Colin Vandenberg

Staff Writer

The 89th Academy Awards are this Sunday. Here is a helpful guide from a film buff who saw seven of the nine Best Picture nominees:

Note: DGA=Director’s Guild of America, PGA=Producers Guild of America, BAFTA= British Academy of Film and Television Arts, SAG= Screen Actors’ Guild

Best Picture
Should Win: La La Land
Will Win: La La Land
This year’s heavy favorite for Best Picture is the original musical and BAFTA/PGA winner La LA Land. Easily the most entertaining of the Best Picture nominees La LA Land leads the way with 14 nominations. The only two films with any a chance against La La Land are Moonlight and SAG winner Hidden Figures, either/both of which represent a win for diversity at a time when the Academy is taking heat for only voting a certain way. However, the powerful Moonlight succeeds more as a cultural statement than as an enjoyable film, lacking a strong narrative and well-developed characters. Hidden Figures’ momentum stems from its SAG win, but it didn’t win any other major award, and its win would represent a major upset.

Best Actor:
Should Win: Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
Will Win: Casey Affleck
Denzel Washington’s (Fences) SAG win changes the common wisdom on this category. The SAG Winner for Best Actor hasn’t lost the Oscar in many years. However, Casey Affleck is still the safer bet. The BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Critics’ Choice winner’s subtle and magnetic performance is the kind that the Academy loves to award.

Best Actress:
Should Win: Emma Stone (La La Land)
Will Win: Emma Stone
The buzz has died down for Critic’s choice winner Natalie Portman (Jackie) and Golden Globe winner Isabelle Huppert, (Elle). Emma Stone has the momentum right now with her SAG win. She was absolutely incredible in a role that required her to sing, dance, and act for both comedy and drama.

Best Supporting Actor
Should Win: Dev Patel (Lion)
Will Win: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
The overwhelming favorite and SAG winner is Mahershala Ali, who was dynamic in his limited role in Moonlight. However, BAFTA winner Dev Patel was even more impressive in Lion. Patel likely won’t win because his performance comes with the stigma of being a lead role, which was pushed for supporting by the studio to boost his chances. Patel is at most a co-lead with Lion co-star Sunny Pawar, meaning the studio has every right to promote him for the category they think he can win. Patel’s performance was more versatile than and equally as compelling as Ali’s, so the BAFTAs got this one right.

Best Supporting Actress
Should win: Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)
Will Win: Viola Davis (Fences)
Disclaimer: Analysis of this category comes without seeing Fences. The heavy favorite in this category is Viola Davis. Odds are high that she will win. Of the other four actresses, the most likely to upset Davis is Michelle Williams, for her captivating performance in Manchester by the Sea.

Best Director
Should Win: Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge)
Will Win: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
This category’s favorite is BAFTA and DGA winner Damien Chazelle, who simultaneously made a compelling drama, a believable love story with great acting, and an effortlessly entertaining musical. However, Mel Gibson’s task of making a great character piece under the backdrop of an epic and relevant war film was nearly as difficult. Gibson also took advantage of having a stronger script than Chazelle’s, giving his characters incredible depth and humanity which was sometimes missing from the more archetypal leads in La La Land.

Best Original Screenplay/Adapted Screenplay:
Should win: Manchester by the Sea/Hidden Figures
Will Win: Manchester by the Sea/Moonlight
Manchester by the Sea’s script balances drama, humor, and great character development. None of its competitors for original screenplay even come close. Adapted screenplay features a similar scenario to the Dev Patel/ Mahershala Ali situation, except this time it’s Moonlight that played the category shuffle. The play which Writers Guild winner Moonlight was based on was never produced; a loophole the studio exploited to give the film a better chance to win. Moonlight’s screenplay, however, pales in comparison to that of Hidden Figures, which was tightly written, funny, and offers far more character insight than screenplay to Moonlight does.