As 2016 mercifully comes to a close. the first of the year end movie awards and nominations are starting to trickle out. That means for the first time we have some data that suggests how the upcoming Oscar Race will take place. This period is rather fluid in terms of figuring out actual nominations, but it is during this time we generally see favorites start to form. (Whether those films or people can maintain their favorite status is another question entirely.) So with that, I am going to a give a brief encapsulation of where things are at this time for the more prominent categories in this, the Kraken’s unofficial launch of Oscarathon 2017, a launch so unofficial it starts in 2016.
Getting a good picture of the Best Picture race isn’t really possible right now, because all we have really heard from so far are critics, but after looking at everything, there seems to be four films that have emerged as, at worst, likely nominees, with three of them looking like real contenders to actually win.
La La Land
- If you had to absolutely pick a favorite right now, it is probably Damien Chazelle’s latest film, La La Land. The movie’s hype is rather massive (and as I will note in a future The Anticipated, mostly warranted). This film scored one of the first major wins of the season with its New York Film Critics Circle win, while also scoring the Runner-Up Title from the LA Film Critics Association. It also made the top ten list for the National Board of Film Review (which historically is really just as helpful as if it was honored as the group’s best picture). Nor is the movie only getting accolades as a top picture; La La Land garnered 12 nominations at the Critic’s Choice Awards and is honored as winner or runner-up in six categories by the LAFCA. Best Picture winners historically have broad support in categories like acting, directing, screenwriting, and editing (last year’s Spotlight win being a huge exception), so La La Land is looking good. One other film could argue to have roughly as strong of a case for frontrunner, though, so what puts this film over the top is simply the fact that this is the kind of self-indulgent, Hollywood-focused movie that has tended to win in recent years. That pushes this colorful musical to the top of the list–at least until we have more actual data.
- This low-budget drama is the other film that could lay claim to being the favorite right now. It actually beat La La Land for the LA Film Critics picture award, and it bested Chazelle’s musical in multiple other categories, including best cinematography and Barry Jenkins for best director. Moonlight also made the National Board of Review’s Top Ten list and looks to be the early favorite in a number of other important races, while La La Land probably only has one anywhere near the inside of the bag (Best Score). Moonlight also follows closely behind its current top rival with ten Critics’ Choice Awards nominations, scored six Independent Spirit Awards nominations, and was honored in four categories by the LA Film Critics (once again, actually winning three). So from a pure acclaim perspective, Moonlight is running even. if not slightly ahead of La La Land, so if someone wants to say this is the actual early favorite I won’t really quibble. This uplifting and beautiful movie also has a nice narrative to carry it through award season, but as of now I am more inclined to believe that Hollywood will value La La Land‘s narrative more (or simply like it more as a movie, which is, you know, what this is supposed to be about).
Manchester By The Sea
- I don’t know if dark horse is really the right word here, but there are enough factors going for Manchester By the Sea that suggest it could end up on top come Oscar time. This is the film actually recognized as the best film of the year by the National Board of Review (which historically isn’t actually a great sign, to be honest, but this is all we have right now), and is going to have top contenders for Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay (and quite possibly Best Supporting Actress). It also scored eight nominations from the Crtics’ Choice Awards, plus five nominations from the Independent Spirit Awards. Plus there is the very real factor that is director Kenneth Lonergan. After the fiasco with the release of his last film, Margaret, which a lot of people felt could have won an Oscar in its own right if it hadn’t gotten stuck in distribution purgatory, one could easily see the Academy making it up to Lonergan with this film. Without the buzz of either Moonlight or La La Land, though, Manchester feels right now like a distant third in the totem pole.
- Unlike the other films on this list, Arrival‘s popular sci-fi story doesn’t really look like as of yet that it has the momentum to actually win, but it does seemed like it is garnering enough support to coast to a nomination. It, too, was honored by the National Board of Review, and scored ten nominations from the Critics’ Choice Awards. Given the film’s reasonable contention for both Best Actress (Amy Adams) and Best Director (Dennis Villeneuve) and Arrival seems poised to fulfill the annual role of the movie that gets lots of nominations but no wins come Oscar night. On the plus side, we’ll all learn how to correctly pronounce Villeneuve.
Near Contender: Jackie
- A lot of what can be said for Arrival can also be said for Jackie, but it doesn’t have quite as much support as of yet. As more pre-Oscar awards are announced, Jackie may garner enough nominations to be worth slotting into this Best Picture contender list. For now, keep an eye on it.
This has the potential to be one of the most competitive races ever, assuming the industry doesn’t have a collective freak out over the idea that there will be mass disagreements (this is a dubious assumption, I know). As of now, even getting a nomination could be a real bloodbath. This is a race that could go nine deep without even really thinking too hard about it (and without the ability for any of these performances to cheat their way into the Supporting Actress category, like two did last year), and in other years I could see each of these performances having a real chance of not just getting nominated, but winning. Significantly, most of these movies feel like complete films and not simply star vehicles, and many will get heavy Best Picture consideration. Here’s my read on relative positions in a category that at this point is definitely anybody’s race.
Natalie Portman – Jackie
- Portman has some wins already–not as many as others on this list, but at this early stage she still feels like she has the most buzz, and this is the kind of role that tends to get heavy Oscar consideration. She has gotten nominations from the Critics’ Choice and Satellite Awards, among others. I would be stunned if she doesn’t get nominated, especially considering Jackie itself is going to get quite a bit of attention in its own right.
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
- Huppert should probably be considered the favorite, as she has picked up the most wins so far, including at both the LA and New York Critics’ and the Gotham Awards. She has nominations from both the Critics’ Choice Awards and Satellite Awards as well. So Huppert will almost definitely get nominated come Oscar time, but it is hard for me to believe that she will actually win, because it is so rare that anyone nominated for a performance in a foreign film actually wins. There are a number of factors to this, but it is likely just due to the fact that a movie like Elle is not seen by as many Academy voters as the year’s American films. Huppert feels like the latest in the line of ‘just happy to be nominated’ contenders, with the added twist of possibly having won quite a few best actress awards from other places.
Amy Adams – Arrival
- This is more of a data pick than anything, because I don’t think Adams can actually win, but a nomination seems very likely. She actually won the National Board of Review award for best actress, and she has scored nominations from the Critics’ Choice Awards among others. Plus, the Academy tends to really like Amy Adams’s performances (she’s received five Oscar noms in the past decade). Still, the fact that people may not even agree that this is her best performance of the year (she was nominated by the Satellite Awards for her Nocturnal Animals turn, for example) kind of makes it hard to be as confident for her as with the others, but for now Adams seems on the fast track to one of these contested spots.
I could honestly treat all of these people’s chances as about the same, as each feels like a role that could break through but hasn’t yet. But they all have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Annette Bening – 20th Century Women
- Besides the fact that she is Annette Bening and the Academy loves her, Bening also has that same Mike Mills directorial magic that helped get Christopher Plummer his first win. This is one of the films that a lot of people haven’t had a chance to see yet, and without the festival buzz that, say, La La Land or Jackie had. I think once we get more nominations, we’ll find Bening jumps up pretty quickly, unless things just go really sideways. Another one to keep an eye on.
Ruth Negga – Loving
- Generally agreed to be the best part of Loving, Negga has found quite a bit of love for her performance, including Critics’s Choice Award and Satellite Awards nominations. Still, I wonder if she needs to start picking up more wins in order to not get lost in the shuffle of this stacked year.
Emma Stone – La La Land
- While Stone has gotten acclaim and nominations from a number of places in her own right, including the Satellite and Critics Choice Awards, one of the biggest things she has going for her is that she’s in La La Land, which is at worst co-favorite to win Best Picture at this point. That could carry her far.
Don’t Count Them Out
I think a lot is working against this group, but they are still in it.
Rebecca Hall – Christine
- Hall was the runner-up for the LA Critics Awards, and has gotten good buzz for this film. She could slip in for a nomination if things break right for her.
Jessica Chastain – Miss Sloane
- Chastain’s turn here has lost some luster, and has mostly been shut out of the nomination process, but the fact remains she is Jessica Chastain, and it is possible that enough future awards groups will look at that and she slips in.
Meryl Streep – Miss Florence Foster Jenkins
- Everything I said about Chastain applies to Streep, only exponentially more so. Plus, she actually has some nominations to build on, for example at the Satellite Awards. So never count out Streep.
This category is not as stacked as Best Actress, so I won’t be quite as in-depth outside of one clear favorite, but here are my initial thoughts.
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
- Affleck picked up the New York Critics’ award and the National Board of Review award for best actor. He was runner-up for the LA Film Critics award. He has racked up nominations from the Critics’ Choice and Satellite Awards, as well as a number of other wins. He is the lead actor in what is looking to be a major best picture player. The buzz is on his side, and so far he has been running with it. The only thing that could stop him? The sexual assault allegations that have plagued him recently. A similar situation pretty much destroyed any chance Nate Parker and The Birth of a Nation had of being real award contenders, but Affleck so far has remained unscathed. There is enough evidence to these claims to suggest that Affleck definitely shouldn’t be receiving the free pass he is currently getting, but it remains to be seen if this can actually cost him in the end. It could set up a situation where Affleck wins most of the awards this season, but ultimately loses the Oscar if the Academy decides to take a stand against his alleged behavior.
The Jumbled Rest
There are a lot of other Best Actor contenders that have received nominations and support from a number of places. None of them have really separated themselves from the pack, though, to be the main challenger to Affleck, and if Affleck does happen to falter, there could be real chaos in this race.
Adam Driver – Paterson
- Driver actually won the LA Film Critics Award over Affleck, but he hasn’t necessarily gotten much traction in other places, so it is hard to say how much of a threat he actually is. But he’s one of the only things stopping the Affleck awards bonanza.
Joel Edgerton – Loving
- Much of what is said about Negga could apply to Edgerton, but he hasn’t gotten quite the same buzz, so it’s hard to figure out where to stand on him.
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
- Solid buzz, but it remains to be seen if Mel Gibson’s current reputation will prove to be a boon or a minus for Garfield ultimately (so far it seems to be a boon, but that could change quickly).
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
- Gosling’s case is similar to Stone’s, but like Edgerton, Gosling has been overshadowed by his co-star.
Tom Hanks – Sully
- He’s Tom Hanks, and people agree he was good.
Denzel Washington – Fences
- Same reasoning as Tom Hanks, but with the added bonus that Washington also directed Fences.
Unless something major happens in the Best Picture Race, this looks to be a three-man race, with everyone else fighting for the honor to simply be nominated. No point going into further depth yet until we have more information.
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
- Jenkins is the clear favorite right now, as he racked up wins across the board with the LA and New York Critics, and even the National Board of Review, which mostly voted for Manchester by the Sea when it could. Jenkins has racked up numerous nominations, and unlike with best picture has clear separation from Chazelle.
Right Behind Him
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
- Chazelle has seemed to be a step behind Jenkins so far, but he’s ready to swoop in, especially if La La Land starts to more clearly emerge as the Best Picture favorite. He was runner-up at the LA Critics’ awards, and has basically received all the same nominations that Jenkins has. Beyond that, though, the fact that Chazelle already has Academy cred from Whiplash may be the biggest thing that could swing things in his favor.
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
- My points about Manchester‘s best picture outlook also apply here. Lonergan is getting nominations in the right places so far, but will need some more wins to turn things around. The other main difference between Lonergan and the other two directors is that both Jenkins and Chazelle could win even if their films don’t, while Lonergan probably needs to win both if he is going to win either.
Best Supporting Actress
As it was last year, this category is probably going to be the hardest to peg. The upcoming Golden Globes nominations will be actually pretty helpful to tell us how the race is looking. For now, there have been two names that look at least likely to get a nomination.
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea
- Winner of the New York Critics Circle best supporting actress award and runner-up for the LA award, Williams seems likely headed towards her third Oscar nomination. She has gotten many nominations this year already, including the Critics’ Choice and Satellite Awards, and she is probably the early favorite, mostly because I could definitely see the Academy deciding that 2016 is finally her year to win.
Naomi Harris – Moonlight
- Winner of the National Board of Review award, like Williams, Harris has also received numerous nominations so far. Harris gives such an emotionally impactful performance that she seems very likely to at least get a nomination, but unlike Williams, it really feels like Harris’s chances to win are more tied to how well Moonlight does at the Oscars overall.
Viola Davis – Fences
- It’s Viola Davis. It is very likely she has deservedly hit Streep territory, where if she does any role that can get nominated for any justifiable reason, she probably will.
Lily Gladstone – Certain Women
- Gladstone beat Williams for the LA Film Critics’ award, so she can’t be completely discounted, but the win seems so far to be an aberration.
Best Supporting Actor
This feels like a two-person race, with everyone else battling for the last three spots, unless things start changing pretty quickly.
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
- Ali is probably the favorite as of now, with wins from both the New York and LA critics, plus numerous nominations. Add in the buzz Ali already has for his work on Marvel’s Luke Cage (anyone who thinks this isn’t a thing has not been paying attention) that has kept him in the public’s consciousness for quite some time this year, and Ali looks to have the inside track.
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
- Bridges has a win from the National Board of Review on his side, not to mention being Jeff Bridges. He has scored a number of nominations. Also this probably going to be the best way to award Hell or High Water if the Academy wishes to do so.
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals
- It is unclear how well Tom Ford’s movie will do during the awards season, but it seems pretty likely that it will be heard from in some way. Shannon’s nomination would make as much sense as anything else.
Best Original Screenplay
Best Adapted Screenplay is honestly still too cluttered to make any real assessment until we have more data (maybe Silence, but I don’t feel that deserves more mention than this parenthetical), but the Best Original category feels a lot easier to predict: one favorite, one intriguing real contender, and two scripts that likely get in due to best picture ties.
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
- This may sound familiar, as much of my case for Lonergan’s Best Picture and Director chances would apply here. The difference is that Lonergan actually won the New York Critics Circle and National Board of Review Awards for his script. He finished runner-up in the LA Critics’ Awards, and has gotten among other things a Critics’ Choice Awards nomination. It really feels like the Academy would use the writing Oscar as the way to reward Lonergan than anything else, like they have done at times with other auteurs they have honored.
Real Intriguing Contender
Yorgos Lanthimos/Efthimis Filippou – The Lobster
- You know who beat Longergan for the LA Film Critics award? Yep, it was Lanthimos and Filippou for The Lobster. Add in its nominations at places like the Critics’ Choice Awards, and this script has a real shot. If nothing else, it should claim a nomination, as this category likes to nominate things a little off the beaten path when it can.
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Barry Jenkins — Moonlight
- Both of these get the same reasoning: as the two top Best Picture contenders they will likely also get Oscar noms for screenplay. Both have already picked up nominations in other places, so this doesn’t feel like either will be like some of the films from last year (Mad Max and The Revenant). Mostly likely neither will win, but if the Academy gets sweep happy, they both have a shot.
Normally I wouldn’t even bother to mention this, because the Oscars tend not to care about this category, but this year is kind of stacked, so if nothing else I thought I should list the contenders. All of them have a chance of winning.
- There are so many songs that could come from this movie, including Critics’ Choice award nominee “How Far I’ll Go,” but also possibly “You’re Welcome,” “We Know the Way,” and “Where You Are.” Honestly, the only real question is how Disney will handle this going forward, because they should probably just pick one to submit to avoid splitting the vote.
La La Land
- I thought there was really no way a non-Moana song could ultimately win without Disney doing something stupid like getting three songs nominated, but then I saw La La Land, which, yeah, this could change everything. Both “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” and “City of Stars” are real contenders (and Critics’ Choice Awards nominees) and it wouldn’t stun me if the Academy just nominated these two songs and three Moana songs (I don’t think that will happen, but it totally could).
- Justin Timberlake made a song specifically for Trolls with “Can’t Stop This Feeling,” and it seems very unlikely the Academy will balk at the chance to have him come and perform at the show.
Rules Don’t Apply
- The idea that the one nomination for Rules Don’t Apply (titled “The Rules Don’t Apply”, naturally) could come from best song is so fucking random, but totally possible, as regardless of the rest of the movie this song is actually pretty good.
- Sing Street is a pretty beloved movie from this year, and this could be the one way the Academy can actually honor it, so the Critics’ Choice Award nominee “Drive It Like You Stole It” seems as good a choice as any.
- This seems less likely now, because I feel like Disney would rather just get another Moana song nominated, but Disney did have Shakira perform “Try Everything” for the film, and the Academy loves both Disney and star power, so this is in play.
Best Foreign Film
This category is always such a crap shoot, but we have gotten some intriguing information so far for three films that all look to be real contenders. Unfortunately, one of them can’t be nominated because the Academy is dumb and only allows for one nomination per country, which meant South Korea was forced to choose between The Age of Shadows and The Handmaiden and picked the former. It makes a certain amount of sense from their perspective–the voting block for the Foreign Film category is terrible, and half the time countries don’t pick their best films but the one they think will work with these specific voters. But as a fan of The Handmaiden I’m going to stay bitter about this for basically the entire race, so you have that to look foward to. As for the rest:
- Winner of the New York Film Critics Circle award and runner up for the LA Film Critics (it lost to The Handmaiden), this film is probably the early favorite considering it’s near Palm d’Ore win and the buzz it seems to be generating. This film has snagged a Critics’ Choice Award nomination, and feels the mostly likely foreign film to have any chance of cracking a Best Picture nomination if any can.
- Winner of the National Board of Review award and the latest film from auteur Asghar Farhadi, The Salesman also doesn’t have the weird country affiliation that his last film, The Past, had. (It was basically an Iranian film shot in France, so they tried to submit it for Iran and the Academy let the submission happen, but they basically felt this allowed France to get two entries and so never took the film that seriously.) Farhadi is beloved by the Academy, so The Salesman should at least get a nomination, and could easily win.
- This film has gotten nominations so far but no wins, but it really feels like a strong contender, especially considering director Pablo Larrain also directed likely Best Picture contender Jackie.
Best Animated Film
This has been a fantastic year for animated movies, and in fact there was a record 27 submissions for Best Animated Film. (Not all of these are good, to be clear, but the category has struggled at times to get the number of submissions needed to maximize nominations in this category, and it did so with gusto this year.) This is an extremely diverse list of films from many different countries. It could create an extremely competitive race that would be really fun to see if, you know, the category took itself seriously and didn’t simply just give it to whatever Disney or Pixar movie they feel like (many times deserved, but that doesn’t change that it is clear they are no longer trying). There are movies in the double digits that I could talk about that could be argued to get a nomination, or hell, even win, but for the sake of time I am just going to list the films I think are most likely to get a nomination based on both data and cynicism (okay, and a lot of love).
- We have an early favorite. Zootopia burst onto the scene way back in March, and hasn’t really ever looked back. It has already picked up the New York Critics Circle awards and the National Board of Review. It has loads of nominations from the Annies and a nomination for the Critics’ Choice Awards. It drew raves for how it dealt with some really heady and complex issues in a so-called kids film, and is just a great movie besides. The real issue for this movie is that it’s questionable if Disney is really going to pick this film as the horse to back if push comes to shove. But right now it has momentum on its side.
- Well, it finally really happened, Disney’s greatest competition this year is literally itself, and I will say, if the quality of the films are going to be this, than at least that means Disney is actually trying, because both of these films are excellent. Zootopia is the slight favorite right now, but Moana could easily catch it once there has been a little more time for it to spread to everyone. Zootopia has had months to sit and be examined and remembered by everyone, which in this one instance I think has helped the film while Moana is having to play catch up. Still, with the great music, and the fact that this was really viewed as the A movie for Disney this year, it wouldn’t surprise me if Disney’s money went more to backing Moana. The two-headed race could split voters though, and may be the one thing that could actually stop Disney from winning again (though, let’s be honest, that would just mean Pixar would win, just because).
Kubo and the Two Strings
- The nomination of Boxtrolls in 2014 basically proved Laika had joined the club for automatic nominations unless the film in question is just a disaster. Kubo is an amazing movie, and well-worth the nomination. If there is any film that could stop the Disney and Pixar monopoly, it is this one, as it is rather beloved this year. But Laika’s continuing box office descent is not a good sign (as I have spoken on before), and though unlikely, that could play a part in things. Still, with a Critics’ Choice Awards nomination and a best picture nom from the Annie Awards, this film has nothing to worry about.
- This film will best showcase my point about Disney and Pixar. While both Disney films are amazing and deserve to be nominated, Dory is simply a really good movie. In weaker years that would make for an easy nomination, but not this year, as it will be outshined by a number of deserving others. Sadly, it will likely get picked anyhow, because Pixar earns praise for clearing the low bar that is Cars and The Good Dinosaur. It’s sad, because that is one of the reasons animation hasn’t taken the giant steps forward it really should be taking constantly at this point. Considering how much I loved Inside Out last year, it is frustrating we are back here again. There is some hope: Finding Dory only received three Annie nominations, and the Annies are even more in the tank for mainstream animation than the Oscars are, so it is possible that maybe the treatment of Monsters University wasn’t a blip, and if nothing else the industry is growing tired of rewarding Pixar for sequels. The Critics’ Choice Awards nomination makes me highly doubt this, but I am hoping my cynicism will be proven wrong.
The Red Turtle
- This is a Studio Ghibli film (which means it, too, is associated with Disney). It is in fact the first Ghibli film made outside of Japan. In this case the director is Michaël Dudok de Wit, a past Oscar short winner, who helped make this film a multicultural effort between France, Japan, and Belgium and The Netherlands. This film is good, but it is also going to be overrated as hell, and is likely to get in from its Ghibli name alone as every either convinces themselves it is amazing or simply assumes it. It has already gained Critics’ Choice Awards nominations and Annie nominations (albeit in the independent category, which as a category is… something, I guess), plus was runner-up for the LA Film award, so the narrative is already starting.
- Trolls isn’t a bad movie, but in a stacked year like this its potential nomination is entirely based on it being Dreamworks’ main horse, and that it has loads of star power. The Critics’ Choice Awards nomination shows that this can be a powerful thing.
- Just so we are all clear, I have seen a massive chunk of these 27 nominations, so I am pretty confident in saying that Your Name is without question the best animated film of the year (and possibly best film of the year). So I was pleasantly surprised that the LA Film Critics agreed with me (I somewhat jokingly believe that is because only people in LA have seen this film in the US), picking this as the winner. Your Name also gained some recognition from the Annies (even if it is just the Independent category). Buzz is also starting to build stateside for director Makoto Shinkai, who is being billed as the next Miyazaki, so this film has an outside chance of snagging a nomination. It would probably have to take The Red Turtle‘s spot to do so, because there is no way more than one Japanese (or “Japanese”) film will get nominated, so it’s a tall task, but a possible one. To be fair, Your Name is also the only film that I can argue is unequivocally better than the Disney films.
- This studio has managed to force its way onto the nomination table the past several years, but it looks like they will be forced out this year, especially because there is less of a clear consensus over which film they should push, with April and the Extraordinary World, Miss Hokusai (not my favorite of the group, but probably the best bet), Phantom Boy, My Life as a Zucchini, and Mune all trying to get nominated. But this studio is really good at campaigning and could sneak in if it can pick one film to back and the Academy does decide to pass on Finding Dory.
There are seriously at least three more movies I could easily argue for this list (The Little Prince, Sausage Party, and Sing), because like I said, this may be the best year for animated movies ever (the only one that really compares is 2010), so enjoy this while you can, animated film fans.
That’s it for now. There will be much more to come, especially with the Golden Globe nominations just around the corner, so stay tuned.