Finals for Finalists: The 2017 Oscar Nomination Predictions

oscars statues

by Ken Bakely

Has it really been a whole year? The Academy Award nominations are upon us yet again. Before we kick things off, let me reprint my yearly awards season mantra:

“To predict the outcome of awards shows, you don’t need to have seen all of the nominees, you just need to have seen awards shows before.”

I’m going to try something a little different this year. Instead of running through an exhaustive list of all twenty-four categories, I will stick to predictions for a handful of major races, providing more in-depth commentary for each one. Each category’s predictions will be ranked in order of how likely it is that each title or individual will be nominated. Every category will also have one or two “biggest threats” – potential, less likely nominees which could still find themselves in the mix on Tuesday morning.

UPDATE (January 25): I have added a “reaction” section to each category now, detailing my accuracy score and my thoughts on what ended up getting nominated. These comments will be in blue.


Rank Film
1 La La Land
2 Manchester by the Sea
3 Moonlight
4 Arrival
5 Fences
6 Jackie
7 Hidden Figures
8 Hell or High Water
9 Florence Foster Jenkins
10 Lion

BIGGEST THREATS: Hacksaw Ridge and Nocturnal Animals

COMMENTS: Can anything stop La La Land? While Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight could become threats if they can rally up enough support, Damien Chazelle’s musical has effectively dominated the precursors that are the most relevant to the outcome of the race. Looking further down the ticket, I think many prognosticators are underestimating the showings that Hell or High Water, Florence Foster Jenkins, and Hidden Figures are capable of producing – these are all genuinely well-liked movies that could go the distance for a Best Picture nomination.

REACTIONS: I went 8-for-9 here, predicting every nominee except for Hacksaw Ridge, which the Academy turned out to like more than I thought. We’ve wound up with a pretty fair slate here – no majorly controversial or undeserving picks – but as I said on Sunday, I have a hard time seeing anything else except La La Land winning.


Rank Nominee Film
1 Damien Chazelle La La Land
2 Barry Jenkins Moonlight
3 Kenneth Lonergan Manchester by the Sea
4 Denis Villeneuve Arrival
5 Garth Davis Lion

BIGGEST THREAT: David Mackenzie, Hell or High Water

COMMENTS: Chazelle looks ready to ride the wave along with his film, and will become the youngest Best Director winner in Oscar history (he’s 32.) Jenkins and Lonergan will get onto the list, as their movies are nearly as widely respected. Denis Villeneuve will be the category’s one “big movie” director, representing efforts from the major genre pictures. I have Garth Davis pegged for the fifth slot – he’s received many nominations from the guilds, and he seems to be very popular among his peers. Since in the Academy, nominees are nominated by their fellows (actors vote in acting categories, directors vote for Best Director, etc.), he definitely has a good shot.

REACTIONS: 4-for-5, missing Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge. I was very optimistic about Davis, buying into the Directors’ Guild hype and possibly ignoring more obvious signs that his prospects had faded. Chazelle is still the favorite here.


Rank Nominee Film
1 Casey Affleck Manchester by the Sea
2 Denzel Washington Fences
3 Ryan Gosling La La Land
4 Viggo Mortensen Captain Fantastic
5 Jake Gyllenhaal Nocturnal Animals

BIGGEST THREAT: Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

COMMENTS: Casey Affleck has a fair amount of love from the guilds and critics’ groups, and therefore has ignited enough buzz to be the most “safe” candidate in this category. Quickly on his heels is Denzel Washington, who directed himself in Fences. Ryan Gosling is pretty solid after the two, considering how popular his movie is. The last two are question marks – neither Mortensen and Gyllenhaal can say that their films have received a steady stream of talk, and so they will have to hope that Oscar voters have popped in their respective screeners on their own accord.

REACTIONS: 4-for-5. Should have swapped Gyllenhaal for Garfield. I was too bearish on Hacksaw Ridge and too bullish on Nocturnal Animals.


Rank Nominee Film
1 Emma Stone La La Land
2 Isabelle Huppert Elle
3 Natalie Portman Jackie
4 Amy Adams Arrival
5 Meryl Streep Florence Foster Jenkins

BIGGEST THREAT: Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures

COMMENTS: This category effectively appears to have three major competitors – Stone, Huppert, and Portman. It really will depend on how the remainder of this awards season goes before we can forecast a genuine frontrunner. Amy Adams is almost certain to reap a nomination, but I’m not sold on her chances of winning, especially in a field this crowded. Streep is still something of a wildcard, although considering how she was able to raise her profile in the last days of balloting (her Golden Globes speech happening right in the middle of the final push), I’d say she has a decent shot.

REACTIONS: 4-for-5 again. Amy Adams was not nominated, with that slot going to Ruth Negga for Loving. While most people have come to presume that Stone has this locked up, I’d argue that the three-way race I mentioned in the paragraph above is still a fair assessment at this time.


Rank Nominee Film
1 Mahershala Ali Moonlight
2 Lucas Hedges Manchester by the Sea
3 Jeff Bridges Hell or High Water
4 Hugh Grant Florence Foster Jenkins
5 Aaron Taylor-Johnson Nocturnal Animals


COMMENTS: The most major disruption in the evolution of this category was Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s upset win at the Golden Globes. While that doesn’t necessarily mean much on the surface (the Globes are an anomaly in terms of membership pool), it shows that there’s been more talk about his performance than we were initially aware of.

REACTIONS: 3-for-5. I correctly predicted Ali, Hedges, and Bridges, but missed Dev Patel for Lion and Michael Shannon for Nocturnal Animals (I picked the right movie, but the wrong guy.)


Rank Nominee Film
1 Viola Davis Fences
2 Michelle Williams Manchester by the Sea
3 Naomie Harris Moonlight
4 Nicole Kidman Lion
5 Octavia Spencer Hidden Figures

BIGGEST THREAT: Janelle Monaé, Hidden Figures

COMMENTS: Discussion here has largely concentrated to seeing Davis as the frontrunner, with Williams in a distant second. This could end up being one of the most surefire categories by Oscar night, presuming there are no major upsets along the way. Davis is exceedingly popular, and there will be a real desire to give an acclaimed film like Fences at least one award.

REACTIONS: Perfect score. Davis is still the presumed leader.


Rank Film Screenwriter(s)
1 Manchester by the Sea Kenneth Lonergan
2 La La Land Damien Chazelle
3 Hell or High Water Taylor Sheridan
4 Captain Fantastic Matt Ross
5 Zootopia Jared Bush, Phil Johnston

BIGGEST THREAT: Jackie, Noah Oppenheim

COMMENTS: The writing categories typically contain a hodgepodge of films that will be honored elsewhere. Therefore, it’s safe to examine what’s getting buzz, as these awards generally operate as bellwethers. Manchester by the Sea seems to have the edge here. While La La Land is in second, I don’t think it will win – there’s going to be more than a bit of fatigue regarding it by the time final voting begins.

REACTIONS: 3-for-5. I was right on Manchester by the SeaLa La Land, and Hell or High Water, but missed Mike Mills getting in for 20th Century Women as well as Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Philippou for The Lobster. I had heard that the latter script was a possibility, but incorrectly assumed that the film’s offbeat style and plotline would be a turnoff for the Academy.


Rank Film Screenwriter(s)
1 Moonlight Barry Jenkins
2 Fences August Wilson
3 Arrival Eric Heisserer
4 Nocturnal Animals Tom Ford
5 Lion Luke Davies

BIGGEST THREAT: Deadpool, Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick

COMMENTS: I don’t think Moonlight is going to have any problems here, although it will be interesting to see Fences get a nomination – August Wilson, who also wrote the stage play that it is based on, died in 2005, not long after completing a screenplay adaptation of the text. However, the shooting script used deviated so little from that draft that there was no need to tack on an additional name. Arrival is a lock for this shortlist, considering that it’s won a number of other awards and scored key nominations elsewhere. Nocturnal Animals and Lion can get in more easily if their films do well. Finally, that’s not a typo under the “biggest threat” section – considering its success at the Writers’ Guild and the Producers’ Guild, there is a very real chance that Deadpool will receive multiple Oscar nominations, including one here. It might sound crazy that a raunchy, R-rated superhero comedy would wind up at the Academy Awards, but as we’ve seen over the course of this past year, sometimes the strangest things can end up happening.

REACTIONS: 4-for-5. I was right on Moonlight, Fences, Arrival, and Lion, but inexplicably missed Alison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi getting nominated for Hidden Figures. Having said in my original post that I believed that the film was being “underestimated” in terms of awards potential, I can’t explain why I didn’t think to put it here. Oh well.


Rank Film
1 Toni Erdmann (Germany)
2 The Salesman (Iran)
3 Land of Mine (Denmark)
4 A Man Called Ove (Sweden)
5 Tanna (Australia)

BIGGEST THREAT: It’s Only the End of the World (Canada)

COMMENTS: The (needlessly) complicated process of selecting nominees here makes Foreign Language Film a tough category to predict. It is certainly very likely that Toni Erdmann will get nominated, but that’s the only title I’m really confident about. I hear good things about The Salesman, and it’s directed by a filmmaker who’s found much love within the Academy in years prior, so I’ve placed that at number two. The next three are just guesses based on the buzz that I’ve heard. Tanna may get in because of its uniqueness – it’s the first film ever made in the South Pacific indigenous language of Nauvhal, and the actors are natives who were unfamiliar with movies before shooting began. A possible alternative in this category would be It’s Only the End of the World, the latest feature from Quebecois wunderkind Xavier Dolan. While it’s received a decidedly mixed reaction from critics, voters may remember the inexplicable snubbing that Dolan’s hit Mommy was on the tail end of four years ago, and could wish to compensate.

REACTIONS: I got a perfect score predicting one of the Oscars’ most notoriously volatile categories. I don’t know how it happened, but I’ll just accept it and hastily move on. Xavier Dolan, one of the most promising younger (under 30) filmmakers working today, remains unrecognized by the Academy, although as I said, many claim that this wouldn’t be the right movie to start with.


Rank Film
1 Zootopia
2 Moana
3 Kubo and the Two Strings
4 Finding Dory
5 The Red Turtle


COMMENTS: Zootopia is the out-and-out leader of the pack. Disney will double up here with Moana, and then add a third with Finding Dory. The independent or foreign features – Kubo and the Two Strings and The Red Turtle – will round out the five, but there’s not much else to be said.

REACTIONS: 4-for-5. Finding Dory did not get in, and its spot was taken by My Life as a Zucchini, a film from Switzerland which was also that country’s submission for Best Foreign Language Feature. The animation branch has been moving away from commercial fare in recent years, and slowly importing more independent and foreign titles into its ranks, so we should expect more small movies like this in the future.


Rank Film
1 13th
2 O.J.: Made in America
3 I Am Not Your Negro
4 Weiner
5 Cameraperson


COMMENTS: And finally, some thoughts on Best Documentary. 13th is the favorite here – while I won’t discount the acclaim that O.J.: Made in America has been privy to, I don’t think it stands a particularly good chance of actually winning the Oscar. The thing is seven hours long. Those tasked with choosing the nominees will likely give it enough support to send it onto the final five, but do you really believe that the Academy at large will sit through the whole thing? It doesn’t matter how good it is, I find the odds slim. I Am Not Your Negro is getting enough positive attention that it should have a fairly easy chance. The word of mouth has been tremendous – I have a screener of it that I’ve been desperately meaning to get to. Weiner and Cameraperson just seem like easy “also-rans,” but they’re definitely not locks.

REACTIONS: 3-for-5. I correctly called 13th, O.J.: Made in America, and I Am Not Your Negro, but missed on Life, Animated and Fire at Sea. The race for the Oscar is effectively between 13th and O.J., and my prior impressions on this matchup remain.

And there are my predictions for the major races at the 89th Academy Awards. There’s certainly a good morning for La La Land in store, but plenty of room for surprises all down the board. We’ll see how things turn out.

The nominations for the 89th Academy Awards will be announced on January 24, 2017, in a webcast starting at 5:18 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, hosted by Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs,  filmmaker Jason Reitman, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and actors Ken Watanabe, Jennifer Hudson, and Brie Larson.