The 89th Academy Awards: predicting the winners

An Academy Award winner receives a golden statuette typically called an Oscar. (AMPAS/LinkedIn)

An Academy Award winner receives a golden statuette typically called an “Oscar”. (AMPAS/LinkedIn)

An Academy Award winner receives a golden statuette typically called an
An Academy Award winner receives a golden statuette typically called an “Oscar”. (AMPAS/LinkedIn)

Staff Writer
The 89th Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, will be showing on ABC on February 26. The Oscars is arguably the biggest show of the awards season with the biggest movie award in the world. After the 2016 fiasco, which accused the Academy for a lack of diversity, an additional 600 Academy members were added to the original 6000 to try and create a more interesting pool of nominations. The odds are those 600 members did not make much of a difference, but this year’s nominees are much more diverse than last year. Three awards from the categories of Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress will most likely go to African-American nominees.
These are most of the categories and their respective nominees. Each section has a projected winner, possible upset, snubbed and what should win, if applicable.
Actor in a Leading Role:
The five actors nominated in this category are Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea), Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge), Ryan Gosling (La La Land), Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic) and Denzel Washington (Fences). The favorite to win is Denzel Washington who plays Troy Maxson in Fences. Washington has been nominated four times for Best Actor and has won once. He is beloved by the Academy and his performance was downright amazing. The possible upset would be Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler in Manchester by the Sea. Affleck had an interesting role as an uncle who must take care of his late brother’s son. His performance was good, but does not seem like enough to take down Washington. Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian Wilder in La La Land, and while he won the Golden Globe, the odds are his requirement to learn how to play the piano just for this movie will not be enough to win him the Oscar. Andrew Garfield received his first nomination for his performance as Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge, which is exactly his biggest issue. Garfield can act, if his past performance in The Social Network was not enough to prove it, but the Academy does not usually pick those at that young of an age. The final pick was Viggo Mortensen as Ben Cash in Captain Fantastic, but the film just does not have the popularity for Mortensen to win.
Projected Winner: Denzel Washington
Potential Upset: Casey Affleck
Snubbed: Tom Hanks for Sully (less of a snub and more of a surprise that he was not nominated)
Actress in a Leading Role:
The five nominated actresses are Isabelle Huppert (Elle), Ruth Negga (Loving), Natalie Portman (Jackie), Emma Stone (La La Land) and Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins). This category is very interesting because only one out of the five actresses is in a film nominated for Best Picture. There were quite a few surprises this year: Meryl Streep was a huge surprise, because this is the sixteenth time she has been nominated for Best Actress (give someone else a shot!) and there were many other actresses who were deserving of a nomination. However, I do not believe the Academy will give her another award for a while. Ruth Negga was a nice surprise because Loving received very few nominations, and the film did not even break even at the box office. Loving is the true story about a couple who cannot marry because of the Virginia interracial marriage laws. Isabelle Huppert plays Michele Leblanc, a rape victim, in Elle, a truly odd and disturbing film; Huppert is the only other contender because playing a rape victim is a difficult role to play. Natalie Portman received a nomination for her role in Jackie, but the lack of nominations for Jackie in other categories like Best Picture shows that she probably will not receive the award. This year’s winner will likely be Emma Stone for her performance in La La Land. Her only disadvantage is that she is a little young to win the award.
Projected Winner: Emma Stone
Possible Upset:  Isabelle Huppert (but honestly any of them)
Snubbed: Amy Adams (Arrival) and Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures)
Actor in a Supporting Role:
The five actors nominated for Best Supporting Actor this year are Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea), Dev Patel (Lion) and Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals). The favorite to win this year is Mahershala Ali for his performance as Juan in Moonlight. Despite being in the film for only a third of the runtime, he delivers some of the more memorable lines in the film. Lucas Hedges is actually one of the youngest nominees in this category, which alone is enough to knock him out of contention. Jeff Bridges plays Marcus Hamilton in Hell or High Water, an action film, so Bridges does not have any major stand out scenes to really take the award; but, if anyone has a shot at taking it from Mahershala Ali, it’s Bridges. Michael Shannon was a surprise nomination who technically plays two roles because of the frame story nature of Nocturnal Animals. I do not believe he will win, not from any lack of talent, but every time I think of Michael Shannon, I think of his lackluster performances in Man of Steel and Premium Rush. The final actor in this category is Dev Patel, oddly nominated as Supporting Actor despite playing the main character. His performance in Lion was very good, as shown in his character’s efforts to find his family.
Projected Winner: Mahershala Ali
Potential Upset: Jeff Bridges  
Actress in a Supporting Role:
The five nominations for Best Supporting Actress this year are Viola Davis (Fences), Naomie Harris (Moonlight), Nicole Kidman (Lion), Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures) and Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea). The favorite to win this year is Viola Davis for her performance as Rose Maxson in Fences. Her performance is on par with, if not better than, Denzel Washington’s. Naomie Harris plays Paula, an abusive mother, in Moonlight. Although she is in the film for only the first and third acts, Harris is a very strong contender as an abusive mother. Nicole Kidman plays Sue Brierley, the adoptive mother of the main character, in Lion. She really isn’t the main supporting actress in the film so her win would be a surprise. Michelle Williams is the only possible upset as Randi in Manchester by the Sea, her performance is good, but not enough.  Finally, Octavia Spencer, the only nominee to represent for Hidden Figures, plays Dorothy Vaughan. She already won for The Help back in 2011, so I do not think she’s going to win this year. This category is Davis’s to lose, and even though she belongs in the Best Actress category she wins this with a stunning performance.
Projected Winner: Viola Davis
Animated Feature Film:
The five films up for Best Animated Feature are Kubo and the Two Strings (Laika), Moana (Disney), My Life as a Zucchini (Various), The Red Turtle (Various) and Zootopia (Disney). The two Disney films, Moana and Zootopia, are obviously the most popular. Although Moana has some songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the odds are Zootopia will take the award. The sheer popularity difference between Zootopia and the rest of these films is astonishing; in fact, two of them will not be released in the US box office until later this year. Studio Ghibli received its yearly nomination with The Red Turtle, a completely silent film about a man stranded on an island. To be fair, The Red Turtle has about seven production studios behind it, but the biggest one is Studio Ghibli. Unfortunately, the film did not come out for U.S. audiences until this past January, so it’s a longshot for the film to receive the award. My Life As a Zucchini is a French stop motion animation about a boy living in an orphanage and learning to live with kids just like himself. Although the story is touching, the odds are if any film were to upset Zootopia it would be Kubo and the Two Strings. What Kubo has above all the other films is that it is the best “animated” of the bunch. What I mean by that is even though it is a stop-motion, its visuals flow better than any other film in this category. However, that is still not enough to defeat the giant which is Disney. To put this into perspective, Disney has won Best Animated Feature every year that they have been nominated since 2007 (the exception being 2011 just because they were not nominated). So, unless Disney puts out an awful movie while another studio puts out a spectacular one, expect Disney to keep taking the award home.
Projected Winner: Zootopia
Potential Upset/Who Should Win: Kubo and the Two Strings
Snubbed: Kimi no Na wa (Your Name)
The nominees for Best Director are Dennis Villeneuve (Arrival), Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge), Damien Chazelle (La La Land), Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea) and Barry Jenkins (Moonlight). The two frontrunners are Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins. The reason is that both of their projects were highly personal, but the obvious choice is Chazelle just for the power of La La Land. A big surprise was the nomination of Mel Gibson. Apparently the Academy has forgiven Mel for his past transgressions but probably not to the extent where he would win. That said, Hacksaw Ridge is well-directed and performed, and Gibson’s past social transgressions should not make anyone needlessly hate on a good movie. Arrival is one of the films also nominated for Best Cinematography, which is usually a good precursor to Best Director but not enough for the Oscar. Kenneth Lonergan wrote and directed Manchester by the Sea, but it just does not have the power to take down the other two films.
Projected Winner: Damien Chazelle
Potential Upset:  Barry Jenkins
The Nominees for Best Original Score this year are Mica Levi (Jackie), Justin Hurwitz (La La Land), Dustin O’Halloran (Lion), Nicholas Britell (Moonlight) and Thomas Newman (Passengers). The obvious front runner is Justin Hurwitz, because La La Land is a musical. A case could be made that the score is more of a soundtrack because all of the songs could stand on their own. My personal favorite is “Epilogue,” but the popular ones are “City of Stars,” “Another Day of Sun” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream).” Jackie is also a favorite; many critics claimed that the film relied quite a bit on the score, which may be the reason for it receiving such a small amount of nominations, but it’s also the reason why the score is so respected. Its score is used to emphasize the emotional grief felt by Jackie Kennedy after her husband’s assassination. Nicholas Britell’s score accompanies the main character at three monumental moments in his life. In an interview with IndieWire, Britell said that he believed his score’s main piece, “Chiron’s Theme,” was a poem between piano and violin. The score of Lion was made almost entirely by Dustin O’Halloran, except for the opening piece done by Sia, which is an odd choice for a movie about trying to find family. Thomas Newman is the final nominee, and the sad part is he is on his 14th Oscar nomination but has yet to win once. Passengers’ score is one of his first sci-fi works with the exception of Wall-E.
Projected Winner: Justin Hurwitz
Possible Upset: Mica Levi
Who Should Win: Thomas Newman
Best Original Song:
The nominees this year for Best Original Song are “Audition” (La La Land), “Can’t Stop The Feeling” (Trolls), “City of Stars” (La La Land), “The Empty Chair” (Jim: The James Foley Story) and “How Far I’ll Go” (Moana). If the Oscars was not obvious enough, La La Land is the favorite with two nominations in the same category, “City of Stars,” the favorite, and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” the upset candidate. Both are great songs that fully encompass the theme of the film. “How Far I’ll Go” is Disney’s “Let it Go” of the year, but it is not nearly as memorable as the other songs in the category.  “The Empty Chair,” from Jim: The James Foley Story, is a song from a movie about James Foley, the photojournalist captured by ISIS. The song is interesting because it is written around the metaphor of an empty chair at the family table. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum there is “Don’t Stop the Feeling,” a song that everyone has probably heard thanks to radio stations blaring it nonstop for half of the summer. I really hope it does not win.
Projected Winner: “City of Stars”
Possible Upset: “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”
The nominees this year for Best Cinematography are Bradford Young (Arrival), Linus Sandgren (La La Land), Greig Fraser (Lion), James Laxton (Moonlight) and Rodrigo Prieto (Silence). Arrival contains a lot of landscape and subtle camera movements usually used to focus on personal struggles held by the characters. On the other hand, La La Land uses quite a few lateral tracking shots, giving the movie a play-esque feeling to it, like switching backgrounds for a scene transition. Silence was shot in scenic areas in Taipei allowing for beautiful landscapes.  Moonlight has a wonderful color contrast that makes every frame pop off the screen. Greig Fraser made subtle differences in his shot composition for Lion when filming in India compared to Australia. He also had to account for the height differences of the two actors playing the lead character.
Projected Winner: Linus Sandgren (La La Land)
Possible Upset: Greig Fraser (Lion)
Best Picture:
The nominees for Best Picture this year are Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight. Arrival is the story of how one linguist, played by Amy Adams, learns to interact with an extraterrestrial force that uses symbols and time to communicate. It is an interesting sci-fi story with a thought-provoking premise and resolution. Fences is the story of a 53 year-old man who failed at baseball because of the color barrier and prevents his son from accepting a football scholarship because of it and is acted by some of the most skilled and respected actors of this generation. Hacksaw Ridge is the story of a soldier who refused to kill in war and instead saved his wounded comrades through his wit and perseverance. Hell or High Water is literally cops and robbers, except the robbers are robbing the banks to pay the banks. Hidden Figures is the true story of African-American women who contributed massively to the space exploration program during a time of segregation and lack of civil rights. La La Land is the story of human ambition and the ability to try again and again no matter how many times you fail. Lion is the story of a man who loses his family as a toddler and then embarks on a journey to find them. Manchester by the Sea is the story of an uncle who has to take care of his late brother’s son. Moonlight is the story of a gay African-American man and his many struggles throughout three major moments in his life. It is no secret that La La Land is the favorite to win Best Picture; the 14 nominations would tell anyone that it is the Academy’s favorite, and with good reason. Arrival is excellently shot and offers a complex interesting narrative. Fences offers probably the best performances out of all the films. Lion, Hacksaw Ridge, and Manchester by the Sea offer great directorial choices and touching stories. Hidden Figures and Moonlight have great social commentaries on the past and present. Hell or High Water is a thrilling story from start to finish. What La La Land has that no other film really has is relatability. La La Land is an inspiring story telling you to follow your convictions no matter what anyone tells you, just like Hidden Figures and Hacksaw Ridge, but it also focuses on how you can lose sight of those convictions for a moment. Its plot is not as convoluted as Arrival, or as stressful as Hell or High Water, or as depressing as Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight, and it is a bit more relatable than Lion. I think the reason why it will win is because in 2016, we needed a story that was happy and unreal, a story that could let us escape the depressing events of the past year and remind us of what makes humans so remarkable. We needed a film that would tell us we could fall on our faces like fools many times before we would ever make any progress.
Projected Winner: La La Land
Possible Upset: Moonlight
Snubbed: Silence and Jackie