After months of planning, predictions, screenings and campaigning, the nominations for the 89th Academy Awards will be announced tomorrow morning. While the front-runners for the major awards are clear, the history of the awards has taught us to be prepared for a few surprises when the nominees are read out.
The myriad of critics circle awards preceding the occasion, as well as the recent Golden Globes ceremony and Bafta nominations, give us a good idea as to what films will make an impression with Oscar voters, who tend to have specifics preferences. However, after two years in a row of all white acting nominees, and the resulting #OscarsSoWhite protests, change is in the air and the Academy has been forced to take notice. Last year’s pushback against the lack of diversity amongst the nominations resulted in the Academy announcing major measures to make its membership more inclusive, and this year there will be an increased pressure on them to not repeat the mistakes of the past two years.
The ten films listed below are some of the most talked about of 2016, with critical acclaim, box office success and impeccably run awards campaigns under their belts. From sure fire bets to dark horses and wild cards, these are the contenders you can count on.
La La Land
While the status of awards frontrunner tends to fluctuate as the season passes, Damien Chazelle’s much acclaimed musical drama has dominated the field since its first screening in Venice and has maintained its momentum consistently, including sweeping every category it was nominated for at this year’s Golden Globes. The consensus amongst Oscar predicators such as GoldDerby is that La La Land has Best Picture in the bag, with awards for both Chazelle and leading actress Emma Stone also looking likely. The Academy has an affinity for stories about Hollywood and the creative industries, as demonstrated by the successes of previous Best Picture winners The Artist and Birdman, and voters are keen to reward films they feel demonstrate immense technical achievement, which La La Land possesses in spades. Think lavish technicolor odes to the musicals of the Hollywood Golden Age, intricately choreographed dance routines, and actors singing live on-screen. There has been some backlash from critics following the film’s initial hype, but that doesn’t seem to have slowed down its speedy journey to the podium.
Few films last year commanded the attention and adoration of critics, viewers and the industry quite like Barry Jenkins’s sophomore film Moonlight, which follows a young black gay man living in Florida through three stages of his life, to the backdrop of the Miami projects. After premiering at the Telluride Film Festival last September, the drama has picked up numerous accolades, including Best Drama Motion Picture at the Golden Globes, and triples its production budget at the box office. While the movie's response amongst critics has been close to rapturous, Academy voters tend to err on the more conservative side when it comes to films centred on black lives or LGBTQ issues, which could hurt its chances. However, don't discount the efforts of its producers Plan B (Brad Pitt's company) and up-and-coming indie distributors A24, who have pushed the film hard this season. Currently, Jenkins is Chazelle’s primary competition for director, but Moonlight’s safest chances lie with ensemble standouts Mahershala Ali, who is one of the favourites to win Best Supporting Actor, and Naomie Harris for Best Supporting Actress.
Some stories are made for Oscars, but they are seldom told about the people featured in Hidden Figures. Theodore Melfi's biographical drama is the stuff of the Academy's dreams - a true story of resilience, intellect and bravery amidst the American Space Race - but such stories are seldom told about women of color. Fox's biggest hope for Oscar glory has been making a major impact at the box office, where it has already made $84m (from a $25m budget), just in time for Oscar voters to take notice. The film blends crowd pleasing comfort with an oft-untold real life tale of civil rights and social progress that fits in well with the Academy's preferences. Thanks to its popularity with audiences, Hidden Figures moves into tomorrow with more momentum than any other film aside from La La Land, and could bode well for it should the tide turn on the current front-runner.
Fox's long-awaited adaptation of Marvel's 'merc with a mouth' has been consistently surpassing expectations since its was first announced: Not only did it become the highest grossing R rated movie of all time (and the 9th highest grossing film of 2016, ahead of Suicide Squad), it picked up a Producers Guild of America award nomination for Best Theatrical Motion Picture alongside more traditional prestige fare such as La La Land and Moonlight. Its recent nomination from the Writers Guild of America signals a significant level of respect for the film within the industry, something that has eluded superhero films and major blockbusters for many years. While a Best Picture nomination may be slightly out of its reach, a screenplay nod is looking more likely. The screenplay categories tend to be more welcoming to mainstream action and comedy fare, with films like Borat, In The Loop and The Producers receiving recognition here. If Deadpool pulls it off, this could signal a major shift for the industry.
Like Hidden Figures, Lion is seemingly tailor-made to entice Academy voters: A true story of a young man beating the odds to reunite with his long-lost birth family in India, with a little help from Google Earth. Indeed, The Weinstein Company were so sure of its success that they paid $12m for worldwide distribution rights. Harvey Weinstein, a man who essentially reshaped the way the Oscar race is done thanks to his bullheaded tactics with Miramax in the 1990s, even said he believed the film could get nominated for 8 or 9 Oscars. While such odds aren't entirely in his favour (he also predicted Matthew McConaughey would be nominated for Gold, which is most certainly not going to happen), Lion has its fair share of supporters. Garth Davis’s directorial debut has garnered him two Directors Guild of America nominations, and both Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman look set to secure their places in their respective Supporting Actor and Actress categories. It's been a tough couple of years for Weinstein, with rumors swirling about the financial and creative stability of the company, but it would be foolish to rule out the team who changed the Oscar game.
Denis Villeneuve's cerebral adaptation of Ted Chiang's multi-award winning short story Story of Your Life has made waves since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival last September, with over 100 award nominations under its belt so far - including 9 Bafta nominations, 2 Golden Globe nominations and recognition from the American Film Institute. Perennial nominee Amy Adams looks set to return to the fold with what would be her sixth Oscar nomination (although her chances of finally winning are disappointingly slim), and Villeneuve, who has quietly established himself as one of the most dynamic directors currently working, would be a worthy nominee for Best Director. While flashier films will probably dominate the bigger categories, look for Arrival to do well in technical areas, including special effects, an award often considered a safe bet for the sci-fi epics until last year’s surprise winner Ex Machina beat out Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Eric Heisserer's skilfully adapted screenplay has tough competition in Moonlight and Fences, but would be a worthy winner.
Manchester by the Sea
Alongside La La Land and Moonlight, Kenneth Longeran’s quietly devastating drama has been one of the biggest awards contenders of 2016, with its leading man Casey Affleck accomplishing a near sweep of every acting award in his path. Its success, along with a $40m box office gross next to its $8.5m budget, has greatly bolstered the prospects of its distributor Amazon Studios, who expanded into the world of film after great success with its TV division. Its prospects are greatly helped by its producer Matt Damon, who is well loved in the industry and has been gunning hard on behalf of the project (he had previously been slated to star in the lead before dropping out in favour of Affleck). Its chances seem strongest in the Lead Actor and Director category as well as Original Screenplay, where its toughest competition La La Land pipped it to the post at the recent Golden Globes. Supporting cast Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams are also strong contenders in their categories.
Hell or High Water
After premiering as part of the Un Certain Regard section of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, David Mackenzie's neo-Western thriller has quietly been building momentum as one of the best films of the year. Currently the second highest reviewed film of 2016 on Rotten Tomatoes, the film was also chosen as one of the top 10 films of the year by both the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute. This razor-sharp heist film already has 3 Bafta and 6 Critics' Choice Award nominations under its belt, which bodes well for similar success amongst Oscar voters. A Best Picture nomination is looking more likely, although its safest bet is in the Best Supporting Actor category thanks to a powerhouse performance from previous Oscar winner Jeff Bridges. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan has also become a man of the moment thanks to his work in this, as well as last year’s Sicario, so watch out for a follow-up to his Writers' Guild nomination.
In 2010, producer Scott Rudin found great success with his revival of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize winning play Fences, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. Both actors went on to win Tony Awards, as did the production, and now Washington himself has brought the play to the big screen, with the majority of the revival's cast joining him. Rudin, like Harvey Weinstein, is no stranger to the politics of the Oscar race (he's one of the few people alive who has won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award), and he’s throwing everything he’s got behind Washington’s effort. Washington, a two-time Oscar winning actor, is beloved by the Academy, and its voters are favorable towards actors who succeed as directors. The screenplay, written by the late playwright who died in 2005, closely follows the play and could bag him a posthumous nomination, but all eyes are on Viola Davis, who made the shrewd move of campaigning for Supporting Actress rather than Leading Actress, where her chances of winning would have been more difficult. Here, she’s close to a lock to take the Oscar home, having bagged the Golden Globe already.
Who would have thought Mel Gibson would have made such a triumphant return to the Hollywood fold after years in the wilderness thanks to his infamous misogynistic and anti-Semitic remarks? Returning to the director's chair for the first time since since Apocalypto in 2006, his visceral war drama on the life of Desmond Doss, a pacifist combat medic on the front-lines during World War Two, was favourably received by critics, with lead actor Andrew Garfield singled out for his work. Garfield also stands a chance at receiving a Best Actor nomination for his role in Martin Scorsese's drama Silence, but that film has received far less awards attention than Hacksaw Ridge, not to mention significantly lower box office receipts, so the latter is looking to be his safer bet. Gibson's omission from the Directors Guild of America nomination was seen by many as a sign of things to come for the Oscars, but the films chances independent of his director seem stronger.
You can watch the Oscar nominations live via streaming on the Academy's official website at 5:18am PST (1:18pm GMT). The announcements will be made by President of the Academy Cheryl Boone Isaacs, director Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), actress Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls), actor Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai), three-time Oscar winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (The Revenant), and last year's Best Actress winner, Brie Larson (Room).