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Predictions Friday – Down to the Wire and the Big Guild Announcements

Before any nominations come down, hope springs eternal. We can still hope there is a possibility for impossible things. Once the nominations start coming out, we’ll be surprised by some, horrified by others, and everyone will have something to complain about. No matter which films succeed, someone, somewhere is going to launch an attack against them. That’s the nature of the Oscar race, whether it’s a politically charged accusation (all white people) or a different kind of thing being the frontrunner, which always puts a target on your back. It’s so bad, in fact, that films that win Best Picture are often looked upon with disdain the second they win. Many will never recover from that disdain. Overall, though, I find the Best Picture winners to have been far more daring without the preferential ballot in place than with it. What we have now is a huddle to the middle. The least offensive wins the day. You can, as an awards strategist, knock out a competitor by somehow making their inoffensive film suddenly seem offensive. Even Boyhood, the least offensive film ever made, was somehow turned into an offensive movie when someone tagged it with the “it’s a gimmick” thing. The preferential ballot can’t and won’t reward anything that is divisive heading into the race.

We’re at the part of the race where everything speeds downhill until the Oscar ceremony. We still don’t know what kind of year we’re in. There’s La La Land — about which Kris Tapley once said “what could possibly beat it?” And then there is the nationwide reaction to La La Land which remains to be seen — it’s making money, it’s becoming a bit of a cultural phenomenon, word of mouth is spreading fast. The reaction is the part that decides the race. By now, voters know it’s the frontrunner to win. How that reality sits with them is how they will ultimately decide on whether or not it’s their favorite and if it isn’t their favorite, it’s their second favorite.

It’s that number two spot that becomes the most important in a competitive year. The only tiny hint that it might be a competitive year is that the first big guild, the Screen Actors Guild, left La La Land, the frontrunner, off its Outstanding Ensemble list. That may be because voters took it for granted that it would be on there so they voted for something else, something they felt more passionate about. In this case, it looks like Captain Fantastic was that film they felt more passionate about — or at least they felt like they had to fight for.  And that makes sense because it’s scrappy, harmless, well-intentioned, quirky, and an underdog. Most of us are not counting Captain Fantastic in as a Best Picture contender and likely won’t unless it lands on the Producers Guild’s top ten. But, because it knocked out La La Land, that means it has passionate support and passionate support might get it into the Oscar race. It’s considered a daring prediction right now but it’s one that can’t ignored.

Right now it’s looking like a record-breaking year for African American films or films written by, starring, and directed by black artists. If Moonlight, Fences, and Hidden Figures are all nominated, you can consider that an historical record in terms of Best Picture subject matter. If Mahershala Ali, Viola Davis, and Denzel Washington all win acting prizes?  Another record. We’re not quite there yet, but we should also prepare for the possibility that it goes in the opposite direction – that only one of these films will be nominated. None of them are frontrunners because of white guilt or obligation. They are positioned where they are because they’re great movies that SAG voters liked enough to nominate.

A FAQ:

Do Globe nominations “matter”? Not in terms of whether someone will get an Oscar nomination or not.

Do Globe wins “matter”? Yes. Why, because a Globes acceptance speech can work like an audition of sorts, trying a win on for size. It’s also the time most people get a look at the nominees on camera, on stage, dressed up, at the mic. That also makes it an audition. I don’t know how many people watched the Critics Choice Awards but that standing ovation for Viola Davis was kind of a big deal.

Do critics awards “matter”? Well, sort of? Mostly, critics and bloggers and journalists help to push movies to the top of the screener pile. It’s far preferable to have been invited to a screening and to have watched the film with the cast and director present. You’re more apt to be in its corner.

Do publicists decide the Oscar race? Yes and no. To a degree once awards strategists got intensely involved, it became pretty clear what an Oscar movie was and what an Oscar movie wasn’t. They mostly decide what to present to voters, but ultimately voters do what they want to do and publicists can’t control that. Still, it’s true that movies are slated for Oscar consideration months in advance and rarely does the race step outside of that pattern. This year, Hacksaw Ridge and Hell or High Water are two movies that really did sort of just spring out of nowhere.

Do guilds always predict the winners and the nominees? They do except when they don’t. Movies can slip on past the guilds, completely undetected, and then spring forth when the nominations are announced. The Blind Side is one of those. The Tree of Life is another.  But for the most part, the guilds are the largest group of voters and they match the Academy in sheer numbers. Critics don’t.

Are there smear campaigns? You better believe it. I can think of two or three right now that could catch fire and burn down the barn, but it’s also a tricky game to play and one that can backfire. They are started by word of mouth, whispered at a party, and then repeated again and again until they become a reality. Or they’re big and loud as an op-ed in some trade magazine. This is how we end up at “least offensive wins the day.”

What’s the biggest change you saw this year? The Academy is being put to the test this year in terms of acceptance of alternative distribution platforms. Their bread and butter are, for the most part, studio films released in movie theaters that make money for the exhibitors and the studios. This year — with O.J.: Made in America being ESPN, 13th being Netflix, Hell or High Water being CBS Films, Manchester by the Sea being Amazon Studios — we’re seeing a sea change. I’m personally all for it. It means more work across the board for everyone. But it’s a wait-and-see in terms of the studios. Warner Bros is in play with Sully; Paramount has Arrival, Florence Foster Jenkins, Silence, and Fences; Fox has Hidden Figures; Fox Searchlight has Jackie; Focus has Loving, Lionsgate has La La Land, and A24 has Moonlight. It’s an odd year, to be sure.

What movies are we underestimating?
I think we’re underestimating Lion, which I suspect is going to be bigger than anyone is predicting, and probably Captain Fantastic which, despite being an irritant to me personally, probably has a decent shot at a Best Picture nomination.

And with that, the predictions.

Best Picture

Manchester by the Sea (SAG)
La La Land
Moonlight (SAG)
Fences (SAG)
Arrival
Lion
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures (SAG)
Hacksaw Ridge
Sully

Also possible:
Silence
Loving
Captain Fantastic (SAG)
Patriots Day
Jackie
20th Century Women

Best Actor
Denzel Washington, Fences (SAG + Ensemble)
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea (SAG + Ensemble)
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic (SAG + Ensemble)
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge (SAG)
Tom Hanks,Sully

Also possible:
Ryan Gosling, La La Land (SAG)
Joel Edgerton, Loving
Andrew Garfield, Silence
Adam Driver, Paterson

Best Actress
Natalie Portman, Jackie (SAG)
Emma Stone, La La Land (SAG)
Amy Adams, Arrival (SAG)
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins (SAG)
Annette Bening, 20th Century Women

Also possible:
Isabelle Huppert
Ruth Negga, Loving
Emily Blunt, Girl on the Train
Jessica Chastain, Miss Sloane
Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures

Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight (SAG + ensemble)
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea (SAG + ensemble)
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water (SAG)
Dev Patel, Lion (SAG)
Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins (SAG)

Also possible:
Ben Foster, Hell or High Water
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Supporting Actress
Viola Davis, Fences (SAG + ensemble)
Naomie Harris, Moonlight (SAG + ensemble)
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea (SAG + ensemble)
Janelle Monae, Hidden Figures (SAG + ensemble)
Nicole Kidman, Lion

Also possible:
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures (SAG + ensemble)

Best Director
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Denzel Washington, Fences
Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

Also possible:
Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
David Mackenzie, Hell or High Water
Martin Scorsese, Silence
Jeff Nichols, Loving

Original Screenplay
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water
Yorgos Lanthimos/Efthimis Filippou, The Lobster
Mike Mills, 20th Century Women

Adapted Screenplay
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Eric Heisserer, Arrival
Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi, Hidden Figures
August Wilson, Fences
Jeff Nichols, Loving

Also possible:
Todd Komarnicki, Sully
Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals
Jay Cocks, Silence
Luke Davies, Lion
Andrew Knight, Robert Schenkkan, Hacksaw Ridge

Editing
La La Land
Arrival
Moonlight
Manchester by the Sea
Hell or High Water

Also possible:
Silence
Sully
Hacksaw Ridge

Cinematography
La La Land
Silence
Arrival
Moonlight
Hail Caesar

Also possible:
Jackie

Production Design
La La Land
Hail Caesar
Silence
Arrival
Jackie

Sound Mixing
La La Land
Hacksaw Ridge
Arrival
Rogue One
Silence

Also possible:
Hell or High Water

Sound Editing
La La Land
Hacksaw Ridge
Rogue One
Arrival
Hell or High Water

Costume Design
Jackie
La La Land
Florence Foster Jenkins
Love & Friendship
Hail Caesar

Original Score
La La Land
Hell or High Water
Jackie
Moonlight
Rogue One

Foreign Language Feature
Toni Erdmann (Germany)
The Salesman (Iran)
Tanna (Australia)
Paradise (Russia)
A Man Called ove (Sweden)

Documentary Feature
OJ: Made in America
13th
The Ivory Game
Gleason
Weiner

Also possible:
Tower
Life Animated
Cameraperson
I’m not Your Negro
Command and Control
The Eagle Huntress
Hooligan Sparrow
Fire at Sea
The Witness
Zero Days

Animated feature
Zootopia
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
Sing
Finding Dory

Visual Effects
Jungle Book
Arrival
Doctor Strange
Fantastic Beasts
Rogue One

Makeup and Hair
Hail, Caesar!
Florence Foster Jenkins
A Man Called Ove