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Oscars 2017 – Frontrunners and Their Challengers

Oscar ballots are sent out today but most people probably have already made up their minds as to how to how they will be ranking the movies. They’re either going to be the kind of voters who look at their ballot and mark off their favorite movie or they’re going to want to spread the wealth to cover all of the Best Picture nominees.

In a sweep year with the expanded ballot, you’re looking at a maximum of four films going home empty handed. The same way the BAFTA voters spread the wealth across all films, Oscar voters might do the same. If the La La Land “backlash” has any impact on the race it might be exactly that – some down ballot categories go to other films.

But let’s see what’s shaking:

Best Picture
The Frontrunner – La La Land – other than the SAG ensemble stat, which is probably going down this year (sob), all systems go for La La Land stats-wise. PGA/DGA and BAFTA has, in recent years, amounted to an Oscar win, though we don’t have enough Oscar history to go with that. Fold in the Globe and you probably have a movie that can’t lose.
Challengers – Hidden Figures still presents a bit of a challenge, partly because voters might feel the need to do something bigger and better with their vote BUT then they will put La La Land at number two and that’s where their vote will ultimately go.
Moonlight has an outside shot to win.
Lion has an outside shot to win.
Arrival has an outside shot to win.

Best Director
The frontrunner: Damien Chazelle, La La Land (he can’t lose, really)
The remote challenger: Barry Jenkins becoming the first black director in 89 years of Oscar history to win (who are we kidding)

Best Actor
The frontrunners: Denzel Washington because he who wins the SAG almost always wins the Oscar AND Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea for winning everything else. You have to go ALL THE WAY BACK to 2003 to find a year when SAG didn’t match, but hey, the SAG ensemble stat for La La Land is even farther back than that, all the way to 1995.
Challenger: Always the chance that the two could split and Andrew Garfield could surprise, Adrien Brody style, for Hacksaw Ridge. I sort of think Hacksaw has a pretty good shot of surprising in a few categories anyway.

Best Actress
The frontrunner: Emma Stone in La La Land – she can’t lose. She has it locked because she’s the main reason it’s a good movie, apart from Chazelle’s directing.
The challenger: Isabelle Huppert in Elle – the Oscars aren’t equipped to give this win to Huppert. It’s just way outside their wheelhouse.  BUT she has some momentum heading into the race.

Supporting Actor
The frontrunner: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight – he did not win the BAFTA and in fact suffers from his part being not as big as some of the others either in the movie or in the category.
The challenger: I have always thought Dev Patel was a big threat in this category because his is a leading role even if he is only in half of it. He’s still the lead and he acts the hell out of the thing. I am actually currently Patel to upset. But Ali’s speech at the SAG was powerful and that speech alone might push him through but there is no denying the love for Lion…

Supporting Actress
The frontrunner: Viola Davis and she has no challenger.

Original Screenplay
The frontrunner: Manchester by the Sea by Kenneth Lonergan.
The challenger: La La Land by Damien Chazelle – Chazelle will win this in a sweep. Like Slumdog Millionaire and other sweeps in the past, when they love a movie they LOVE A MOVIE. Still, the actors rule and they are quite fond of Lonergan so I don’t see him losing here.

Adapted Screenplay
The frontrunner: Moonlight
The challenger: Lion – Lion is coming up fast on the outside – it’s a hard movie to deny because it generates intense emotional feeling from people who see it. They almost never forget the experience. While Moonlight won the Scripter, and is in the original category at the WGAs next weekend, Lion could absolutely upset here.  Moonlight’s campaign has not been that aggressive, perhaps because they felt word of mouth would drive it or the critics would drive it – either way, there is some campaigning I’m seeing now but the Lion team has been more aggressive so we’ll see what happens. I’ll stick with Jenkins for now. Lion is not eligible for the WGA so it won’t be there. But it just won the BAFTA over Moonlight, so that’s something to consider.

Editing
The frontrunner: La La Land
The challengers: Almost any other film can win this if La La Land doesn’t, starting with the BAFTA, but also the ACE winner, Arrival if they want to give the movie a big award, there is also Hacksaw Ridge which is well liked and has great and memorable editing. I sort of feel like La La Land has this in the bag but I will not be surprised if something else wins.

Cinematography
The frontrunner: La La Land
The challenger: Lion, which won the ASC and absolutely could upset here. It will depend on how much the Academy loves La La Land and whether they’re wanting to split the wealth. Lion has all of that wide expanse of scenery in India which is jaw-dropping. Arrival’s cinematography is also incredible. La La Land has that magnificent opening number and the end which is just one beautiful shot after another.

Costume Design
The frontrunner: Jackie – just too beautiful to deny.
The challenger: La La Land in a sweep.

Production Design
The frontrunner: La La Land
The challenger: Almost any other film in the category, from Fantastic Beasts to Arrival to even Passengers, come to that. I don’t think this is an easy win for La La Land because the production design is really about the last few minutes during the final musical number. The rest of it is LA scenery. It’s pretty rare to win that category for a Best Picture winner. The last one to do so was Return of the King in 2003. Chicago was another, Shakespeare in Love won it. Arrival’s production design creates a whole world that doesn’t exist in real life, as does Passengers and Fantastic Beasts. Hail Caesar’s is just incredible too. I’m not sure which one to predict for this.

Sound Mixing
The frontrunner: La La Land (a musical, so a no-brainer)
The challenger: Hacksaw Ridge is a challenger. It could win this and Sound Editing. Arrival is also a challenger as it just won the BAFTA.

Original Song
The frontrunner: City of Stars (one of two La La Land songs and a total ear worm tbh)
The challenger: How Far I’ll Go (the brilliant Lin Manuel-Miranda will be the youngest EGOT winner in history)

Sound Editing
The frontrunner: there isn’t one, really, but probably Hacksaw Ridge
The challenger: All five

Documentary Feature
The frontrunner: OJ Made in America
The challenger: All four represent unique challenges. 13th because it’s an Oscar for Ava DuVernay as director, I Am Not Your Negro, which has a lot of buzz all of a sudden, Fire at Sea because of the horror that’s happening politically, and the uplifting story, Life, Animated could always surprise and win.

Animated Feature 
The frontrunner: Zootopia – it’s won virtually everything. It has a timely message that really does expose the Trump era for what it is.
The challenger: Kubo and the Two Strings – as you can see by these ads, they are making a hell of a push. The animation is also breathtaking, AND the film has two Oscar nominations.

Foreign Language Feature
The frontrunner: Either Toni Erdmann or The Salesman. The former has all of the critics awards, the latter was directed by Asghar Farhadi, who would have been part of the Muslim ban. That might have prompted more people to see his movie (which is great anyway). A Man Called Ove is such a beautiful film but I fear not enough people will have seen it by Oscar time. There is also Tanna and Land of Mine. They’re all great. Hard to choose between them.

Visual Effects has Jungle Book way out front.
Original Score has La La Land way out front.