Hollywood woke up bright and early yesterday morning to witness the announcement for the 89th Academy Award nominations. With a new format that eschewed the preferred press room style of years past, an assortment of former Oscar winners espoused the joys of receiving their award before this year’s nominees were revealed through a global live-stream, a first in the Academy’s history.
As always, there will be much discussion and arguments over which films deserved their nominations, who was snubbed and who will go on to take home the much-coveted award at next month's ceremony, which will be hosted by US chat show favourite Jimmy Kimmel.
While nothing is set in stone, the front-runners remain clear and the bookies have already put their bets down on the favorites to win in each category, so we have broken down some of the major categories to analyze who is most likely to win the Oscar, as well as some thoughts on which movies really deserve the recognition.
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
The number of nominees in the Best Picture category can range anywhere between five and ten. Previously, only five films could be nominated, but after a couple of years where that field was doubled to accommodate ten, the Academy vote-counting process changed to an "instant run-off" system (also known as the Alternative Vote) wherein voters ranked their favorites, their first choices counted, then, if a majority is not reached, the last place choice is eliminated and those votes distributed accordingly.
While this system has its benefits – in theory, it discourages protest votes and negative campaigning – it can lead to potential problems. A film with a small but highly passionate base of voters can push towards victory where it may not have been possible before, but it can also see a film on most voters' second or third slot squeak in if nothing else makes the cut.
As such, this can lead to some potentially fascinating battles in this category, especially in a year where there is a clear front-runner (La La Land) and two dark horses (Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea). After all, you don’t need to convince the world to vote for you – just 6,000 or so Academy members whose preferences are evident. This is the only category where all Academy voters decide the nominees. Others are voted on by their specific branches: Director by the DGA, writers by the WGA, and so on.
La La Land remains the favourite in this category, after sweeping the Golden Globes and various critics’ awards, as well as grossing close to $175m worldwide. Damien Chazelle's film ticks all the boxes of the Academy's voting preferences: It's an old school Golden Age musical of the joys of Hollywood that evokes a much beloved style, displays impressive technical skill on a large scale, and gives its lead actors an incredible opportunity to show off. With fourteen nominations under its belt, it also matches the record for the most Oscar nominations received by one film (tied with Titanic and All About Eve, both of which went on to win Best Picture).
With all of that in mind, it’s not unfeasible to imagine Moonlight taking the award too. The rapturously received drama is groundbreaking and politically prescient, both of which the Academy is often keen to acknowledge, and may be particularly eager to do so following last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy (mercifully, this year’s nominees are a vast improvement in terms of racial parity). A savvy campaign by its producers could see it garner enough passionate votes to place ahead of the front-runner. The run-off system could also benefit something like Lion or Hidden Figures, highly praised dramas that fit in well with the Academy’s preferences and could surprise if enough people liked them enough to place them second or third on their ballots.
As it is, Chazelle and company should probably be clearing away a sizeable portion of their shelves to make way for new arrivals.
Who will win: La La Land.
Who should win: Moonlight.
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
As expected, the big favourites of Best Picture are reflected in the nominees for director. While the Directors Guild of America’s own awards left out Mel Gibson, he is included here, which surprised many given that the controversial figure’s history of misogynistic and anti-Semitic remarks have left him an industry pariah for well over a decade. While his worthiness in this category, as well as what his acceptance back into the Hollywood fold says about the entertainment world’s attitudes towards such behavior, will be justifiably debated for many weeks, his presence here is made all the more noticeable by the absence of figures such as Martin Scorsese, whose passion project Silence failed to make a mark outside of the cinematography category. Gibson is also the only director who has been nominate before in this category (which he also won with Braveheart). A majority first-time category for Best Director is a pleasant surprise, and hopefully a signal of a positive shift in the industry.
As with Picture, La La Land’s Chazelle remains the man to beat. At its best, his work displays an enviable control over his craft, especially in terms of movement and colour. The opening musical number, full of dozens of dancers and filmed to resemble a single take, is practically a For Your Consideration reel unto itself. Jenkins, who boasts close to 70 critical accolades for his work on Moonlight, may see his work undersold in comparison to the flashy dramatics of La La Land, but a win is not out of the question (Jenkins is also only the fourth black director to be nominated in this category in the Oscars’ 89 year history).
Who will win: Damien Chazelle
Who should win: Barry Jenkins
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington – Fences
Given Hollywood's love of the classic actor mode - the strong, screen defining figure of manhood that's dominated screens since the origin of film - Best Actor is normally the most competitive category, with dozens of viable figures fighting to fit into one of the five nominations. Yet this year (as it was with last year's Leo victory lap), the race seems sewn up before it's even begun. Casey Affleck has navigated the choppy oceans of the industry with a universally adored performance, an impeccably executed publicity campaign (one that helped to keep some settled sexual harassment lawsuits from tarnishing his image) and a little help from his friend and producer Matt Damon to sail towards the finish line, while his fellow nominees tread water. There doesn’t really seem to be much competition.
However, this isn’t the sure-fire bet Leonardo DiCaprio’s win the previous year was. Affleck’s performance is much loved, but there’s no sense that he’s overdue for such recognition, nor is he as beloved a figure in the industry as his competitor Denzel Washington, whose barn-storming work in Fences previously won him a Tony Award. Fences also has the benefit of producer Scott Rudin, who knows a thing or two about getting his projects some new trophy cabinet additions.
Elsewhere in the category, Gosling’s charming song and dance man work in La La Land has been enthusiastically received but he is easily outshone by his co-star; Andrew Garfield had two performances as a devoted Christian whose faith undergoes serious testing amidst brutality in Japan, but his Hacksaw Ridge nominee feels more like a consolation for a good year of work; and Viggo Mortensen takes the 5th spot after doing the same at the Golden Globes and Baftas. All three can sit quietly and enjoy their evenings without having to worry about speeches.
Who will win: Casey Affleck
Who should win: Casey Affleck
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins
This is the category where the most sacrifices had to be made: No Annette Bening for 20th Century Women; no Amy Adams for Arrival; no Taraji P. Henson for Hidden Figures. While it’s truly a joy to see Ruth Negga’s quietly devastating work in Loving be recognized for its brilliance, the inclusion of yet another Meryl Streep performance – bringing her total nomination count up to twenty – in a perfectly pleasant (if frivolous) movie over the aforementioned works couldn’t help but raise a few eyebrows among film fans.
Emma Stone’s work in La La Land is so vibrant and chock full of charm that it transforms a relatively two-dimensional role into a detailed portrait of ambition and heartbreak. Combine her irrepressible charisma with having to sing and dance, and you’ve got the perfect Oscar performance.
Stone’s toughest competition has ended up being the grand dame of French cinema, Isabelle Huppert, whose performance in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle has inspired as many think-piece column inches as it has critical appraisals. It’s an unforgivably tough role – a steely businesswoman who is raped and partakes in an unusual form of revenge – but one that even those put off by the story’s subject matter find it hard to dismiss. After surprising many pundits by winning the Best Actress in a Drama Golden Globe over expected victor Natalie Portman, Huppert could well be on her way to becoming the first non-English language acting winner since Marion Cotillard. However, that subject matter may prove too much for the more conservative branch of the Academy to accept.
It’s a shame that Portman’s stellar work in Jackie has been dismissed by many as ‘awards bait’: Pablo Larrain’s film is a far stranger affair that allows Portman to show impeccable range, from steely political strategist to brittle mourner in the public eye. Any other year it probably would have been a lock, and certainly deserves more respect than it has been given by many.
Who will win: Emma Stone
Who should win: Isabelle Huppert or Natalie Portman
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel – Lion
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals
While there are no major surprises in this line-up, it is a delight to see Michael Shannon get his due for his darkly funny turn in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, particularly after it seemed like his co-star Aaron Taylor-Johnson would soak up all the glory. Dev Patel becomes only the third Indian actor in history to be nominated for an acting Oscar for his work in Lion (while he was technically the lead, his role is played by a child actor, Sunny Pawar, in the first half, allowing him to campaign in a less competitive category).
Jeff Bridges’ work in Hell or High Water, one of the indie smash hits of 2016, is a tour de force of gruff charisma and hidden fragility, and a strong show from an actor who could play that role in his sleep. While Lucas Hedges’ work in Manchester by the Sea has been almost as acclaimed as his leading co-star, it’s garnered a fraction of the awards, and younger actors tend to fare less well with the Oscars than actresses of comparative ages.
Mahershala Ali, who has had a career-defining year thanks to his work in Moonlight, Luke Cage and Hidden Figures, was considered the stand-out of the film’s impeccable ensemble, and goes into the awards season as the Oscar favorite. It’s hard to argue with that status, and while it’s not set in stone, it’s most certainly deserved.
Who will win: Mahershala Ali
Who should win: Mahershala Ali
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Viola Davis – Fences
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea
This is a category whose nominations have been locked down for many months now, with women of color refreshingly dominating in three out of the five spaces. But even then, this is the Viola Davis Show to the very end. Davis’ inevitable victory is as close to a lock as we’ll get with this year’s awards, as she returns to the role that won her a second Tony and takes it to the next level. Davis’s shrewd decision to campaign as a supporting actress despite clearly being a lead alongside Denzel Washington ensured her competition would be easier to deal with, and that strategizing will pay off come February. Michelle Williams could conceivable garner a passionate portion of voters, swayed by her small but crucial role in Manchester by the Sea, but it would be a risky bet.
Who will win: Viola Davis
Who should win: Viola Davis
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Fillippou – The Lobster
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Mike Mills – 20th Century Women
Theoretically this seems like another safe bet for Chazelle, even more so after he beat Kenneth Lonergan to the post at the Golden Globes, but the screenplay is really one of the film’s weaker elements and may struggle because of this. Lonergan has long been an industry favorite and critical darling thanks to his work in You Can Count On Me, and a win here could be a way for the Academy to spread the love more evenly while Chazelle gets Director. The Lobster's nomination is clearly its win, but recognition for its bone-dry humor and absurd exploration of the mundane is heartily welcome, as is the love for Hell or High Water, which pays great homage to the Westerns of old while contextualising them for a new age.
Who will win: Manchester by the Sea
Who should win: Manchester by the Sea or The Lobster
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Eric Heisserer – Arrival from Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang
August Wilson – Fences from Fences by August Wilson
Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi – Hidden Figures from Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Luke Davies – Lion from A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley and Larry Buttrose
Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney – Moonlight from In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney
While classified as an original script by the WGA, Moonlight was moved into the adapted category by the Academy because of its roots in an unproduced play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, even though Jenkins rewrote it substantially. While its status as an original screenplay wouldn’t have hurt its chances of winning the Oscar, its forcible move to another category may have actually improved its odds of victory since there’s no La La Land in sight. Its toughest competition is Arrival, which has been expertly adapted by Eric Heisserer from a beautiful, if stylistically tricky, short story. Denis Villeneuve’s film has received eight nominations and this would be an excellent category to acknowledge it in since its chances are slim in Picture and Director, but the secure money is on Moonlight, and rightly so.
Who will win: Moonlight
Who should win: Moonlight
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Kubo and the Two Strings
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
It’s Disney versus Disney this year, with no Pixar in sight (Finding Dory didn’t make the cut). The animation studio had an incredible year between its billion-dollar smash hit Zootopia – the third highest grossing movie of 2016 – and Moana, its latest addition to the princess canon. The former has the momentum leading up to the ceremony, thanks to its critical and commercial success as well as its socially prescient themes of diversity and combating prejudice. The Oscars also tend to favour computer generated animation, which sadly doesn’t bode well for the sumptuous visuals of Laika Animation’s Kubo (easily the most beautiful film in a category full of beautiful films) or the idiosyncratic styling of the Swiss stop-motion prize winner My Life as a Zucchini.
Who will win: Zootopia
Who should win: Kubo and the Two Strings
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
OJ: Made In America
2016 was truly a banner year for documentaries, with stellar work from the above nominees as well as acclaimed works such as Cameraperson, Tower, Weiner, Zero Days, and The Witness. Netflix continue to assert a strong presence in this category after last year’s successes, thanks to Ava DuVernay’s 13th, a piercing look into the connections between the abolition of slavery and the mass incarceration of black men and women in America. The most talked about documentary of the year is easily OJ: Made In America, a 9 hour long ESPN series that received the necessary limited cinema release to qualify for this category.
In a year where the Simpson murder trial received a cultural revival thanks to FX's American Crime Story, it was Ezra Edelman's minutely detailed analysis of the world that made Simpson that truly dissected the intersections of America's fixations with race and celebrity. It may prove too much for some voters, however, thanks to its subject matter and 467 minute length.
The Academy is known for rejecting hard hitting documentaries in favour of something more heartwarming or emotionally palatable – think 20 Feet From Stardom winning over The Act of Killing, or Searching For Sugarman winning over How to Survive A Plague. If they choose that path yet again, then Life, Animated, with its uplifting story of a young autistic boy who found a means to communicate with the world through Disney films, is what they're looking for. After all, there's nothing Hollywood loves more than Hollywood.
Who will win: OJ: Made In America
Who should win: OJ: Made In America
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Jackie – Mica Levi
La La Land – Justin Hurwitz
Lion – Dustin O'Halloran and Hauschka
Moonlight – Nicholas Britell
Passengers – Thomas Newman
If there’s one category where La La Land can’t fail, it’s in music. The score by Hurwitz, a long-time collaborator of Chazelle, is the film’s centerpiece, and mixes multiple genres while crafting its own unique identity. It also has the benefit of being the most hummable of the nominated scores, which can be a powerful thing when voters have to listen to hours of music before marking their decision down on the ballot.
While it’s hard to argue with La La Land’s inevitable win here, a word must go out to the hypnotic work of Mica Levi, whose music for Jackie rejects the conventional markers of a historical drama score and leans more towards surreal horror than mannered period piece. It’s a brave, bizarre and wholly unique score whose nomination is heartily welcomed.
Who will win: La La Land
Who should win: Jackie
BEST ORIGINAL SONG:
"Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" from La La Land – Music by Justin Hurwitz, Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
"Can't Stop the Feeling!" from Trolls – Music and Lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin, and Karl Johan Schuster (Shellback)
"City of Stars" from La La Land – Music by Justin Hurwitz, Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
"How Far I'll Go" from Moana – Music and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda
"The Empty Chair" from Jim: The James Foley Story – Music and Lyric by J. Ralph and Sting
Who would have guessed Justin Timberlake would one day be an Oscar nominee? He certainly campaigned hard for it, as demonstrated by his appearance at the Hollywood Reporter’s songwriters’ round-table, where he claimed nobly that his catchy pop-dance song for Trolls was his response to body-shaming. While he will undoubtedly put in a fun performance at the ceremony, this is another category locked up by La La Land, although a split in votes between the two nominated songs is feasible. Audition seems to be the favourite due to its presence in the trailers, and the Oscar clip moment the scene it is sung in provides for Emma Stone. Lin-Manuel Miranda will have to wait for another year to bag the Oscar that’ll give him the full PEGOT (Pulitzer Prize, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards) he richly deserves for his lyrical work in Moana.
Who will win: Audition
Who should win: How Far I’ll Go
The 89th Academy Awards ceremony will take place on Sunday 26th February.