Oscar 2017 Predictions: Can Anything Stop ‘La La Land’ Avalanche?

It’s been years since the last big sweep, but Damien Chazelle’s musical is threatening to turn the Oscars into a ‘La La’ Palooza

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Some years, the question when it comes to Oscar predictions is Who?

This year, it’s How Many?

Such is the apparent dominance of Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” as Oscar night approaches. The musical is not only a prohibitive favorite to win Best Picture, it’s a strong contender in 10 or 11 other categories as well, with a chance to tie or break the all-time Oscar record of 11 wins.

But there hasn’t been double-digit dominance at the Oscars in more than a decade, since “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” went 11-for-11 in 2004. Last year’s Best Picture winner, “Spotlight,” won a grand total of two Oscars; the year before, “Birdman” won four.

Over the past decade, the Best Picture winners have averaged slightly more than four wins, with “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Hurt Locker” landing the most with eight and six, respectively. In the last five years, Best Picture winners have averaged only 3.4 Oscar wins, while best-pic also-rans like “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Gravity” have picked up the most total victories.

So the inclination is not to predict a “La La Land” sweep. But when I wrote my Golden Globes predictions in January, I originally picked “La La” to win six awards, and then convinced myself that I should scale back since Globes voters are even less prone to sweeps. So I predicted it’d win five …. whereupon it set a new Globes record by winning seven.

So maybe it’s that kind of year — maybe there’s just nothing to beat “La La Land” in eight or nine or even 10 categories.

The predictions:

Best Picture
Nominees: “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water,” “Hidden Figures,” “La La Land,” “Lion,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “Moonlight”
Winner: “La La Land”

There have been mutterings lately about a brewing “La La Land” backlash, which was all but inevitable for a film that’s been the front-runner since September. But realistically, it’s hard to imagine any other nominee having the clout to take down Damien Chazelle‘s musical.

Any chance of a “Hidden Figures” upset, for instance, seemed to fade away when that film lost to “Arrival” at the Writers Guild Awards. “Moonlight” has some momentum and would certainly be the choice if critics voted, but they don’t — and all season long, “La La Land” has seemed unstoppable in this category.

It still does.

Best Director
Nominees: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”; Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge”; Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”; Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”; Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival”
Winner: Damien Chazelle

In three of the last four years, Oscar voters have been split between picture and director. But that’s highly unlikely this year, because this category might be even more of a slam dunk than Best Picture.

Chazelle’s masterminding of a full-scale original musical should easily win out over Barry Jenkins’ subtler achievement with “Moonlight.” The Academy, after all, likes to reward degree-of-difficulty points in this category — witness “The Revenant,” “Birdman” and “Gravity.”

Best Actor
Nominees: Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”; Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”; Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”; Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”; Denzel Washington, “Fences”
Winner: Denzel Washington

This is toughest major race to call. Washington’s performance is big, bold and showy; Casey Affleck’s in “Manchester by the Sea” is quiet, understated and internal. Affleck had won almost all the awards until SAG chimed in, and his film has more across-the-board support from the Academy: six nominations from three different branches, compared to four nominations from two branches for “Fences.”

But Washington’s is the kind of acting that the Academy loves to reward – when was the last time an oversized performance lost to a subtler one, or a performance as brilliantly understated as Affleck’s won? I don’t know the answer to that question, because it just doesn’t happen. Subtlety, sad to say, rarely wins acting Oscars.

Best Actress
Nominees: Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”; Ruth Negga, “Loving”; Natalie Portman, “Jackie”; Emma Stone, “La La Land”; Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
Winner: Emma Stone

If a good chunk of the voters think “La La Land” is already getting enough recognition, Isabelle Huppert has a chance to sneak in and win a de facto lifetime achievement award from an organization that has never even nominated her before. But she’s up for a movie, “Elle,” that couldn’t even get a nomination in the foreign-language category, and one that is just too transgressive and disturbing for a lot of voters, regardless of how legendary its leading lady is.

The “La La Land” song “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” probably isn’t going to win an Oscar itself, but it may well have won the Best Actress trophy for the woman who sang it.

Best Supporting Actor
Nominees: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”; Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”; Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”; Dev Patel, “Lion”; Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals”
Winner: Mahershala Ali

He’s only in the first third of the movie, but Ali brings such grace and gravity to “Moonlight” that he’s been the favorite all season. Watch out for Dev Patel, since he’s probably the only way for voters to honor the well-liked “Lion” — but would they really give the award to the guy whose movie is stolen by the other actor who plays his character, 8-year-old Sunny Pawar?

Best Supporting Actress
Nominees: Viola Davis, “Fences”; Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”; Nicole Kidman, “Lion”; Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”; Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”

Winner: Viola Davis
Davis’ win is just about the surest thing on an Oscar night full of pretty sure things. And it’ll arguably mark the third year in a row that the Best Supporting Actress category has gone to what is actually a leading performance, after Alicia Vikander in “The Danish Girl” and Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood.”

Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominees: “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hidden Figures,” “Lion,” “Moonlight”
Winner: “Moonlight”

At the Writers Guild Awards, where it was classified as an original screenplay and it was up against “La La Land” and “Manchester by the Sea,” “Moonlight” had an impressive victory. At the Oscars, it’s considered an adapted screenplay, even though the work from which it was adapted was never published or performed. And that gives it an easier field in which to compete. “Hidden Figures” and “Arrival” are well liked, but “Moonlight” is loved.

Best Original Screenplay
Nominees: “Hell or High Water,” “La La Land,” “The Lobster,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “20th Century Women”
Winner: Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”

This one is a dogfight between “La La Land,” a musical, and “Manchester by the Sea,” a dark drama. No musical has won a writing award since “Gigi” in 1958, which ought to tip the scales toward “Manchester” — but this race is probably far closer than that statistic suggests, though I expect “Manchester” to eke out a win.

Best Animated Feature
Nominees: “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Moana,” “My Life as a Zucchini,” “The Red Turtle,” “Zootopia”
Winner: “Zootopia”

The upset victory of Laika’s “Kubo and the Two Strings” at BAFTA suggested that Disney’s “Zootopia” might be vulnerable, despite its timely message about bias and fear-mongering. But Disney/Pixar has won 10 of the 15 awards handed out in this category, including eight of the last nine years — and the one recent year they lost, 2012, they didn’t have a nominee.

The bottom line: “Kubo” does have a shot at an upset, particularly if “Moana” siphons off some of the Disney vote. But it doesn’t pay to bet against top-tier Disney in this category, and “Zootopia” is top-tier Disney.

Best Foreign Language Film
Nominees: “Land of Mine,” “A Man Called Ove,” “The Salesman,” “Tanna,” “Toni Erdmann”
Winner: “The Salesman”

“Toni Erdmann” was reflexively considered the favorite here ever since it took Cannes by storm, but it was probably a mistake to think that way about a daring two-hour-and-42 minute comedy. At this stage it can’t be completely ruled out, but the real question might be whether voters go for the friendliest, lightest and most heart-warming entry, Sweden’s “A Man Called Ove,” or for the tougher one that sends a strong message to Donald Trump, Iran’s “The Salesman.”

If you look at the films that have won in this category since 2011 – “A Separation,” “Amour,” “The Great Beauty,” “Ida” and “Son of Saul” — you find a lineup of work that’s challenging, not friendly. Between that and the politicized nature of this awards season, this Oscar should go to “The Salesman.” And the win will no doubt be followed by an ovation for Asghar Farhadi, who opted not to come to the Oscars after Trump’s travel ban.

Best Documentary Feature
Nominees: “Fire at Sea,” “I Am Not Your Negro,” “Life, Animated,” “O.J.: Made in America,” “13th”
Winner: “O.J.: Made in America”
Three of the nominees focus on race in America, and it’s safe to think that the winner will come from that group: “O.J.: Made in America,” “13th” and “I Am Not Your Negro.” Of those, “O.J.” feels monumental, with its near eight-hour running time, and that scale should be enough to give it the win — unless Oscar voters can’t face the marathon viewing required, or feel that it’s a TV miniseries rather than a feature film. In that case, they could opt for Ava DuVernay’s succinct but powerful “13th” instead.

Best Cinematography
Nominees: “Arrival,” “La La Land,” “Lion,” “Moonlight,” “Silence”
Winner: “La La Land”

For the first time in seven years and only the second time in 12, voters must consider a category without either Emmanuel Lubezki (who’s won the last three cinematography Oscars) or Roger Deakins (who’s somehow 0-for-13). In a varied field that includes the first nominated African-American cinematographer, Bradford Young for “Arrival,” the dazzle of Linus Sandgren’s work on “La La Land” should beat the American Society of Cinematographers’ winner, “Lion.”

Best Film Editing
Nominees: “Arrival,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water” “La La Land,” “Moonlight”
Winner: “La La Land”

Only one Best Picture winner in 35 years has failed to be nominated in this category, but fewer than half of them have actually won it. This will be a test of how popular “La La Land” is, because it could easily lose to the more propulsive “Hacksaw Ridge.” But the musicals “Cabaret,” “All That Jazz” and “Chicago” won this award in the past, and so did Damien Chazelle’s last film, “Whiplash.”

Best Production Design
Nominees: “Arrival,” “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” “Hail, Caesar!,” “La La Land,” “Passengers”
Winner: “La La Land”

It’s not hard to see this going to “Arrival” or “Fantastic Beasts,” the latter of which might be a more typical winner — but between the heightened look of Los Angeles in much of “La La Land” and the extended dream sequence at the end of that movie, this should be another element of that film’s Oscar-night juggernaut.

Best Costume Design
Nominees: “Allied,” “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” “Florence Foster Jenkins,” “Jackie,” “La La Land”
Winner: “La La Land”

Winners in this category are usually period films or elaborate fantasy films; there hasn’t been a winner that’s really comparable to “La La Land” since “All That Jazz” in 1979. And initially, “Jackie” or “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” seemed to be logical winners – but then they both lost in their categories at the Costume Designers Guild Awards to non-Oscar nominees, while “La La Land” won its category.

To heck with precedent: When you think of the most vivid cinematic costumes of 2016, don’t you think of those brightly colored dresses on Emma Stone and her roommates?

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Nominees: “A Man Called Ove,” “Star Trek Beyond,” “Suicide Squad”
Winner: “Star Trek Beyond”

None of this year’s nominees really fit the profile of most winners in this category, but the Swedish film “A Man Called Ove” probably isn’t high-profile enough (or its makeup effects flashy enough) to capture voters. If the race is between the sci-fi movie and the superhero movie, at least an earlier entry in the sci-fi canon ( 2009’s “Star Trek”) won this award before.

Best Original Score
Nominees: “Jackie,” “La La Land,” “Lion,” “Moonlight,” “Passengers”
Winner: “La La Land”

Back in the ’90s, Disney’s animated musicals original-score Oscar four times in seven years, until the Music Branch split the category into separate dramatic and musical or comedy categories for four years. A musical hasn’t won since the categories were merged in 1999, but Justin Hurwitz’s “La La Land” score is integral to the film beyond the songs, and it shouldn’t have much trouble topping “Jackie” and “Lion” for the win.

Best Original Song
Nominees: “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from “La La Land,” “Can’t Stop the Feeling” from “Trolls,” “City of Stars” from “La La Land,” “The Empty Chair” from “Jim: The James Foley Story,” “How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana”
Winner: “City of Stars” from “La La Land”

The only threat here is that the two nominated songs from “La La Land” will split the vote, leaving an opening for Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” or, more likely, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “How Far I’ll Go.” But Lionsgate has done a good job of focusing attention on “City of Stars” over the other nominee, “Audition,” and this should be another easy win for the musical.

Best Sound Editing
Nominees: “Arrival,” “Deepwater Horizon,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “La La Land,” “Sully”
Winner: “Hacksaw Ridge”

Of the two sound categories, editing deals with the creation of sound effects and usually goes to a noisy movie — in this case, probably “Hacksaw Ridge,” which won the two top awards from the Motion Picture Sound Editors. But watch out for “La La Land,” the first musical ever nominated in this category. It got this far, and if voters are in a bandwagon mood, they could start checking it off even in unexpected categories like this.

Best Sound Mixing
Nominees: “Arrival,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “La La Land,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”
Winner: “La La Land”

Sound mixing, on the other hand, often goes to musicals. So “La La Land” should follow in the footsteps of “Chicago,” “Ray,” “Dreamgirls,” “Les Miserables” and “Whiplash” here. But “Hacksaw” is a real threat — and it might be an even bigger threat if voters realized that it represents Kevin O’Connell’s 21st nomination without a win. (But in all the non-acting categories, the ballot only includes film titles, not nominee names.)

Note: About half the time, the same film wins both sound categories. So it’s just as likely that either “Hacksaw Ridge” or “La La Land” will win both of these awards.

Best Visual Effects
Nominees: “Deepwater Horizon,” “Doctor Strange,” “The Jungle Book,” “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
Winner: “The Jungle Book”

Last year’s choice of the low-budget “Ex Machina” in this category was a huge surprise, and that makes it harder to figure out what voters will do this year. (Also complicating matters: Best Picture nominees almost always win in t

he category, but this year there’s no Best Picture nominee in the group.) The same impulse that led them to “Ex Machina” could help the stop-motion “Kubo and the Two Strings,” or they could go for scale and choose “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”

But “The Jungle Book” built a CG universe, complete with jungle and animals, around a single human actor. That ought to be enough to give it the win in a category that should be easier to predict than it is.

Best Documentary Short Subject
Nominees: “Extremis,” “4.1 Miles,” “Joe’s Violin,” “Watani: My Homeland,” “The White Helmets”
Winner: “The White Helmets”

By far the strongest of the three shorts categories, the powerhouse doc shorts lineup features three films that deal with Syria and its refugees, one set in the ICU of an Oakland hospital and one in an inner city music school in New York. The last one, “Joe’s Violin,” is the lightest and happiest in its story of a Holocaust survivor who donates his violin to a New York school, and that might well make it the most appealing to voters.

But one of the Syrian films, “The White Helmets,” packs a powerful punch in its look at the ordinary citizens who rescue the victims of bombings in Aleppo. Given its timeliness, voters could well be ready to go for the heavier option this year.

Best Animated Short
Nominees: “Blind Vaysha,” “Borrowed Time,” “Pear Cider and Cigarettes,” “Pearl,” “Piper”
Winner: “Piper”

The most personal of these films, “Pear Cider and Cigarettes,” is by far the longest and could wear out its welcome; the most visually striking, “Blind Vaysha,” feels narratively undernourished. The focus seems to be on Pixar’s wordless “Piper” and Dan Osborne’s mini-musical “Pearl.”

Pixar hasn’t won this category in 15 years because of a distinct anti-Disney/Pixar bias that developed once the Animated Feature category was created and Pixar began raking in awards there. But that bias died once the Academy opened up shorts voting and began sending out screeners; in the four years since then, Disney has won twice. Now it seems to be Pixar’s turn. While touching, “Piper” is far from the company’s best, but it’s probably good enough.

Best Live Action Short
Nominees: “Ennemis Interieurs,” “Le Femme et le TGV,” “Silent Nights,” “Sing,” “Timecode”
Winner: “La Femme et le TGV”

This award could really go to any of the five nominees. “Silent Nights” is produced by Danish filmmaker Kim Magnusson, who has more nominations in this category than any other living person, six; it and “Ennemis Interieurs” are both current and political, the former dealing with an African refugee in Europe and the latter with governmental mistrust of Muslims. But “Sing” and “Timecode” are lots more fun, and the touching “La Femme et le TGV” stars British singer-actress Jane Birkin in what she says is her swan song.

Sometimes voters here go for the most facile or jokey short, sometimes the most sentimental, sometimes the toughest or most twisted. In the absence of the twisted humor that often wins, maybe it’s a year for sentiment over politics.