge
    Jake Roberts, Hell or High Water
    Joi McMillon, Nat Sanders, Moonlight

    Who should win: Tom Cross, La La Land

    Who will win: Tom Cross, La La Land

    Tom Cross already won a very deserving Oscar for editing Chazelle’s Whiplash. That thing was cut like a machine. With edits tighter than a snare drum, Cross showed an affinity for hard, rhythmic film editing that would have made Bob Fosse choke on a cigarette. To see Cross play with old staples like layered imagery, cross-fades, and long-ish takes that recalls films like An American in Paris was nothing short of eye-catching. A feast for the film nerds in all of us. There’s nothing wrong with being flashy, especially in a film about showbiz, and Cross demonstrated his knack for musical movement again with La La Land. Is it revolutionary? No, of course not. Does it get the A in film history? You betcha. This baby’s assembled in a way anyone can see and easily appreciate. So while Arrival was edited to be slow and steady, or Moonlight was cut to be abrupt and hallucinatory, Cross was like Edward Scissorhands at the edit bay. Take that, haters of quick cuts.

    –Blake Goble

    Best Original Screenplay


    Damien Chazelle, La La Land
    Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By the Sea
    Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water
    Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou, The Lobster *
    Mike Mills, 20th Century Women

    Who should win: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By the Sea

    Who will win: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

    Well, the voters put themselves in one hell of a pickle this year, no? Good fucking god. From top to bottom, there’s no denying why each name and screenplay is under this banner for 2016. Mike Mills’ delicately placed family turmoil amid a bristling cultural revolution in America with 20th Century Women. Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou wrote the greatest Black Mirror episode with The Lobster, one that left us sucking down two Xanax as opposed to four. Taylor Sheridan grilled up cowboy ethics and class issues through the BBQ that is Hell of High Water. Kenneth Lonergan welded grief and fortitude with humor and heart to masterful results with Manchester by the Sea. And finally, Damien Chazelle turned Los Angeles into a magical, dreamy world again with La La Land. Voters are going to go with the latter, no doubt, but if they want to honor gold with gold, the award should go to … and this one requires much deliberation and thought … Lonergan. Here’s hoping they throw the curve ball toward Boston.

    –Michael Roffman

    Best Adapted Screenplay


    Eric Heisserer, Arrival
    Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McRaney, Moonlight
    Luke Davies, Lion
    August Wilson, Fences
    Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi, Hidden Figures

    Who should win: Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McRaney, Moonlight

    Who will win: August Wilson, Fences

    No woman has won any screenplay award since 2007 when Diablo Cody won for Juno, and none has won in Adapted since Diana Ossana shared the award in 2005 for Brokeback Mountain. And that streak looks unlikely to end this year, with Hidden Figures scribe Allison Schroeder a major underdog in this year’s field. Though Arrival has managed to earn noms for both creative and technical categories, the latter of those areas figures to be its strongest chances. And with Lion just happy to be nominated, that really leaves a two-horse race: Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney for Moonlight and August Wilson for Fences. Moonlight might be the greater achievement, having actually adapted a story into a screenplay (whereas Fences is already a play), but the chance to award Wilson for his beloved work a dozen years after his death might be too difficult of an opportunity for the Academy to pass up.

    –Philip Cosores

    Best Original Song

    “City of Stars”, La La Land
    “How Far I’ll Go”, Moana
    “Can’t Stop the Feeling”, Trolls
    “The Empty Chair”, Jim: The James Foley Story
    “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”, La La Land

    Who should win: “City of Stars”, La La Land

    Who will win: “City of Stars”, La La Land

    The best part of the Best Original Song award is that it provides the Oscar’s equivalent to their musical guest. It could be big names like Adele or Celine Dion singing the hearts out or it could create Oscar oddball moments where the likes of Juicy J or Elliott Smith take the stage. This year is not without its star power, either, with Justin Timberlake nominated for his massive Trolls single “Can’t Stop the Feeling”, Sting up for some movie called Jim: The James Foley Story that we’re pretty sure the Academy made up just to get the former Police frontman up on stage, and Hamilton man-of-the-moment Lin-Manuel Miranda for a song from Moana that’s sung by Auli’i Cravalho on film but will probably be performed live by the soundtrack singer Alessia Cara. That sounds like a good show, right? But really what everyone will want to see is Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone giving the live version of their adored La La Land songs, immediately followed by the song’s writers and composers, Justin Hurwitz , Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul walking home with statues. This is Hollywood, and “City of Stars” speaks to just about everyone voting for this thing.

    –Philip Cosores

    Best Original Score


    Justin Hurwitz, La La Land
    Nicholas Britell, Moonlight
    Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka, Lion
    Mica Levi, Jackie *
    Thomas Newman, Passengers

    Who should win: Justin Hurwitz, La La Land

    Who will win: Justin Hurwitz, La La Land

    Looking to toss down a little money? Go for this one. There’s absolutely no way Justin Hurwitz doesn’t win this award. Not only does he deserve it, if only for that piano melody behind “City of Stars”, but it’s a widely acclaimed musical with 14 jaw-dropping nominations. Granted, Nicholas Britell’s work on Moonlight is brilliant, not to mention our 2014 Composer of the Year Mica Levi, whose work on Jackie is a character in itself, but way too many voters are going to see “Score” see the name La La Land, circle it, and then move on. Again, it’s all deserved, but, um, well, there you are…

    –Michael Roffman

    Best Visual Effects


    The Jungle Book
    Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
    Deepwater Horizon
    Doctor Strange
    Kubo and the Two Strings

    What should win: Kubo and the Two Strings

    What will win: Anyone’s guess?

    This one’s a total toss up. Odds are it’ll rightfully go to Kubo and the Two Strings given the breadth of work Laika put into the film, but the Oscars love rewarding the box office titans in this category, which means we might see a single win for Disney’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Then again, The Jungle Book was also a huge hit and, as my fellow Film Editor put it so eloquently, “made singing animals actually look like a real thing.” As for the other two, Doctor Strange did some commendable work and Deepwater Horizon is the only nomination here grounded in actual reality, so if the voters were swayed by natural explosions, there’s that. If you insist on gambling in this category, go with Kubo. As for us, we’re tossing our hands up this time.

    Michael Roffman

    Best Makeup/Hairstyling


    Suicide Squad
    A Man Called Ove
    Star Trek Beyond

    What should win: A Man Called Ove

    What will win: A Man Called Ove

    Makeup’s a helluva category. Seriously! It still exists in this strange moment where more and more filmmakers are leaning on digital alterations (if not fully articulated CGI creations) for body change. Critics and audiences tend to either wince at aging makeup, or note the rubber factor in genre films – the two best places for them in this day and age. Sorry to channel the griping of an old man or something, but it’s kinda true.

    Regardless, let’s look at the offerings here. One, Suicide Squad as a movie is dumb as a rock, and the creature effects and makeup looked like a can of Chunky soup thrown at a screen. And the only notable hairstyling served to make Margot Robbie a bad girl pixie with pigtails. Hard pass. Then there’s Star Trek Beyond, which involves a nifty sight gag involving this one alien that’s hiding some MacGuffin behind her head, but the film’s such visual viscera that it will likely have gone unnoticed.

    So, yeah, we’ll give this one to the Swedish film, A Man Called Ove, on the grounds of sheer likeability and respectability. Err, the film, not the makeup. But liking the former makes it easier to reward the latter. Old age makeup is nothing special, but, are Oscar voters gonna feel comfortable giving an award to the Suicide Squad? Admit it, you’re laughing at the fact that it’s nominated already!

    –Blake Goble


    Best Costume Design


    Florence Foster Jenkins

    La La Land
    Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

    What should win: The Handmaiden

    What will win: La La Land

    There’s perhaps no clearer “should win” than in this category, and the film in question isn’t even nominated. Oh, South Korea, what were you thinking? Granted, The Handmaiden might have given the Academy the vapors, but my god, the costumes! Its home country’s failure to submit it for consideration may have doomed Park Chan-wook’s thrilling piece of imperialist noir, but come on, just look at it. In its absence, La La Land will sweep this award in with the rest, as cute dresses are never a bad thing. Jackie may give it a run for its money, thanks to Natalie Portman’s drunken mid-film costume parade, and Fantastic Beasts earned its nod for Seraphnia Picquery’s headwear alone. Still, since this isn’t The Handmaiden’s to win, it’s La La Land’s to lose.

    –Allison Shoemaker

    Best Production Design


    La La Land

    Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
    Hail, Caesar!

    What should win: La La Land

    What will win: La La Land

    Arrival? Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? Passengers? Too steely. Not enough color. Too sci-fi/fantasy. We want Crayola.

    The two strongest opportunities in the category go to the films with an amiable studio vibe. And it’s funny, because one can’t help draw the parallels between Hail, Caesar! and La La Land in this category. Both films look to deliberately recreate that 1950’s L.A. chic, but to very different designs. Jess Gonchor, and Nancy Haigh (both worked on No Country for Old Men) painstakingly remade studio era minutiae in the Coens’ film farce. The incomplete sets and behind-scenes irony mixed with the perfectly articulated genre decorations made Hail, Caesar! delightfully designed and witty.

    But then there’s La La Land’s unusual, ambitious, and postmodern take on all that. David and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco (both worked on QT’s Kill Bills and Inglourious Basterds) boldly, unabashedly look to Technicolor things up with loud and proud monochromatic sets and stages. La La Land has this dual life of being both venerable to sets and color and obviously flashy artifice, all while layering that on top of a realistic modern Los Angeles. Plus, it fits the film’s themes of new and old bracingly. It’s a daring duality that demands attentions.

    –Blake Goble


    Best Sound Editing/Mixing

    La La Land (Editing/Mixing)
    Hacksaw Ridge (Editing/Mixing)
    Arrival (Editing/Mixing)
    Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Editing)
    13 Hours (Editing)
    Deepwater Horizon (Mixing)
    Sully (Mixing)

    What should win: La La Land

    What will win: La La Land

    Apologies to the war movies, AT-ACT Walkers, emergency landings, and alien spaceships on this list, but sometimes the littlest things are the most impressive. Take “Another Day of Sun,” the catchiest tune from La La Land, which also serves as the film’s opener. From a random cacophony of traffic emerges a song, which lives, grows, and when the back of a moving van opens, explodes with jubilant percussion. One last triumphant swell and it’s gone, and the sonic tapestry returns to the mundane, but somehow it still feels musical. Such is the case throughout La La Land—a song never feels far from the surface, and that’s a more staggering accomplishment than even the most bad-ass lightsaber battle.

    –Allison Shoemaker

    Best Actress

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    Emma Stone, La La Land
    Natalie Portman, Jackie
    Ruth Negga, Loving
    Isabelle Huppert, Elle
    Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

    Who should win: Isabelle Huppert, Elle

    Who will win: Emma Stone, La La Land

    This is one of the strongest Best Actress fields in recent memory—Amy Adams, Annette Bening, Taraji P. Henson, and Kate Beckinsale could all have made the cut, and that’s dismissing dark horses like Rebecca Hall (for Christine), Royalty Hightower (for The Fits), and Hailee Steinfeld (for the criminally underrated The Edge of Seventeen). With the possible exception of Streep, who’s great, but not that great, in Florence Foster Jenkins, any of these women could win and we’d have few complaints. Still, our pick would have to be Golden Globe winner and goddamn legend Isabelle Huppert, whose nuanced, unsettling work in Paul Verhoeven’s controversial Elle will be talked about for many years to come.

    Still, Emma Stone is likely to dance away with this one, and while we’d prefer Huppert (or Portman, for that matter), it’s tough to argue with that. Stone gives such a warm and inviting performance that it’s easy to overlook that Mia’s somewhat underdeveloped as a character, and she carries “The Audition,” the film’s most undeniably affecting scene, all by herself. It’s a towering performance, and while it’s easy to wish that La La Land gave Stone the kind of meaty material that Huppert, Portman, and Ruth Negga all had to work with, you can’t deny that the results speak for themselves. She’ll win, and when she’s robbed for something more substantive in the future, we’ll all be glad she snagged a statue back in the day.

    –Allison Shoemaker


    Best Actor


    Casey Affleck, Manchester By the Sea
    Ryan Gosling, La La Land
    Denzel Washington, Fences
    Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
    Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

    Who should win: Casey Affleck, Manchester By the Sea

    Who will win: Gosling or Affleck with Washington as a dark horse

    One of the evening’s hardest categories to call in 2017 is Best Actor. Of course, Viggo Mortensen won’t win in his second career nomination (his other was 2007’s Eastern Promises) for a movie that most people don’t even know exists. And relative youngster Andrew Garfield would be a miracle to take home an award for his portrayal of Corporal Desmond T. Doss in Hacksaw Ridge, his first career nomination. No, it comes down to three actors all with very different narratives. If we’re talking pure chops, the award should go to Casey Affleck, nominated for the first time since The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford in 2007 but fighting off resurfaced allegations of sexual harassment. Ryan Gosling, nominated for the second time (2006’s Half Nelson) could also conceivably win if the charm of singing and dancing is enough for voters to overlook the polarizing reaction of some critics hating the idea of a white dude saving jazz. If Affleck and Gosling both get taken down by their transgressions, be it real life or on film, then Denzel Washington could pull of a surprise win. He’s already won twice (1990’s Glory and 2002’s Training Day) and been nominated four other times, making him practically the dude version of Meryl Streep. Still, if we had to pick, we’re guessing it’s Affleck by a nose.

    –Philip Cosores

    Best Supporting Actress


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

    Who should win: Naomie Harris, Moonlight

    Who will win: Viola Davis, Fences

    There are arguments to be made for all five of the performances nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Both Octavia Spencer and Nicole Kidman are past Oscar winners, but their performances lack the same buzz as those they are competing with. Michelle Williams has never won in two previous nominations (Brokeback Mountain and Blue Valentine), but her emotionally stunning appearance in Manchester By the Sea might not have enough screentime to warrant a win. That leaves the two strongest candidates: Naomie Harris and Viola Davis. Harris is a revelation in Moonlight, playing a drug addicted mother of the film’s protagonist that’s equally heartbreaking and menacing. But it’s hard to bet against Viola Davis, who lost two previous nominations (2012’s The Help and 2009’s Doubt. Davis already has a Tony award for this same role and recently added an Emmy award to her mantle. If it comes down to a dead heat between the two of them, Davis might win just on recognition alone.

    –Philip Cosores

    Best Supporting Actor


    Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
    Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water *
    Dev Patel, Lion
    Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
    Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

    Who should win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

    Who will win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

    As the left-field benevolent savior to Moonlight‘s Chiron, Mahershala Ali is arguably the greatest part of Barry Jenkins’ drama, exuding so much passion and humanity into the role that’s impossible to ignore or forget. Which is why at the beginning of the year, he was believed to be a lock for Best Supporting Actor all throughout awards season. Then Aaron Taylor-Johnson took home the Golden Globe and reality set in: Not everyone’s seen Moonlight. The Oscars are different, though, which is why we’re more likely to see Ali step up and take his rightful prize. But … let’s snap back into reality once more: You’ve got Jeff Bridges in the corner, and let’s face it, Hell or High Water likely isn’t getting any other awards. The same could be said for underrated champ Michael Shannon, whose turn in Nocturnal Animals was nothing short of remarkable. Both could be dark horse winners, and as the old adage goes, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice … well, we’re fucking idiots. We stand by Ali, though.

    –Michael Roffman

    Best Director

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    Damien Chazelle, La La Land
    Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
    Barry Jenkins, Moonlight *
    Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By the Sea
    Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

    Who should win: Damien Chazelle, La La Land or Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

    Who will win: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

    There are so many ways you can make this category interesting: For starters, there’s Barry Jenkins, who could be the first black filmmaker to win Best Director. (Past nominees have only included John Singleton, Lee Daniels, and Steve McQueen. Yeah, we’ll let that sink in for a minute.) There’s Mel Gibson, who’s anti-Semitic fall from grace makes this comeback seemingly unprecedented. There’s Damien Chazelle, who’s graduating at a pace that’s near-Spielbergian. There’s Kenneth Lonergan, who couldn’t have made a more perfect film. And finally, there’s Denis Villeneuve, a brazen visionary who’s quickly climbing the ranks to match the likes of Quentin Tarantino or Paul Thomas Anderson. A win could change the fate of any of these filmmakers, but hardly as much as Jenkins, whose Moonlight continues to exist in its namesake to the general public. Still, we wouldn’t be too disappointed if the Academy does the obvious and goes with Chazelle. To go from Whiplash to La La Land in a matter of two years is just baffling.

    –Michael Roffman