The 2017 Oscars ceremony is soon approaching, and yet again film pundits are casting their predictions before the ceremony on February 26. Will La La Land sweep all 14 awards or will Moonlight win Best Picture? Does Manchester By the Sea have a chance despite the Casey Affleck controversy? The combination of an undeniably more diverse line-up of nominees together with a polarized sociopolitical climate means audiences will be paying as close an eye as ever on the results. The symbolism of a film such as La La Land taking home awards over Moonlight, or Casey Affleck managing to snag Best Actor amidst all the backlash—if our predictions are true—will certainly be ripe for interpretation, post-awards. Despite the debates, the awards are ultimately not a representation of who is truly best in the category, and as any industry insider knows, there are multiple factors at play.
We’ve looked at these and—despite inwardly rooting for our own personal favorite films—have tried to be as objective as possible in our predictions. Hopefully, they won’t be way off like the pollsters’ prediction on the 2016 Presidential Election results.
Here are cinemathread‘s 2017 Oscar Winner Predictions:
Best Picture: With a record-tying 14 nominations, La La Land is the film to beat. But the big nominees have been coming up short in recent years — remember American Hustle, which walked with zero trophies in 11 categories? The circumstances are similar this year, with momentum on the side of the “diverse voices” movement and against the Academy’s overwhelmingly white male membership. While this could be the closest Best Picture race in a generation, with Hidden Figures breaking out of the pack late and Moonlight running strong, if any movie is able to turn this around and come out ahead of La La Land, it would likely be a major upset. Prediction: La La Land
Best Director: Despite recent splits in this category (Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity, with 12 Years A Slave winning Best Picture, and Alejandro González Iñárritu winning last year for The Revenant but watching as Spotlight took the top prize), the rule is usually “whoever wins Best Director wins Best Picture.” That would be the reverse this year — meaning, because La La Land has a clear lead in the Best Picture race, it follows that its helmer, Damien Chazelle, is going to become the youngest-ever winner in this category. Moonlight’s terrific Barry Jenkins will be a close runner-up. Prediction: Damien Chazelle
Best Actor: Surprisingly, this is by far the most interesting race this year. Casey Affleck deserves and would win here — if his name wasn’t Casey Affleck, Now Universally Hated. The rumors, allegations, and lawsuits have seriously damaged his frontrunner status and, despite a Golden Globe and other major wins, he’s now suddenly the likely runner-up. The problem now becomes wondering who the hell wins this category without the clear best-leading-male-performance-of-the-year in it? Denzel Washington’s performance in the stagey adaptation of Fences is fantastic, but is it really Oscar-worthy, especially when he’s a two-time winner already? Will Ryan Gosling, whose character and singing are La La Land’s most (fairly) criticized aspects, be able to capitalize on a weak roster of nominees and sneak by? It’s all a little too difficult to predict, especially with Denzel taking home the SAG award for best actor. With a huge Oscar campaign behind him, we’re going to predict that Affleck managed to squeak by and nab the award. Prediction: Casey Affleck
Best Actress: Another highly competitive category. Our gut tells us that Isabelle Huppert is the favorite with the Academy’s older branch, but since Elle continues to sail right under the radar, it’s possible other voters won’t even see it. Natalie Portman returning to the screen to play one of America’s most beloved figures in a well-regarded film by a foreign director — that should spell Oscar bait, but again, our gut tells us that Huppert is pulling a lot of support from Portman’s bloc, leading a split vote. Emma Stone, in the Best Picture frontrunner and having locked up an endless array of previous wins, was already narrowly ahead, but she’s starting to look solid now. She also is the only actress whose movie is up for Best Picture. Prediction: Emma Stone
Best Supporting Actor: There’s a lot to criticize about Mahershala Ali’s character in Moonlight. You could say it and much of the movie is a cliche seen in numerous other independent films that the public apparently never saw. You could still be annoyed that his character’s arc is abruptly truncated and in a dissatisfying way (no spoilers.) But you can’t ignore that, in his limited screen time, Ali nails the role of the mentoring drug kingpin and is as memorable as any of the three leads. He won the SAG and Golden Globe Award and made viral-worthy speeches that may have done more for his career than his riveting performance in House of Cards. Jeff Bridges was phenomenal fun, Lucas Hedges is just as worthy and Michael Shannon is shockingly overdue — but none of these factors are enough to stop this train. Prediction: Mahershala Ali
Best Supporting Actress: Even Manchester by the Sea haters have to admit that, even with her limited screen time, Michelle Williams is devastating. She deserves the award here — but Viola Davis, with more screen time and a more substantial character, with more powerful moments and a deserving TV and film resume, as well as co-headlining the Denzel’s Broadway revival of Fences seven years ago, the voters are almost certainly going to go with her here. Naomie Harris, who ages significantly on screen and goes through hell and back, is also deserving and is probably running a close second or third in balloting, is not as well known and will probably lose out for that reason alone, sadly. Prediction: Viola Davis
Best Adapted and Original Screenplays: Arrival is both the most inventive and original of adapted screenplays, but it’s up against Moonlight and voters must give Berry Jenkins something, methinks. (Not to mention Hidden Figures is also in this category — and it has the most momentum of any movie nominated this year, including La La Land.) Original screenplay is much more competitive — Kenneth Lonergan should get his consolation prize here, but the La La Land juggernaut could be poised to seize the title. With some voters soured on the sad realism of Manchester, this is a close one. Flipping a coin… Predictions: Moonlight and Manchester By the Sea* (*but maybe La La Land)
Best Animated Feature: Usually, there’s no question who will win this category. Whichever film combines the biggest box office with the strongest reviews takes home the gold trophy, which means Disney’s Zootopia this time. Despite five excellent nominees, the Academy probably won’t watch them by the time voting ends, which means Zootopia wins it by default. Close runner-up is Laika’s Kubo and The Two Strings, which won Best Animated Feature at the BAFTAs and whom many are saying should win instead. Prediction: Zootopia
Best Documentary Feature: A highly-competitive category for the bazillionth year, and for good reason. The leading contender is O.J.: Made In America, an eight-hour documentary with horrific content that covered one of the most controversial trials in American history and aired on ESPN. It doesn’t exactly spell “slam-dunk Oscar winner” to us. Meanwhile, The 13th is a Netflix original from the most respected African-American female director ever, who was robbed of an Oscar nomination a few years back, and has been streaming in a much more palatable 100-minute version. I Am Not Your Negro is also garnering huge buzz but doesn’t have the same cache; if it won, it wouldn’t be a shock, but it would still be a significant upset. Prediction: O.J.: Made In America
Best Foreign-Language Film: Experts are divided on this category, believing Toni Erdmann has been the frontrunner, but admitting that publicity over the Trump travel ban is actually boosting The Salesman. Asghar Farhadi, a previous winner for A Separation said he wouldn’t show up at the ceremony no matter what his legal status is by the time of the ceremony, and he could just as well have faded from the pack, but the momentum seems to be swinging back toward The Salesman. A Man Called Ove is also competitive here (a big plus is that it’s also nominated for Hair/Makeup) but probably not a factor. Prediction: The Salesman
Watch the Oscars being handed out at the 89th Academy Awards taking place Sunday, February 26, 5:30pm PST and broadast on ABC.