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Oscars 2017 – Frontrunners and Challengers

The Oscar race follows a familiar pattern every year. We know things based on other things. We know that winning the DGA usually means you will win not just the Oscar for directing, but usually also picture – not always. But usually. The reason that not much changes in the Oscar race, and why last year was so rare, is that there just isn’t enough time to generate enough of a consensus to really shift voting.

Some things to note: No one saw the Mad Max near sweep last year coming. No one expected it would win that many Oscars Pundits were way off, both in terms of sentiment – lots of people loved the movie – and in terms of how strong it was with techs coming in. If it had won Best Director, it would have mirrored Life of Pi, which did sort of the same thing in 2012.

For a while there early in the ceremony last February, it did look like Mad Max was taking everything. And then of course it didn’t. There is no way to know if upsets like that will occur this year. But  generally speaking, there are no surprises in the Oscar race, not really. A consensus vote is mostly reliable and the clay begins to harden after the guilds weigh in.

Last year was exciting because it really put the preferential ballot to the test. There was simply no way The Revenant could have won in a competitive vote with Spotlight, maybe Mad Max, maybe The Big Short. The reason was that you either loved it and it was number one, or it wasn’t going to be anywhere near the top of your ballot.

Most people had figured The Revenant was so beloved by its passionate fan base that it would win on the first round. Except that Mad Max won a whopping 6 Oscars to The Revenant’s 3, Spotlight’s 2, and the Big Short’s 1. That says to me two things. 1) Mad Max probably gave The Revenant some heat in the Best Picture category, and 2) Spotlight was more often than not going to be either the 2nd or 3rd choice on great many ballots. That’s Kris Tapley’s theory which I think is iron clad: in a competitive year, finding out what the top vote getters that can’t win Best Picture’s number 2 choice is. That’s how you predict a Best Picture winner on a preferential ballot heading into a competitive year.

So what happened between the SAG, the DGA and the PGA that drove Mad Max’s popularity up above The Revenant in the final act? I’m guessing there was a bit of Revenant backlash that ultimately took the movie down, though it did win an impressive second Best Director in a row for Inarritu.

If you listen carefully you’ll hear things that might help you figure out if this is going to be an upset year. But keep in mind that any kind of dip La La Land might be having right now is going to be recovered when it wins the DGA (Feb. 4) and when it sweeps the BAFTA – clearly they love the movie and they’re probably not going to award anything else. That clears the field for a La La land sweep. That’s my guess at the moment. But let’s see where there might be some wiggle room in this race.

Best Picture
The Frontrunner: La La Land, it will have won PGA/DGA and has made $106 million so far. It is the most talked about movie of the year and seems to have a lot of broad support.
The Challenger: Hidden Figures – I’ve never seen a movie pick up so much good will and word of mouth as this one in the last weeks. Since it doesn’t have a directing nomination that makes it a long long long shot for Best Picture. In fact, Moonlight has a better shot stats-wise. But winning the SAG ensemble and its record breaking box office has made Hidden Figures a real threat. Don’t get your hopes up for Hidden Figures, though. A lot of snooty menfolk in the Academy probably won’t support it, I’m guessing, since they don’t anywhere else.

Best Director
The Frontrunner: Damien Chazelle, La La Land – he will win the DGA, and probably BAFTA and that will be all she wrote.
The Challenger: I still think Barry Jenkins remains a threat. 1) He’ll make Oscar history as the first black director to win in 89 years, and 2) Moonlight is beloved – though it will likely win Screenplay (if Hidden Figures does not upset).

Best Actor
The Frontrunner: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea – he’s won the majority of the awards except the SAG, which opted to award Denzel Washington who had never won there. But Washington isn’t nominated for the BAFTA, which leaves Affleck free and clear to win there.
The Challenger: Denzel Washington, whose performance is the best of the year. He already has two Oscars so the urgency to award him isn’t as high as it would be otherwise.

Best Actress
The Frontrunner: Emma Stone, La La Land – she won the SAG, she’ll win the BAFTA and she’ll ace this award.
The Challenger: Isabelle Huppert is by far her biggest threat at the moment. It’s those speeches. They are infectious.
Not going to rule out: Ruth Negga who would become only the second black actress to win in lead actress in 89 years.

Supporting Actor and Actress are locked with Viola Davis for Fences and Mahershala Ali for Moonlight
If there is a spoiler for Supporting Actor it could be Dev Patel for Lion, since the movie is so beloved.

Original Screenplay
The Frontrunner – Manchester by the Sea seems to be locked for this win for Kenneth Lonergan, who is a respected and beloved filmmaker.
The Challenger – La La Land remains a threat since it very well might sweep.

Adapted Screenplay
The Frontrunner – Moonlight – this will be the only win for Barry Jenkins, unless he somehow takes Best Director. Moonlight might win other awards no one is counting on but this is likely the big win.
The Challenger – Hidden Figures, which could do what Spotlight did last year – Picture and Screenplay.

Documentary Feature
The Frontrunner – O.J.: Made in America
The Challengers – Fire at Sea which resonates with the right now, and 13th which would be a nice big “fuck you” to President Trump.

The Frontrunner – La La Land in a sweep
The Challenger – Arrival, not just because they might want to give the movie something but because they might want to award the first African American cinematographer in their history with a win.

The Frontrunner – La La Land, in a sweep
The Challenger – Hell or High Water because it is well liked and they might want to give the movie something, and Moonlight – which again makes history with the first black female nominee.

The Frontrunner – City of Stars
The Challenger – Lin Manuel Miranda could get his EGOT with a win and if the two La La Land songs split the vote.

Score – La La Land has no challenger.

Foreign Language Film
The Frontrunner – Toni Erdmann
The Challenger – The Salesman – first off, how does it not win? Trump-banned Iranian genius Asghar Farhadi? Also, it’s better.

Animated Feature
The Frontrunner – Zootopia
The Challenger – Kubo and the Two Strings is actually nominated in Visual Effects, making history while doing so. It might win in that category, even. Or it might win here. It remains a threat.

The Frontrunner – La La Land
The Challenger – Jackie

Production Design
The Frontrunner- La La Land
The Challenger – Hail Caesar, which should win but won’t.

That’s where it seems like the race is headed right now anyway. Perhaps things will shift but more likely, they won’t.