Road to the Oscars 2017 | Our Picks for All the Big Categories

With the Oscars nominations out tomorrow morning, Mark Conroy takes a look at who he thinks will win what, and why, in all the big categories:

Best Picture

What will win: Moonlight

Mahershala Ali Moonlight favourite for best actor in a supporting role at Oscars 2017 -
Mahershala Ali in Moonlight

In the year following the #OSCARSSOWHITE controversy, this breath-taking tale of a poor black man’s journey of self-discovery and sexual exploration seems the ideal choice. The academy will be eager to shed the image of being the prehistoric group of ageing white suits who are out of step with today’s cultural climate. Still, this is the Oscars were talking about and they may just give it to the whitest movie here, La La Land, because they do love their films that are self-referential about the glitz and grime of the movie business.  But for me, they’ll give it to decade spanning, African-American  odyssey which is by most accounts a masterpiece and would be a deserved winner.

Best Director

Who will win: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Damien Chazelle director of La La Land best director oscars 2017
Damien Chazelle, director of La La Land

A tight, two horse race between Chazelle and Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins. While Kenneth Lonergan might be in with a shout for his heartbreaker Manchester by the Sea, the others will be regarded as having done the showier works that display more virtuosity; Chazelle for his musical spectacle and Jenkins for his ambitious art-house tendencies. The money is on Chazelle, who at just 32, could be the youngest ever winner with just his second feature. He gets points for bringing credibility back to a once beloved Hollywood genre and just for that pretty exceptional, sweeping shot of a song and dance traffic jam.  

Best Actor

Who Will Win: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the sea, Casey Affleck, Best actor favourite -
Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges in Manchester by the Sea

The greatest threat to Affleck’s chances will not be any of the other nominees but rather his own alleged past behaviour. It remains to be seen whether the controversy surrounding the sexual harassment allegations made against Affleck by two women who worked on set with him for his quasi-doc Im Still Here will be enough to derail his chances. The sheer momentum he has built up in the run up would suggest otherwise and it’s hard to see anyone else – even Ryan Gosling – holding that award up come Oscar night. His quietly despairing performance as a broken man forced to face up to his past has basically been tipped since it premiered at Sundance last year.

Best Actress

Who will Win: Natalie Portman, Jackie

Natalie Portman Jackie 2017 Oscars Best Actress favourite -
Natalie Portman as Jackie

An interesting one. Isabelle Hubbert’s shock win in the Golden Globes threw this up in the air bit, but she may not even get nominated here. That’s the Oscars. Hubbert’s fiery performance in Paul Verhoeven’s controversial psycho thriller is the critical darling, especially since she’s an established actress in the avant-garde world of European cinema who has never really got mainstream recognition. Should she get a look-in, she may fancy her chances as the two favourites, Portman and Emma Stone (La La  Land), could well end up splitting the  vote in her favour.  If things go as planned however, Portman’s uncanny and emotionally taxing turn as history’s most famous first lady should land her a second win in the category. The academy just can’t ignore a good historical figure.

Best Original Screenplay

Who Will Win: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

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The best news writer/director Kenneth Lonergan must have heard all year is that, due to a technicality, the screenplay for Moonlight is regarded by the academy as an adaption and as such will not compete here. This may improve his chances but he will still face some stiff competition from Chazelle’s screenplay for La La Land. If there is any justice, however, it will go to Lonergan because his script is the best part of Manchester while Chazelle’s is arguably the weakest part of his film. Lonergan is a respected playwright and the academy has a history of honouring them types in this category (George Bernard Shaw, Tom Stoppard) in way of saying “sorry for gutting the cultural penetration of your preferred medium, so here’s a little gold man to make up for it”. Regardless, the exquisitely observed naturalism, emotional honesty and clever plot construction of the film deserves recognition here, and it should get it.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Who will win: Barry Jenkins ,Moonlight.

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What was good news for Lonergan is pretty much bad news for everyone else here. The academy’s decision to classify Jenkin’s script as being adapted from Tarell Alvin McCraney’s stage piece (one that was never officially produced) makes it a red hot favourite here. Otherwise it would have been one of the more open races on the night and it might have been nice to see some of the good films that have been shut out this year to get some podium time. Eric Hessinger’s exceptional script for weighty sci-fi Arrival would have been my pick but Tom Ford’s polarising Nocturnal Animals and Jeff Nichols’ endearing  Loving might have thought they would be in for a shout.   

Best Supporting Actor

Who will win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Ali’s shock golden globe loss to Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Nocturnal Animals) put something of a spanner in his works. He’s pretty much won everything else though and his turn as the wisely, but flawed’ father who offers some direction to young Chiron is perhaps one of the most hailed performances of the year. It would be one of the bigger upsets of the night if he was to lose.  For that to happen, the academy would have to be feeling particular generous to a screen legend like Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), or looking to shine a spotlight to some upcoming talent like Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea), who both offered stellar work.

Best Supporting actress

Who will win: Viola Davis, Fences

Viola Davis Fences best actress in a supporting role favourite for Oscars 2017 -
Viola Davis in Fences

This is one of those cynical wins that feels like it’s been in the pipeline for months and was pre-determined the minute Davis was announced to reprise her role on stage for the film adaptation. This isn’t to say she isn’t a great actress or isn’t deserving of the award, just that Paramount have managed to cultivate a podium spot through the usual political practices, which they are entitled to do.  While Davis plays the worn out but committed wife of hardened waste collector Troy Maxson in the adaption of the August Wilsons play, she is onscreen almost as much as her acting partner Denzel Washington. Simply put, she’s in the wrong category but as Best Actress is too competitive this year, they’ll place in her the much less contentious field – which is odd considering Annette Benning is going for Best Actress in what could be considered an ensemble performance for 20th Century Women. Davis gets to be typically shouty and snotty in a meaty role as conspicuously timed articles show up prior to the film’s release saying the category has already been decided. Still Davis is one of the living greats and she’d be a worthy winner.   

Best Foreign Language film

What Will Win: Toni Erdmann

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While Paul Verhoeven’s revenge thriller Elle might seem the most likely at this very moment, I have a sneaking suspicion that the oddball dramedy about a complicated father/daughter relationship will gather some late momentum. The mixed views on Verhoven’s film harm its chances too.  Depending on who you ask, Elle is either a game-changing feminist masterpiece or a misandrist/sexist piece of cinema that promotes a toxic femininity, or both.  Pablo Larrain, director of Jackie, has had some year too as his other much hailed biopic Neruda is a serious dark horse here. Watch this space.    

Best Documentary

What will in: Weiner

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In this uneasy climate, this all depends on which is the most ‘zeitgest-y’ and with a tan coloured clown in the white house, a film mocking the ridiculous practices of a ludicrous politician seems too perfect to ignore.  Although Ava Du Vernay’s 13th   and the smile-inducing The Eagle Huntress  would also be deserved winners.

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