Last week I discussed how we’ve yet to latch onto an overarching narrative for this Oscar season, and yet the season persists as normal. Films continue to debut and fests roll on – AFI Fest kicks off on November 10 – and even the nomination phase is on, as the Gotham Award nominees were announced earlier this week.
So the beat goes on and the narrative will have to play catch up. For now, it’s time to start digging deeper into the films themselves.
As ever, predictions will be updated weekly. And during Phase One, the rankings don’t always demonstrate the film or individual most likely to win come Oscar Night, but rather their likelihood of landing the nomination (though obviously, sometimes the two are directly correlative).
Here now, a first look at the field, roughly 17 weeks until Oscar Night. We’ll start with the top eight categories and add new categories each week.
- La La Land – Far and away the leader out of the gate. The season is certainly susceptible to changes in the narrative, but all recent evidence indicates that getting out and ahead early sets the table. This film will be a focal point going forward, whether it’s about an obvious win or the notion of “can it be beaten?”
- Moonlight – The season’s most unanimous critical success. But we all know how much influence critics ultimately have over the Oscar selections. Its sensational reception vaults it into the race. Whether is becomes The One will depend upon which narrative takes hold as the season rolls on.
- Manchester by the Sea – Already feels like a fixture of the season by virtue of how long it’s been in the consciousness. But what might’ve felt like a frontrunner last May might now be downgraded to a certain nominee with little chance of winning.
- Fences – Here is a film that could easily shoot to the top of the rankings once it starts screening. The strength of the performances will be a given, but its ultimate placement will depend on how Denzel Washington is able to adapt the material – will it be a dynamic cinematic piece, or will it remain entrenched in its fixed-proscenium stage roots?
- Jackie – The film is already being celebrated for much more than just Natalie Portman’s stunning performance. Feels like a safe slot in the Best Picture category.
- Loving – The combination of our current cultural climate and this film’s innate power led me initially to believe it would be a frontrunner. But maybe it’s too small…maybe it will be overpowered by Fences, as unfortunately cynical as that sounds. Time will tell.
- Lion – At long last, TWC has a potential power player on its hands.
- Silence – Sight unseen, obviously, and Scorsese is still working on it. But it’s Scorsese.
- Arrival – Could move up on this list if it takes hold when it opens in November.
- Hidden Figures – Maybe? Giving the film an awards-qualifying run signals confidence from Fox…but it may just be a play for the actors.
20th Century Women
Hell or High Water
Bleed for This
Live by Night
- Damien Chazelle, La La Land – If the film becomes a juggernaut, Chazelle’s signature is all over it. Hard to imagine another Picture-Director split in this case, as seemingly common as they are starting to become.
- Barry Jenkins, Moonlight – The film’s power is the result of Jenkins’ masterful cinematic touch.
- Denzel Washington, Fences – If he successfully turns the play into a piece of cinema, Washington will earn his first Best Director nomination.
- Martin Scorsese, Silence – Hard to imagine Lord Scorsese not landing a nod here, even if the film doesn’t become an automatic BP winner.
- Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea – Here’s where it gets tough. There are more visual films that could land a spot here, namely Arrival and Jackie. This spot is fluid.
Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
Pablo Larrain, Jackie
Garth Davis, Lion
Jeff Nichols, Loving
Mike Mills, 20th Century Women
Clint Eastwood, Sully
- Emma Stone, La La Land – With Viola Davis evidently exiting this category for Supporting, the likelihood of a Stone win went back to around 90%.
- Natalie Portman, Jackie – A second Oscar for Portman is not outside the realm of possibility.
- Annette Bening, 20th Century Women – I wonder if Bening’s odds are diminished slightly by the film’s ensemble feel.
- Amy Adams, Arrival – Another fabulous performance from Adams likely to be overshadowed by the season’s juggernaut.
- Ruth Negga, Loving – The film’s best chance for an acting nod.
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins
Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures
Amy Adams, Nocturnal Animals
Rachel Weisz, Denial
Jessica Chastain, Miss Sloane
- Denzel Washington, Fences – An easy frontrunner in a relatively weak Best Actor category this year.
- Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea – An early favorite out of Cannes, and still a strong contender. Wait and see how Fences plays.
- Ryan Gosling, La La Land – Nomination is likely, but Gosling will take a backseat to his co-star this season.
- Tom Hanks, Sully – Hard to see Hanks missing another opportunity given the weakness of the field.
- Joel Edgerton, Loving – Could easily drop out of this spot for a showier performance.
Miles Teller, Bleed for This
Dev Patel, Lion
Andrew Garfield, Silence
Nate Parker, The Birth of a Nation
Adam Driver, Paterson
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Matthew McConaughey, Gold
Best Supporting Actress
- Viola Davis, Fences – If the Academy nominates her in the supporting category, this race may well be over.
- Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea – The closest competition.
- Naomie Harris, Moonlight – A heartbreaking performance and the film’s one constant in its three segments.
- Felicity Jones, A Monster Calls – After three sure things, this spot is where it gets hazy. A Monster Calls is something of a polarizing film, so a spot for Jones may be tenuous.
- Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women – The time feels right for Gerwig’s first Oscar nomination.
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Molly Shannon, Other People
Janelle Monae, Hidden Figures
Helen Mirren, Eye in the Sky
Jennifer Connelly, American Pastoral
Lily Collins, Rules Don’t Apply
Elle Fanning, 20th Century Women
Dakota Fanning, American Pastoral
Best Supporting Actor
- Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals – This category is as open as it gets. Shannon is a favorite and the role is juicy, so why not…
- Liam Neeson, Silence – A shot in the dark. Could be the film’s big acting winner.
- Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water – Could be a real spoiler if no one else becomes a clear frontrunner.
- Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea – A breakthrough performance that could beat out many bigger names in this category.
- Mahershala Ali, Moonlight – A great, albeit limited, performance that defines the soul of the film.
Peter Sarsgaard, Jackie
Aaron Eckhart, Bleed for This
Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins
Stephen McKinley Henderson, Fences
Warren Beatty, Rules Don’t Apply
Adam Driver, Silence
Best Adapted Screenplay
- August Wilson, Fences – Seems solid in a category with many likely nominees and no clear winners.
- Jay Cocks, Silence
- Eric Heisserer, Arrival
- Luke Davies, Lion
- Whit Stillman, Love and Friendship
Best Original Screenplay
- Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea – Could be the film’s best chance for a win.
- Barry Jenkins, Moonlight – Could easily move into frontrunner position.
- Damien Chazelle, La La Land – Its strength in the category depends on how crucial voters deem this screenplay to be in terms of the film’s success.
- Mike Mills, 20th Century Women
- Noah Oppenheim, Jackie
Hell or High Water
Bleed for This
Rules Don’t Apply