I’ve seen at least one nominee in all 24 Oscar categories. In 23 of them, I’ve seen all but one of the nominees. In 20, I’ve seen every one of them. In the only category that I’ve seen only one nominee in, Best Foreign Language Film, I can’t possibly make an educated guess. But for all the rest…here they are!
Should Win: In pop culture, gay black men are often found on sitcoms (Titus on “Kimmy Schmidt,” Captain Holt on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), where their real struggles with being an LGBT person of color are not examined, where they’re normally surrounded by white people, and where their gayness often leads to laughs. But for many gay African-Americans, the discrimination they face on a daily basis is compounded by the fact that the black community has been historically slow to accept homosexuality (in the latest poll that asked people to self-identify race, about 10% less African-Americans agreed with gay marriage than whites). Moonlight, based on a play by a gay black man, tells the story of a gay black kid, in three important stages of his life. It comes along at just the right time. Not only is it the year’s most important movie, it is also the best—a tour de force of acting extraordinaire, intimate cinematography, and an illuminating and unexpected screenplay.
Will Win: But La La Land is Hollywood’s darling, a self-congratulatory L.A.-set rom-com about a couple of struggling artists and what they’ll do and won’t do for love. Ignore for a moment the fact that John Legend is the only character of color, and that his character is used as a foil to make us like Ryan Gosling’s character more, or that Gosling’s character spends the whole movie white-splaining jazz to Legend’s character. Somehow, this is still the Best Picture favorite. I’m going to predict that the Acadamy gets it right, though. Fingers crossed. Moonlight.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominees: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea; Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge; Ryan Gosling, La La Land; Viggo Mortenson, Captain Fantastic; Denzel Washington, Fences
Should Win: Denzel Washington first played the role of Fences‘ Troy Maxson on stage, alongside his screen partner, Viola Davis, back in 2010. He brings that intimacy to his performance in the self-directed adaptation. An already-emotional script is brought to life by the two-time winner. It’s a home run.
Will Win: Casey Affleck starts off unconvincingly in his role in Manchester by the Sea. Playing a grieving brother, the usually cold Affleck plays grief like he does most of his red carpet interviews. But by the end, you won’t question his passion for the role. He’s certainly the favorite, but Denzel has already prevented the award-season sweep for Affleck with his Screen Actors Guild win. It’s closer than people think, but Affleck should have enough to come away with his first win.
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Should Win: Breathing cold, whispy life into the grieving First Lady, Natalie Portman plunges us into the grief felt by Jackie Kennedy in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s assassination in Jackie. For as long as we live, Portman’s portrayal will be how we remember Jackie in her moment of darkest sorrow.
Will Win: So far this season, Huppert, Stone, and Portman have all come away with wins—so there’s no reason to think anyone has it in the bag. Emma Stone was wonderful as a barista struggling to break into the film industry, but Natalie Portman gives the performance of the year—both her acting and her role set her up for this win, her second Best Actress trophy (after Black Swan).
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Nominees: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight; Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water; Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea; Dev Patel, Lion; Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals
Should Win: As a young, bullied boy’s understanding and wise mentor, Mahershala Ali gave Moonlight its most convincingly lived-in performance.
Will Win: This one is much easier: Mahershala Ali.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Nominees: Viola Davis, Fences; Naomie Harris, Moonlight; Nicole Kidman, Lion; Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures; Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
Should Win: Calling Viola Davis a supporting actress is offensive to her considerable screentime and her breathtaking performance. It’s also offensive to Rose, the Maxson matriarch that makes Fences so impactful.
Will Win: Viola Davis, in what might be the most obvious acting win this year.
Best Animated Feature Film
Should Win: A 3-way tie between Kubo, Moana, and Zootopia, the only nominees I’ve seen. 2016 was a storybook year for animated movies, with Finding Dory, Storks, and The Secret Life of Pets not worthy of nominations but still really enjoyable. Plus Sausage Party, arguably the year’s funniest (and most R-rated) film. If I have to choose, I think Kubo & the Two Strings is the best of the bunch, by a hair. A beautiful ode to Japanese folktales, with animation to fit.
Will Win: Kubo & the Two Strings.
Nominees: Arrival, La La Land, Lion, Moonlight, Silence
Should Win: Moonlight.
Will Win: Moonlight.
Best Costume Design
Nominees: Allied, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Florence Foster Jenkins, Jackie, La La Land
Should Win: Jackie.
Will Win: Jackie.
Nominees: Denis Villeneuve, Arrival; Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge; Damien Chazelle, La La Land; Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea; Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Should Win: Barry Jenkins put together a complicated story and gave his actors the tools to make it all work.
Will Win: Damien Chazelle has been winning this award pretty consistently. La La Land was not the best movie of the year, in my opinion, but I can’t argue with the unique way Chazelle brought it together.
Best Documentary Feature
Nominees: Fire at Sea, I Am Not Your Negro, Life Animated, OJ: Made in America, 13th
Should Win: OJ: Made in America is an 8-hour miniseries, but when it was brought to the screen as a feature film, audiences stayed and watched the whole thing. I did, too. Aside from bathroom breaks, I watched straight through, intermission be damned. At the cross-section of race, fame, and criminal justice, OJ: Made in America is the documentary for this unique time in our nation’s history. I will take this time to plug 13th, which you can find on Netflix, Life Animated, a heartwarming story about a once-silent autistic child who found his voice using Disney movies, and I Am Not Your Negro, another urgent treatise on race relations in America. But OJ is the best.
Will Win: OJ: Made in America.
Best Documentary Short Film
Nominees: Extremis, 4.1 Miles, Joe’s Violin, Watani: My Homeland, The White Helmets
Should Win: Joe’s Violin is the only happy film of the bunch. It’s about a Holocaust survivor who donates his old violin to a girls’ school in the Bronx. I found Extremis, about a few families’ difficult choice whether or not to keep their loved one on life support, invasive and exploitative. 4.1 Miles, about refugees coming to Greece and the Coast Guard captains who save them, is like a short-form Fire at Sea, but a little better. Watani is a beautiful story about a refugee family moving from war-rattled Aleppo to Germany, where they find a new home and a new hope. This is the movie of the moment, a highly necessary film for every American to see (especially if your fear of ISIS infiltration clouds your ability to recognize what exactly these refugees are fleeing). The White Helmets, though, is the better than the rest. The story of a group of men who save Syrian civilians after air strikes hit their cities, The White Helmets shows the urgency of the refugee crisis.
Will Win: The White Helmets.
Best Film Editing
Nominees: Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, La La Land, Moonlight
Should Win: Hacksaw Ridge is one of the best war movies of all time, and definitely the best in at least a couple years. Director Mel Gibson made it bloody, but realistic. It’s a visceral masterpiece. In terms of film editing, it’s probably the best, although Moonlight makes a strong case.
Will Win: Hacksaw Ridge.
Best Foreign Language Film
Nominees: Land of Mine, A Man Called Ove, The Salesman, Tanna, Toni Erdmann
Should Win: Well, The Handmaiden. But we won’t get into why that was not even submitted for Oscar consideration this year. South Korea’s loss. I was also a fan of Shin Godzilla, the most realistic and pragmatic Godzilla story ever told, and Elle, which earned Isabelle Huppert her acting nomination. Of the nominees, I’ve unfortunately only seen A Man Called Ove, which I found pretty meh.
Will Win: I haven’t seen enough to say, but if I was a betting man I’d put money on Toni Erdmann, the front-runner.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Should Win: Suicide Squad, as much as I hate it, was probably the most impressive.
Will Win: A Man Called Ove was more subtle, but definitely the best movie of the bunch. But I think Star Trek Beyond will win, for being impressive with its make-up but not so bad in general that it’d be embarrassing to call it an Oscar-winner.
Best Original Score
Nominees: Jackie, La La Land, Lion, Moonlight, Passengers
Should Win: They’re all wonderful. Moonlight might have been my favorite of the bunch, but Jackie is also amazing. In terms of tone and memorability, though, La La Land is the most deserving.
Will Win: La La Land.
Best Original Song
Nominees: “Audition,” “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” “City of Stars,” “The Empty Chair,” “How Far I’ll Go”
Should Win: As much as I loved Moana‘s “How Far I’ll Go” (especially Alessia Cara’s soundtrack version), “City of Stars” is probably the most musically impressive single here. Atmospherically complementary to the tone of the film, and requiring musical chops from its star Ryan Gosling.
Will Win: “City of Stars.”
Best Production Design
Nominees: Arrival, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Hail Caesar!, La La Land, Passengers
Should Win: For some reason, these don’t seem like the five most qualified films for this category. Of these, I thought Hail, Caesar! had the most memorable sets.
Will Win: La La Land, because it has the best chance to win everything.
Best Animated Short Film
Nominees: Blind Vaysha, Borrowed Time, Pear Cider and Cigarettes, Pearl, Piper
Should Win: Piper you might have already seen play before Moana this year. The photorealistic animation is the best I’ve seen, probably ever. The tiniest details, like a million grains of sand, are given careful attention. If that was the only judge, Piper would win in a landslide. But it’s not. Pear Cider and Cigarettes is the longest of the five, by far. It’s about a Canadian cool guy who comes upon a series of sad turns. The narration was annoying and the writing overall wasn’t great. Borrowed Time is a touching story about a second-generation sheriff, but it’s nothing to write home about. Pearl has some weird, amateurish animation, but with little dialogue it relies mostly on a gorgeous song and the characters, a homeless dad and his little girl who live in a car and play music for change. But the best of the bunch is Blind Vasha, from animator Theodore Ushev. The folktale is about a girl born with one eye that only sees the past and one that only sees the future. But it’s the linocut animation that will catch your eye.
Will Win: Blind Vaysha.
Best Live Action Short Film
Nominees: Ennemis Interieurs, Le Femme et le TGV, Silent Nights, Mindenki, Timecode
Should Win: Le Femme et le TGV (The Woman and the TGV) is based on a true story, but not one I found particularly enjoyable or valuable. Timecode is tonally confusing—sort of a comedy, but not very funny. But also not very serious. Ennemis Interieurs (Enemies Within) is good, a tense interrogation between a French official and an Algerian Muslim man requesting French citizenship. It’s extreme vetting, and all the horror that comes with it. Silent Nights, a Christmastime story about a young homeless immigrant from Ghana living in Denmark, presented a complicated message—anyone can be good, anyone can be bad, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what people think you’re like…but sometimes, people are right. Mindenki (Sing), from Hungary, has little plot, but it does get better as it goes along. In the lead role, as a young girl in a new school, Dorka Gáspárfalvi gives a surprising performance.
Will Win: Though it doesn’t have the meaningfulness or urgency or power of Enemies Within, Sing seemed to me the best of the nominees. I think it’ll squeak by.
Best Sound Editing
Nominees: Arrival, Deepwater Horizon, Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land, Sully
Should Win: Hacksaw Ridge.
Will Win: Hacksaw Ridge.
Best Sound Mixing
Nominees: Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land, Rogue One, 13 Hours
Should Win: Hacksaw Ridge.
Will Win: Hacksaw Ridge.
Best Visual Effects
Should Win: These are all great choices, but no doubt the most visually captivating and magnificently unexpected film of the year was The Jungle Book. Not since Life of Pi have we seen CGI animals quite so realistic.
Will Win: The Jungle Book.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominees: Arrival, Fences, Hidden Figures, Lion, Moonlight
Should Win: There was controversy about exactly how adapted Moonlight really is, since its only loosely based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play, and that play was never even produced. But there’s no doubt that since it’s here, it’s the best of the bunch. Fences would be my second choice, but Moonlight brings together a group of characters so unique to the big screen and lets them feel genuine. It blends three chapters so seamlessly, despite their very obvious seams.
Will Win: Moonlight.
Best Original Screenplay
Nominees: Hell or High Water, La La Land, The Lobster, Manchester by the Sea, 20th Century Women
Should Win: La La Land is tied for the most Oscar nominations of any movie in history, and the Academy clearly loved the movie about L.A. and filmmaking (as they always do), but Kenneth Lonergan’s beautiful story of grief in Manchester by the Sea is the clear favorite in this category. Lonergan peeled away layers of the story until you reach the emotional core, near the end. It’s masterful storytelling, even without an overly sensational story at its center.
Will Win: Manchester by the Sea.