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2017 Oscar Nomination Predictions

Here are our best bets to get past the first heat and maybe earn a few nasty tweets from our new POTUS.

La La Land
Photo: Lionsgate

“While it would be an exaggeration to categorize all this sound and fury about something signifying next-to-nothing ‘fun,’ at the very least the hubbub this Oscar year offers welcome respite from the grinding monotony of the presidential race.” So ended the introduction to our Oscar nomination predictions last year. And so ends our collective cautious optimism. Not even Alyssa Edwards’s clicking tongue could summon an exclamation point sharper than the one we now feel reflecting upon the actual stakes of real life amid frivolous, self-congratulating luxury. Unlike we felt when all anyone cared about was getting an Oscar into Leonardo DiCaprio’s hands. Well, we care about a lot more things this year, and so will the Academy. Which means: Expect a lot more films in the Spotlight vein to be nominated, and a lot fewer like Mad Max: Fury Road, with one frivolous exception to the rule that’s going to clearly sing and dance its way to all the wins next month. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Here are our best bets to get past the first heat and maybe earn a few nasty tweets from our future POTUS.

BEST PICTURE

Hidden Figures

La La Land will be nominated.

Those hyperbolically obsessed with identity politics this year, on either side of the debate, can breathe easy that the two films most frantically drawn into the conversation this awards season are mortal locks for nominations. They are Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, which ticks off every single marginalized checkbox every other film in the hunt this year doesn’t have to, and Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea. Some people have decided, because it features a straight, white male protagonist, that Manchester by the Sea just ain’t woke enough, but the many encomiums should win out.

And now everyone will get to react to another month’s worth of fresh hot takes in much the same manner as Amy Adams does to all those inky ringworm dispatches in Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. That film, too, is all but assured a nomination. Even though Oscar has shown a tad more resistance to the burgeoning I Fucking Love Science subgenre than IMDb traditionally has, a film which argues so calmly on behalf of global cooperation and collective betterment feels now like the most imaginative kind of sci-fi.

If we were still in a five-deep best picture epoch (or, as we imagine many of the same demographic who were recently purged from the AMPAS would tag it, the special snowflake period), it would be pretty easy to wrap this up by noting the perfectly timed box-office success of Theodore Melfi’s historically corrective NASA drama Hidden Figures. And to point out, as many others already have, that virtually all things the film valorizes—women, minorities, math, and facts—are the same things our future president systemically rejects. All of this housed within a period piece that allows progressives to queasily bask in the afterglow of the Obama years one last time.

Having only five slots would at least allow us to avoid having to wrestle with the guild over-performance of Tim Miller’s blunt, dazzling, and dumb Deadpool, arguably the first Trump-era blockbuster. But its cheerful anti-P.C. attitude suggests nothing so much as Marvel’s Gran Torino, and neither straight superhero flicks nor Clint Eastwood’s zeitgeist curiosity have moved Oscar’s needle much. There just aren’t enough dirtbag lefties in Hollywood.

Instead, with the exception of Tom Ford’s pulp trashterpiece Nocturnal Animals filling what we’ll just call the Black Swan slot, expect the rest of the slate to be filled with the sort of solemn cinematic kale that will help ensure La La Land’s position as the industry’s feel-good tonic for all that ails us.

Will Be Nominated: Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, and Nocturnal Animals.

Closest Runners-Up: Deadpool, Fences, and Jackie.

Should Be Nominated: Happy Hour, Knight of Cups, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, and Toni Erdmann.

BEST DIRECTOR

Martin Scorsese

Damien Chazelle will be nominated.

And, as with best picture, so will Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins and Arrival’s Denis Villeneuve, a director whose highly ornamental sensibility probably got him yay close at least once or twice before but now benefits from a script that doesn’t force him to feel as though he’s trying to transcend or, worse, rarify material that would be better served up in a more lurid way.

Like the aforementioned three, Kenneth Lonergan does have a DGA nomination in the bag, but we can’t take his impending nomination as a given. Manchester by the Sea’s direction is precise but comparatively invisible, and even the film’s fans probably regard it as more of an actors’ and writers’ triumph. If he can survive the perceptible cooling off surrounding Jackie, Pablo Larraín’s relentless, self-serving stylism stands a good shot at usurping Lonergan or, more likely, fellow DGA honoree Garth Davis (Lion).

Still, we’re betting on the combination of Martin Scorsese’s status as a living legend, the P.R. reminders that Silence was the one, true passion project in the auteur’s career (we’ve heard that before), and the now-expected late release all but ensuring Oscar voters are the only ones who will get to see it before ballots are due. If Bennett Miller can snare a nod for a best picture non-nominee in this expanded slate era, Scorsese can.

Will Be Nominated: Denis Villeneuve, Arrival; Damien Chazelle, La La Land; Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea; Barry Jenkins, Moonlight; and Martin Scorsese, Silence.

Closest Runners-Up: Denzel Washington, Fences; Garth Davis, Lion; and Pablo Larraín, Jackie.

Should Be Nominated: Hamaguchi Ryûsuke, Happy Hour; Terrence Malick, Knight of Cups; Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea; Barry Jenkins, Moonlight; and Maren Ade, Toni Erdmann.

BEST ACTRESS

Isabelle Huppert

Emma Stone will be nominated.

And so will Natalie Portman for Jackie, because, as Michael Koresky deliciously pointed out, it’s hard to ignore a performance that approximates “South Park’s Cartman mixed with a Marilyn Monroe-impersonating drag queen.” Especially when it’s the latest, grating-est inductee into the Hall of Kabuki Celebrity Impersonations, where you’ll find roughly 40 percent of all winners in this category from the last two decades. (And, given that somewhere between five and 10 percent of all female acting nominations in the last decade have gone to Amy Adams, she’s in as well.)

Awards bloggers everywhere who are convinced that the world turns as a result of the Oscar rivalry between Portman and Annette Bening all currently have their fingers on the buttons of their OhMiBods. But Mike Mills’s 20th Century Women doesn’t exactly allow Bening’s mercurial matriarch the chance to settle into her character’s best self until well into the second half, and this year Isabelle Huppert seems to have the market cornered on, shall we say, complexity. Any doubts we had about Huppert landing a spot when there are subpar performances by great actors in terrible films to take into serious consideration—looking your way, SAG Award nominee Emily Blunt—were alleviated by her refreshingly breathless reaction to her Golden Globe win, one which should even win over a few of those who didn’t warm up to her prickly performance in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle.

The same goes tenfold for Meryl Streep, who was no doubt already a soft lock to net her 20th Oscar nomination for her limburger-and-caviar recital in Florence Foster Jenkins but who unquestionably sealed the deal when she put He Who Shall Not Be Named in his place.

Will Be Nominated: Amy Adams, Arrival; Isabelle Huppert, Elle; Natalie Portman, Jackie; Emma Stone, La La Land; and Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins.

Closest Runners-Up: Annette Bening, 20th Century Women; Emily Blunt, The Girl on the Train; Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures; and Ruth Negga, Loving.

Should Be Nominated: Sonia Braga, Aquarius; Margherita Buy, Mia Madre; Mackenzie Davis, Always Shine; Royalty Hightower, The Fits; and Isabelle Huppert, Elle.

BEST ACTOR

Andrew Garfield

Ryan Gosling will be nominated.

And he should thank his lucky city of stars this field isn’t anywhere near as crowded as best actress, because Gosling in “Hey, girl” mode hasn’t curried much favor from Oscar up to this point. In fact, Gosling in any mode hasn’t curried much favor from them. And if the Slumdog Millionaire-like juggernaut that’s La La Land can’t net him his second nod, then nothing will.

Speaking of juggernauts, Casey Affleck’s near-uninterrupted streak of critics’ and industry awards for Manchester by the Sea means he’ll get his second nod too, even if he probably doesn’t have Nate Parker’s support. Denzel Washington’s P.R. campaign and proselytizing on behalf of playwright August Wilson probably means a lot more to most Oscar voters than the fact that the Broadway revival that begat the film version of Fences all but swept the Tonys. Either way, he’s also unquestionably contending.

The remaining two slots are in play, but just barely. Viggo Mortensen has beaucoup support for his role as a survivalist in Matt Ross’s Captain Fantastic, and though he’s out-acted by at least three or four of the six kids with whom he shares the screen, SAG and the Globes gave their endorsements. Joel Edgerton has, like his co-star Ruth Negga, performed solidly so far, but Jeff Nichols’s insistently quiet Loving picked the wrong political year to meekly state its case, and the same goes for Sully’s Tom Hanks, though at least his film could be interpreted as a minor-key variation of draining the swamp. Instead, we’re going with Andrew Garfield, who may be brilliant in Martin Scorsese’s Silence but who in Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge looks like we all feel.

Will Be Nominated: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea; Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge; Ryan Gosling, La La Land; Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic; and Denzel Washington, Fences.

Closest Runners-Up: Joel Edgerton, Loving; Tom Hanks, Sully; and Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool.

Should Be Nominated: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea; Adam Driver, Paterson; Andrew Garfield, Silence; Vincent Lindon, The Measure of a Man; and Nishijima Hidetoshi, Creepy.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Nicole Kidman

The gluten-free woman in La La Land who regularly takes out her deepest frustrations on studio-lot coffee-shop baristas will not be nominated.

In fact, it’s hard to imagine who outside of the five we’re predicting below actually have even an outside shot of getting nominated. Though fans of Lily Gladstone and Janelle Monáe everywhere would be delighted to be wrong, this lineup has been encased in carbonite for weeks and weeks now. The placement of Viola Davis’s fine work in Fences has the category-fraud police on high alert. Color us skeptics, but wouldn’t the argument just as strongly apply to Hugh Grant and Dev Patel in the supporting actor race? Washington’s performance is his film’s central role, and every other character orbits around him. So even though watching Emma Stone taking best actress and Meryl Streep heir-apparent Davis settling for supporting actress feels a little bit like a replay of the conversation Octavia Spencer has in the bathroom with Kirsten Dunst in Hidden Figures, hey, Streep’s first Oscar was in supporting too.

Speaking of Hidden Figures, habit may be the only thing to explain why Spencer is getting all the attention when her co-star Monae is arguably as integral to the ensemble’s success, and even throws more shade—you know, for the type of Oscar voters who equate corrective gestures of social righteousness with quality acting, or who couldn’t even be asked to consider whether Dunst’s tightly buttoned form of institutional racism might not also be worthy of at least consideration. But Spencer is hardly without her moments. Nor is anyone else tipped for the nod, for that matter.

Moonlight’s Naomie Harris broke her own rule in playing a crackhead single mother, and managed to engender sympathy without entering a plea for it—well, at least not until the third act. Also not asking for sympathy in a role that could’ve been nothing but: Lion’s Nicole Kidman, whose hushed support isn’t a simple clichéd manifestation of piety, but rather a function of her battle with depression. And then there’s Michelle Williams, who’s given only moments in Manchester by the Sea, and still manages to be equally responsible for one of the year’s most devastating scenes.

Will Be Nominated: Viola Davis, Fences; Naomie Harris, Moonlight; Nicole Kidman, Lion; Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures; and Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea.

Closest Runners-Up: Lily Gladstone, Certain Women and Janelle Monáe, Hidden Figures.

Should Be Nominated: Viola Davis, Fences; Lily Gladstone, Certain Women; Nicole Kidman, Lion; Hayley Squires, I, Daniel Blake; and Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Aaron Taylor-Johnson

The photographer in La La Land who knows how he wants Ryan Gosling to pose but most certainly doesn’t know the first thing about real jazz and probably listens to post-Jaco Weather Report will not be nominated.

Another year, another reason we’re irritated that Oscar decided to take care of Jeff Bridges when he had so many more compelling options on either side of the not-so Crazy Heart. As Hell and High Water’s Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton, Bridges holds court as decisively as anyone in this year’s field. Well, with the possible exception of Michael Shannon, playing another Texas man of the law in Nocturnal Animals and wearing each acting choice like a badge of honor. Shannon looked to be cruising toward the nod for a while, but then a funny thing happened on the way to the Kodak.

Shannon’s co-star, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, instead got the Golden Globe nod for playing the most flea-bitten, grease-smeared rapist ever to also boast a washboard eight-pack. It would’ve felt like a classic glitch from the always-amusing Hollywood Foreign Press Association, but then Taylor-Johnson went and won, and then cemented his status with a truly out-of-leftfield BAFTA nomination (again, at Shannon’s expense). We like this as much as the next gay hipster, but we’re scratching our heads at this development.

Everything else here is business as usual, with Mahershala Ali standing in for Moonlight’s uniformly excellent male ensemble maybe in part because his is the only role that isn’t played by multiple actors, Dev Patel cashing in on the emotional moment Lion sets him up to bear, and Hugh Grant being more agreeably English than whatever Ralph Fiennes was doing in that eminently .gif-worthy scene in A Bigger Splash. As much as it pains us to say it, we’re predicting Manchester by the Sea’s Lucas Hedges to get lost at sea here.

Will Be Nominated: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight; Jeff Bridges, Hell and High Water; Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins; Dev Patel, Lion; and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nocturnal Animals.

Closest Runners-Up: Ralph Fiennes, A Bigger Splash; Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea; and Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals.

Should Be Nominated: Trevante Rhodes, Moonlight; Jeff Bridges, Hell and High Water; Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea; André Holland, Moonlight; and Dev Patel, Lion.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Fences

La La Land, despite being a rather thinly disguised mashup of Damien Chazelle’s favorite samples from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Singin’ in the Rain, and One from the Heart, will not be nominated.

That’s only because it’s being categorized as an original screenplay, obviously. Which is probably for the best overall, since this is the more competitive, stacked writing race. Though he’s been dead for more than a decade, the late August Wilson is assured a nomination for Fences. Barry Jenkins will match his best director nomination with another here. But nominations may also come to a few writer-directors who look likely to miss out in the latter category: Theodore Melfi for the aggressively pedestrian Hidden Figures (co-written with Allison Schroeder) and Tom Ford for Nocturnal Animals.

Nocturnal Animals, adapted from Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan, boasts a “complicated” structure, balancing heightened reality with deadening fiction, which should win over some of those voters who believe, justifiably, that the film itself is more notable for its wounded rough-trade directorial eye than its writerly voice. And the final, and most meta, writing nomination will go to Arrival’s Eric Heisserer, voted most likely among this year’s Oscar nominees to make me think, for a split second, that I myself have been nominated.

Will Be Nominated: Arrival, Fences, Hidden Figures, Moonlight, and Nocturnal Animals.

Closest Runners-Up: Deadpool, Elle, Lion, and Silence.

Should Be Nominated: Arrival, Elle, The Handmaiden, Love & Friendship, and Silence.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

20th Century Women

La La Land will be nominated.

And this will be one of the categories it’s most likely to lose, since it will also square away against three intricate, carefully crafted pieces of writing…and also Noah Oppenheim’s Jackie. Kenneth Lonergan may be on shaky ground in best director, but he will certainly pull his weight in the writing field. He may well win, too, so long as enough voters remember how deftly he handles the moments of comic near-relief and don’t simply presume it all rests on Casey Affleck’s performance. (At this point, Manchester by the Sea’s Oscar profile feels awfully similar to that of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, in that both are unfairly being boiled down to their lead performance.)

Mike Mills’s highly autobiographic and diffusely structured 20th Century Women sure feels like the sort of thing that only manages a nomination in the screenplay categories, and so does the plant-and-payoff case study Hell or High Water, written by Sicario scribe Taylor Sheridan. But in a category that’s yielded far bigger surprises, we’re not quite ready to count out the likes of stalwarts Ethan and Joel Coen (whose Hail, Caesar! has unfortunately been rendered otherwise superfluous in the Oscar conversation by La La Land) or Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou’s The Lobster, which used to be pretty weird until the rest of 2016 happened.

Will Be Nominated: Hell or High Water, Jackie, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, and 20th Century Women.

Closest Runners-Up: Captain Fantastic, Hail, Caesar!, and The Lobster.

Should Be Nominated: Aquarius, The Fits, Happy Hour, Paterson, and Toni Erdmann.

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