The first prominent story is the role of the Oscars as a social commentary not only in terms of the event but also in regard to the kinds of movies that are awarded. The immigrant ban has resulted in at least one nominee not attending (and perhaps even winning), but there have been more layers to this Oscars, including the analysis of the status of the "end" of #OscarsSoWhite and the impending possibility that three actors of color could win Oscars this year, as well as the narrative that certain movies should win as a message of what Academy members believe American values should be.
The other main storyline of this year's Oscars is the juggernaut that is La La Land. I'm predicting that La La Land will go 11/14, missing out only on Actor, Original Screenplay, and one of the two song nominations (since two are in the same category). The modern throwback musical already shares the record for nominations with All About Eve and Titanic, but a night like this would put it into a tie with the most awarded films of all-time, including Ben-Hur, Titanic, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
Because of La La Land's impending dominance (considering that it seems like it will be a disappointment if it receives fewer than ten awards on Sunday), there will be a number of films that will go relatively unrecognized, as it seems like only three of the other eight Best Picture nominees will receive any awards, and none more than two (either Fences or Manchester by the Sea, depending on what happens in Best Actor, and almost certainly Moonlight).
At any rate, here are my thoughts on the ten categories that I count for my annual predictions, as well as a few assorted thoughts on other categories.
Best Picture: As much as there has been the usual posturing and construction of narrative over the past month, it really seems like everyone knows that this has been a done deal since the nominations were announced. The question is not whether La La Land will win - it's what its total wins will be and whether it will break the record with 12 Oscars; my prediction is eleven to tie the record.
Best Director: It's Damien Chazelle for La La Land by a long shot here.
Best Actor: I am not sure that the last month has made things any easier to determine in the toss up between Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea and Denzel Washington in Fences. Casey won most awards, but Denzel won the SAG, which is a significant predictor of the Oscars. I think I have to go with Denzel on this one for several reasons: the backlash against Affleck; the general move to recognize actors of color; and further legitimating Washington's career with his third Oscar, much as they did with Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady in 2012.
Best Actress: Emma Stone has won basically everything for La La Land, and her narrative, along with that of the film, make a lot of sense for this year. Lock her in.
Best Supporting Actor: Dev Patel has gotten a bit of buzz, but he will not unseat the significant favourite, Mahershala Ali for Moonlight.
Best Supporting Actress: No change here - Viola Davis still has this locked up for her performance in Fences.
Best Animated Feature: Zootopia should come out as the winner.
Best Original Screenplay: It's Damien Chazelle for La La Land against Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea. My initial suspicion was that Lonergan would be awarded over Chazelle, but I could also see Chazelle winning because of a La La Land sweep; that said, I didn't think that La La Land was that well-written, particularly considering what Chazelle accomplished in Whiplash just a few years ago. I think that Lonergan will be awarded for his work in Manchester here.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Although both Arrival and Moonlight won the WGA awards, they are pitted against each other here because of the way the Oscars consider a film to be "adapted". In the end, I think the award will go to Barry Jenkins for Moonlight as a way to honor his work on that film.
Best Film Editing: Just like in almost any other toss-up category, it's going to be La La Land.
Documentary Feature: This is a seriously heavyweight category this year, with I Am Not Your Negro, 13th, and O.J.: Made In America all in contention. I originally thought that 13th might pull out the win here, but I'm going with the conventional wisdom that O.J. will win.
Foreign Language Film - Toni Erdmann from Germany was the early favourite, but the buzz over Asghar Farhadi's absence because of the travel ban has meant that The Salesman has become a popular pick as "message". I think Germany's entry will win, however, mainly because the film was so widely praised.
Music (Original Score and Original Song): La La Land should win both of these categories, but the only question is which song from La La Land will actually win - "City of Stars" or "Audition (The Fools Who Dream". Both songs are equally iconic in the film, but I'm going for "City of Stars", the de facto theme song.
Cinematography, Costume Design, Production Design - La La Land.
Makeup and Hairstyling - Let's go for Star Trek Beyond.
Sound Editing and Sound Mixing - Probably La La Land thanks to the overall narrative.
Visual Effects - I have no idea, so I'll go for The Jungle Book.
So it looks to be a La La Land sweep with a few awards going to three other movies: Moonlight; Fences; and Manchester by the Sea. I'll check in on Monday after the awards with my review of how my picks went and thoughts on the ceremony itself - the highs, the lows, who is forgotten in the "in memoriam" montage (which seems like it is going to be more intense than usual this year).
Since the awards themselves seem like they will be fairly predictable, the main point of interest for the night is just how "woke" these Oscars will be and what host Jimmy Kimmel will do to participate in that element of the evening. My suspicion is that he will allow the speeches of presenters and winners to do a lot of the work and that he will likely add in a couple of his own impromptu zingers along the way, but I'm interested to see what happens either way, and how often Trump tweets in response to what he sees. It should be an interesting night for what it might come to represent, so stay tuned.