My Guaranteed Office-Pool-Winning, Don’t-Sue-Me-If-I’m-Wrong Oscar Predictions

FEBRUARY 23, 2017

Photo:  ABC

This is the column I have most dreaded to write all year and the one I’ll most regret re-reading on Monday morning.

Exact Change Today has ridden the Oscar train with you all awards season with its ups & downs and sudden switches and unexpected snubs.  I have fancied myself the Grand Poobah of all-seeing and all-knowing Oscar tidbits.  But this weekend, I fear that I will be exposed as the charlatan that I am.  But knowing that many of you will have to have your office Oscar pools ready by end-of-business-day on Friday, here are a few thoughts that make perfect sense to me on Thursday but will likely look perfectly foolish by Monday.  Let’s go!

Best Picture:
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“Hell or High Water”
“Hidden Figures”
“La La Land”*
“Manchester by the Sea”

Love it or hate it, Damien Chazelle’s jazz-infused musical has, with very few exceptions, scooped up every award in sight this season, and there’s no reason to think that will stop on Sunday.  There’s a very slight chance that “Moonlight,” which has a passionate fan base, could pull through, but that would take a Trump-sized upset that I just don’t see happening.

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

Lead Actor appears to be one of the closest races of the evening, so don’t go to bed early.  Affleck appeared to have this one in the bag as recently as a month ago, but Washington scored an unexpected victory at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which has proven to be a reliable indicator for the Oscar winner since so many SAG voters are also Oscar voters.  However, Washington already has won two Oscars — are voters ready to award him a third?  My hunch is that Affleck will barely eke this out.

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

On the other hand, Lead Actress, which was once a tight three-way race with Natalie Portman, Isabelle Huppert and Emma Stone all competing is headed in Stone’s direction.  Portman won a few critics’ honors, followed by more for Huppert, including winning the Golden Globe.  But since then, Stone has amassed a string of Best Actress wins, and I think that momentum will take her over the top.

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

Like Casey Affleck, Ali has been sweeping the preliminary awards, only to face a late-breaking challenger — in this case, it’s Dev Patel, who has been making the rounds in Hollywood on a charm offensive to woo Oscar voters.  This is one of the few categories where “Moonlight” voters have a place to plant their flag, however, and I think that Ali should hang on for the win.

Best Supporting Actress:
Viola Davis, “Fences”*
Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”
Nicole Kidman, “Lion”
Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”
Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”

I can’t even imagine a scenario where Viola Davis loses.  Probably the easiest pick of the night.

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

Recently (including last year), there has been a growing number of instances that the director of the Best Picture is not named the year’s Best Director.  But that’s unlikely to happen this year.  Chazelle has earned too much good will (and, most importantly, won the predictive Directors Guild of America award) to stumble at the end.

Animated Feature:
“Kubo and the Two Strings,” Travis Knight and Arianne Sutner
“Moana,” John Musker, Ron Clements and Osnat Shurer
“My Life as a Zucchini,” Claude Barras and Max Karli
“The Red Turtle,” Michael Dudok de Wit and Toshio Suzuki
“Zootopia,” Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Clark Spencer*

Both “Kubo and the Two Strings” and “Moana” have a second nomination (“Kubo” for Visual Effects and “Moana” for Original Song), which sometimes indicate strength within other voter branches.  But the screenplay for “Zootopia,” which comments on racial discrimination by setting its story in an all-animal world, is too politically savvy to be ignored.

Adapted Screenplay:
“Arrival,” Eric Heisserer
“Fences,” August Wilson
“Hidden Figures,” Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi
“Lion,” Luke Davies
“Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney*

Jenkins and McCraney’s adaptation of McCraney’s play about the coming of age of a black, poor and gay Miami youth (told through three different periods in his life) displays such emotion within the characters and such economy in the writing that it stands above the other four (very good) scripts.  With no “La La Land” in this category, “Moonlight” will finally have a chance to shine here.

Original Screenplay:
“20th Century Women,” Mike Mills
“Hell or High Water,” Taylor Sheridan
“La La Land,” Damien Chazelle
“The Lobster,” Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou
“Manchester by the Sea,” Kenneth Lonergan*

I love this category this year, as three of my favorite scripts (“Hell or High Water, “The Lobster” and “Manchester”) go head to head to head.  Like “Moonlight,” “Manchester” has passionate fans and honoring playwright Lonergan here may be the way to express it.  However, though I think that “La La Land’s” script is one of the weakest parts of the film, it may very well get swept in if the love for the film is strong enough.

“Arrival,” Bradford Young
“La La Land,” Linus Sandgren*
“Lion,” Greig Fraser
“Moonlight,” James Laxton
“Silence,” Rodrigo Prieto

It’s a shame that Bradford Young’s gorgeous work on “Arrival” is likely to be overlooked, but this Oscar will likely go to Linus Sandgren, since, for many people, their greatest memory of “La La Land” is its distinctive look.  While much of that credit should also go to the film’s costumes and production design, Sandgren did provide the kind of smooth camera moves that evoked the fluidity of the great film musicals of the 1950s.

Best Documentary Feature:
“13th,” Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick and Howard Barish
“Fire at Sea,” Gianfranco Rosi and Donatella Palermo
“I Am Not Your Negro,” Raoul Peck, Remi Grellety and Hébert Peck
“Life, Animated,” Roger Ross Williams and Julie Goldman
“O.J.: Made in America,” Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow*

After the #OscarsSoWhite controversy plagued the Academy for the last two years, it’s significant to see that three documentaries about the black experience in America are competing for the feature doc prize — “13th,” Ava DuVernay’s look at the 13th Amendment and how its use has led to disproportionate incarceration of African-Americans, the current box-office hit “I Am Not Your Negro” about the life of writer James Baldwin and, most significantly, “O.J.: Made in America,” the 7 hr. and 46 minute epic on the pre- and post-trial life of O.J. Simpson.  Even if don’t ever want to see the man again, you’ll be surprised at what you never knew about O.J.  That’s why it will win.

Best Foreign Language Film:
“A Man Called Ove,” Sweden
“Land of Mine,” Denmark
“Tanna,” Australia
“The Salesman,” Iran*
“Toni Erdmann,” Germany

There’s only one man who’s responsible for this being a surprisingly close race:  Donald J. Trump.  Until just a few weeks ago, this looked like an easy win for Germany’s entry, the 2 3/4-hour comedy “Toni Erdmann,” but then came Trump’s travel ban barring Muslims from seven Mideast countries from traveling to the United States.  That move would mean that the esteemed Iranian director of “The Salesman” Asghar Farhadi, a former Oscar winner, would be banned from attending the ceremony.  Many Oscar voters then began a movement to urge a vote for “The Salesman” as a protest against Trump.  I hope that “The Salesman” doesn’t win because of that.  I’m predicting that “The Salesman” will win because it’s a great movie.  Though watch out for Sweden’s crowd-pleaser, “A Man Called Ove.”

Film Editing:
“Arrival,” Joe Walker
“Hacksaw Ridge,” John Gilbert
“Hell or High Water,” Jake Roberts
“La La Land,” Tom Cross*
“Moonlight,” Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon

This is a category that usually mirrors the Best Picture winner.  So if you think that “La La Land” is going to win the big prize, go for it here as well.

Sound Editing:
“Arrival,” Sylvain Bellemare
“Deepwater Horizon,” Wylie Stateman and Renee Tondelli
“Hacksaw Ridge,” Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright*
“La La Land,” Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan
“Sully,” Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

All right, class, let’s go over this one more time.  Sound editing is the actual creation of all of the non-musical sound effects in a film — wind, for example, flying birds, snapping twigs, etc. plus dialogue.  Sound mixing is taking all those elements together (including music) and creating a symphony of sound.  The general rule for predicting sound editing is go for the loudest one.  Therefore:  “Hacksaw Ridge.”  A word of warning, though:  there may be some “La La Land” lovers who will vote for it in every category, so keep that in mind.

Sound Mixing:
“Arrival,” Bernard Gariepy Strobl and Claude La Haye
“Hacksaw Ridge,” Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace
“La La Land,” Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow*
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson
“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Mac Ruth

However, in sound mixing, if it’s between a war film and a musical, go with the musical.  Therefore, “La La Land.”

Production Design:
“Arrival,” Patrice Vermette, Paul Hotte
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” Stuart Craig, Anna Pinnock
“Hail, Caesar!,” Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh
“La La Land,” David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco*
“Passengers,” Guy Hendrix Dyas, Gene Serdena

I’m very torn on this one.  “Arrival” is said to be very popular within the Academy, and this would be the logical place to honor it, especially with those imaginative sets.  (Come to think of it, “Fantastic Beasts” and “Hail, Caesar!” wouldn’t be bad choices, either.)  But I suspect the “La La Land” wave will continue.

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

I was happy to see my favorite score of the year, Mica Levi’s moody work on “Jackie,” make the final 5, but if there’s a musical in the bunch, go with it — “La La Land.”

Original Song:
“Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” “La La Land” — Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
“Can’t Stop the Feeling,” “Trolls” — Music and Lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster
“City of Stars,” “La La Land” — Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul*
“The Empty Chair,” “Jim: The James Foley Story” — Music and Lyric by J. Ralph and Sting
“How Far I’ll Go,” “Moana” — Music and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Lots of famous names in this category — Justin Timberlake, Lin-Manuel Miranda, J. Ralph and Sting — but the race is likely between the two “La La” songs.  Though I think that “Audition” is the better of the two songs (as it reveals so much about Emma Stone’s character), “City of Stars” has been getting the big ad push and will most likely take the win.

Makeup and Hair:
“A Man Called Ove,” Eva von Bahr and Love Larson
“Star Trek Beyond,” Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo*
“Suicide Squad,” Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson

“Suicide Squad” would probably win if the category was “Most Makeup and Hair.” And “A Man Called Ove” displays some wonderfully subtle work, which eliminates it right there.  So it’s probably “Star Trek Beyond” by default.  But why isn’t “Florence Foster Jenkins” on this list?

Costume design:
“Allied,” Joanna Johnston
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” Colleen Atwood
“Florence Foster Jenkins,” Consolata Boyle
“Jackie,” Madeline Fontaine
“La La Land,” Mary Zophres*

Glad to see Joanna Johnston’s beautiful suits and gowns for “Allied” make the list, but it’s difficult to compete with the bold primary colors that Mary Zophres uses in “La La Land.”  Still, Madeline Fontaine’s skillful period work on “Jackie” comes close.

Visual effects:
“Deepwater Horizon,” Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington and Burt Dalton
“Doctor Strange,” Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli and Paul Corbould
“The Jungle Book,” Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon*
“Kubo and the Two Strings,” Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean and Brad Schiff
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel and Neil Corboul

Though this is the film’s sole nomination, the complexity of the visual effects of Disney’s “The Jungle Book” ranks it head-and-shoulders above the other nominees and would make for a much-deserved win.

Animated Short:
“Blind Vaysha,” Theodore Ushev
“Borrowed Time,” Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj
“Pear Cider and Cigarettes,” Robert Valley and Cara Speller
“Pearl,” Patrick Osborne
“Piper,” Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer*

Take it for what it’s worth:  I’m predicting “Piper,” the charming story of a sandpiper gathering his courage to face big waves, only because it was the most widely seen, since it played in theaters this summer across the country before “Finding Dory.”  Otherwise, flip a coin.

Best Documentary Short Subject:
“4.1 Miles,” Daphne Matziaraki
“Extremis,” Dan Krauss
“Joe’s Violin,” Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen
“Watani: My Homeland,” Marcel Mettelsiefen and Stephen Ellis
“The White Helmets,” Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara*

The fact that three of these shorts deal with Syrian refugees might suggest that they’ll cancel each other out, and the Oscar may go to something sentimental like “Joe’s Violin” (heartwarming if a bit empty).  But “The White Helmets,” which focuses on a group of Syrian volunteers who rush into bombed buildings to look for survivors has an extra emotional kick to it that, to me at least, makes it stand out.

Best Live Action Short Film:
“Ennemis Interieurs,” Selim Azzazi*
“La Femme et le TGV,” Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff
“Silent Nights,” Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson
“Sing,” Kristof Deak and Anna Udvardy
“Timecode,” Juanjo Gimenez

The live-action shorts, on the other hand, offers a wider range of topics, with everything from romance and relationships to a school choir as subjects.  But I have the feeling that the voters will remain in a political mood, so I’m predicting “Ennemis Interieurs,” in which an Algerian man seeking citizenship is seated across from a French immigration official and interrogated.  It couldn’t be more timely.

There you have it.  I beg you, don’t wager your mortgage payment or your first-born on these predictions — the Academy mindset is inscrutable at times.  Just sit back, watch the show and wonder how host Jimmy Kimmel is going to humiliate his arch-rival Matt Damon.  And have a wonderful Oscar Day, everyone!