They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?
A Look Ahead to 2017
By J. Don Birnam
December 26, 2016

So this is how Lebowski ends up.

As the calendar turns to 2017, a few Oscar hopefuls believe their time may have come. But with the stunning lack of SAG ensemble for La La Land, which is otherwise doing very well with audiences, the race does seem a bit fluid. So, where exactly are we, with still about a month left to go before Oscar nominations? We’ve updated our power rankings here for a complete picture.

Below the Line

If La La Land really is going to lead the Oscars in nominations, it will do so on the strength of nominations through the tech field, including Costumes, Sound, and Song. But there are a host of other technically pleasing movies that should find purchase with the Academy, including Moonlight for its cinematography and two Amy Adams vehicles, Arrival and Nocturnal Animals, making a push as well. Best Animated Feature seems wide open, while the narrowing of the Docs and Foreign Language race show that O.J.: Made in America and Germany’s Toni Erdmann are headed for wins.

And what about Best Visual Effects, that ghetto category for audience pleasing movies? It looks like Rogue One and Doctor Strange will battle it out here, but it will be interesting to see what else makes it in.

The Tricky—and not so Tricky—Acting Races

Of the acting races, Supporting Actress seems the most locked, not just for the win by Viola Davis but also for the five-person slate, which has matched for Globes and SAG. So for now, there is no evidence, absent BAFTA, that someone else will get in.

Supporting Actor seems pretty locked for Mahershala Ali as well, though Jeff Bridges may give him a run for his money. The rest of the category is a bit open, though Dev Patel and Hugh Grant have appeared everywhere. These two will likely land BAFTA, so the question will be who is the fifth one there?

Meanwhile, in the lead races, Best Actor also seems the least tricky. Casey Affleck remains ahead and has appeared in all lists, but Denzel Washington and Andrew Garfield are making furious goes at it. Washington is there for one of the strongest roles of his career - which he directed - and Garfield for one of two solid performances for him this year. The biggest surprise has been Viggo Mortensen, who has appeared at SAG and Globes, so he seems solid here. The question, again, is who the fifth slot will go to? It is Ryan Gosling’s to lose at the moment, but he may well do so.

It is the Best Actress race that is confounding predictors the most. Not only is it not clear at all that Emma Stone is going to run away with this - not when the acting guild did not love her film - but also Natalie Portman has more critical acclaim. Beyond that horse race, the rest of the category remains utterly impossible to predict. Can Meryl Streep really net her 20th nod for that weaker role in Florence Foster Jenkins? Can Isabelle Huppert survive an onslaught? Will Amy Adams make it in, only to lose again? It will be fascinating to watch, but except Streep to get in with BAFTA.

The Pesky Best Director Race

For all the difficulties of predicting Best Picture race, there is a clear outcome that makes Best Director hard. Consider that since the 2009 Best Picture expansion the rate of BP/BD split has ballooned, it would not be strange to find the more uplifting movie, La La Land, win it all, with the more intimate directorial project, Moonlight, winning for director.

So, the win is up for grabs, though you can expect the top three movies of the year - the aforementioned two plus Manchester by the Sea - to get in. The question, then, is what does the branch do with the two extra slots? Do they go back to old school actors turned directors and reward Gibson and Washington? Or do they do what they did that crazy year of Amour and Beasts of No Nation and recognize up and coming directors like Denis Villeneuve for Arrival?

The Moving Best Picture Race

So it comes down to this. It really did not seem after the film festival that Best Picture would be in doubt at all. With La La Land winning at TIFF and wowing the entire fall festival circuit, how could it lose?

Then SAG happened so, yeah, there is a chance. Those quick to dismiss the lack of the nod as reflecting the fact that it is not an ensemble piece should look at Fences or Beasts of No Nation as movies that got in with small casts. They should also look to Gravity and Avatar and The Revenant as movies that failed to get to the last podium that did not have the SAG ensemble.

Of course no stat controls the race, so don’t make the mistake of reading too much into it the other way either. We shall see.

And what of the rest of the field? After Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, and Fences, the spaces seem wide, wide open. Could Arrival still get in? Is Hidden Figures for real? Does Jackie still have a chance? Is Silence really that dead in the water?

If anything, I’d put money on the “steak eater” movies, the American Snipers of this year - Hacksaw Ridge and Hell or High Water - as the ones with the most chances, but there is clearly lots to choose from.

Of course, by the time the Oscar nods come out, we will know more about PGA, BAFTA, etc., so we will have more tea leaves to read.

Up Next: BAFTA Nominations come out right after the New Year

Thoughts? Twitter: @jdonbirnam
Instagram: @awards_predix