5. Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge)
For Him: Not only is he the only Best Director winner nominated this year – he’s the only one who has been nominated for this award before. Hollywood loves a comeback story – and Gibson certainly qualifies. The Academy does love war movies – and the battle parts of the film are impressive.
Against Him: While some have clearly forgiven Gibson – or he wouldn’t be nominated – I don’t think everyone has, which will hurt him going for the win. This is the film with the least amount of buzz in this race, and it feels slightly old fashioned compared to everyone else. It’s a nice honor for Gibson – but the nomination is as far as its going.
4. Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
For Him: He has been a rising director for a while now – having gotten nominated for a Foreign Language Oscar, and making an effortless transition to Hollywood. It’s hard to imagine that Villeneuve will not be an Oscar winner at some point if he continues to do work as good – and as mainstream – as his recent output.
Against Him: It isn’t this year though. The buzz just isn’t there for him – this is a two way race, and his name isn’t Barry Jenkins or Damien Chazelle, so the chances of him winning are practically none.
3. Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)
For Him: Lonergan is a well-respected filmmaker – he’s been around for a while now, previously nominated twice (for writing) and is kind of a feel good story, considering what happened with his last film, Margaret – and how he rebounded quickly with this one. A very traditional directed film that may resonate with older viewers.
Against Him: If they want to reward Lonergan, they can (and probably will) give him the Screenplay award. In recent years, they like flashy direction – even if they go with a more traditional film for Best Picture, and that certainly isn’t Lonergan’s work here.
2. Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
For Him: Perhaps the very passionate fan base for Jenkins is enough to push him into the winners circle, even if La La Land wins Best Picture – it worked for The Revenant last year for example. Unlike Best Picture, this is a pure most votes win, so a passionate fan base can move a film with less consensus into the winners circle. He has won a lot of big awards this season. After #oscarssowhite last year, some may want to give the first African American the best director Oscar.
Against Him: He’s lost most of the big, big ones though. It’s rare that a filmmaker as new as Barry Jenkins wins the award (yes, I know Chazelle doesn’t have many more films than Jenkins – he does have a previous Best Picture nominee though). Again, I cannot help but wonder if some are skipping the film (the box office isn’t good). He’s almost assured a screenplay win, so maybe the director win will seem like overkill.
1. Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
For Him: It looks like La La Land is going to win the Best Picture Oscar, and a film this flashy that wins that prize and doesn’t win Director would be rare. The film is going to win a lot of Oscars – so to not reward the Director would also seem odd. They clearly love the film.
Against Him: The backlash has formed, and if it grows, perhaps it’s enough to push Jenkins above him. While I do think that La La Land has broader support, I think Moonlight has more passionate support – which is good for Jenkins. The last musical to win Best Picture – Chicago – did NOT win best director.
Who Will Win: Damien Chazelle, La La Land. I’ve looked for a reason NOT to bet on Chazelle – not because I don’t like him or the film, simply to see if I can make a case, and while I think there’s more of a chance here for Jenkins to upset than in Best Picture, I still don’t think it’s good.
Who Should Win: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight. A very tough call for me between Jenkins and Lonergan – but Jenkins film is wonderfully directed, do so much stylistically that is marvelous, I’ll go with him – and the hope of making history – by just a little bit.
Least of the Nominees: Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge. Those early scenes are awfully ham-fisted, and most of the performances aside from Garfield’s aren’t particularly good. No matter how good the war sequences are, that should have disqualified him from contention for me.
Best Original Screenplay
5. 20th Century Women – Mike Mills
For Him: The film is well-liked, down-to-earth and very funny. They like his films – he’s already directed an Oscar winning performance. Some truly do love the film.
Against Him: But not enough to get in anywhere else – not even best actress for Annette Bening. He didn’t get nominated for Beginners, so his nomination for this is his first – meaning the nomination will be his award this time.
4. The Lobster – Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthymis Filippou
For Them: If they really take the “original” in original screenplay seriously (as they do once in a while), then The Lobster would win this hands down. Many people love the movie, and the screenplay showed up everything – even when they film didn’t show up elsewhere.
Against Them: As the films only nomination, it just doesn’t have the support needed to push aside any of the three frontrunners.
3. Hell or High Water – Taylor Sheridan
For Him: A surprise hit, and one of the most popular films of the year amongst award voters. The film is unlikely to win any other awards – so if the Academy thinks La La Land is winning enough already, and Manchester by the Sea is as well, I could easily see this one pulling off a “shocker”.
Against Him: This is fairly under the radar, and while I can make the case logically, I just don’t think the film has quite enough behind it to actually come through and pull it off. It’s a longshot.
2. La La Land – Damien Chazelle
For Him: The film is the Oscar frontrunner, is likely to sweep through the tech categories, as well as Picture, Director and Actress. Winning all of those, and not winning screenplay would be strange, right? It is well written and funny.
Against Him: Doesn’t Chazelle have enough? He’s likely winning for Director, so does he really need this as well? Musicals – even ones that win Best Picture – often don’t win the screenplay award as well. I cannot help but think that they’ll see it as a technical and directing achievement more than writing.
1. Manchester by the Sea – Kenneth Lonergan
For Him: Probably the most honored screenplay of the year (certainly amongst the original nominees) – Lonergan is a well-respected veteran, and he wrote a movie they love – with balances heartbreak, tragedy and humor brilliantly. With no Moonlight to compete against it – and La La Land not being quite the writer’s movie, I could easily see this winning here.
Against Him: All of that (except for Moonlight not competing) was true at the Globes, and La La Land STILL won. If they love La La Land enough, it will sweep through, no matter how illogical that may seem (see Birdman or Argo for recent examples).
Who Will Win: Manchester by the Sea. I still think the Academy is going to give Lonergan an Oscar for Manchester – but it’s going to be very close. Why do I have sinking feeling Hell or High Water is going to win?
Who Should Win: Manchester by the Sea. It is my favorite screenplay of the year – so complex, later and beautifully written. I know most of my favorites aren’t winning – this could be the exception.
Least of the Nominees: 20th Century Women. It’s still a strong screenplay – I just don’t really like the main character, or the strained premise – but 90% of it is wonderful, so I don’t really have too many complaints.
Best Adapted Screenplay
5. Lion – Luke Davies
For Him: It’s a best picture nominee, and its has no chance to win anything else, so if it’s going to win something…
Against Him: It’s got no chance here either. It seems like they really did like this movie – but I don’t think they loved it enough to give it a major award like this.
4. Fences – August Wilson
For Him: August Wilson is a legendary playwright – one of the greatest of the 20th Century America, and Fences may just be his masterpiece.
Against Him: August Wilson is also dead – and has been for more than a decade. How much did he “adapt” his play for the screen? He’s got stiff competition.
3. Hidden Figures – Allison Schroeder & Theodore Melfi
For Them: The film is loved by many – and getting more so. It broke late, too late to get into a lot of categories probably, and if they really want to give it an Oscar, this could be the films best chance.
Against Them: I still don’t like those chances. It is fairly mainstream entertainment – and the screenplay, while good, is elevated by the cast – not necessarily great by itself. Not sure the optics of this winning would be great.
2. Arrival – Eric Heisserer
For Him: Arrival is a beloved film by the Academy – and this really is its only shot at a major award. What Heisserer did on a writing level, working with a complex story and time bending narrative, and an emotional main character, really is quite astounding.
Against Him: Most of the talk about the movie has centered on Villeneuve, Adams and the tech credentials of the film. This has a shot – but it really isn’t a great one.
1. Moonlight – Barry Jenkins & Tarell Alvin McCraney
For Them: Moonlight has become one of the most beloved films of the year. As the season has progressed, Chazelle has pulled away in the director category – but giving the award to the screenplay would be an away to reward Barry Jenkins, also nominated for directing. It’s the most acclaimed screenplay in this category, easily.
Against Them: A lot of what makes Moonlight great is in the direction – the visuals – and the screenplay is subtle and understated, which isn’t great for winning Oscars.
Who Will Win: Moonlight. Had the Academy sided with the guild – and ruled this an original screenplay – that category would have been a bloodbath, and this one barren. They didn’t, and ever since then, Moonlight has been the prohibitive favorite – and I don’t see how something else wins.
Who Should Win: Moonlight. I love the Arrival screenplay- but the Moonlight Screenplay really is next level great – simple, yet powerful, subtle and complex – its one of the best of the year, in either category, and should easily win.
Least of the Nominees: Lion. Sorry, I really don’t see why this one is here. The screenplay never really did find a way to make starring at Google earth interesting, or what to do with Rooney Mara. It was a weak year in this category – but not this weak.