They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?: The Oscars After the Festivals

By J. Don Birnam

November 23, 2016

Three movies together? People will start to talk.

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The New York Film Festival closed last month with The Lost City of Z and Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Neither seems to have wowed the critics in any significant way, although perhaps Annette Benning’s performance in 20th Century Women may gain some traction. Then, the AFI Fest finished in LA last week and though Miss Sloane, Patriot’s Day, and Rules Don’t Apply played generally well, none seem to have caused a major shift in the Oscars race. So, now we can draw some conclusions about the state of the Oscars race at the conclusion of the main film festivals of the fall season - Telluride, Toronto, and the aforementioned NYFF and AFI. It appears as if La La Land remains ahead for Best Picture, while we obviously have a very wide-open Best Actress race.

Little else seems mortally locked - some stuff remains to be seen widely, of course. There is always a chance that, later Denzel Washington’s Fences or Missing Pieces could make a late move. Both have received warm receptions from those who have seen them. And no one has seen Silence yet.

Let’s look at the main categories, noting I only list movies I’ve actually seen.


Best Picture and Director: Can La La Land be Jackied?

Here’s what we know: Jackie and La La Land are the strongest festival contenders so far, and they are basically guaranteed a nod. We also know what is not getting nominated, and that is Birth of a Nation. That will be the fastest rise and fall of an Oscar contender in recent memory, to be honest. The lack of box office success last month sealed the deal after the takedown job surrounding the rape allegations against the film’s director. Much will be said about that, particularly if it results in another #OscarsSoWhite debacle. We shall see.

From there, not much is clear. There is a lot of stuff we have talked about from the festivals, including Moonlight, Arrival, and Manchester by the Sea. But none is a surefire, slam-dunk nominee. A lot will depend on how strong some of the remaining films are. Moonlight, at least, continues its solid critic run, so it seems safer, and Arrival has had solid early returns as well.

Full Best Picture rankings here.

And Best Director looks out to shake along similar lines, with Damien Chazelle the obvious shoo-in for La La, and Pablo Larrain for Jackie. It is also possible to see Eastwood here for Sully, since he’s a perennial favorite, but don’t discount the technical prowess of Dennis Villeneuve with Arrival, particularly after last year’s near miss with Sicario, to make it in here as well.

Full Best Director rankings here.

Best Actor and Actress: No Clear Sense

Best Actor tends to be the crowded race every year, though this time around it is not as strong as its sister category. Still, watch out for Casey Affleck with his touching performance in Manchester by the Sea, and even Ryan Gosling could ride in La La Land’s coattails in a weak year. The same goes for Tom Hanks in Sully, though the Academy has surprisingly stayed away from him more often than not in his past savior-type roles. Joel Edgerton could sneak in for Loving, though it is Ruth Negga who steals the film. Overall, then, there is not much to talk about in this realm as of yet.

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