It's almost time - so who’ll win the Oscars?

In advance of the Academy Awards on Sunday, Esther McCarthy casts her eye over the major categories to predict this year’s winners— and who could cause an upset.

BEST PICTURE

Nominated: Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight.

Nine out of a possible maximum of 10 movies will compete for the top prize in cinema this year, with one of the clearest favourites in the race of recent times.

Indeed, after getting 14 nominations (matching a record held by Titanic and All About Eve) La La Land could sweep the boards.

Nods at the BAFTAs, The Golden Globes, and crucially the Directors Guild of America and Producers Guild of America (which feature many of the same voters) make it an absolute favourite. It’s set in Hollywood also, so it would be like asking Dubliners not to vote for The Commitments.

Of the competition, Moonlight - — one of the best-reviewed films in the US last year — the charming Hidden Figures, about the women behind one of NASA’s greatest missions, and Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By the Sea are most likely to feature.

The Favourite: La La Land looks unbeatable to the bookies, with odds as short as 2/11.

The Threat: Watch out for Barry Jenkins’ haunting coming-of-age tale, Moonlight.

BEST DIRECTOR

Nominated: Denis Villeneuve for Arrival, Mel Gibson (right) for Hacksaw Ridge, Damien Chazelle for La La Land, Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea, Barry Jenkins for Moonlight.

Best Picture doesn’t always guarantee Best Director, with an outstanding directorial achievement — for example Alfonso Cuaron’s work on Gravity a few years ago — sometimes coming through.

However, it’s likely to go to Damien Chazelle for La La Land and it would be well merited; that opening sequence on the LA freeway alone is an achievement.

There’s a lot of love for Moonlight, and Barry Jenkins’ story of overcoming his own tough upbringing in Miami’s projects could well inspire voters.

I’ll be crossing my fingers for Kenneth Lonergan, a real ‘actor’s director’, and a maverick. Villeneuve and Gibson are worthy nominees, but look to be out of the running.

The Favourite: Damien Chazelle.

The Threat: Barry Jenkins.

BEST ACTOR

Nominated: Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea, Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge, Ryan Gosling for La La Land, Viggo Mortensen for Captain Fantastic, Denzel Washington for Fences.

This is an interesting category. Casey Affleck has been nabbing awards for his exceptional, intense performance as a janitor whose life goes into upheaval following the death of his brother.

It looked like a lock-in, until Denzel Washington stepped up and won the Screen Actors Guild award. Denzel, a two-time Oscar winner for his work on Glory (support) and Training Day (lead), is staging a late run for the 1950s-set drama.

Some US film commentators put Denzel very narrowly ahead as favourite (for the first time all awards season).

I still regard this as Affleck’s to lose. Unless Ryan Gosling benefits from a La La Land sweep, this is a two-horse race.

The Favourite: Casey Affleck.

The Threat: Denzel Washington, fast gaining ground.

BEST ACTRESS

Nominated: Isabelle Huppert for Elle, Ruth Negga for Loving, Natalie Portman for Jackie, Emma Stone for La La Land, Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins.

Emma Stone looks set to win her first Academy Award (she was nominated once before, for support on Birdman) for her work on Damien Chazelle’s sun-drenched musical.

But like the Best Actor category, Stone is going to have to weather a late charge by French actress Isabelle Huppert. She’s fast gaining traction for her role in the French film, Elle, as a raped woman determined to track down the man who attacked her.

I’m going to take a gamble here and say Stone’s biggest threat is Natalie Portman, terrific as the First Lady.

Meryl Streep receives what-now-appears-to-be her annual nomination for Florence Foster Jenkins, but won’t win. Our own Ruth Negga, low-key and lovely in Loving, will fly the Irish flag, but it would be seen as a surprise if she took home the Oscar.

The Favourite: Emma Stone.

 

The Threat: Natalie Portman.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Nominated: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight, Jeff Bridges for Hell or High Water, Lucas Hedges for Manchester by the Sea, Dev Patel for Lion, Michael Shannon for Nocturnal Animals.

Supporting Actor is emerging as a less open contest than I’d expected. I’d regard all five nominees as potential winners in another year, and would give a thumbs-up to Jeff Bridges, superb as a Texas ranger in Hell or High Water. It’s up there with his very best.

It’s great to see the always-good Michael Shannon nominated for his eccentric performance, as well as young Lucas Hedges, great opposite Casey Affleck. Dev Patel was excellent in Lion, though it could be argued it was a leading performance. Regardless, this category is widely regarded as a lock, with Mahershala Ali a firm favourite for Moonlight.

The Favourites: Mahershala Ali.

The Threat: Jeff Bridges.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Nominated: Viola Davis for Fences, Naomie Harris for Moonlight, Nicole Kidman for Lion, Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures, Michelle Williams for Manchester by the Sea.

Viola Davis is regarded as a shoo-in to win, with odds now as short as 1/10 for her performance in Fences. Her main competition is likely to come from Michelle Williams, who is devastating in one scene in particular in Manchester by the Sea.

The Favourite: Viola Davis.

 

The Threat: Michelle Williams.

BEST SCREENPLAY/ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Nominated (screenplay): Hell or High Water, La La Land, The Lobster, Manchester by the Sea, 20th Century Women.

Nominated (adapted): Arrival, Fences, Hidden Figures, Lion, Moonlight.

These highly regarded categories are often awarded to Best Picture contenders and that’s the case here.

Kenneth Lonergan may not win Best Picture or Director, but he is favourite to pick up Best Screenplay for his superb, humane screenplay.

La La Land could be in for a sweep if it wins this award early. That’s tough competition for Yorgos Lanthimos’s delightfully weird and funny script for The Lobster, which might have stolen a win another year.

In Adapted Screenplay, Moonlight is the big favourite, but Arrival poses a serious threat. A win for Hidden Figures, Fences or Lion would be regarded as an upset.

The Favourites: Manchester by the Sea/Moonlight.

The Threats: La La Land/Arrival.

COSTUME DESIGN

Nominated: Allied, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Florence Foster Jenkins, Jackie, La La Land.

Ireland’s Consolata Boyle gets her second nomination (following 2007’s The Queen) for Florence Foster Jenkins, but she faces strong competition from La La Land’s colourful wardrobe, and Jackie, as stylish as you’d expect for a film about Mrs Kennedy.

The Favourite: La La Land.

The Threat: Jackie.

  • The Academy Awards take place on Sunday night in Beverley Hills. Highlights on RTÉ2 on Monday.


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