Some earn exorbitant sums to make predictions about who will win the Academy Awards. The word "prediction" is meant to ascribe some level of expertise. Truth be told, they are, at best, educated guesses. I watch movies, I research; I make guesses, ergo: educated guesses. For free.
Again, the Academy proves its myopia by not looking far enough back into 2016 to see Hail, Caesar!, Love and Friendship, Eye in the Sky. And when Oscar expanded to a potential ten film nominees, its intention was to recognize crowd-pleasing blockbusters (and to increase the TV ratings for its awards show). So, where are Captain America: Civil War, Deadpool, and Doctor Strange? And as much as I respect Meryl Streep, are we going to keep an honorary slot open for her every year? Amy Adams (Arrival), Kate Beckinsale (Love and Friendship) and, Annette Bening (20th Century Women) were all worthy, but the biggest slight is that Taraji P. Henson's inspiring performance in Hidden Figures was overlooked.
On to my picks: La La Land, with 14 nominations is expected to dominate the Academy Awards, and I believe it will. By my reckoning, it will land eight Oscars, although my guesses that it will lose two categories in which it is favored could be wrong. The only other multiple winners I see are Fences and Moonlight, each with two. Among the other top contenders, single awards could go to Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, and Manchester by the Sea.
Here are my picks:
BEST PICTURE: La La Land
A hotly contested horse race, with a Moonlight win a distinct possibility. For a while, it looked like Manchester by the Sea was the frontrunner, but it has faded while Hidden Figures has closed fast. The other contenders are deserving, but Academy voters have preferences and prejudices: Arrival (Sci-Fi) and Hell or High Water (Western) faced genre bias; the screen treatment of Fences varied little from its stage version; Hacksaw Ridge had to overcome Mel Gibson's pariah status; Lion was simply a cut below the top contenders.
DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) is a close second, and it wouldn't be a shocker if he won. Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea) screenwriting was better than his directing. Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge) is just happy he is no longer in artistic exile. And my personal favorite, Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) has served notice he will be a regular contender.
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE: Emma Stone (La La Land)
Natalie Portman (Jackie) was considered a sure bet a few months ago, and Isabelle Huppert (Elle) has some sympathetic backing for one of the best in a lifetime of excellent performances. Ruth Negga (Loving) stunned Cannes, and Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins) received the annual Mery Streep honorary nomination.
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE: Denzel Washington (Fences)
Picking a minor upset here. Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) is the favorite, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he won, but Denzel is at his best. As contenders, Ryan Gosling (La La Land) is multi-talented and charming; Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge) shows conviction; Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic) is mesmerizing. A tough pick.
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: Viola Davis (Fences)
If you are a betting person, this is the where you push your whole stack of chips. For Davis to lose here would be a major upset. Naomie Harris as the drugged-out mother in Moonlight is Davis's major competition. Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea) has perhaps the scene of the year but isn't given much else to do. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures) and Nicole Kidman (Lion) are familiar names but are not in contention.
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
A most competitive race: Jeff Bridges' (Hell or High Water) grizzled Texas Ranger has a lot of industry support, same with Dev Patel's (Lion) emotional search for his roots; Michael Shannon's (Nocturnal Animals) literally and figuratively sick lawman is a scene-stealer, and 20-year-old Lucas Hedges' orphaned teen in Manchester by the Sea is outstanding.
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Manchester by the Sea - Kenneth Lonergan
Oscar likes drama, so here is a chance for an upset to break the La La Land stranglehold. Hell or High Water makes the Hollywood-friendly political statement. The Lobster is a little too freaky for Academy sensibilities, and 20th Century Women won't make it in 2017.
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Moonlight - Barry Jenkins (story: Tarell Alvin McCraney)
Any of the nominees would be a worthy winner: the trippy, O. Henry-esque Arrival; Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning Fences; the revelatory and inspirational Hidden Figures; and a young man's incredible discovery of his roots in Lion.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: Toni Erdmann (Germany)
The Salesman (Iran) has recently gained ground and could win. A Man Called Ove (Sweden) has a puncher's chance. Others are Land of Mine and Tanna.
ANIMATED FEATURE: Zootopia
Kubo and the Two Strings would be my choice; it's a beautiful film and story, but it's hard to beat a blockbuster. Or two--Moana is there, also (but I can't find Dory anywhere). My Life as a Zucchini and The Red Turtle fill out the category.
DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: OJ: Made in America
The clear favorite, with13th, Fire at Sea, I Am Not Your Negro, and Life, Animated in contention.
CINEMATOGRAPHY: La La Land
I would pick Lion. All of the nominees are good (Arrival, Moonlight), although I would have replaced Silence with Hell or High Water.
VISUAL EFFECTS: The Jungle Book
Doctor Strange, Kubo and the Two Strings, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story are strong contenders, but it is mind-boggling that Passengers was not nominated and Deepwater Horizon was.
FILM EDITING: Arrival
This is my biggest upset pick over the favored La La Land juggernaut. Arrival is precision crafted and timed. All contenders--Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Moonlight are the others--would be a valid choice n this category.
SOUND EDITING: Hacksaw Ridge
I'll take the experts' word for it. With La La Land threatening, and Arrival, Deepwater Horizon, and Sully smiling politely as they are acknowledged.
SOUND MIXING: La La Land
Now, Hacksaw Ridge is hoping for the upset, as 13 Hours and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story joining Arrival for smiles to respectful applause.
ORIGINAL SCORE: La La Land
Thanks for participating, Jackie, Lion, Moonlight, and Passengers, but the position has been filled.
ORIGINAL SONG: "City of Stars" (La La Land)
Another opportunity for an upset. "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" may split the La La Land vote, opening the way for Lin-Manuel Miranda's quest for an EGOT (Emmy, Tony, Oscar, and Grammy Award wins) with "How Far I'll Go" (Moana) or everyone's friend Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling" (Trolls). In that company, "The Empty Chair" (Jim: The James Foley Story) feels like the red-headed step-child.
PRODUCTION DESIGN: La La Land
La La Land is the runaway favorite here, although the contenders, Arrival, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Hail, Caesar!, and especially the vastly underrated Passengers are all more imaginative.
COSTUME DESIGN: Jackie
I'm predicting another upset in yet another category where La La Land is the favorite. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is appropriately Potter-esque, while Allied and Florence Foster Jenkins nail the period and place.
MAKEUP: Star Trek: Beyond
What an odd set of nominees. A Man Called Ove represents the foreign film market. I'm still shaking my head with my jaw dropped so saliva is spraying the room in my shock and disappointment that Suicide Squad was considered for anything.
NB: The following are sheer guesses which I probably shouldn't post at all, but I will anyway, with my greatest respect to all of the short subjects out there:
SHORT FILM, ANIMATED: Piper
Others: Blind Vaysha, Borrowed Time, Pear Cider and Cigarettes, Pearl
SHORT FILM, LIVE ACTION: Ennemis Interieurs
Others: La Femme et le TGV, Silent Nights, Sing (Mindenki), Timecode
DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT: Extremis
Others, 4.1 Miles, Joe's Violin, Watani: My Homeland, The White Helmets