Our Final Oscar Predictions

Here's who should win at Sunday's award show.

And just like that, the Oscar race is over. (”Just like that” meaning “after months of tiresome campaigning and one of the most heated Best Picture debates in history.”)

Voting ended Tuesday, so there’s no more time to haggle over who will score Hollywood’s heftiest insignia. Having covered awards season since it began in September, here’s my humble take on who will win, and who should, at Sunday’s Oscars.


Nominees: “Arrival” / “Fences” / “Hacksaw Ridge” / “Hell or High Water” / “Hidden Figures” / “La La Land” / “Lion” / “Manchester by the Sea” / “Moonlight” 

Will win: After months of festival buzz and precursor beacons, the two-pony “La La Land”/”Moonlight” battle found an 11th-hour challenger in box-office smash and SAG Awards champ “Hidden Figures.” If the Academy prefers navel-gazing escapism, it’ll be “La La Land,” a much-needed respite from our political horror show. But “Moonlight” and “Hidden Figures” offer a social consciousness that “La La” can’t muster ― they are, in essence, more important movies. In the end, Hollywood loves Hollywood, and with a record-tying sum of nominations (14!), we’ll probably see a city of stars on Oscar night.

Should win: If Best Picture were truly about anointing the year’s best movie, the dynamic storytelling in “Moonlight” ― presented as three chapters in the life of a boy shielding himself from the world’s merciless strictures ― would win outright. 


Nominees: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land” / Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge” / Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight” / Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea” / Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival”

Will win: If “La La Land” is destined for Best Picture, the Academy might toss Best Director to Barry Jenkins (”Moonlight”). Gotta stay woke. But most signs point to Damien Chazelle (”La La Land”), who scored the predictive Directors Guild prize. Chazelle’s win would follow the Academy’s recent inclinations toward the category’s most technically ambitious nominee (Alejandro González Iñárritu for “Birdman” and “The Revenant,” Alfonso Cuarón for “Gravity,” Ang Lee for “Life of Pi”). From its single-take freeway dance party to the culminating dream ballet, there’s no denying that “La La” is a dazzling swirl.

Should win: To combine the fractured triptych of “Moonlight” into a cohesive character study requires the utmost discipline. To make it a visually stirring sociological screed with a relatively small budget is a feat, especially for second-time director Barry Jenkins. If anyone should unseat him, it’s Denis Villeneuve (”Arrival”), a master of nerve-shattering extraterrestrial drama.


Nominees: Isabelle Huppert, “Elle” / Ruth Negga, “Loving” / Natalie Portman, “Jackie” / Emma Stone, “La La Land” / Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Will win: Isabelle Huppert has superseded Natalie Portman as Emma Stone’s key competition. The decorated French actress has never received an Oscar nomination, so a win for Huppert doubles as a de facto lifetime appreciation nod. But Stone grabbed the SAG Award, which best predicts the acting races. (Huppert wasn’t even nominated.) She’s also a charm machine whose movie is far less morally confounding than Huppert’s.

Should win: Isabelle Huppert’s work in “Elle” is a master class of subdued emotions and unconventional appraisals. But if there’s anyone who transformed on screen last year, it’s Natalie Portman. Her tightrope walk as a newly widowed Jackie Kennedy was both an impersonation and an impressionistic reading on an impossibly scrutinized historical figure. At every turn, she seemed close to combusting in all the right ways. Like Jackie herself, Portman held it together like someone who has mastered the art of performance. Actors dream of roles this rich.


Nominees: Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea” / Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge” / Ryan Gosling, “La La Land” / Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic” / Denzel Washington, “Fences

Will win: Casey Affleck has steamrolled through awards season, despite the media attention paid to his resurfaced sexual harassment allegations. Affleck grabbed just about every accolade, until the SAG Awards, which have correctly predicted this category for the past 10 years, threw its support behind Denzel Washington instead. Voters may not want to honor another alleged abuser, so bet on Washington, who’s made a lot of friends during his long tenure in Hollywood.

Should win: Ignoring Affleck’s alleged transgressions is a big ask, but it’s hard to argue that his mumbly turn as a grief-stricken janitor wasn’t one of the year’s first-rate screen performances. As a backup, Viggo Mortensen remains king.


Nominees: Viola Davis, “Fences” / Naomie Harris, “Moonlight” / Nicole Kidman, “Lion” / Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures” / Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”

Will win: If you’re going to bet the farm on one prediction, make it Viola Davis. She won a Tony for “Fences” in 2010, and she’s scored almost every major precursor prize for playing the same role on the big screen. It’s fierce work, snot hovering on her upper lip during teary confrontations with Denzel Washington. It helps that two previous losses make it seem like Davis’ turn, even if her role is too hefty for the supporting realm.

Should win: Frankly, every nominee in this category has done more interesting work elsewhere. I’ll give Davis the benefit of the doubt, despite the category fraud.


Nominees: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight” / Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water” / Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea” / Dev Patel, “Lion” / Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals”

Will win: Think of the Golden Globes and SAG Awards as auditions for the Oscars. Delivering a dynamic acceptance speech can galvanize support, which bodes well for Mahershala Ali, who gave one of the season’s strongest sermons the weekend that Donald Trump enacted his travel ban. Ali doesn’t appear in “Moonlight” that much, but he does the most with his screen time, humanizing the sort of drug-dealer character often reduced to clichés. If there’s an underdog out there, it’s Dev Patel. The “Lion” star scored the BAFTA a couple of weeks ago, and you never know how many babies Harvey Weinstein has kissed on Patel’s behalf. 

Should win: Jeff Bridges is pretty Jeff Bridges-y in “Hell or High Water,” and the “Lion” script doesn’t let Dev Patel flex enough cinematic muscles. Toss them aside for a trifecta of surprising performances, none of which outpaces Mahershala Ali, who speaks magnitudes with the blink of an eye. 


Nominees: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land” / Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou, “The Lobster” / Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea” / Mike Mills, “20th Century Women” / Taylor Sherdian, “Hell or High Water”

Will win: If there’s one “La La Land” win worth protesting, it would be this. Despite the movie’s charming flourishes, Damien Chazelle’s script is hardly its hallmark. But this is a tough category to predict because the Writers Guild Awards classified “Moonlight” (inspired by an unpublished play) as an original screenplay, whereas the Academy calls it an adapted work. Unless voters opt for an across-the-board “La La” sweep, this seems like Kenneth Lonergan’s game. A previous nominee for “You Can Count On Me,” Lonergan won the BAFTA and has a reputation as one of America’s finest writers, both onstage and on the big screen.

Should win: A vote for “The Lobster” is a vote for all the weird little movies that mainstream audiences don’t appreciate enough, and “Manchester by the Sea” boasts rare soul-stirring dialogue that mirrors humanity. But “20th Century Women” is a dream of a script, using mixed perspectives and the subtle passage of time to craft a feminist reverie. 


Nominees: Luke Davies, “Lion” / Eric Heisserer, “Arrival” / Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, “Moonlight” / Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, “Hidden Figures” / August Wilson, “Fences” 

Will win: August Wilson won a Pulitzer for “Fences,” so what’s to say he wouldn’t score a posthumous Oscar for its script too? “Moonlight” and “Arrival,” that’s what. They won the Writers Guild prizes, and it’s hard to believe the Academy wouldn’t recognize the power of Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney’s delicate triptych. 

Should win: It really feels like there aren’t many movies in the world like “Moonlight.” 


Nominees: “13th” / “Fire at Sea” / “I Am Not Your Negro” / “Life, Animated” / “O.J.: Made in America” 

Will win: “O.J.: Made in America” has 7.5 hours working for it ― how can anyone vote against something so sprawling? Working against it: arguments that the acclaimed examination of O.J. Simpson’s murder trial, which also aired as an ESPN miniseries, is technically a miniseries. In that case, one of its thematic cousins ― “13th” or “I Am Not Your Negro” ― could seize its trophy. Both movies have seen a ton of positive press over the past few months, and “Negro” benefits from an 11th-hour theatrical bow that has proven lucrative

Should win: What a doozy of a category ― and “Weiner,” one of 2016’s best movies, isn’t even nominated! “O.J.” is a feat of nonfiction storytelling, but few race documentaries are as bold and succinct as “I Am Not Your Negro.”


Nominees: “A Man Called Ove” / “Land of Mine” / “The Salesman” / “Tanna” / “Toni Erdmann”

Will win: The much-loved “Toni Erdmann” seemed like a runaway until Donald Trump’s travel ban risked preventing “The Salesman” director Ashgar Fahardi, one of Iran’s most distinguished filmmakers, from attending the Oscars. Voters can resist Trump’s politics by rewarding Fahardi’s film.

Should win: Even without Trump’s disruption, “The Salesman” deserves this for its complex portrait of a decaying marriage.


Nominees: “Kubo and the Two Strings” / “Moana” / “My Life as a Zucchini” / “The Red Turtle” / “Zootopia” 

What will win: “Zootopia,” a surprisingly topical movie about prejudice and racial profiling, made $1 billion at the global box office.

What should win: “Zootopia” is an acceptable choice, but the beautiful “Kubo and the Two Strings” raises the bar for animated movies.


Nominees: Mica Levi, “Jackie” / Justin Hurwitz, “La La Land” / Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka, “Lion” / Nicholas Britell, “Moonlight” / Thomas Newman, “Passengers”

Who will win: “La La Land” is a musical, and musicals tend to dominate the music categories. Imagine. 

Who should win: Before the first frame of “Jackie,” Mica Levi’s score announces itself with haunting force. It twists the unconventional biopic into a psychodrama that plays like a horror piece. There’s nothing like it. 


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

Will win: Again, prepare for musical dominance, with a possible upset from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Moana” anthem, which could split the “La La Land” votes. “City of Stars” has always been front and center in the “La La” marketing, now playing atop television spots touting the movie’s awards glory. But “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” is more powerful, a Broadway-esque showboat that speaks to the story’s themes. Regardless, prevalence counts. Expect “City of Stars” to serenade its way to the Oscar stage.

Should win: My aunt used to live in Paris.”


Best Film Editing
Will win: “La La Land” / Should win: “La La Land”

Best Cinematography
Will win: “La La Land” / Should win: “Arrival”

Best Costume Design
Will win: “Jackie” / Should win: “Jackie”

Best Production Design
Will win: “La La Land” / Should win: “Arrival”

Best Visual Effects
Will win: “The Jungle Book” / Should win: “The Jungle Book”

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Will win: “Star Trek Beyond” / Should win: “A Man Called Ove”

Best Sound Editing
Will win: “La La Land” / Should win: “Deepwater Horizon”

Best Sound Mixing
Will win: “La La Land” / Should win: “Arrival”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misidentified Barry Jenkins as the director of “La La Land” under the Best Director category.



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