5. Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)
For Him: A well liked movie veteran, a previous nominee, with no Oscar wins under his belt. The performance is clearly loved by some in the Academy – this is a small movie, released in the summer that somehow managed to get all the way through the season and end up with a nomination.
Against Him: This is only Mortensen’s second nomination – this isn’t a situation where they are embarrassed at not having giving him a nomination before – nor should it be. The other four are from best picture nominees –
He’s his film’s only nomination. It’s great that he got in – the nom is the reward here.
4. Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)
For Him: Garfield has been around for a while now, but this was his real breakthrough year as a serious actor – with Hacksaw Ridge, and Martin Scorsese’s Silence. Garfield anchors this film with his plain, homespun mannerisms, you cannot help but like him – and gives the film its core. They obviously like the film a lot.
Against Him: His accent is perhaps too broad, which won’t help him. There is a lot of competition above him, in which it’s going to be hard to overcome. He’s a young guy, so the nomination is the win for his career.
3. Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
For Him: Gosling is almost certainly going to win an Oscar at some point. He’s the charming leading man in the presumptive Best Picture winner, which is likely to sweep a lot of awards on Oscar night. He’s got a solid resume, he’s on his second nomination, and is a genuine star. If La La Land really sweeps, it could drag him along with it.
Against Him: La La Land cannot win every Oscar that night – and there are two performances in this category that I think they’re just going to respond to more. Gosling may face the same thing that DiCaprio faced – make the charming, good looking movie star wait a while for a win.
2. Denzel Washington (Fences)
For Him: Washington looks to become only the 7th actor to win 3 (or more) Oscars – an elite group, and I think it’s safe to say Washington would not look out of place among them. It’s been 15 years since his last win, so that’s enough time. His performance in Fences won him a Tony – and his work in the film is amongst his most praised, fiery performances. The Academy clearly loved the film more than many thought – the Best Picture nom shows that.
Against Him: He’s up against a performance that has won most of the major prizes this year. Winning that third Oscar is often tough – and I’m not sure Washington is quite there yet. I won’t be shocked if he gets there – I just don’t think it will be this year.
1. Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
For Him: He’s won most of the prizes that he can for this film this year. He’s run a long race, from Sundance on, and there has yet to be a serious backlash against the performance. He’s a respected actor, a previous nominee, and in a film that they clearly love – and will want to give a major prize to. It’s his to lose.
Against Him: It’s a quiet performance – perhaps too quiet for Oscars, especially compared to the fire and brimstone of Washington. While no one much criticizes the performance, Affleck has come under fire because of the resurfaced allegations of sexual harassment against him from a few years ago. That hasn’t blown up yet – but if the race is tight, a few lost votes because of it could cost him the Oscar.
Who Will Win: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea. It could be very close between Affleck and Washington, but I think that Affleck holds on for the victory.
Who Should Win: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea. As someone who (mostly) separates the artist from the art, Affleck’s performance in Manchester by the Sea was clearly the best one I saw – in any category – this year.
Least of the Nominees: Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic. I wish I was a fan of this movie and performance – it’s always fun to be a supporter of the little film that could – but I didn’t much like the film, although I thought Mortensen saved it. I may have gone with Garfield, but I’m choosing to pretend he got nominated for Silence, and I’m fine with that.
5. Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)
For Her: She’s Meryl Streep. It’s her 20th nomination – 8 more than any other actor – so if anyone is ever going to tie Katherine Hepburn’s 4 wins, it will be Streep.
Against Her: Come on. I love Streep, and think she’s one of the greatest actresses ever – and I’m still sick of her getting nominated for okay, over-the-top performances, in bad movies – and Florence Foster Jenkins is perhaps the most egregious example of this. She may well win a 4th – it damn well better not be for this.
4. Ruth Negga (Loving)
For Her: Negga is a newcomer, who was able to get into the Best Actress lineup, despite weak support for the film in general (it’s the only nomination it got), so it’s clear they like. In a category filled with a lot of large choices by the other nominees, Negga delivers a simple, quiet, subtle performance.
Against Her: Quiet and subtle don’t often win – and certainly won’t here. Negga is a newcomer, and this will do wonders for her career – which means that the nomination is the win here, and there is no way she’s going to pull off an upset.
3. Natalie Portman (Jackie)
For Her: Oscar loves a biopic, and Jackie is one of the best in recent years – all of it anchored by Portman, doing a great interpretation of Jackie Kennedy in the aftermath of her husband’s assassination. Portman is a prior winner – and well-liked by the industry. She’s done in the precursors, showing up everywhere.
Against Her: While she’s been nominated everywhere this year, she hasn’t won a lot. With her previous win, there’s no real need for a second win – at least not right now. The film was a critical favorite, but didn’t break through with the Academy in a major way.
2. Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
For Her: Huppert was probably at the top of everyone’s list of Best Working Actors never to be nominated for an Oscar, and if she doesn’t win, she’ll go right to the top of everyone’s list of Best Working Actors never to win an Oscar. Hers is probably the most praised performance in this category – even those who don’t like the movie, love her in it. If you want a dramatic performance, this is it.
Against Her: There are a lot of people who don’t like the movie – and not only that, they find it offensive – and I can imagine some Academy members not making it far into their screeners. It is a foreign language performance – and they don’t often win.
1. Emma Stone (La La Land)
For Her: She has become one of the most liked actresses of her young generation – and as this her second nomination, it isn’t that they are giving it to a complete Oscar rookie. She really is the heart and soul of the movie – more of the focus than Gosling. While she didn’t win a lot of critics’ awards – they don’t vote.
Against Her: Like the film itself, some may see the performance as too lightweight for the win. She is still young, so there’s lots of time to award her – and she’s going up against a legend.
Who Will Win: Emma Stone, La La Land. This really does remind me of Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Living Playbook vs, Emmanuelle Riva for Amour – just like that year, go for the younger American, over the European veteran. Stone fits in with a lot of previous winners more easily than Huppert – which can make it close if her passionate supporters are more numerous in the Academy than I expect they are.
Who Should Win: Isabelle Huppert, Elle. It is an amazing performance – one that will be remembered forever, and one of the great performances in a legendary career. It would immediately be one of the coolest wins in Oscar history.
Least of the Nominees: Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins. As much as I love Streep, I really do wish she would take on something other than a role where she sucks all the oxygen up in the room. Please Academy, make her work for nomination 21.
Best Supporting Actor
5. Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)
For Him: I think Michael Shannon is probably on the verge of becoming an Oscar favorite – he’s one of the best actors in the world, and he’s always good. This is his second nomination – and he’s been close several times as well. There is almost no scenario in which he ends his career without an Oscar, right?
Against Him: As soon as Shannon gets nominated for a better liked film, he could easily win – like his first nomination, for Revolutionary, he’s the films lone nomination. People love him, but he’s often better than the movies themselves. The nomination is the reward here – although he’ll get one eventually, this isn’t his year.
4. Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)
For Him: He’s young for an Oscar nominee – and he still got in with relative ease. He goes toe to toe with Casey Affleck, perhaps giving the performance of the year, and doesn’t miss a meet. While being young hurts actors in the lead category – that’s not so much the case in the supporting one. They clearly love the film, and the acting in it, so perhaps he can ride a wave of support into the winners circle.
Against Him: You would expect to see him win something by now if he had a serious chance of pulling off an upset. He would be the youngest actor ever to win in this category – ironically enough, beating out Timothy Hutton for Ordinary People, a film this has been compared to. If he’s as good as this breakthrough implies, he’ll get another chance for a win.
3. Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
For Him: They clearly love Jeff Bridges – he’s on his seventh nomination now, which is more than enough to justify a second win, if they love the film and performance enough. Hell or High Water is one of the most loved films of the year – and yet, it’s probably going to go home empty handed, unless Bridges can pull off the upset here.
Against Him: This kind of feels like it’s so much in Bridges’ wheelhouse, all he had to do was show up and he’d be brilliant. His first win wasn’t all that long ago, so there’s probably no rush to give him a second one right away. You would expect him to win at least one major precursor if he’s going to win this – and he hasn’t.
2. Dev Patel (Lion)
For Him: A well liked actor in a well-liked performance in a well-liked movie. He’s probably the lead – and while that annoys some, it usually doesn’t seem to affect the Academy, who is fine with it. He’s made good since his breakthrough in 2008’s Best Picture winner, Slumdog Millionaire. He won the BAFTA – and there is membership overlap there.
Against Him: No one seems to really love the film – everyone just likes it. His one major award was the BAFTA – which is good – but then again, he was the hometown hero there. I cannot be the only one who thinks that Sunny Pawar, playing the younger version of this character, was far better, right?
1. Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
For Him: Other than the Golden Globe, there is hardly an award for this performance than Ali has NOT won – and the winner of the Globe isn’t nominated. He’s having a career year – great here, and also in Hidden Figures and in Luke Cage – he’s a star in the making. The performance is brilliant, and it’s looking less and less like the film is going to win that much on Oscar night – here, with no La La Land to contend with, it should be easy.
Against Him: The role is small – too small? He is a newcomer to the Oscar circuit and sometimes they make them wait a little bit before they give them an Oscar
Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight. The Globes and BAFTA have been hiccups to be sure – signs that the industry may not love it as much as critics - but he’s rolled through winning everything else possible. The great SAG speech won’t hurt – and he’ll win this unless an upset happens.
Who Should Win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight. It’s a quietly, subtle remarkable performance in a great film. I like most of the nominees – but is easily the best nominated.
Least of the Nominees: Dev Patel, Lion. It’s not really Patel’s fault that the movie becomes extremely dull when his part starts – he plays the role as best as he can. It’s not all that much of a roll though.
Best Supporting Actress
5. Nicole Kidman (Lion)
For Her: She was once an Oscar staple, now she’s returning for the first time in a while, for an emotional performance playing one Oscar’s favorite type of rolls – supportive mothers. It’s been over a decade since her only win – some may think it’s time for number 2.
Against Her: She doesn’t show up until the halfway point in the film, and doesn’t really have all that much to do aside from her one big speech. I just don’t think Lion is well-liked enough to push her into the winners circle. With the win already – and several multiple nominee who are still winless, it’s just not time for number 2.
4. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)
For Her: Hidden Figures broke into the Oscar race late – perhaps too late to pick up as many nominations as it may have otherwise - there isn’t a lot of places where it can win, so if they like it enough, why not Spencer? The film did win the SAG ensemble award, which seems to mean the actors are behind it. Spencer really is quite good here – and she is a well-liked, previous winner.
Against Her: It’s the previous winner thing that kills her chances. When you have Viola Davis with three noms and no wins and Michelle Williams with four noms and no wins, there really is no reason to give Spencer her second for this performance.
3. Naomie Harris (Moonlight)
For Her: She’s been around for a while, doing solid work, but never quite breaking through. Her work here really should change that – it’s a powerful and emotional performance. Most of the work in Moonlight is quiet and subtle – Harris has an opportunity to go slightly bigger than anyone else in the cast – she stands out, and in a great way.
Against Her: In a Viola Davis-less race, I think she would have a shot at the win. With Davis in, I just don’t see how she does it. If she was going to beat Davis, she’d have done it somewhere by now – and she hasn’t. She’s a newcomer to the Oscar, so they’ll make her wait.
2. Michelle Williams (Manchester By the Sea)
For Her: Williams is on her fourth nomination – which is really around the time the Academy starts thinking it’s ridiculous that they haven’t already given you an Oscar. Her role in Manchester by the Sea is small, but it is powerful, having a few devastating moments.
Against Her: I think in a Viola Davis-less year, we’d be talking about Williams finally winning her Oscar – but it isn’t a Viola Davis-less year.
1. Viola Davis (Fences)
For Her: Remarkably, Viola Davis is now the most nominated African American actress in history – on only her third nomination. There are a lot of people who think she should have won for The Help (and then those of us who think she should have won for Doubt), so it’s about damn time. To me, this is clearly a lead role – as it was on Broadway – which doesn’t hurt it, since it just gives her more screen time to use.
Against Her: Not a lot really – who doesn’t love Viola Davis? And even those who don’t love the movie, agree she is brilliant in it.
Who Will Win: Viola Davis, Fences. She has won the major precursors, and given one great speech after another. I think it’s too bad she didn’t go lead – she’d win there too – but she didn’t, and she’ll win this category without much trouble.
Who Should Win: Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea. Davis is brilliant and fiery in Fences – Williams is brilliant, and restrained – conveying so much in such a small amount of screen time – that’s impressive, and truly a supporting performance.
Least of the Nominees: Nicole Kidman, Lion. Why do I keep picking on poor Lion? It’s not that it’s a bad movie or a bad performance per se – just that there is a lot of others they could have gone with.