Oscar predictions: 'La La Land' sure to win Best Picture

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With the “Arrival” of the 89th annual Academy Awards, you’re probably asking a number of important questions.
Will “La La Land” dance its way to the Best Picture Oscar? Or could some “Hidden Figures” step in its way? Is the sun going to shine on “Moonlight?” Or will “Manchester by the Sea” ride a wave to Oscar glory? And could “Lion” leap over “Fences” to reign as the king of Hollywood’s biggest night?

For the past nine years, I’ve done my royal best to provide the finest (and most foolproof) Oscar predictions in the cyber kingdom. In keeping with tradition, I’m proud to present my tenth annual Academy Awards forecast.
May you take the crown in your Oscar pool, come “Hell or High Water.”
NOMIEES: “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water,” “Hidden Figures,” “La La Land,” “Lion,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “Moonlight”
With a record-tying 14 Academy Award nominations, it’s almost impossible for musical sensation “La La Land” to hit a sour note here. Hailed as the Oscar frontrunner since the start of the season, it’s won virtually all of the traditional precursor prizes. That includes the Critics’ Choice, Golden Globe, Producers Guild and British Academy (BAFTA) awards. Seen as a love letter to the Golden Age of the movie musical, it also makes contemporary Hollywood look as magical as ever. Show business themes have been prevalent in a number of recent Best Picture recipients, like “The Artist,” “Argo” and “Birdman.” “La La Land” seems to follow that trend. The enthusiastic audience reception and healthy box office grosses further cement its status as the movie to beat. I would caution that there a number of Academy members who have been underwhelmed by the film and question whether it truly deserves the attention that it’s been getting. However, no other film has enough traction to overtake it. Contenders like “Moonlight” and “Manchester by the Sea” are likely to be honored in other categories. In short, expect “La La Land” to dance the night away – and prance off with Hollywood’s most prestigious prize.
NOMINEES: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land;” Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge;” Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight;” Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea;” Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival;”
PREDICTION: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
More often than not, Best Picture and Best Director go hand in hand. That should be music to Chazelle’s ears. Like his film, he’s been honored by the Critics’ Choice, Golden Globe and BAFTA voters. More importantly, he took the coveted Directors Guild of America Award – which leads to the Best Director Oscar about 90 percent of the time. Chazelle’s biggest competition probably comes from Jenkins for the acclaimed “Moonlight.” Still, watch for Chazelle to be over the moon when he accepts the Directing Oscar. (At 32, he’ll be the youngest champion in the category’s history.)
NOMIEES: Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea;” Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge;” Ryan Gosling, “La La Land;” Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic;” Denzel Washington, “Fences”
PREDICTION: Denzel Washington, “Fences”
Up until recently, Affleck was seen as the Best Actor favorite for his role as a grieving father, ex-husband and uncle trying to come to terms with his past in “Manchester by the Sea.” He swept the critics’ awards, and accepted statuettes at both the Golden Globe and BAFTA ceremonies. Widely considered a more serious thespian than his more famous brother Ben, he earned his first Oscar nod almost a decade ago for “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” So why isn’t he winning this time? Everything changed after he lost the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award to Washington. Over the years, the SAG results have proven to be the best indicator of Oscar success, particularly in the leading races. The last time a Best Actor nominee triumphed at SAG and lost the Oscar was thirteen years ago. That was when then red-hot Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” upset at SAG, only to curse on Oscar night when Sean Penn in “Mystic River” was declared the winner. Washington’s SAG victory is hardly a surprise. It’s an extremely powerful, dramatic role – the same role which earned him a Tony Award for the Broadway play back in 2010. Furthermore, he gets major bonus points for having directed the film himself. Washington already has two Academy Awards, for 1989’s “Glory” and 2001’s “Training Day.” That should be good training for his return to Oscar glory for his fierce work in “Fences.”
NOMIEES: Isabelle Huppert, “Elle;” Ruth Negga, “Loving;” Natalie Portman, “Jackie;” Emma Stone, “La La Land;” Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins;”
PREDICTION: Emma Stone, “La La Land”
The year 2016 provided some of the strongest material for leading ladies in recent memory. In most years, Amy Adams in “Arrival,” Annette Bening in “Twentieth Century Women” and Emily Blunt in “The Girl on the Train” would have had easy rides to the Academy’s Dolby Theatre, instead of being railroaded due to fierce competition. You can pretty much eliminate first-time nominee Negga and 20-time contender Streep, for whom the nominations are viewed as the rewards. Portman appeared to be the early favorite for her devastating portrayal of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in “Jackie.” After losing at both the Golden Globe and SAG competitions, buzz for her has quickly faded. So it comes down to Huppert and Stone. With Stone now having Globe, SAG and BAFTA trophies, it’s difficult to see her not crossing the Oscars finishing line first. She’s currently one of Tinseltown’s hottest properties, and the star of the expected Best Picture winner. The only thing keeping her from Oscar-lock status is a potential upset by veteran French actress Huppert in the intense thriller “Elle.” Regarded by many as the French Meryl Streep, some wonder why she’s never been recognized before. Her work in “Elle” has given her more critics’ prizes than her competitors combined, and she’s been actively campaigning on the awards circuit. I still foresee a victory for Emma, but note that it’s not quite set in stone.
NOMINEES: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight;” Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water;” Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea;” Dev Patel, “Lion;” Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals”
PREDICTION: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
This race has confounded me from the beginning. The vast majority of the critics’ groups have singled out Ali as 2016’s strongest supporting male for his complex role as a kind and caring drug dealer in “Moonlight.” There’s no question that it’s an excellent performance. It’s just that it’s a small, quiet role – and he disappears after the first third of the film. My choice would be onetime “Slumdog Millionaire” star Patel, for his emotional role as a young Australian man searching for his childhood family in India. He’s earned rapturous reviews, and “Lion” has turned into a crowd-pleasing sensation. Patel managed to take down Ali at the recent BAFTA Awards, giving him a boost right as the Oscar voting began. Nonetheless, I suspect that there’s more industry support for “Moonlight” then “Lion,” which may explain why Patel succumbed to Ali at SAG. Look for a photo finish, with Oscar ultimately shining bright on Ali.
NOMINEES: Viola Davis, “Fences;” Naomie Harris, “Moonlight;” Nicole Kidman, “Lion;” Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures;” Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”
PREDICTION: Viola Davis, “Fences”
Out of the 24 Oscar categories, this is probably the easiest one to call. Davis simply knocks it out of the park as Denzel Washington’s long-suffering spouse in the fantastic “Fences.” She’s already collected trophies at the Critics’ Choice, Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA ceremonies. One of Hollywood’s most revered actresses, she has yet to receive the Academy Award despite prior nominations for “Doubt” and “The Help.” There’s no doubt that this will change this year, so Davis can look forward to helping herself to a huge chunk of Oscar gold. There’s simply no fence high enough to get in her way.
NOMINEES: “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hidden Figures,” “Lion,” “Moonlight”
PREDICTION: “Moonlight”
The unique coming-of-age film was one of the best reviewed movies of the year. Despite eight nominations, it’s likely to lose in most of the major categories. The Academy will see this as the most appropriate place to honor writer-director Barry Jenkins amidst the expected “La La Land” landslide. The other four contenders are all strong, and might easily win in any other year. But “Moonlight” is all but guaranteed to have its moment in the sun for its superb script.
NOMINEES: “Hell or High Water,” “La La Land,” “The Lobster,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “Twentieth Century Women”
PREDICTION: “Manchester by the Sea”
“Manchester by the Sea” was initially considered a Best Picture favorite, before “La La Land” burst onto the scene. Buzz for the film seems to have died down significantly, and it looks likely to lose almost every other race. Because of that, I sense that voters will want to check it off here. It will serve as a way to recognize both the picture and its respected writer-director, Kenneth Lonergan. He previously contended (and lost) this prize for the 2000 independent drama “You Can Count on Me.” Unless a “La La Land” groundswell sweeps it to victory, Lonergan can count on “Manchester by the Sea” to finally sail him into Oscar territory.
NOMINEES: “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Moana,” “My Life as a Zucchini,” “The Red Turtle,” “Zootopia”
PREDICTION: “Zootopia”
It was a truly outstanding year for animated features, with a number of excellent films left off of the list. “Zootopia” opened to stellar reviews back in March, and has been marching towards the Animated Feature Oscar ever since. It’s notable for offering serious social commentary in a way that speaks to both children and adults. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s also deliciously delightful. The only challenge to “Zootopia” might be a potential upset from the equally exceptional “Kubo and the Two Strings,” which managed to nab the BAFTA prize. All in all, I still feel quite confident in predicting “Zootopia” for the Oscar, no “Strings” attached.

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