2017 Oscars Preview: Who Will Win and Who Should Win

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2017 Oscars Preview: Who Will Win and Who Should Win

No matter what happens this year—despite not having a hashtag to append to every Oscar complaint to voice our collective calls for the Academy of Motion Picture Art and Sciences to stop sucking so historically—Sunday will still present its share of upsets, disappointments and outright cause for rage. The more things change, the more they seemingly never actually will, which is why we’re supposed to be okay with Mel Gibson now.

Regardless, Paste brings you, as always, our picks for who we know will win, who we think (among the nominees) should win and nominees for whom individual writers are willing to make a strong case, pulling from every film that wasn’t nominated. We’ve also prepared a handy streaming guide to help you catch up with as many nominees as possible.

Meanwhile, take some time to read our recent Oscars-related articles:

I Ain’t Sorry: After 88 Years of Oscar Whiteness, Black People Need Not Thank the Academy by Shannon M. Houston
The Shunning of Silence by Chet Betz
Loving Your Enemy: Isabelle Huppert on Elle and Never Playing Characters by Elle Schneider
Emma Stone Deserves an Oscar—but Not for La La Land by Kyle Turner

Keep an eye on the site on Sunday to follow along with live updates, as well as on our Twitter profile to find out what the film community’s yammering on about.

Enjoy our picks (which we’ve also ordered according to last year’s presented awards, hoping we can make this easy on you) and good luck in your Oscar pools.

Original Screenplay



Hell or High Water by Taylor Sheridan
La La Land by Damien Chazelle
The Lobster by Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou
Manchester by the Sea by Kenneth Lonergan
20th Century Women by Mike Mills

Who Will Win: Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea
As a piece of writing, one of Manchester by the Sea’s greatest assets is that it feels so thoroughly effortless, especially since it demonstrates an extraordinary tonal balance. For every bout of soul-crushing drama, Lonergan layers in elements of humor that are both laugh-out-loud funny and surprisingly organic extensions of the story and its characters, both extremes conveyed via beautifully naturalistic dialogue. Given Lonergan’s reputation as a great modern day playwright, a legitimate filmmaking auteur (You Can Count on Me, Margaret) and a genre-spanning screenwriter (Analyze This, Gangs of New York), it’s hard to envision a ceremony where Hollywood does not reward one of its preeminent scribes with an Oscar. —Mark Rozeman

Who Should Win: Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou for The Lobster
As formally exceptional as Manchester may be, Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou’s The Lobster drops the audience into a dystopian realm wherein the world’s singles are sequestered in hotels and pressured to pair off, lest they reach an arbitrary deadline and are turned into animals. Not only do Lanthimos and Filippou ace the difficult task of building up their world in a way that’s engaging and clever as opposed to overly expositional and awkward, but they succeed in crafting a central romance so achingly human one can almost forget the insanity of its premise. While it certainly takes skill to construct a deeply quirky, unorthodox film, it takes a specific kind of fervent imagination to see such a bonkers story through. Although Manchester’s win should be cause for celebration, scripts like The Lobster’s basically define the idea of “original.” —M.R.

Adapted Screenplay



Arrival by Eric Heisserer
Fences by August Wilson
Hidden Figures by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi
Lion by Luke Davies
Moonlight by Barry Jenkins (screenplay) and Tarell Alvin McCraney (story)

Who Will Win: Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney for Moonlight
First, let’s all take a moment to acknowledge the bizarre rules that stuck Moonlight in this category: Based on a quasi-autobiographical play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the actual project—by all accounts—was never officially produced on stage, which means the resulting film has no definite “preexisting material” as its basis. But no matter—writer/director Barry Jenkins and McCraney craft a story that, while heavy on silences and imagistic abstraction, packs a handful of 2016’s best exchanges into a sparse 111 minute-or-so running time. From its densely metaphorical opening, featuring Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his runner, to the emotional punch that is the elder Chiron’s (Trevante Rhodes) final line, Moonlight delivers the kind of intimate dive into small, mundane human experience that would do Wong Kar-wai or Yasujiro Ozu proud. —M.R.

Who Should Win: Eric Heisserer for Arrival
Arrival is the sort of production that relies so thoroughly on its screenplay’s careful construction that anything less precise would be disastrous. It’s difficult to discuss specifics without wading into spoiler territory, but, in short, Arrival is a film that not only distills the complexities of linguistics into digestible sound bites but toys with the very fabric of filmic language itself, exploring the visual concept of memory and its relation to perceived reality. Though the assured direction of Denis Villeneuve helps the film realize its potential as something epic, and the phenomenal (and un-nominated) performance of Amy Adams underlines the film’s emotional core, make no mistake: Eric Heisserer’s adaptation of Ted Chiang’s celebrated short story is a huge achievement of meticulous storytelling. —M.R.

Actress in a Supporting Role



Viola Davis, Fences
Naomi Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Who Will Win: Viola Davis for Fences
If Viola Davis was good enough to win the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for her work in the 2010 Broadway revival of August Wilson’s Fences, then she’s certainly good enough to win the Academy Award for Best Actress for her work in Denzel Washington’s adaptation of Wilson’s play in 2017. Paramount still didn’t want to take the chance, and she agreed, together campaigning to secure a Best Supporting Actress nod. The thinking here appears to be that she’s more likely to win in the Best Supporting category (awarded to more women of color in the past decade and change than Best Actress has), but let’s face it: Davis is nearly every bit the focus of Fences as Washington is, in a movie wherein everyone is his subordinate by design. She is his equal, the only person in the troupe who can match him beat for beat, and as the narrative unfolds it slowly becomes hers. (Frankly, it may well be her narrative the entire time, hijacked not so much by Washington but by the necessarily larger-than-life character he portrays.)

There’s no substantive reason not to include Davis alongside Isabelle Huppert, Natalie Portman, Ruth Negga and Meryl Streep (whose nomination for Florence Foster Jenkins would be baffling were she anyone other than Meryl Streep), and especially not to include her at the expense of Emma Stone. Would winning an award be nice for Davis? Sure. But winning the right award that best honors her superb acting in Fences would be better. —Andy Crump

Who Should Win: Naomi Harris for Moonlight

Making the Case for: Imogen Poots for Green Room
Some performances are lauded for imbuing parts with physical and/or emotional authenticity. Others, though, are celebrated for going beyond the dictates of a script, bringing to light qualities that may transcend what even the screenwriter had in mind. Michael Shannon’s juicy role in Nocturnal Animals is one memorable example of the latter. So is Imogen Poots’s performance in Green Room. To Amber, Poots dredges up a drugged-out quality that adds an unexpected poignancy to the character of a white supremacist who finds her loyalties tested when her best friend is killed by her own people. Through Poots’s laconic performance, however, one gets a sense of a person who had perhaps already been rethinking her loyalties before this incident pushed her over the edge; that ambivalence is inscribed into her every line reading and gesture, much of them deliberately drained of affectation beyond pure survival instinct and barely repressed anger. Green Room may not be much more than a technically accomplished genre exercise, but Poots, by sheer imaginative empathy, gives the film whatever bits of wounded soul it has. —Kenji Fujishima

Costume Design



Allied , Joanna Johnston
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Colleen Atwood
Florence Foster Jenkins, Consolata Boyle
Jackie, Madeleine Fontaine
La La Land, Mary Zophres

Who Will Win: Madeleine Fontaine for Jackie
La La Land will undoubtedly soft step to death every other nominee in its path, but its odds have been slipping recently, probably due to a conflation of so many simple reasons, not least being La La Land burn-out even before the film wins anything. Mary Zophres has also been nominated before, and has worked with Hollywood’s highest profile directors, while, comparatively, Madeleine Fontaine is a newcomer to the industry outside of Europe, a distinction made even more admirable by how acutely she nailed—and how much of the film’s success weighed on her recreation of—the garb of Kennedy’s American Camelot. Plus, Portman won’t win Best Actress, and Levi won’t win best Score, so the Academy will want to give Jackie something to champion the nostalgic pull of a kind of “American politics” that we can still pretend represents a time when there was some nobility left in the term. —Dom Sinacola

Who Should Win: Madeleine Fontaine for Jackie

Production Design



Arrival, Patrice Vermette (Production Design); Paul Hotte (Set Decoration)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Stuart Craig (Production Design); Anna Pinnock (Set Decoration)
Hail, Caesar!, Jess Gonchor (Production Design); Nancy Haigh (Set Decoration)
La La Land, David Wasco (Production Design); Sandy Reynolds-Wasco (Set Decoration)
Passengers, Guy Hendrix Dyas (Production Design); Gene Serdena (Set Decoration)

Who Will Win: David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco for La La Land
All this La La Land love will begin to feel unnecessary probably an hour into the ceremony (if it hasn’t started feeling that way already), but Wasco and wife Reynolds-Wasco deserve everything they’ll get—Wasco especially for working with both Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson (the latter as the director was zeroing in on his iconic aesthetic), and still never seeing a single nomination before. —D.S.

Who Should Win: Patrice Vermette and Paul Hotte for Arrival
Vermette’s been with Denis Villeneuve since Prisoners, typically affording the director a dour, dead-serious conglomeration of bare urban environs and sinisterly blank suburban shadows. In other words: Arrival is so obviously the work of man in his element, Vermette might never get the chance to win an Oscar again. (Plus, he’s not working on Blade Runner 2049, and whether there’s a fair reason or not, he’s gotta be bummed about that.) Magnificent but logical, both breathlessly graceful and empirical, Vermette’s design imagines interstellar ergonomics and edifices as places just as alien as any seemingly familiar domestic neighborhood. Rather than the re-imagining of 1920s New York in Fantastic Beasts or the arch indulgence of Hail, Caesar!’s spot-on 1950s Hollywood studio innards, Vermette’s work is a precise and expansive work of pure imagination. —D.S.

Makeup and Hairstyling



A Man Called Ove, Eva von Bahr and Love Larson
Star Trek Beyond, Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo
Suicide Squad, Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson

Who Will Win: Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo for Star Trek Beyond
Though the most interesting (and articulate) win would be for A Man Called Ove, the odds are in favor of Star Trek, which has already won a makeup/hairstyling guild award. Plus, Harlow was snubbed last year for Black Mass, even though he did pretty much what Bahr and Larson did for Ove. —D.S.

Who Should Win: Anyone other than the people who worked on Suicide Squad
Nothing, no matter how seemingly insignificant in the grand scheme of things, should ever encourage David Ayer to keep doing anything but trading sweat pants recommendations with Zack Snyder, let alone make another fucking movie for DC. —D.S.



Arrival, Bradford Young
La La Land, Linus Sandgren
Lion, Greig Fraser
Moonlight, James Laxton
Silence, Rodrigo Prieto

Who Will Win: Linus Sandgren for La La Land
Though Greig Fraser upset the La La Land’s guaranteed win of an American Society of Cinematographer Award, there’s still a near-impossible chance it’ll overcome La La Land’s impressive odds, as well as second-ranked Arrival, for what is essentially half of a beautifully camera-forward movie. Besides, the Academy will celebrate its hometurf however it can—definitely when it looks this idealistic. —D.S.

Who Should Win: Rodrigo Prieto for Silence
With Scorsese’s gorgeous Silence, Rodrigo Prieto delivers his finest work yet as a director of photography. Not only does he help Scorsese find a new level of restraint while still maintaining constant visual interest, he transcribes with the director a cohesive and powerful film grammar. The compositions are masterful (indelible two-shots, lingering close-ups on clasped hands, wide establishing shots that look like paintings, a devastating semi-profile medium-wide of an execution at sea), classicist in form but always just askew enough to demonstrate Scorsese and Prieto, inspired, working to push the impact of the image deeper.

Moreover, Prieto’s rich use of light, shadow, texture and color calls to mind some of the best work of Vittorio Storaro. Early on in Silence the camera looks down from great heights, through mists and upon verdant landscapes (a shot that closely tracks a bird for a few seconds has to be seen to be believed), but as the film progresses its view becomes more and more mired and caged—all without losing any of its verve. A whip-pan perspective shot from behind wooden bars transforms a typical Scorsese trick into something far more. Eventually, night starts to become more prevalent and with it Prieto seamlessly transitions from lush 35mm to long stretches on digital. As the canvas changes out of necessity so, too, do the brush strokes of Prieto’s lens; shots become more crunched or elongated, traces of the surreal beginning to seep in as our protagonist Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) becomes more disconnected from reality. It’s really quite something, the way Prieto’s cinematography for Silence achieves in perfect balance two things that would seem almost exclusive: subtlety and ecstasy. —Chet Betz

Making the Case for: Natasha Braier for The Neon Demon
Nothing against the five worthy nominees in the category this year, but if you judge a film’s cinematography by how much its look lingers in the memory, then few choices could possibly measure up to The Neon Demon. Granted, Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest isn’t noticeably visually different from his recent work, and, like Drive and Only God Forgives, The Neon Demon is awash in hot reds, deep blues and blinding whites. Maybe it’s the broader context that makes Natasha Braier’s work stand out: There’s a fairy-tale quality to much of the film’s imagery, turning Refn’s characters into larger-than-life icons, bringing a genuinely mythic quality to the director’s Hollywood fashion-world morality tale. If nothing else, Braier’s lights and mirrors set-piece during a fashion show sequence midway through the film remains the most indelibly enchanting (yet unsettling) series of images seen in a movie in 2016, with the spectacle of not-quite-innocent ingénue Jesse (Elle Fanning) making love to her own reflection rendered as the stuff of nightmares. —K.F.

Film Editing



Arrival, Joe Walker
Hacksaw Ridge, John Gilbert
Hell or High Water, Jake Roberts
La La Land, Tom Cross
Moonlight, Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon

Who Will Win: Tom Cross for La La Land
Here’s the vantage point from where you can see the rest of the Oscar landscape: Best Editing typically foretells Best Picture, as any filmmaker will tell you (though last year, with Margaret Sixel winning for Mad Max, still no one had any hope that film would win at the end of the night), so this is La La Land’s to lose considering that film’s chances for encouraging its young, hip, attractive entourage to all gather on stage to close out the ceremony. Arrival has some modicum of a chance, recently winning an American Cinema Editor award alongside the frontrunner, though odds still have Hacksaw Ridge ahead of it, because I don’t know why. —D.S.

Who Should Win: Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon for Moonlight

Sound Editing



Arrival, Sylvain Bellemare
Deepwater Horizon, Wylie Stateman and Renée Tondelli
Hacksaw Ridge, Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright
La La Land, Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan
Sully, Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

Who Will Win: Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright for Hacksaw Ridge
This category (for the crafting of sound effects, mind you) loves its battle-obliterated, war-filled films—previous winners include American Sniper, The Hurt Locker, Pearl Harbor and, of course, Saving Private Ryan—and Hacksaw Ridge is yet another Mel Gibson joint bent on complete immersion in unrelenting graphic violence. —D.S.

Who Should Win: Sylvain Bellemare for Arrival
War is hell, but in that case we know what hell could sound like. Bellemare not only had to create the sounds of a completely unknown world, but he had to create a deep, abiding logic to it—he had to realize both what’s heard, and why. —D.S.

Making the Case for: Chris Sharp and Adam Stein for The Witch
If you want a perfect encapsulation of the way that genre movies (and especially horror) are almost unilaterally shut out of Academy consideration, look no further than the fact that The Witch couldn’t even score a nomination in one of the technical categories. No one is specifically demanding that the most universally praised horror film of 2016 receive a Best Picture nomination, but is it asking too much for that film to be recognized in the category where it excels the most? The creation of sound is everything to The Witch, providing a great deal of tension through the film’s earliest scenes, as its Puritanical family begins its descent into the woods that will destroy them. Taking clear cues from The Shining in particular, The Witch weaves a web of discordant noises to cloak almost every scene in a palpable feeling of unease and dread. Regardless of what’s actually on screen in any given moment, the sound design of The Witch never allows the audience to breathe or relax its guard. It’s a massively important element in what makes the film such an amazingly assured, genuinely unsettling debut…but no, I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that Deepwater Horizon and Sully received the nominations instead. —Jim Vorel

Sound Mixing



Arrival, Bernard Gariépy Strobl and Claude La Haye
Hacksaw Ridge, Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace
La La Land, Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Mac Ruth

Who Will Win: Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace for Hacksaw Ridge
Though odds point to La La Land as the safe bet here, we’re going to go with Gibson’s Grand Guignol, which beat out Chazelle’s film for a recent Golden Reel award. Plus, Kevin O’Connell is like the Susan Lucci of sound mixing Oscars; check out his many, many nominations. —D.S.

Visual Effects



Deepwater Horizon, Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington and Burt Dalton
Doctor Strange, Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli and Paul Corbould
The Jungle Book, Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon
Kubo and the Two Strings, Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean and Brad Schiff
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel and Neil Corbould

Who Will Win: Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon for The Jungle Book
Easy pick: Favreau and his effects team might as well have built a space station to make this film, and anything less than an Oscar would be considered a personal affront to Walt Disney’s cryogenically frozen corpse. —D.S.

Who Should Win: Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean and Brad Schiff for Kubo and the Two Strings
Laika’s historic Visual Effects nomination puts it in the company of A Nightmare Before Christmas and A Nightmare Before Christmas alone. —Jacob Oller

Short Film (Animated)



Blind Vashya, Theodore Ushev
Borrowed Time, Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj
Pear Cider and Cigarettes, Robert Valley and Cara Speller
Pearl, Patrick Osborne
Piper, Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer

Who Will Win: Piper

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