There are several really big question marks in terms of films awaiting release dates. Mike Mills, director of Beginners (2011), supposedly will have 20th Century Women - starring Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, and Elle Fanning - ready by the end of the year. John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Itch, Rabbit Hole) should have the Neil Gaiman adaptation How to Talk to Girls at Parties ready as well. And Denzel Washington's adaptation of August Wilson's play Fences is also set to be released in December. However, we haven't seen much from any of these films beyond set photos and a few stills, so there's no indication that they'll be ready in time.
Fences is a big one, but the biggest question mark as far as release dates go is Silence, Martin Scorsese's new film about Christian missionaries in feudal Japan. The film is still pegged for a November release, and it's been in post-production since last year, but there's no sign that it will make its intended release date yet. Now, this isn't the first time Scorsese's dropped a long-awaited (and very long) film quickly: The Wolf of Wall Street was a big question mark until late in 2013, and it went on to multiple Oscar nominations including Picture, Director, and Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio. For now, I'm leaving the film out of my predictions on the assumption that it's moving to 2017, but if it does come out this year, expect it to contend in most of the major categories.
As for what I did predict, I'm probably over-estimating Lion and under-estimating Loving at the moment, assuming that the former tearjerker will draw more attention than the racial drama (I will also admit that I didn't care much for Midnight Special, so I'm a little cool on director Jeff Nichols right now). I may be under-estimating La La Land too; Damien Chazelle is clearly a director they admire, given the reception of Whiplash, and Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are terrific leads (even if they only have two nominations between them). But I find it difficult to believe that the Academy will go for an original, contemporary musical in a major way. We'll wait and see.
Acting categories and more after the jump.
Of course, nothing is set in stone until the Academy actually announces the nominations. But doesn't the lineup of Viola Davis/Meryl Streep/Ruth Negga/Emma Stone feel right on paper? I'd be surprised if any of those four women fall out of favor between now and January, but stranger things have happened.
It's the fifth slot that seems the most open. I picked Emily Blunt only because I always pick Emily Blunt, in the hopes that one day the Academy will pay attention to the great work she does (she should have at least three nominations by now for The Devil Wears Prada, The Young Victoria, and Sicario; it's dumb to think that the Academy would recognize her for Edge of Tomorrow too but in a perfect world they would have). The interesting wild card here, though, could be Sonia Braga (Aquarius). The film is currently embroiled in controversy in Brazil, and as a result could end up being rejected as the nation's submission for Best Foreign Language Film. Netflix is already planning a theatrical release for the film in October/November, which could boost the film's profile beyond the foreign film category. If that happens, Braga could be the top beneficiary: she has a history of working in major films (Kiss of the Spider Woman, for example), and I can personally testify that her performance in Aquarius is magnificent. I'm not ready to predict her, but she could be the surprise nominee come nomination morning.
Picking Dev Patel is probably a fool's errand, but I want to believe that he can pick up his first nomination for his first lead role since Slumdog Millionaire eight years ago. There are a lot of other big names in contention this year, including Michael Keaton (The Founder), Tom Hanks (Sully), Miles Teller (Bleed for This), Ryan Gosling (La La Land), and - if the film comes out - Liam Neeson (Silence). I'm going with Patel because Keaton seems like an obvious snub (they passed over him for Spotlight last year, and I'm still not over that), Hanks' film is not likely to well-received (even if his performance is), Teller still seems too young for this particular category, and the Academy just flat-out doesn't like Gosling or male leads in musicals (Gosling is both of those things). If Sully is well-received, then Hanks is probably a shoo-in for the nomination, but for now I'm sticking with Patel.
Patel, re-enacting my posture while contemplating this category
"But where is Nate Parker," you may be asking yourself. Indeed, Parker seems like an obvious choice for a nomination after the raves he received at Sundance for playing Nat Turner in The Birth of a Nation. The current controversy surrounding his past rape allegations, however, is going to cost him, especially since he has yet to properly address the issue and screenings of the film are being postponed or cancelled. Since the Internet at large either doesn't know or doesn't care that non-acting Oscars exist (see: the #Oscarssowhite controversies of the last two years), I'm guessing Best Actor is where he fails to be nominated while securing nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
I feel a lot more confident predicting Naomie Harris than I do Lupita N'yongo, even though the former is in a tiny-budget indie while the latter has Earth's future corporate overlords Disney behind her. But Harris' role feels right for a nomination: a scene-stealing role by an established but not quite famous actress in a small film is usually a great recipe for a nomination in this category. While N'yongo has the benefit of a very substantial role, the film might not play well to Oscar voters and it remains to be seen if Disney even cares about Oscar pushes anymore. There's also the simple, very unfortunate fact that actors of color - even former winners such as N'yongo - rarely receive multiple career nominations.
Overall, however, this category feels the most wide-open if only because there's no telling who will be in contention yet. Expect this one to change fairly drastically during the next round of predictions.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
"Academy Award nominee Steve Martin" and "Academy Award nominee Hugh Grant" seem like odd phrases, don't they? Believe it or not, there was once a time when nominations seemed like inevitabilities for both actors, but neither was ever invited to the party (Martin did receive an Honorary Oscar recently, however). But this is the category that gave us the phrase "two-time Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill," so anything is possible.
I wanted to include either Denzel Washington (Fences) or Damien Chazelle (La La Land) in this category, but ultimately decided not to for a few reasons. One, it already seems odd that this category could have four first-time nominees (the directors' branch is adventurous, but are they that adventurous?). Washington has yet to really prove himself behind the camera, as his previous two films - Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters - were fine but not distinctive. Chazelle probably just missed a nomination for Whiplash two years ago, and he is certainly respected by his peers, but the Academy has a shoddy history of nominating directors of musicals. That will probably cost him in the end, though if Lion fails, he could be the top choice to replace Garth Davis (assuming, of course, that Martin Scorsese doesn't crash the party).
Why not Denis Villeneuve (Arrival), a director I greatly admire? Despite the success of Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian last year, the Academy doesn't always go for science fiction films. And after being snubbed for Prisoners and Sicario, I just don't think they're ever going to nominate him at this point. Prove me wrong, Academy.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Love & Frienship
There really don't seem to be many contenders out yet for this category. I'm hopeful that Love & Friendship will pull through, as it's already one of my all-time favorite Austen adaptations. So few adaptations of her work remember her sense of humor, instead focusing solely on the romance (even though Austen almost always satirized those romances). Whit Stillman's film was a breath of fresh air in that regard, and perfectly balanced his own distinct voice with Austen's. Here's hoping it sticks around.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
I really have no confidence in Morris From America being nominated; of all the indies from earlier this year it seems like the best bet, but in actuality I don't think it will be nominated come January. But I'm including it because I don't really feel comfortable with any of the other contenders at the moment. If 20th Century Women is released in time, I think it stands a better chance, but it's too uncertain right now. I've seen several other sites predict Moana, namely on the premise that Disney can do no wrong this year (which is almost true from a box office perspective), but no Disney film has ever been nominated in this category without Pixar's involvement. It seems like a longshot at best at this point (to say nothing of musical bias, which is why La La Land is also not on the shortlist).