Well, here we are again. On Tuesday at lunchtime — a little later in the year than usual — we will learn the 2017 Oscar nominations. There will be some surprises, of course, but there will be even more confirmations of already locked-in nominations. Decades ago there were fewer precursor awards and the coverage of those awards was much more scanty. These days we get endless commentary on every envelope that's opened anywhere in Los Angeles County. So, by the time the Academy announces its shortlists, we already have a fairly clear line on runners and riders. This process began with the Toronto and Venice Film Festivals at the end of the summer. Those events kicked up three big players — La La Land, Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight — and nothing has happened to dull the relevant distributors' expectations. (Indeed, Manchester had been hot since Sundance a year ago.) Sadly, Pablo Larraín's Jackie and Jeff Nichols's Loving have not performed quite so well. They are now looking rank outsiders for a best picture spot. Meanwhile, Lion and Hidden Figures, two "inspirational" dramas, performed above expectations.
Don't pay too much heed to the Golden Globes. The awards worth noting are those from the various professional guilds: the Directors Guild of America, the Producers Guild of America, the Screen Actors Guild. One message from the last body should be treated with caution. If runaway favourite La La Land wins best picture then it will be the first film to have taken that prize without a SAG ensemble nomination since Braveheart over 20 years ago. Let's be honest. That film is all about just two actors. It's not an "ensemble" kind of film. La La Land is still a big, big favourite. Here's the thing to note: last year, of the eight nominees, seven were among the PGA's 10 shortlisted films. We are taking that as our most telling guide. The DGA is also significant. That body names just five films and, this year, it added Lion and Arrival to its list. So, Garth Davis's tearjerker and Denis Villeneuve's science-fiction puzzler are both surely safe. The PGA list was as follows: Arrival, Deadpool, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight. We can rule out Deadpool (I hope). I am betting there will again be eight nominations — there can be between five and 10 — so we just have to eliminate one. Scroll down to see my decision.
As far as the acting nominations go, we have a contrast between the actor branch, which is fast coming together, and the best actress race, which is still hard to call. Casey Affleck has won everywhere for Manchester by the Sea, but Denzel Washington — who is Denzel Washington after all — will certainly give him a run for his money. Ryan Gosling will be dragged along by the La La Land express. With nominations from SAG and the Golden Globes, Andrew Garfield looks to be in for Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge. The fifth spot looks as if it's between Viggo Mortensen for Captain Fantastic, Joel Edgerton for Loving or Tom Hanks for Sully. Anything else would count as a surprise. The situation in best actress is easy to state, but hard to finalise. Natalie Portman and Emma Stone are in for, respectively, Jackie and La La Land. The remaining three will be chosen from five actors: Ruth Negga for Loving, Annette Bening for 20th Century Women, Amy Adams for Arrival, Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins and Isabelle Huppert for Elle. Having failed to score at Bafta or SAG, our own Ruth Negga does, I'm afraid, now seem unlikely to make it in. Not that unlikely. She's still one of the seven possibilities, but I have her just outside the leading bunch.
What else is there for the Irish? Consolata Boyle looks to have a very good chance in the best costumes category for Florence Foster Jenkins. Seamus McGarvey could also figure in cinematography for Nocturnal Animals. Also look out for one of John Carney's tunes from Sing Street in the best original song race. Carney has had some bad luck here. This is usually among the least competitive competitions, but, in 2017, La La Land will be fielding two songs and Lin-Manuel Miranda, flavour of the month after his triumph on stage with Hamilton, will be in the race with How Far I'll Go from Moana. I'd reckon Carney's chances at about 50/50 for a nomination with Drive it Like You Stole it. There is also a good chance of a best original screenplay nomination for The Lobster (an Element Pictures production, financed by The Irish Film Board).
Anyway, here we go. I’ve added two at the bottom of the best picture race, but I’m not cheating. I promise not to include those in my success rate. That’s just for fun. In any case, we have arranged the list in order of nomination likelihood (which is not exactly the same as likelihood of eventual victory, but close enough).
PREDICTIONS FOR 2017 OSCAR NOMINATIONS
1. LA LA LAND
Well, obviously. Has been locked in since receiving raves as the opening film at Venice. Scored everywhere since. Will probably become the first original film musical to win best picture since Gigi in 1958. Could challenge for the nomination record if it scores two songs. Holding it back in that regard is the lack of interest in the best supporting categories.
The raves for Barry Jenkins’s African-American coming-of-age drama came as a big relief for the Academy after last year’s #oscarssowhite controversy and the subsequent implosion of The Birth of a Nation’s awards campaign. Could challenge for victory if it picks up a few guild awards. It will probably have to settle for best adapted screenplay and best supporting actor.
3. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Kenneth Lonergan’s drama of grief and personal accommodation just drips with quality, but it’s probably a little too grim to compete for best picture. Casey Affleck is still favourite for best actor. Lonergan will also probably secure best original screenplay.
A few months back it seemed as if Denis Villeneuve’s science fiction film looked on the borderline, but after scoring nominations from Bafta, the PGA and the DGA it now looks safe as houses. Like quite a few films in this list it could very easily go home empty handed on the night. Cinematography a possibility. Ineligible for score (don’t ask). So forget that.
Probably the biggest over-performer in awards season, Garth Davis’s crowd-pleaser got very sound, but not quite ecstatic reviews. It hasn’t scored big at the box office either. For all that, the guilds that matter have mentioned it. We point you once again to the fact that it is one of only five DGA nominees. Like Arrival, it could walk away with no wins.
6. HELL OR HIGH WATER
This is not my least favourite film in this list, but it is the one whose awards performance most astonishes me. When I saw David Mackenzie’s Hawksian western in Cannes I thought it a very entertaining piece of work, but nothing about it screamed “Oscar”. Nominations everywhere look to have proved me wrong. There are rewards for old fashioned quality.
Now things get less secure. Denzel Washington's adaptation of August Wilson's much loved play has underperformed at nominations so far. It was nowhere at Bafta for instance. But it just looks to have Oscar written all over it. Viola Davis will, barring monsoons, take the prize for best supporting actress. She is currently 1/12 with some meaner bookies.
8. HACKSAW RIDGE
Or will it be Hidden Figures? That last film was number one at the box office when voting closed. It has a great following. But we forget that there is often one film — usually by Clint Eastwood — that appeals to the mythical "steak eaters" who vote from the suburbs. Hacksaw Ridge looks like that film.
If there are more than eight: Hidden Figures and Silence (in that order).
1. DAMIEN CHAZELLE (La La Land)
2. BARRY JENKINS (Moonlight)
3. KENNETH LONERGAN (Manchester by the Sea)
4. DENIS VILLENEUVE (Arrival)
5. MARTIN SCORSESE (Silence)
1. EMMA STONE (La La Land)
2. NATALIE PORTMAN (Jackie)
3. ISABELLE HUPPERT (Elle)
4. AMY ADAMS (Arrival)
5. MERYL STREEP (Florence Foster Jenkins)
1. CASEY AFFLECK (Manchester by the Sea)
2. DENZEL WASHINGTON (Fences)
3. RYAN GOSLING (La La Land)
4. ANDREW GARFIELD (Hacksaw Ridge)
5. TOM HANKS (Sully)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
1. VIOLA DAVIS (Fences)
2. MICHELLE WILLIAMS (Manchester by the Sea)
3. NAOMIE HARRIS (Moonlight)
4. NICOLE KIDMAN (Lion)
5. OCTAVIA SPENCER (Hidden Figures)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
1. MAHERSHALA ALI (Moonlight)
2. JEFF BRIDGES (Hell or High Water)
3. DEV PATEL (Lion)
4. LUCAS HEDGES (Manchester by the Sea)
5. HUGH GRANT (Florence Foster Jenkins)
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
1. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
2. LA LA LAND
3. HELL OR HIGH WATER
4. THE LOBSTER
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
3. HIDDEN FIGURES
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
2. KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS
4. THE RED TURTLE
5. FINDING DORY
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FEATURE
1. TONI ERDMANN
2. A MAN CALLED OVE
3. LAND OF MINE
4. MY LIFE AS A COURGETTE
5. THE SALESMAN
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. OJ MADE IN AMERICA
4. I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO