Oscars 2017 predictions: What should win, and what will win

‘La La Land’ or ‘Moonlight’? Emma Stone or Natalie Portman? Casey Affleck or Denzel Washington? Donald Clarke makes his predictions for Sunday night's Oscars ceremony

Spoiler alert! La La Land is going to win best picture at this weekend's Oscars. Roll up the red carpet. Shelve the champagne flutes. Send the television crews home. Having accumulated 14 nominations – tying the record held by All About Eve and Titanic – Damien Chazelle's musical enters the ring as the strongest favourite in years. What's the point of watching?

Well, you may as well wonder at the point of a New Year’s Eve party. We know what year is about to arrive, but there is still much fun to be had in the hours before midnight.

Consider this for starters. Despite the inevitable backlash that follows such deafening praise, Chazelle's elegant little film – no masterpiece, but no dud either – is still competing to break the record for Oscar wins. It needs to convert 11 of those 14 mentions to equal Ben Hur, Titanic and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.

The odds are, however, against it. Nominated twice in best song, it can win a maximum of 13 and Ryan Gosling will surely not get past Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington in best actor. If, in the opening hour, it loses any technical awards then the wise punter will conclude that we are looking at mid-level sweep rather than historical triumph.


Fourth man

It is more likely that we will see Denzel Washington, nominated for Fences, become only the fourth man to take three acting Oscars. Early on in the race, Casey Affleck, introverted in Manchester by the Sea, looked set to keep him from the cabal that currently contains just Walter Brennan, Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day-Lewis.

Somehow or other, historical accusations of sexual harassment – settled out of court – didn’t seem to dent Affleck’s chances. But Washington’s recent win at the Screen Actors Guild elevated his prospects considerably. There is a real race here.

If Washington were to win then the Academy could be looking at a stunning comeback after controversies concerning lack of diversity in 2015 and 2016. There were no black people among the acting nominees in those years.

This season a record seven of the 20 competitors are people of colour and three are currently favourites to take the statuette. Only planetary annihilation will stop Viola Davis winning best supporting actress for Fences.

Mahershala Ali can count on taking home best supporting actor for Barry Jenkins's transcendent Moonlight. If our own Ruth Negga wins best actress for Loving then that would make all four winning actors people of colour. Sadly, Negga will almost certainly have to settle for the nomination. Quoted at 50/1 with some bookmakers, she needs to score one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history. (The other Irish nominee, costume designer Consolata Boyle, nominated for Florence Foster Jenkins, stands a better chance.)

Orange Toxic Event

Is it time to mention the Orange Toxic Event that seeps into all current cultural discourse? The racially diverse spread of nominations plays like an accidental rebuke to the insular fug that currently sits over Donald Trump's White House.

The habitually emollient Jimmy Kimmel, who hosts for the first time this year, will be expected to deliver a few political quips, but more attention will be directed towards the acceptance speeches.

Speaking to The Irish Times, the actor Annette Bening, a governor of the academy, was relaxed about the prospect of a politically charged ceremony. "I thought that what Meryl Streep said at the Golden Globes was great. I suspect there will be more at the Oscars," she said. Streep's attack on Trump at the Globes will surely inspire other winners to put their oar in.

After all, the inevitable rebuttals that will come by way of the president’s 25 million Twitter followers should do the winners’ profiles no harm.

The current political convulsions could swing one of the evening's most important contests. Pity poor Maren Ade. Last May, attendees at the Cannes Film Festival were astonished when the German director's Toni Erdmann, the best-reviewed film that year, failed to pick up a single prize. At the same event, Asghar Farhadi, the great Iranian director of A Separation, won best screenplay for The Salesman.

It seemed that Toni Erdmann was certain to exact revenge by winning the Oscar for best foreign language picture. Then Donald Trump's travel ban arrived. Some sort of special provisions were put Farhadi's way, but he refused the authorities' couched offer.

‘Ifs and buts’

"The possibility of this presence is being accompanied by ifs and buts, which are in no way acceptable to me, even if exceptions were to be made for my trip," Farhadi said. Despite the suspension of the ban, many voters will vote for The Salesman to show their contempt for Trump's policies. Farhadi is now favourite to win that prize for the second time.

Meanwhile, the Syrian subjects of two films nominated for best documentary short are scrabbling to gain entry before any return of travel restrictions. Raed Saleh, whose titular rescue organisation is studied in The White Helmets, should make it up the red carpet. Hala Kamil, a refugee now living in Germany, who features in Watani: My Homeland, is also on the way.

Even the sunniest corners of the ceremony could be touched by controversy. Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of Hamilton, the show that caused Mike Pence such embarrassment, will, if he wins best song for his number from Moana, join the highly exclusive "Egot" club. Liza Minnelli and Mike Nichols are among the few to have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony.

Will Lin cause a fuss? Will Meryl have another crack? Will Mel Gibson heckle the liberals? Anything could happen. Well, not anything. La La Land is going to win best picture. Did we not mention that?

Best Picture



Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land


Manchester by the Sea


Will win: La La Land. Scored a record number of nominations. Has won at DGA, PGA, Bafta, Golden Globes. It's about Hollywood. Will walk it.

Should win: Moonlight. Barry Jenkins's beautiful, moving triptych is likely to become a defining film of the era.

Best Director

Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge

Will win: Damien Chazelle. In recent years, best picture and best director have often gone to different films. But La La Land looks as if it's on a sweep.

Should win: Barry Jenkins. Moonlight has a unique directorial stamp on it. Might the Academy be tempted to award an African-American director for the first time? Not that tempted, I fear.

Best Actor

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Denzel Washington, Fences

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

Will win: Denzel Washington. This will be closest race among the headline categories. Affleck was way ahead until Washington won at SAG.

Should win: Viggo Mortensen. Washington is a bit too theatrical. Affleck is a bit too mannered. Mortensen elbowed his way in with a leftfield release.

Best Actress

Emma Stone, La La Land

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Ruth Negga, Loving

Will win: Emma Stone. Stone's win at Bafta confirmed that she is likely to be swept up in the La La Land sweep. Everyone else has faded.

Should win: Natalie Portman. Many pundits' favourite at the beginning of awards season has won virtually nothing since People's Choice in December. Maybe the film is a bit too recherche.

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Dev Patel, Lion

Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Will win: Mahershala Ali. The moral heart and soul of Moonlight. Pipped at Bafta by Patel, but Dev is a London boy. So that homer doesn't count.

Should win: Mahershala Ali. We are in agreement. Does a great deal with a small portion of rich material.

Best Supporting Actress

Viola Davis, Fences

Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Nicole Kidman, Lion

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

Will win: Viola Davis. Or should we say "WILL WIN!!!"? Few actors in recent years have been at such short odds. Much loved. Overdue. Dominates the film.

Should win: Viola Davis. Okay, this is not the most modulated of her performances, but it is a feat of sustained emotion. Among the best of her generation.

Best Adapted Screenplay





Hidden Figures

Will win: Moonlight. The Academy will dearly want to honour Moonlight and this is the place to do it. No obvious competition.

Should win: Moonlight. Jenkins's adaption of Tarell Alvin McCraney's unproduced play elegantly severs any theatrical traces.

Best Original Screenplay

Manchester by the Sea

La La Land

Hell or High Water

The Lobster

20th Century Women

Will win: Manchester by the Sea. Kenneth Lonergan's raw drama looks to have been created with this Oscar in mind. But (again) that La La sweep could carry script with it.

Should win: The Lobster. Wouldn't that be delightful? It is also close to impossible.

Best Foreign Language Film

Toni Erdmann

The Salesman

Land of Mine


A Man Called Ove

Will win: The Salesman. This is a hard one. Toni Erdmann looked to have it in the bag but then Trump's travel ban happened and the Iranian film surged.

Should win: Toni Erdmann. Maren Ade's German comedy is a treat and, after losing at the Golden Globes and Cannes, it deserves a break.

Best Documentary Feature

OJ: Made in America


Fire at Sea

I Am Not Your Negro

Life Animated

Will win: OJ: Made in America. Much adored, but, at 467 minutes, is it not a TV series?

Should win: I Am Not Your Negro. Excellent study of African-American dissent through the eyes of James Baldwin.

Best Animated Feature


Kubo and the Two Strings

The Red Turtle

My Life As a Zucchini


Will win: Zootopia. This generally ends up with a mainstream entry. It's between Zootopia and Moana.

Should win: The Red Turtle. A lovely, subtle animation co-produced by the mighty Studio Ghibli.


Best Film Editing

La La Land



Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Will win: La La Land

Should win: Arrival

Best Original Song

City of Stars, La La Land

Audition (The Fools Who Dream), La La Land

How Far I’ll Go, Moana

Can’t Stop the Feeling, Trolls

The Empty Chair, Jim: The James Foley Story

Will win: City of Stars

Should win: How Far I'll Go

 Best Original Score

La La Land





Will win: La La Land

Should win: Jackie

Best Cinematography

La La Land





Will win: La La Land

Should win: Moonlight

Best Costume Design

Florence Foster Jenkins

La La Land

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them



Will win: Jackie

Should win: Jackie

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Star Trek Beyond

A Man Called Ove

Suicide Squad

Will win: Star Trek Beyond

Should win: Star Trek Beyond

Best Production Design

La La Land

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Hail, Caesar!



Will win: La La Land

Should win: Arrival

Best Sound Editing

Hacksaw Ridge


Deepwater Horizon

La La Land


Will win: Hacksaw Ridge

Should win: Arrival

Best Sound Mixing

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land


13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Will win: La La Land

Should win: Arrival

Best Visual Effects

The Jungle Book

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Kubo and the Two Strings

Doctor Strange

Deepwater Horizon

Will win: The Jungle Book

Should win: The Jungle Book

Best Short Film, Live Action


Silent Nights

La Femme et le TGV

Ennemis Interieurs


Will win: Timecode

Should win: Silent Nights

Best Short Film, Animated



Borrowed Time

Blind Vaysha

Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Will win: Piper

Should win: Blind Vaysha

Best Documentary, Short Subject

Joe’s Violin

The White Helmets

Extremis Watani: My Homeland

4.1 Miles

Will win: Joe's Violin

Should win: Joe's Violin